Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nature-Deficit Disorder, Sustainability and Environmental Education


Introduction:
In the following essay I will discuss the issue of Nature-Deficit disorder in relation to the global shift towards Sustainability and the pertinence of Environmental Education. I will start out by defining and unpacking; Nature-Deficit disorder, Sustainability and Environmental Education. Secondly I will discuss these issues in a global context identifying ongoing discourses surrounding them with relevant examples. Thirdly I will discuss these issues in a South African context. Fourthly, I will discuss local Cape Town organisations as case studies that deal with these issues daily, in a tangible manner. Fifthly, I will examine and analyse how these organisations communicate themselves by first establishing the relationship between the broader issues they combat in relation to tools such as Constructionism, Claims making as well as Framing of the issues. Lastly I will draw my own assumptions on these issues and theoretically propose how these organisations may improve on their communication and my viewpoint on the issues as a whole as well as my perception of the Case Studies and the issues of their validity and effectiveness.

1.   Nature-Deficit disorder, Sustainability and Environmental Education

“Here is this vast, savage, howling mother of ours,
Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children,
As the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned
From her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively
An interaction of man on man.”
- Henry David Thoreau (quoted in Louv, R. 2005.)


(KQUEDondemand,2008)

Nature-Deficit disorder (NDD) is not a medical condition, but a term introduced by Richard Louv used to describe the human cost of people’s detachment and alienation from nature, particularly in children and younger generations and the adverse affect this is having on emotional, spiritual, behavioural, social and physical development and growth. (Louv,R. 2005 pg 2)

Nature-Deficit Disorder is a modern day problem that has come into being through the advent of the Age of Technology, urbanization and an astronomical increase in media consumption. (National Environmental Education Foundation, 2012)This shift in consciousness has led society to unconsciously alienate children from direct contact and interaction with nature. This notion is reiterated through institutions, cultural inclinations and the media associating nature with doom and danger, the outdoors has become feared by modern day parents, being viewed as unsafe with the threat of stranger-danger constantly being reinforced by the media. All this results in the discourse shifting away from connotations of freedom, creativity and enjoyment. (Louv, R 2005 pg 1,2).
Sustainability was first defined in1987 in a UN summit as the ability to meet the present needs of a generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. This has been unpacked further since, to be seen as the integration of natural systems with human patterns while celebrating continuity, uniqueness and place making (Early 1993) (Washington State University, 1999)
In 2012, the only constants are change and human kinds insatiable need to consume. Sustainability has become the biggest Twenty First century buzzword: a box companies and brands are required to tick. Sustainability may be viewed as a trend, yet it is however an irrevocably necessary one that should have caught on sooner. (Stibbe, A. 2009)

The world’s population is in a constant state of expansion, with the population growing to reach over six billion throughout the twentieth century. More people: the same planet, there is only so much that can be taken. The trajectory of society is dire more people means more consumption which consequentially leads to increased demand for energy, fuel, water and natural resources. Our previous and current reliance on affordable fossil fuel to create energy is threatened due to restrictions imposed by climate change, the exhaustion of ecosystems and oil production reaching its inevitable peak and decline. This threatens everything that relies upon the energy created by fossil fuels. (Stibbe, A. 2009)

This thus makes the pursuit of sustainability a necessity, not only being aware of what it means to be sustainable and to follow the trend but to implement it into every aspect of our everyday. This can only come about through Sustainability Literacy and an invested interest and intimate relationship with our natural environment. (Stibbe, A. 2009)

Our sustainable existence relies on future generations relationship with nature, something that is currently under threat with Nature-Deficit Disorder running rampant. How the youth respond to nature and how they will eventually raise their own children, will shape the future conditions of society. If the youth grows up disconnected with nature, they will raise their children to be even further disconnected. This thus leaves the question of; what hope of sustainability is left in a future society that is not emotionally and spiritually invested in their natural environment? (Louv, R 2005 pg 3)
Environmental Education is one way in which the question of future sustainability can be answered. Environmental Education can be defined as the development of skills and perspectives to comprehend and respect the interrelatedness of humans, their culture and the Environment and their impact upon it. It aims to create a positive behavior towards the natural and social environment in our day-to-day on goings and world-view. (InforEEp, 2000) Environmental education first and foremost relies on a reintegration and establishment of a tangible and emotional connection with our natural environment. This needs to occur from a young age.
This connection is not only necessary for our planets future well-being, but it is also indispensible for the future well-being of our now plugged-in denaturalized children. The best way to stimulate children into adopting a mindset that integrates sustainability and environmental awareness and a connection to nature is through practical, non-linear education. (Blincoe, K. 2009).

