Gone are the days of Aldo Leopold and John Muir, when our contact with Nature wasn’t mediated by the middleman of Technology. Today, we go out with our iPhones and Apps, digital cameras, specialized gear and clothing. Sometimes we go out not to just simply enjoy Nature, but to share our experiences with others through social media.
Somehow, magically, our younger generations, the ones who spend the most time with social media and technology and the least time outside, are in line with the ethics of conservationists. According to the Nature Conservancy’s blog article, The Kids Are Alright, these wired kiddos are eager and willing to save the environment, even with little exposure to the natural world. The Conservancy plugs its critically acclaimed program that exposes urban kids to Nature through “intense” exposure at Conservancy lands and offers the other option of connecting kids with nature through their love of all things technology.
Both options are viable, but risky. I can claim that my passion for Nature only partially grew in this manner. I watched nature shows constantly. The nature shows, documentaries usually showcasing the exotic wildlife of Africa, were instrumental in learning how to be patient when observing Nature [remember those old shows? They would focus on zebras chewing for minutes at a time…can’t find that now-a-days!].
But that isn’t the whole picture, of course. What’s missing from this, and the idea of the Nature Conservancy, is the local aspect. Nature doesn’t only exist in some other country or through technology. It’s in the backyard, the empty lot, and forgotten and abused waterway a block down the street. It’s on rooftops and in sidewalk cracks and even manages to crawl in our homes! I would have never carried my passion for Nature into my adult life had I not spent my summers outside. Nature otherwise would have appeared like a childhood fad [think dinosaurs, trains, or Barbies], eventually falling to the wayside as other things took priority as I aged.
We run the risk of making Nature a fad, not a priority. For example, learning about African wildlife through various forms of technology has been the fad for a couple decades now, and has quite possibly helped in the conservation efforts to save them, but what about North American animals? If you get the chance, show a picture of the Great Plains [of North America] to a group of young children and ask them what lives there. I guarantee you’ll get at least a couple responses of African mega fauna. Then ask how many have heard of the Black-footed Ferret, Passenger Pigeon, or Whooping Crane. Scary scenario, indeed!
In order to not let Nature fall to the wayside, children need to learn that Nature is local and that the issues of extinction and habitat loss aren’t just occurring in Africa and the Amazon, but in the backyard and down the street. Maybe convincing the city to plant natives instead of ornamentals isn’t as trendy as saving the Poison Arrow Frog or the Bengal Tiger, but it’s as equally as important.
Perhaps you can love something you’ve never seen, but John Muir would have never fought so hard for the Hetch Hetchy had he never seen it. If someone hadn’t explored the wonders of Yellowstone and the land had been sold sight-unseen, would it be a National Park today? Instead of glamorized, technology-infused Nature, perhaps what we need today are keen-eyed leaders that can show our younger generations the value of clean waterways, sustainable farms and yards, and native flora and fauna. A local field trip to the empty lot; meaningful engagement with Nature in less-than-glamorous surroundings.
Sure, tigers are photogenic, but what about the Leaf-footed Bug? :)