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Forward to Nature: New Nature Movement Isn’t About ‘Going Back’ to Nature

Richard Louv / Jan 03 2013

For Release Thursday, January 3, 2013
Citiwire.net

Richard LouvFor many people, thinking about the future conjures images from movies like Blade Runner or Mad Max: a post-apocalyptic dystopia stripped of nature and human kindness. We seem drawn to that flame, but it’s a dangerous fixation.

There are many reasons for the attraction – global threats to the environment, economic hard times, decades of disconnection between children and nature – but there’s a fundamental problem with it. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that any movement – any culture – will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world people will want to go to.

Despite undeniable successes, environmentalism is in trouble: Many recent polls describe a public with diminishing regard for environmental concerns. What we need now is a new nature movement, one that includes but goes beyond the good practices of traditional environmentalism and sustainability, and paints a compelling, inspiring portrait of a society better than the one we live in – not just a survivable world, but a nature-rich world in which our children and grandchildren thrive.
This new nature movement, inchoate and self-organizing, is already emerging.

It revives old concepts in health and urban planning (Frederick Law Olmsted, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Muir come to mind). It also adds new ones, based on research showing the power of nearby wilderness and natural areas to improve our psychological and physical health, cognitive functioning and economic and social well-being. Colorado University professor Louise Chawla describes the basis of the movement as “the idea that as humans we can not only make our ecological footprints as light as possible, but we can actually leave places better than when we came to them, making them places of delight.”

Among the movement’s tenets, which I suggested in my book, The Nature Principle, are that the more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need. Cities must become engines of biodiversity. Natural history is as important as human history to our regional and personal identities. Conservation is no longer enough; now we must “create” nature where we live, work, learn and play. Nor is energy efficiency enough; now we must create human energy – in the form of better physical and psychological health, higher mental acuity and creativity – by making our cities truly green.

This movement isn’t about “going back to nature,” but going forward to nature.

Participants include: traditional conservationists; proponents and producers of alternative energy; physicians (particularly pediatricians) who prescribe time in natural areas and green exercise to patients; ecopsychologists and wilderness therapy professionals; park professionals who help families fulfill their “park prescriptions”; public health professionals and urban designers who work to increase the number of natural amenities near where we live.

Other participants are citizen naturalists salvaging threatened natural habitats and creating new ones; community gardeners and urban farmers; organic farmers and “vanguard ranchers” who restore as they harvest; urban wildscapers replacing suburban yards with native species; nature-aware champions of walkable cities and active living; deep green design professionals, including biophilic architects, developers, urban planners and therapeutic landscapers who transform homes, workplaces, suburbs and city neighborhoods – potentially whole cities and their transportation systems – into restorative regions that reconnect us to nature.

None of those ideas is truly new. For examples and precedent, we can look to earlier social movements, including those promoting healthy cities and nature studies in the early 20th century, and today’s movement to connect children to nature.

The World Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in September passed a resolution declaring children have a human right to experience the natural world, an essential ingredient if nature is to be protected from human excess – and a step toward seeking a similar declaration at the United Nations. At the same World Congress, leaders of national parks and protected areas throughout the world approved the “Jeju Declaration on National Parks and Protected Areas: Connecting People to Nature,” committing them to create a global campaign that recognizes the contribution of these natural treasures to the health and resilience of people, communities and economies.

The children and nature movement has far to go before it can declare anything approaching victory. But it has already made inroads in policy and, more important, has planted the seeds for self-replicating social change, including at least 109 regional and state campaigns that have brought together businesspeople, conservationists, healthcare providers and others, who have all found common cause. The children and nature movement, like the larger, new nature movement, is surprisingly diverse. Recent immigrants and inner-city youth are among the most persuasive advocates for nearby nature and outdoor experience – once they get a chance to have such experiences.

Not all the individuals and groups I mention would identify themselves as environmentalists. They do not necessarily see themselves as part of one movement – yet.

But consider the collective power if these forces came together to craft a positive vision of the future, a newer civilization based on a transformed human relationship with the natural world. We certainly don’t have to agree on everything to reach that goal. But we must agree that our species’ connection to nature is fundamental to our shared humanity – and to the future of Earth itself.


