Aspen Enviro Forum panel: Urbanized world is developing ‘nature deficit disorder’ |

Aspen Enviro Forum panel: Urbanized world is developing ‘nature deficit disorder’

ASPEN – We’re staring down a barrel at climate change. We’re coping with a huge oil spill. Population growth is a ticking time bomb. There are no shortages of big environmental problems, but a smaller-scale issue delivers a special dose of tragedy.

Kids, and an increasing number of adults, suffer from “nature deficit disorder,” members of a panel at the Aspen Environment Forum said Tuesday. Kids spend an increasing amount of time in front of their computer, their Wii and their TV, and less time collecting shells, rocks and bugs.

It’s inevitable that if fewer people are spending time in nature as the world gets urbanized, the natural world is going to suffer, said Sally Grover Bingham, an Episcopal priest who has been an environmentalist for 25 years. Bingham, a panelist at the Environment Forum, is the founder and president of the Interfaith Power and Light, which promotes the link between faith and the environment.

Bingham said it might be difficult to understand in a spectacular setting like Aspen that many people around the country don’t have the chance to connect with nature or take the opportunity. The consequences, she said, are potentially dire.

“I have a big concern about who are going to be the next environmentalists,” Bingham told an audience during the second day of the three-day forum.

The concept of nature deficiency disorder was laid out by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods.” The deficiency in nature is allegedly tied to everything from obesity to behavioral problems.

The big environmental issues like climate change and fresh water supplies obviously need attention, Bingham said, but more needs to be done to connect kids to nature.

Moderator Robert Draper, a contributing writer to National Geographic Magazine, noted that children today spend 50 percent less time outdoors on average than children of 20 years ago, according to a study by the University of Michigan.

The problem isn’t just with kids, and the disconnect from nature isn’t just a U.S. phenomena, Draper noted.

Panelist Audrey Peterman said minorities are particularly disengaged from nature in general and the U.S. National Park System in particular. She and her husband, Frank Peterman, drove 12,000 miles around the country checking out the wonders of the national parks and other public lands. They wrote a book, “Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care.”

Seeing so few minorities among staff and visitors at the great parks inspired them to form Earthwise Productions, which raises awareness of and involvement in nature among minority groups. Minorities will comprise an increasing large portion of the U.S. population, Audrey Peterman noted, so it is vital that they are engaged to help solve many of the top environmental issues. Large environmental groups are making a mistake by not taking more aggressive action to recruit minorities, she said.

“We need all hands on deck,” Peterman said.

Unlike many environmental problems, this one isn’t too daunting to tackle, Peterman said. It just takes a concerted effort to take kids and adults to places. “This whole disconnect from nature can be so easily remedied,” she said.

The Petermans personally take kids and adults to visit natural places, like people from the southeastern U.S. into the Everglades. Frank Peterman said he has witnessed first-hand the transformation nature encourages.

“We are hard-wired to be connected to nature,” he said.

Bingham’s efforts to reconnect people comes, in part, from the pulpit. Churches that make the connection between spirituality and nature are experiencing a surge in popularity, she said.

Her efforts aren’t always graciously accepted. “When I started talking about climate change from the pulpit, I was called a communist,” she said.

Bingham is undaunted. Her efforts continue.

“You cannot call yourself a person of faith and then watch God’s creation get destroyed,” she said.

The Environment Forum, sponsored by the Aspen Institute and National Geographic, concludes Wednesday.

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