I need everyday sustenance from nature. I know that about myself. I can literally watch my stress and anxiety levels dissipate and feel my immune system supercharge whether I’m sneaking in a short walk along a groomed tree-lined urban park path or pushing my limits on an extended wilderness trek or paddle.
These days, looking around me when I’m outside it’s becoming more and more obvious that I’m not alone in finding sanctuary in nature. This past “Covid Year” has been difficult for everyone and one way that many people have found relief from the isolation of the pandemic is to get outdoors. The record use during 2020 of natural areas ranging from neighborhood parks and bike paths through to National Parks suggests that more people than ever have discovered much the same thing that I have: nature makes them feel good and it’s good for them.
The claim that nature provides legitimate health benefits is no longer regarded as “woo-woo” heresay reserved for out-of-their-time flower-children. Many medical researchers have investigated and reported in mainstream medical journals that time in nature reduces stress hormones, enhances immune system function, lowers blood pressure and anxiety, and improves mood*. Mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual….there is plenty of well being to go around in natural surrounds.
Nature simply is flat-out healing.
Beyond the documented medical benefits, we have to admit that an association with nature makes us appear cooler than we really are. Our social media pages are overflowing with posts of us mugging in front of rainbow sunsets, on mountain tops, on the edge of crashing surf, and countless other settings that convey our life experiences as being “epic, extreme, or sublime.” We don’t even have to experience the epic-ness of nature firsthand for it to make us feel good. What would you rather see, selfies of people from their living room or office desk, or from the top of the latest peak they bagged?
In response to the larger number of people than ever nature has, as it always has, greeted us with open arms. Regardless of our motives, our baggage, and our often-blatant disregard, it accepts whatever we bring to the party, and it doesn’t pass judgement. It doesn’t judge us for how many Netflix programs we binged over the last week or how many drinks we had at our last virtual happy hour. Nature just seems content that we showed up to share time with it.
Nature doesn’t judge us even though we don’t reciprocate like we should, or how badly we hurt it. And there is no reasonable debate possible about that fact at this point in time – we have hurt nature pretty badly.
We seek out our friends in times of need but it’s usually best for the friendship if its not just a one-way street, at least if we want the friendship to last. If we only seek out a friend when we need help moving, when we need consoling after a breakup, or when we need something picked up from the supermarket, then it’s only a matter of time until that friend stops answering our texts. There needs to be some degree of mutual benefit.
Nature hasn’t yet stopped being there for us, even though we haven’t come close to equity in our relationship. Let’s face it, if we were in a legally recognized civil union with nature, nature long ago should have served us with divorce papers at a minimum, and more justifiably sued us and had us thrown in jail for physical and emotional abuse and assault for attempted murder.
Humans have always been kind of a “you only hurt the one you love” kind of beast. Not only have we always done this to nature, but the overall trend seems to be to hurt it more – we continue to exploit, degrade, clearcut, and pollute in increasing volumes, rates, and locations. As long as the earth’s population continues to increase, and that population is aspiring to have more stuff and ever-increasing profits, then nature will continue to draw further into the background.
It doesn’t take a PhD in ecological therapy to evaluate our 2-way relationship with nature and conclude that we are doing way too much the wrong thing if we want the benefits of our relationship to continue.
And that’s perplexing as hell to me, because in the face of all this recognition of the benefits of nature, we essentially are hurting ourselves by hurting nature. No one can dispute that humans are selfish creatures so, if nothing else, this awareness that we are hurting ourselves by hurting nature on a level on par with self-flagellation should at least give us pause. We need to take a 5-minute break from our destruction to turn off the ignitions on our bulldozers and skidders, maybe just to look around and think……”What am I doing?” This internal reflection is way past overdue.
Our collective failure to turn things around on natures’ behalf has to stop, because nature can’t take much more of this. It may put on a brave face and continue to be there for us even as there is less and less of it, even as the vivid green of its forests and mountainsides turns paler and yellower, and even as its waters warm and drown in plastics.
The signs of the weakening and destruction of nature are everywhere. It’s been going on since the start of the industrial revolution, although it recently only became apparent to some when the veil was pulled back on the truth of environmental exploitation by a federal administration that didn’t bother even trying to hide its belief that the dollar always ‘trumps’ the environment.