Richard Louv is author of “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age” and “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” He is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network.

This column is adapted from an essay that originally appeared in “Thirty-Year Plan: Thirty Writers on What We Need to Build a Better Future,” published by The Orion Society, 2012.

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7 Comments

  1. Barbaara Griffith
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    What would really help the cities is the roof top gardens. I have seen pictures of some of the gardens and you would never know they were on top of a tall building. If every building had trees growing on them it would certainly help the air quality which needs all the help it can get.

  2. Lorna D. McEwen
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I am happy to see this article, because it touches on a subject that is most important to me — that organizations (like the Michigan Enviromental Council in my state) which attempt to bring together people and groups with many different goals all basically oriented in their own way to assuring a healthy future for people and the natural world. Here in Michigan The Michigan Environmental Council brings together more than 60 members, including land conservancies ( I have helped found two), TRU (Transportatio Riders United), the watershed councils, ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), Sisters, Services of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Michigan Recycling Coalition… It takes all working, separately but together to accomplish a goal for his century and beyond.

  3. Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Excellent points. Too often, environmentalism is proffered as Jimmy Carter (who I admire deeply) in his sweater with the thermostat turned down or as economic and personal downsizing. To be sure, a future that is sustainable with current and projected human population must be more energy frugal than today’s First World and that will take adjustment, but this must be elucidated in a positive way, as this essay proclaims.

  4. Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Well put, Richard! Your vision is such a fine example of how effective positive discourse can be in this world of negative, us-vs.-them, “gotcha” debate. I’m with you in these efforts to articulate what we’re for, not what we’re afraid of!

  5. Mike Ogar
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Great idea to mobilize our children, especially the urban base to connect with nature and move forward to nature.

  6. Posted January 7, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic! As an urban dweller and health professional in Brooklyn, NY, I feel so lit up by this topic! The concept of bringing passionate people together for a shared goal of preserving nature for all of us is one that is powerful, exciting and essential while many other isolated developments in what’s popular in the world of heath can be so disappointing when they lack depth and long-term vision. What I’m left feeling is, where can we all meet? I suppose here is a good place to start.

  7. Wayne Tyson
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Louv and I share a lot more than he is aware of, but we have never connected face-to-face. I suspect, but cannot know, that the reason he has been unresponsive is that he is overwhelmed with “fan” mail. There is also the possibility that he has listened to rumors about me, and believing them, avoids me.

    But it is not about me–and it is not about Louv. It is about how we, individually and collectively, through acts of commission and omission, move forward to “reconcile the needs and works of humankind with those of the earth and its life.”

    Louv and I shared a mentor in LoVerne Wilson Brown, a San Diego poet and prose writer from whom I learned how toxic egocentrism can be, and how important it is to consciously (until it becomes unconsciously) divest ourselves of egocentrism.

    Just writing this runs a serious risk of moving toward egocentrism, just as writing a book and acquiring a level of “fame” can suck one down into that quicksand. But, it’s a risk that one must run if one is to compound one’s effect upon the ship of fate (I wrote a minor piece on this subject in an obscure online journal now called “Ecology and Society” ( http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/resp1/ , http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol4/iss1/resp6/ and others).

    I am happy to know that Louv has written his books and been active in his mind and behavior; he may be the closest kindred spirit out there in fame-land, and I hope he is able to endure. I am no competitor, and as my energy flags with age, I feel much better that there is a man like Louv who “gets it” in a way similar to my own. I have been working on several projects that have yet to be “completed” (nothing worth doing is ever completed), or at least published outside of comments like this, and they are similar to Louv’s work (“Advancing Toward Eden,” “Culture Against Society,” and something, as yet untitled, concerning “A Mechanic’s Guide to Ecosystem Management and Repair/Restoration”). I compliment Louv for taking the bull by the horns and getting his ideas into book form. I hope they will serve to accelerate and broaden, not merely knowledge, but a deep understanding of how, specifically, we have choices that will require generations to realize to any significant degree. In that respect, Louv’s focus on children is most wise.