Best-selling author sheds light on future

By Dylan Matousek

Lumen Reporter

“It’s not too late to save nature,” was the message Tuesday September 14 from Richard Louv, author of the best selling book “Last Child in the Woods” and child advocacy expert.  Louv spoke to a crowd of over seven hundred in the Viterbo Fine Arts Building’s main theater as part of the Leadership in Ethics lecture series.  Louv examined the effects that “Nature-Deficit-Disorder,” as he called it, is having on today’s youth.  He attributed such things as childhood obesity, attention disorders, and depression to a lack of contact with nature.

Louv recounted anecdotes about “playing in the woods” and “being filled with a sense of wonderment by nature” as a child.  “I wonder what happened?” Louv questioned in reference to the ever decreasing tendency for today’s children to play outside; or have any contact with nature at all.  He called for a return of the field trip and an end to reductions in recess, arguing that such activities actually promote good academic performance in children.

His focus wasn’t limited to children, though.  Louv said that employers should consider incorporating nature into the workplace in any way they can.  He said that something as simple as a window with an exterior view has been shown to increase employee happiness and productivity.  He called this, “producing human energy through nature.”

When asked by an audience member what was being done to implement these ideas, Louv responded that many of them are already in use by teachers across the country.  He said he had spoken to many teachers who “claimed they are fighting the good fight and getting their children outside.”  The problem, though, is that common to these teachers is a feeling of isolation; that they are alone in their efforts.  To combat these feelings of isolation, he has created the Natural Teachers Network, a coalition of like-minded teachers who are striving to bring nature into the classroom.  Louv said that the group is “a little small right now, but will hopefully grow as it begins to catch on.”

Louv also reported that he had been invited by a group of developers to present his ideas on returning to nature.  He joked that, upon completion of his presentation, he “prepared to run” because he expected them to react negatively to his ideas.  The developers were excited by his ideas of more fully incorporating things like “native grass lawns, nature gardens, and even just leaving some of the existing nature there,” though, and took to brainstorming their implementation with enthusiasm.

Louv said that, “developers have found that more and more baby boomers want a place to take ature walks instead of golf courses in their retirement communities.”  He then went on to say, “[that] is just fine with him, whatever it takes to get the process started.”

Louv’s presentation also looked to the future.  He argued that when people think of the future “without thinking about it, just off the top of [their] head,” most people come up with a picture that is post-apocalyptic, devoid of nature.  He related such images to the filmsBlade Runner’ and ‘Mad Max’.

Louv attributed such thoughts to a “bombardment of the message that, ‘it’s too late’ to save nature; that people are being conditioned to live in a state of fear” of the future.  Louv called it our “dangerous fixation” and that such a fixation is “drawing us toward that gray, black and white future.”  He stressed that it is not too late to make a difference and turn away from that future, “if we are willing to think creatively and optimistically.”

Louv also commented on our nation’s trend of striving to achieve sustainability.  He asked, “do we really just want sustainability?  Do you want a sustainable marriage, or do you want something better?  Do we really want a sustainable future or do we want more?”  Through a return to nature, he said, we can achieve so much more that sustainability.

When asked by a high school student what his “painting of the future” was, Louv replied:  “in that world I want to go to, nature would be all around us.  All these smaller movements and causes could combine, not just literally but through their various efforts combined, to create a much bigger movement that could truly recreate the world.”

The final point in Louv’s speech was focused on the law and the way it impacts plans for including nature in the schools.  He cited an example of a California kindergarten school that prohibited a design for an outside play structure because of the risk that two children “could potentially fall simultaneously and collide with each other causing injury.”  Louv called for a “national conference on children, nature, and the law” to examine the way the law can not only inhibit naturalization but also assist it.

Saying he does not want to “diminish the threat of future environmental problems,” Louv added that those problems are solvable and “it is not too late.”  He said we are “standing on the edge of what may prove to be the most creative generation yet,” and that “maybe this time we really do need a new civilization.”

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