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YouthActionNet Blog

For The Love Of Nature

Sheila Kinkade | April 22, 2013
An EduCREA participant feeds a manatee

As environmental activists, among them dozens of YouthActionNet Fellows, acknowledge Earth Day 2013 and its focus on climate change, the question remains: how do you fundamentally transform human attitudes and behaviors toward the natural world on which we depend for survival and, many would argue, the sustenance of the human spirit? While scientific data related to climate change abounds, research demonstrates that it’s emotions that prompt us to take action, and that appeals to both head and heart are apt to be most effective.

A spate of recent books underscores the profound connection between humans and nature; a connection that’s under threat by growing urbanization, time spent indoors, and the overwhelming influence of technology on our lives. In Birthright: People, Nature, and the Modern World, Dr. Stephen Kellert cites data showing just how far away from nature the current generation of American children has become. In 2010, children spent an average of 52 hours per week engaged with electronic media as contrasted to the 40 minutes they spend weekly in nature today. Just when we need to be preparing children for their roles as stewards of an endangered environment, the opposite may hold true. Kellert elaborates on humans’ inherent connection to nature and its contribution to our “capacities to feel, reason, think, master complexity, discover, create, heal, and be healthy.”

If time spent in nature contributes to greater empathy for the environment, lack of exposure may contribute to apathy when it comes to altering lifestyles. Eva Selhub, MD and Alan Logan, authors of Your Brain on Nature, point to the challenge of mobilizing people to take environmental action when ties to the natural world are tenuous. “Our turn away from nature is associated with less empathy and attraction to nature, and in turn, less interest in environmental efforts,” they write.

How do you foster that emotional connection? For Laureate Global Fellow Cristian Vélez Ramirez, founder of EduCREA in Peru, it begins with introducing children to the wonders of nature in the Amazon and, in particular, to the plight of the endangered manatee. EduCREA has developed a variety of interactive, educational games that immerse children in nature. The children laugh, play, and explore their natural surroundings. In one exercise, they’re encouraged to spend time listening to the sounds of nature and then report back what they heard.

Says Cristian, “We don’t want to be alarmist. We don't want children to be so scared they don’t feel they can make change. We want them to understand that each of us can make a change in our environment.”

In 2012, EduCREA reached more than 15,000 people with its conservation message, creating what Cristian and his colleagues hope will be a lifelong connection between children and nature. Watch a video interview with Cristian.

Similarly in India, Fellow Arun Krishnamurthy, founder of the Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), mobilizes young people, ages 11 to 17, to play an active role in wildlife conservation and habitat restoration. Its activities include lake restoration efforts in urban areas, biodiversity parks in schools, and camps that empower youth with environmental leadership skills. Through documentary films, street theater, dance, and music, EFI makes learning about the environment both educational and fun. It also leverages the power of social media to engage a network of hundreds of committed volunteers in weekly activities. As clearly articulated in its mission statement, EFI “strives to create a planet where the environment is not only taken care of, but loved.” Could love be a missing ingredient in today’s environmental advocacy efforts? View a video of Arun.

In their newly-published book, The Rediscovery of the Wild, editors Peter Kahn and Patricia Hasbach call for the “re-wilding” of the human species. With technology consuming increasing amounts of our time, it’s more important than ever to reconnect to our primal selves as expressed in wild nature, they write.

With this in mind, on Earth Day 2013 perhaps the best medicine we can take is a walk on the wild side, reaffirming our commitment to nature – not just for one day but every day – and sharing that commitment with others.

To learn more about other YouthActionNet Fellows around the globe and their environmental innovations, visit www.youthactionnet.org.