WSW: Nature in a Digital World

Jun 24, 2016

Erik Mollenhauer in California in 2010
Credit Kristina Mollenhauer

Retired educator Erik Mollenhauer says we face an "extinction of experience." Sitting indoors all day, online and playing with our mobile phones, Mollenhauer says we're losing a critical connection to the natural world. He'll speak about the issue in South Haven on Tuesday, June 28.


Mollenhauer says the notion that virtual computer experience can replace the real thing is "foolish and dangerous." He says we're not all that different from our ancestors who lived 10,000 years ago, who adapted to move constantly through nature and changing environments. Richard Louv's 2008 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, argues that the physical and mental health of our kids suffers when they're deprived of experiences outdoors. Mollenhauer goes even further. He says all human beings have a deep biological and spiritual need to connect with the natural world.

Mollenhauer lives in New Jersey near Philadelphia and is active with the Gloucester County Nature Club. In 2015 it began offering an event called the "Mad Hatter Tree Party" to help get kids back into the woods. He says it's a mix of Lewis Carroll-inspired costumes, fun, and some serious talk about why trees are so important to earth's ecosystem

Once they are outdoors, Mollenhauer says kids today have just as much fun as their parents and grandparents did. He hopes grandparents especially will encourage kids to play outdoors as studies suggest that the area in which they "free play" by themselves has shrunk by 75 percent in recent decades. And  Mollenhauer says adults need to get back outside too. He says it's ironic that people head indoors to a gym to exercise instead of taking a walk in the park or just down the street.

  To reconnect with nature, Mollenhauer says you should look close to home. Find a nearby park, creek, or a patch of woods and explore.

Mollenhauer will speak about "Reconnecting With Nature in a Digital World" on Tuesday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m. at Lake Michigan College's South Haven campus at 125 Veterans Blvd. A reception there starts at 6:45. Both are part of the ongoing South Haven Speakers Series.

Mollenhauer will also help teach two workshops on monarch butterflies in South Haven on Thursday, June 30, and Friday, July 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pre-registration is required. Mollenhauer says the butterflies are a good metaphor helping people realize their place in the natural world. Just as it takes several generations for monarchs to complete their annual migration from the U.S. to Mexico and back, Mollenhauer says every human generation has a responsibility to keep ourselves and the planet healthy. "You can't do one without the other," he says.

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