This process involves stepping away objectively from the linear left-brain orientated approach to learning that is now practiced and moving towards a systemic approach embodied in right-brain orientated thinking understanding interconnectivity, being holistic, critical, creative, appreciative, inclusive and ethical.  This type of learning should be natural, hands-on, inclusionary, reality and action based. Putting learning back into the realm of doing instead of the passive absorbing experienced in left-brain learning. (Blincoe, K. 2009).


2. NDD, Sustainability and Environmental Education in a Global Context.

World-wide technology now allows nearly twenty four hour access to media, A recent survey found that the America’s 8-18 year olds spend a staggering 7 hours and 38 minutes in front of a screen on an average day consuming entertainment or recreational media be it: television, gaming, social networking, instant messaging, reading, blogging, listening to music, browsing the internet or using their cellular phones. These more often than not are being done simultaneously, this is known as media-multitasking and it is the youth’s everyday, they are assaulted with a constant and continuous slew of information. Media-multitasking increases their media consumption, actually allowing them to pack a 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media use into the 7 and a half hours they spend glued to a screen. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2012)

This fast-paced constructed virtual reality leaves little time for the natural reality and interaction with our tangible natural environment. This distancing from unstructured natural play and hands on interaction with nature which research is proving stimulates the use of all five senses, helps with disorders such as attention deficit disorder and other behavioural issues by stimulating creativity and freedom of thought. (Louv, R 2005) Natural play is active and physical play. This is the perfect preventative measure for childhood obesity, something that has doubled in the past thirty years and an estimated sixteen percent of US children aged six to nineteen suffer from. (National Environmental Education Foundation, 2012)

Sustainability and sustainable practice, although a necessity, is born from a wave of global anxiety over the future of our physical environment and our continued existence. There is still some resistance in accepting that the causes of “outer” problems like the threatened environment are rooted deeply within our inner selves. The adoption of sustainability as a required practice is reflective of the fact that the human condition is finally starting to realise that self-actualization cannot solely rely upon material consumption as in the long run consumerism is the cause of ecological instability and it does not spiritually or emotionally satisfy us on a meaningful level. The advent and spread of Sustainability, Sustainability Literacy and implementation in a global context is the step away from the path of consumerism and the stepping onto the path of self- sufficiency. (Maiteny, P. 2009)

Globally, Environmental Education is finally being viewed as integral to our development, the ultimate example of this being the introduction of the No Child Left Inside Act of 2009 that was introduced in The USA. This act seeks to strengthen the Environmental Literacy of the American youth from pre-school through to Grade Twelve. It aims to nurture understanding, analytical and systemic thinking in order to shift towards solving the major environmental issues facing human kind. Knowledge and understanding leads to the youth being reinvested in their planet and the state of their surroundings. This legislation aims to mainly deal with environmentalism but it also confronts issues such as healthy living and countering NDD and the host of negative traits associated with it, the bill is the embodiment of its name, simply put its about getting the youth outdoors, getting active, involved and invested in their natural environment. (OpenCongress, 2009)

3. NDD, Sustainability and Environmental Education in South Africa.

During Apartheid massive relocations of the black majority into shantytowns outside of white-only area’s usually into barren fringe districts occurred, the de-beautification of these living environments was a tool used by the Apartheid regime to semiotically reinforce the feeling of oppression and eradicate communal gatherings in green open spaces. (Luvuyo ,W .2004)
The removal of trees was particularly significant as in the majority of African cultures the tree is a significant meeting place where judgements and gatherings of importance as well as forums for discussion between tribal elders took place beneath the shade of trees. (Freschi, F. 2007)
Today, although Apartheid is a thing of the past, the majority of South Africans still live in townships or low-income housing located in the same areas that they were established in during Apartheid. This means the majority of the South African youth has grown up in de-greened environment alienated from the environment. (ETU, 2007)

How can we expect these children who face a host of social, health, emotional and financial problems on a day-to-day basis, to understand and want to actively change the state of the Environment and Environmental issues when they are even more alienated from nature than other youth groups across the world. They not only have to combat the age of technology, a heightened fear for their safety but a living environment that was designed to oppress and create a disconnect with natural beauty.( Pithouse, R. 2009)

South Africa rests in a similar place to the rest of the world in the context of the shift towards Sustainability and Sustainability Literacy and implementation.  South Africa is a westernized developing country and as the case is with other developing countries, having the right infrastructure to implement and educate people on issues of sustainability is not as easily available as it is to do in first world countries such as the United States of America or Germany.
However South Africa, in particular Cape Town is at the forefront of design and as all design now has the responsibility to be sustainable there is an abundance of creative thinkers that integrate and advocate Sustainability. With Cape Town being named the 2014 Design Capital of the world Sustainability and awareness is spreading.

