Are Children Suffering from a Nature Deficit?

A good article on the blog:-

This is the central question in Richard Louv’s book, “Last child in the woods,” and this concern is shared by the broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. As Attenborough says, “all children start off being interested in the natural world, it’s deep in our instincts…”. Children may have theoretical knowledge but not touchy-feely experience. As Louv explains, ” children today are aware of global threats to the environment but their physical contact, their intimacy, with nature is fading.”

Nature-deficit surveys

Natural England did a survey recently in which they examined changing relationships with nature across generations and they found that fewer then 10% of children now play in natural places (such as woodlands and heathlands) compared with 40% of today’s adults who did so when they were young. The BBC Wildlife Magazine carried out another survey which found that many children now cannot identify common species such as bluebells and frogs. Other surveys show that this is not just a British problem: the American Journal of Play, surveying thousands of mothers across the world, discovered that the number of those reporting their children “exploring nature” were lowest in China, Brazil and Indonesia. Playing in wild areas has been shown to have a positive psychological impact – a National Trust survey of 3,000 adults revealed that their most prominent happy memories were of being outdoors in the natural world and a large number cited building dens as a particularly happy memory.

Causes of children being “stuck inside”
Computer games and TV are often blamed for children staying indoors but there are other factors – for example being driven to school rather than walking keeps children from the outdoors and the almost obsessive fear of abduction, which many parents have, often stops children being allowed outside. It may also be that pressure to do more and more with school and outside means that there is less genuinely free time for children when they have to make their own entertainment. At a recent conference of owners of small woodlands it was suggested that owners should think of things for their children to do in woods, but one of the participants pointed out that once in a wood children will find their own activities and this process of discovering what’s interesting and what there is to do is itself important. Let them discover nature rather than spoon feed it to them was the message of that discussion.

What are the consequences of a “nature deficit”?

“Keeping an eye on children” is all very well but it has left a whole generation more ignorant of what goes on in the natural world and out of the habit of exploring and discovering. This has consequences for them personally including much higher rates of obesity, suffering form attention disorders and more likely to experience depression. In a bigger-picture way, though, it will surely have enormous consequences for their attitude towards nature when they grow up – if they haven’t experienced the miracles of the world around them they will be less likely to make sacrifices to preserve woodlands and wild spaces.

But all this assumes that the nature deficit is limited to children – adults surely suffer from it too. Many, many or our buyers of small woodlands give as driving motivation that they want to “get away from the screen” and get “back to nature”.

What can be done about it?
It’s hard to know how to persuade the nation as a whole to move towards more outdoor play, but individually families can choose more activities in woodlands and wild areas. There are many structured activities which get people into woodlands such as Centre Parcs holidays and “Go Ape” walkway adventures. Recent excitement about the Forestry Commission woodlands shows how much people value public spaces, even those who don’t visit very often. The threat of wholesale sell-offs has made everyone focus on how important woodlands are for our wellbeing, so hopefully the recent publicity will make people spend more time in open woodlands – whoever owns them!

Stone Free

Had a great day yesterday at Transition Stone’s “Festival of Possibilities” – the location was the very beautiful Hayes at Stone, a big old house in acres of picturesque grounds which is home to a small community of Transitioners giving a whole range of workshops, everything from bread-making, bicycle maintenance and diesel engine vegetable oil conversions to micro-hydro and woodworking using a home made pole lathe. I gave my Green Cottage presentation as a contribution.

I don’t know if it was a combination of the venue, lovely weather and kindred spirits or the home made cake, soup and crusty rolls, but the whole day was really heartwarming and gave me a real lift. It’s not that often I find people who are really on my wavelength but this was one occasion. Thankyou Transition Stone for a great day and a big success, all power to you!!

Love the home made geodome 😉

Stealth Food: Update 8th August 2010

There’s loads of stuff ready for eating already from the Phase 2 planters, even though they were only planted a few weeks ago!!

There’s tons of rocket to be had, and I pulled a lovely bunch of radishes on the way back from town just now!!

Just Who the Hell are We Kidding?

I was reading this Treehugger article yesterday:-

and it occurred to me just how much in denial we are, even people who think about ‘green’ issues. Even though we know the severity of the problems facing us as a species – climate change, ocean acidification, peak oil, the impending food crisis which is driven by all of these and an expanding population – we in the historically rich West are still trying desperately to cling onto the notion that we are in some way special and are allowed the use of a disproportionately larger share of resources than everyone else, because we are privileged by birth and have a right to these extra things.

