22 April 2010

The Secret Life of Paper

Sourced from Media That Matters

C02 Now

...ever wondered what the atmospheric carbon level was when you were born? No? Well now you can easily find out!


Me: 323.56 ppm [October 1971]

Right Now: 391.06 [March 2010]

The End of Childhood

Reposted in full from Adbusters, 16 June 2008

'As a kid, I had the good fortune to be hauled along on my dad’s annual canoe trip into the wilds of northern Canada. For one or two weeks a year, we navigated river and trail, ran rapids, struggled along back-breaking portages, and on rare, happy occasions caught sight of the local inhabitants: a beaver chewing on a log, a few moose wading in the shallows, the odd wolf or black bear.

In total, I spent no more than a few months in the north, but my imagination, and to some extent my entire childhood, revolved around that brief chunk of time. Those short encounters with true wilderness had a disproportionately powerful effect on me. Each time I returned to suburbia from the wilderness, I replicated the experience as much as I could by exploring the woods that remained on the edge of the small city I grew up in.

A few acres of woodland next to a golf course became my playground – it was a chance for my friends and I to indulge in the sort of rowdy waywardness that has been an integral part of childhood since the cave days. Sadly, most of those trees have since been cut down and replaced by housing developments. Even if they hadn’t been, it’s unlikely the modern child would be given as much freedom as my friends and I had to explore them.

We are now just beginning to understand that the growing disconnection between kids and the natural world is an increasingly serious social problem. One researcher in the United Kingdom from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Dr. William Bird, has noted a steady increase in the diagnosis of childhood mental illness and in the use of medication to treat it. But he also discovered evidence that simple exposure to nature – anything from unstructured play in a forest to a greening of the view from an urban classroom window – is an effective, non-pharmaceutical means of mitigating mental illness.

"Children undertaking activities in nature appear to improve symptoms of ADHD [Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] by 30 percent compared to urban outdoor activities and threefold compared to the indoor environment," notes Dr. Bird.

A child using his imagination to play a game in the woods isn’t just having fun; he’s setting a foundation for future independence, inner strength and an ability to resist stress that will last a lifetime.

We could be encouraging natural play, but instead, we’re in the process of forming a new, potentially dystopian culture of childhood. In the United States, Dr. Joe Frost addressed the Association for Childhood Education International Conference on the worsening situation that threatens the nation’s children. The combination of increasing poverty and urbanization, the failure of the No Child Left Behind standardization initiative and the destruction of play represents a crisis, Frost argues. Cell phones, text messaging, video games and online chatting are supplanting free time in the fields and forests. Kids today are suffering from what author Richard Louv describes as "nature-deficit" disorder.

It’s affecting children everywhere. When the Japanese photographer Keiki Haginoya set out in 1979 to document children at play on the streets of Tokyo, little did he know what lay in store for him. His work became a narrative of decline, showing the rapid loss of play space and the alienation of kids from natural outdoor activities and traditional games. By1996, he reached the depressing conclusion that children’s laughter had entirely disappeared from the streets.

The subtle character of this crisis doesn’t lend itself to a rapid solution. The simple and obvious idea that nature plays an important role in our mental health hasn’t really caught on in the public mind, and is far from a priority for politicians. More and more kids are popping pills, and we’re forking out billions of dollars in health care and other costs to deal with the consequences of poor mental health.

Children who survive through adolescence surrounded by gray walls and little time in the wilderness may not necessarily spend the rest of their lives believing that nature is a scary place, but the evidence suggests that their deficit of experience will result in an adulthood of generally higher stress and poorer health. Preserving and encouraging a natural environment is basic wisdom for the twenty-first century. An attractive future for humanity will be one in which all kids have the opportunity to roam, without fear, in an unspoiled land.'

International Ecocity Standards

Reposted in full from Ecocity Builders web site:

'Ecocity Builders, along with our advisors and partner organizations, and with support from the Helen and William Mazer Foundation, Novatek and others, is working to define “ecocities” by developing of a set of standards, criteria and metrics against which to evaluate and judge new and existing cities’ progress towards becoming an “ecocity.”

International Ecocity Standards will evaluate different scales of development, from the small neighborhood scale to the regional scale.


As the consequences of climate change and resource depletion manifest themselves more and more clearly, the way we have built our cities, particularly in the past half-century, has come into question. First used by Ecocity Builders’ President Richard Register in 1979, the term “ecocity” is fast becoming a buzzword in many cities around the world. In many cases, the legitimacy of such self-proclamations has been questionable. Just how ecologically healthy are these cities or projects? A set of principles, standards, and metrics, as well as models demonstrating ecocity elements is vital in bringing clarity regarding the definition of an “ecocity”.

While many in city planning circles use the term “ecocity” interchangeably with “green” or “sustainable” city, Ecocity Builders uses a definition of “ecocity” conditional upon a healthy relationship of the city’s parts and functions, similar to the relationship of organs in living complex organisms. We believe “ecocities” need to take healthy organic, ecological and whole systems lessons seriously to be able to reverse the negative impacts of climate change. We are concerned with city design, planning, building, and operations in an integral way and in relation to the surrounding environment and natural resources of the region. We propose that “green” and “sustainable” are vague terms, suggesting merely the increase in vegetation or sustaining unhealthy urban systems and development practices into the future.

What’s Unique about Ecocity Standards

Bioregional/ecological indicators
We propose that urban systems, cities, have the potential to become not just less damaging but “net contributors” to restoring global biodiversity, productive agriculture, and energy independence. International Ecocity Standards will measure net energy and materials input/output, appropriate locations, and impact of external trade and will be selected in a way to address basic principles of ecologically healthy whole systems design.

Emphasis on the whole system and “end-point” indicators
An ecologically healthy city is in many ways analogous to complex living systems, like our human bodies. Ecocities are lean and compact, with their complex parts interacting three-dimensionally and in relatively close proximity. International Ecocity Standards integrate means of judging the functionality of the whole system as well as “end-point” positive measures such as clean air, energy conservation, biodiversity restoration, and agricultural productivity. This emphasis shifts the focus from judging the individual building – subject of most design and construction standards to date – to assessing the whole built community while continuing to acknowledge the importance of the building itself.

Access to minimum basic needs
International Ecocity Standards distinguish between amenities and necessities, and incorporate “plain good and solid” indicators of urban health, such as those used by the United Nations’ Human Development Index including poverty rates, food and water security, infant mortality, longevity, and basic literacy.

Social justice
Programs and policies that promote social justice will be evaluated, such as the distribution of health, wealth and consumption. International Ecocity Standards will deeply re-consider the meanings of “prosperity” to include both human and natural wealth.

Target Users
International Ecocity Standards (IES) would be targeted towards local governments, municipalities, regional agencies in charge of development strategies including transportation, land use, housing, watershed management, agriculture, resource management, and regional development goals. Additionally, larger governmental bodies and organizations, including the United Nations, and countries developing long-range strategies to address climate change, would be potential customers. We expect that developers, environmental nonprofits, think tanks, educational institutions and community groups would want to use the IES as a tool for developing and evaluating proposals and seeking approvals for proposals. Community groups and advocacy and watchdog organizations would likely use the IES to weigh in on development proposals and planning/political processes, and help shape them from an advocacy perspective.

Finally, we believe that the IES could be useful to any one person or organization wanting to build awareness and partnerships around complex issues within the nexus of humanity, nature and the built environment.

Collaboration & Synergy vs. Competition
Recent studies in evolutionary biology point out that it is collaboration and synergy rather than competition that provided species with an evolutionary advantage over others. We see collaboration and synergy as opposed to competition as the course we will pursue in developing the International Ecocity Standards. We will learn and incorporate as many of the principles expressed by other related standards and become synergistic with them where possible. We are inspired and will consider collaboration and synergies with The Living Building Challenge initiative, the Ecological Performance Standards for Cities being developed by HoK and the Biomimicry Guild, The Natural Step methodology for the Sustainable Canadian City Index and the like.

For more information about the IES please contact Richard Register, President of Ecocity Builders at ecocity@igc.org'

E-Waste Roundup: The Trouble with Exports

Excerpt from Green Biz, 30 March 2010

'Take your eye off the e-waste issue for even a minute, much less a week, and you're liable to miss some interesting developments. In the last few days, there have been a number of stories on the issue of end-of-life management for electronics - some highlighting progress on the challenge, others highlighting just how big a challenge it will remain for years to come.

Beginning with the bad news, a series of reports came out this month focused on how developing nations will be affected by e-waste. Following on the news that developing nations will be buried under an e-waste 'surge', a report published in Environmental Science & Technology found instead that those developing nations will soon be generating more domestic e-waste than Western countries can ship their way.

