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Louv: Balance Technology With Nature


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Imagine what your life would be like if your days were as immersed in nature as they are in technology. That's a question and challenge posed in the new book The Nature Principle. It's not an anti-technology argument, but rather a suggestion that our urban, high-tech lives are missing something crucially important. Encounters with nature enrich humans in ways we don't even fully understand yet. And those encounters are rapidly disappearing.

Richard Louv's new book, The Nature Principal: Human Restoration And The End Of The Nature Deficit Disorder, expands on his thesis that our society has developed such faith in technology that we don't realize how human capacities are enhanced through the power of the natural world.

GUEST: Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principal, Human Restoration And The End Of The Nature Deficit Disorder.


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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Imagine what your life would be like if your days were as immersed in nature as they are in technology. That's a question and a challenge posed in the new book, the nature principle. Encounters with nature enrich humans in ways we don't even fully understand yet, but those encounters are rapidly disappearing. I'd like to welcome my guest, author child advocate and journalist, Richard Louv who wrote the best seller, last child in the woods. His new book is called the nature principle, human restoration and the end of nature deficit disorder. Good morning, Richard.

LOUV: Good morning. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks for coming back in.


LOUV: Oh, thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I know that you're concerned about children growing up without any connection to nature. Now, but this book sounds are the alarm about adult, all of us having a nature deficit. So explain to us what this nature deficit is.

LOUV: It is the consequences of disconnection from nature. Generationally, but also of our species. The studies that have emerged only within the last dozen years or so of children but also even more of adults show that the benefits of nature, the natural world, spending time -- and we define nature very broadly, it can be in our homes, our backyards, wilderness -- are extraordinary. They help us become healthier and happier and maybe even smarter and more creative. But these studies are not known by the general public. They're particularly important, of course, for children because of the importance of child development. What happens when we take away nature from child development? I think that these kids miss out on some huge gifts that generations past received. The same is true for adults. Development happens throughout a lifetime. So it's extraordinarily important for both children and adults to reconnect to nature.

CAVANAUGH: You were going around on your book tour and -- with your last book, the last child in the woods, and you heard from adult, hey, we have this nature deficit too. It's not just our kids. We're not getting anything out of the natural world. We don't have any time to spend in it. Is that what you hear a lot?

LOUV: Yeah. I've been on a book tour that never died for the last five years, since last child in the woods came out. In almost every audience, somebody will either stand up or come up to me later and say adults have nature deficit disorder too. In fact, in Seattle, one woman came up while I was signing books and actually grabbed me by the lapels and said, listen, we have nature deficit disorder too. Talk about us too. So that's partly where the nature principle came from, this new book. It also came partly from the realization that, as Martin Luther King said in many ways, any culture, any movement would fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that people will want to go to. And I think that environmentalism, the news media, and I've been a part of the news media for a long time, have really been failing at painting a positive picture of the world we want to create and go to. So the nature principle at least attempts to outline that possibility. A culture in which our lives are as immersed in nature as they are in technology. And basically the one liner I've often used to describe it is the more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need. We need that biologically. We need that for our mental health, our physical health.

CAVANAUGH: You know, in many ways, the nature principle is a continuation of last child in the woods. And one of the startling things that you do say is that the kids that you were talking about, when you were thinking about and writing last child in the woods about never having any real interaction with nature, are now almost like -- they're like young adults now.

LOUV: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: So they're the first generation to be so immersed in technology and out of touch with nature.

LOUV: Right. Many of them are parents of their own children. And just because someone didn't have much nature experience or a minimum of nature experience when they were kids doesn't mean that can't get it later. One of the theories about why these studies are showing so much amazing, positive impact on people when they get out doors into nature, on their physical health, mental health, ability to learn, is one of those theories is the biophilic hypothesis, or the biophilia hypothesis by E. O. Wilson at Harvard. He holds that we are genetically wired to appreciate and need nature to have a sense of affiliation with species other than our own. That millennia have drilled that into us. And that when we don't get as much nature as we need, we don't do so well. And one of the studies that was done of the biophilia hypothesis following that went all over the world and showed people images, all kinds of images, urban images, people images, etc, to find out what people in every culture and every kind of city, rural, etc, what human beings are attracted to, visually. Nature images, one of the nature images, landscapes of the landscapes, the number one image that humans are attracted to is the image of the Savannah. Now, that doesn't prove that we're all genetically wired and that it goes back that far genetically. But it does raise the question. And I think many of us feel this, we know this intuitively.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What does it mean when you say to be in nature? Does it mean sitting on a park bench? Does it mean looking at the ocean through your window? What does that mean?

