Friday, August 1, 2008

Children can't identify the natural world

(England! Awake! Awake! Awake!)
This article is from the UK Independent today. It's no surprise to me, even though I still have this utterly cliched image of vaguely 19th century, rosy-cheeked, blue-kneed English kids having a nice, well-mannered romp with their thoughtful, well-informed nannies in ancient woods and along hedgerows. And they're all wearing darling homespun woolen knickers and little caps, natch. But no, it seems the British kids are every bit as clueless as the American kids are about nature.
This disconnect from nature matters. It matters a lot. If kids are disconnected from nature, they stop caring about nature. If they don't care about nature as kids, they will certainly not care about nature as grown-ups. And nature needs, and will need, all the champions it can get. Think thirty years into the future, when our future 40-something-year-olds are writing legislation about, and voting on, say, environmental protection. And mining. And forestry. And wetlands. And offshore drilling. And clean water. And farm bills. They will have only a very narrow human perspective. This loss of basic biological knowledge is a great tragedy for the immediate future of other species on earth.
How many other species are there? I was curious, so I looked it up. Today, there are about 5,000 species of mammals, 10,000 to 16,000 species of birds, 800,000 to 1,000,000 species of insects, and no-one-knows how many species of fish, because our oceans are sadly given so little attention (but about 27,000 are known). By most estimates right now, that count will be halved in thirty years. Scientists are calling this current, and coming, massive redcution of species the sixth mass extinction; the fifth mass extinction was the fall of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In 100 years, just three generations away, the world will be a very different place.
There are some good folks working on this mountain of a problem. Changing the Cartesian and biblical world views that, for centuries, set man above and apart from nature are two of our biggest hurdles. The new land-use ecological studies, such as sustainable agriculture and reconciliation ecology, focus on maintaining biodiversity and the assemblage of species within habitats while seeking the balance of how humans can work within nature while doing less, or no, harm. But will the coming generations carry it forward? Will they care? Or will procuring basic human needs be at such a fever pitch there will be no time to care?


Garden Wise Guy said...

Ilex - thanks for stopping by my blog, especially because it brought me to this posting. Great job of connecting the dots. I'm guessing that if a kid's entire connection to nature is via the hand-set that connects their X-Box 360 to a video game with digitized images of hobbit forests, it will indeed be a stretch to expect them to care for "nature" in its intangible, imaginary form.

PJ said...

I have to say that kids are different today not only because they receive their information differentlybut also because there is so much information to process. In the Twelfth Century all that there was to know intellectually (as opposed to intuitively or experiencially) could fit in today's Sunday New York Times. Nowadays kids are probably going to go to nature as an experience when their electronic connections and communities inform them about it. I'm pretty much operating on a similar premise about many things when I'm blogging. I think kids care, they're just going about it differently. I have a lot of hope and I think this energy crisis/downturn in economy has been very benficial in informing lots of people of the need to stop and take a look around them. Especially when folks like Ilex bring it to our attention and ask us to think about it. Thanks!

Verde said...

Yea, scary. Of course schools have less money and more problems every year, parents tend to be distracted and yea... they don't even know why nature is important.

Rabbits' Guy said...

I was at a kid's event last week and we were asking the kids what they should do to help keep our waters clean and healthy. A little kid was with his mother and he just blurted out .. "I guess I better not poop in the bucket and throw it over the back of the boat anymore, eh?" His mother was -uh - embarassed?

Gotta get them where ever we can ... it'll work! You get two or three, one of them gets two or three, and so on, and it'll work. It's when we quit ... then we're doomed.

Take your worms to school .. heck, bring school to your place .. kids love role models.