The report, by Jinglei Yu, Eric Williams, Meiting Ju and Yan Yang, suggests that bans on e-waste exports will not solve the problem, although it will likely slow its pace. Although North America and Europe are responsible for the vast majority of e-waste that is dangerously dismantled in China, Thailand, Vietnam, as those countries' economies grow and citizens buy gadgets of their own, the problem of handling toxic waste will come from within rather than without.

Rather than banning e-waste exports, or rather than simply banning exports, the report authors suggest that localized, backyard recyclers should be banned in countries that currently import electronics, with governments taking over a centralized recycling role.

Increased Domestic Recycling

Alongside the research on recycling in developing countries, a new report from Converge finds that the vast majority of medium to large enterprises in the U.S. are making a plan to address end-of-life issues for their electronics.

Although data security is far and away the biggest driver of corporate e-cycling initiatives, with 75 percent of respondents ranking that as the top reasons for managing e-waste, 61 percent said that corporate green initiatives are the motivating factor, while 53 percent said avoiding potential risk from improper e-waste disposal was the main reason for recycling.

And while organizations of all sizes are ever more aware of the risks posed by discarded computers and monitors, the mountains of cell phone waste are still often overlooked at the corporate as well as individual levels.

eRecyclingCorps, a new Dallas, Texas-based company, launched last week in order to tackle the roughly 130 million cell phones that are discarded in the U.S. every year.

eRecyclingCorps opened shop at the CTIA trade show last week in Las Vegas, starting with a partnership with Sprint to collect old phones at Sprint retail stores and offer rebates for customers who trade in old phones. eRecyclingCorps will collect and separate reusable phones from ones that should be dismantled and recycled, and the company's website says it will meet or exceed compliance with all policies on e-waste, including:

• due diligence on downstream recyclers and processors;
• clearing/destroying personal data;
• sending materials only to facilities licensed to receive them;
• only exporting to countries where it is legal...'

Major Corporations Step Up For Certified Green Electronics Recycling

Excerpt from Basel Action Network media release, 15 April 2010

'SEATTLE - The Basel Action Network (BAN), the group that first documented the dumping of toxic electronic waste in China and Africa, announced today the official launch of the world’s first global e-waste recycler certification and the first such program backed by environmental organizations and major corporations alike.

The accredited, third-party audited certification program has not only been endorsed by Greenpeace USA, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and 68 other environmental organizations, it has also drawn the support of major corporate “e-Stewards Enterprises” including: ...

Bank of America...
Indep. Distributors of Electronics Assoc.
Natural Resources Defense Council...

“Samsung is honored to be the first electronics manufacturer recognized with the e-Stewards standard for rigorous recycling and e-waste materials management,” said Mr. J. C. Ser, Senior Vice President for Samsung Electronics America.

“This is a major validation of our efforts as we have responsibly recycled more than 20 million pounds of e-waste since the beginning of our Samsung Recycling Direct program in 2008 and plan to continue strengthening our commitment and leadership in this industry.”

At the heart of the program is the e-Stewards Standard, created by BAN with the advice of industry leaders and health and environmental specialists. It calls for recyclers to eliminate exports of hazardous e-wastes to developing countries; to halt the dumping of such wastes in municipal landfills or incinerators; and to cease the use of captive prison populations to manage toxic e-wastes.

It also calls for strict protection of customer’s private data and occupational health safeguards to ensure that workers in recycling plants are not exposed to toxic dusts and fumes...

Currently there are about 50 e-Stewards Recyclers, each of which has passed a rigorous internal review by BAN as a preliminary step to full certification. All are regarded as responsible recyclers, and each has committed to becoming fully certified by September 2011. Today’s announcement names the first companies that have become fully certified. They have passed additional, independent audits conducted by three ANAB accredited certifying Bodies: AQA International LLC, Orion Registrar Inc., and SAI Global...

“We are making history here,” said Mick Schum, President of WeRecycle!

“Today, e-Stewards Recyclers and their customers are taking a significant step forward in achieving the most responsible level of management for obsolete electronic equipment. Now, we can provide a competitive domestic alternative to the irresponsible exportation and dumping that runs rampant throughout the industry. Finally, consumers can really know they are doing the right thing when they recycle their old electronics and as Certified e-Stewards Recyclers, we can prove it.”

e-Stewards Website: www.e-stewards.org

Footprint Forum: Meet the Winners of the 21st Century - June 2010, Italy

Sourced from the Global Footprint Network site

'Global Footprint Network is thrilled to announce our second Partner Network Conference, Footprint Forum: Meet the Winners of the 21st Century, in Colle di Val d’Elsa, Italy, just outside of Siena, Italy June 7-12 2010

Please join the UNESCO Venice Office, the WWF Mediterranean Initiative, Plan Bleu and Global Footprint Network for what promises to be an exciting – and game changing – week of events at Footprint Forum from June 7th to 12th. The Mediterranean region will serve as our learning laboratory as we explore how nations can navigate emerging resource constraints and thrive in the 21st century.

Roundtable participants include Peter Victor, author of "Managing Without Growth," Manfred Max-Neef, who will address new approaches for human development; Duncan Pollard of WWF International, who will speak to the food, water and biodiversity connection; and Martha Campbell, who will discuss the role population plays in resource policy. We will develop new strategies with Alejandro Litovsky of Volans, who will present the results of a new international survey about the barriers nations face when responding to the ecological crisis. Finally, national visionaries such as Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak of the United Arab Emirates and others will share how their nations are positioning themselves for the 21st century.

Register Now for this breakthrough series of roundtables that will equip you with the tools and tangible actions that can move your institution forward.

WHAT: The Forum Roundtables are a series of fast-paced, highly interactive conversations on critical topics, designed to move the sustainability agenda forward during a time of increasing resource constraints. The aim of the sessions is to overcome barriers to action, fill gaps in knowledge, and identify strategies that inspire further sustainability investments and bring about systemic change. Footprint Forum will foster the kind of learning and idea-sharing that will support government innovation, strengthen corporate strategy and advance human development.

WHO: Attendees will include international leaders in government, non-profits, development agencies and business, sharing the common mission of creating healthy societies where all people can live well, within the means of our planet. The Forum will allow governments to discuss strategies for maintaining a competitive economy during a time of resource scarcity, corporations to gain an understanding of how to build a robust business strategy that will withstand ecological pressures, and development agencies to explore what is needed to make development gains last while preserving natural capital. The academic side-conference provides a forum for researchers to share the latest in Ecological Footprint science.

Copenhagen – COP15 – showed us that national governments and political leaders are finding it difficult to act collectively in the global interest. Global Footprint Network is convinced that climate action will only gather momentum once nations see that decisive action is in their own best interest. This compelling self-interest story becomes obvious once we understand climate change in the context of ecological resource constraints, as one of a number of related crises – food, energy, water, biodiversity, and so forth – emerging from humanity’s systematic overuse of available resources. This reframing presents a great impetus for transformation. The focus of Footprint Forum 2010 is on how we can capitalize on this opportunity.

WHEN: June 7-12, 2010.

The events of the Forum include:

Footprint Policy Seminar: Monday 7 June
Footprint Forum Roundtables: Monday 7 June - Wednesday 9 June
Academic Conference: Wednesday, 9 June - Thursday, 10 June
Public Footprint Conference: Thursday, 10 June
Technical Footprint Training: Friday, 11 June - Saturday, 12 June

WHERE: Colle di Val d’Elsa, Italy, just outside of Siena

For more information contact: Nina Brooks at nina@footprintnetwork.org

Forum Roundtables

The Mediterranean region cradles many of the world’s most influential civilizations. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly ecologically fragile. This region, rich in history, art and architecture is the home of many diverse cultures and continues to be an attractive destination for tourists (more than 25 percent of global tourism). Tourism and local demand for resources continues to increase the pressure on ecological services in the region. As a result, all Mediterranean nations are by now running ecological deficits; each nation’s residents, compounded by its visitors, use more ecological services than are available within the nations’ own borders. One effect is local ecological deterioration.

Leaders in the region are quickly becoming aware of the potentially debilitating consequences of this situation, but reversing these trends will take time.

The goal of the Forum Roundtables in Siena is to help policy analysts and decision-makers gain a deeper understanding of the risk these trends pose to their economic stability and to help them discover the opportunities that are available in order to reverse these trends. The Roundtables will examine the challenges, barriers and solutions that all countries face through the lens of the Mediterranean experience, by examining case studies from the region.

Forum Roundtable Program (subject to change)

Day 1: Monday June 7

2:00pm-3:30pm: Opening Plenary

Conference Opening – Mathis Wackernagel and Susan Burns

Launch of Mediterranean Initiative

Ecological Creditors, Ecological Debtors: The New Rules of the Game

Today, 80 percent of the world’s people live in countries whose residents use more ecological services than the ecosystems within their borders can provide. These countries depend upon the biocapacity concentrated in a limited and rapidly dwindling number of “ecological creditor” countries, whose biocapacity (ability to produce resources and absorb CO2) exceeds their total demand.

