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Monbiot writes: "The young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it."

Monbiot: 'There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted.' (photo: unknown)
Monbiot: 'There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted.' (photo: unknown)

The Great Environmental Crisis No One Talks About

By George Monbiot,

26 November 12


The young people we might have expected to lead the defense of nature have less and less to do with it.

ne woe doth tread upon another's heel, So fast they follow". That radical green pressure group PriceWaterhouseCoopers warns that even if the current rate of global decarbonisation were to double, we would still be on course for six degrees of warming by the end of the century. Confining the rise to two degrees requires a sixfold reduction in carbon intensity: far beyond the scope of current policies.

A new report shows that the UK has lost 20% of its breeding birds since 1966: once-common species such as willow tits, lesser spotted woodpeckers and turtle doves have all but collapsed; even house sparrows have fallen by two-thirds. Ash dieback is just one of many terrifying plant diseases, mostly spread by trade. They now threaten our oaks, pines and chestnuts.

So where are the marches, the occupations, the urgent demands for change? While the surveys show that the great majority would like to see the living planet protected, few are prepared to take action. This, I think, reflects a second environmental crisis: the removal of children from the natural world. The young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it.

We don't have to disparage the indoor world, which has its own rich ecosystem, to lament children's disconnection from the outdoor world. But the experiences the two spheres offer are entirely different. There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted. The thought that most of our children will never swim among phosphorescent plankton at night, will never be startled by a salmon leaping, a dolphin breaching, the stoop of a peregrine, the rustle of a grass snake is almost as sad as the thought that their children might not have the opportunity.

The remarkable collapse of children's engagement with nature - which is even faster than the collapse of the natural world - is recorded in Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods, and in a report published recently by the National Trust. Since the 1970s the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90%. In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from over half to fewer than one in ten. In the US, in just six years (1997-2003) children with particular outdoor hobbies fell by half. Eleven to 15 year-olds in Britain now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen.

There are several reasons for this collapse: parents' irrational fear of strangers and rational fear of traffic, the destruction of the fortifying commons where previous generations played, the quality of indoor entertainment, the structuring of children's time, the criminalisation of natural play. The great indoors, as a result, has become a far more dangerous place than the diminished world beyond.

The rise of obesity, rickets and asthma and the decline in cardio-respiratory fitness are well-documented. Louv also links the indoor life to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental ill-health. Research conducted at the University of Illinois suggests that playing among trees and grass is associated with a marked reduction in indications of ADHD, while playing indoors or on tarmac appears to increase them. The disorder, Louv suggests, "may be a set of symptoms aggravated by lack of exposure to nature". Perhaps it's the environment, not the child, that has gone wrong.

In her famous essay The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, Edith Cobb proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. Reviewing the biographies of 300 "geniuses", she exposed a common theme: intense experiences of the natural world in the middle age of childhood (between 5 and 12). Animals and plants, she contended, are among "the figures of speech in the rhetoric of play ... which the genius in particular of later life seems to recall."

Studies in several nations show that children's games are more creative in green places than in concrete playgrounds. Natural spaces encourage fantasy and roleplay, reasoning and observation. The social standing of children there depends less on physical dominance, more on inventiveness and language skills. Perhaps forcing children to study so much, rather than running wild in the woods and fields, is counter-productive.

And here we meet the other great loss. Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection. The fact that at least half the articles on ash dieback disease in the newspapers have been illustrated with photos of beeches, sycamores or oaks seems to me to be highly suggestive.

Forest schools, Outward Bound, Woodcraft Folk, the John Muir Award, the Campaign for Adventure, Natural Connections, family nature clubs and many others are trying to bring children and the natural world back together again. But all of them are fighting forces which, if they cannot be turned, will strip the living planet of the wonder and delight, of the ecstacy - in the true sense of that word - that for millennia have drawn children into the wilds. your social media marketing partner


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+32 # j.a.o 2012-11-26 10:45
I've been teaching children for over 30 years and have seen a sharp decline in their responses to nature and natural species that share our beautiful world with them. If all we do is teach to a test that is all the children will learn. Take them on a science walk, give them time to themselves outside, bring them to a stream and listen , just listen and have them leave their cell phones HOME.
+20 # 6thextinction 2012-11-26 11:51
Who is leading the fight for nature and its many species now? Most adults pay lip service to appreciation for and concern about wildlife and the environment, but ask enviro activists about their efforts to get people to join them, young or old.

