Natural happiness: The self-centered case for environmentalism

By Paul Bloom

The following are excerpts from Paul Bloom's, April 19, 2009, article in the New York Times. To read the original article in its entirety, click here.

{Harvard biologist E.O.} Wilson emphasizes the spiritual and moral benefits of an attachment to nature, warning that we “descend farther from heaven’s air if we forget how much the natural world means to us.” But there are more tangible benefits as well. Many studies show that even a limited dose of nature, like a chance to look at the outside world through a window, is good for your health. Hospitalized patients heal more quickly, prisoners get sick less often. Being in the wild reduces stress; spending time with a pet enhances the lives of everyone from autistic children to Alzheimer’s patients. The author Richard Louv argues that modern children suffer from “nature-deficit disorder” because they have been shut out from the physical and psychic benefits of unstructured physical contact with the natural world.

“All of this provides a different sort of argument for the preservation of nature. Put aside for the moment practical considerations like the need for clean air and water, and ignore as well spiritual worries about the sanctity of Mother Earth or religious claims that we are the stewards of creation. Look at it from the coldblooded standpoint of the enhancement of the happiness of our everyday lives. Real natural habitats provide significant sources of pleasure for modern humans. We intuitively grasp this, and this knowledge underlies the anxiety that we feel about nature’s loss. It might be that one day we will be able to replace the experience with 'Star Trek' holodecks and robotic animals. But until then, this basic fact about human pleasure is an excellent argument for keeping the real thing.”


Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale and the author of “Descartes’ Baby.” He is currently writing a book about pleasure.

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