Sunday, January 13, 2008

Turn off the tv. . . .

Sometimes companies do such smart things that you have to give them a big "atta girl." Today's goes to title nine, the women's fitness and casual wear company named after the Title IX Act that prohibited sexual discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving federal aid. (The act passed in 1972, thirty-five years ago, and both the federal government and educational institutions are still trying to weasel their way out of compliance. But that's another story - read it at the Women's Sports Foundation's web site.)

What title nine the clothing company did that I think is great is in the latest catalog. In "Too Much News," a short piece on the inside front page, founder Missy Parks sounds a call to stop being so fearful and selfish, get off our duffs and get outside that reads in part:
"I've noticed that the more news I hear the more I tend to worry. Really, it's hard to keep up with what we're supposed to be worrying about. Should we worry about the plain-vanilla flu or Bird Flu? Should we worry about a Recession, A depression, a global financial meltdown? Is there a child predator in our neighborhood or a crazed kidnapper lurking in our city? . . . .
Or perhaps, I should remind myself that statistically our children have never been safer, we have never been healthier and our nation has never been wealthier. . . . So perhaps what I should do is turn off the tv, shut down the computer . . . [and] go for a hike, buckle up, buckle up my children, eat well -- most of the time, lend a helping hand, get some sleep, express gratitude."
I've been reading Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv's book with the illuminating sub-title, Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. It's about just what it says: what it costs our children - and our culture - to be so alienated from nature. Not from expeditions to far-flung places or nature shows on television or computer, but every-day nature, the pockets of wildness right around us. What our kids are missing is time spent outside in the places where the processes of life go on in their own messy and fascinating fashion. Time to dream, to imagine, to invent, to be in the company of other species, time to simply watch life happen. Time spent in the community of nature, as Louv and may others point out, is rejuvenating, restorative, calming, healing, and inspiring.

So as Missy Parks says, let's turn off the tv and get outside - and remember what life's about!

7 comments:

Mike Vandeman said...

Last Child in the Woods ––
Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
by Richard Louv
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
November 16, 2006

In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though ("conveniently") never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", at http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3.

It should also be obvious (but apparently isn't) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don't learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building "forts", mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: "Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back." Then he titles his next chapter "Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?" Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are "nature-lovers" and are "just hikers on wheels". But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It's not!

On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one's health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one's experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the "civilized" world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I've been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can't remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

It's clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.

References:

Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich, Anne H., Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearances of Species. New York: Random House, 1981.

Errington, Paul L., A Question of Values. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1987.

Flannery, Tim, The Eternal Frontier -- An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, 1995.

Louv, Richard, Last Child in the Woods -- Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005.

Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.

Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1973.

Vandeman, Michael J., http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande, especially http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/ecocity3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/sc8, and http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/goodall.

Ward, Peter Douglas, The End of Evolution: On Mass Extinctions and the Preservation of Biodiversity. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

"The Wildlands Project", Wild Earth. Richmond, Vermont: The Cenozoic Society, 1994.

Wilson, Edward O., The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Susan GT said...

Susan,
Once again, I totally agree!! I walk to the park and through the woods everyday. When I can't, I do worry more.
I see schools shortening recess and it makes me so sad! They need to get out more, not less and in nature!
One of my new years resolutions is to quit listening to all the fear related health news out there. Maybe I should add all news to my I QUIT list.
Susan

Susan J Tweit said...

Michael,

Your review of Louv's book is interesting. I am surprised that you'd post it here as a comment rather than publish it in an academic journal, since it's clearly written for that kind of outlet. I wonder too, if you really mean to say "most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone." I suspect that the dark-eyed juncos eating organic peanut butter studded with dried nut and fruit mix from the junco feeders I hang on my back porch in the coldest parts of winter would disagree with that - no humans, no nutritious food to tide them through the worst weather. And the squash bees that snooze in the blossoms of the summer squash in my kitchen garden, waiting for their chance to mate, would miss the humans who plant the squash that are their only food and mating habitat. The mule deer would miss my garden too - where else would they be able to munch the sugar-snap peas they relish in May? I see nature as a place humans can belong, and you clearly do not. How sad.

Susan Tweit

Susan J Tweit said...

Susan,

I read and loved your QUIT list (http://sculpturepdx.blogspot.com/). Good for you! I am finishing a memoir about finding my way back to nature and into love. It's been a long journey and I'm glad to be at a place in my life where I feel very integrated into the community of the land where I live - people and the wild species alike.

Susan T.

Janet Grace Riehl said...

Susan,

Yes, I am always grateful for my childhood on the land...a more generative source than the black box and its descendants.

I'm sponsoring Eric Maisel today on Riehlife and think you might enjoy the interveiw on connection and "The Van Gough Blues."

Janet Riehl
www.riehlfe.com

Larry D said...

Thanks for your post on Louv's book. I enjoyed it. As an science educator Ive always worked to get my 8th graders more involved in the natural world. It was after reading Saving our Children from Nature Deficit disorder I began to feel that not only do they need to understand ecosystems far away such as rain forests but they needed to understand their own communities. So we began a 'Backyard Ecology' project with student designed projects. They learned and connected with places closer to home.

Karen said...

Hopefully each child has an adult, and each adult has a child, with whom to stroll outdoors and just look; take the time to see what is right here, right now. To bring our own perspective into the adventure and benefit from the sharing. We are part of nature - human and otherwise.