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When the natural environment is viewed primarily for recreation, hiking becomes just another consumer activity.
In places like Hong Kong, for example, people consume a ‘natural’ experience as easily as they consume iced tea and fish balls from the local Seven Eleven.
Many hikes in Hong Kong are designed to be as comfortable as possible. On one trail there are benches and rubbish bins, emergency telephones, and in the middle of the hike, a shop that sells noodles and sweet tofu.
At the end of the trail there’s even a drink machine that dispenses water and coke.
I enjoyed the convenience of Hong Kong hiking trails, but I couldn’t help comparing them with hikes in Australia. In particular, I remembered an experience of getting lost and spending the night in the bush, with no drink machines or benches.
That was a far less comfortable experience, but one that I will always remember.
If most people’s interaction with nature is an extension of their consumer lifestyle, something has gone wrong. A hike won’t lead to a reevaluation of one’s place in the wider environment or instill a greater respect for nature.
Nature For Sale
What happens when outdoor experiences are packaged and sold like any other commodity?
When the environment becomes a playground for people, the cost of admission to the playground equals the value of the place. According to this attitude, if the mountains are good for weekend walks, then they have value. If not, fire up the bulldozers.
John Muir said:
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
Likewise, Lao Tzu echoes:
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
This view is to see nature as something that has an intrinsic value: whether people can get something out of the mountains or not, they should be respected and protected.
According to many environmental philosophers, this approach not only works out better for the natural environment, but is also a fundamental element of human spirituality.
This approach aims to challenge the traditional western dichotomy of man and nature as two separate things.
The Value of Humility
An intrinsic view of nature’s value makes us question who or what is in control of the experience.
When you start a day hike in many national parks that are off the tourist trail, you must submit to the surrounding environment.
It’s a time to respect the weather, your body and the sun, as you may be far away from help if anything goes wrong.
In these rare times we feel humbled, and remember how to work within the limits of our own bodies and the natural world.
For most people who enjoy hiking in remote or challenging locations, their sense of respect for the environment continues after the hike, and they remain conscious of their impact when they return to the city or workplace.
When you go hiking, make the effort to explore beyond popular trails and explore less familiar territory.
In this day and age, we must go out of our way to foster respect for the environment and experience the natural world on its own terms.
What are your thoughts on the commodification of nature? Share in the comments!