If children lose contact with nature they won't fight for it
By George Monbiot / guardian.co.uk

'One woe doth tread upon another's heel, So fast they follow". That radical green pressure group PriceWaterhouseCoopers warns that even if the present rate of global decarbonisation were to double, we would still be on course for 6C of warming by the end of the century. Confining the rise to 2C requires a sixfold reduction in carbon intensity: far beyond the scope of current policies.

A new report shows that the UK has lost 20% of its breeding birds since 1966: once common species such as willow tits, lesser spotted woodpeckers and turtle doves have all but collapsed; even house sparrows have fallen by two thirds. Ash dieback is just one of many terrifying plant diseases, mostly spread by trade. They now threaten our oaks, pines and chestnuts.

So where are the marches, the occupations, the urgent demands for change? While the surveys show that the great majority would like to see the living planet protected, few are prepared to take action. This, I think, reflects a second environmental crisis: the removal of children from the natural world. The young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it.

We don't have to disparage the indoor world, which has its own rich ecosystem, to lament children's disconnection from the outdoor world. But the experiences the two spheres offer are entirely different. There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted. The thought that most of our children will never swim among phosphorescent plankton at night, will never be startled by a salmon leaping, a dolphin breaching, the stoop of a peregrine, or the rustle of a grass snake is almost as sad as the thought that their children might not have the opportunity.

The remarkable collapse of children's engagement with nature – which is even faster than the collapse of the natural world – is recorded in Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods, and in a report published recently by the National Trust. Since the 1970s the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90%. In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from more than half to fewer than one in 10. In the US, in just six years (1997-2003) children with particular outdoor hobbies fell by half. Eleven- to 15-year-olds in Britain now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen.

There are several reasons for this collapse: parents' irrational fear of strangers and rational fear of traffic, the destruction of the fortifying commons where previous generations played, the quality of indoor entertainment, the structuring of children's time, the criminalisation of natural play. The great indoors, as a result, has become a far more dangerous place than the diminished world beyond.

The rise of obesity, rickets and asthma and the decline in cardio-respiratory fitness are well documented. Louv also links the indoor life to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental ill health. Research conducted at the University of Illinois suggests that playing among trees and grass is associated with a marked reduction in indications of ADHD, while playing indoors or on tarmac appears to increase them. The disorder, Louv suggests, "may be a set of symptoms aggravated by lack of exposure to nature". Perhaps it's the environment, not the child, that has gone wrong.

In her famous essay the Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, Edith Cobb proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. Reviewing the biographies of 300 "geniuses", she exposed a common theme: intense experiences of the natural world in the middle age of childhood (between five and 12). Animals and plants, she contended, are among "the figures of speech in the rhetoric of play … which the genius in particular of later life seems to recall".

Studies in several nations show that children's games are more creative in green places than in concrete playgrounds. Natural spaces encourage fantasy and roleplay, reasoning and observation. The social standing of children there depends less on physical dominance, more on inventiveness and language skills. Perhaps forcing children to study so much, rather than running wild in the woods and fields, is counter-productive.

And here we meet the other great loss. Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection. The fact that at least half the published articles on ash dieback have been illustrated with photos of beeches, sycamores or oaks seems to me to be highly suggestive.

Forest Schools, Outward Bound, Woodcraft Folk, the John Muir Award, the Campaign for Adventure, Natural Connections, family nature clubs and many others are trying to bring children and the natural world back together. But all of them are fighting forces which, if they cannot be turned, will strip the living planet of the wonder and delight, of the ecstasy – in the true sense of that word – that for millennia have drawn children into the wilds.

Read a fully referenced version of this article at www.monbiot.com

4.3 ·
2
What's Next
Trending Today
The Real Reason America Used Nuclear Weapons Against Japan. It Was Not To End the War Or Save Lives.
Washington's Blog · 16,049 views today · Like all Americans, I was taught that the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to end WWII and save both American and Japanese lives. But most of the...
It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are
Mark Wolynn · 6,916 views today · The past is never dead. It’s not even past. — William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
How Does Addiction Relate to Our Relationship to the Living World?
Sarah Levine · 5,774 views today · The recently published piece titled ‘The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think' gave me a lot of food for thought for how we relate to...
6 Toxic Relationship Habits Most People Think Are Normal
Mark Manson · 4,679 views today · There’s no class in high school on how to not be a shitty boyfriend or girlfriend. Sure, they teach us the biology of sex, the legality of marriage, and maybe read a few...
Sacred Economics with Charles Eisenstein
12 min · 3,159 views today · Sacred Economics traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and...
Brené Brown on How to Reckon with Emotion and Change Your Narrative
Brené Brown · 2,552 views today · The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves, says Brené Brown. But beware—they're usually fiction.
A World War Has Begun - Break The Silence
John Pilger · 2,413 views today · I have been filming in the Marshall Islands, which lie north of Australia, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Whenever I tell people where I have been, they ask, "Where is...
Something Extraordinary Is Happening in the World, And Most People Haven't Noticed
Gustavo Tanaka · 2,306 views today · Most of us haven't quite realized there is something extraordinary happening. A few months ago, I freed myself from standard-procedure society. I broke the chains of fear that...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into A Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,044 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
The 'Sexy Lie' We Should Be Talking About
12 min · 2,031 views today · "I am here today to talk about a lie." That's how politics professor Caroline Heldman opened her Jan. 2013 TEDxYouth San Diego talk on the topic of sexual objectification. "I'd...
The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves
Yasha Levine · 1,704 views today · “…everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” —Arthur Young; 1771 Our popular economic wisdom says that...
Protests Intensify, Spread Across France as Workers Refuse Submission
Andrea Germanos · 1,090 views today · 'What we want today is for this movement to spread,' says unionist.
Permaculture Has Some Incredible Solutions For Transforming Suburbia Into Resilient Communities
Chip Richards · 917 views today · Rather than waiting for society to all agree how we need to live in a different way, by focusing here in the suburban household, people can actually get on with making...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 877 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
The Most Eco-Friendly Nation on the Planet Is Now Carbon Negative
Carolanne Wright · 731 views today · Lodged between two of the most populated countries on earth — India and China — Bhutan may be small at 700,000 souls, but it has a mighty role to play in showing the world how...
Why Spirituality Is the Key to a More Visionary Politics
Ronan Harrington · 722 views today · Progressive renewal lies in a deep recognition that we are not choosing our current lives.
The Turning of the Whales: What If We Are Not Alone? What If the 'Others' Have Been Here All Along?
Adebayo Akomolafe · 684 views today · When famed New Zealander psychologist, Dr Paul Spong, was first invited by the University of British Columbia to study the sensory apparatus of killer whales at the Vancouver...
Face It: Our Democracy Is a Sham. We Don't Have a Real Say in Most Decisions That Affect Our Lives
CELDF · 674 views today · Are we able to stop fracking and other threats to the environment from coming into our communities?  Are we able to protect local farming from sewage sludge or factory...
Proof of Evolution That You Can Find on Your Body
4 min · 627 views today · Vestigial structures are evolution's leftovers — body parts that, through inheritance, have outlived the context in which they arose. Some of the most delightful reminders of...
Ikigai - Finding Your Reason for Being
Chip Richards · 608 views today · What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning? When asked what is the single most powerful contributing factor to one’s health and vitality, integrative medical...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
If children lose contact with nature they won't fight for it