THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NATURE: A New Generation Works for the Human Right to Connect With the Natural World and a Healthy Environment

About the Author

CJ Goulding is Lead Organizer of C&NNs Natural Leaders Network and Legacy Camps. CJ has worked with Washington's North Cascades Institute introducing teens to backpacking and canoe camping trips, and has also served with the Student Conservation Association as a Community Crew Leader working with high school students in the city parks and green spaces of Seattle and Edmonds. CJ has also worked with the Youth Programs office of the National Park Service in Washington DC.

In August, more than 50 people came together on Washington’s Bainbridge Island for the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Legacy Camp, held at the Islandwood campus.

Connecting people to the natural world was the central theme. We learned about leadership styles, networking, team building, community organizing, communicating, and how to effectively tell our individual stories. Not only did we learn, but we formed deeper connections within ourselves, with the natural world, and with others who came from many different places and backgrounds.

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Fifty years ago to the month, more than 250,000 people left Washington D.C. emboldened in a similar way, towards a different cause, but inspired just the same. On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most influential and memorable speeches of the 20th century. This eloquent oration called for an end to racism in the United States and was a key part of the demonstration for support of the civil rights legislation then in the works.

At first glance, it may seem that these two events are not connected. How can sit-ins, marches, and dreams possibly be connected to sit-spots, marshes, and streams?

In a sense, our coming together was a fruition of the movement that Dr. King and those alongside him pushed forward. We are a part of their legacy, a result of their efforts.

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The lessons I learned as a Natural Leader and the lessons that many people learned during the civil rights movement are connected. A major focus of the Legacy Camp and the Children & Nature Network is to connect like-minded individuals from across the world. The leaders who participated in the Legacy Camp came from different ethnicities and backgrounds. We traveled to Washington from Canada, Peru, and from across the United States. In that safe haven we experienced almost unlimited encouragement, learning, and inspiration — in contrast to what we were experiencing in our own corners of the world.

In both cases — civil rights and the human disconnect from nature — some people proclaim that it is too late to overcome the problems. This pessimism is passed to another generation that then trumpets the same misguided message: “It’s too late.”

I was not there on the August afternoon when Dr. King spoke, so I can only imagine that those listening to him experienced some of the same feelings. Coming together with others devoted to the same cause and hearing inspiring stories and learning how to further advance the movement must have given everyone there tremendous hope.

Dr. King reminded America “of the fierce urgency of now.” During the Legacy Camp, author Richard Louv spoke with the group and echoed the same sentiments, saying that it is never too late to create change, and that we may be entering the most creative time in human history — because of the problems we face. Dr. King spoke of 1963 as “not an end, but a beginning.” And for Natural Leaders this key takeaway rings true: There is no better time than now and no one better than each of us to create positive change.

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Dr. King offered a challenge that echoes to the Natural Leaders today.

He implored the crowd to “go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this can and will be changed.”

Separated by half a century, the two events were of vastly different scale. But at both gatherings, people were inspired and encouraged. And the real power of a movement comes in the moving. Even as we stretch the bonds of the network we joined, we know that they will not break. As we move back to our individual environments, neighborhoods, and challenges, we do so knowing that we stand connected.


This essay was adapted from a post on C&NN Connect, an ongoing conversation sponsored by the Children & Nature Network.

Find Out More About C&NN’s Natural Leaders Network

Other Reading and Resources

New International Attention to the Forgotten Human Right

The Child in Nature: A Film by Miranda Andersen, 13, about Nature-Deficit Disorder

A New Generation of Environmentalists: Fighting Global Warming by Reconnecting People to Nature

What a Leader Looks Like

How City Kids Will Save the Planet

All Children Need Nature Worldwide: Three Major Advances at IUCN World Congress

The Wild: An African American Environmentalism Faces Her Fear

How to Become an Earthling: We Need a Student & Nature Network

IUCN Resolution
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  1. Victoria Serna

    Very well-written and powerful CJ! Thank you for sharing all of our experiences!

  2. Jeffrey Willius

    Great post, CJ! The movement needs a note of urgency, and drawing the comparison with another fight for another set of rights (though surely ones that overlap the right to Nature) is a good way to do that. Thanks for all you’re doing for the cause!

  3. Manoëlle vanschepdael

    Thank you for this paper. I’m writting from Belgium, Europe, where a similar movement is growing.
    We have a lot of plans. For example, this year, above fifty teachers are making an “outdoor experiment” with their children. Our goal : write a book with their experiences.

    More details on our web site (in French !) (this mean “everybody out”)

  4. Takeya

    CJ! This was very moving! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Joanna

    Super inspirational! Thank you for sharing this experience with us!

  6. CJ Goulding

    Thank you for the kind words all! I am grateful that I got the opportunity to be a participant in this experience and glad I have a chance to share.


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