Thursday, May 19, 2011
Richard Louv: "we need a Nature Movement."
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and his new book The Nature Principle, was as thoughtful and inspiring as expected when he spoke at the Urban Ecology Center last night to an overflow crowd. He did not read from the book, but from notes he said he wrote on the train down from Minnesota. (He's on a multi-city tour.) I'll give you a few highlights that made an impression on me.
"We need a Nature Movement," he asserted, in contrast to what has long been called the environmental movement. He observed that the latter term has become loaded with political baggage and that "words matter." Nature is a safe, non-threatening word.
When someone in the audience asked "what is the definition of nature he chuckled and said that it's "like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography: you know it when you see it." But after explaining that there is no universally accepted definition, for him nature is "when I am in meaningful kinship with species other than my own."
"A movement will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that people want to go to," Louv quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. as saying. Today the environmental movement tends to present a bleak view of the future. Popular culture gives us Blade Runner, Mad Max, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy (read my review). We need a Nature Movement that provides a positive, attractive alternative to the future. "Environmentalism is a pup tent. We need a larger tent," he said.
He wrote The Nature Principle because Last Child in the Woods, being about our children growing up with "nature-deficit disorder," is too limited in scope. He told a story about a woman who came up to him after a reading who grabbed him by the lapels and complained that nature-deficit disorder afflicts adults too! And so he set to work on The Nature Principle in order to address the larger problem.
"Conservation [of natural areas] is not enough. We need to create nature." Yes, he said, we still need work hard to conserve the nature that remains, but with over 50% of the world's population living in cities, the need for nearby nature is more pressing than ever. We have come to the point where two futures are possible for our human species: having no connection with nature or making new cities where it is possible to make that connection. (No surprise: here at Urban Wilderness I believe in making those new cities. In fact, I applaud everything Louv had to say!)
One of Louv's main ideas is to develop a network of Nature Clubs for Families that will help get not just children but whole families out in nature. It's a marvelous idea with a proven track record - and you can check it out on the Children and Nature Network website.
Louv has a laid-back, soft-spoken style and a wry, subtle sense of humor, but the audience was rapt and clearly moved. At several points he asked for questions. One person choked up as she explained that she'd tried for two hard years to create a family nature program similar to the Nature Club with frustrating results. She wondered tearfully how she could make it work. Louv's voice softened even further in sympathy. He said, "It isn't easy, I know." His suggestion was to use the tools available on the website and not to go it alone. I can relate to that. There is always so much resistance and not just the overt oppositional kind. More important are ingrained cultural habits such as the irrational fear of "stranger danger" that keeps parents from allowing their children to roam freely and make up their own rules (as I did when I was young.) We need each others' support!