Congratulations to our 2015 winner Asha Mortel and runners up Mitchel Riggs and Clare Francis
About the Global Integrity Summit 2015 School Essay Competition
Students were invited to submit an essay addressing one of three complex ethical scenarios which were judged on clarity of expression, effective language, quality of substance, ability to command reader’s attention, coherent argument, evidence of analysis, evidence of independent research and referencing of sources.
Many entries were received from students in years 11 and 12 and the standard was exceptionally high. We would like to congratulate our three winners and all those who took time to submit an entry.
The Winning Essay by Asha Mortel
Today, almost everything a child learns about the natural world is ironically acquired through a television screen. People like Sir David Attenborough and Richard Hammond allow us to appreciate the many wonders of the world without taking a step outside our own living rooms. Many would argue that this has allowed current generations to become highly educated global citizens however, in reality it is dulling our senses; it is teaching us to see only with our eyes. To truly comprehend the natural world though, we must use all of our senses; sight, taste, smell, sound and touch. For many Australian children nature is marvelling at the hundreds of species of tropical fish in the Solomon Islands, or the exoticness of the many fascinating animals on the plains of Africa. They cease to know the true wonder of their own country, right outside their door, because they are too busy spending time indoors learning from a digital screen. Australians, adults and children alike, are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world around them. The land is responsible for helping to build this opportunistic country we live in, yet in our own disconnection we are putting the lives of people around the world who still rely on the land for their livelihoods, at risk. This notion will be explored by looking at the lack of natural education in Australia and many other first world countries, the lack of connection we have to the natural world and how oblivious we are to the effects it is having on countries less fortunate than us, as well as the impact it is having on generations both present and future.
A lack of education in Australian schools concerning the natural world is quickly becoming a great concern for both adults and children alike. To the nation’s detriment, the school curriculum is quickly becoming more focused on building skills within a classroom environment and less focused on practical, outside activities. Lunch breaks are becoming duller with many children encouraged to sit on the concrete rather than play on the playground or oval as climbing trees, exploring gardens and building fortresses are definitely not allowed. We must sow nature deep into our school curriculum by basing classes, and even assessments around the valuable lessons that nature can teach us. For instance, many children today do not even understand where the meat or vegetables on their plate come from. A simple trip to the local farm to see how potatoes are pulled from the soil or a baby lamb is born is a crucial lesson that the child will remember for the rest of their life. Similarly, adults are also disconnecting from the natural world around them. Lunch is either non-existent or it is spent in the staff room or at a desk. Society is teaching the younger generation to avoid experiences in nature; that nature is something to watch, wear, consume and ignore. Although adults are consciously telling their children to play outside, they are also giving the total opposite message by cutting down the child’s favourite tree or destroying their play house in the bush. What needs to be understood is that children are very susceptible to implicit messages that adults themselves cannot hear. Author Richard Louv clearly expresses his concern on this topic in his book Last Child in the Woods (2005) and for the first time in history introduces the idea of Nature-deficit Disorder, which “…describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. This disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities. Nature deficit can even change human behaviour in cities… with high crime rates, depression and other urban maladies” (p. 34). Although this disorder is not a medical condition, it is increasingly obvious in our homes, schools and workplaces. In Last Child in the Woods, Louv also talks about the effect nature has on other disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which has been scientifically seen to improve when the individual was exposed regularly to nature. As historian and social critic Theodore Roszak states in his book Voice of the Earth (1992) “… no separation is more pervasive in this Age of Anxiety than our disconnection from the natural world…” Clearly, the human race is evolving but it is important that we do not lose our roots because the more disconnected we are from the natural world the more our society will suffer both mentally and physically. We must look to our elders and go back to a way of life where we live as part of nature, not apart from nature. It is essential that the younger generations are educated on the world around them but not just through the screen of the TV.
