I had the good fortune to lead a session of a graduate seminar at American University, focusing in part on some of the themes from my novel WARMING!. Can bottom up approaches work or are we destined to live in a centrally controlled society? Can deeper changes in our collective consciousness create real change and effective response without authoritarian mechanisms? A number of students wondered about the role of our own experiences in nature in shaping change.
The Nature Conservancy recently commissioned a survey of the attitudes of American youth ages 13 to 18. Among its findings was diminished time spent outdoors. Nonetheless, the survey did find both a concern for environmental problems and a skepticism as to the ability of governmental institutions to address them. And very relevant to the topic discussed at American University:
“The data suggest that if American youth are given more opportunities to have a meaningful experience outdoors, they will be more likely to value nature, engage with it, and feel empowered to do something about it.
The survey shows that 66% of youth say that they “have had a personal experience in nature” that made them appreciate it more. That subset of American youth is markedly different from those who have not had such experiences. They are:
Almost twice as likely to say they prefer spending time outdoors;
Significantly more likely to express concern about water pollution, air pollution, global warming,and the condition of the environment;
Ten points more likely to agree that we can solve climate change by acting now;
13 points more likely to say environmental protection should be prioritized over economic growth;
More than twice as likely to “strongly agree” that protecting the environment is “cool;”
More than twice as likely to consider themselves a “strong environmentalist, and
Substantially more likely to express interest in studying the environment in college, working in a job related to nature, or joining an environmental club at their school.
So if the data show that having meaningful experiences in nature leads to more environmental engagement, the key question remains: how can we get youth to spend more time outdoors in nature?”
More from the survey is at http://www.nature.org/newsfeatures/kids-in-nature/kids-in-nature-poll.xml.