A definitive scientific report warns that extreme weather events linked to climate change will continue around the world in coming decades.
Another study warns that even if the current rate of global decarbonisation were to double, the world would still be headed for six degrees of warming by the end of this century. (And that’s a big “even if.”)
Adding gloom to doom, new statistics reveal that since 1966, Britain’s bird population has declined by 44 million, meaning that about one fifth of the total population of Britain’s birds, or one nesting pair per minute, has vanished. This is due, at least in part, to a failure to protect habitat and to dramatic changes in the weather.
So where is the outrage and the demand for change in the face of these frightening facts? More precisely, why are young people today, the future stewards of our planet, not taken a leading role in the defense of the natural world?
The reality is that today’s kids are much less likely than their parents to have a personal connection with nature. That’s because their outdoor time is, generally speaking, sporadic and highly supervised. Recent studies have revealed that:
• Children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 7 hours and 37 minutes a day staring at electronic screens (television, video games, computers, etc.), leaving little time for outdoor play.
• The number of children who participated in outdoor activities such as hiking, walking and fishing dropped by 50 percent between 1997 and 2003.
• Eight-year-olds in Britain can identify 25 percent more artificial Pokemon characters than real, native living things, such as “oak tree, sparrow, otter.”
In schools, hours devoted to physical education and recess are down compared to previous generations, and at home, parents are more reluctant than ever to let kids spend time outside unsupervised.
One thing has improved with time: modern kids are more likely than previous generations to understand concerns about the environment and their role in preserving it. Of course, that’s important.
But if a child can describe exactly how global warming is affecting our planet, yet doesn’t remember the last time he explored his local woods, or beaches, he’s not likely to genuinely care about nature. According to research conducted at Cornell University, children who spend time in nature before age 11 are much more likely to grow up to be environmentally minded adults than kids who don’t.
Of course, it’s not just the planet’s health that’s at stake. The effects of staying in — as opposed to getting out — can be seen nationwide: researchers have found that the more time young people spend indoors, the more stressful they grow and the more likely they are to have ADHD. Attention span and memory decrease, spiritual development is curtailed, and of course the rate of obesity soars. In short, the mental and physical health of our children is at stake.
On a personal note, I gain so much pleasure from being outdoors that I want others to have that experience too. As a mother, I have seen nature’s positive, calming effect on my children and their friends, and it worries me that we are getting further away from nature. I know I always feel better when I have spent time outdoors, stepping on the earth. As Laurence S. Rockefeller wrote, “Nature quiets the mind by engaging with an intelligence larger than our own.”
So what can be done? As a teacher, I believe an excellent place to start is in the classroom. With the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has come an increasing emphasis on language arts and math, those areas tested under NCLB, which has resulted in almost everything else being pushed aside in America’s elementary schools. And how are kids supposed to care about conservation and preservation if they know nothing about them?
The No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI) is a bi-partisan bill that would assist states in creating stronger environmental literacy programs for K-12 students. NCLI already has the support of more than 2,000 organizations, representing some 50 million Americans. You can click here to sign our petition, asking your senators and representative to revive the NCLI, for our children and the future environmental health of this country.
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