It is no secret that the poor often find themselves happy and content with their way of life in a way that no wealthy person could ever understand. This is because the less fortunate are often closer to their natural world; looking to it in moments of both celebration and grief. Elders of such communities realise the importance of the natural world in their culture and in the health of their people. However, countries like Australia, America and much of Western Europe have lost this connection in return for an easier, routine way of life. The Population Reference Bureau (2008) presented a staggering figure of how many people actually lived in urbanised areas. “In 2008, for the first time, half of the world’s population will live in urban areas.” This was a massive turning point in history as more people than ever moved away from their farming, land-dependant backgrounds, into big cities where the importance of nature began to fade. The less we think about our natural connection to the earth the more we begin to abuse it and hence problems such as global warming and climate change begin to appear. The sad thing about these problems though, is that the first people to see the affects will be the poor; those who still depend on the earth for their food, money and shelter. While there are still many people sceptical about these topics, the effect can already be seen all over the planet. When it comes to rising sea levels, Bangladesh is geographically cursed. With eighty percent of the country on the flood plains of the Himalaya mountain range and being one of the lowest and flattest countries in the world, the millions of people that rely on this fertile land are already feeling the heat (Years of Living Dangerously. 2015). Cyclones in the south are becoming more frequent and already the number of people arriving in the previously crowded capital Daka can reach 2000 each day (Years of Living Dangerously. 2015). This climate migration is not what has scientists concerned through; they know it is only the beginning, with the prediction of the sea level rising by one metre by 2100, they estimate that seventeen percent of the country will go under salt water and that this will leave 20 million people homeless (Years of Living Dangerously. 2015). Perhaps, it will take such a phenomenon for the developed world to realise what they are doing to the planet and perhaps this will remove the veil of denial that technology and development has put upon us. Therefore first world countries must rediscover their connection to the natural world if we are to save the planet from a grim future because they are the ones instigating these serious issues whereas the poor people who are connected to the environment will be the first to see the effects.
The most alarming effect of this disconnection from the natural world is not only the impact it is having on us now, but what it is going to mean for the future generations. When reliant on the environment, it is clear to see that one must nurture the land for the coming generations so that they can build their shelter, wealth and food from it; therefore if one generation cuts down all the trees, the next will not be able to build a house. However, when we lose the connection it is the material possessions that become important and the only goal in life is to outdo the other people around you in wealth and status. Interacting with nature allows the flow on effects of every action and decision to be seen and this helps us to interact with the people and objects around us. The Native Americans saw this as a fundamental part of building a happy and sustainable family and community. They established what is known as the Seven Generation Philosophy which positions one to think how each decision they make will impact their descendants for the next seven generations (Lyons, O. 2015). Essentially, it instils a set of values in people which affects their everyday decisions and forces them to make choices with the welfare of others in mind (Lyons, O. 2015). This is a very advanced thought process for a civilisation that began so many years ago and many people still marvel at it today. In the poem Dear Future Generations: sorry, the author, American rapper and activist Prince Ea, makes reference to this philosophy saying, “You know when I was a child, I read how the Native Americans had such consideration, for the planet that they felt responsible, for how they left the land for the next 7 generations. Which brings me great sorrow, because most of us today, don’t even care about tomorrow.” (Genius, 2015. Line 34). This small excerpt shows that even today, many of us find this way of thinking hard to comprehend. Although this disconnection is only just being brought into the spotlight, it is obvious that its beginnings are rooted deep back in history. However instead of looking for the cause, we should be focusing on the future; not only the future of the planet but the future of descendants who will have to live with the repercussions of every single choice we make today.
As the emphasis in developed countries becomes focussed more so on technology and less so on the outside world, it is evident that both adults and children are losing their connection to the natural world and this is severely affecting the lives of the less fortunate. Our inheritance of the earth is becoming less important as the importance of inheriting material things grows. This can be seen through the lack of natural education first world countries are providing for the younger generations, the obvious gap developing between people and the natural world and the impact this is going to have on our future generations. It is crucial that we re-establish this connection for the good of the planet and the people living on it, after all “…the natural world is part of your inheritance. This is the only planet we’ve got and we’ve got to protect it.”
Genius, (2015). Prince Ea – Dear Future Generations: Sorry. [online] Available at: http://genius.com/Prince-ea-dear-future-generations-sorry-annotated [Accessed 30 Aug. 2015].
Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
Lyons, O. (2015). Seven Generations- the Role of Chief. [online] Pbs.org. Available at: http://www.pbs.org/warrior/content/timeline/opendoor/roleOfChief.html [Accessed 30 Aug. 2015].
Prb.org, (2008). 2008 World Population Data Sheet. [online] Available at: http://www.prb.org/Publications/Datasheets/2008/2008wpds.aspx [Accessed 30 Aug. 2015].
Roszak, T. (1992). The voice of the earth. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Years of Living Dangerously. (2015). [DVD] USA: Madman Entertainment Pty Ltd.