LOUV: One of the difficult things is to come up with a definition for nature. And there's no -- and I'll talk about this more tomorrow night at this lecture at Point Loma Nazarene. It's no accident that we basically left that definition up to the poets. Science has a hard time with that. Science has about 30 definitions of life. We can't even agree on what life is. My sense is, as with life, nature -- we know it when we see it. It's not just wilderness of it is our backyards. It can be the green roof on top of a new building that attracts butterflies, to bring back butterfly migration routes. It can be a new kind of city. I think one of the things that the nature principle tries to do is move us away from this notion that nature is it out there, it's something you go visit. As of 2008, more people in the world live in cities than in the country side. That's a huge change. We went through that change some time ago around the 1940s.

CAVANAUGH: Here in America. ?

LOUV: In America. But now the whole world. And that's gonna continue. What that means is that if human beings are gonna have some kind of meaningful experience and relationship with nature, they're probably gonna have that in cities. That means one of two things: Either the human experience in nature will end, virtually, or we'll have to have new kinds of cities. And I find that second option exciting. Cities that are high in human density, but also high in natural habitat. What that's gonna mean is that conservation is no longer enough. We've gotta conserve every bit of wilderness we can. Now we also have to start creating nature.

CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating. I'm speaking with Richard Louv about his new book, the nature principle. In this book, again, you're talking about an urban environment in which we create nature. You also about the juxtaposition of technology and nature. And many futurists see humans evolving in a way that doesn't really need the natural world anymore, that is sort of like a posthuman hybrid of human techno person. Do you see -- envision that happening ever?

LOUV: Are, it could happen, and then that'll be the end of us. If it's only that. We are nature. We are part of nature. To -- you know, the people who talk about the postbiological era, I find that somewhat absurd. If we think that robots are gonna service us entirely in the future, I don't think that's gonna happen. It may happen, and then we will not be fully human. This is part of our humanity. We need to honor that and understand that all kinds of studies have been done about how technology can augment, for instance, human intelligence, or pills that we can take to augment human intelligence. Well, the truth is that not enough research at all has been done on how the natural world, how time in it can augment human intelligence. And it does. The studies have been -- that have been done show that people do better on proof reading tests when they get back to -- after a walk in the woods. All kinds of studies have shown that this improves human creativity, it improves human productivity, work places that are designed biophilically, nature woven into the design from the beginning and then kept there. The people in those work places are far more productive, sick time gets better, turn over gets better, creativity goes up. . So what we're really talking now, I believe, is what I call a new nature movement that takes up where environmentalism and traditional sustainability have left off. It includes those, but it goes beyond that. This is not just about saving energy. It's about producing human energy.

CAVANAUGH: Let's take a phone call. Matt is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Matt, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. So I have a comment and an observation. Really I -- I should explain, I grew up in the southwest of England in what can only be described as the back country. And [CHECK AUDIO] maybe once a week, and did not live in a city until I was 19. And so I get it. And I really understand what we're talking about here. But what I observed is that just like learning a language, if a child learns a language from a really early age, they get the grammar of the language. And I feel that people who have never been in nature as a child, they miss that learning point of the grammar, and as a result, as an adult, they might have the vocabulary, but they don't get it, they don't understand what it is they're really talking about.

CAVANAUGH: Let me get a response, Matt, and thank you for the call. You say, however, Richard, that people who evaporate been exposed to nature as children can learn to love it as adults.

LOUV: I think that's true. The caller is correct in that it's easier to bond with nature if you do it very early. And in fact, the studies of environmentalists, conservationists show that almost to a person, they had some tr ascendant experiences in nature when they were kids. Direct experience, not intellectualized but direct experience. What happens if that ends virtually? Where will the future stewards of the earth, the true stewards come from? So in that sense issue the caller is right. I think that if the biophilia hypothesis, for instance, is true, then we are hard wired. This remains within us. Of it's a little bit like riding a bike am you can do it later. You can learn later. In fact, two days ago I was with someone from REI, the head of the school in the bay area, who said they've actually started a program to teach adults how to ride bikes because these adults come in to buy these fancy trails bikes and they've never been on a bike. They're too embarrassed to admit it.

