BULL PUCKEY, I say.
I ran across this commentary on Jorgen Randers’ ‘2052: a global forecast for the next forty years,’ slated for publication in July, and was so flabbergasted by what I read in there that I’ve had the post open in my browser for days until I had time to write about it:
There is a section called “What Should You Do?” which is usually the part in such books that picks you up a bit, and makes you believe that you can do something…
[One] is “don’t teach your children to love the wilderness”. Randers reasons that over the next 50 years we will see the ongoing erosion of biodiversity and wilderness, due to climate change and humanity’s reach into more and more remote areas. A love for “old, undisturbed nature”, he argues, is something it will become increasingly difficult to satisfy. ”By teaching your child to love the loneliness of the untouched wilderness, you are teaching her to love what will be increasingly hard to find”, he argues, which will lead to unhappiness and despondency. ”Much better then”, he concludes, “to rear a new generation that find peace, calm and satisfaction in the bustling life of the megacity – and with never-ending music piped into their ears”.
What fresh hell is this?
(And no, I don’t mean the decidedly British punctuation issues.)
I know that it’s reported that the average American kid spends 4-7 minutes daily outdoors in unstructured play (just outdoors, not specifically in a “wild space”) and a hurts-my-heart-to-hear seven HOURS parked in front of a screen. It’s mind-blowing and seemingly insurmountable, but there are tons of initiatives trying to reverse that trend, from the National Wildlife Federation’s Green Hour to KaBOOM’s Playground Challenge to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to Screen Free Week and so on.
Sure, we could just teach our kids to learn to just love their bodies, no matter how rotund and unhealthy they become, but we are not resigned. Right? We continue to fight that battle because we f*cking care about our children and their health and even if the tide is incredibly hard to turn, we have to try. If only to keep reminding everyone that we could be healthier, we can eat better and move more and spend more time outdoors, and we bloody well should.
We continue to teach our kids to value things that have value.
The idea of not teaching our kids to love and value the wilderness because one day it might not be there is like saying we shouldn’t teach our kids to love us— because one day we will be gone.
We also teach them how to live without us. We teach them in the hopes that they will carry us in their heart and their minds and in their words and their actions. And in the same way, it’s practical to teach them how to live in cities, how to navigate and find beauty there; but we should strive also to teach them to love wilderness and open space and green life, in the hopes that they will seek it and nurture it and preserve it. Because it has value.
Children will only try to preserve what they love, that’s human nature. And they will only learn to love wild spaces, solitude, freedom if we give them time to enjoy it; and by showing by example. Which is to say:
GET OUT THERE.
National Park attendance by young people is down. The more attendance declines, the more likely it is that these natural spaces will lose their government funding and protection. And once they’re gone… they’re gone.
But you don’t have to travel to a national park. There are plenty of pockets of untended nature all over the country, and they need protection. These are safe havens for wildlife, travel corridors. They are escapes for the human animal, a place to reconnect to the wildness and the peace within. A place for you to share with your kids. To create memories. To develop a stronger sense of self. To be healthier. To foster a love of nature.
For the record, there are some other things increasingly hard to find that I’ve also taught my kids to value:
- personal responsibility
- respect for their elders
- regular household chores that are actually useful (cooking, cleaning, laundry)
- proper grammar
- being well-read
- holding doors open for people behind them; running ahead to open doors for those who might have trouble
- manners in general
Because they have value. That’s reason enough.
What say you?