“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money”, the Native American saying goes.
When my father first told me this quote when I was a little girl, I had no idea that years later I would be on my University field trip to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Singapore, thinking about those exact words.
From the moment we arrived in the humid climate of the city and sat on the shuttle bus taking us to our hotel, every one of us students was in awe of the green wonder that is Singapore. No matter what direction you were looking in – trees and plants would be covering every surface, rooftop or balcony. Later that day, as we were walking through the Gardens by the Bay, desperately fighting our jetlag, our first impression of the city’s and citizen’s connection to nature only got strengthened. And it made us all wonder.
How come a glass-domed greenhouse full of flowers, trees and plants is probably the city’s most famous tourist attraction, whilst at the same time we tend to label gardeners and nature-lovers as nerds or geeks? Why do we marvel at the beauty of the glowing trees in the middle of the greenhouse, yet classify people who grow their own vegetables as vegan-hippies or eco-freaks?
It is precisely this perception of and attitude towards the nature around us that I see as one of the key issues when it comes promoting sustainability. How do you encourage or excite someone to care for nature without any emotional attachment to it? This emotional attachment is the key to triggering a sense of responsibility in people and redefining what it means to be a human being on this planet. This is what reminded me of the previously mentioned quote. Native American tribes that have been around for hundreds of years share the view that “the earth is the mind of the people as we are the mind of the earth”. They advocate to live in harmony with nature, as the land for them is not just a resource provided to us but the source of sustenance, a definer of identity even.
It might seem impossible to apply this idea of a reciprocating relationship between humans and nature in the consumption-driven, globalized and constantly growing world we live in. However, as I was walking through the greenhouse at the Gardens by the Bay I suddenly started realizing that I was witnessing a real-life example of exactly that. Humans reconnecting with nature, appreciating it for its beauty and a promise of change.