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     Volume 8 Issue 53 | January 16, 2009 |

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From Biophilia to Biophobia?

Obaidur Rahman

Have you ever wondered why we want to have an office room that has a window with an impressive view? What is the reason behind some people's unparallel affection to their pets, be it a miniscule goldfish in a tiny aquarium or a ferocious pit-bull; why do most people prefer to be in the midst of some sort of natural setting every time they think of taking a break from their hectic daily schedules? Scientists explain that there is an instinctive bond between human and other living systems, a hypothesis which has been popularised by Harvard University entomologist Edward O Wilson by coining the term “biophilia”. It talks about our inborn kinship with nature and mankind's “love of life and living systems”. Many argue on the possibility that there are deep affiliations humans have with nature which are rooted in our biology due to mankind's years of preceding coexistence, a sentiment that managed to survive numerous stages of evolution that can be psychologically described as “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life”. And as for a common and homebound example of this, the flock of visitors at the Mirpur Zoo during any day of festivity, can only be explained as ordinary people's intuitive aspiration to share the joyous sentiments with the rest of the life, not only just human. Be it the dense, thick, vibrant, lush and gleeful virgin natural ecosystem or minute pockets of very shy and sullied natural survival in the midst of brutal, chaotic, selfish, industrial, contemporary and concrete laden urban setting, there is no denying of the healing power of nature that keeps us happy and content. There have been examples of patients recovering quickly due to the exposure to greenery, even pictures of greenery, rather than a purely artificial environment.

Any negative effect on environment has its toll on the human behaviour, as along with the physical effects there are psychological effects of pollution and environmental destruction as well.

But alarmingly, evidences are also there on the phobic responses towards the nature, which experts believe may have been influenced due to the rapid process of change and progress that took place after the World War II that compelled us to practice a constantly evolving urbanised lifestyle. Prescribed by the western industrialised cultures, the modern ways of living are in stark contrast to our evolutionary history where mankind has coexisted in the closest relationship with the natural world for years. Many even fear that the current era is witnessing a significant change in the human psyche towards natural components as the sensitivity towards environment is constantly being undermined. The development process and the environment have always been at loggerheads. This variance is not the result of today's rush of progress as the tension between the two had always been there. The only difference, however, is that previously the environment was compromised in a respectable manner, which was influenced by a sense of knowledge and esteem. But as the process of development expanded, the world also witnessed the utter annihilation of her natural systems.

Mankind has come a long way from his ancient way of life and the substitutes that narrowed down his absolute dependence on nature somehow created a void and perhaps that is where our temperament of taking environment for granted may have developed. Now the future state of the global environment surely looks grim. Wars are waged for no reasons at all and millions are being killed indiscriminately here and there. Superpowers are once again in fierce competition and are out to establish a new world order. Like the old days, military might is no longer the key bludgeon of intimidation but rather economy is now vital to establish the sheer influence all over the globe. As a result, when the survival and world domination are key concerns, environment receives less of a priority.

There is an instinctive bond between human and other living systems.

It must be understood that any negative effect on environment also has its toll on the human behaviour, as along with the physical effects there are psychological effects of pollution and environmental destruction as well. The effects of weather, noise, temperature, crowding, socio-physical components like buildings, parks, quality of transports and transport systems affects a person's behaviour, performances and social interaction. This is very important because psychological sensitivity and response towards any environment would direct a man to act in a certain way. Problems like environmental degradation both in natural as well as urban settings, social crisis, overpopulation, traffic jam, over crowding put pressure on people and eventually create psychological disruption among them. These sorts of disturbances later generate less environmentally responsible behaviour and negative attitudes to the surrounding social settings. With the declination of environment, the quality of livelihood also deteriorates which eventually takes its toll on human character. As a result our once celebrated affinity towards the nature ends up being a struggling choice and Biophilia gradually transforms into some sort of Biophobia, where environment is no longer a true concern.

The issue of the betterment of our natural environment has become a sham of a commitment and dearly lacks priorities. But is this how it should be? According to Biophilia hypothesis our love for other life forms helps to sustain other lives around us. In the urban life it is quite challenging to maintain that human-nature connection but some use of natural, living and even mimicry of natural forms have been proven to re-establish this connection. Inspired by this concept some countries are even incorporating this idea into modern architecture where buildings are specifically planned with “natural” and “organic” elements. Some offices in the west even allow their employees to bring their pets to work in order to usher more productivity by moving away from the typical “cubical lifestyle”. As for Dhaka, from individual perspectives, inhabitants certainly could practice indoor plantations to the best extent possible, which not only deepens man's bond with nature but also inspires one to lead a healthy and environment-friendly lifestyle. Meantime, the authorities should also ensure that the plans centring on Dhaka's environment must meet their merited realities before things become disastrous and the existence of the citizens becomes a detrimental one.

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