Louv's Nature Principle

TO THE SOURCE

The well-being of children – but also of adults – requires that we have regular exposure to nature. We all need regular doses of Vitamin "N" (for nature).

Richard Louv's last book Last Child in the Woods helped spawn an international movement to foster greater direct connection between children and nature. His premise is simple: the more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need. His most recent book The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorders turns Louv's attention to all of us.


to the source:  Does your new book The Nature Principle build on this same theme?

Richard Louv:  One day in Seattle, a woman grabbed my lapels and said, "Listen to me, adults have nature-deficit disorder, too." She was right. In 2005, in Last Child in the Woods, I introduced the term nature-deficit disorder, not as a medical diagnosis, but as a way to describe the implications of the growing gap between children and nature. By its broadest interpretation, nature-deficit disorder is an atrophied awareness, a diminished ability to find meaning in the life that surrounds us. This shrinkage of our lives has a direct impact on our physical, mental and societal health. After the book's publication, I heard many adults speak with heartfelt emotion, even anger, about this separation, but also about their own sense of loss.

I also came to believe that the movement to reconnect children with nature will be a passing fad unless adults understand that this issue touches them, as well. In The Nature Principle, I report on a growing body of theoretical, anecdotal, and empirical research that, when combined with millennia of human experience describes the restorative power of nature – its impact on our senses and intelligence; on our physical, psychological and spiritual health; and on the bonds of family and friendship. In the new book, I ask: What would the lives of children and adults be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are today in electronics?


tts:  Professor Dallas Willard has written that he long ago gave up trying to get people to do things and set about trying to get them to think differently. How will The Nature Principle prompt new thinking about the human/nature connection?

Louv:  We're already thinking differently, whether we like it or not. The traditional ways that humans have experienced nature are vanishing, along with biodiversity. At the same time, a new mythology of technology is suggesting that nature doesn't matter anymore. We even hear talk of the "transhuman" or "posthuman" era in which people are optimally enhanced by technology. But the truth is we have yet to fully realize, or even adequately study, the enhancement of human capacities through the power of nature.

In recent years, science has finally begun to take a serious look at the benefits of time spent in nature. For example, new research suggests that exposure to the living world can enhance intelligence and creativity. Findings from a nine-year study begun in the 1970s for the U.S. Forest Service by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, and their later research, suggest that direct and indirect contact with nature can help with recovery from mental fatigue and the restoration of attention. At the University of Michigan, researchers demonstrated that, after just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent. Studies of workplaces created with nature as an essential element in the design are more productive, more creative. Such research suggests great benefits for business as well as individuals. The ultimate multitasking is to live simultaneously in both the digital and the physical world, using computers to maximize our powers to process intellectual data, and natural environments to ignite all of our senses and accelerate our ability to learn and to feel. In the book, I call this the hybrid mind.

Time spent in the natural world can also help build our physical and emotional fitness. For example, Pennsylvania researchers found that patients in rooms with tree views had shorter hospitalizations (on average, by almost one full day), less need for pain medications, compared to patients with brick views. People have a more positive outlook on life and higher life satisfaction when in proximity to nature (particularly in urban areas). Some of the studies suggest that there's an added value that goes beyond, say, time on an indoor treadmill, even though the expenditure of energy is the same.

We're already seeing the impact of these findings in health care. There now are established methods of nature-based therapy (including ecopsychology, wilderness, horticultural, and animal-assisted therapy among others) that have success healing patients who previously had not responded to treatment. A pilot program in Portland, Oregon, now pairs physicians with park professionals – who act as para health-providers – who will record whether outdoor "prescriptions" are fulfilled; the park prescription program will be part of a longitudinal study to measure the effects. In 2010, I was asked to give the plenary keynote speech at the national conference of the National Academy of Pediatrics, and the response to the idea of prescribing nature was quite positive. We'll be seeing more of that in the future.

And we're going to need all the "Vitamin N" (for nature) we can get. As of 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world's population now lives in towns and cities. This means either the end of meaningful, everyday human experience in nature, or the beginning of a new kind of city. We'll need cities where natural history becomes as important as human history to regional and personal identity; where "human/nature social capital" enriches our daily lives; where, through biophilic design, our homes, workplaces, and our neighborhoods become restorative – not only conserving watts, but also producing human energy.

Such goals include sustainability (which suggests stasis), but go beyond it. All of this and more can have positive implications for education, for business and for the daily lives of young and old, perhaps particularly for the aging population. In the future – and right now – reconnecting to nature opens new doors to health, creativity and the spirit. I am not talking about worshiping nature, but about nourishing the spirit by putting ourselves in the path of wonder.


tts:  What might this mean for church leaders and congregations?

Louv:  The reaction of many religious leaders, conservative and liberal, to Last Child in the Woods was heartening. They understand intuitively that all spiritual life begins with a sense of awe and wonder. The natural world nurtures that in children. As adults, we need a constant rekindling of wonder. Many of us do find that in the natural world, even in a backyard garden.

Church leaders and congregations can help all of us make that happen, and they can help us see a different vision of future. I've been wondering why so many of us, when thinking about the future, immediately conjure images of Blade Runner, Mad Max or Cormac McCarthy's The Road: a post-apocalyptic dystopia stripped of nature? We seem drawn to that flame. It's a dangerous fixation. We need a restoration of hope. We need to think differently.



For more information go to www.richardlouv.com.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

To the source. "Louv's Nature Principle." tothesource (May 25, 2011).

This article reprinted with permission from tothesource.

Tothesource is a forum for integrating thinking and action within a moral framework that takes into account our contemporary situation. We will report the insights of cultural experts to the specific issues we face believing these sources will embolden people to greater faith and action.

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