Monday, September 28, 2009

Ken Burns - National Parks

There's been lots of talk here and elsewhere of the "nature deficit" experienced by we as adults, and by our kids.  Weekdays mean we're off on the commute to work, and back after dark.  On weekends it's soccer practice, or the batting cages, or just stocking up at Costco or the supermarket.  Somewhere there we need to fit in an hour for a walk in the park, a spin on the bike, or jog with the dog.

It's a rare treat when we can get an outdoor experience from our living rooms, but that's what's possible all this week during Ken Burn's documentary special "The National Parks."

If you can't see this special, try to Tivo it.  And not just for the pretty film images.

Burns and writer Duncan Dayton remind us how important our connection to place is and should be.  And why the amazing landscapes of America have defined us as a people, and that how and why we protect them, will continue to define us as a nation.

The most important message from this documentary is that our battle to save and enjoy natural places, spectacular landscapes, has always been a story about people.  Courageous ones, who bucked the dehumanizing pressures of the industrial revolution to argue that wild is good, wild is necessary, and wild can restore and remind us what is best about ourselves.

Watch Burn's special this week. Get your kids to sit down too. See if you don't agree.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What do you know? Branson has it right.

I was reading recently about a meeting two years ago between Al Gore and Sir Richard Branson.  Branson you might recall is the colorful British promoter who's the genius (or villian depending on your take) behind the Virgin business empire, world record attempts in all manner of flying things, and a massive mane of silvery hair.

Turns out Gore had an interesting proposition.  Branson calls it a lecture.  In two hours, Al told him why as a global Titan of Industry, he should be leading the push to save the Planet.  Explained that government was not doing the job, and couldn't be expected to anytime soon.  So, said Gore, it was up to business to lead the way.

A compelling argument, in that it has been the insatiable appetite of business, fueled by consumers, that has gotten us in to the mega mess called climate change.

Anyway...in a bathtub sometime later..Sir Richard had the epiphany that changed his life, and he hopes, will change ours as well.  He made the decision then and there, in a sea of bubbles, to really commit to the idea of doing something.  Not long after, he announced that the ENTIRE profits of his transportation businesses...air and train...would be devoted...for ten years, to research into finding a clean alternative to fossil fuels.  That's three billion dollars. 

Now, you say, that's easy for a man who is among the richest on earth.  And you may be right.  But as far as I can see he is still the only billionaire to make such a commitment.  If it was truly that easy, I think others would have stepped onboard as well.

No the commitment was real, and so is the money.  Sir Richard may be a publicity hungry capitalist promoter, but he's put his billions where his mouth is.  And it may in fact show us an important way forward.  Branson concluded that those who have benefited the most from the fruits of Mother Earth, should be the ones who are first to step forward with dollars...and commitment.

I for one applaud him for his action.  Now, he may be more shrewd than any of us understand.  His pro earth commitment may put him on the leading edge of a Green Wave in business that could enrich him even more.  But if that comes to be, I say he deserves it.  He was the among the first to say, I'm rich enough...now let's do something with it.

After the greed spotlighted by our financial meltdown of the past year, I can only say... cheers Sir Richard.  Now let's see how many other follow your lead.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Being versus Doing

The latest Ken Burns documentary on our National Parks, coming out this month, got me thinking about the whole concept of being versus doing. Burns makes a good point when describing why our National Parks and other natural places are in trouble. Basically it boils down to this; it is way too easy these days to live a virtual life, but not even perceive that you're missing out.

You know what I mean. We tend to live online, or somehow plugged in. It takes less effort to view pretty pictures on a screen than to go out and experience them live. And there are advantages. Can't fly to Thailand? Visit there virtually by web cam. Can't visit a friend? Text or chat with him online. By the way, I'm all for most of that, because it connects us and informs us about the world that is out there...and let's face it, we can't all travel everywhere we want.

No, the danger of being, and not doing is different. It is when we come to believe that by simply being, we're getting all the benefits of doing. Burns argues, and rightfully I think, that we loose our commitment to protect precious things when we don't experience them in the real sense. A virtual experience of Yosemite may make us happy, but will it drive us to actively oppose the interests that would like to reduce natural places to open pit mines, or amusement parks?

The fear is that without enough of us getting active in the out of doors, we lose the constituency needed to watch over, and protect our wild places. Without use, spectacular trails and vistas become less important to us as a whole, and more likely to be bulldozed and widened for timber access.

One thing is clear. There is no going back in our devotion to and fascination with technology and entertainment. We will only get more wired and more plugged in in the future. The marketing giants that give us weekends of football and beer, of vicarious experiences of all sorts, are not going away.

The question is, will emerging factors like the global climate crisis create a tipping point...a point at which we choose to put away our virtual experience of the world for just long enough to rediscover the real world in its actual, and not virtual, splendor.

Granted, doing so takes a bit of effort, and sometimes a drive or a hike, but it is worth it. Whenever I see a 20 something with a kayak or bike on her roof heading somewhere...I become optimistic. Change may be in the air. And that change is so necessary to create and maintain the "constituency" Burns describes; the army of those who appreciate and use natural places, and who through collective action, will keep the world's great places not just flickering on our web cams, but in our actual experience.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Excitement for 2010

Is eco consciousness going mainstream? It looks that way, with new planet-friendly products appearing on the shelves everyday, and a new, heightened awareness of our human impact on Planet Earth being expressed by former skeptics. We applaud it. It seems change is in the air and it's a refreshing breeze!

Coming off one of our most successful summers ever, change is also in the air at Earth Explore, and I and the rest of my colleagues are tremendously excited about the coming season. Already we're planning new programs, most notably an incredible eco adventure to Costa Rica, which includes thrilling adventure along with our primary focus of the study of marvelous and fragile places on Planet Earth. We're lining up the world's best partners, and we'll study biodiversity in the lush rainforest, go up into the canopy for a close look, snorkel and kayak in pristine reefs that are now beginning to feel the effects of climate change, and enter volcanic preserves.

All of this meshes well with our mission of getting young people energized about Planet Earth, and excited about its future.

By the way, go online to earthexplore.com where the latest pictures from this past summer's adventures are now being posted. And drop us a line about the new Earth Explore website. We've made it more user friendly, more graphic, and hopefully, also more informative!

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