It has been suggested that a sustainable average carbon footprint for a world citizen, which would minimise the damage from climate change and allow the poor nations of the world access to energy resources to lift themselves out of poverty is around 2 tonnes of carbon annually:-

The world average carbon footprint is currently around 4 tonnes annually. The average carbon footprint for industrialised nations is around 11 tonnes annually. The average carbon footprint for a citizen of the USA is 19 tonnes per person per year, and for a UK citizen 9.4 tonnes per year.

So currently the world average carbon footprint is double what it needs to be. Now in order for the current average figure to fall, it is obvious that somebody needs to cut their energy use.

Only a psychopath would suggest that it should be the poor nations of the world who should cut their energy use – in fact, we should really allow for people who currently emit less than 2 tonnes of carbon to use more energy to raise their standard of living, and have resources to help them adapt to climate change, as it is largely the poor nations of the world who are most threatened by the effects of climate change.

So it therefore follows that it is we, the rich citizens of the world, who need to cut our energy use, so that the poorer countries can have access to more resources, lift themselves from poverty and limit their suffering under increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.

The Treehugger article refers to ‘survivalists and neo-Luddite hippies’ as people who have traditionally concerned themselves with the converging crises in the world, as well as the military who see the threat, and suggests that we also should be concerned. But the article then goes into a kind of negotiating mode which seeks to preserve our way of life first and foremost, whilst at the same time urging us to at least consider some concessions to sustainability. We should think about longer stays when we fly long-haul, or at least flying less often. But if we can’t manage this, it is suggested, then no matter really, as not everyone is able to make these choices in the hectic schedule of their rich first-world lifestyles.

I really wonder about this.

If we take as read that people who emit less than 2 tonnes of carbon annually are likely to be living in poverty, and should have the right to use more energy to lift their standard of living, it therefore follows that the current world average carbon footprint will rise, unless people with a large carbon footprint cut theirs by an equal amount. So just to stay still, we rich world people need to be cutting our energy use.

But staying still isn’t good enough – the world average carbon footprint needs to halve to 2 tonnes to be sustainable and fair. And it is relatively few of us who use an extremely disproportionately large share of the planet’s resources. So this really does mean we have to get cutting.

The issue of international tourism is a real bugbear for me. The Treehugger article extols the virtues of being able to see vistas, eating food in the country where it originated and broadening one’s experience of the world – which is all well and good, for those who can afford it. But 95% of the world’s population have never even been on an aeroplane. And unless we are suggesting that those 95% of people are inevitably and irretrievably spiritually stunted because of it – an obviously ridiculous and patronising suggestion which belittles the power of the human mind, making it reliant on mechanical transport for growth – it therefore follows that air tourism is a pure luxury, an activity undertaken by a tiny wealthy elite who seek to justify it to themselves in terms of spiritual development in order to avoid confronting the unavoidable fact that actually, in a crisis, it is completely unnecessary and utterly dispensable.

At present, the cost of air tourism is around 3% of the world’s total annual carbon emissions. However, that 3% of emissions is generated by a mere 5% of the world’s population – a 5% which currently enjoys energy use emitting an average of 11 tonnes of carbon annually. And this average, for industrialised nations, is actually made higher by the small minority of the population even of developed countries who use air travel. So that 3% of emissions is on top of and in excess of the highest rates of energy use in the world by this very same elite already.

Tourism itself is not environmentally or economically benign. As well as the environmental damage from its contribution to climate change and ocean acidification, there is more localised environmental damage in the destination countries. Whilst European cities are geared up for high-consumption tourism, many poorer countries are not, and in the scramble for tourist dollars, the local populace ends up suffering – from shortages of wood fuel and unsustainable logging in Nepal to water shortages in Indian villages due to aquifers being drained to supply hotels which are luxurious by local standards, but simply what is expected by Western tourists. And increasing the dependence of what were once basically sustainable economies on tourist dollars which are in turn dependent on cheap air travel, at the expense of the long-term integrity of local ecosystems, is not helping people in the long term. Tourist dollars help to prop up corrupt political regimes such as that in the Maldives, whilst local people are exploited and local islands out of sight of the tourist destinations are used as dumping grounds for tons of unprocessed rubbish.

When we are booking our foreign holidays, we may say to ourselves, well, we are ordinary working people, we are not rich and do not live in a palace, so what’s the harm? But in reality, our levels of energy consumption compared to most people in the world absolutely do make us rich beyond the wildest dreams of large swathes of the global population. And in fact, as large communal living spaces, palaces are potentially a more energy efficient mode of living than individual dwellings. If more people lived in palaces, it could be a good thing.

