by Daniel Parr, ’07, ’08
Larry Selzer is committed to getting children and their families back into the outdoors. This keynote speaker for the SCA EarthVision conference track “Unplug & ReRoot: Connecting Youth to Nature” is also the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Conservation Fund.
While The Conservation Fund has a tremendous legacy of land and water conservation (almost 6 million acres’ worth since 1985), Selzer’s biggest project in the 21st century is ensuring that America’s youth does not lose touch with the outdoors.
Selzer recently spoke to us about his work on the National Forum on Children and Nature, an initiative to combat Nature Deficit Disorder by identifying new opportunities to reconnect children with our environment. He notes that getting kids outside is an increasingly tough proposition.
“Young people today are distracted by so many things, and separated from nature like never before,” he says. “We are raising a generation that in 20-30 years will be the ones making the important decisions in regards to this land without having a true fostered appreciation for the outdoors.”
Selzer feels that one of the important challenges we face today is to provide legitimacy to the issue of Nature Deficit Disorder as a children’s health problem, and not just an environmental concern. He points to the growing body of evidence showing that “children who are separated from nature suffer from a disproportionate level of physical, mental, and spiritual problems.” He lists the increasing rates of diabetes, obesity, and depression in children as problems entirely capable of being improved by time in the sun. “There is tantalizing evidence that getting kids outside can help ameliorate these issues, and we need to think of nature as the first prescription for these problems,” Selzer says.
Opportunities for youth engagement will come from many sources, but Selzer acknowledges SCA’s 50-year effort. “As we began to think more aggressively on how to connect kids to nature…it is natural for us to reach out to SCA,” Selzer says. “SCA is the preeminent organization working to provide nature experiences for young people in America today, and we need to focus our creative processes in a way that would allow SCA and other organizations that put these ideas into practice to accelerate their own efforts.”
Those efforts are doing wonders for the next generation, but Selzer feels that inspiring the country’s youth will ultimately require a cultural shift. “Children have to rediscover the worth of the outdoors,” he says. “This is an issue – a responsibility – for kids, for their parents, for all. There is nothing wrong with technology, but there is something wrong when one doesn’t take the time to enjoy unstructured time outdoors. The question for many people is: how do we make [that time] fun and cool, and exciting and safe?” One answer, especially important in urban areas, is programming set up by volunteers, community groups, or schools that offer natural experiences for children.
Individuals can also have an impact on youth attitudes and appreciation for the environment by being positive role models. “Society has a heavy load to carry,” says Selzer. “But cultural change, as I have seen it in my lifetime, has always begun with the young. We need leaders, such as those who have come through SCA, to step forward and show them the way.”
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