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.

NEW INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION TO THE FORGOTTEN HUMAN RIGHT

When Annelies Henstra, a Dutch human rights attorney, talks about the right of children to a meaningful connection to the natural world, she calls it the “forgotten human right.” Now, at least for some, it is remembered.

In September, the World Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meeting in Jeju, South Korea, passed a resolution declaring that children have a human right to experience the natural world. Henstra, and Cheryl Charles, who is president of the Children & Nature Network, and others made the case to the Congress — attended by more than 10,000 people representing the governments of 150 nations and more than 1,000 non-governmental organizations.

The resolution, “the Child’s Right to Connect with Nature and to a Healthy Environment,”calls on IUCN’s membership to promote the inclusion of this right within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The resolution recognizes “concern about the increasing disconnection of people and especially children from nature, and the adverse consequences for both healthy child development (‘nature deficit disorder’) as well as responsible stewardship for nature and the environment in the future.” And it recognizes that:

“…children, since they are an inalienable part of nature, not only have the right to a healthy environment, but also to a connection with nature and to the gifts of nature for their physical and psychological health and ability to learn and create, and that until they have these rights they will not bear responsibility for nature and the environment…”

This is an important moment for anyone concerned about the future relationship between humans and the rest of nature.

In the March 2009 issue of Orion Magazine, and then in a more detailed chapter in The Nature Principle, I sketched out a case for that right, for children and for adults, not as legal argument, but as moral stance: Do we really need to add more rights to our catalog of entitlements? The answer to this question is yes, if we can agree that the right at issue is fundamental to our humanity.

In recent years, science has shed more light on the measurably impressive benefits of experience in the natural world to human health and cognition. Our understanding of this right emerges not only from what science can prove, but also from the spiritual necessity it cannot fully reveal. I emphasized that this birthright can only be realized if we accept responsibility for the preservation and care of the natural world. Most people will do that only if they come to love nature through personal experience.

With seeds formed through  millennia of human experience, the new codification of this idea has taken root in the children and nature movement.

As early as 1997, Robin Moore, professor of landscape architecture at North Carolina State University and one of the world’s leading experts on natural play spaces, called for such a children’s right to be established. In 2007, California adopted the first statewide children’s outdoor bill of rights, followed by similar symbolic statements in many other states. Cities and regions around the country have embraced similar declarations.

Now the concept is igniting internationally.

As I reported in an earlier column, Henstra, with Thomas van Slobbe, one of the Netherlands’s most prominent conservationists and director of the wAarde Foundation, have launched The Child’s Right to Nature Initiative. Their goal is to enshrine the right to nature in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) or other relevant U.N. documents.

In November 2010, Tony King, head of policy for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, wrote in an editorial for the British newspaper The Guardian, “When people talk of human rights in the context of nature conservation, they often mean protecting the rights of people in the non-industrial world to make use of the obvious things nature provides, such as firewood, food and traditional remedies.” But natural habitat offers much more than that. King cited the “growing and compelling body of evidence that regular and ready access to a wildlife-rich environment is essential for children’s health and wellbeing.”

As a result, he added, governments can and should articulate that “every child and young person has the right to grow up and live in a high-quality, wildlife-rich environment with ready access to the physical and mental health benefits, developmental advantages and play opportunities it affords. He called his position a hybrid moral/utilitarian one. “There is a government focus of preventative spend[ing]… I am working to raise the importance of environmental and biodiversity investment in this context.”

In addition to approving the children’s-right-to-nature resolution, the IUCN went two further steps.

It adopted the “Jeju Declaration on National Parks and Protected Areas: Connecting People to Nature,” a commitment to create a global campaign that recognizes the great contribution of these natural treasures to the health and resilience of people, communities and economies. And the IUCN and the Children & Nature Network  jointly released the landmark report, “Children and Nature Worldwide Summary of Research” to stimulate action worldwide.

All of this lays the foundation for a worldwide discussion, not about legality but about what is right, and about what is next. Inspired by new scientific research but also by a renewed moral sensibility, people are already taking action.

