With an ecological crisis currently at hand, there is no time to waste to fight for a health inhabitable planet. Climate scientists are warning governments that the tipping point may have past and the climate could become more volatile in decades, not centuries. James E Hansen, a retired Nasa climate scientist and director at Columbia University, said “we’re in the danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control,” The mammoth task of dismantling the ruling class and stopping their destructive, exploitative addiction is more vital than ever.
. On the 25th of March 2016, the Guardian reported that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. In a recent survey, sampling 2000 parents of 5-12 year olds, 74% of children spend less than 60 minutes playing outside each day. This is less than the United Nations guidelines for prisoners – at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily. The report also showed that children spend twice as long on electronic devices than they do playing outside. The report cited “a lack of green spaces, increase of digital technology and parents’ fears” as the reason for the very low amount of time children are spending outdoors.
This is not an isolated statistic. A variety of news stories and reports detail how digital technology is becoming more and more involved in peoples’ lives, especially those of children. OFCOM’s 2014 report revealed that 34% of children between 5 and 15 years of age own a tablet or a mini laptop, a figure up one fifth from 2013. This coincides with the phasing-out of nature-related words in the Oxford Junior dictionaries, such as ‘acorn’ and ‘buttercup’, which are being replaced by technology-related words such as ‘broadband’ and ‘cut-and-paste’.
There has been a sharp decline in the amount of time children spending time outdoors or in natural places, such as woodlands, parks, forests or beaches. Fewer children are outdoors playing socially face-to-face, experiencing nature. Instead they are spending more and more time in front of screens. Social interaction is now conducted through the virtual worlds enabled by the internet and computer-associated technologies, without body language or sensory stimulation. There is no need to go to a friend’s house after school, as children can now play together virtually. From their own homes, own rooms and on their own screens, alone and atomised.
There are two major problems – apart from the obvious increase in isolation – with atomisation and increased detachment from nature. Firstly, we have no idea what impact this new form of interaction will have in the long term. Popsci.com estimates that in Japan there are between 200,000 to a million ‘shut-ins’, which are people mainly in their early twenties who live their lives in their rooms, enabled by computer and TV usage. Shut ins is now a recognised mental illness. This is an epidemic in Japan but incidences are also increasing in other parts of the world.
Secondly, the increasing detachment of recent generations from nature comes at a time when the earth is facing an ecological catastrophe caused by industrial capitalism. In 2014, the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) finished their fifth report informing us, though conservatively, that man is destroying the world. The ice caps are rapidly melting, the seas are acidifying, hundreds of species are being driven to extinction on a daily basis and deforestation is continuing. Reading between the lines, the IPCC report suggests that Capitalists will profiteer at the expense of the earth and all life on it. This detachment from nature can only make things more difficult for us. How can we fight for a healthy, habitable planet when we barely know what one is?
This phenomenon seems to have attracted surprisingly little criticism. Even among anti-capitalists, there seems to be surprising reluctance to recognise the detachment from that natural world that comes with the increasing use of hand-held digital technology. Perhaps this is the intention of the industrial capitalists; they know new technologies have the potential to pacify us through distraction and reduce our capacity for resistance through social atomisation.
The younger generations are the key to the fight for our species’ and countless others’ survival, and they will also be the ones who bear the brunt of an increasingly volatile climate. This struggle needs to start with them. It needs to start now, and in reality, not in a virtual world. We can play a part in this by fighting against atomisation and reliance on digital devices for entertainment. We must show and teach children about the wonders of the world, before the world we know is gone.