Losing Nature (10/31/13)
At the Grocery
The process is magical.
Perfect red-cheeked apples line up in stylish rows beneath transparent domes.. Next to them lie delightfully bright yellow mangos. Each perfect form is unique, demonstrating their shy markings of orange, brick red and lavender whose beauty declares their nutritious freshness.
You inspect each through the transparent plastic, looking for signs of discoloration or tainting rot. But you find none. These gorgeous objects are sumptuous and nearly flawless. It’s difficult to choose which you like best.
But choose you must. Your parents take each choice and zippily bring them to the black rolling mat surrounded by all the colorful magazines. With the swipe of a fragment of plastic they are yours to keep, observe, and eat.
No wonder kids are disconnected from nature. Food looks as blithely manufactured as cell phones, except the ingestion possesses a shorter lifespan.
Sometimes adults are no different. A professor friend of mine grew up in rural Wisconsin. One “glorious” summer he chastised his colleagues who complained that the wondrous weather was now replaced by sheeting rain.
“What do they think happens without that rain? Where do they think your food comes from?” he shouted.
The answer – places we need to protect.
Pity the Children
Recently the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – no wonder the British version of Audabon goes by a four letter moniker) surveyed over a thousand children aged 8-12 throughout the British isles. By their record, only 21% of the kids described being “truly connected” to Nature.
Of course the survey was stacked in a way that would frustrate a coal burning utility executive as deeply as Tea Party functionaries attending a Health Exchanges seminar. The sixteen questions included statements like “Humans are a part of the natural world” or “People cannot live without plants and animals.” Sure, kids will endorse statements like that.
However, a surprising number did not. With the score of 1 equally “agree” that of 2 “strongly agree” schoolkids in Wales came up with a score of .97. Oddly, the highest scores received were in urban London, at 1.24.
The report went on to the conclusion that with 60% of species of wildlife having recently declined in Britain, and 30% “declining strongly,” it made sense to get kids involved in nature. The goal – to aid their education and health and that of the world they do and will live in.
Even in nature loving Britain, kids are caring less.
Reasons For Greater Natural Connection
In 2005 Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe a new “clinical phenomenon.” He felt the disconnection between kids and nature directly harms their physical and mental health, including increasing the risk of attention deficit disorder and other illnesses.
Many researchers consider many of his claims are stretched. However, there’s evidence for lots of natural attractions:
1. Kids who play in the dirt have lower levels of immune disease. The data is quite good for asthma, and perhaps lots of other allergic conditions.
2. Kids who play outside are more socialized. They play more readily and easily with others.
3. Kids seem happier when they’re outside. They’re happier still when they are in natural environments. Whether this is the result of more physical activity, more sunlight, more play or other facts is not clear. In a time of rising rates of depression, it is an important reminder. Natural means may be both preventive and clinically useful in dealing with the recent epidemic of mood disorders.
4. Kids who go outside learn differently – and not just about the natural environment. They seem to have an easier time with overall creativity and new thinking.
5. New environments lead to new learning. Focused as we are on standardized tests, people fail to recognize that much of learning is not “conscious” or easily accessed by narrow cognitive means. Give a kid an economics exam and tell her to study for six hours. She’ll learn more spending two hours in three different environments – including different library carrels – then if you stick her in one place.
The funny part about the advantages of nature and natural settings for kids is that the same advantages accrue to adults.
People’s moods vary dramatically with how much time they’re outside in the light. People are far happier walking through woods than malls. Depressed people noticeably brighten when moving through natural scenery, especially nature. Thinking about nature and visualizing it helps people sleep.
And nature is everywhere. You can bring a rock or a plant from your neighborhood and put it on your desk. A square patch of earth teems with hundreds of species trying to make a go.
For most humans it’s natural to like nature. And there’s another consideration – self-destruction when it is destroyed. Civilization after human civilization has disappeared after breaking its ecological underpinnings.
In the movie “Laurence of Arabia” Arab warriors are newly brought to London. They fall in love with the gilded water faucets in their hotel baths. They resolve to buy large numbers of faucets so they can bring water to their desert homes.
In a time of burgeoning virtual environments and declining natural ones, let’s hope we’re a little savvier.
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