About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of eight books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

SEVEN REASONS FOR A NEW NATURE MOVEMENT

Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, by word and example, that any movement — any culture —will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that people will want to go to. As others have said, his speech was not called “I Have a Nightmare.”

For decades, our culture has struggled with two addictions, to oil and to despair. It’s pretty clear by now that we can’t kick one of those habits without kicking the other. Yet, for many Americans, perhaps most of us, thinking about the future conjures up images of “Blade Runner,” “Mad Max” or Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”: a post-apocalyptic dystopia stripped of nature. We seem drawn to that flame.

It’s a dangerous fixation. Think how children and young people must feel today, growing up in a time when so many adults seem to accept, with a shrug, only darkness ahead.

The key questions here are: How do we change our vision of the future? Where do we start? Here’s one suggestion: reconceive environmentalism and sustainability – help them evolve into a larger movement that can touch every part of society.

Here are seven reasons for a New Nature Movement.

• The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need. Even as biodiversity and traditional connections to nature fade, an almost religious faith in technology suggests that, well, we don’t need nature much anymore. We hear talk of a “post-biological” era in which human beings are optimally enhanced by technology. Yet, we’ve only begun to study how the natural world can optimize human health and intelligence. Technology will always be with us, but as it grows, we’ll need an antidote to its downside.

• As of 2008, more than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities. If human beings are to enjoy nature, they’ll likely have to do it in urban areas. This transformation will produce one of two outcomes: either the end of meaningful daily experience in nature, or the beginning of a new kind of city – and a new view of our role in and our definition of nature.

• Adults have nature-deficit disorder, too. In recent years, the children and nature movement has revealed a vein of hope. That effort has brought people together across party lines and religious and economic divisions. But the children and nature movement will not succeed unless adults come to see the importance of our own connection to the natural world.

• Environmentalism needs to hit reset. The environmental movement’s many successes did not prepare us for even larger, interrelated global challenges, including climate change, biodiversity collapse, and the disconnection of people — particularly children — from the natural world. Poll after poll now shows that environmental concern, in some areas, has dropped to its lowest point since before Earth Day 1970. Why? Economic recession. A well-financed campaign of disinformation. An inability to describe a great future. For whatever reason, environmentalism remains a pup tent. We need a bigger tent. In fact, we need a river.

• Sustainability alone is not sustainable. Though we don’t have a better word to replace it, the word sustain suggests stasis. Fairly or not, much of the public views energy conservation and the development of alternative energy sources as essential but ultimately technical goals. We need more than stasis; we need to produce human energy (health, intelligence, creativity, joy) through nature.

• Conservation is not enough. Now we need to “create” nature. Even if we conserve every square foot of remaining wilderness, and we should, it won’t be enough to guarantee the biodiverse habitats that humans and other organisms will require to thrive. In addition to conservation, we must now restore or create natural habitats on our farms and ranches, in our cities, neighborhoods, commercial buildings, yards, and on our roofs. We’ll need the true greening of America and the rest of the world.

• We have a choice. If we see only an apocalyptic future, that’s what we’ll get, or close to it. But imagine a society in which our lives become as immersed in nature as they are in technology, every day, where we live, work, learn and play. Imagine a future in which our intelligence and creativity, our ability to feel and be fully alive is enhanced by more frequent contact with the natural world.

We’re already seeing a convergence of a New Nature Movement focused on human restoration through the natural world. A new river is gathering force. At its headwaters, an expanding body of scientific evidence links the human experience in the natural world to better physical and mental health and enhanced cognitive abilities.

Now comes a cascade of hope: biophilic design of new homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, cities; reconciliation ecology and human-nature social capital; restorative homes and businesses; ecopsychology and other forms of nature therapy; pediatricians who prescribe nature; citizen naturalists; nature-based schools; the Slow Food and simplicity movements; organic gardening; urban agriculture, vanguard ranching and other forms of the new agrarianism; the children and nature movement; and more.

As these currents join, they’ll lead us to a different view of the future. It won’t look perfect, but it’ll surely be better.

In fact, precisely because of the environmental challenges we face, the future will belong to the nature-smart — those individuals, families, businesses and political and social leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world, and who balance the virtual with the real. That’s a picture worth painting, a future worth creating.

But first, we have to imagine it.
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This essay is adapted from THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books, 2011), by Richard Louv.

More: “A new nature movement imagines a future more like Boise than ‘Blade Runner’”-- Idaho Statesman, June 19

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  1. Jeff Renner says:

    The most important point is that we need to paint a positive a picture of places and experiences people want to visit and enjoy. One of the most truly effective ways to do this is to plant the ‘seeds'; find opinion shapers, real or potential, and get them OUT. Support teachers and schools in getting youngsters and adults onto boats, beaches, mountains and forests-arrange interactions with ‘wild’ creatures. Jacques Cousteau said people won’t protect won’t they don’t know and love. I would add people won’t seek to immerse themselves in nature unless they experience it in a meaningful way, or hear inviting stories from people like themselves.

