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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Natural Ignorance

Air Date: Week of

When considering the world's environmental problems; it's easy to point a finger of blame at polluting industries, clearcutting corporations, or over-populated developing nations. But, commentator Andy Wasowski thinks the real problem may lie a bit closer to home. Commentator Andy Wasowski is author of "Native Gardens for Dry Climates". He comes to us via KERA in Dallas.


CURWOOD: When considering the world's environmental problems it's easy to point a finger of blame at pollution, sprawling development, or runaway population growth. But commentator Andy Wasowski thinks the real problem may lie a bit closer to home.

WASOWSKI: Face it. We're all ignorant. But there's a big difference between not knowing anything about, say, astrophysics, and not knowing anything about the natural world we inhabit. The sad fact is, when it comes to nature, the average American is clueless about some very basic stuff.

For example, a recent poll taken at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, revealed that over 75% of their visitors did not know the purpose of pollination. Then there was the company that went to great pains to preserve the natural landscape around their new corporate headquarters in North Texas, which included a profusion of indigenous wildflowers. But because of ignorance of how things grow, they made 2 fatal mistakes. First they installed a sprinkler system. The second mistake: they used it. The wildflowers drowned and have never come back.

Ignorance breeds misunderstandings, discomfort, even fear. My own sweet Aunt Enka, who lives in New York, won't come to visit us here in northern New Mexico because, in her words, "when I see two bushes together, I get nervous." She also informed me that she'd feel safer walking in Times Square at midnight than in the woods at noon.

She is not unique. When an elementary school in Wisconsin wanted to put in a natural landscape around the building, the parents strongly objected because they were afraid rabbits would jump out and scare the kids. And if you think that kids are more savvy about nature than their parents, think again. During a school field trip through a demonstration vegetable garden in Dallas, at least half the fourth graders expressed amazement that carrots grew in the ground. And when a university tested youngsters to see how well they could identify various botanical smells, most of the kids identified grated lemon peel as dishwashing detergent.

Where have we gone wrong? And what are we teaching our kids? Did you know a Boy Scout can get a merit badge in forestry without learning about a single native tree? If we have any hope of pulling our environmental chestnuts out of the fire, we'd better take a hard look at what we're teaching our youngsters about nature. After all, they're the generation that's going to have to fix the mess we've made of this planet. And the biggest lesson they need to know is that we do not live apart from nature. We are a part of nature.

CURWOOD: Commentator Andy Wasowski is author of Native Gardens for Dry Climates. He comes to us courtesy of KERA in Dallas.



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