Date: June 17, 2012

This week on Ecotopia, we’ll be talking about Nature—nature as a powerful force that can bring destruction to human habitation, nature as an element that can bring calm and contentment to human beings.

In the first segment, we’ll be talking with Barry Vann, who teachers at the University of Cumberlands, about his book THE FORCES OF NATURE. In it, he explores the history and geography of natural disasters in the distant and recent past and considers what may be in store for an increasingly populous planet.

Then in the second segment, we’ll be talking with Richard Louv, author of a book called THE NATURE PRINCIPLE, who argues that the people on the planet are suffering from “nature deficit disorder” and need to realign themselves with nature in our increasingly digital and virtual age.

Listen to the Program

Our Conversation with Barry Vann

Barry Vann is a geographer and professor of higher education at the University of Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. He’s written a fascinating book called THE FORCES OF NATURE: OUR QUEST TO CONQUER THE PLANET, published by Prometheus Books. In it, he takes a historical and geographical look at far distant and recent disasters and offers some predictions, warnings, and possible preparation for natural disasters that may be in our future.

–Your book opens by observing that people just like to live in nice places, and once they discover a place, they like to move there in large numbers. Then at some point, they encounter floods, earthquakes, droughts, and other disasters and try to cope. Please tell us a little about how this observation and your work as a geographer led you to write THE FORCES OF NATURE. (What’s an “ecumeme”?)

–You go back into prehistory to trace the flow of people in ancient civilizations. Could you give us an example or two of how and where these civilizations developed? (“The best places to live are already occupied.” p. 58) What natural disasters did they encounter and how did they cope?

–One of your themes is “geotheology,” the role that religion plays in explaining disasters. Why didn’t we just stay in the Garden of Eden? Why do some people see natural disasters as the wrath of God? …You also argue that even today, people have a quasi-religious attitude toward Mother Nature and assume that natural disastsers are punishment for human misdeeds. Can you illustrate that for us?

–Fast forwarding . . . one of your chapters treats the general region where you live and describes “erosion and dispossession in the Cumberland Gap area.” You write about the Tennessee Valley Authority as an example of humans’ efforts to control nature and of some of the unintended consequences. Please tell us that story. (Why do we have such confidence in technological “fixes”?)

–In your chapter on “Hurricane Alley,” you talk about Katrina and other historic hurricanes, and you express doubts about the popular thesis that “human-caused global warming was behind the increase in the number and density of hurricanes…” (p. 157). But you also predict that “at some time unknown time in the future, a storm will develop” that “will be a killer” (p. 171). What happened with Katrina? Could “we” have been better prepared for it? Can “we” take steps now to limit devastation from the killer storm?

–Your final chapter is a vision of “The Americas in 2060” (not just “America,” but the continent). You also discuss how the world might change—Africa, China, the Middle East—including standard of living, men’s and women’s roles, economic production. What’s your best vision of what might happen over the next half century based on what we’ve learned about The Forces of Nature? Are you optimistic that we can learn the lessons?

–Where can our listeners learn more about your work and that of other ecogeographers? The book is THE FORCES OF NATURE: OUR QUEST TO CONQUER THE PLANET, published by Prometheus Books. <>

Slide show/blog on Huffington Post: <>

Our Discussion with Richard Louv

Richard Louv, has written a book called THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: RECONNECTING WITH LIFE IN A VIRTUAL AGE, published by Algonquin Books.  In an earlier book, LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS, he created the now widely-used phrase “nature-deficit disorder” to describe a growing gap between kids and nature.  In this book, he says that adults suffer from nature-deficit disorder as well.

–What is “nature-deficit disorder” and where did it come from? (You say that you have “heard many adults speak with heartfelt emotion, even anger, about this separation, but also about their own sense of loss” (p. 3).  How are we affected by this separation from nature?

–You offer The Nature Principle as a possible antidote.  What is it and how did you come to formulate it?  (“…reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit, and survival.”  p. 3).

–What sort of immersion or reconnection is necessary?  Can we do this given our jobs, our responsibilities, our computers . . . ?  Are we talking about a daily walk in the park?  outdoor vacations? gardening?  (“Deep green exercise” p.72) (The Citizen Naturalist, p. 131.) (20 ways to bring nature into your life:

–The book outlines seven major ways in which people can connect and reconnect with nature.  We can’t talk about all of these (and people can read the book!).  But let’s explore two or three:

…What is the “hybrid mind”?  You argue that people can basically sharpen perceptions, become more creative, be more thoughtful through the nature principle.  How does that work?  What kind of evidence did you find for it?

…What is “biophilic design,” and how does that work?  How can we create an “everyday Eden”?  Are there towns/cultures that have put this into practice?  Are there models of the integration of design, natural, and human spaces?  [Chico is a Transition Town with some biophilic elements but with a lot of pressure for “growth” and “development” despite its “master plan.”]

…How can we search for and find “kindred spirits”?  How might this work as a family-to-local-to-global movement? Are there organizations or structures or communities where people can find others who share a commitment to the Nature Principle?  What’s the “new nature movement”?

–A question we often ask guests on this program:  What’s your degree of optimism that people can or will make the change in sufficient numbers to make a difference on the planet?  Is there still time? Does the intrusion of technology/economic issues on our lives give us a fighting chance to make the change?  Walmart! What’s the role of schools in all this? of parenting?

–Where can our listeners go to learn more about The Nature Principle and related ideas?

Learn more and read the blog at

For a free online Field Guide to the New Nature Movement, see

Playlist for Ecotopia 197:

1. The Cyclone Of Ryecov 3:13 Doc Watson The Best Of Doc Watson 1964-1968
2. Fractured Air (Tornado Watch) 3:15 Calexico Carried To Dust

3. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth 2:14 Neko Case Middle Cyclone
4. Nature Provides 4:15 Hugh Mundell Arise

5. Weave Me the Sunshine 4:28 Peter, Paul And Mary The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

6. Mother Nature’s Son 2:42 Sarah McLachlan I Am Sam

7. Nature Reigns 4:04 Mad Professor Trix In The Mix Part One