Kids encouraged to go back to nature

Kids encouraged to go back to nature

Climb a tree. And for extra credit, play in the mud!

Here’s some homework! Explore the woods, climb a tree, race through a field, build a fort. Splash in the water, catch a fish, explore a city park, turn over a log. Sleep in a tent, gaze up at stars, follow a trail, listen to birds. Play in the mud, hold a frog, plant a garden, follow animal tracks.

These once-common activities – from back in the days when parents sent their kids outside and told them not to come home until dinner – may not be real school assignments. But they could be if some New Jersey legislators get their way!

Exploring, running, climbing, and more are part of the “Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights,” introduced recently by the New Jersey Senate. The bill encourages children – and their parents and teachers – to spend more time outdoors, discovering the joys and wonders of the natural world.

Not playing outside, the Senate resolution noted, has been shown to have adverse physical, social, and emotional consequences. Conversely, students who play outdoors perform better in the classroom, show increased interest in learning, and are less likely to create disciplinary problems.

“Go outside and play” is a message that’s spreading across the nation.

In March, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced an ambitious federal initiative to reconnect America’s young people to the outdoors.

“If Americans are going to continue to have healthy lifestyles, healthy lands, and a healthy economy, one of the steps we must take is to bridge the growing divide between young people and nature,” Jewell declared.

“The next generation of scientists, wildlife biologists, tribal experts, park managers and conservation leaders are now in school or just entering the workforce,” she added. “This is the time we need to invest in creating meaningful connections between young people and the great outdoors.”

Under Jewell’s initiative, the Department of Interior will create new opportunities for outdoor play for over 10 million youngsters, provide opportunities to bring information about public lands into the classroom, recruit a million new volunteers annually on public lands, and provide 100,000 outdoor-related work and training opportunities for young people and veterans.

Nonprofit groups including Food Day and Youth Service America are also connecting more young people to the outdoors. This year, they’re encouraging kids, parents, and teachers to plant a garden on Global Youth Service Days, April 11-13, and harvest their crops on or around Food Day on Oct. 24.

Richard Louv, author of the 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the affliction of kids who spend too much time glued to TVs, computer screens, and electronic gadgets.

These new initiatives are great first steps toward putting more “Vitamin N” – nature, of course – into our children’s lives, improving their physical, mental, and spiritual health!

But kids need places to play … ideally, parks and natural area close to home. Unfortunately New Jersey has run out of funding for park and open space preservation, and we need our legislators to take action.

Please urge your state senators and Assembly representatives to support legislation that would allow voters to decide on a sustainable source of preservation funding. To find your legislators, go to

To see Sally Jewell’s video about engaging a new generation in the outdoors, go to

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at or contact me at

Michele S. Byers,

executive director,

New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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What Colombia's Kogi people can teach us about the environment

Deep in Colombia‘s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, surrounded by jungle (and guerrillas, tomb raiders and drug traffickers), live 20,000 indigenous Kogi people. A culturally intact pre-Colombian society, they’ve lived in seclusion since the Spanish conquest 500 years ago. Highly attuned to nature, the Kogi believe they exist to care for the world – a world they fear we are destroying.

In 1990, in a celebrated BBC documentary, the Kogi made contact with the outside world to warn industrialised societies of the potentially catastrophic future facing the planet if we don’t change our ways.

They watched, waited and listened to nature. They witnessed landslides, floods, deforestation, the drying up of lakes and rivers, the stripping bare of mountain tops, the dying of trees. The Sierra Nevada, because of its unique ecological structure, mirrors the rest of the planet – bad news for us.

The Kogi don’t understand why their words went unheeded, why people did not understand that the earth is a living body and if we damage part of it, we damage the whole body.

Twenty-three years later they summoned filmmaker Alan Ereira back to their home to renew the message: this time the leaders, the Kogi Mama (the name means enlightened ones), set out to show in a visceral way the delicate and critical interconnections that exist between the natural world.

The resulting film, Aluna, takes us into the world of the Kogi. At the heart of the tribe’s belief system is “Aluna” – a kind of cosmic consciousness that is the source of all life and intelligence and the mind inside nature too. “Aluna is something that is thinking and has self-knowledge. It’s self-aware and alive.” says Ereira. “All indigenous people believe this, historically. It’s absolutely universal.”

Many Kogi Mama are raised in darkness for their formative years to learn to connect with this cosmic consciousness and, vitally, to respond to its needs in order to keep the world in balance. “Aluna needs the human mind to participate in the world – because the thing about a human mind is that it’s in a body,” explains Ereira. “Communicating with the cosmic mind is what a human being’s job is as far as the Kogi are concerned.”

