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.
1. URBANIZATION WITHOUT NATURE
- 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.
2. A CULTURE OF FEAR
- 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 effects of climate change. But the benefits outweigh the risks. The more we experience nature, the more we know how to avoid natural risks, and the less we fear nature.
3. SILICON FAITH
- 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.
4. CULTURAL DEVALUING OF NATURE
- 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.
5. THE POST-APOCOLYPTIC VIEW OF THE FUTURE
- 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.
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.Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of the
Resources and other reading:
Philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia.” Read more.
Educator and writer David Sobel is the originator of the term “ecophobia.”