Some people are born to activism; others have activism thrust upon them. For every person who possesses a keen sense of the world’s injustices and a fever for remedying them, there have to be another 10 or 20 people who arrive at social change work slowly, serendipitously. A classic subspecies of the reluctant activist is the writer, journalist, or academic who, after studying a subject for years, finally decides there’s no other option but to put down the pen and take action. A good example would be NASA climatologist James Hansen, or author-turned-environmental leader Bill McKibben.
You could also put on that list Richard Louv. Before 2005, Louv — a longtime columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune — was a well regarded (if little known) writer who had published a number of books preoccupied with the connections between parenthood, family, and community. Then he wrote Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. The book became a best-seller — and in the process helped spark a grassroots movement to get American kids away from the Web and out into the world.
Louv’s book pulled off the feat journalists always hope for: it uncovered a major problem that had been lurking in plain sight. Much like, say, Betty Friedan’s Feminist Mystique, Last Child in the Woods gave name to a malaise that many of us had perceived but had no words for. Only instead of dissecting women’s alienation from their own lives, Louv described a similar problem affecting…
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