future

Wild At Heart: Can Today's Children Enjoy Nature?

David Bond describes himself as the marketing director for ‘the ultimate, free, wonder product’. Is it electronic? A game? A household appliance? No. It’s ‘nature’.

He is also a parent, and the creator of Project Wild Thing: a film and movement aimed at getting kids out of the house, away from iPads, televisions and computers, and into nature. The irresistible allure of entertainment technology and the marketing muscle of the immensely powerful companies behind it are what David calls his competition. He believes that his children would love the outdoors – it’s just that they choose, or are rather encouraged to choose, otherwise.

STUCK TO THE SCREEN: DAVID BOND AND HIS PRE-OCCUPIED SON ALBIE.

STUCK TO THE SCREEN: DAVID BOND AND HIS PRE-OCCUPIED SON ALBIE.

The film begins with David attempting to drag his screaming children outside, a sight perhaps too familiar to many parents, both in the U.K., Australia and elsewhere. Footage of his daughter Ivy and son Albie using iPads and electronic games shows them mesmerised, addicted in the same way that many of us constantly check our email, Facebook newsfeed or Instagram account. One scene ironically shows Ivy playing a game involving a simulated horse on her iPad - an image that was strangely unsettling to me, both as an animal and an Apple lover. By strapping a camera to daughter Ivy’s head, David discovers that she spends as little time outdoors as she does in the bathroom, with the majority of her day-to-day time spent in front of a screen inside the house. It’s clear that this surprises even him, with Ivy also telling her dad that she loves the TV because she finds it ‘relaxing’.

Project Wild Thing portrays both David’s urgency in increasing ‘sales’ of nature, as well as the truly enjoyable times that he, his family and others can potentially spend in their outside surroundings. The film also suggests an inherent understanding and love of nature within our children, depicting it not in opposition to our humanity, but rather as congruent to who we are as people. The title of the project itself alludes to one of the most well-known children’s classics: Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. Whether or not the reference is intentional, the message is very much the same: the project representing a child’s desire to be wild; escaping the indoors for the immense playground that is our natural world.

Perhaps the highlight of the project is David’s primary marketing campaign – a photograph of his daughter callously licking a frog, plastered on billboards, city streets and in shopping centres all over London. A confronting image to some, but endearing to many, Ivy and her amphibian friend have helped the project gain momentum in a world where ads for electronics, cars and kids’ toys monopolise the advertising space. 

THIS IMAGE OF DAVID'S DAUGHTER IVY AND HER FROGGY FRIEND TURNED MANY HEADS FOLLOWING THE CAMPAIGN LAUNCH.

THIS IMAGE OF DAVID'S DAUGHTER IVY AND HER FROGGY FRIEND TURNED MANY HEADS FOLLOWING THE CAMPAIGN LAUNCH.

Although often humourous and light-hearted, this film does not fail to deliver some alarming realities regarding the impact of technology and a lack of outdoor activity on today’s children. An increase in time spent indoors is said to be linked to a significant decline in the health and wellbeing of children. More frighteningly still, for the first time in history, Ivy and Albie’s generation is predicted to have a lower life expectancy than that of their own parents.

However, when researchers surveyed people on what an ideal day of fun was for them and their families, there was one consistent answer seen across the board, transcending age group, social class and location: ‘being with my family, being outside, with fun things to do.’ Such a survey seems to suggest that where people want to be is outdoors, but what they actually do is an entirely different thing, as busy lifestyles and the fear of ‘stranger danger’ inevitably get in the way.

So what can be done? Is it possible to compete with the endless list of brands that tell children being inside and in front of a screen is better than enjoying the wonders of our natural world? Can David Bond really be the marketing director for nature, or is the appeal of the outdoors now just as obsolete as dial-up internet or the VCR?

As I write this, I myself sit outside, in the sun, on a day that’s perfect for cloud watching or a walk to the park - yet I'm also on my laptop, with an iPad and my phone by my side. So are we, the consumer, also to blame? Of course we can’t simply target the companies, because, after all, they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for us hoarding their never-ending array of commodities. And it’s not necessarily about not buying the products, but rather using them as a means to a different end. This is exactly what David has done by creating the app “Wild Time”, designed for children, yet accessible by all, as a way to encourage them to get out and explore nature. What I see as one of the many inspiring things about Project Wild Thing is this attempt to utilise consumerism and marketing culture to portray nature in a more appealing light – because what’s better than beating the marketing head honchos at their own game?

THE "WILD TIME" APP INCLUDES ACTIVITIES FOR CHILDREN THAT ARE AIMED AT GETTING THEM OUTSIDE TO ENJOY AND APPRECIATE THEIR NATURAL SURROUNDINGS.

THE "WILD TIME" APP INCLUDES ACTIVITIES FOR CHILDREN THAT ARE AIMED AT GETTING THEM OUTSIDE TO ENJOY AND APPRECIATE THEIR NATURAL SURROUNDINGS.

However, promoting the outdoors is something that’s definitely easier for marketers of the tourist trade and related industries. It’s a whole other ballgame when it comes to marketing the natural marvels around your own home. So whether David’s project will be successful still remains to be seen, but I sincerely hope that (at the very least) it’s a push in the right direction for families struggling to cope with too much of an indoor lifestyle, or an eye-opener for those who might not recognise the problem already. Either way, this film has inspired me (although not as a parent) to get outdoors, and to dedicate more of what I do here at Wild Melbourne to encouraging kids, teenagers and adults alike to become more involved in nature.