The need and responsibility of Sustainability Education along with Environmental Education has fallen onto the shoulders of various NGOs and NPOs even though numerous legislations that have been implemented.(City of Cape Town, 2012.)

There are various NGOs and groups that are fighting to reintegrate the South African youth into nature and make them forge a visceral connection with the well-being of their natural surroundings. These NGOs aim to educate the youth about biodiversity, urban greening, biology, systemic thought, ecology and permaculture. All these things are most successfully taught in a practical outing based approach. They work on getting children into nature, interacting with it, smelling it, feeling it, seeing it and hearing it. Reconnecting the South African youth with their natural environment is even more important as it exposes them to the host of career opportunities that will arise with the implementation of sustainability and environmental care in years to come. (Nzimakwe, T. 2008)       


4. Cape Town Organisations as Case Studies

I will be looking at two separate Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) as local case studies. These two NGOs are poised to combat Nature-Deficit Disorder and confront issues of Sustainability and Environmental Education, but both through different means.





The first organisation I will be examining is the Beyond Expectation Environmental Project whose focus is to introduce the youth, particularly the previously disadvantaged youth, back to nature. They aim to reinvigorate and maintain their interest and emotional investment in the environment and nature through a hands-on learning experience in the Table Mountain National Park. (Beyond Expectations Environmental Project, 2010)

Their objectives are to create access to the natural environment for young people that wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to it, educate the youth on issues of climate change, water scarcity and global warming while they are in an environment that will be directly affected by these issues. To teach the youth about littering and their responsibility regarding it. To teach the importance of conservation and the unique and fragile biodiversity of Cape flora and fauna. To help the youth in starting food gardens either at home or in their schools. Finally they aim to help the youth explore and unpack the challenging social problem encounter daily and find practical ways to overcome them. Finally they aim to uplift the youth of through personal development that will empower them. (Beyond Expectations Environmental Project, 2010)


The youth is taken out of the township on a two-day excursion into the Table Mountain National Park. Taking them onto table mountain is about helping them to develop a sense of ownership and belonging as well their recognizing and claiming their right to National and natural heritage. (Beyond Expectations Environmental Project, 2010)

Thus BEEP combats Nature-Deficit Disorder, through taking township youths out of their intense everyday context and re-entering them into a context of intense natural beauty that is far removed from any social hardship they may be facing at home. This is in theory a nature-shock. It allows them to leave home at home and to just be children experiencing something new together for the first time, while learning about pertinent environmental issues in a hands-on way that confronts them with nature and establishes an emotional connection towards it. This emotional connection is integral to them understanding the reasons behind sustainability, it brings them face to tree, hand to bark, nose to leaf and tongue to waterfall with the reason for Sustainability and that is to preserve nature and her resources for our generation as well as future generations This is further reiterated by the new set of Environmental Terms and issues they are taught about on the two day hike, making them a source of information on the environment and sustainability, allowing them to relay this information to others not given the chance or opportunity to be exposed to it themselves, this includes other children and their parents. (Beyond Expectations Environmental Project, 2010)

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The “home-work” or real life integration of their experience is realised if the choose to create a food garden, either at home or at school. That is the physical manifestation of them dispelling their Nature-deficit Disorder, taking their own measured steps towards self-sustainability and implementing what they learnt through Environmental Education. (Beyond Expectations Environmental Project, 2010)

The second organisation I will be examining is SEED a small Public Benefits Organization that is based in the barbarous Cape Flat school environment and are now the operators and creators of a countrywide school-based program that grows outdoor classrooms in South Africa’s more underprivileged schools. Their experience ranges from environmental education curriculum development to green entrepreneurship. (Seed, 2000.a)

SEED’s methodology is based on permaculture; the essence of permaculture is that it uses natural ecosystems as a biological model for our own settlements, buildings and gardens. The aim of permaculture is to produce systems that have a high yield, require low level of inputs and have a mild or favorable ecological impact on natural ecosystems, yet still managing to have a high proportion of edible or usable produce. (Whitefield, P. 2009.)