The Kogi people believe that when time began the planet’s ‘mother’ laid an invisible black thread linking special sites along the coast, which are, in turn, connected to locations in the mountains. What happens in one specific site is, they say, echoed in another miles away. Keen to illustrate this they devised a plan to lay a gold thread showing the connections that exist between special sites.

They want to show urgently that the damage caused by logging, mining, the building of power stations, roads and the construction of ports along the coast and at the mouths of rivers – in short expressions of global capitalism that result in the destruction of natural resources – affects what happens at the top of the mountain. Once white-capped peaks are now brown and bare, lakes are parched and the trees and vegetation vital to them are withering.

“The big thing in coastal development in this area is the ‘mega-projects’, especially the vast expansion of port facilities and associated extensive infrastructure to link new ports to large-scale coal and metals extraction and industrial plant such as aluminium smelters,” says Ereira.

In a poignant scene in the film, CNN footage from September 2006 shows the Kogi walking for miles to protest against the draining of lagoons to make way for the construction of Puerta Brisa, a port to support Colombia’s mining industry.

What happens at the river estuary affects what happens at the source, they say, over and over again. “The Kogi believe that the estuary provides evaporation that becomes deposited at the river source. So if you dry up the estuary you dry up the whole of the river source,” says Ereira.

In the film, the views of the Kogi are backed up by a specialist in ecosystem restoration, a professor of zoology and a world leader in marine biology. “Along this stretch of coastline, you have a microcosm for what is happening in the Caribbean and also on the rest of the planet,” says the latter, Alex Rogers, of Oxford University, on camera. “Their view that all these activities are having an impact at a larger scale are quite right.”

It’s not all doom and gloom: the Kogi end the film on a message of hope: don’t abandon your lives, they say, just protect the rivers. But how to do that? One way forward is to engage the Kogi (and other indigenous communities who have an understanding of environmental impacts) in environmental assessment plans. The Tairona Heritage Trust has also been set up to support projects proposed by the Mamas. But Ereira stresses, “The Mamas are very clear about how we should take notice of what they say. Listen carefully, think, make our own decisions. They don’t want to tell us what to do.”

“I would hope that ordinary people will come away from the film feeling empowered to express what they already know – which is that the planet is alive and feels what we do to it,” he says.

“Everybody who is a gardener in this country already has a Kogi relationship to the earth but they don’t necessarily have a language to express that. They have an empathetic relationship to the land and what grows on it, and that empathy is what we have build on.”

For more information visit the Aluna film website.

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Panel making progress on drafting ballot question on Tenafly Nature Center’s …

Wording possibly ready for Tuesday

TENAFLY — The committee drafting a referendum question on the future of the Tenafly Nature Center’s expansion is back at work after the Borough Council recommended two changes to the draft.

The committee, which met Tuesday night, will rework the language and will likely have it completed by Tuesday, said Councilman Mark Zinna, who is heading the six-member panel.

The council meets again on Thursday, but it is unclear whether the question will be on the agenda for that evening.

The committee had completed the wording and interpretive statement after working on it at six meetings in February and March, said Zinna. “Hopefully, these final changes will move successfully through the drafting committee,” he said.

The project is the outcome of the council’s decision to permit a referendum on the Tenafly Nature Center’s proposal to relocate and build a new Education and Discovery Center on borough-owned property on East Clinton Avenue. The existing center on Hudson Avenue has been the focus of controversy ever since center leaders announced plans to relocate and build a larger center.

Tenafly Nature Center leaders say that the current site is not appropriate for new construction that could meet an increasing volume of visitors and needed programs. They say the new location would be ideal for a state-of-the-art, 7,940-square-foot building, with 50 parking spaces, tucked into the forest behind East Clinton Avenue and Kent Road. The Nature Center has already obtained most of the necessary permits and approvals and is working on securing $7 million in funds.

But opponents argue for the tract on East Clinton to remain pristine, in line with the Nature Center’s mission. They distributed petitions and argued their points at council meetings. They also consulted with engineers who said there is room to build on the current site.

The referendum is non-binding, but both sides have agreed to abide by it.

The council now must review and potentially tweak the ballot question’s wording, and the deadline for submission to Bergen County to have the public question appear on the November ballot is by 10 a.m. Aug. 15, the borough clerk said. The last council meeting before that deadline is Aug. 12.

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Volkswagen Launches "Think Blue. Nature"


April 8, 2014; Long-term commitment to state-supported biodiversity corridor in the
Sierra Madre supplements previous environmental sustainability projects
Young environmental ambassadors help plant trees and clean watercourses
Cooperation with Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources
and Deutsche Gesellschaft fr Internationale Zusammenarbeit “Por Amor
al Planeta” nature conservation prize awarded for the eighth time

Puebla / Wolfsburg–April 8, 2014: Volkswagen de Mxico is significantly
expanding its long-standing commitment to nature conservation and
biodiversity in Mexico and today presented its comprehensive “Think
Blue. Nature.” programme to the public at the Volkswagen plant in
Puebla. A new project is the initiative “Eco Chavos” (young
people for the environment), which will encourage 10,000 young people to
participate in practical environmental protection and the conservation of
biodiversity over a period of three years.