How will this concept re-frame the geopolitical landscape? As human pressure on the environment continues to grow, there will be strategic benefit for all nations if ecological creditor nations maintain their resource reserves. What are the best strategies for managing risk and maintaining natural capital? In a world of ecological creditors and debtors, how can we all win?

Beyond Carbon: Limits, Biocapacity and Climate Change

What is the role of maintaining biocapacity when addressing climate change? Much of the global focus has been on reducing carbon – how can we build on that and expand the focus to biocapacity, such as the degradation of our forests and oceans? How do we ensure that efforts to reduce carbon don’t put equal pressure on other land types like forests and cropland?

A Framework for the Future

To navigate in the future, decision makers will need new tools and frameworks. Mathis Wackernagel will propose four critical things all decision makers need to know: understanding global long term trends, understanding your national trends, preparing for a variety of climate scenarios, and determining your nation’s ‘ideal resource consumption profile.’

4:00pm-5:30pm: Afternoon Sessions – The Challenges


Water is the source of all life—and in many ways, shapes the way a community lives. From food, to health to housing – everything we use and depend on could not exist without water. We can no longer afford to take this luxury for granted, as population growth and economic development continue to increase demand on this precious commodity. In recent years, water management has become a key issue in the Mediterranean region, particularly in the areas of health, agriculture and food self-sufficiency. What do all regions need to know about the water crisis to enable us to plan well for the future?

Footprint and Biodiversity

Evidence of the worldwide species decline is global, pervasive and troubling. If an ecosystem is like a factory, then biodiversity is like the assembly line that allows the factory to produce natural capital. What does it mean that the factory parts have never been fully booked and valued? What are the implications of global factory that is being continuously degraded?

The Ecological Footprint is a measure of the aggregate demand of humans on nature, of the pressure that our demands for natural capital place on ecosystems and species. When the Ecological Footprint helps decision makers understand what drives biodiversity loss, and how such losses can be mitigated, then declining ecosystem productivity may be slowed, halted or even reversed.

Peak Oil

What exactly is “peak oil” and how might it mitigate or accentuate the biocapacity crunch? Will higher oil prices reduce consumption, thus support a lower carbon economy? Or will we reach out in desperation to dirtier energy sources such as tar sands and coal? What are key policy instruments to ensure that peak oil becomes a friend and not a foe?

Roundtable on Population

The United Nations predicts that the global population will peak by 2050. Will we have the biocapacity available by then to support this population? How can we boost investment in successful approaches such as women’s empowerment? How can we get population back on the agenda as one of many factors that affect global sustainability? Join us as we explore strategies to ensure that humanity’s needs are met on an increasingly limited planet.

Day 2: Tuesday, June 8

9:00am-10:00am: Opening Plenary – Welcome Keynote

In Conversation: Natural Capital and Our Economy

What is the relationship between the ecological crisis and the financial crisis? Many believe the financial crisis is just part of a normal economic cycle or the result of weak regulation, but is there something deeper that’s being driven by natural resource limits? What shifts in our economy will be necessary to ensure that economic growth does not undermine natural capital?

10:30am – 12:00pm: Morning Sessions: Vision

Nations Leading the Way: United Arab Emirates, Ecuador, United Kingdom

With representatives from UAE, Ecuador and the UK

World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD): Vision 2050 – An Interactive Workshop

Imagine the impact of 29 global corporations coming together to tackle these questions: What will a sustainable future look like in 2050? What are the pathways to getting there? This is WBCSD’s Vision 2050—come hear about and be a part of this powerful global vision.

Sarasin Bank: Ranking the competitiveness of countries

Sarasin Bank recognizes that a nation’s ability to meet its future bond obligations depends upon many factors, but increasingly, a nation’s credit standing is closely connected its ability to protect its resources for the long term. What can Sarasin’s rating system tell us about the way that the financial industry is beginning to view the strength of nations.

The Volans Survey: Limits Literacy around the World

Much evidence indicates that humanity is running rapidly into severe ecological constraints. Yet, most public policy continues to depend upon economic expansion. If not resolved, this contradiction may lead to painful disappointments. In light of emerging resource constraints, some countries are starting to shift their investment patterns – but they are still in a tiny minority, and the trends are not bending.

Can this contradiction be resolved? How do policymakers currently incorporate ecological limits into their decisions? If they don’t, what are the barriers to doing so? If policies do indeed incorporate ecological limits, could it be that their positive effects just have not become visible yet? The Volans Survey explores these issues and maps the current beliefs about investment strategies in national public policy.

12:15pm-1:45pm: Afternoon Sessions 1 – Barriers

Track 1: Feeding 9 Billion: The Food, Water and Energy Connection

How will we feed 9 billion people in 2050? Can we maintain biocpacity used for food consumption in the decades to come, given challenges such as growing water scarcity and shifts toward biofuels? What are the trade-offs between water, land and energy? Join us as we discuss challenges and devise strategies for these questions and more.

Track 2: Re-thinking Growth

The world is in ecological overshoot and many countries, in the North and South, are running ecological deficits. Yet economic stability and social peace depend on economic expansion. The dilemma is that economic expansion leads into ecological impossiblities, the lack of such expansion to social and economic chaos. Is stability and social cohesion possible in time of contraction? What kind of challenges do we need to prepare ourselves for to be ready for times of non-growth? How can we move from a throughput-maximizing economy to an equitable, wealth maximizing society that invests in, rather than liquidates, natural capital? What are the operation principles of such an economy?

Track 3: Global Health and Human Development

There is rising awareness that investments in alleviating poverty must provide populations with lasting solutions rather than act as short-term “Band-aids”. The same can be said for a population’s natural wealth. How do we ensure that development enhances a population’s natural capital as a source of long-term wealth? In a resource-constrained world, it is no longer about saving nature or saving people – it is about maintaining the health of both.

2:45pm-4:00pm: Afternoon Sessions 2 – Solutions

Track 1: Feeding 9 Billion: The Food, Water and Energy Connection

Track 2: Re-thinking Growth

Track 3: Global Health and Human Development

4:30pm-5:45pm: Closing Session

Re-cap of Barriers and Solutions: A conversation with session leads on tracks 1, 2, and 3

Day 3: Wednesday, June 9

10:00am-11:30am: Morning Session – Looking Forward

Working Group on National Competitiveness (WGNC) – Attendance by invitation only

More than 25 nations are, or have been, engaged in evaluating and adopting the Ecological Footprint as a national indicator. Global Footprint Network is kicking off a new partner group, WGNC, to provide networking, resources and support to national government representatives as they work within their own governments. Contribute to and learn more about WGNC, which will bring these individuals together for the first time, to share successes, challenges and strategies. This meeting will cover the purpose and structure of the WGNC.

This interactive session of the Working Group on National Competitiveness asks participants to work through the following topics: What successes have you had in your nation toward adoption of the Ecological Footprint? What are your most successful strategies and most difficult barriers? What role can this group play to amplify the success of our work, and accelerate it on an international level?

Tools for Governments

12:00pm-1:30pm: Closing Plenary

Setting the Agenda for 2010'

21 April 2010

For Earth Day, Learn How Many Planets Your Lifestyle Requires

Reposted in full from
Footprint Network News, 20 April 2010

'Since its release two years ago, Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint calculator has been used by more than one million people in the U.S., Australia and Canada to evaluate their level of resource demand and identify ways of reducing it.Now, with a major expansion to the calculator that adds 10 new countries and nine languages, users from China to Ecuador, from South Africa to Japan can take the quiz and find out how many Earths we would need if everyone in the world lived like they do.

Take the Quiz!

The calculator takes users through a series of questions about their food, housing, purchasing and transportation habits and determines their Ecological Footprint – the amount of land area it takes to produce all the resources they consume and absorb their CO2 emissions. It also breaks their Footprint down into various land types, such as forest, cropland and fishing ground.

After receiving the results, users can set a target for how much they’d like to reduce their Footprint and explore how making various changes can help them reach their goal (for example, by biking rather than driving to work, eating meat one less day a week, recycling more and reducing new purchases).

Accounting for both bikes and bakkies

The calculator, which has featured results for the U.S.; Switzerland; Australia; and Calgary, Canada now also includes those for India; China; Japan; South Africa; Turkey; Italy; Brazil; Argentina; Peru; and Ecuador.

Developed with the help of in-country experts, calculator questions are tailored to the ways of life typical to each country. In South Africa, for example, a bakkie – a open-back pick-up truck that carries passengers – counts among the transportation choices. For India, charcoal, crop residue and dung cake are listed along with coal and electricity as heating choices. A 1,500 square foot house is categorized as “very large” in the Brazil version, but average in the American one. “Occasional” fish consumption is defined as one or two servings per day in China, and once a week in Italy.