Too many of us in the United States seem to be all too anxious to return to collective slumber after a 4-year assault on environmental regulations, content that things once again are in benevolent hands of “people with our best interests in mind.” Our continuous human history makes it clear that no government or other entity concerned with profit will consistently work on behalf of the interests of the general public no matter how rosy the appearances and lofty the rhetoric.
The big and dramatic picture depicting the steady degradation of nature and the environment is showing no signs that its going to do anything but get even bigger and more dramatic, regardless which political party is running things. Annual average temperatures continue their terrifying upward climb, while fossil fuels continue to be consumed at rates that will cook us long before promised conversion-to-renewables targets are reached. More forests are being cleared for ever more palm oil and cattle, more rare earth minerals are being toxically mined for our soaring demand for more and more electronics, more species are becoming extinct, worldwide use of pesticides and fertilizers is increasing, more coral reefs are dying in warming oceans….and on and on.
Our own back yard in the U.S. may seem momentarily more tidy with a new administration, but the broader environmental mayhem around the earth will only get worse on our current path. This is all going to end somewhere, and things apparently are going to end badly unless we change.
But change is hard, huh?
I have friends that like to joke (as if it was beyond comprehension) about how much they would have to change or give up in their life if they did everything that ‘greenies’ say need to be done in order to save the earth. “My God, they tell us we need to eat fewer steaks, turn off lights, use a clothesline, use less plastic, have smaller lawns….it’s ridiculous!! Let someone else do without a real Christmas tree. Let someone else use their old phone for another year.”
Yeah, well so there is just SO MUCH!! But that absolutely is not a valid excuse to do nothing.
The whole list may understandably seem pretty imposing, but scary lists can be tamed by concentrating on one line at a time. Take a first step and do one thing that will help to contribute to helping nature. Like anything, a first step is a start.
The next time you seek out solace in nature to escape the stress of quarantining, or you just feel the need to post an exhilarating picture of you hugging a big tree or in front of a beautiful sunset, or after conquering a particularly rad mountain bike trail….stop and think. Then ask yourself “What first step, what small thing can I do…to start down the path of being a better friend…to nature?”
Then act and watch how spending time in nature feels even better because you worked to even up the relationship.
The Terratrek website has what we call the Terratrek Pledge (https://terratrek.org/terratrek-pledge/). We’ve provided a list of just some of the things each of us can do to make changes that will benefit the earth.
Over the first 3 months, the TerraTrek expedition has revealed that a focus on the environment offers much to be discouraged about – and at the same time surprisingly significant reasons for hope.
By Dave Santillo, TerraTrek Coordinator
January 1, 2021
There is an overwhelming and exhilarating energy and enthusiasm emanating from people who are stepping up to try to make a difference for the environment. This positive theme is rapidly emerging as TerraTrek discovers the depth of passion and care for the environment people demonstrate through their willingness to volunteer or work for modest wages on its behalf.
An equally overwhelming theme that is emerging as we focus our cameras on the environment is the number and severity of the environmental problems that our country and world are facing.
What is someone to do when they are simultaneously blown away by the magnitude of bad things and good things at the same time? When discouragement and encouragement each are doled out in immeasurable doses? I believe there is much to be gained by shining light on both. Acknowledge and welcome the good – and acknowledge and face down the bad.
This is both the challenge and the opportunity of the TerraTrek.
There is so much in life that demands our attention on a daily basis and consumes the time of days that already seem too short. Work, social life, kids sports, latest television shows, podcasts, the latest political crises, taking the dog for a walk – all of these things and more are like produce on the attention-grabbing eye-level shelves in the aisle of a supermarket. The environment…well that’s something on the bottom shelf, a place that the eyes of most people rarely wander to. As a result, environmental problems can be difficult to comprehend and allowed to fester, and solutions can prove to be evasive.
There are powerful governmental and corporate interests in the world that are happy to have our attention diverted from environmental conditions. It’s in the best interests of ‘bottom-lines’ to not have the public pay much attention to how they exploit, consume, or destroy, and how they are hiding the environmental costs of their activities or passing the burden of fixing environmental problems on to the public.