We in the first world really need to get the scale of the challenge into perspective. That return flight from the USA to Europe will emit 3 or 4 tonnes of carbon. And those fossil fuel resources are then gone, they can’t be used by someone elsewhere in the world to lift themselves out of poverty. If we pull out all the stops in the rest of our life, go vegetarian, install solar panels and recycle everything, we might only cut our carbon footprint by that exact same amount. Standing still and denying irreplaceable resources to people struggling in poverty is NOT ‘being green’.

So I would implore the reader: climate change and its related crises are not a game. The planetary atmospheric system is increasingly playing hardball with us, and what we do today will come back tomorrow tenfold to bite us. Billions of people could die from starvation and drought. Ecosystems which took hundreds of millions of years to evolve and develop a delicate homeostasis could collapse. Whole species could – wait, change that – are becoming extinct. Nature has no concept or consideration that it is reasonable for rich Westerners to have holidays in the sun, and does not make any allowance for it; that is a consideration which we afford ourselves, and fortunately for us it is others who have to make the necessary sacrifices in order to accommodate us.

There is another option: don’t fly. Be proud to take your place standing side by side in solidarity with the 95% of people who will never experience this highly polluting privilege. There is no shame in it. Even if you can’t avoid flying in the course of your work or to see family, when it comes to holidays you have a choice. And it will only be exercising that choice which as rich Westerners is ours only, that the difference will be made.

The responsibility to act lies with us, and only us, the citizens of the rich world. And if we do not, we are condemning the poor of the world and the habitability of our one and only home planet for the sake of a holiday in the sun.

Exploitation of the poor by the rich has been the rule for so much of human history – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Let’s not kid ourselves.

Stealth Food: Update 18th July 2010

We’ve had a bit of rain now fortunately, and the crops in the new community planters are coming on strong!! 🙂

Permanent Staycation – Part 1

We have had a week off work and decided to take a ‘staycation’, ie have a holiday but stay in this country, a much more environmentally friendly option and it encourages us to make the most of the beautiful country where we live, and let other people across the world enjoy their own countries in the same way, without having them damaged so much by tourism and climate change.

So last weekend around 14 of us hired a house in the country not far from York, for a friend’s 30th birthday and a long weekend away. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, we had a solar heated swimming pool and a hot tub, and took it in turns to cook, including a BBQ they had there. It was a great weekend, drinking chilled beer in the sun by the pool, playing games and popping into York on the Sunday for a look around the historic city.

It worked out at £123 per head for 3 nights, plus food plus petrol to York and back. Pretty good value, and at absolutely minimal cost to the planet. And it was a kind of communal experience that you don’t normally get on holiday.

Stealth Food: Phase 2

Well, today was our community planting day for our 12 lovely new raised beds!!

Our local councillor came down and we even had the Mayor of Bury digging in some beans.

We are hoping to get some kind of hut to keep stuff in, and if the weather is nice in a couple of weeks, we are going to have a community barbeque up there!!

Pimhole Meadows

The areas of derelict land which are currently designated to receive raised beds are actually only a small part of the total derelict area here in Pimhole.

This afternoon I had a wander round the remaining areas, and what I discovered really blew me away – nature is well on with her redevelopment plans for the area.

There has been talk of seeding these areas with wild flowers, but nature seems to have decided on her own biodiversity mix. Whilst I was there I could hear crickets or grasshoppers or something chirruping away to each other. I nearly forgot for a second that I was in a demolished downtown Victorian terraced housing estate.

Stealth Food: Update 26th June 2010

Have just been to do some weeding at the five raised beds we already have, some of them were getting pretty overgrown. The potatoes are doing amazingly well though, and in their planters they have totally crowded out the weeds!

I actually ended up leaving some of the weeds in, the daisies are pretty and provide some flowers for passing bees. And some of the low weeds provide a bit of shelter for the soil, which would be baking in the sun otherwise.

I’m really impressed with the way these beds have coped with the very hot and dry weather – there is no water source nearby so the only water they have received has been from what little rain we have had.

The second site is nearly ready, which will receive 12 large planters. We are having a community planting day on 3rd July, I have a load of pumpkin seedlings all ready to go in!!

Glebelands City Growers

Last week I paid a visit to Glebelands City Growers in Sale – a market garden supplying food locally:-

A really inspiring operation!!

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