Americans volunteer and take part in many admirable efforts, but when it comes to nature, they write a check and think that will do it.
+24 # Doggone 2012-11-26 11:58
Turn off the tv for criminy sakes! I haven't had one for more than 30 years, neither of my kids was raised in front of one. When I do see tv today and see the commercials for all of the electronic crap and iphones being marketed, it's a no-brainer, what do they want? You guessed it. They are not being taken outside hanging out in the wonderful world of trees and dirt! It is indeed a shame.

Support those teachers who do take the kids outside on field trips to rivers and
oceans to collect and study the critters they see in "real" life.
+5 # Smiley 2012-11-26 13:51
It's not the TV anymore, it's the internet.
+5 # KittatinyHawk 2012-11-26 14:35
It is all electronic crap..
+7 # Activista 2012-11-26 16:10
Internet is information - learn, understand, protect ...
We should use Internet as a tool to get people out.
Instead of using NearMe shopping to find the bargain (buy crap).
Use NearMe (geo location) hiking - to find the tree, flower, bird on/near the trail.
I could be projecting my values but the complexity of the nature is much more fascinating than cash register.
+4 # Activista 2012-11-26 22:00
"Turn off the tv for criminy sakes! I haven't had one for more than 30 years"
after LONG trip to Central America .. exploring ... after coming back ... the TV is so stupid ... punishment to watch.
"take the kids outside on field trips to rivers and oceans to collect and study the critters they see in "real" life." there is so much complexity and beauty in nature that only brain dead will go back to TV crap.
+22 # genierae 2012-11-26 13:19
I grew up in the fifties, spending most of my daylight hours outside. Even in winter we were playing in the snow, taking turns on my brother's sled. In the warm months we were out from first light till after dark, coming in only to eat. We had woods and fields to run in, with trees to climb and a lake to fish in. Even a small creek running through our yard. And there were all kinds of interesting creatures to investigate and enjoy. Looking back I see it was a paradise, my memories of it still tug at my heart. My own kids also grew up in the country, but they are not as bonded to it as I am. My grandchildren aren't that interested in nature, they spend much of their time in front of the computer, playing video games, or texting their friends. I do my best to get them outside whenever I can, but their fear of snakes and bees keeps them from fully enjoying the experience. But I keep trying, and sometimes they do step out of their fear and then we have one of those mystical, magical interludes when we are a part of the natural world around us and time seems to stop for a while.
+2 # Smiley 2012-11-26 14:08
My experience also. Except that I'm afraid to allow my grand kids to play in the woods alone where my kids did play some. The cougar population has exploded. They have wiped out my sheep flock and I've found their 5" across kitty prints 20 feet from my back door.
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2012-11-26 14:38
There places to go besides ones back yard

I have 500 pound bear and coyotes that are killing my chickens... I have no intention of packing it in....I hope to stop imbeciles from feeding the wildlife 500 pound black bear is not pet
+5 # Activista 2012-11-26 16:14
Get dog like Great Pyrenees -The Pyrenean Mountain Dog, known as the Great Pyrenees in North America.
They will drive bears and cougars away - and protect your children (my was great with children) and livestock.
+3 # Activista 2012-11-26 21:54
"sometimes they do step out of their fear"
I can not communicate with my son and daughter in law because of their schizophrenia - fear of everything out.
The "safe proofed" my bright grand daughter environment - like cut the apple tree so she could not climb and scratch her knee. Her parents are condominium yuppies - son is making good money but is so insecure - they see security only in money.
Sometimes I think that World economic meltdown would be beneficial - people who would adopt different values would survive.
I spent my youth in the woods and fields. At 4 I did go out and foraged mushrooms for the mom cooking ... can not live without nature ..
It sickens me that the coral reef in Belize I dove 20 years ago is gone and all the life/colors/bea uty is dead.
+11 # tbcrawford 2012-11-26 13:48
I share the beautiful childhood memories genierae described...Sno wy winters building birdhouse villages, sledding through endless New England fields, freedom to take off with my dog after school, and summers in Maine. My church was firmly established early on, and still sustains my spiritual confidence bolstered by the beautiful writings of Native Americans' reminding me of our bonds with all life. I am increasingly grateful for these blessings and saddened that I can do little to pass such experience along to my grandchildren.
+13 # jlg 2012-11-26 14:17
To what extent is the relentless marketing pressure on our kids to blame (research has shown 'brand loyalty' is established at 3 years old - uggghhh!) It seems to me that without this constant barrage (over 3000 'hits' per day on the TV, and probably countless numbers on the Internet) claiming our attention, we might get up, stretch, yawn, and step outside to see what's up in the REAL WORLD!?!
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2012-11-26 14:40
Ever try doing things with Nature Groups ... then you can pass it on to many.
Attitudes like I have read here is why the kids have no interest...defe atists yuck
0 # Activista 2012-11-27 21:04
" freedom to take off with my dog after school"
what un-civilized society you lived in - you did not have dog ordinance - animal control giving $100 ticket for dog off leash.
Hope that you understand my sarcasm. When I go with my dog down the river trail now paved and some "art" on the walls - as I used to last 30 years - the officer is waiting for me with the flashing lights.
Ignorant City Council is mad because I stopped them putting herbicide on the river bank. I was not happy with my animals dying 10 years old.
+8 # KittatinyHawk 2012-11-26 14:53
I guess the real problem is the parents and grandparents who did not take the time to get kids interested. I tried with kids and grandkids but my kids are toooo busy, xboxes were good babysitters. Not in my house, no computers either...outsid e even in winter.
Teachers...they are not parents. They have schedule, curriculim to teach...parenti ng, trips are not their job. They do things to peak interest but if the kid comes home and everyone doesn't pick up on spending time teaching them more...we blame everyone else
Some kids like fish, others dogs, some stars others rocks but they need someone willing to listen to their likes, have some fun with them.