When we allow our eyes and awareness to focus on the environment, as we’ve done on the TerraTrek, we quickly realize that the magnitude of the environmental challenges facing us, from our local communities to the world, are staggering. It could be the amount of garbage along the highway on your way to work or woven into the seaweed on the high tide line at your local beach. Perhaps it’s paying attention to the air quality rating on your weather app and noticing how often the air is unhealthy for outside activity. Shoreline erosion, encroachment of invasive plants, waterbodies gasping for life because of the runoff laden with fertilizers and pesticides, fewer birds singing in the spring, trees in the local park that are dying for any number of reasons…and the list goes on of environmental issues that surround us just outside of where we happen to be looking at any given time.
Compounding the problem of unseen environmental problems is that we in the sophisticated “developed” world would rather not see our dirty laundry. We hide our rusted automobile hulks behind fences, our landfills and transfer stations in the quiet part of town…or even better the next town over. Out of sight, out of mind seems to apply for many things related to environmental problems.
The TerraTrek is focused on those things having to do with our environment that escape everyday awareness. Our cameras and eyes are focused on the problem – and it ain’t pretty.
An Apparent False Division
As I noted in the beginning of this article, the second theme that is rapidly emerging from the TerraTrek is how many people care about the environment and how hard they are willing to work on its behalf. We are finding these people everywhere – and they are a formidable force. Interestingly, however, there seems to be a poorly developed and weakly organized awareness of both their power in numbers and their commonality in values that prevents it from being a unified and effective force that demands attention.
One doesn’t have to be a “conspiracy theorist” to recognize that those who control the government and large corporations like to see a public that’s divided. A divided public is a distracted and weak public. With regards to the environment, the public is falsely forced to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.
The truth that the TerraTrek is revealing is that there are very few people who don’t enjoy the outdoors and appreciate and desire a clean and healthy environment. Our ‘investigative series’ “Who Gives a Shit About the Environment?” is making clear that pretty much everyone gives a shit about the environment. There is the random person who will toss a can into the lake that he just caught a fish from, but they clearly are the exception rather than the rule.
We are only 3 months into our journey, but already we’ve met with scientists documenting the impacts of climate change on the Gulf of Maine, volunteers working to clean up discarded plastics before they make it to the ocean, inner city standouts fighting to make parks available to youth, government agencies monitoring falling bee populations, specialists working to make the public aware of coastal hazards, and so many more. We’ve talked to people in all walks of life – auto-mechanics, nurses, surfers, golfers, landscapers, and more – to hear what they have to say about what’s important to them related to the environment.
We have been blown away by the support and enthusiasm for the TerraTrek mission. We’ve been welcomed with open arms by individuals, educational institutions, and government organizations that we’ve approached for participation, whether it’s for a one-minute opinion or a day-long film shoot. Friends and acquaintances have come out of the woodwork to offer us couches and spare bedrooms, backyard barbecues, and their encouragement. Our expedition is riding upon some seriously firm ‘environmental’ roads.
The Hidden Enviro-Web
There is a largely invisible but thick-as-honey matrix of support and effort on behalf of the environment that the TerraTrek is exposing, like an unseen spider web revealed by morning dew. Like the myriad of night-time lights visible from space above densely populated areas of the earth – the awareness of the sheer number and power of the support for a healthy environment and willingness to work on its behalf is awe-inspiring.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s reported that record numbers of people have sought relief from the darkness of isolation and social distancing by heading to parks and preserves for healthy infusions of nature and exercise. Nature always seems willing to accommodate us when we come calling, no matter how much we abuse it.
The truth, however, is that it’s a weakened and unhealthy nature that is welcoming us, and the potential is there for the environment and nature to provide us with so much more in terms of health benefits and quality of life, if we would only give it the support it deserves. Similar to the assault of COVID on our immune systems, our environment has been and continues to be under assault by a formidable collection of those who are willing to degrade and destroy it for short-sighted financial gain.
The TerraTrek Promise
The TerraTrek will continue to do its part to continue to reveal the power and connectivity of environmental support. We want to show that a healthy environment isn’t one of those issues that can be dismissed as divisive, available for compromise, or something that should only be the concern of special interest groups.
