climate change

Climate Change Feels Like a Ticking Time Bomb. Gratitude for Nature Can Help Us Fight

When we take time to get out in nature, we learn to appreciate the world around us, and that gratitude can be a powerful weapon.

If you listen to interviews with astronauts talking about their first time seeing Earth from space, you’ll notice similarities in their reactions.

"We really do all exist on one small globe. When you get out 240,000 miles, it really isn’t a very large Earth," Frank Borman told Congress after his Apollo 8 flight.

Canadian astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station Chris Hadfield pointed out: "Maybe even more importantly, to see the world in a way that’s impossible by any other means ... the jaw-dropping gorgeousness of the turning orb of the Earth itself ... you’re not looking up at the universe. You and the Earth are going through the universe together."

Apollo 8’s Jim Lovell explained it like this: "That feeling of mine, that perhaps we wouldn’t get back there [to Earth] ... if you could only transform that into, 'Everybody on the Earth ... you really don’t understand what you have here until you leave it.'"

You've probably never left Earth — but you can still make an effort to appreciate what we have on our planet, even as climate change takes its toll.

"Climate change is not this far away threat. It’s a here and now issue," said Melissa Burt, Ph.D., climate scientist with the group Science Moms, which works to engage parents on the topic through the lens of their children’s future.

Some of Earth’s most beautiful places are already acutely feeling the effects of climate change. North Carolina’s Outer Banks is one of them, and it’s also Burt’s daughter’s favorite place. Burt's never told her that her beloved beach might not be there one day.

“I haven’t said that yet because I might cry,” she told NBCLX. “That's hard, but that's why we have to do something about it now … and [it] actually gives me hope. ... That's what helps me want to continue to take action and to have conversations with other moms and other parents so that they understand that we have no more time left to lose."

That feeling of a ticking time bomb may be daunting, but it can also help us focus on what we appreciate about nature.

"We take the time to go on nature walks," Burt said. "[My daughter] loves picking up leaves and acorns, and we can have conversations about the world around us. She cares about animals. She cares about all of those things. ... That’s really what it is: an appreciation of the world."

It's no accident that nature is so visually stunning, according to cinematographer and environmentalist Louie Schwartzberg, known for his time-lapse videos of flowers blooming. “Beauty and seduction is nature’s tools for survival because we protect what we fall in love with," he explained in a TED Talk. "It opens our hearts and makes us realize we’re part of nature. We’re not separate from it."

Many astronauts didn’t fully grasp that humans are part of nature until they traveled to space. Neil Armstrong revealed in a speech to Congress after his historic Apollo 11 flight that the first thing he wanted to do when he came home was spend time in nature.

“I stood in the highlands of this nation, in the continental divide, introducing my sons to the wonders of nature and the pleasures of looking for deer and elk,” he said.

It's striking that the first man to walk on the moon wanted to deepen his sons’ appreciation for nature. After all, appreciation is the seed from which gratitude grow, and gratitude can grow into something much bigger.

"[Gratitude] actually gives us our life back,” meditation and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach said. "Typically we race through situations, and we don’t pause enough to appreciate each other or look in someone’s eyes and sense their sincerity and their goodness."

To experience that goodness in life, begin by simply going outside. Then pause to take a deep breath and feel the sun on your face.