Families are exploring new ways to experience nature or reviving traditional ways. Conservation and community groups are sponsoring programs to connect people to nature. Educators are creating outdoor classrooms. Public health officials and pediatricians are beginning to prescribe green exercise at local parks. Pioneering local governments are encouraging community gardens, urban farms and the true greening of inner-cities and suburbs.

This new nature movement is powered by a shared and sometimes subconscious belief that our everyday connection with and protection of the rest of nature is fundamental to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This human right is not lost. It is remembered.

__________________________


Richard Louv 
is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age, from which some of this essay is adapted, and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.  

 

 

More reading

The IUCN Resolution on the Child’s Right to Connect with Nature and to a Healthy Environmnent

Three Major Advances at IUCN World Congress

Children and Nature Worldwide Summary of Research

Robin Moore on a Child’s Right to Nature

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Comments (5)

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  1. Dan Leftwich says:

    Rich,
    This is an important development in the shift to a new recognition of the rights of nature. Children have a unique ability to appreciate nature without the many filters, fears, and labels that adults put in the way. A child’s right to experience nature directly is part of nature’s right to have children fulfill that role. The entire natural world is enriched and made healthier by that essential dynamic. The New Nature Movement is taking root in consciousness. Thanks always for your work on behalf of children and nature.

    Dan

  2. Mick Mack says:

    Hi Richard,
    whilst I concur with the main thrust, as I understand it, of this post of the usefulness of having some philosophical basis to support a rationale for children – I would argue all humans – to access and develop a more intelligent and profound relationship in Nature as our ancestors had as a matter of course, as things stand – though evidently changing – the ‘alienation’, a philosophical term that has been utilised for at least a century and a half cannot be willed away by a document held by an organisation (the UN), that has no interest or capacity to deliver on its intent. I argue that, even to gain access with the regularity and with an ability to develop this relationship once again, requires that the masss of the populace not only visits Nature but as you yourself have said lives in it. In the UK where I live we have individuals living on tens of thousands of hectares as of birthright whilst the majority make do with relatively little and certainly with little opportunity to develop an intimate and respectful relationship with Nature. My point is, until that fundamental is addressed that the change that needs to take place, on a scale that reconnects us to that experience and knowledge, will not happen. The dominant economic system has to go. It will not vanish of its own volition and it is not interested in the mass of humanity re-establishing that connection. Does anybody speak about this? I can’t hear them…

  3. As an early childhood educator I am deeply grateful for work of The New Nature Movement and impulses around the globe to reconnect children (our future) with the natural world. I would like to bring to the attention of those in this movement the wonderful work of The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World. http://beholdnature.org./

    (from their website):
    “The mission of the Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World is to bring to life a new vision of the relationship between the inner life of the child and the beauty, wonder and intimacy of the universe.

    Presently, the natural world is viewed as a commodity to be used rather than as a sacred reality to be venerated. A shift in our way of relating to the natural world is essential if we hope to participate in nature’s unfolding rather than in its demise. This shift is nowhere more crucial than within the field of education where the child’s way of relating to the natural world is formed.

    The Center is guided by a Council of Educators as a working embodiment of its mission to recover the inner vision of a society in harmony with nature through publications, educator retreats, consulting and programs for schools.

    The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World is a leading advocate and model of a view of educational practice in which intuitive, imaginal and contemplative ways of knowing, in all their unifying capacities, are seen as central to the development of a mutually enhancing relationship between the human being and the natural world. Such a view, if practiced at all levels of learning, can begin to change our understanding of the role we play within this life-bearing process we know as “nature.”

    Through its programs for educators and children, the Center is a national resource – a remarkable gestating environment – for reflection and practice that is leading to practical outcomes affecting the child, the natural world, and the culture at large.”

  4. Luben Kumar says:

    We are giving awareness about Global Warming to Indian Children in and around Tiruvannamalai, Tamilnadu, India. Our Motto is: “SAVE NATURE, HAVE FUTURE” Recently we will start “CHILDREN’S ECOLOGICAL AFFORESTATION & FARMING PROJECT” (GREEN KINDERVILLE) in IYYANGUNAM VILLAGE, Tamilnadu, India. We need sponsors& VOLUNTEERS for this Project.

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