“We wanted the calculator to reflect what people in each country would recognize as the typical options,” said Meredith Stechbart, Applications Manager for Global Footprint Network.

Why does where you live matter?

The size of a person’s Ecological Footprint depends, among other factors, upon what country they live in. That is due, in part, to the fact that a person’s Ecological Footprint includes not only things that they have direct control over – such as whether they bike or carpool to work – but also things over which they don’t, such as their per-capita share of the country’s collective services and infrastructure – things like hospitals, highways, militaries and schools.

“We hope the calculator will show users what kind of changes they can make to reduce their Footprint, and what differences these changes can make,” Stechbart said. “But the calculator results also show that the society we live in is an important part of our ecological demand. While individual choices are critically important, so is influencing the larger society to be less resource dependent.”

The calculator was developed in partnership with Free Range Studios, creators of the Story of Stuff. The addition of new countries was made possible with a grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. Past support for developing personal Ecological Footprint calculator tools has come from the City of Calgary, WWF Switzerland, WWF Australia, and EPA Victoria in Australia.

CNN’s Joshua Levs called the U.S. version “one of the best features we discovered this week on Earth Day.” Click here to see his review.'

Zero Baggage

Part of it makes sense but...it could end up being more wasteful, if everyone wants new stuff, and if the stuff doesn't fit or suit!

Reposted in full from Triple Pundit, 26 March 2010

'It's a dream that's probably flitted through everyone's mind at some point: to travel completely baggage-free.

The problem of course, for those of us unable to afford a new wardrobe for each destination, is what to wear when you get there. Zero Baggage hopes to provide the answer.

ENN reports that the startup has concocted a service for travelers that provides them with the clothes and other essentials they need at their final destination. Users simply fill in an online virtual suitcase, the contents of which will be waiting in their hotel room when they arrive. Items are used but clean and well-maintained, new or one-use only.

Weight saved by eliminating checked luggage can be converted into carbon credits which can be spent on various treats. The service hopes to be up and running in November.

But will it fly?

As Zero Baggage founder Catharine MacIntosh points out in an airy promotional video, a handful of discount airlines have already instituted no-baggage flights. And fees for checked baggage have been going up.

But while there is no doubt that many many people would jump at the opportunity to ditch their luggage, sharing clothes with virtual strangers may not be the answer they are looking for.

On the other hand, many people wear second-hand clothing. And as for intimates and toothbrushes, you'll still have your carry-on.'

Live Local - Experiments in Local Living

Reposted from the Live Local web site

'Live Local is a place to share stories about improving our communities.

Use the website to document your neighbourhood experiments – your stories about your experiences and adventures meeting neighbours, discovering neighbourhoods, improving your local economy, saving energy and making our air and water cleaner.

How does it work?

Anyone can create a personal profile and then tell their stories, adding whatever text, photos and videos they choose. A simple categorisation system groups similar projects together to help you find links and connections to new ideas and new inspirations.

We call the stories people tell “experiments” in order to celebrate the unexpected, random activities that make communities vibrant and fun.

What can I expect to happen?

  • your crazy ideas will become reality
  • you will meet new friends
  • you can show others you care
  • you can make an example of yourself
  • you will start trends that help the environment
  • your neighbourhood will feel safer
  • you will rely less on cars
  • you will make your block more vibrant

Remember...it doesn't always have to work, it's an experiment!

What kind of “experiments” are you talking about, exactly?

Experiments are personal stories about things you (or you and your friends, or you and your family) do in your neighbourhood. They aren't press releases or sales pitches (although they might be about starting a business). Some starting points include:

• Sharing your tools or other things with your building or street
• Introducing yourself to your neighbours
• Car-pooling to work
• Cooking for neighbours once a week
• Growing vegies in your front garden
• Reclaiming a parking spot as a small park for an afternoon
• Having an open picnic in a nearby park
• Inviting a neighbor over for a drink

…and everything in between.'

High Line Linear Park - New York City

Excerpt from Richard Register's
Ecocity Views blog, 18 April 2010

'...[on a visit to New York City] The high point there was the High Line and the south central neighborhood near the East River where my friend Wendy Brawer of Green Maps fame lives and works in Manhattan around 4th St. I visited the High Line with Steve Bercu, one of our two new recruits to our Ecocity Builders Board of Directors, an officer in the Mazer Foundation and an undaunted Boston bicyclist and lover of the not yet existing thorough-going bicycle city.

It was a stunningly beautiful day and the old elevated rail line, famous for its long abandonment, had been converted into a spectacular yet very subtle linear park flying through the air about three stories up and near by the Hudson River. Over the years since it was used for freight delivery, active from the early 1930s to 1980, weeds, flowers and small trees gradually grew and spread on accumulating dust and organic matter from the plants themselves. It became something of a New York natural history museum of local succession for birds bringing in seeds and fertilizer, insects serving for pollination and all sorts of plants.

Converted to a pedestrian treasure in the last five years, the High Line now features much of the ecological community that self established, long lengths of the tracks themselves and a beautifully designed pathway with benches and many places to stop and ponder the glories of New York, the Hudson River, the Empire State Building to the east, the Statue of Liberty far to the south over the water and on days like that, the sky above...'

State of the World Forum Announces: 2020 Global Climate Leadership Forum

Reposted in full from Ecocities Emerging, April 2010

'Breakthrough Thinking, Innovations, and Networks In the Emerging Climate Economy

Ecocity Builders is bringing city design and planning to State of the World Forum's upcoming conference on climate change, Salvador, Brazil, May 27 -30, 2010

State of the World Forum was founded in 1995 by Jim Garrison with Mikhail Gorbachev, who served as the Convening Chairman.

The Forum was established to create a global leadership network comprised of eminent individuals - ranging from Heads of State to grass roots organizers, Nobel Laureates to business leaders, policy makers to social activists - drawn from the governmental, business and civil society sectors, committed to discerning and implementing those principles, values and actions necessary to guide humanity wisely as it gives shape to an increasingly global and interdependent world.

Working with partners worldwide, State of the World Forum seeks to serve as an incubator, catalyst and integrator for innovative leaders and institutions working to gather creative solutions to critical global challenges.

The 2020 Global Climate Leadership Forum is being convened by the Brazil 2020 Climate Leadership Campaign, Globo TV, and the Roberto Marinho Foundation, sponsored by Braskem and a consortium of corporate and industrial groups, and supported by the Government of Bahia State and the city of Salvador.

The purpose of the Forum is to examine how innovative leadership can emerge to create international connections and collaborations in the development of climate economies, green technology and eco-communities, and how energetic progress can be made on the critical issue of climate change outside the COP regime while of course supporting this process entirely.

If we can get traction in these areas and among the nations willing to take climate leadership, while continuing to focus on the over-all goal of significant reductions in CO2 by 2020, making as many partnerships as possible as we move toward our goals, we will be well served.

Unlike most conferences where there are numerous panels with too many speakers on a plethora of topics and concerns, the Salvador Climate Forum will focus on only five domains

1. Climate Change and the Global Commons
2. The Climate Economy and Innovative Technology
3. Climate Finance
4. Eco-Communities
5. Climate Education and Media

...and do so in a way that enables extended discussion and debate in each. We will have a simple format: we will dedicate three hours to each of the five topics, which will allow for comprehensive presentations, discussion, break out sessions, and conclusions. The major sessions will mutually inform and influence the other sessions building to a series of conclusions and recommendations that will be presented to the public and the media.

Ecocity Builders will be a facilitator of the eco-communities track. We will be showcasing the International Ecocity Standards Project and efforts and will conduct a series of workshops to further develop the Standards with participants of this event.


If the climate crisis is going to be solved, it will have to be solved at the level of our cities or probably not at all. Cities are the largest creation of our species and where most of humanity now resides. The complexities involved are staggering but there are cities worldwide that are taking up the challenge of becoming carbon neutral and energy efficient in a range of ways. The conference will convene leading municipal planners and specialists in urban design from around the world to discuss the breakthrough technologies of our urban future.


Richard Register - Founder, Ecocity Builders

Sergio Besserman - Chair, Council on Sustainability, Rio de Janeiro

Facilitated by Marco Vangelisti and Kirstin Miller


International Eco-City Standards with Ecocity Builders International

Working Group:

Nicky Gavron - Member, Greater London Assembly; former Deputy Mayor of London from 2001-2008; founder, London Climate Change Agency

Rob Hopkins - Founder, Transition Network

Kirstin Miller - Executive Director, Ecocity Builders

Zhengrong Shi - Founder of Suntech Power, China

Brent Toderian - City Planning Director, Vancouver, British Columbia

Cassio Taniguchi - Congressional Representative, Brazilian Congress; former Secretary of Urban Development, Federal District, Brasilia

Isabel Wade - Founder and President, Urban Resource Systems

Rusong Wang - Director, Urban Systems Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Dongying Wang - Energy and Climate Change Program Officer, The Global Environmental Institute, Chinese NGO, Beijing.