SEED uses this as a design system for sustainability and draws focus towards ethical environmentalism, people care, earth care and surplus share at its heart. SEED’s vision is to ignite ecological interest and intelligence and reconnect children with the ecosystems that support them. SEED is about real-life hands on sustainability that has given birth to the Rockland’s Urban Abundance Centre in Mitchells Plan, their ecological hub of demonstrations, training and community enterprise: one of them being their gourmet mushroom project, it also has the capacity for school-group visits that allow the learners to engage with their curriculum in a tangible manner. (Seed, 2000.b)

SEED combats Nature-Deficit Disorder differently; it brings the nature to the children, introducing it into their everyday existence instead of taking the children out of the everyday and putting them into nature. With youth of today having exceptionally short attention spans this is a clever way to re-introduce them to nature in a way that disrupts their everyday, grabbing their attention and getting them interested in nature and growth. Bringing nature to them also uplifts and beautifies the communities or schools that receive outdoor permaculture classrooms. Bringing the nature to the denaturalized is a good way of getting them to become comfortable with nature quicker as well as watching it develop from nothing into something to be used communicates the interconnectivity and systemic nature of natural growth.  These green pockets in an urban context are integrated to form the practical interactive part of the mainstream curriculum; this normalizes interaction with nature and adds a greater degree of interest to the theoretical learning. (Seed, 2000.c.)
The second phase of the urban gardens moves away further from the theoretical and closer towards the practical production and use of the gardens. The schools identity a need that the garden could satisfy, for example the feeding of scholars or families going through a difficult time financially, the garden will thus then become a productive organic system geared towards growing food. Children then get to observe first hand the wonder of organic gardening and self-sustainability. (Seed, 2000.c.)

The introduction of a functioning, productive ecosystem into their previously barren context, from seed through growth up until fruition confronts the children with how reliant we are on the natural world to survive and how it in turn is reliant on us to nurture and protect it, by never taking more than we put pack. This thus personalizes nature, creating a greater understanding and emotional connection with it introducing them directly to the issue of Sustainability allowing them to understand it on a practical level, not only a rhetorical one, as is the case with many supporters of Sustainability. (Seed, 2000.c.)


5. Constructionism, claims making and framing of their issues.

Constructionism also known as the constructivist perspective on social problems is the argument that suggests that social problems are not an objective societal condition that can be recognized and independently studied by what is being said about it. Instead rather, that various problems only come to be recognised as issues through communication and discourse, which thus constructs them as problems or issues for political concern. (Hansen, A. 2010 pg.14)

Thus constructivism suggests that problems only become social issues when someone starts communicating their opinion or information about them, they make a claim in public, the important part of constructivism comes in through, which claims become apparent, are publicised, expanded upon and as is the case with human nature opposed or questioned. (Hansen, A. 2010 pg.15)

Therefore in the context of Nature-Deficit Disorder Richard Louv, the writer of “The Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” is the claims maker. His claim was picked up and supported due to previous claims making about threats to American or modern day children which first surfaced in the nineteenth century and continuing to do so until an intensification in the 1980s. Group after group of child advocates reared up to protect children from modernity, capitalism and the mass media. This resulted in a shift in parenting, with parents viewing their children as targets ready for the picking. Mass-media coverage of abductions, school shootings, sexual predation and the threat of the Internet resulted in children spending more time ”safe” indoors. (Louv, R. 2005 & Mechling, J. 2008)

This is the context in which Louv made his claim, this gap between nature and children that was socially constructed due to the advent of technology and hyper-cautious parenting. This combined with the baby-boomers idealizations of their childhoods and the nostalgia they feel towards the free natural outdoor play they experienced gave his claims legs. Other factors that helped his claim along were the discourses already surrounding the dire state of the Environment and the global need to shift to Sustainability, the older generation realizing that the future of the Environment and our continued sustainable existence in the long run relies upon the youth and how they bring up their young. This global realization was paired with another simultaneous realization that although children in modern day society are exposed to and know about global warming, climate change and issues the peaking of fossil fuels, their relationship with them is a virtual one, an apathetic viewing of something they’re told about and see from behind a screen. (Louv, R. 2005 & Mechling, J. 2008)

The perfect way to compare and analyse how these Organisations communicate themselves is by examining both of their “Films” in terms of Framing. Entman described framing as the selection of certain aspects of a perceived reality in order to make them more notable in communicating a text, in such a way that it communicates a certain viewpoint. (1993:56 quoted and paraphrased Hansen, A. 2010)


click here for BEEP video

First I will analyse the BEEP video in terms of Ibarra and Kitsuse suggested foci: In this video there are Rhetorical Idioms of poverty, escapism, calamity and hope. These are communicated through the use of contrasts. The contrast of the township in relation to the natural splendour of Table Mountain as well as the contrast of Xhosa children speaking English. (Annamtelfor, 2010 & Hansen, A. 2010)