  2. Rachel says:

    I am with you! I so agree that all the doomsday stuff about apocalypse and catastrophe does not help out cause. First of all, like you wrote in your book, people shut down. It’s so awful, they’d rather drink their poland springs water, listen to their ipods and ride their SUVs around than contemplate it for a second. Second, I think because the terrible predictions have been around for a while (not referring to lunatic stuff like today’s supposed apocalypse) but serious ones about climate change, melting polar ice caps, etc. people have gotten desensitized to them. It’s like – ok, so there’s climate change. Wear more sunscreen and expect rain on perfect days; so what? Unless people have been directly affected by a natural disaster, it just does not seem relevant. Your point here and in Last Child that is so important is to help people connect to their own back yard: the bugs, the animals, the leaves, the changing seasons. To help people feel that nature is relevant and important. I live smack dab in the middle of NYC and since I had a baby I’ve been sort of wallowing in wishing I lived out in the country, somewhere where my little guy could explore more and have forts and hideaways the way I did. But lately I’ve realized what an amazing nature experience we are able to have here — finding ladybugs in the morning, walking along the river, picnicking in central park, looking for worms after the rain. It’s all around. I don’t want to romanticize it and say we have more contact w/ nature than a child in say rural Maine but I do think b/c we’ve slowed down our lives and started paying attention to all the ways we can enjoy nature (even if it is mediated/manufactured a bit a la the Highline), that we are becoming urban naturalists in a way.
    I have to tell you you’ve inspired me to get a degree in this area. The problem is finding the exact right one — I am not too interested in environmental science per se but more place-based education. Antioch and Chatham both have great programs but alas I’m “rooted” here for a while. Thank you for all you are doing.

  3. Lucas says:

    I love the idea that “sustainability” is not such a great word. It really does set up the equation: success = things not getting worse. There really does need to be some new catch phrase that better conveys this spirit and importance. Something like environmental advancement, green pursuit, ecological progression… I don’t know what the right phrase is, but I give an advance “thanks” to whomever comes up with it!

  4. Meghan says:

    This is so exciting! Thank you for putting all of this information and energy out into the world. I’ve just started your new book and cannot wait to see what comes out of it as more people read and catch on. I am so in! Whatever movement starts from this I want to be a part of. Thank you again and I hope to see you at the next Grassroots Gathering.

  5. all things go in balance.
    WHEN we put things back, we get a feeling of excitement with the new growth and watching the wildlife return and flourish. We give a little and then we receive in abundance.
    I think that somehow we have to also work on a sense of ownership for people. It’s ok that the farms and all places keep putting nature back but for so many people they are too far detached and hardly even know about these things that are making a difference in their world. Educators can start with the children of course but how do we really reach out to the adults who are now so far detached and filled with the impending doom stories , absorbed in their tellys and computors for hours on end watchin nothing but rubbish mainly. So this is down to infiltrating the programmers and the towns councils and everyone possible in a position to make immersion in nature a reality.

    I’ll just throw a negative in here sorry… My town is changing into a concrete jungle and I see no evidence of the planners introducing nature. It’s very very sad indeed… ( my town BTW is a beautiful historical walled city in the north west UK but it’s rapidly being surrounded by ugly concrete monster hotels and apartments and chain supermarkets that will mean the end for the quaint smaller shops close by) Things have got to cahnge before its too late. These planners need re educating.. they are basically out of control and think only of economics and new jobs creation at the expense of natural beauty and saving the planet.

  6. Richard, totally agree. Just one other “movement” that I’d like to mention. A mantra of Feng Shui is “Living in harmony with the earth brings good fortune.” All of the movements you have listed above could be said to be rooted back to our ancient wisdom, which we are re-discovering.

    I am writing a book on how the human-nature connection can be restored through Feng Shui and biophilic design. Thank you for your books. (Just started the Nature Principle this week.) They are an inspiration for my career direction!

  7. Reconciliation ecology: I love it! “The person who speaks in possibilities will lead,” wrote Benjamin (and Rose) Zander. Thanks for speaking deep possibility to us. I’ll be seeking out your book.

  8. manuelinor says:

    Thank you – I love reading your work. It is heartening to know that, despite the political and social differences on environmental issues that may keep countries distant from each other, there are individuals all around the world that share these new attitudes to Nature which will, in time, bring us all together.

  9. Jason says:

    Regeneration. That is the word Jon Young uses. Regenerative design. Regenerative agriculture. Regenerative forestry. Etc.

  10. Matthew Oates says:

    All very helpful and much appreciated. Agree with all 7 points, though there may be more needed. Here in the UK we have huge problems in that the cost of land and density of population preclude green spaces from urban areas and from farmland – oh to create more green model towns like Welwyn Garden City! Yet I don’t think this will happen.

    Re Point 4, Environmentalism Needs to Hit Reset. I agree most strongly. I find today’s UK nature conservation & environmental movement a complete turn off, so much so that after 30 years of working in it I am now want to disassociate myself from it – and am moving towards the arts (poetics, ecopoetics and contemporary arts approaches – to which people can relate). Science and (well intentioned) govenment bureacracy now completely dominate the environmental movement in the UK. The language of the biodiversity and ecosystem services industries is, I feel, doing immense damage – by simply turning people off, including those who believe in Nature. futerra’s report Branding Biodiversity shows a better way forward. Natural history here is dying, being replaced by environmental science (and soon ecosystems services) – and with it will go the vital personal relationships… The real challenge is to put the N back into Nature, and with it, ourselves… In Nature we belong.

    (These views are entirely my own)

  11. […] Count me in…and count of Rich Louv to say it better than I could: Seven Reasons For s New Nature Movement (CN&N) […]

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