Photographic Expeditions

Sometimes what you need is a good excuse to do something wonderful.  Like, it just doesn’t come easy enough without a little inspiration.  I recall the late Alan Watts saying this about the value of reading your horoscope.  Not that the horoscope has any predictive power in your life, but rather that it plants an idea that might not have occurred to you  

My four year old daughter has a new camera.  Oh, sure, she has had a couple of kids cameras before, but the two that she has owned produced images of such terrible quality that I wondered if the point was not to squelch the wanderlust outright and send the children clamoring for the television.  Now that she is a bit older, we gave her a ‘real camera,’ and she and I have taken to wandering around the forest to take pictures.  And of course, this leads to ‘what’s over there, and let’s go down here…’  and in the end sometimes we forget to take any pictures at all. 

But for the first time, my daughter is the guide, encouraging me to go a step further or to see what’s up ahead, rather than the other way around.  All that and 14 megapixels (I just found my wife’s first digital camera from our early travelling years…  a paltry 2.0 megapixels).  Technology can certainly be wonderful.

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On Caring

“What if we just don’t care?”

I was leading a discussion amongst college students about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.  They had brainstormed many projected outcomes from the proposal, including oil spills and perpetuating climate change. 

I admired the student who volunteered the comment.  What he said was honest and took guts.  And if the question was to be taken seriously, I didn’t have an answer. 

 That same week, I took a separate group, which is engaged in an in depth study of anthropogenic environmental change, to check out an exhibit at the local aquarium that highlights the effects of climate change on the Arctic and Antarctic regions.  As is always the case when we visit the this aquarium, there is a very cacophonous sea of small people, 3rd graders maybe?, running rampant.  Are they getting the message about environmental stewardship that the aquarium is trying to promote?  Doesn’t matter, really.  They are already on board.  Small children tend to be the most environmentally aware amongst us.  It just seems to make sense to them.  Despite my own efforts to be conscious of my resource use, my four your old still manages to correct my behavior from time to time. 

So, if they are on board at age 9, and by 19 they simply can’t find reason enough to care, this begs the question of what happened in between. 

In many respects, I think the fundamental issue is one of ownership or connectedness.  Kids grow up and lose their ability to care because they have no vested interest in what’s at stake.  A loss is not their loss; it’s rather a conceptual and detached loss.  This relates directly back to the concept of technological detachment as it is defined in Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods.  By virtue of detachment, we have become citizens of the world, but residents of nowhere.  Without being grounded with a sense of place, there is no way for people to feel that they have a vested interest in the sustainability of that place. 

This is where I think the Localize movement is right on.  One of the first steps toward environmental stewardship is to reintroduce the local.  To look deeply into what’s right out the back door and fall in love with it.  What does this mean for our children?  To begin to explore what is beautiful magical and unique in the local environment.  In essence to take a look for yourself once again as though for the first time at the simple beauty of the natural world and internalize it, thereby infecting your children with the same sense of rootedness that will instill in them the concern for the long-term survival and well-being of the planet.

To revisit the student who got my admiration:  What if we don’t care?  That’s not the problem; but merely a symptom of something deeper.  The problem is that we have lost touch, and in many respects we cannot bring ourselves to care.  I used to blame the students who had that attitude, as though they were not giving of themselves sufficiently, were not being perceptive and responsive.  No more.  I realize now that they are but outward projections of a deep underlying epidemic.

On the Occupation

The Occupy Wall Street movement has grown into a global enigma, despite the hateful onslaught of misinformation presented by various facets of the popular media.  Regardless of anyone’s views on the agenda of the movement, it is phenomenon that is pivotally important for our children and one that demands our support. 

I am a college professor, so I have no shortage of interactions with today’s youth.  In my years on a college campus, I have found the level of complacency to be truly alarming.  Indeed, it is said that today’s young people live in the consensus trace, fueled by television and driven to distraction by the latest tech devices.  In the lecture hall, even the best professors get used to not seeing a spark; they lay the most troubling of issues before their students only to wallow in the gazes of boredom and disinterest. 

And, so I didn’t think this generation had it in them. 

And I was wrong.  So woefully wrong.  And I couldn’t be happier. 

Sure, there’s a long way to go, and for every young student who attends a demonstration, there are a hundred more staring blankly and trying to conceal the phone they are texting on.

