BRING DOWN THE BARRIERS! Five Causes of Nature-Deficit Disorder; Five Challenges for the New Nature Movement

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book is "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

bring down the barriers
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In the 21st Century, our Great Work – as Thomas Berry put it – must be the creation of a new, restorative relationship with the rest of the natural world. It’s time to envision that future. It’s time to bring down the barriers, including these — which are not only between people and nature, but also between people.


  • As of 2008, for the first time in human history, more people now live in cities than in the countryside. The barrier is not the city, but the absence of nature in the city.
  • Poor design of cities, neighborhoods, homes, schools, workplaces.
  • Loss of urban parkland and the destruction of nearby nature within neighborhoods.
  • Poor transportation systems that bypass communities of different economics and abilities, and bypass natural areas as well.
  • The false dichotomy of urban and nature.
  • Disappearance of biodiversity: the less we see, the less we value.


  • Media-amplified fear of strangers.
  • Real dangers in some neighborhoods, including traffic and toxins.
  • Fear of lawyers: in a litigious society, families, schools, communities play it safe, creating “risk-free” environments that create greater risks later.
  • The “criminalization” of natural play through social attitudes, community covenants and regulations, and good intentions.
  • Ecophobia: children are conditioned at an early age to associate nature with environmental doom.
  • The natural world does pose risks — and some of these risks will grow with the effect of climate change. But the benefits outweigh them. The more we experience nature, the more we know how to avoid natural risks, and the less we fear nature.


  • Technology now dominates almost every aspect of our lives.
  • In the name of enrichment and education preparedness, children’s lives are over-programmed and immersed in the virtual world.
  • The almost religious assumption that technology solves all problems, even in those cases when better solutions exist.
  • Technology is not, in itself, the enemy; but our lack of balance is lethal. The pandemic of inactivity is one result. Sitting is the new smoking.
  • As we spend more of our lives looking at screens instead of streams, our senses narrow; the more time we spend in the virtual world, the less alive we feel – and the less energy we have for going outside.
  • Without a countervailing cultural force, the economic power of technology is overwhelming other values and solutions.


  • Much of society no longer sees time spent in the natural world and independent, imaginary play as “enrichment.”
  • Nature is now commonly perceived as a “nice to have,” not a “need to have” for children’s healthy growth and development.
  • Until recently, researchers and the health community have ignored the benefits of nature experience to human development; funds for research remain scarce.
  • Though a relatively new and growing body of research clearly reveals the benefits of nature to health and cognitive development, most parents, educators, health care professionals, and policy makers remain unaware of the findings.
  • Lack of cultural and ethnic diversity within the environmental movement and conservation agencies.
  • The loss of natural cultural capacity: Immigrant groups and diverse cultures know a lot about connecting to nature, but over time that knowledge, unappreciated by mainstream culture, is disappearing.
  • Generational amnesia: as the decades and older generations disappear, so does our aptitude for connecting with nature.
  • Our engagement with nature is being replaced by solastalgia – the pain of seeing natural areas disappear, and the disengagement that goes with that.


  • Nature is seen as the problem, not the solution.
  • The three greatest environmental challenges: climate change, biodiversity collapse, and the disconnect of children from nature — are interrelated, and all seem overwhelming.
  • On both extremes of the cultural divide, nature is seen as the other. These extremes dominate public discourse.
  • Too many people in media, politics, environmentalism, and religion are trapped within the dystopian vision, and diverted by the ease of destruction.
  • Cultural acceptance that it’s too late to change course.
  • The lack of a positive vision of a nature-rich future.

It’s time to create that vision. It’s time to bring down the barriers. Hard? Of course. But we can do the best we can while we’re here on Earth, and millions of children will surely experience the wonder of nature that past generations took for granted.

Coming soon: Trends that give us hope. 


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Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network. He is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age” from which parts of this column are drawn. Photo: R.L.

Resources and other reading:

Seven Reasons for a New Nature Movement

You’re a Part of the New Nature Movement If….

For information about the research, see C&NN’s research summaries.

Philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia.” Read more.

Educator and writer David Sobel is the originator of the term “ecophobia.”

