Au­thor and Chil­dren & Na­ture Net­work founder Richard Louv is do­ing every­thing he can to get kids out­side. It is their—and the planet’s—best hope for a healthy fu­ture

Canadian Wildlife - - FRONT PAGE - By Cana­dian Wildlife Staff

Au­thor and Chil­dren & Na­ture Net­work founder Richard Louv is do­ing every­thing he can to get kids out­side. It is their — and the planet’s — best hope for a healthy fu­ture.

It was in his book Last Child in the Woods, re­leased in 2005, that au­thor Richard Louv first in­tro­duced the idea of “na­ture deficit dis­or­der” to the world. While work­ing as a news­pa­per colum­nist in San Diego, he had come to re­al­ize that chil­dren in these tech­no­log­i­cally driven times were in­creas­ingly dis­con­nected from na­ture and that this was harm­ing their phys­i­cal, in­tel­lec­tual and emo­tional de­vel­op­ment. The an­ti­dote he put for­ward in his book was both sen­si­ble and rad­i­cal: get kids back into the nat­u­ral world.

In a re­cent con­ver­sa­tion with CWF, Louv re­called that, “In the book, I imag­ined and de­scribed how a move­ment might hap­pen to con­nect kids and fam­i­lies to na­ture. It was re­ally wish­ful think­ing at the time.” He says now he was amazed at the re­ac­tion. “When the book came out, I was un­pre­pared for the re­sponse to it. It was quite some­thing and I was pretty over­whelmed” by the num­ber of peo­ple who reached out to learn more and to contribute to a new move­ment to the out­doors.

Just a year later, in 2006, with the help of ded­i­cated ed­u­ca­tors and sup­port­ers, the Chil­dren & Na­ture Net­work was born. Louv, with fel­low co-founders Cheryl Charles, Martha Far­rell Erick­son, Martin Leblanc, Michael Pertschuk and Amy Pertschuk, es­tab­lished an or­ga­ni­za­tion in

Minneapolis, whose mis­sion was to drive a world­wide move­ment to re­con­nect chil­dren with na­ture. De­mand was such that within a year they were plan­ning their first con­fer­ence to bring to­gether ded­i­cated prac­ti­tion­ers.

By 2014, sup­port for the move­ment had grown to 369 grass­roots cam­paigns that col­lec­tively con­nected more than 3.5 mil­lion chil­dren to na­ture ex­pe­ri­ences in the United States and across the world. The an­nual con­fer­ences grew from mod­est gath­er­ings of re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tions to last year’s event, which wel­comed more than 800 in­ter­na­tional lead­ers, ad­vo­cates and ac­tivists from the child and na­ture move­ment in 18 coun­tries.

This year’s gath­er­ing, with the theme Kids Need Na­ture: Na­ture Needs Kids, is in Van­cou­ver, April 18–21. It is the first to take place out­side the U.S., and the Cana­dian Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion is co-host­ing. “One of the things that has re­mained con­sis­tent among the par­tic­i­pants is a sense of fam­ily. Canada host­ing em­pha­sizes that the fam­ily tran­scends bor­ders of all kinds.” Louv is heart­ened by the move­ment spread­ing abroad, not­ing that in coun­tries like China and Brazil, which have ex­pe­ri­enced pe­ri­ods of rapid ur­ban­iza­tion, he is start­ing to see a cul­tural turn from as­so­ci­at­ing na­ture with poverty — some­thing you want to get away from — to as­so­ci­at­ing it with beauty and health. “That is hap­pen­ing all over the world,” says Louv. “Whether it is hap­pen­ing fast enough is a whole other ques­tion.”

Quick to give credit, the best-sell­ing au­thor of nine books in­clud­ing his lat­est, Vi­ta­min N: The Es­sen­tial Guide to a Na­turerich Life, Louv ea­gerly points out oth­ers have been work­ing on the is­sue go­ing back as far as the turn of the last cen­tury. “This is not a brand new idea but ideas that had been for­got­ten and are now be­ing re­mem­bered, not just by me but by a lot of peo­ple,” he says. Over the years, these ini­tia­tives have been de­scribed as the New Na­ture Move­ment and No Child Left In­side. “I never say the phrase ‘back to na­ture.’ I al­ways say ‘for­ward to na­ture,” he adds. “We re­ally need to think about na­ture and our role in it as part of the fu­ture. In my book The Na­ture Prin­ci­ple, I say that the fu­ture be­longs to the na­ture-smart, and I be­lieve that.”

