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Take a Child Outside Week: September 24-30
3,890 forum posts
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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!".
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.
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.
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.
122 forum posts
I appreciate your comments. However, I would agree with Louv in that we (humans) are the stewards of nature. Part of that stewardship involves responsible use of nature, not a withdrawl from nature. What we use, we should also respect.
Man and nature have a long history together. When man respects nature, both thrive. We should teach our children how best to interact with nature and how to respect it when we use it. In my opinion, that doesn't mean less interaction, but more interaction with the purpose of responsible use.
3 forum posts
Thanks. Homo sapiens as a species is native only to Africa, and everywhere else a newcomer (i.e., exotic invasive). What is missing from Louv and your comments is the recognition that humans really have no idea what "responsible use" is. That can ONLY be learned from the wildlife themselves. If they indicate that they don't want us around, or if they are disappearing, we are doing something wrong -- even if in our own minds we are doing nothing wrong. Nature (life) did just fine without us for about 4 billion years. That is a clue that we aren't "the stewards of nature" -- just a bumbling latecomer.
You both recommend "more interaction". But what good is that, if we aren't listening to what the wildlife are telling us? A whole new discipline (conservation biology) was developed to try to get to the bottom of the problem, and it has barely scratched the surface. The main stumbling block is that humans have set arbitrary limits on what they are willing to do to solve the problem, starting with NEVER being excluded from even one square inch of the Earth.
Please give this more thought.
122 forum posts
Extinction is a natural process. As few as 2-4% of the species that have ever lived are believed to survive today. The remainder are extinct. This extinction was not caused because man did something wrong. Certainly, within the past few centuries man has contributed significantly to that extinction rate because of habitat loss and degradation. However, we have also seen that when man interacts responsibly with nature, both man and nature can flourish.
The fact that wildlife, for the most part, is frightened of man should not be a reason to avoid contact with wildlife. How can we "learn" from wildlife if we avoid it? How can we "listen" to wildlife if we avoid it? How do we know why species are disappearing, if we avoid them? In that sense, conservation biology seems to be a pursuit of contradiction.
Exclusion is not the answer to understanding and coexisting with wildlife. Both man and wildlife can benefit from purposeful interaction.
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