Additional initiatives to be showcased:

Sky Charter with the creation of a Global Commons Trust
Rights of Nature with Pachamama Alliance
Generating Climate Wealth with the Carbon War Room
Exemplar Zero Initiative with IREO/Humanitad
Global Innovation Commons with M-CAM
Climate Bonds with the Climate Bonds Initiative
STCO Bonds and Trade Credits Initiative with M-CAM
Fundo Brasil for New Technologies: Climate-Transforming Capital Solutions
Four Years Go Campaign with Pachamama Alliance
2020 Women's Leadership Caucus with State of the World Forum
Protocol for Brazilian electoral candidates with Brazil 2020 Climate Leadership Campaign
Power Shift: Education and Media for Sustainable Energy
Green My Parents: Youth Movement for Education and Action

For further information on the Forum themes and participants: http://2020climatecampaign.org'

Maryland Launches Genuine Progress Indicator

...very proud of my virtual colleague on Post Growth [and other things] Scott Gast, who has penned his first article for YES! magazine:

Reposted in full from YES!, 2 April 2010

'When it comes to economic growth, bigger is better. Or so says the mainstream wisdom. But more and more people—including, increasingly, governments—are realizing that equating growth with quality of life is to follow a broken compass toward a host of social and ecological problems. The state of Maryland is the latest government to look for a better way to measure progress: Governor Martin O'Malley's office recently announced the launch of the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), an alternative economic indicator that will allow the state to keep track of which activities actually contribute to quality of life—and which detract from it.

As University of Maryland researcher Dr. Matthias Ruth, with whom the state collaborated in the development of the GPI, told the UM NewsDesk, “The calculation of a Genuine Progress Indicator begins to correct the picture of how well-off we actually are. It counts as positive that which is actually positive—time spent with family, volunteer work in our communities, restoration of the environment, for example—and it subtracts the negative—time spent in our cars or loss of wetlands.”

The GPI will take into account 26 different quality of life indicators, putting price estimates, in dollars, on the negative—and positive—impacts of economic growth. The indicator considers, for example, the future costs of climate change and the strain of income inequality on social services; it also accounts for the value created by volunteerism and forest preservation. Taken together, the measurement should equip citizens and policymakers with a more clear-eyed picture of the costs and benefits of the state’s economic activity.

Already, the GPI is telling a very different story about the connection between economic growth and quality of life. A cross-sector partnership between the University of Maryland and several state agencies looked at data all the way back to 1960 and found that, by the early 1980s, Maryland’s growing gross state product (GSP—the state's version of GDP, the traditional measure of economic health) no longer reflected an increase in genuine progress. In other words, while economic activity increased, quality of life didn't. By 2000, GSP estimates were nearly 50 percent higher than what’s reported by the GPI—a measurement that, Ruth maintains, is closer to the real experience of citizens.

Maryland can now use the GPI to forecast the impact of various future policy scenarios on the lives of residents. With full-tilt investments, for example, in things like green jobs, renewable energy, and compact urban planning, the GPI starts to outpace the GSP around 2025. By 2060, the difference between the two metrics is in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

The GPI is meant to complement the traditional economic indicator, the GSP, and is accompanied by a web-based interactive tool that allows Marylanders to forecast future scenarios for themselves.

Maryland isn’t the only government to reconsider its use of GSP (or gross domestic product, GDP, on a national scale) as a measure of progress. These indicators simply track the total amount, in dollars, of all the goods and services produced and paid for within an economy. A growing GDP has long been assumed to translate into new jobs, more wealth, and greater happiness—leading economists, politicians, and the mainstream media to scrutinize the jumping tick of dollar flow—but there’s a growing consensus that that’s not always the case. In 2009, for example, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France announced a new plan for that country to begin measuring social progress in terms of the happiness of its citizens. And Bhutan, in Southern Asia, has been reporting its Gross National Happiness since 1972—during which time, despite low per capita incomes, levels of clean drinking water, literacy, and life expectancy have been on the rise.

The notion of an alternative economic indicator has been kicking around sustainability circles for years. An early ancestor to the GPI emerged, probably not coincidentally, from the work of University of Maryland economist Herman Daly in the 1980s. Subsequent iterations have caught on in the United Kingdom, where the New Economics Foundation has published their Happy Planet Index, a measurement of “the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered.”

According to its critics, the GDP is too blunt an instrument to be useful; it merely lumps together the frenzy of activity within an economy into a not-so-meaningful number that convinces us things are going well when they’re not. Without a means of separating economic good from bad, they say, undesirable events that stimulate the flow of money and stuff—like paving over a forest, spending a night in the hospital, or imprisoning a criminal—get lumped into the GDP and filed under “progress” as well. As Jonathan Rowe put it in a 2009 article for this magazine, “Sickness and the consequent medical treatment is good for the GDP. Health is not.”

Whatever the outcome of the GPI, Maryland should be applauded for taking a bold and transparent step toward a working relationship between nature, people, and the economy. No other state, in fact, has achieved anything quite like it.'

Nature Deficit Disorder

I love what he is advocating - although I say we need this for adults as well as kids...

Excerpt from
All In The Mind, ABC 17 April 2010

'Richard Louv argues we and our children are suffering a kind of cultural autism, a sensory deprivation which he provocatively calls 'Nature Deficit Disorder'. And with that, he's seeded a small revolution for change. Also, secret places - remember them when you were a kid?'

'Natasha Mitchell: Could you, your generation, represent the last child in the woods? Are today's children experiencing what we might call nature deficit disorder?

And what does immersion in the natural world offer the developing mind, all minds, your mind, your psyche? Think back to your own early encounters, to those secret places. You'll hear about those today too.

Richard Louv: If when we were young we tramped through forests of Nebraska cottonwoods or raised pigeons on a rooftop in Queens or fished for Ozark bluegills or felt the swell of a wave that travelled a thousand miles before lifting our boat, then we were bound to the natural world and remain so today. Nature still informs our years, lifts us, carries us.

For children, nature comes in many forms. A newborn calf; a pet that lives and dies; a worn path through the woods; a fort nested in stinging nettles; a damp, mysterious edge of a vacant lot. Whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Unlike television, nature does not steal time, it amplifies it. Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighbourhood. It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture's fantasies.

Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualisation and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion. Nature can frighten a child, too, and this fright serves a purpose. In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.

These are some of the utilitarian values of nature, but at a deeper level nature gives itself to children for its own sake, not as a reflection of a culture. At this level, inexplicable nature provokes humility.

Natasha Mitchell: Ah, I love that line 'inexplicable nature provokes humility' or 'offers humility'. I think that's a very powerful idea. What do you mean by it? What is at the essence of that?

Richard Louv: When I was really little, when I was...my first memories are of feeling that sense of awe and wonder that hopefully most children have the chance to feel when they crawl out through the weeds to the edge of the yard where the trees begin and first turn over a rock and find perhaps for the first time that they're not alone in the universe, and hearing wind in the trees, and voices that are either there or not there but still we hear them. That humility that we feel when we find that world which is larger than our parents and their problems, and that gives us humility and it also gives us strength.

Natasha Mitchell: Journalist Richard Louv's book, called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, seems to have spearheaded a growing movement. He's chairman of the Children and Nature Network in the USA, mobilising communities to re-engage children with the natural world and address what he calls a kind of cultural autism as a result of our sensory deprivation from green spaces. He's been in Australia this week for the inaugural international Healthy Parks, Healthy People congress in Melbourne. Richard Louv, welcome to the program.

Richard Louv: Thank you.

Natasha Mitchell: Tell me about the four-storey tree house that you built, you and friends built with your very own little hands at age nine or ten. Because in a sense it's emblematic of what you're up to now.

Richard Louv: Well, I was no good at sports. I tried. But the woods and the field behind my house...I lived on the edge of the suburbs outside of Kansas City, Missouri, and I could go through my hedge into the cornfield where my underground fort was (that was terrific too) and then from there on into the woods and the fields that seemed to go on forever. Those were my woods, I owned those woods. They're in my heart now, they were in my heart then, and I felt the sense of ownership to the extent that I pulled out, I think, hundreds of survey stakes that I knew had something to do with the bulldozers that were taking out other woods nearby. But down in those woods was this huge old oak tree, and I pulled together my own team of kids and...

Natasha Mitchell: Construction workers, not kids.

Richard Louv: Well, small, very short construction workers. And we of course took a lot of lumber from the houses that were being built...you'd never do that...they'd shoot you now if you took this stuff, but they kind of meant it for the kids then. And we'd haul all that lumber down and built a four-storey tree house, a huge thing. You could only get into it if you went through the basement or the roof, you couldn't get in. So you either had to go in through this little hole, little trapdoor, or you had to climb up the limbs on the outside of the tree house all the way to the deck on top and then go down it. It was so cool.

