New Nature Conservancy-funded research shows that across the US and in other developed nations, people are spending far less time outdoors than ever before. The study is being published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers say this study—the most comprehensive look yet at nature recreation—is a “grim confirmation” of a long-held theory that people, especially children, are spending less time in the great outdoors.
“As a scientist and a conservationist, I find these results almost terrifying,” said Oliver Pergams, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead author of the study. “We are seeing a fundamental shift away from people’s interest in nature, not just in the U.S. but in other countries, too. The consequences of this could be deep and far-ranging for health, for human well-being, and for the future of the planet.”
The research builds on earlier studies that showed visits to American national parks were declining, and it illustrates that the problem isn’t limited to parks—and isn’t just found in the U.S.
This new study includes data on camping, backpacking, fishing, hiking, hunting, visits to national and state parks and forests. Pergams and fellow researcher Patricia Zaradic found comparable, reliable statistics from Japan and, to a lesser extent, Spain. They found that beginning between 1981 and 1991 there was a decline in per capita nature recreation, dropping at rates ranging from one to 1.3 percent per year, depending on the activity studied. The typical drop in nature use since then has been between 18 and 25 percent.
Tom Landwehr, The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota’s associate state director of conservation, acknowledged that it’s not always easy for parents today but he urged them toget theirkids out to experiencenature early and often. “When I was a kid growing up in North St. Paul, we had four TV stations and almost no other electronics. We had to play outside for entertainment, and my dad was a big outdoorsman.
“My kids today have way too many indoor options, it is more challenging to engage in real, unstructured outdoor activities, and parents are just very busy. If we don't make a conscious, often overwhelming effort, kids will have little exposure to the outdoors, and very little reason to want to conserve it."
Stephanie Meeks, acting president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, noted, “If we lose our connection to the natural world, we’ll lose our appreciation for the food, water, and clean air it provides. And the next generation will feel little compulsion to protect it. We’re facing the most serious environmental threats of our lifetime, particularly in light of the challenges posed by climate change. We need the next generation to both value the natural world in which we live and fight to protect it.”
In previous studies, Pergams and Zaradic found the decline in natural experiences correlated with a rise in playing video games, surfing the Internet and watching movies. The researchers call this recent focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media “videophilia.”
Peter Kareiva, Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy, added, “Today, the majority of humans live in cities, and urbanization is accelerating so rapidly that by 2050 only a small portion of the human population will live outside urban areas. This disconnect could have severe consequences for all of us.”
In Minnesota, the Nature Conservancy currently owns and manages more than 50 preserves, encompassing more than 70,000 acres. Almost all of this land is open for public recreation including hiking, photography and birding. For more information on The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota go to nature.org/Minnesota.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.