The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.
So says Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods" and the man whose phrase "nature-deficit disorder" helped launch a movement to reconnect kids with nature.
Louv's first book, which has been published in 13 countries, was hugely successful. Now he has a second book, "The Nature Principle," which is, in essence, a book for grown-ups who crave -- and need -- nature just as much as kids, he says. Louv is at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on Tuesday to give a keynote address at a public policy conference on how interaction with nature improves the health of humans and the Earth.
We caught up with him to talk about where we find nature, why he's reaching out to college students and our "Mad Max" vision of the future.
Q What inspired you to write your first book, "Last Child in the Woods"?
A I was a kid once. I had a real intense sense that nature is deeply important to who I was and who I was going to be.
Q But that sense isn't widely shared, it is?
A In the 1980s, I was interviewing 3,000 parents for a book on childhood's future. I looked for themes, and one was the sense that there was something profound in the relationship between children and nature. They were not going outside very much. That became a chapter in that book.
Q Why did your book seem so revolutionary?
A There is almost a blind spot in science on the effect of the natural world on human development. Science has a hard time defining nature. That makes it hard to study.
Q Were you surprised by the book's success?
A Oh, yeah. I'm going to get a T-shirt that says "Who knew?"
Q How did the term "nature-deficit disorder" come about?
A It was the title of one chapter in the book. The publisher said, "Isn't that the theme of the whole book?" They insisted on having that phrase on the cover. I fought them on that, which shows you what I know about marketing. They were right.
Q What's your new book about?
A It's more about adults than kids. Part of it is that the children in the nature movement will not flourish unless adults see what's in it for them. Rachel Carson said it takes two things to connect a kid to nature: One is a special place. Another is a special person, a special adult.
Q Why do you think it's so important that kids and adults have a more positive view of the future?
A It's very quickly becoming clear that people's image of the future is interesting. The future looks an awful lot like "Blade Runner" or "Mad Max." Why is that the strongest vision of the future we have? The apocalyptic view? As if we are drawn to that flame.
Martin Luther King said that any movement will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that people want to go to. I try to describe a world in which our lives are as immersed in nature every day as they are in technology. That's what society should be like.
Q Whom are you trying to reach?
A The adult face I had in mind was college-age kids. There is a lot of hunger there, even among those who did not have much nature growing up, and that's a big proportion. When I would talk about this view to their groups, students would stand up and say 'I'm going to change my career.' There is light in people's eyes when they think about this kind of work.
Q I'm struck by this idea, which you touch on in your book, that nature is always someplace else. That it's a place without people. Can you explain that?
A Nearby nature is as important to human beings as wilderness. But most literature about nature is not about nearby nature, except gardening.
The truth is, as of 2008, more people in world live in cities than in countrysides. If people are going to have a meaningful relationship with nature, it's going to be, for the most part, in cities.
That means it's either the end of meaningful nature, or the beginning of a new kind of city.
Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394