I had good teachers, then I didn't want to do stuffy things now I wished I did,,,but I had no TV, PC...I hated being indoors. So I have spent years learning all over again... now I am glad for the PC...sure gives me quick answers, calls, pictures with facts. I didn't snarl at kid or grandkids I just took my time and showed them the woods
+7 # Abigail 2012-11-26 16:24
Take away the TV sets, hide them or toss them. Take away the electronic gadgets. My kids were allowed one hour of TV per day, and they all had to agree on which hour. any dissent- NO TV. Now none of them has a TV set, including me. They take their kids outside, or give them books to read, and ask them what they see when something is described in a book. If all parents limited or removed TV from their households, we will regain healthy (physically and mentally) children
+3 # Kayjay 2012-11-26 21:36
Clearly, we need our future generations to accept the notion that our natural world is a priceless gem. Yes, turn off the TV and embrace nature. But I cringe at the idea of leading all of them outside, to stomp trails to smithereens and thus destroying meadows et al. in the name of loving it. Our biggest environmental disaster is unbridled population growth. This will lead to more and more people wanting more and more stuff. This is the ISSUE that no one will address. A solution on this is dependent on respectful cultural exchanges and understanding. We need the Pope, to fully endorse birth control etc....
+1 # Activista 2012-11-27 21:12
Our biggest environmental disaster is unbridled population growth ... with USA consumerism.
"Although the fastest population growth is happening in Africa ONE American's impact on the environment will be over 250 times greater than a Sub-Saharan African. With only one-twentieth of the world's population, Americans consume 20% of its resources"
to put it bluntly each American baby consumes/destro ys 250 x more than African baby.
+5 # dovelane1 2012-11-27 02:45
For many, it seems as if the TV has become the baby-sitter. Many families have both parents working, and no grandparents or neighbors to help.

On top of that, the whole system of "work" for many in the middle class is based on dead-end jobs that don't pay well, and don't require much thinking.

I believe there is trust factor involved if we are going to have kids participate in activities involved with other people.

TV and electronics, the media, all of these things are just symptoms of a systemic problem. When people had to grow their own food, or build their own houses, they were a lot closer to nature. Now we get specialists to do everything for us. That's part of the trade-off this society makes in order for us to have all the "toys" we have access to.

I still think the main systemic problem we face is that we live in a culture that promotes addictive norms. We wouldn't be getting the 3,000 plus ads to buy, buy, buy, if it didn't work.

We don't "need" so much of what is advertised, but the ad people produce ads that make us "want" things. I think we, the people, need to learn the difference between what we want, and what we need. If we don't know the difference, how will the kids know it.

Children follow where we lead, NOT where we point.
+1 # Activista 2012-11-27 21:22
yes - nothing more to add. I cringe when I see all these "office workers" commuting to the city - figuring how to maximize profit for the boss (1%). I know. I was one. It is systemic problem Look at the unnecessary crap in the latest car - this is not transportation - this is obsession with things.
The fat persona of Middle Class needs larger and larger cars for their behinds to fit.
+3 # MendoChuck 2012-11-27 11:33
Thank You dovelane1 . . . .
It seems the problem is always someone else's to fix.
You state it very well . . . what we raise our children to be and how we teach them to learn will direct the future of the human race.
Let us hope each individual accepts that responsibility and stops waiting for someone else to make the change that is needed.

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