Motif’s encountered are drugs, poverty, crime, desperation and hope through being removed from those motif’s the children contest with in their everyday lives. This is where the sympathy factor and emotional manipulation occurs. It is not simply a documentation of the two day trip but a video created and framed to ignite the need to give, get involved and help more children escape their dangerous daily lives and become empowered youth ambassadors for Environmental Education. (Annamtelfor, 2010 & Hansen, A. 2010)

 This is done through the claim making of the affected, the proverbial victims. There are three personal interviews of BEEP members, the first a boy that tells of his former best friends drug addiction and the dire situation his friend faces of being a drug addict at such a young age as well as his decision to step away from that due to his renewed connection to nature. The second interview is of a girl, the victim that “overcame” the physical embodiment of what BEEP hopes to achieve. (Annamtelfor, 2010 & Hansen, A. 2010)

The last interview reignites sympathy and awakens guilt by interviewing a boy who had lost his brother, no longer feels safe walking down his street and would rather bring his family to live on the mountain where he does not feel so alone and is calm and content. Finally the setting of the film is predominantly on Table Mountain, it alternates between close-ups of the children’s faces to wide panned shots of their majestic surroundings, which once again are contrasted by the first shots of where theses children come from, the township. (Annamtelfor, 2010 & Hansen, A. 2010)

Secondly I will analyse the video for SEED there are ongoing rhetorical idioms of change and accomplishment as well as one of poverty and upliftment. Motifs of criminality, drugs, gangs and hopelessness which are associated with the Cape Flats, however this motifs are altered towards ones of community involvement, interaction, growth and even borderline abundance. This Film is more of an informative nature than a solely emotional nature and it unpacks the issues that SEED deals with while still inspiring the desire to want to help, it doesn’t use guilt to do this but rather utilises positive emotions associated with watching another human being unexpectedly succeed and flourish. (Cartmill, J. 2010 & Hansen, A. 2010)
The Claims-makers are qualified Permaculture experts, team leaders, founders and the students involved in the sustainable urban greening and this gives the Film the connotation of credibility. The entire Film is shot outside in the Permaculture Gardens, giving the viewer a sense of time elapsing as well as seeing the growth and joy of the children of all ages working in the gardens. The children’s environmental and sustainability literacy is evident and Film is shot in such a way that it follows the garden from the seed all the way into the processed and cultivated end product, giving you a holistic view of what they do and showcasing Sustainability in practice not only in the rhetoric. (Cartmill, J. 2010 & Hansen, A. 2010)


6. Conclusion:

In concluding this essay I am left with the viewpoint that Nature-Deficit Disorder is an actual problem affecting the youth of today and not an unwarranted claim. I believe that it is something that if not addressed will lead to serious long-term repercussions. The youth are plugged in electronically but disconnected emotionally and spiritually. This is something that needs to be amended if we ever hope of having the chance of to achieve holistic Sustainability. Parents have the responsibility to unplug their children’s electronic devices regularly to allow their children to just be children and play outside in order to interact with other children face to face, activate their senses and stimulate their imaginations. Because I believe that being imaginative and emotionally invested is the only way human discourse will shift away from the predominant mindset of we are what we buy towards a discourse that rather embodies we are what we put back or give.

Environmental Education and hands on learning is the answer to the question of Sustainability. Both of the organisations I used as case studies deal with this issue. BEEP deals with it on a more emotional level as the first step towards showing and introducing these children to the entire world that exists beyond what they know and what they have been taught or told they can achieve. It builds confidence and a sense of achievement while opening a door to hope. SEED deals with Environmental Education in a way that is the holistic embodiment, implementation and realization of Sustainability. It deals with the emotional while remaining tangibly practical and “privileged” communities should take a page out of their book.
Thus I believe both Organisations are effective in their own way and that they are enriching the lives of the underprivileged youth by helping them develop skill sets. However out of the two, BEEP still has room to grow and flourish while SEED has bloomed and is on its way to bloom again.


Bibliography:

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KQUEDondemand,2008. Nature Deficit Disorder. [Video]Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=972SgOmbUnM [ 22 April 2012]


All images relating to BEEP used are untitled and were taken on Table Mountain by Unkown Photographers Available: http://beep.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=12&Itemid=10


All images relating to SEED used are untitled and were taken at various SEED projects, they are by unknown photographers and available from their Facebook page here:https://www.facebook.com/pages/SEED/152379438141624?sk=photos

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