ENVIRO NOTES: Healthy, yet often ignored

Children benefit from time spent exploring nature.

How many of you have read Richard Louv’s 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods; Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, or know anything about a forum, Health by Nature, held in Vancouver just two years ago, in 2011?

Using only U. S. data, Louv makes the startling claims that fewer than 10 per cent of the country’s youth leave home to play, and that those who do so spend less than an hour outdoors at a time, rarely venturing more than three blocks from home.

The reasons are fear of encounter with strangers and focus on computer-based entertainment.

I wonder if this scenario is replicated in urban Canada?

There are serious consequences and implications if these data are even approximately accurate. Not only are there personal health ill-effects, but there is an absence of any sensitivity to the natural world – an absence which will impact their ability to discuss and evaluate environmental issues once they reach adulthood and join the electorate.

What will they understand about ecological linkages, endangered species legislation, climate change, food production and supply, ocean acidification, resource extraction, the web of life… if their experience is limited to television viewing or gaming?

The Health by Nature forum – drawing about 200 scientists and others from such diverse disciplines as environment, education, health, medicine, parks and recreation – focused on “critical links between human health, well-being and nature.”

The forum’s charter asserts “a call to the people, organizations and governments of Canada to strengthen our understanding, research and connections between improved human health and well-being and access to nature… people and communities that engage with nature are healthier, stronger and more sustainable economically, socially, culturally and environmentally.”

There was agreement, with supporting scientific evidence, on three linked, major postulates:

• spending time in nature improves human health and well-being;

• human health depends on healthy ecosystems; and,

• parks and protected areas contribute to healthy communities.

Here is an unequivocal message for planners in all levels and departments of governments especially educators, and it should appeal to the bookkeepers, too, that money spent to foster outdoor activities pays off. It is money well spent, a cheap form of health care.

How well is this message being heeded?

Youths living on the Semiahmoo Peninsula are much luckier than many of their urban counterparts, although Richmond’s new venture with a wild play park is encouraging.

Here, within easy bicycling distance, there are Blackie Spit, Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest, Redwood Park, the Little Campbell River Fish Hatchery and, a wee bit further, Campbell Valley Park – protected areas where they can see animals, birds and fish in their natural habitats, observe seasonal and annual changes in plants and animals and simply enjoy the quiet calmness of woodlands.

If they look thoughtfully, they will also see how, with time, nature restores sites which have been seriously disturbed by human activities.

It’s sad that local schools seem unable or unwilling to make much use of these easily-accessible outdoor laboratories for amplifying the classroom studies of biology, botany and zoology.

Are the school board and the education and health ministries interested?

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News. rmstrang@shaw.ca