…We will win in the cities where the judges rule,
the media broadcasts, politicians enact
and the people live…
I heard this statement recently in relation to the conservation movement and the fight to protect an area from development. However I thought to myself the same is true for addressing our movement to reconnect children with nature.
In a less than a decade, building on Richard Louv’s thought-provoking phrase ‘nature- deficit disorder’, the issue of getting children back outside to play has garnered public, government and media attention. From major articles in newspapers, to shifting government policy, to conversations on soccer fields and in forests, parents, grandparents and key NGO’s are talking about the health and spiritual benefits of getting outside on a regular basis and enjoying ‘that dose of nature’.
I was fortunate to attend the recent World Conservation Congress, hosted by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). This congress is the world’s largest conservation gathering and is attended by over 6,000 delegates from about 165 countries. Within the myriad of urgent conversations about food security, the plight of the oceans and global warming, it was encouraging to note that the issue of reconnecting children to nature is receiving global attention by both government and conservation leaders worldwide.
At the IUCN Members’ Assembly two motions were adopted. One motion related to the child’s right to connect with nature and to a healthy environment.
This resolution called on IUCN’s members and NGO’s to promote and actively contribute to the international codification of this right within the UN Convention on the Rights of Children.
The second motion addressed the importance of increasing youth engagement and intergenerational partnership throughout all activities of the IUCN and called for meaningful youth participation in governance, staffing and committee work. It was indeed encouraging to see these two fundamental issues being acknowledged by the global community. Many of us have spoken for years about the healthy and spiritual benefits of the natural world to youth and their families and that it should be considered a human right. (The hard work of the Children & Nature Network in the United States needs to be acknowledged in getting these motions adopted.)
Perhaps just as, if not more encouraging, was the adoption of the Jeju Declaration by 150 CEOs and senior executives of national parks and protected area-related organizations throughout the world. The Jeju Declaration on National Parks and Protected Areas: Connecting People to Nature commits to creating a global campaign that recognizes the contribution of parks, nature and the great outdoors to the health and resilience of people, communities and the economy. I am honoured that I was asked to be a signatory to the declaration. The phrase ‘connecting people to nature’ is built into the title of the Declaration and is the heart of its content.
We need to both connect people to nature so they can experience it on a day-to-day basis, and we need to connect their hearts to nature so they can feel its importance to their health and the future health of the planet. To this end, the shared commitment by these national park leaders and the affirmation of the need to get children outside to experience nature is heartening.
As essential as these global initiatives are, and as exciting as it is to see advances from so many countries we must remain ever vigilant.
There remains the question of government will to enact these changes, so we must constantly press forward with our cause. We must continue to support the community level work to reconnect children to nature and reinforce the efforts of the hundreds, if not thousands of parents, teacher, etc who work so hard to have today’s youth incorporate nature into their values. Ultimately it is at the community level where the long-lasting changes will be realized.
It is essential that we persist with this important work — in the cities where the judges’ rule, the media broadcasts, politicians enact and people live — to ensure that both nature and human health is sustained and that a sense of hope endures.
The Forgotten Human Right, Richard Louv
A Walk in the Woods: Richard Louv in Orion magazine on the human right to a connection to nature.
This 2009 piece was expanded in his 201 book, The Nature Principle.
Photo, R.L.: An outdoor preschool in Scotland.