Tuesday, February 5, 2008

No more outside -- the consequences of sofakartoffelism

Nobody goes outside anymore. Kids aren't allowed unsupervised time rambling in the woods, jumping from rock to rock. No more dragging a stick along the muddy bottom of a creek, or trying to sneak up on an owl in a tree.

When fewer people are intimately connected with the natural world, what will become of our ability to adapt? Not just to climate change, but to anything. A study of the declining use of national parks in the United States has caught editors' eyes all over the media, but the Toronto Star article by Peter Gorrie brought out the issues poignantly: ... The U.S. study – by researchers Oliver Pergams, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Patricia Zaradic, at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania – found that per capita park visits, applications for hunting and fishing licences and camping permits have dropped by 18 to 25 per cent in the past two decades.

The number of hikers grew but, since the average American goes for a walk on the wild side just once every 10 years, that increase wasn't significant, Pergams said in an interview yesterday. Meanwhile, the average time spent on "videophilia" increased by nearly an hour a day. That and gasoline price hikes appear to account for almost all the decline in outdoor activities, Zaradic said.

The results are troubling since they suggest support for preserving natural areas will decline, said the researchers, whose study, published this week in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, was partly funded by the Nature Conservancy.

"There seems to be a lot of interest in the green movement, but it doesn't translate to being out in the green," Zaradic said. That's a problem at a time when many wilderness areas are threatened by urban sprawl, highways, mining, forestry or other developments, she said. "There's a lot of evidence to suggest that the environmental sensitivity and interest in conservation we have as adults is related to our exposure to nature as kids."

Photo of discarded couch by Ildir Fida of Vancouver, Wikimedia Commons

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