BRING DOWN THE BARRIERS: Five Major Reasons for the Disconnection of Children (and Adults) from the Rest of Nature
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.
1. URBANIZATION WITHOUT NATURE
- As of 2008, for the first time in human history, more people now live in cities than in the countryside.
- Poor design of cities, neighborhoods, homes, schools.
- Loss of urban parkland and the destruction of nearby nature within neighborhoods.
- 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, but the benefits outweigh them. The less we experience nature, the less we know how to avoid natural risks, and the more 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 self-replicating effect.
- 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.
Next, the Good News: the countertrends that offer hope to a new nature movement.