Americans Losing Touch With Nature
by Al Cross
Will baby boomers “constitute the last generation of Americans to share an intimate, familial attachment to the land and water,” as suggested by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods? Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times ponders that question after a hike with his daughter, cut short by lack of money to maintain the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood in Oregon.
“Only 2 percent of American households now live on farms, compared with 40 percent in 1900,” Kristof writes. “Suburban childhood that once meant catching snakes in fields now means sanitized video play dates scheduled a week in advance. One study of three generations of 9-year-olds found that by 1990 the radius from the house in which they were allowed to roam freely was only one-ninth as great as it had been in 1970. A British study found that children could more easily identify Japanese cartoon characters like Pikachu, Metapod and Wigglytuff than they could native animals and plants, like otter, oak and beetle.”
Louv argues that this “nature deficit disorder” is partly responsible for depression, obesity and attention deficit disorder in young people. Kristof isn’t sure about that, but does worry that “The American environmental movement has focused so much on preserving nature that it has neglected to do enough to preserve a constituency for nature. It’s important not only to save forests, but also to promote camping, hiking, bouldering and white-water rafting so that people care about saving those forests.” He notes that visits to national parks have been declining for more than a decade.
Maybe next month’s Ken Burns PBS series on the parks will help boost the parks. But more visitation will increase the need for maintenance, much of which has been deferred. And the private sector has a role to play, too. Rural Americans can help their citified cousins get back in touch with the natural world through agri-tourism, for example.
Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog. Al Cross, former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.