CAVANAUGH: Wow, wow.

LOUV: So it can be learned Anew, as many things can. Can may require different pathways in the brain. But it can come back.

CAVANAUGH: You said that there have been some studies done about how being in nature is advantageous for human beings but that most people don't know about them. Why dent we know about these?

LOUV: Partly because this is a terribly under studied arena. I believe that the reason -- for instance, there are over a thousand studies of how Ritalin and other stimulants affect the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. I'm not a radical on Ritalin. Some kids need medication. But there are over a thousand of those studies. There are about a dozen studies or less, most of them done at the yesterday of Illinois, of how the natural world affects the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. And they have found that kids as young as five years old, the symptoms radically or fairly radically decrease. And that, you know, and this is a very cost effective therapy. The fact that there are so many studies of ritalin and other pharmaceuticals for depression also, and other pharmaceuticals, compared to how many studies that have been done far, far, far, far fewer on the natural world has nothing to do with the relative merits of those two arenas. It has to do with where the research money comes from.

CAVANAUGH: Where the money to conduct the studies comes from.

LOUV: Yeah.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You propose an absolutely fascinating concept here as you say, that goes beyond -- incorporates the idea of conservation and sustainability, but goes beyond that to the creation of a new sort of natural environment for us in an urban setting. But before we get there, as we're trying to create that and trying to promulgate that notion, what do we do? We've got so many -- we've got phones sticking out of us, we've got computers, we never seem to have any time to do anything except deal with technology.

LOUV: Well, you know, I plead guilty, I've got my phone, I'm looking at my Mac here. I'm not antitech. I mean, I think that's one of the things -- the myths that has to drop away. You don't have to be pronature -- you don't have to be antitech to be pronature. In fact, in the nature principle, I talk about the emergence of what I call the hybrid mind. The best example of that is I met the -- a guy who trains people to become the pilots of cruise ships. And he says he gets two kinds of students of the kind that grew up only with electronics, inside, mainly. They're terrific at the electronics in the ship. Then he gets a second kind of student who mainly grew up outside, hunting fishing, hiking issue etc. He said those students have a talent too. They actually know where the ship is. I mean spatially. He meant that literally. And when you look at the studies of the senses issue that's one of the aspects of the senses that being in nature brings out. And he says my ideal student will be a student who has both of those capabilities. And in the nature principle, I call that the hybrid mind. But in terms of what we do, we can make choices right now, today, to make more time in our lives for nature. We can do things to our backyard, we can plant native species. We can have our kids working to bring back butterfly migration routes in our own backyard. One of the things that has emerged is obviously -- after the last child in the woods came out, and not only because of the last child, but for a lot of reasons what's now known as the no child left inside movement or the children in nature movement emerged. Right now there are over 80 regional campaigns across the United States and north America, increasingly, it's also in Europe, I spend more of my time now in Europe that are getting kids outdoors. Governor's involved, the current presidential administration is involved, there is a lot going on out there. Parents are involved too. This event tomorrow night at Point Loma Nazarene is sponsored in part by the San Diego children in nature collaborative. I'm gonna speak on the nature principle. But this is also a kind of celebration in inviting all kinds of people, whether they have kids or not to come. The collaborative, for instance, one of the leaders of that, two that of the leaders are Ron Sweissgood and his wife who have created family nature club in San Diego that now has kind of satellite clubs in the neighborhoods. And that is getting all kinds of -- hundreds of families out. Not only for the kids but for the adults' ability here.

CAVANAUGH: I want to tell people how they can hear more about this. Richard Louv, as he suggested, will be giving a public lecture. It's entitled the nature principle of it's the same name as his book, at brown chapel at Point Loma Nazarene university. That's tomorrow night, local nature exhibits open at 630, and the lecture begins at 730. And I think you've given us a really good idea of who might be interested in going to this and what they're going to hear, and Richard, thank you so much.

LOUV: Thanks. And tickets can be gotten at the door. But also on line in advance and they're cheaper. And you can go to San Diego

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. Okay. Anyone who would like to comment on line, please do, Days. Coming up the pelican is well again and thriving in San Diego. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.