Natasha Mitchell: It was cool and it was lethal, and that was part of the attraction probably.

Richard Louv: I guess it was lethal, I guess we could have fallen, but one of the interesting things now that paediatricians say is that they don't see very many broken bones among children anymore, or at least not in the United States. What they do see are repetitive stress injuries, which comes from too many hours spend with a video game or at a keyboard at a computer, carpel tunnel syndrome, that kind of thing, and that's among little kids. That kind of injury tends to last a lot longer than a typical broken bone, which used to be a kind of rite of passage.

Natasha Mitchell: Looking out from the top of that tree house, 40 feet high I gather...what do you think that tree house represented to you and your psychological development as a little being?

Richard Louv: That's a really good question. I think it represented a lot of things. I think it represented creativity, it represented strength because you had to be strong in certain ways to create something that big, but it also represented a view of the world that was higher, that you really could only have if you were near the top of a tree. And I mean that literally and metaphorically. That's one of the things that nature gives kids in terms of that independent, self-directed play, which is really the source of what's called executive function, the psychological phrase for self-control.

Deb Moore: I think a lot of it is to do with this image of the child, that if we perceive children to be in need of constant protection rather than feeling that they are active participants who have their own rights, we're constantly going to want to protect them from what we perceive as might be a dangerous place. If we believe that they can actually make decisions about the sorts of things that they're doing, it's a much better place to be in terms of early childhood education.

Natasha Mitchell: And in terms of the creative life of the developing mind it seems too. Deb Moore was a preschool teacher for more than 20 years, now working in local government in Victoria. For her recent Masters of Education she interviewed children in two preschool centres about their impressions of the play spaces, but what she stumbled on was a whole other secret world of the child's imagination, which she calls 'the secret business of children's secret places'. And she's been sworn to secrecy!

Deb Moore: The adult perception of a play space now is often highly structured, a playground equipment type place that has the rubber matting underneath so the children are not hurt and doesn't have loose materials so that stones can't be thrown and doesn't have rocks that children may fall from.

In fact some of the children that I did some research with in the less natural play space showed fear about some photos I showed them. There were some rocks and logs and they said that that was a dangerous place. So it does seem as if they really are taking on what adults are telling them, that it is not safe.

I've heard many stories about parents not even letting children out to their letterbox out the front of their own houses or parents who do let their children ride their bike to the local park right in their car behind them so that they're constantly watching them. So the barriers are real. Children are feeling increasingly supervised, and I think their need to create these secret places is becoming more in some ways because of that increasing supervision.

Natasha Mitchell: Or perhaps they don't know any difference.

Deb Moore: That may be true. There has been research on an innate intrinsic need to be secret. Yes, okay, it's universal that children want to make those secret places and they need to be in their own places, as I was told by one of the children in my research, that only children can make secret places. She was very clear. Actually a number of children said something similar but she was incredibly clear that adults can grow the plants and provide the loose materials, but the children have to make their own secret places.

Natasha Mitchell: And when you discovered secrecy was an important thing, tell us about what kids were creating. What sort of things did you unfold with them?

Deb Moore: Often it was just using a bush or a shrub or a tree that they would sit behind or in the middle of and it was their perception of being hidden completely. And, as one other child said, lots of people walk through this secret place but they don't know that that's what it is. So it is their own unique construction of that secret place. The one in particular in the centre that had a lot of habitats for wildlife, there were dense bamboo thicket, and a number of children used that as their secret place but at different times, so that they had their own portals in and out that were protected. Their special places were often a swing or a climbing equipment, but the secret places tended to be the natural elements like a tree, and then bringing in loose materials too so that they were creating their own environment themselves.

Natasha Mitchell: So what did they look like?

Deb Moore: I commented to one other child, 'Was this a secret place?'...there was mud, there was water, there were bricks and logs, and this particular child said, 'No, that's not very interesting at all,' so really I can't tell you, as an adult, what every secret place is going to be like, they're so unique, essentially that one child's perception. Another child mentioned that the teacher knows where they are but she doesn't know that it's a secret place. I think this symbolic element of secret places became very apparent as well.

Natasha Mitchell: So in a sense kids don't have a lot of physical control over the way they live or occupy the world but they do have some internal control, they have some control over how they perceive the world and imagine the world. What were kids doing in secret spaces, because they're surrounded by children most of the time, so what were they actually saying about what they got up to in their secret space?

Deb Moore: There was one child in particular who said, 'It's very peace and quiet because it's a little hole, so no-one can see me, not one little bit.'

Natasha Mitchell: I just love that picture you've got of her too, because no-one can see her, not one little bit, and there are these two little legs poking out of the foliage.

Deb Moore: That's right, but she was very happy to just sit in there, and she often spoke about inventing things in her secret place, that it was a place of quiet contemplation, and she was very aware that she used that time to create things and think about things and be imaginative in her thinking and her play. So another child had a secret place on a pile of rocks open to everybody and he would often just go and sit there. This was a child who was incredibly active in all sorts of other play but was also very aware that he needed to just sometimes sit and ponder.

Natasha Mitchell: What do you think the existence of a secret space brings to a child's play and psychological experience of that play?

Deb Moore: I think it adds a whole other dimension to their play and it's more about being able to be responsible for the choices that they make, that they feel that they are able to make changes in their own environment so that they're not just being constantly directed by adults that 'this is the place that we want you to play in'. They feel as if they have in fact the right to make the decisions. One of the children in my research was very clear about saying that he could make his own secret place, that he could change things, that he could just do it, he said to me, and that was just a really significant comment that he made, that it wasn't about constantly being told 'this is where you will play and this is how you will play', that the children have those choices themselves and they're making those decisions.

Natasha Mitchell: Deb Moore, an early childhood educator. We're going wild with the imaginative child on All in the Mind.

Back to writer Richard Louv who's founded the Children and Nature Network.

Nature means many things and, in a sense, it helps us to understand what we're talking about. What do you mean by 'nature' in this quest?

Richard Louv: Again, that's a very good question and nobody has really answered it well. It is no accident that we've mainly left the definition of nature up to the poets. Science has a hard time defining that. A few years ago I worked with a dozen or so neuroscientists who were experts on the creation of brain architecture in young children, and I would ask them, well, you've studied all these other things, how day-care affects it, how early parenting...have you looked at how the natural world affects the architecture of the brain in early development? And they would look at me with this blank look on their face and say, 'What do you mean, 'nature'?' I would say to the neuroscientists, well, this isn't brain surgery, come up with something; 150 trees per acre, I don't know, but shouldn't you be testing how the natural world affects the development of young children?

And the irony was they were creating in the lab what they considered natural conditions. They were testing animals and what stressed them out and the effect of that, and they would put animals in one environment that's highly stressful and then in another environment that the scientists considered natural. So they were already doing it but only in a lab and only on lab animals. The leap to think beyond the box, to think about the natural world itself, to me that's the problem. That's why there's not nearly enough research on this issue, and it has to do, I think, with who funds the research, and in the US you have a lot of people who have their own interests in mind in terms of selling pharmaceuticals et cetera. I'm not against pharmaceuticals but...you know, we have to wonder why there has been this huge gap in the research. We study how everything else affects child development but we haven't really studied how the natural world does very much at all.

Natasha Mitchell: Though that is changing to an extent, isn't it?

Richard Louv: Yes, it is. In the last decade there have been a number of researchers, like Frances Kuo at the University of Illinois and others who have done great research. Some of that research, by the way, is being done in Australia, research, for instance, correlating myopia, near-sightedness, with how many hours kids spend indoors looking at screens.

Natasha Mitchell: I've featured that on the show, as well as Frances Kuo's work.

Richard Louv: Frances and others at the University of Illinois have done work on attention deficit disorder and found that just a little bit of time in nature, a walk through trees, a view from their room of nature rather than a man-made environment will reduce the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. And there's much more going on in terms of the research, finally.

Natasha Mitchell: It makes it provocative that at the very time that the diagnosis of attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has been on the rise in an exponentially dramatic way, you came up with a provocative term, 'nature deficit disorder'. Obviously you saw a sort of correlation there.

Richard Louv: And people knew exactly what it was when they heard it. The phrase is corny but it proved to be very powerful.

Natasha Mitchell: I guess to push the point home, at one point you said that the woods of your childhood were the Ritalin of your childhood.

Richard Louv: Yes, the woods were my Ritalin. And that's true. I'm sure that I would have been placed on some kind of stimulants like Ritalin or something else as a child. I was the kid that sat in the back of the room and daydreamed watching the trees move, and I was the one that was too active in class and had to move around a lot, and I was also the kid that went down and found snakes underneath the hedge at the school and really came alive when I was outdoors in nature.

