veritas exquirere

Talon

veritas exquirere

Talon

veritas exquirere

Talon

California’s public lands protect the people

Beyond a measurable defense against climate change, open spaces in the Golden State provide physical and mental health benefits
This+article%2C+as+seen+with+graphic+design+and+layout+in+the+Talons+Fall+2023+magazine.
This article, as seen with graphic design and layout in the Talon’s Fall 2023 magazine.

California is home to nine national parks, the most of any state. Each represents a unique pocket of the state’s geography and ecology, displaying the inner workings of its earth systems.

As distant as Redwood is from Sequoia, as different as Channel Islands’ landscape is from Lassen Volcanic, these smaller worlds feed off each other, linked by the invisible string that supports biodiversity, that anchors ecological balance—that connects us all.

How does one begin to quantify their impact? And if conservation efforts were to cease, their existence threatened, what would be the environmental outcome? What would that do to us as a species?

The beginning of an answer starts with Joshua Tree National Park. 170 miles east of Oak Park, its nearly 800,000 acres of desert is far from barren and bone-dry. Over 800 species of plants make their homes across rolling sand dunes and between towering pillars of igneous rock. Groves of yucca, seas of cacti and each iconic Joshua Tree store water for the safe keeping of lizards and tortoises, ground squirrels and coyotes.

The park’s annual invasive species tend to visit when winter brings cooler temperatures. With chalk bags, crash pads and enough rope to scale three-story-high rock, climbers descend upon Joshua Tree’s Hidden Valley. People flood the campgrounds and it’s no wonder—to pick your way over boulders and scramble up a cliffside, lack of experience be damned, to tilt your head up and see the entire sky slip from gold and pink to unfiltered starlight—that’s part of your soul aligning with something deeper.

Biophilia, originally hypothesized by E.O. Wilson in the field of evolutionary biology, has come to bridge the gap between the worlds of psychology and philosophy. First introduced in 1984, Wilson found that his discovery of “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life” was fueled by instinctive “preferences to be in beautiful, natural spaces because they are resource-rich environments—ones that provide optimal food, shelter and comfort.”

Humans have outgrown the need to hunt and gather, but nothing has replaced the thousands-of-years-old desire to be a part of the natural world. What remains is a deeply ingrained reflex for awe.

The awe of emerging on the other side of a granite wall, through the tunnel along Wawona Road, to the view of glacier-cut Yosemite Valley with its roaring falls, craggy peaks and sculpted domes. The awe of feeling completely removed from Los Angeles in the isolated woodlands of the Channel Islands National Park, where species found nowhere else in the world, from the island fox to the spotted skunk, live amongst fossilized remains of pygmy mammoths. Farther north, the craters of Lassen Volcanic National Park, some filled with water to form marbled lakes, others as dry and extraterrestrial as moon basins, are something out of science fiction.

Drawing from its roots in science, our evolutionary-based love for the outdoors has, more recently, expanded the field of aesthetics in philosophy. Plato and Aristotle, as well as poet Oscar Wilde, have long noted the “all-feeling” effect of great art: in the presence of it, individuality ceases, and the beholder becomes one. German writer Immanuel Kant elaborated in his contributions that beauty does not require perfection or purpose; it has value for simply being.

The environmentalist movement intersects perfectly with these tenets of aestheticism. In a thesis published in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Dr. Allen Carlson of the University of Alberta wrote that by applying the value of art to ecology, we can better understand its importance to the human mind and body.

In chaos, humans often search for meaning. What makes it all worthwhile? Why persevere? A climate activist, a scientist and a philosopher could sit down and agree that the answer lies in the environment.

One of the most endangered national parks, Joshua Tree has suffered from excess evaporation, caused by a rise in nighttime temperatures of almost eight degrees. The park is also highly impacted by light and air pollution.

“If we do nothing and reduce no carbons, we’ll see no Joshua trees in the park,” University of California at Riverside plant ecologist Lynn Sweet said. “As a planet, if we lower emissions as per [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] standards, maybe we’ll save 20 percent of the habitat.”

The ingenuity of California’s natural spaces is that they attempt to do what humans have not. The forests of Yosemite and groves of old-growth redwoods and sequoias turn the state into an excellent carbon sink—33 million acres of greenhouse gas removal. Across the national parks, erosion from over-tourism threatens living soil and the quality of habitats. But their contributions are outpaced by deforestation as climate change simultaneously heightens bark beetle infestation and disease. Over 100 animal species are endangered in California, the havens of protected national parks their last line of defense. With extinction comes the collapse of food webs, an ecological nightmare akin to the severity of any Hollywood-imagined apocalypse.

Public lands protect the natural resources humans depend on. They act as safeguards against the brunt of climate-change-fueled disasters. As altruistically as the environment serves the people, a lot more effort can be made on humanity’s part to increase conservation.

When the beauty of our national parks can, according to studies, lower biomarkers that lead to “cardiovascular disease, depression and autoimmune disease” and even contribute to less crime and violence in surrounding neighborhoods, what greater incentive exists to protect them? Research, but also just plain experience, supports the fact that the outdoors can foster the positive emotions that combat depression, stress, anxiety and despair.

Within all of us is a calling to take a walk in the woods. Support National, State and local park systems so that future generations can too.

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Mara Hankins, Editor-in-Chief
A junior, Mara Hankins currently serves as the editor-in-chief for the 2022-2023 school year. She is also the director and founder of Medea Creek Middle School's Journalism Program, a student mentorship opportunity that has given younger students their own publication, the Panther Post. She was the news editor for the 2022-2023 school year and a senior staff writer for the 2021-2022 year.
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