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  • Writer's pictureSimon Kaack

Green Metrics: Rethinking Wellbeing Measurements

Southeast Asian countries often catch up in classroom-orientated education rankings, while outdoor subjects usually do not gain attention.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently released the Human Development Report 2023/2024, titled "Breaking the Gridlock: Reimagining cooperation in a polarized world." This report highlights pressing issues stemming from uneven development progress, emphasizing the reconfiguration of global interdependence, and advocating for a strengthened role of multilateralism.

With a look at Southeast Asian Human Development Index (HDI) rankings, Lao PDR is ranked at 139, while Myanmar stands at 144 and Cambodia is positioned at 148, all within what is labelled as ‘medium’ human development. In contrast, Vietnam is ranked at 107, which signifies high human development, and Thailand holds rank 66, placing it in the very high human development category.

Well-being is inextricably linked to a sense of one's natural environment.

Beyond these metric measurements, the report also outlines critical areas for immediate action, amongst others fostering planetary public goods for climate stability. One example consists of Vietnam, which is facing increasing challenges from climate change, including more frequent droughts, floods, and typhoons. Such temperature increases could significantly impact labor, affecting working hours across various occupations.

Furthermore, given Vietnam's extensive coastline, the nation is particularly susceptible to sea level rise, which may displace 1.5–3.1 million Vietnamese by 2050, driving them towards climate migration. Typically, climate-induced relocation begins within national borders before extending to neighboring countries. This movement, particularly from rural to urban areas, is expected to strain Vietnam's city infrastructures and could lead to increased migration to nearby countries like Cambodia and Thailand, which are also forecasted to experience the repercussions of climate change.

To address these and similarly challenging issues, the report identifies universal education as means to achieve social cohesion by creating 'strong social bonds among different groups in a society.' Given these participatory needs, integrating outdoor and nature education into the fabric of our learning systems offers profound benefits, particularly for young people, and warrants inclusion in global indices like the UNDP HDI. The disconnection from the natural world is one of the subtle yet profound crises of our time. Nature education acts as a bridge, reconnecting individuals with the environment that sustains us. For young people, this connection fosters not only respect for the environment but also a sense of belonging and peace.

The report touches upon this unique connection, highlighting that our wellbeing is 'intimately bound up with the health of the natural environment', a learning  that was long inherited by Indigenous communities worldwide. Equally, this connection functions over vast distances, when social and environmental transformations intersect globally, local socioecological system impacts can escalate to a planetary level. To understand this, examine the concept of telecoupling, which explains the intricate interplay and feedback mechanisms between human and ecological systems across extensive distances, striving to encompass socioeconomic and environmental repercussions that span different scales, spaces, and timeframes.

Long distances do not diminish the influence of humans on plants and vice versa.

Moreover, physical health benefits of interacting with nature are undeniable. Outdoor activities encourage a more active lifestyle, combating sedentary habits associated with increased screen time. Children who spend time outdoors are less likely to suffer from obesity, asthma, and myopia. Regular exposure to sunlight and fresh air boosts the immune system and improves overall physical health, laying a strong foundation for a healthy life.

Engagement with the outdoors is linked to improved cognitive function. Outdoor learning environments stimulate curiosity and ignite a passion for discovery. Young learners exposed to nature-centric education demonstrate better focus, enhanced memory retention, and increased creativity. These cognitive benefits contribute to a more well-rounded and adaptive individual, better equipped to face the challenges of our rapidly changing world.

Evenly, nature education fosters emotional resilience and social skills. Facing the challenges and unpredictability of outdoor environments, young people develop adaptability, problem-solving skills, and emotional resilience. Collaborative outdoor activities enhance teamwork, communication, and empathy, which are crucial skills in personal and professional realms.

The inclusion of outdoor and nature education in global indices like the HDI could catalyze a shift in policy and practice. The HDI measures key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living. By integrating indicators related to outdoor and nature education, the HDI could offer a more comprehensive view of wellbeing, emphasizing the role of the environment in shaping healthy, knowledgeable, and capable individuals.

Education and development must be considered more closely together with environmental components.

This could lead to the development of curricula that balance academic rigor with experiential outdoor learning, investments in green spaces and outdoor educational facilities, and policies that promote environmental stewardship from a young age.

Incorporating outdoor and nature education into global development indices is not merely a recognition of its benefits but a call to action. It urges societies worldwide to reevaluate and broaden their understanding of what it means to be well-educated and well-developed. It is a commitment to nurturing individuals who are not only knowledgeable but also physically healthy, emotionally resilient, and deeply connected to the world around them.



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