I can tell you that over the last few years, moving now internationally, I cannot tell you how many parents and teachers have come up to me and said that Johnny and Judy are different kids when you get them into nature. And oftentimes the teachers will say the troublemakers in class become the leaders in a natural setting, and I've heard that over and over. That's anecdotal, but the research would certainly indicate that that's based on a reality that's out there.

I'm not against pharmaceuticals, I'm not a radical on Ritalin, some kids need medication. But in the US, in some schools 40% of the boys are on Ritalin. What are we thinking? What are we doing? Surely that may have something...at least some of those instances may have something to do with the fact that we took nature away from them in the first place.

Natasha Mitchell: Give some behavioural dimensions to nature deficit disorder. It's a metaphor, it's not a...but it could be, if we think about the diagnostic bible that psychiatrists use, I could see nature deficit disorder turning up in the appendices at some point. But give us some behavioural dimensions.

Richard Louv: I don't know if it will turn up in the canon...

Natasha Mitchell: So much else does.

Richard Louv: ...and in some ways I'm not even sure that would be a good idea, strangely enough, because it really is more of a metaphor. I think of it actually as more of a disorder to society than any one child. But I think what it means is what price do we pay as organisms when we are distanced from nature, when we are alienated from nature. I think this goes very, very deep, it's not just a matter of some behavioural tics, it is who we are, it is part of our humanity. EO Wilson at Harvard talks about his 'biophilia' hypothesis. That hypothesis is that we are hard-wired to be emotionally attached to nature, and that when we don't get it we don't do so well.

Natasha Mitchell: A controversial hypothesis but provocative and evocative.

Richard Louv: You know, it went through a period of controversy, it's not that controversial now. I think we all know that biologically we're all still hunters and gatherers, we've not changed biologically that much, and some of this just has to be common sense. I make the argument that...I'm impressed with some of the science that has surfaced on this issue, we absolutely need more research on this.

On the other hand, not every argument is made entirely based on science. Some arguments have to be moral arguments, and those come from deep down inside us. We know what is right at some level. You know, if we'd waited for 1,000 studies to be done on civil rights there would not have been a civil rights movement. Some of the science can be pointed in the direction you want it to be pointed to too, and it was, on race, for instance, but deep down we knew what was right. And I think deep down we know we need the natural world, not just as a source of energy to power our cars but as a source of energy for ourselves, our brains, our souls, our very beings, that we have a right to that part of our humanity.

Natasha Mitchell: I was interested to read that DH Lawrence talked about the mind in nature. It contrasted between what he described as a 'know it all' state of mind outside of nature and something different happening to the mind that interacts with the natural world. What did he mean by the 'know it all' state of mind? I think that's really interesting.

Richard Louv: Yes, I love that passage. He was writing about his experience of New Mexico. I had actually a park ranger tell me about the four corners of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada, that nowhere on Earth or in few places on Earth was so much of the past so close to the surface. And the 'know it all' state of mind just assumes we've seen it all. You know, when we travel, 'been there, done that'. And what he was saying is that we can be fooled, we can fool ourselves into that belief, but underneath the surface of wherever we go are larger stories. I think that when you're in a natural environment you feel that more than anyplace else. I feel that natural history should be as important to a regions identity as human history, and that our sense of meaning and purpose and connection and place comes from natural history, not just human history.

Natasha Mitchell: Which makes it interesting that you describe the 'know it all' state of mind that DH Lawrence gives us as a vulnerable state of mind.

Richard Louv: I used that in the context of kids. Teenagers, kids, go everywhere now and they think they know it all, it's the 'know it all' state of mind. I certainly had that at that age, it's a natural time that you go through. But to some extent our culture is stuck in the 'know it all' state of mind, our culture is stuck itself in a condition that really belongs to adolescents, and I think it's in large part because of this alienation from the natural world.

Natasha Mitchell: What, then, do you think is at the heart of that alienation? Because it's all happened very fast. In my lifetime, and I'm a gen-Xer, I had free form and free range of my neighbourhood, and there were pockets of bush and wilderness in the city. So what has driven that alienation?

Richard Louv: There are several reasons. One is urban design. Kids get lectured all the time to get away from the tube, and in so many cities, so many suburbs, where are you going to walk? So many of the new developments in the US, and I assume it's true in Australia, there isn't anyplace, it's one house after another house after another house, with yards the approximate size and utility of grave plots. So partly it's urban design.

Partly it is our feeling as parents (almost a fetish) that we need to enrich every moment of our kids' lives. And that's well-meaning, I certainly felt that as a father. But we have forgotten that nature itself, particularly independent play in nature, is enriching, perhaps the most enriching thing we can do. Suzuki violin lessons can come later but you need that independent play.

Natasha Mitchell: You also point to a more psychological phenomenon, not just a material phenomenon, and that is fear, a kind of core essential fear that's come within the life of a generation.

Richard Louv: That's the number one thing that parents talk about, that they are scared to death of stranger danger. What's interesting is when you look at the statistics you'll find that the actual number of child abductions by strangers has been going down, at least in the United States, for two or three decades. What's been going up has been the amount of coverage on 24-hour news channels of a handful of terrible crimes against children that get repeated again and again, and that's the very definition of conditioning.

I'm not saying there's no danger outside your front door, or even no danger in nature, that's one of the attractions of nature actually. I am saying that we need to think in terms of comparative risk. Yes, there's a little danger out there but there is a huge danger from child obesity. Paediatricians are now saying that this generation may be the first in our history to have a lower life expectancy than their own parents. That's a huge risk, a risk to their psychological health, a risk to their sense of community, perhaps even a risk to democracy. Believe it or not, to develop a sense of community you have to go out the front door and know your community, and nature is part of that community.

Natasha Mitchell: But there's also fear of nature. A point that you make, which is slightly paradoxical, is that the rise in environmental education and this generation's awareness of global environmental issues has perhaps compounded that kind of estrangement from nature.

Richard Louv: Certainly I hear from folks who have camps et cetera, kids come on school buses for field trips, they tell me that over and over again the kids get off the school bus and they're terrified to get off the sidewalk, terrified of the lions and tigers and bears. They really believe there are lions out there. In the mountains of San Diego there are, but...but there's another kind of fear though. Glenn Albrecht in Perth has come up with a phrase for that, 'solastalgia', which is a kind of deep homesickness for nature itself. We miss it at some deep level, and the fear of that loss of that nature is always there. There's another phrase for that that David Sobel at Antioch in the US uses, 'ecophobia', that's the fear of environmental destruction. Sobel makes the point that we are programming our kids way too early to believe that the Earth is over, that nature is at an end, because...

Natasha Mitchell: Well, kids are carrying a sort of sense of impending doom into their future.

Richard Louv: And there's nothing wrong later with talking about those things, but in their formative years...these children haven't even had a chance to go out and have that sense of joy and wonder and just playing in nature, just digging a hole in the backyard just for the fun of it, or finding a turtle. Those kinds of experiences, they're having less of those and they're being told more and more at the same time that nature is dying. So if we do that too much too early, for the rest of their lives they associate nature with what? With fear and destruction and the end. That's not exactly going to produce good conversationalists and environmentalists in the future, it's not going to create really happy people in the future either.

We're missing two-thirds of the story, and the two-thirds of the story that we're missing is that, because of those great changes, because of climate change et cetera, everything in the next 40 years must change. To any self-respecting creative 16-year-old, that could be good news, and we better be entering one of the most creative times in human history. That's exciting.

Natasha Mitchell: You're appealing to the collective imagination there. If we come back to the individual, you make the interesting point that in fact we can increase the safety of our children if we let them out the door, if we let them into nature. Just unravel that for me. What is it that increases their safety in terms of their own psychological development?

Richard Louv: First that's a section in the book where I say upfront that it's not based on any research. There should have been some research on this but there hasn't been. It based on what I heard from parents and from kids themselves, and my own experience...

Natasha Mitchell: And, not to underestimate, you've done an awful lot of interviews with an awful lot of children and parents across America and beyond now.

Richard Louv: Yes. Other than a New York subway, when else do you use all of your senses at the same time as when you're in nature? Again, when we're sitting in front of screens all the time we're not using all of our senses at the same time, therefore we're not developing them to the full extent. So one of the basic things about being safe anywhere is to know what's going on around you, to sense it. Scientists aren't talking about the six senses anymore, there are at least 30 of them.

My son and I were fishing in Alaska going up a stream on Kodiak with a wonderful guide, and he taught us how to smell for bears. When you're there, what you need to do is make a lot of noise. You don't want to surprise these big brown grizzly bears, you don't want to surprise them, so you sing for bears, you talk, you rattle your bell that you hang on your vest et cetera. But then he told us how to smell. Once you smell this particular smell, which is a rotting salmon, because they like to roll in it, and bear musk, you don't forget it.