The books of Thomas Berry



  1. I agree with all the scare tactics. I agree with all the preaching talk. But I think it goes so much deeper that just man taking nature for granted and the very real possibility of man destroying a lot of life if not all life and himself too before we get our selfishness and our natural urges for satisfying gluttony under control. I want our kids and their kids to know the beautiful animals we know. To breath fresh air to drink fresh water to walk in the sun and enjoy her warmth without fear of getting skin cancer. But I see it has to start with a change in attitude from us all. Children need to be exposed to a atmosphere where nature is respected and revered from the age they first understand. Way before school age where we read them stories about nature, sing songs about animals, teach them to paint flowers and fruit bowls and show by example as we turn off lights to conserve energy, eat healthy meals, pick up liter. If we allow our kids to play violent computer games, listen to lyrics with curse words in them, let them see how cool we act when we blow smoke from our cigarettes into the atmosphere, toss our gum wrappers out of the open car window, we have to realize they will grow up just like us and it will be too late. Children are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. A lot can be accomplished with children’s literature.
    Our Kids truly thirst for more meaningful stuff to do rather than watch mindless cartoons on TV. Real Children Literature can be a big part of the answer. Literature develops kid’s brains, emotions, security, they are more confident. We must start early to curve the teenage years which have been plagued by drugs and alcohol experimentation for centuries. If we are to save our children, we can’t protect them by sheltering them. We need to instill a sincere sense of responsibility in our kids while they are young. This sense of man’s protector role of nature being of supreme importance must carry on through their teens into young adulthood. It will not be accomplished by a few trips to the zoo or by forcing students to watch static animal documentaries that can’t hope to compete with the electronic games, music or adventure movies that are out now-a days. But believe me when I tell you Jack London’s ‘Call of the Wild’ does get through. Charlotte’s Web connects! And let’s not forget the Lorax by DR. Seuss where the master children story teller of all time teaches kids the value and importance of doing our very best to preserve and protect our environment.

  2. Thanks for clearly pointing out all the many facets within each of the five areas. If my counting is correct, there are 31; almost overwhelming. Maybe we can “crowd source” out individual areas for people to concentrate on, one grain at a time to move the mountain.

  3. Keep sounding the alarm Richard Louv. Your messages ARE getting through! I’m so glad my 14 year old still loves Hendrix Pond.

  4. It is wonderful to see these challenges listed like this—a great communication technique. Now, all we have to do is starting checking them off.
    I’m working on several…

  5. Breaking down the binaries of natural/un-natural is a critical part of our work. Your five points speak to this beautifully, thank you.

    You and your readers might be interested in looking at this recent post by Peter Kahn, our friend Pat Hasbach’s colleague who is the new editor of Ecopsychology:

    Seems there is an elegant confluence occurring. Maybe time for the New Nature Movement to convene a conference across disciplines to explore this further?

  6. I agree with most of this. The one thing I see missing is hunting. It is also a great way to kid children outside.

  7. Hi RIchard — All excellent points – I try to use them as talking points whenever I get the chance in conversation or in my writing.

    One I’d consider adding, though, is the failure of those like me, who are good at preaching to the choir, to find and connect with audiences who do not (yet) realize how much they too can benefit from reclaiming our essential connections with Nature.

    You do that quite well, as do many of the organizations you support (including my friends at Wilderness Inquiry here in Mpls.) I need to work harder at it.

  8. Richard is doing great things for the New Nature Movement. I’m seeing more and more good signs of awareness of and concern for the problem of alienation from the Earth and its processes. We must not lose heart and we must put effort into changing some of the barriers to nature connections. Now when I teach a volunteer lesson, I always take the students outside. When I write an article for publication, it is about activities that are done outdoors. When I give a talk, it urges the audience to be aware of the place-based education movement and two-eyed seeing (from perspectives of Native Wisdom and Western Science). I discovered the Natural History Institute ( and their on-line journal and submitted an article. I wrote a book on 22 lessons to be taught in the prairie and not only about the prairie. I assisted a friend in finding interesting information about prairie plants to give to 7th graders visiting a local prairie. I’m trying my best to mount a campaign of action for nature. I know you are too if you are reading this.

  9. Always I find something in your newsletters that enhances the work that we do at Joe Ford Nature Center!

  10. You always provide information that I can pass on to readers of Nature Notes that is the weekly column in Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro, KY, a media that allows us to write about nature-related topics of interest.

    My husband, Joe Ford — now 88, for whom the Joe Ford Nature Center was established in 2005 to commemorate his life-long devotion to experiencing and teaching about nature, long ago recognized that people were losing their connection with nature. NDD clearing states what he came to know. The mission of our center is to connect people with nature through our use of Joe’s resources and our programs that include a Junior Naturalist Program.

    Bravo for you for providing me ample elaboration on the topic.

  11. AS we rolled into the 20th century we were adding a plethora of thoughts and ideas into our culture. During Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, he appointed Gifford Pinchot, to his staff, as the first head of the US Forest Service. Mr Pinchot coined the word, “Conservation” which he defined as “wise use of Natural Resources” rather then banning the utilization of anything!!

  12. So inspiring without inducing guilt. You could have been a gifted psychiatrist. Your outline of the barriers provides launching sites for those who desire to help. I just returned from a visit to northern Wisconsin, my childhood home. In Phelps, WI and so many other areas across that wonderful state, adults and children are in NATURE at almost every moment. I was so lucky to grow up there. The puzzle for me is all the rural areas of the state are profoundly conservative while the large cities are liberal. Maybe that reflects what so many of us fear, the governments are set on removing nature, the blood of life. Please keep up your fine work and writing. We must prevail.

  13. THANK YOU RICHARD FOR EVERYTHING. God bless you! I do too!


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