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What Humans and Nature Get From Each Other

It’s not a coincidence that America is getting both lonelier and more indoorsy, an Atlantic writer argues.

Pete Lomchid / Getty

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Those of us who live in cities are inclined to avoid some of nature’s less-than-appealing creatures. “My aversion to pigeons, rats, and cockroaches is somewhat justifiable, given their cultural associations with dirtiness and disease,” Hannah Seo writes in a recent article. “But such disgust is part of a larger estrangement between humanity and the natural world.”

“As nature grows unfamiliar, separate, and strange to us, we are more easily repelled by it,” Seo explains. “These feelings can lead people to avoid nature further, in what some experts have called ‘the vicious cycle of biophobia.’ This cycle has some parallels with another cycle of modern life, Seo writes: “Psychologists know that lonely individuals tend to think more negatively of others and see them as less trustworthy, which encourages even more isolation.”

Spending time in the natural world can’t solve all of our problems, but it may well help us feel closer to our surroundings—and to our own happiness.

On Nature

America Is Getting Lonelier and More Indoorsy. That’s Not a Coincidence.

By Hannah Seo

Our relationship to nature and our relationships with one another are deeply intertwined.

How We Learned to Be Lonely

By Arthur Brooks

In the early days of the pandemic, many of us got used to solitude. It’s a habit we need to break.

A Growing Fear of Nature Could Hasten Its Destruction

By Emily Harwitz

Some scientists worry that modern life is making children more afraid of nature. What are the consequences for the planet?

Still Curious?

  • Nature therapy is a privilege: Science is learning more about the health benefits of going outside—at a time when access to wild spaces is ever more unequal. (From 2017)
  • Trees are time machines: Arborists are planting trees today that must survive decades of global warming. The health, comfort, and happiness of city dwellers hang in the balance. (From 2020)

Other Diversions


If you’re spending some time with the last glimpses of foliage this weekend, I recommend Henry David Thoreau’s ode in The Atlantic to “autumnal tints.”

— Isabel

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