Naturalist John Muir – ‘the Father of the National Parks’ – would be dismayed at our attitudes to litter
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity,” wrote the Scottish-American naturalist John Muir, dubbed the “Father of the National Parks” in the US after such words helped convince Congress to protect the jaw-droppingly beautiful Yosemite Valley and other similar areas.
So great is his legacy that it inspired generations of people not just in America but the world over, including the country of his birth, Scotland. Without him, the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park might never have been created to provide a haven for “nerve-shaken” Scots.
Unfortunately, it seems that some of the four million visitors who flock to the park annually are happy to leave behind some of the rubbish that our ‘over-civilised’ lifestyles produce in vast quantities, staining the natural beauty that seemingly attracted them.
There are few nicer spots than the Falls of Falloch for a picnic, but it is depressing – or “demoralising” in the words of the park – that some visitors think it is acceptable to leave litter for someone else to clear up. It shows a lack of care for the natural world, but also speaks of a childish attitude that “someone else will do it”. The job of a park ranger should not have to include picking up litter.
But anyone who has seen the aftermath of a major outdoor music event knows the extent to which we have become blasé about such issues.
Our throwaway society not only happily discards litter but perfectly useable tents and other items now so cheap that some deem them to be not worth keeping. Marine wildlife is already paying a heavy price for this way of thinking because of plastic’s unique properties.
Climate change, plastic waste, pollution and the rapid rate of species extinction all clearly demonstrate that humans – who now number 7.6 billion and counting – are having a major, negative impact on planet Earth. So we need to find new ways to look after the natural world. And that “we” doesn’t mean someone else, it means all of us.
Humans not only depend on the health of the environment for their survival, but also for something less tangible, almost spiritual. John Muir clearly knew that when he wrote, “it feels important to keep close to Nature’s heart and break clear away, once in awhile, and spend a week in the wild to wash your spirit clean”.