THE PALPABLE NEED FOR NATURE
Updated: Sep 12, 2022
THE PALPABLE NEED FOR NATURE
The dramatic juxtaposition of the built and natural worlds and how they feel
Sunday, September 2, 2022
I was excited to attend the Meteorological Technology World Expo – North America 2022 held last week in Rosemont, IL (https://www.meteorologicaltechnologyworldexpo.com/usa/). I was excited to have the chance to meet up with colleagues and friends and I had the chance to talk about my favorite topic – climate change mitigation and the amazing opportunity it presents for us to improve human thriving. It was a modest but impactful event.
(me speaking about the Climate Opportunity for the Met Tech Industry)
But perhaps the most interesting thing that happened during my two-night stay was on a morning jog. Rosemont, Illinois is not, as far as I can tell, a pretty place. Located at the end of the runways of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, one of the busiest in the world, it’s a concrete exurban savannah, populated by low rise hotels, chain restaurants and office parks connected by 8 lane streets, sandwiched between interstate highways. It’s arguably inhospitable to human life – almost impossible to navigate without the life support systems of restaurants, cars and building HVAC systems. The sound of airplanes and traffic reverberate off the concrete, glass and plastic that make up every surface in sight. The sun heats like a kiln.
Of course, most of this went unnoticed, until I went out for a morning run. When I booked my hotel, I looked for anything that had a green blob on the map near it. It was hard to find, but there was something that looked promising. I had to cross a highway to get to, but it would do. So, I navigated to what I learned was the Catherin Chevalier Woods (https://www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/zlup/Sustainable_Development/Publications/Chicago_Nature_and_Wildlife_Plan/Catherine_Chevalier_Woods_Forest_Preserve.pdf)
The juxtaposition with the rest of Rosemont couldn’t have been more jarring. I found a footbridge across the Des Plaines River and about as fast as it takes Aaron Rogers to throw a touchdown pass against the Bears, I felt nature’s soothing. It was so jarring I didn’t believe it at first. I walked back across the bridge into the office building, elevated car park jungle to feel it again. Walking back into the woods I felt the temperature drop. I could hear insects and birds singing. My heart rate and blood pressure noticeably softened. It was like turning a light switch on and off. I’ve spent lots of time in the woods and know how that feels. I guess the transitions are always more gradual. Here the difference was stark and abrupt.
It reminded me how much we need nature. How much better life is with it. It made me wonder why the rest of the area around it had to be inhospitable to the point of being uninhabitable. There was ample space and opportunity for tree boxes lining streets, natural flower and prairie plantings along buildings, walkable scale developments.
When we think about the benefits of mitigating climate change, it’s easy to get lost in the sterile calculus of this many tons of this and parts per million of that. The cost per unit of everything. The actuarial math of our doom. The trillions of dollars that await those who solve the problem.
As far as I know there is no solution that doesn’t include a recalibration of our place in the natural world – a full accounting and recognition of the benefits of the natural world, the stream of ecosystem benefits we garner. Walking across the Des Plaines River, reminded me of some of those benefits too easily overlooked. As the birds sang and the trees and rhythmic hum of insects filtered out the mechanical roar of airplanes overhead, I could feel my feet on the earth, hear my heart beating in my chest and breathe cleaner air and for a few minutes reap some of those benefits.