Richard Louv explains how society can overcome nature-deficit disorder.
"I've been arguing for a while that connection to nature should be thought of as a human right," Richard Louv told the crowd assembled in the courtyard of National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Louv was there to inspire the staff about the benefits of spending time outdoors.
Louv, the author of the bestsellers Last Child in the Woods (2005) and The Nature Principle (2011), coined the term "nature-deficit disorder" to describe the loss of connection children increasingly feel with the natural world. Nature-deficit disorder is not a clinically recognized condition, he explains, but rather a term to evoke a loss of communion with other living things. Nevertheless, he argues, nature-deficit disorder affects "health, spiritual well-being, and many other areas, including [people's] ability to feel ultimately alive." (See "The Nature-Deficit Disorder and How It Is Impacting Our Natural World.")
The causes of the disorder include loss of open space, increasingly busy schedules, an emphasis on team sports over individualized play and exploration, competition from electronic media, and what Louv and others call a "culture of fear," in which people are afraid to visit natural areas or even go outside due to heavy media coverage of violent events.
How can city dwellers connect with nature?
As of 2008 more people lived in cities than the countryside. That marked a huge moment in human history, and it means one of two things: Either the human connection to nature will continue to fade, or it means the beginning of a new kind of city.
One way is through "biophilic design" [nature-inspired design], which is the incorporation of nature where we live, work, learn, and play, not only as something we drive an hour to visit. Not only parks, but also in the way we design our neighborhoods, our backyards, and our buildings.
I believe cities can become engines of biodiversity. It starts with planting a lot of native plants, which revive the food chain and bring back butterfly and bird migration routes.
The word "sustainability" is problematic, because to most people it means stasis, survival, and energy efficiency. We have to do those things, but that only goes so far in igniting the imagination. Increasingly, I talk about a "nature-rich society," a different way to look at the future that is not just about survival, but about something much better.