It sucks to know about stuff that is unpleasant. Like accidentally seeing a parent naked, you can’t un-see it. You both know it and just have to deal with it and move ahead.
I’m a white male age 51. I live near Vancouver, BC in a suburb called White Rock, very close to the American border and Blaine, WA. I grew up in the area called Sunnyside when times were far simpler and lifestyle far more idealistic. I went to a rural public school that had a few hundred kids, many of whom came from farming families.
My dad had ducks and geese, but not for eating or any commercial endeavour. A former hunter, he shifted to rescuing wild birds that had been shot and lost, crippled in the fields. To me it seemed normal to have a wood duck that would ride on your shoulder (Woody), an oil soaked grebe in the bathtub, or a half-blind Canada goose that would fly beside you as you ran (Captain Canada). While some of these birds became permanent residents of our ½ acre lot, the goal was always to put them back into the wild. The notion of protecting nature was instilled in me in a deep and meaningful way since I was a baby.
I was later surprised to begin to learn how others viewed nature; as something to be conquered, kept at bay and shaped to our desires – fixed as it were, as if nature’s imperfections were wrong and needed improvement. As I entered the world beyond our small community, I as many others lost sight of the importance of balance in our impact to the planet, and also of giving back. I grew up to live an average, moderately enlightened existence in the suburbs with a smart wife and two fun, happy kids.
Fast forward to age 50. Life is good. As an entrepreneur, I had worked in marketing for several startup companies. Due to my so-called enlightened ideals of environmentalism, I had chosen to work in clean-technology. I was on top of my game and my wife Christine was too, having attained a high level position in the apparel industry. After twenty years of extreme responsibility in a very tough industry, she was ready for a break. The time seemed right to shake things up in our life.
Our kids were and still are a primary concern for us. At 15 and 14 they were pretty good kids, but both were showing the tell tale signs of entitlement that comes with the neighbourhood where we live. When we moved into our family home 15 years prior, the area was predominantly working class people with teens who mowed lawns for extra cash, delivered newspapers or took part time jobs at local restaurants. The area is near to the ocean and picturesque beaches and has been discovered by the wealthy. As a result, White Rock is out of reach for probably 90% of Canadians. We got lucky with real estate, sort of, but now our kids were spending all their time with entitled rich kids. We were seeing them less and less and their time at home was rude and confrontational at best.
So we just said fuck it. We are out. We sold the kids to the circus.
No, we decided to try and get another year back with our kids: to reconnect as a family and really do something epic and life changing with them. Something that we will share that we will remember for our entire lives.
I managed to get permission from work to telecommute from anywhere so long as I was able to fly to critical meetings. Christine found an online school through our public school system and organized every detail. Her years as a project manager and creative director gave her a non-work project of epic proportions. She also started a blog and YouTube channel to document the trip. Her blog, DailyCreatives.com focusses on helping women like her find therir true creative self.
We rented our house and embarked on a 10 month, around the world trip that changed us forever. Barcelona, Bangkok, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Cape Town, Morocco, Lisbon, Province, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Venice, Trieste, Split, Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Athens, Crete, London and a few others along the way, then home.
We learned about the recent, ancient and sometimes tragic history of the places that we visited. We ate with South Africans, visited schools in Cambodia, stayed in amazing hotels in Croatia, and not so amazing apartments in Bali. We ate from markets, learning how to shop and use public transit in any language anywhere. By all accounts it was an amazing year abroad and may be the most significant thing I will ever do.
But why do I feel so sad?
Because as much as we had a wonderful trip, and met wonderful people from every culture we saw, the enormity of the impact that humans are having on the planet cannot be overlooked. In Phnom Penh, we passed by an open garbage dump heaping with plastic of all varieties. The next day after a heavy rain, I saw that the dump was really an urban river and the rains had washed the plastic away – downstream to the Mekong river and out to the ocean. In Bali we found some of the most beautiful and perfect surfing beaches in the world. Unfortunately literally every square foot above the tide line was covered in plastic. In Hong Kong I was unable to find coffee in the grocery store in anything other than plastic/metal pods – then looking out at the city of 12 million and realizing that all those people make coffee that way, every day. Every vegetable and piece of fruit in the grocery store in Barcelona was wrapped in plastic on a Styrofoam tray. We saw clouds of exhaust in Rome staining the coliseum, and on and on. Combine this with the current political climate of antipathy and denial and it is enough to make a person want to stop looking. Want to stop even knowing. I mean, how do we reconcile it once we know? Do we just give up knowing in the back of our minds that our children and grandchildren will have to live (or die) with the mess we knew about but did nothing to stop?
I believe many people are paralyzed by fear; by the overwhelming sense of dread that comes when you begin become aware of the enormity of the problem. It is easier to disbelieve, to discredit the messenger than it is to take action, action of which we may never see the effects. I believe in the Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit”.
I want to make a change. I want to stop blindly contributing to the problem, but more importantly, I want to take action. I want to plant a forest of trees so my great grandchildren have shade from the hot sun of coming years. Sitting around wringing my hands is making me ill. It is making me start to think that there is no hope. It is beginning to make me think that my descendants will be born into a world with no compassion for or understanding of nature and no respect for it.
So how then can I use my experience and talent to make positive change? How do I inspire others to do it with me? How do I start a movement or contribute in a meaningful way?
One thing I am certain of, is the traditional news media isn’t working. It is killing the souls of those that absorb it. It is focussed on the screaming headlines of negative stories. Maybe these horrible news stories sell ads but how can people be inspired to do anything extra for the future when they are constantly being overwhelmed with negative news? If you only consume mainstream media, how can you have hope? I believe that people need to feel hope for the future in order to have anything vested in it. We as a species are selfish: if a dystopian future is assured, why bother doing anything now?
I try to stay informed and in my work with clean technology I was seeing positive stories from my industry and those similar to it. I then began to look for these positive stories, to seek them out, to save them as reference. It was cathartic and in a grey world of little hope for the future, I began to see colours again. I saw that there are many of these stories. Little by little, I started feeling better. I decided that if I could benefit from reading my stories, maybe other people will as well. People want to be part of something that wins. Nobody wants to join the losing team.
So I started HappyEcoNews.com. My intent was to simply find the best stories for myself, but it has grown. It’s still just me finding positive stories about the environment, but if I can inspire a few people to take action, if I can stave off the denial and indifference that comes from being overwhelmed with negativity for just one other person, then it’s been worth it. But I think it can be much bigger. I think people need good news now more than ever. With half the population stating that they believe in climate change, I cannot be alone.
And today that makes me feel a little more happy, I hope it helps you too. Please email me or hit me up on Twitter to share your story – maybe I will write a blog about it. 🙂