06 April 2006

Nature therapy

Referrring to the communities in which 75 million Americans live, Richard Louv says:

Try to put up a basketball hoop in some of these communities, let alone build a tree house. The message to kids and parents is very clear: nature's in the past. It doesn't count anymore. The future's in electronics. The bogeyman lives in the woods. Playing outdoors is illicit and maybe even illegal.
It's an important topic. As the introduction to Louv's interview says, 'after tens of thousands of years of children playing and working primarily outdoors, the last few generations have seen such interaction with nature vanish almost entirely.' Louv argues that this has incalculable implications for children's physical and mental health, and for the future of environmentalism. At last research linking nature to healthy child development is starting to be investigated.

What does this have to do with Social Policy Bonds? Conventional ways of trying to solve health problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder or vaguer feelings of anxiety and depression involve specific, targeted, treatments, which can be biochemical, psychological or psychiatric. There's very little interest in trying to prevent such problems because there are no institutions that can benefit from doing so. The massed ranks of drug companies, psychologists and psychiatrists, while they individually may suspect that 'nature therapy' can invigorate communities, do not belong to organisations that can act on that suspicion. There are no incentives in place to prevent health problems by living closer to nature. Government-run health services are influenced by narrowly-based interest groups. Something as diffuse, unprofitable and poorly researched as nature therapy stands little chance of becoming policy under the current set-up in most countries.

A Social Policy Bond regime would be different. Society would target broad physical and mental health goals. Bondholders would have powerful incentives to seek out whichever ways of achieving these goals will maximise benefits per dollar outlay. There would be no prejudices in favour of existing ways of doing things or existing institutions and lobby groups. Existing studies already show that 'prisoners in prisons, people in the infirmary - those who have a view of a natural landscape heal faster.' A Social Policy Bond regime would act on such research, rather than be sidetracked into safeguarding vested interests.

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