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What is the Future of Nature?

Distinguished scientist and curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, W. John Kress questions how technology might help reconnect people with nature.


Conversation Club

  1. W. John Kress begins his talk by emphasizing the incredible number of species that he has studied, specifically in tropical parts of the world. He goes on to say that 10 to 20 million species inhabit the planet right now. Does this number surprise you? Would you have expected it to be greater or less, and why? Based on the video, why is it important for the planet to have diversity of species?
  2. Kress also talks about interactions between species and their natural environment, using beetles and specific plants as examples. What are other examples of animals interacting with plants or other animals? Why do you think scientists are interested in better understanding these interactions?
  3. Kress describes human impact on our natural environments and how this has led to increased extinction of other species, including plants as well as animals. He explains how the concept of extinction seems very abstract for many people. What do you think he means? Can you think of any species that have gone extinct or are endangered and thus are at risk of becoming extinct? What environmental stresses are threatening these species?
  4. Kress also talks about urbanization, and how over 50% of the human population now lives in cities. According to Kress, this movement of humans to cities has not helped prevent changes to natural environments, and he lists two reasons. What are these reasons? Do you agree with them? What do you think it means to feel connected to nature? Do you think that it is a problem that people are less exposed and connected to nature because they live in cities?
  5. Kress gives an example of how living in mega cities is changing humans. What do you think of his story about 95% of young men under the age of 19 in the city of Guangzhou, China all being nearsighted, where objects up close are seen clearly but those far away are blurry? Can you think of other ways that living in cities might be physically changing humans?
  6. One solution that Kress and colleagues came up with to bring nature to people in urban, city environments utilizes technology. Specifically he designed an iPhone app that allows people to easily identify leaves on trees and learn more about them. What do you think of this effort? Do you think it will help more people engage with nature? Would you, personally, use this technology? Can you think of other ways that technology is being used to connect people with nature?
  7. More involved than an app that uses photos to identify a species of plant is another effort described by Kress that uses DNA to confirm and identify any species. Why might this be something useful to scientists to have? Why would everyday people be interested in using the same technology themselves? Would you be interested in this technology?
  8. What do you think of John Kress’s talk? Are you worried about the future and how human interaction with nature is changing? What solution would you suggest to Kress and scientists like him, to help interest people more generally in topics related to animals, plants, and natural environments?

Video Series

This video exists as part of a series gathered around the theme of Environment & STEM. Other videos in this series are listed below.

Best Views of the Grand Canyon
Best Views of the Grand Canyon
Visualizing One Earth
Visualizing One Earth
Can We Solve Climate Change?
Can We Solve Climate Change?
Jack Andraka's Pancreatic Cancer Breakthrough
Jack Andraka's Pancreatic Cancer Breakthrough
Pardis Sabeti's New Look at Infectious Disease
Pardis Sabeti's New Look at Infectious Disease
Hugh Herr’s Bionic Future
Hugh Herr’s Bionic Future
Why Scan a 3-D Dinosaur?
Why Scan a 3-D Dinosaur?
Can Ocean Optimism Save our Seas?
Can Ocean Optimism Save our Seas?
What is the Future of Nature?
What is the Future of Nature?