Biophilia as an “environment-sustaining instinct”?

Bird in rainYesterday dawned an overcast but warm day. A fine, summery rain began to fall after breakfast, the kind of rain that is not at all unpleasant to walk in, or turn your face up to. I found it quite refreshing, and was a little disappointed when I could see it was starting to clear. But when I went to my gym class that morning, the instructor ran through her usual greetings, and then declared with surprising intensity (in contrast to her usually serene demeanor, befitting of a yoga instructor) – “I hope it is fine for Christmas and we have no more of disgusting weather!”This sort of reaction to even the most innocuous of rain is far from uncommon in New Zealand. People frequently use words like “horrible”, “disgusting” and “rubbish” (and even ruder words) for rainy weather. Being someone that finds relentlessly hot, sunny weather oppressive, and understanding the obvious regenerative power of rain, I have always found this a bit odd – particularly in a nation like New Zealand, where we rely – more than almost any other country – on primary production (dairy products, meat, wool etc) for the bulk of our national revenue.

So, I was interested to read Joachim Radkau’s discussion of biophilia (the love of nature) and the possible source of this instinct, which most (if not all?) human beings have to some extent or another. Some might explain biophilia as having developed from a consistent, environment-sustaining instinct. In other words, if you appreciate the life-giving power of nature, and indeed humans’ absolute reliance on nature for their survival, you will institutionally develop a love it.

But, as Radkau points out, there is a problem with this explanation. If this was the explanation for biophilia, we would – surely – love rain. Yet, the aversion to rain is far from uncommon, particularly in the Western world. Tantalizingly, Radkau does not offer an explanation for this paradox, but perhaps someone else can?

Reference: Nature and Power: a global history of the environment, by Joachim Radkau (published in original German in 2002, in English in 2008).

One thought on “Biophilia as an “environment-sustaining instinct”?

  1. Yes, exactly! It always puzzles, even annoys me that on both radio and TV weather forecasts, they describe the prospect of sunny fine days with positive words while on the other hand the prospect of rain is always described with negative connotations. Anyone with the slightest interest in growing things, especially food, will find this habit to be very unintelligent pandering to the shallowest thinking of listeners.

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