Project Wild Thing is still to be released in locations outside of the United Kingdom, although the movement is already growing in popularity on social media, with the film receiving a collection of favourable reviews.

projectwildthing.png

Is There a Sustainable Future for Our World?

SIR BOB WATSON - ONE OF THE WORLD'S LEADING AUTHORITIES ON ISSUES PERTAINING TO CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT.  Image from     http://protection4animals.wordpress.com . 

SIR BOB WATSON - ONE OF THE WORLD'S LEADING AUTHORITIES ON ISSUES PERTAINING TO CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT.  Image from http://protection4animals.wordpress.com

It’s not every day that a man of the scientific calibre of Sir Bob Watson makes his knowledge and skills available to our humble community. Hence, when I heard that Sir Bob was giving a talk at Melbourne’s Town Hall some months ago on the 22nd of May, I just had to get myself a seat.

The British scientist has been a leading authority on climate and atmospheric science issues since the 1980s. The author of many books, his role as the Director of the Science Division at NASA, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and chief scientific advisor for Sustainable Development at the World Bank are only a few of the achievements his impressive CV boasts. Now, this accomplished professional will be involved with the Monash Sustainability Institute, assisting Victoria’s Monash University in their work towards a sustainable future (http://monash.edu/research/sustainability-institute/).

With a no-nonsense approach to the issues plaguing our global community, Sir Bob summarised our current situation as bleak. With reference to society’s global goals (ending poverty, universal freedom, universal health and education, ethical living), he made it clear we had so far, (and were continuing) to fail to deliver these basic wants and needs to people across our planet: too many people go to bed hungry at night, too many people fear for their lives, and too many people lack even a basic education.

On climate change, as a man of his knowledge and experience could only conclude, he said that there was “no question [that] we humans” were causing the severe increases in greenhouse gas concentrations observed in our Earth’s atmosphere. On our efforts to minimise this impact, he said: “we literally have done nothing.”  

Watson continued that the enormous amount of scientific enquiry done on this subject has led to the conclusion that if we do not curb emissions, the world we live in will be truly hostile to life: “dry areas will get drier [and] wet areas will get wetter, [whilst] sea level rise is getting faster [and may rise by] one metre by 2100.” He further pointed to the other disasters that high CO2 levels in our atmosphere can wreak on our oceans: “Reefs may stop growing at 450 ppm (parts per million), and dissolve at 550 ppm (keeping in mind we are already at 400 ppm).” He firmly pointed out the enormous consequences to not only Australia’s economy should such a situation become reality (which is very possible), but also to the potential collapse of small island nations who rely on coral reefs for their survival.  

Regarding biodiversity, he outlined the fact that anthropogenic (man-made) activities are the cause of the sixth mass-extinction in the history of our planet: “By 2050, 18-35% [of species will be] committed to extinction, with other estimates ranging from 20 to 40%”. He made clear what so many seem to forget: that the issue of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems “undermines our economy and health” – it impacts on everything, and is therefore a problem for everyone. Socially, Watson said climate change will make fighting other issues much more difficult and will likely lead to further migration of poorer peoples, as well as increased conflicts.

In response to these many and multifaceted issues, he ardently believes that “we need to create carbon markets where a farmer not only gets money for food, but also for protecting the environment”, and that “we need to educate and empower women” to alleviate our rapid population growth. However, all is not lost - truly, Sir Bob thinks that in the future “we can have a superb standard of living, but [that] we must change how we behave… [as] the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action.” For one thing, he criticised the way we value fossil fuels, believing we must see the “social cost” of using such resources, and recognise that such a cost is much higher than the economic value we place on it.

While he believes that better governance is essential, and that “a lack of trust and respect” is strongly contributing towards the slow pace of policy change, he thinks “lots of good things [are] happening at the local level”, and ultimately believes that “partnerships” between the private sector, the government, and people in general are the key to developing a sustainable future. Furthermore, he made a strong case for investing in education and maintaining a “multidisciplinary” nation.

In his concluding remarks, Sir Bob outlined three things that really need to happen: firstly, we need to “transform our technology” to be more effective and less damaging to our current and future environment. Secondly, we need to “put a price on carbon”, and thirdly, we need to “change our behaviour”. He contended that mitigating climate change is a “global” problem and not just an issue for “developing countries”. In contrast, he stated that preserving biodiversity should be a “local” focus, as we at Wild Melbourne would tend to agree.

Sir Bob Watson’s knowledge and expertise makes him an authority on many of the social and environmental issues that are affecting our planet today, and that will continue to do so in the future without serious action. As such, his warning of the dire future Earth faces needs to be heeded. The tragedy befalling our environment is not an issue separate from our daily lives - it affects all of us, and will influence the lives of our children, and their children after. The time of looking at our environment as a foreign entity, detached from the reality of modern society, has long passed. Look up at the sky, look at the earth at your feet – human life and our environmental world are connected, and what we do today will affect what happens tomorrow.

“We know enough to act. If we fail, we will impoverish current and future generations.” - Sir Robert T. Watson.