Volkswagen de Mxico is the largest private sponsor of environmental
protection measures in Mexico and will in future be pooling its activities
under the umbrella of the programme “Think Blue. Nature.” In
the presence of the Mexican Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources
Juan Jos Guerra, Andreas Hinrichs, the CEO of Volkswagen de Mxico,
together with Richard Modley representing Deutsche Gesellschaft fr
Internationale Zusammenarbeit and Luis Fueyo MacDonald, the National
Commissioner of Natural Protected Areas, signed the framework agreement for
“Eco Chavos”. A further partner is the global-woods
International project management organisation.

At the event, the Volkswagen Group Officer for the Environment, Energy
and New Business Areas, Wolfram Thomas, said: “Volkswagen has
declared the conservation of nature to be a corporate objective and is
committed to the conservation of resources, biodiversity and the linking of
habitats for plants and animals throughout the world. The Group’s
activities here in Mexico are a perfect example of this commitment.”
Volkswagen will initially be investing €260,000 and will be the first
private sponsor of the biodiversity corridor CESMO (Corredor Ecologico
Sierra Madre Oriental) in the Eastern Sierra Madre, which has a total area
of four million hectares in five Mexican states including Puebla and
provides a habitat for about 650 endangered species.

In the “Eco Chavos” project, 300 young people will be
trained as environmental ambassadors who are then to inspire 10,000 young
people in their communities to take part in nature conservation activities
in one of seven nature conservation areas within the CESMO corridor and to
raise awareness for environmental and biodiversity issues. CESMO is
Mexico’s contribution to compliance with the UN Convention on
Biological Diversity and is being supported by the German and Mexican
governments as well as Deutsche Gesellschaft fr Internationale
Zusammenarbeit. The objective of the new nature conservation and
biodiversity project is to plant 100,000 trees and to clean 100 kilometres
of watercourses.

“Think Blue. Nature.” also includes the major reforestation
and youth education programme in the national park between the two
volcanoes of Iztacchuatl and Popocatpetl. In the national park, 490,000
mountain spruce trees have been planted since 2008 in cooperation with 40
partners from the component supply industry in order to stabilise the water
table in the Puebla region. Thanks to the improved seepage of rainwater, an
additional water volume of up to four million cubic meters per year is
available. 158,000 indigenous trees are being planted in a similar project
in Sierra de Lobos, Guanajuato.

The project “Por Amor al Planeta” (for the love of the
planet) launched in 2007 is devoted to research into biodiversity in Mexico
and projects for the protection of biological diversity in nature
conservation areas. At the event in Puebla, the “Por Amor al
Planeta” award was presented for the eighth time. This year the
award, which includes a cash prize of about €30,000, went to Prof.
Dr. Enrique Jardel Pelez of the University of Guadalajara. Professor
Jardel’s achievements are in the area of the preservation of forests
and research into innovative methods for fighting forest fires.

“Think Blue.” Is the holistic environmental sustainability
strategy of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand. That not only means
producing more efficient vehicles but also working hard on more efficient
production. Volkswagen has committed itself to making the production of
each vehicle and each component 25 per cent more environmentally compatible
by 2018, compared with 2010 – in terms of energy and water
consumption, carbon dioxide and solvent emissions, and waste for disposal.
The “Think Blue. Factory.” programme is being implemented at
the Puebla and Guanajuato plants in Mexico as well as 26 other Volkswagen
plants worldwide.

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Stress alters children’s genomes

Pasieka/Science Photo Library

Telomeres (shown in red) protect the ends of chromosomes from fraying over time.

Growing up in a stressful social environment leaves lasting marks on young chromosomes, a study of African American boys has revealed. Telomeres, repetitive DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes from fraying over time, are shorter in children from poor and unstable homes than in children from more nurturing families.

When researchers examined the DNA of 40 boys from major US cities at age 9, they found that the telomeres of children from harsh home environments were 19% shorter than those of children from advantaged backgrounds. The length of telomeres is often considered to be a biomarker of chronic stress.

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, brings researchers closer to understanding how social conditions in childhood can influence long-term health, says Elissa Epel, a health psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the research.

Participants’ DNA samples and socio-economic data were collected as part of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, an effort funded by the US National Institutes of Health to track nearly 5,000 children, the majority of whom were born to unmarried parents in large US cities in 1998–2000. Children’s environments were rated on the basis of their mother’s level of education; the ratio of a family’s income to needs; harsh parenting; and whether family structure was stable, says lead author Daniel Notterman, a molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University in Hershey.