It is well es­tab­lished that plants do pro­duce sounds, al­though the most com­mon of these are at­trib­uted to a strictly phys­i­cal source, un­con­nected to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, like the cracking of joints when you stand up. These sounds are pro­duced when bub­bles form in the wa­ter be­ing trans­ported up­wards in the plant from the roots to the leaves; this mech­a­nism is com­mon in drought-stressed plants. Plants pro­duce other sounds too, but the sources of these re­main mys­te­ri­ous.

The pro­duc­tion of sound is one thing; the per­cep­tion of it quite another. Plants have no ears, eardrums, au­di­tory nerves or any­thing like that. But that isn’t as much of a stum­bling block as you might think. Birds have no outer ear, but can hear per­fectly well. Some in­sects har­bour their eardrums not at the sides of their heads but in re­mote places in the body, like the knees. Snakes have no ears or eardrums, but their jaw­bones vi­brate in tune with dis­tur­bances in the ground and con­nect to the ser­pent ver­sion of an in­ner ear.

In all these cases, the abil­ity to per­ceive sound is es­sen­tial, for it pro­vides cues to the pres­ence of predators or prey. Moths, for in­stance, can avoid hunt­ing bats by lis­ten­ing for their sonar chirps and tak­ing eva­sive ac­tion. So al­though sci­en­tists have raised the ob­jec­tion that there ap­pear to be no mech­a­nisms in plants for lis­ten­ing, we might not have found them yet, at least partly for the lack of search­ing — sci­en­tific pa­pers pub­lished on an­i­mals out­num­ber those on plants by two to one.

In fact, there is ev­i­dence that, de­spite the ap­par­ent ab­sence of a hear­ing ap­pa­ra­tus, plants might lis­ten. Mon­ica Gagliano, an evo­lu­tion­ary ecol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of Western Aus­tralia, has con­ducted an in­trigu­ing ex­per­i­ment that, while say­ing very lit­tle about what goes on out­side the lab, sug­gests we should be open-minded.

She ger­mi­nated chili seedlings in the pres­ence of fen­nel, a plant that’s hos­tile to other species in its vicin­ity. Gar­den­ers know fen­nel is un­friendly; the plant re­leases chem­i­cals from its roots that in­hibit the growth of oth­ers. Gagliano was ex­tremely care­ful to in­su­late the chili seeds from the fen­nel by en­clos­ing the fen­nel in an air­tight con­tainer, en­clos­ing that con­tainer in­side another and creating a vac­uum be­tween the two. No chem­i­cal or light sig­nal (of any fre­quency) could be trans­mit­ted, in ef­fect leav­ing the chili seedlings un­aware of the pres­ence of the un­friendly plant. (I use the word “un­aware” ad­vis­edly.) If some sig­nal were get­ting through even in the face of all the pre­cau­tions, you might have ex­pected the chili seedlings in the pres­ence of fen­nel to fail, but para­dox­i­cally, they grew more ag­gres­sively. How­ever that sur­pris­ing re­sult is in­ter­preted, as far as any­one could tell there was no ap­par­ent way that any in­flu­ence on growth, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, could be trans­mit­ted from fen­nel to chili. Could it have been sound?

Another re­cent ex­per­i­ment (the one Wohlleben refers to in his book) demon­strated that the root tip of corn seedlings will turn to face the di­rec­tion of a syn­the­sized sound of about 200 hertz. That’s roughly the A be­low mid­dle C on the pi­ano key­board and is in the same range as click­ing sounds that have been recorded from the same corn seedlings. Again, it’s far from clear how or why this is all work­ing.

None­the­less, these ex­per­i­ments open the door to new think­ing about plants. If the me­chan­ics of sound pro­duc­tion, its re­cep­tion and its func­tion could be bet­ter un­der­stood, new tech­niques for in­creas­ing crop yields would be avail­able to farm­ers. And in the spirit of Wohlleben’s book, ev­i­dence that plants might be con­vers­ing would surely ex­pand our ap­pre­ci­a­tion of them.

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