So it was with a sad resignation that I pondered the world I was bringing my children into.  My oldest daughter was born in the Bush years, during a couple of wars that no one was really paying attention to and only a few bothered to protest or speak out about.  My second daughter was born after Obama came into office, so she was born into an era of hope, but that hope proved short-lived.  I often worried that they would simply inherit the lack of interest in anything beyond the treadmill of consumption that everyone seemed to be on. 

The Occupation has turned all of that upside down and has given us a new faith in the power of the populace.  Before this movement began, it didn’t seem that this generation cared for anything, or was willing to stand up for anything.  It seemed that community had disappeared from our towns and from the interactions we shared with other people. 

I was in Los Angeles at the Occupy camp for a march a couple of weekends back.  What I saw there was beautiful.  I saw a community of people living together and communicating and caring; sharing their concerns and their ideals and their dreams.  I brought my daughters with me because I want them to know what democracy looks like and what community feels like.  I want them to grow up with it and feel that it is perfectly natural to stand up against what you perceive as injustice and come together as a community to voice your opinions. 

Now, I oppose the idea of using your child to make a political statement or of coercing your child to co-opt your ideals.  The latter seems like a form of cheap brainwashing.  I’m not expecting my children to understand the mortgage crisis or what the Occupy movement hopes to achieve – those are complex subjects better left for the future, when they are older and can bring their own knowledge to bear on them.  Nevertheless, it is of the utmost importance that we do not shelter our children from that most fundamental democratic process – gathering as a community and speaking out. 

Now, there is a conundrum in the world.  I certainly don’t think anyone should place their child in harm’s way.  Nor do I want my child to have to face riot police.  The fact that people are being removed from the Occupation sites speaks volumes about our current condition of ‘freedom’ in the United States.  For that reason, it is even more important that our children be a part of the peaceful movements, when and where they occur, so that they might grow into a world where community is deeply rooted in their psyche, where their formative experiences involve gathering together in pursuit of a common goal.  The occupation is not about having a tent in a park.  The occupation is about empowerment.  It is about reclaiming community and a sense of self worth; in short, occupying your own world, your own space, your ‘self.’  Our children will do wonderful things in the world that will astound us.  It’s the least we can do to empower them in the process of growing up with them.

Seven Billion

In the lecture hall we have been talking about there being 7 Billion people on the planet for quite some time, though it just hit the mainstream news quite recently.  Of course, we all know that it is impossible to count seven billion people, so the point is rather one of romanticized reckoning with a little shock value for good measure.  Here we are, from one billion in the industrial revolution to 7 billion only 150 years later. 

The latest point that I have been exploring with my students revolves around the earth’s carrying capacity, or its sheer ability to support a certain population size.  We acknowledge that the more resources each of us use, the greater our impact, or in the fashionable imagery, the greater our footprint on the planet.  As it turns out, there is simply not enough resilience in the biosphere to absorb the collective footprints of all of us leading a luxurious life.  In essence, if the planet cannot support all seven billion people living an American lifestyle, then it must necessarily follow that in order for some of the world’s population to have a large, consumptive, energy intensive way of living, others must live in poverty. 

This is sometimes a difficult point to really get a handle on because the implications are rather unsavory.  In other words, it implies that people live horrid lives as a result of the excess of the developed world.  The other point is that it’s difficult to visualize.  It’s not like there’s a set of available resources on your block, which you hoard, while your next door neighbor goes hungry.  Out of sight, out of mind. 

As we approach and surpass seven billion, it is more important than ever that we embrace playground ethics and learn to be equitable in our distribution of resources.  I think this video that National Geographic put out really captures a lot of the impact of this milestone and puts it into perspective.  Their conclusion is pivotally important to the future of humanity and of our children.  We need to seek balance. 

This is the challenge for us as we guide a new generation and raise our children.  We’ve always taught them to share, but we never set a very good example as we recklessly engaged in excessive consumption and have historically treated resources as though they are ours by birthright, rather than shared by all people on earth.  We have become good at talking about balance, but do we embrace balance?  That’s where I would end my lecture with my students.  As populations continue to expand and economic development leads to more demand, more end-users seeking access our global resources, it’s going to be fundamentally important to our children that when they grow up, they have learned the value of seeking a good life in the simplest terms, where there is enough for everyone.