The telomeres of boys whose mothers had a high-school diploma were 32% longer compared with those of boys whose mothers had not finished high school. Children who came from stable families had telomeres that were 40% longer than those of children who had experienced many changes in family structure, such as a parent with multiple partners.

Genetic links

The link between stressful home environments and telomere length is moderated by genetic variants in pathways that process two chemical transmitters in the brain, serotonin and dopamine, the study found. Previous studies have correlated variants in some of the genes studied, such as TPH2, with depression, bipolar disorder and other mental-health issues. Variants of another gene, 5-HTT, reduce the amount of the protein that recycles serotonin in nerve synapses. Some alleles of these genes are thought to increase the sensitivity of carriers to external risks.

In the latest study, the researchers found that the ‘sensitizing’ variants of these genes protected telomeres in children from nurturing environments, and caused greater telomere damage in children from disadvantaged homes. Those who lacked these alleles had little difference in their telomeres, regardless of living conditions.

But boys with more than two sensitizing alleles were strongly influenced by their home environments. They had the shortest telomeres in stressful homes, and the longest telomeres in advantaged environments. Although these variants were known to influence chemical responses to stress in the brain, they were not previously linked to telomere length, says Notterman.

The team plans to expand its analysis to approximately 2,500 children and their mothers to see if these preliminary findings hold. However, because the effects of stress are tangible by the age of 9, Notterman suggests that early intervention practices may help to moderate the effects of adversity on children’s health.

“This was a small study testing a big theory,” says Epel. “It is a first but important step in understanding how social disparities get under the skin to affect lifelong health.”

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Panasonic Presents "SLIDING NATURE" Concept at the Milano Salone del Mobile 2014


Panasonic Corporation today announced the opening of its “SLIDING NATURE” concept installation at this year’s Milano Salone Del Mobile, one of the largest and most influential design exhibitions in the world, held in Milan. The installation this year was designed by noted architects, TORAFU ARCHITECTS. Images and videos from the event will be available on the company’s Milano Salone del Mobile 2014 site.

The main presentation, exhibited in the courtyard of the University of Milan, is a house shaped structure made with sliding doors. These sliding doors on all four sides move in response to music. Sometimes they move regularly and other times, randomly. The lighting in the installation, made up of a projector which lights up the ceiling of the home, 120 synchronized color controllable LED architectural lights in the ground and first floor corridors, and 175 LED lamps scattered throughout the yard, shines in synchronization with the moving doors, creating a variety of living environments. In addition, 50 surface-emitting LED lamps are suspended from the ceiling in the entrance to the corridor that surrounds the courtyard. The brightness and color of these lamps can be adjusted as desired.

With this installation that fuses Panasonic’s cutting-edge technologies into the culture of traditional Japanese housing, the company proposes new value for spaces combining the living environment and nature. On the first floor, Panasonic is also exhibiting a variety of kitchen equipment for business users (B2B customers).

The “SLIDING NATURE” Concept of the Exhibit
Japanese houses traditionally use “Fusuma” or “Shoji” paper sliding doors to take the gifts of nature into homes, such as pleasant breezes and soft sunlight. Thanks to the sliding doors, people can also enjoy the surrounding scenery.

Panasonic is developing an energy management business that combines “active” and “passive” energy management. Active energy management involves housing equipment, such as solar panels and storage batteries, in addition to energy efficient appliances, while passive energy management aims to efficiently control the benefits of nature by designing housing structures to its best advantage and employing heat-insulating materials.

In this installation, Panasonic is using sliding doors, based on the concept of passive energy management, which can welcome the blessings of nature, while closing out the cold and the heat. This is combined with LED lighting, a component of active energy management, to both conserve energy and achieve better spatial value by matching lighting to people’s lifestyle.

In its “SLIDING NATURE” installation, Panasonic is proposing a new relationship between people’s living environments and nature.

Event Detail
Exhibition concept: SLIDING NATURE
Date: April 7 (Mon) – 13 (Sun), 2014 9:00 – 24:00 (Local time)
Place: Università degli Studi di Milano, Cortile Farmacia Via Festa del Perdono, 7 – Milano
Space: Approximately 1,000㎡
Venue composition: TORAFU ARCHITECTS
Key items: Building materials (sliding doors), LED lighting, wiring devices (switches), etc.

Related Links
Panasonic’s special website
[Video Report] SLIDING NATURE at Milano Salone 2014
[Interview Video] About the Design Concept
Press kits (Available to download the press release, photos, images, and videos)
Feature Story

Photos/Multimedia Gallery Available:


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Does environmental protection help or hurt the poor?

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