Oct. 23, 2006 -- Frank Dukes, director of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation, served as lead facilitator for “National Dialogue on Children and Nature,” the largest-ever U.S. conference focusing on the decline of children’s connection to nature and the alarming effects on their health and educational and social development.
Co-sponsored by the Conservation Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and best-selling author and futurist Richard Louv, the recent conference brought together 350 health professionals, educators, conservationists, business leaders and elected officials at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia to discuss increases in childhood obesity, diabetes and attention disorders as effects of what Louv has dubbed “nature deficit disorder.”
Dukes and other conference participants focused on identifying key disconnects between children and nature within four areas: health, media and culture, education and the urban and built environment. Other noted participants included U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall; Conservation Fund President Larry Selzer, David Kahn, executive director of the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association; and Social Ecologist Stephen Kellert of Yale University.
Speaking of children’s increasing disconnection from the natural world, Louv, author of the best-selling “Last Child in the Woods,” said, “For eons, human beings spent most of their formative years in nature, but within the space of a few decades, the way children in many Western countries understand and experience nature has changed radically, with profound implications for mental and physical health, cognitive development, creativity and for the future of nature itself.”
Dukes emphasized the importance of a broad-based collaborative approach to finding solutions to the problems posed by children’s disconnection from nature. “The effort to connect children and nature requires the cooperation of many disciplines, including planning, architecture, public health and education,” he said. “It also will need collaboration of the private, public and nonprofit sectors to reshape how we develop and inhabit both private and public spaces.”
Conference sessions focused not only on specific health and education problems posed by children’s disconnection from nature but also on potential negative consequences for the environment. “People protect what they love, and only love what they understand and value,” Selzer said. “If we cannot help our children build stronger connections with nature now, it is possible that we will raise a generation with no inclination to enjoy or steward our most precious natural resources.” Other speakers noted that countering the decline of children’s connection with nature can also have economic benefits in terms of increased recreational and tourist spending and decreased health care costs for individuals and employers.
Support for the effort was provided by AKT Development Corporation, The Conservation Fund, Richard Louv and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through its National Conservation Training Center.
The institute is affiliated with the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning in U.Va.’s School of Architecture and works with localities, state and federal agencies, citizen organizations and businesses to resolve conflicts and build consensus for complex policy choices involving land use and the natural and built environment.
For more information about the conference or the Institute for Environmental Negotiation, please contact director Frank Dukes at (434) 924-2041.