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Want to become an urban naturalist? Try trailing a toddler

Poking a puffball fungus to watch spores explode
Emma Marris
Poking a puffball fungus to watch spores explode.

You know that feeling when you are running late, and you’re trying desperately to get little kids moving? You are frantically searching for your keys and replying to text messages; they are putting their socks in the fridge. You are pushing the stroller with the baby brother down the street with a purposeful stride; they are poking their fingers into muddy puddles, assessing their temperature. You are on the corner, barking at them to “hurry up!” They are explaining patiently that they need three sticks before they could possibly consider crossing the street.

And then, you know that feeling when you aren’t running late, when your next appointment is a snack or a bedtime still hours in the future, and yet you are still frantically searching for your keys, striding down the street, and barking at your children to “hurry up!”? Our kids must think we are nuts.

I write about environmental science for a living, and I consider myself a pretty big nature fan. When I’m out in a park on an officially nature-centric outing, I am able to slow down, calm down, and really enjoy the flora and fauna, large and small. And my kids get free rein. I soak my feet in the water and watch them peek under rocks and count ladybug spots and identify birds and unsuccessfully beg to pick flowers. But despite actively writing about the importance of seeing nature all around us, about expanding our concern for biodiversity out past the boundaries of our beloved protected areas and into the humanized spaces where we spend much of our lives, I still rush. I rush when I walk alone and I rush my kids down the sidewalk.

So, I tried to stop.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Be considerate of future generations — and future species, too

baby marris
Emma Marris

Climate change may not be forever, but it’ll be for a long, long time. Who -- or what -- will be around thousands or millions of years hence, when the consequences of our casually massive carbon emissions are still playing out? And do we owe them anything?

According to philosopher William Grove-Fanning, currently at the Environmental Studies Program at Trinity University in San Antonio, the phrase “future generations” first started showing up in the late 1960s, in discussions of bioengineering and nuclear waste. These days, it shows up constantly in discussions of climate policy (and on “Seventh Generation” household products marketed to the eco-conscious -- but no longer bought by our household since we noticed that they dye their diapers brown to make them look more ‘natural’ or ‘recycled’). As the climate changes, it won’t just -- or even mostly -- affect those alive today. We may bite the big one before things get truly strange and/or horrendous. But people toss off the phrase “future generations” so glibly, without really specifying whom they are talking about.

Grove-Fanning figured that most people probably imagine their grandchildren or great grandchildren. And most people are right; the next two or three or four generations may well suffer a great deal thanks to our actions. But, by sheer numbers, there will be more people in the many, many future generations after that. So even if the worst harm will be in the “short” term of the next few hundred years, the vast majority of the people who will suffer at least some harm are in the far future. To figure out how far, in both time and genetics, he did some research on two questions:

1. How long will the effects of climate change last?

2. Who will be around at the end of that period?

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living