According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends only 7% of their life outdoors. Although this might not seem like much time, how is it being spent?
Over the years, extensive research on the effects of nature has shown that spending as little as five minutes outside and active can improve both mood and self-esteem, a fact many are unaware of. Richard Louv, a renowned non-fiction author and journalist, writes in his notable book “Last Child in the Woods” that nature is not just nice to have but essential for physical health and cognitive functioning. It is widely acknowledged worldwide that nature offers significant benefits to our cognitive and physical health.
So then, why do we continuously destroy nature?
Audubon Park is one of many examples of how we abuse nature. We have plowed through the grass to build roads and walking paths, destroyed biodiversity by constructing a golf course, and dug into the ground to create playgrounds and exercise stations.
One of the major issues in Audubon Park, as well as globally, is the existence of zoos. The truth is that zoos embody the commodification of living processes, with biodiversity reduced to artificially sustained “exhibits”. Zoos have become a perfect symbol of how we treat our planet, showing how little we actually care. Humans have decided to take over Earth’s resources for ourselves without acknowledging the damage we are causing in the process. Animals are removed from their natural habitats, where they have specific roles, and placed into cages for public viewing and entertainment. Animals are meant to be out in nature, where they contribute to maintaining biodiversity and plant life. There are more zoos than we realize, with over 10,000 worldwide and more than 2,400 in the U.S. alone, causing more harm than we acknowledge. Zoos often remove key predators from their ecosystems, leading to increased hunting, which then cripples the growth of young trees and reduces biodiversity in these ecosystems. Many animals in the Audubon Zoo are not native to Louisiana, including species like the Asian Elephant, Malayan Tiger, California Sea Lion, and East-African Colobus Monkey, among others. It is also a contributing factor to deforestation which is a key contributor to human-caused climate change. In recent decades, we have witnessed increased extreme weather events, widespread fires and deforestation, accelerated polar ice melt, and more (Gills, Barry). Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When there are insufficient trees, more carbon dioxide remains in the air, thereby raising the global temperature. Zoos also distort our perception of the natural world, particularly for young children, by displaying animals outside their natural habitats.
Another large problem with Audubon Park is the golf course. In Louisiana alone, there are 66 golf courses, and across the whole U.S., there are approximately 15,500. When a golf course is built, bushes and trees have to be removed to create a clear fairway. This immediately harms the ecosystem by destroying it and potentially releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as previously mentioned. In New Orleans’s Audubon Park, the golf course has to be regularly maintained. The maintenance of golf courses is another major reason they are detrimental to our ecosystem and environment. A significant amount of water is used to maintain the grass; Audubon International estimates the average American golf course uses 312,000 gallons per day. In states like Louisiana, which has 66 golf courses, this amounts to over one million gallons each day – a million gallons of water spent on maintaining golf courses, despite being a state with fewer golf courses. Most of the water we use for consumption is sourced from underground. This water is being depleted due to our continuous pumping and usage over decades. Unfortunately, many areas of the United States are experiencing groundwater depletion. This can result in various consequences, including increased costs for water pumping, water quality deterioration, and the potential for land collapse due to the absence of supporting water. Additionally, the maintenance of golf courses also necessitates using pesticides and chemicals to control weeds and pests. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests. What often goes unrecognized is the detrimental impact of these pesticides on our environment. These pesticides may harm plants and animals that are not the intended targets. Methyl bromide, a widely used pesticide, “has been identified as a cause of stratospheric ozone layer depletion and is associated with serious health effects” (Sande, D., et al., 2011). In 1990, methyl bromide was regulated under the Clean Air Act, first established in 1963. Finding a suitable alternative for methyl bromide is almost impossible, as most other pesticides also damage living organisms they are not intended to affect. Thus, it is clear that a change was necessary. Although it was known since 1955 that carbon dioxide emissions into our atmosphere were rapidly increasing, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was not established until 1988 to monitor human-induced climate change. However, carbon dioxide emissions and pesticide use are not the only problems we face today. There are three fossil fuels that are impacting our atmosphere and causing what we call climate change. Climate change “is considered the result of the urban-industrial and technological revolution, with the rapid and ferocious exploitation of natural resources, and the huge increase in waste products”(Marazziti, Donatella). Coal, oil, and natural gasses “are the bedrock of our industrial society.” This situation arises because humans have chosen to exploit Earth’s resources for our own use, without recognizing the damage we are inflicting in the process.
The Earth is a living entity, and parks like Audubon are slowly killing it by depleting its resources. We abuse the air, the water, the soil, and everything in between. We pollute the air for our benefit, without considering the harm we cause to the air, the atmosphere, and our health. We do this through various ventures, believing they will benefit us more than they actually do.
Gills, Barry. “Postscript, an End to the War on Nature: COP in or COP Out?” Globalizations., vol. 18, no. 7, Routledge,, 2021, pp. 1311–22, doi:10.1080/14747731.2021.1973273.
Marazziti, Donatella. “Climate Change, Environment Pollution, COVID-19 Pandemic and Mental Health.” The Science of the Total Environment., vol. 773, Elsevier PubCo, 2021, p. Article No.: 145182–Article No.: 145182.
Sande, D., Mullen, J., Wetzstein, M., & Houston, J. (2011). Environmental impacts from pesticide use: a case study of soil fumigation in Florida tomato production. International journal of environmental research and public health, 8(12), 4649-4661.