Three years ago, I started rock climbing in my college gym. At the time, I would have called myself an indoor person. I liked climbing, but I would never have volunteered, as I have twice since, to camp in Colorado without running water, waking up to subfreezing sunrises. I wouldn’t have driven six-and-a-half hours to Kentucky’s lush Red River Gorge to fight my way up routes, mosquito-bitten legs shaking with exhaustion—and yet, by junior and senior year, these trips to the Red became my most precious and highly-anticipated weekends.
But before I got hooked on climbing outside, the gym’s plastic holds were enough for me. I was content to see my sport, as I saw the world, from an inside perspective. I considered mountains and canyons with a distant respect, but was convinced that they weren’t for me. I had a similar perspective about the environment in general: worth protecting, but for someone else. Or worth protecting, but only because the collapse of natural ecosystems has consequences that seep into even the most “indoor” lives.
There’s nothing wrong with that perspective. It is right to care about habitats and species we’ll never see in person—they are intrinsically valuable. Deforestation, desertification, shrinking ice floes, and the sixth mass extinction all threaten precious, created life. Neither is it wrong to protect the environment to preserve human routines. We should be concerned about the effects of climate change on crops (higher food prices) and urban centers (damaged infrastructure, dangerous air quality). We should worry about communities near the equator or on coasts, places that are becoming progressively less habitable; this damage fuels migration crises.
But we shouldn’t let these worries make our relationship with nature seem stressful or inconvenient. Rather, we need to keep the mutualistic quality of the relationship in mind. While we should remember our common responsibility to heal the planet, we shouldn’t forget its ability to heal us.