If you smell that on one of those overgrown streams, that means one of two things; either a bear is right there in the bushes next to you, or the bear has been there and has just left. It's informative to be able to have that sense. And what do you do when you smell bears? You sing for bears, you make more noise. That's kind of maybe an exaggerated explanation of why I think we need to let kids develop all of their senses in nature. Small risks now for a child can avoid big unnecessary risks later.

Natasha Mitchell: And build their self-confidence. And I guess it appeals to...nearly 30 years ago now Howard Gardner came up with the idea of multiple intelligences to give the fullness of the dimensions of our intelligence rather than a 'you beaut' standard IQ test. He's more recently added another dimension to his growing list and that is an eighth intelligence which he describes as a naturalistic intelligence. What is that?

Richard Louv: I think it's what we've been talking about, but it's a little tricky. One thing is that Gardner himself says is that he never has been able to devote the kind of research to the eighth intelligence, which is the nature intelligence, as he did the others. He'd like to but he hasn't been able to. The other problem with that is that that suggests that it's a separate intelligence that only some people have, when in fact as biological organisms we all have that intelligence. Whether it's surfaced enough, some people have it more than others, but certainly it's there.

Natasha Mitchell: Just getting to the heart of the mind in nature, there's an idea called loose parts theory in relation to children's play. What is that and what does it add to their psychological experience of the world?

Richard Louv: The loose parts theory in play theory is that the more loose parts there are in an environment, the more creative the play is, which makes common sense. Kids like to manipulate things, so when there's a lot of loose parts lying around...you could make the argument that a computer game has a lot of loose parts, you're moving things around on the screen, but the problem with that environment is that it only goes so far. That environment was created by a couple of programmers who had way too much caffeine and been up night after night and eaten a lot of pizza and their view of the world is going to be somewhat limited, both by the technology and the fact that no matter who makes the environment, it is limited by human limitations. But when you go into a natural environment, that's where the most loose parts are. When you see a tree, when you see the life forms that are in the dirt right below the surface, it's everywhere. So that kind of environment is a creative environment for children.

Natasha Mitchell: Sticks, stones, things they can throw at each other.

Richard Louv: Right. And we make attempts to recreate that environment, and play space designers, for instance...loose parts theory, they're trying to do more with that by putting big plastic boxes that kids can move around et cetera in some of the new playgrounds. That's good, but what if more and more of the play spaces were natural and had the loose parts of nature involved. And even in urban places that can be done now, there are a lot of new approaches to this that can make those places quite hardy.

Natasha Mitchell: But at the heart of your argument there's a regulatory and legal argument as well because we've kind of legislated and regulated loose parts out of the world, and you've come up over your years of research and engagement with communities with some extraordinary examples of how we've been doing that.

Richard Louv: Yes, and I don't know how much this is happening in Australia, I suspect it is, but in the newer housing developments...almost all housing developments built in the last 34 years in the US are governed by CC&Rs, 'Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions', they have private governments called community associations or neighbourhood associations that really control people's lives in way that we would never allow public government to do. What colour you can paint your house, your curtain liner colour, whether or not you can plant a vegetable garden in the front yard. No, sorry, it's not in the CC&Rs.

One woman that I met said that her community association recently outlawed chalk drawing on the sidewalks, which apparently leads to cocaine addiction, I'm not sure. I made that last part up. But these ridiculous constraints on people...just try to put up a basketball hoop in some of these neighbourhoods let alone let the kids build a fort or a tree house. Some of that comes from just the mania for control because we have a fearful society, certainly in the US, so people feel they have to control everything. Another place that comes from, though, is just the fear of...in addition to the fear of strangers is the fear of strange lawyers, litigation, the litigious society. Everybody is afraid of getting sued for anything.

Natasha Mitchell: More so in America but that's changing here too, I suspect.

Richard Louv: That's what I hear, yes, be careful.

Natasha Mitchell: What gives you reason for optimism? Because out of this book came the Children and Nature Network which is now epic, it sounds like, across the States. What gives you hope and what is the Children and Nature Network doing?

Richard Louv: Well, first, a lot is happening. The Children and Nature Network is a non-profit that was created out of the book to extend the work of the book. So many people were coming forward and saying that they wanted to do something in their communities, so we figured there needed to be a clearinghouse of ideas and a map to show what everybody is doing, and the latest news, and there wasn't anyplace like that on the web. So we created that, in addition to bringing people face-to-face.

There are now over 71 regional campaigns, and by 'regional' I mean it can be a whole city, it can be a whole state, it can be provincial in Canada. And these major campaigns are bringing together people who normally might not want to be in the same room; conservatives, liberals, it doesn't seem to matter, they all want to tell me about the tree house they had when they were kids. So this really transcends some of the political and religious barriers in the US. And so that's happening, and then there are these major campaigns.

In addition to that, government has made changes, the new secretary of the interior is creating a youth conservation corps to try to get young people engaged. There's now a bill in Congress called the No Child Left Inside bill which is designed to encouraged environmental education and perhaps even get some of those kids outside the school. Governors have reinstated state parks et cetera, and a lot of this has come in because people really don't want to be in the last generation where it was considered normal and expected to encourage kids to go out and built a fort in the woods or dig a hole and get their hands dirty and their feet wet. That really is happening. It's happening in Australia too. I know that in Western Australia in Perth they're going to start a big network there. And I want to be clear here that people were working on this decades ago, and the book has been a useful tool but in no sense is it the reason for this, it's just a perfect storm, in a sense, the time that we know what we need to do.

Natasha Mitchell: But how much of this is harking back to our own nostalgia about our own youth? Certainly perhaps every generation has felt that their childhood was more free or more...maybe it's a Baby Boomer thing...with a certain nostalgia of freedom about that period between the wars, or after World War Two I should say.

Richard Louv: I'll plead guilty to romanticising certain parts of my childhood, that tree house was pretty neat. But, when you think about it, for all of human history and prehistory, children went outside and either played or worked in nature for all of their developing years. That has been changing radically just within the last three decades. You can make the case that industrial revolutions certainly had an effect and the invention of agriculture certainly had an effect and this began a long time ago, but for the last three decades that pace of change has been much faster. So I don't think it's an exercise in nostalgia when you think that 99% or more of our history and prehistory as a species has been spent outside, particularly children, and that's how they learn.

Natasha Mitchell: Yes, spent outside, but you were lucky to survive your childhood.

Richard Louv: Yes, and nobody is pretending that nature is nice all the time. It would be better not to die of frostbite, sure, and there was a downside and there is a downside to nature. But I'm just saying, as organisms...you know, you can't rush evolution that fast. There has to be some implications in terms of psychological health, physical health and even spiritual health when you change that quickly the environment in which people live.

Natasha Mitchell: Parents and people without children are sort of bereft as to know where to start with their lives often. They're caught up in the chaos of modern working life and they don't know where to start. You've done a lot of hard work gathering stories of where people start to make some changes in their world and in their lives and in their children's lives.

Richard Louv: Well, all of us have to do that. I struggle with that, I'm on aeroplanes way too much and I have to force myself to get outside and go for a hike or go fishing or something. I have nature deficit disorder. So it starts with just the acknowledgment that if I go too long without an experience in nature, I don't feel good. I mean, you can just feel that. So you had to force yourself to do it, just like your kids. But there are new ways to do this. I'm not pretending we're going to go back to the 1950s anytime soon, when you told your kids to go outside and not come back inside until the streetlights come on. That's probably not going to return in many neighbourhoods.

Natasha Mitchell: No, but we do need to shift that profound anxiety, don't we, that parents have about having their children out of their sight.

Richard Louv: Yes. Let me give you just one example of what parents themselves have come up with. A couple of years ago I got an email from a father and second grade teacher in Roanoke, Virginia, who had read Last Child in the Woods and some other material, and he and his wife had decided to get their kids outdoors on weekends. So they started going to the park or doing stream reclamation actually, and a number of other things, going on hikes with their kids. One day his five-year-old pulled on the dad's pant-leg and said, 'Dad, how come we're the only family having this much fun?' So the father and the mother started reaching out to other families, and before long they had a huge mailing list. Today they have over 400 families on their mailing list.

They created essentially what we call a family nature club where families band together and two, three, five families at a time say 'let's show up at the park on Saturday and go for a hike' or 'let's garden' or 'let's do stream reclamation', something together. What that does is several things. One is that it deals with the fear issue, because there is perceived safety in numbers.

Any kind of family can do that. Think how great that would be for single-parent families that have all kinds of logistical issues. Any kind of economic background of the family, any kind of neighbourhood, it could be inner city, it could be outer suburb, can do this kind of thing. And you don't have to wait for funding, you can do it yourself and you can do it now. And here's the neat thing. Adults who do that and many other types of new ways of getting their kids outdoors, they receive all the same benefits that their kids do; apparently a longer attention span, huge stress reduction, a revived sense of awe and wonder. So this is not a bitter pill, this is something that makes everybody happier and healthier and maybe even smarter...'