We hope to see you on the road along one of the web lines our expedition is traveling along, or even better at one of the intersections as a point of light working on behalf, or supporting in your own way, a healthy environment!
The months of conceptualizing, planning, talking, and dreaming have brought the TerraTrek team and expedition to the actual beginning. We have the wording to our mission just the way we want it. We’ve taken just the right photographs and polished our sound bites. The finishing touches are done on our first documentary and on our first social media short videos and photos. We’ve done our first television news interview. We’ve worked to instill some anticipation and mystique among our friends and acquaintances.
Yurtle, the expedition flagship van, and the support vehicle “Buru,” are packed and provisioned, and ready for the countless road miles to come. Today we leave for a flurry of filming and interviews in the mid-Atlantic.
From here on, it will be largely in the hands of the public as to how we’ll be received and how much we can inspire action. We’re ready for whatever concoctions turn up in the pot we plan on stirring up: encouragement or criticism, support or controversy, smiles or grimaces.
Everyone sets goals in life, right? The goal of TerraTrek is nothing short of chipping in on the absolutely critical effort to avert environmental disaster. We intend to remind people why a healthy environment and stable climate matter to them and everyone else, while at the same time presenting some hard truths about the current state of environmental affairs and what sacrifices will need to be made.
We’ll be seeking common ground and shared visions literally in every person we meet, regardless of income bracket, social background, race, gender, political beliefs, and all the other categories that “they” attempt to messily divide us into. There is no “us and them” with the environment. We intend to show people that it’s in all of our selfish best interests to support environmental causes.
It’s OUR environment…and when the environment wins…WE ALL WIN.
Are any or all of those things achievable?
We Have No Idea
The best we can hope for is to inspire discussion and action on everything and anything related to the environment. It’s all on the table. We want to get a dialogue going…listen to people, not preach to them…We want the story of the TerraTrek to be about the people we meet along the way.
We fully expect that what we look back upon as the TerraTrek in our rear view mirror next year will not look very much like what we think we are looking at out our front window at this point. There will be unexpected twists and turns, opportunities we didn’t see coming that we need to seize. We’re ready to adapt.
If you have something to say about our content or want to be heard on your own environmental issue, or want to be part of this cause and expedition….don’t hesitate…REACH OUT!! This expedition and our content isn’t intended to be a diversion while you’re sipping your morning coffee. It’s intended to rock your world.
We promise to approach our expedition with positive spirit and high energy. We invite you to follow along. It would be even better if you reach out to us, and maybe even meet us on the road.
It’s a road we’re all sharing…the road surrounded by the air we’re all breathing, the water we’re all drinking, the scenery we’re all gazing upon. And it’s up to all of us whether that road is a pleasant one, barely drivable…or if it will become beyond repair.
We’ll be out there working to fill some potholes!
Addressing the TerraTrek Footprint
The TT expedition will have an environmental impact. Our vehicles will consume fossil fuel and emit carbon dioxide – we estimate about 7 metric tons of CO2. Our website and computers use energy. We’ll largely be eating food we purchase instead of growing our own.
To offset our footprint, there are about 2,000 trees that need to be planted.
We planted 100 ourselves during the planning stages. We intend on planting more during our journey at every opportunity we get. However, we’ve already donated funds sufficient to plant 2000 trees to an organization that does just this. (See our TerraTrek Pledge)
We will avoid single-use plastics. We intend on using only recycled paper products for the materials we generate. We plan on approaching our travels with efficient planning that avoids retracing our path.
It’s already taken a monumental effort to get the TerraTrek even to the launch point. But a huge effort literally is what it will take from everyone if we are somehow able to avert severe impacts from global warming, catastrophic reductions in biological diversity, and all the other environmental crises that have either already started, or we stand on the brink of.
We have to try…. Doing nothing is not an option.
The opportunity and potential to make a difference makes putting our lives on hold a reasonable sacrifice. It will all be worthwhile if we’re somehow able to help convince others that it’s necessary to alter behaviors and consumption habits sharply, change our values system from one that prioritizes stuff and accomplishment to one that values simplicity…living well as opposed to an endless drive for more stuff and greater recognition.
Each member of the TerraTrek team has personal reasons for being part of this expedition. In my case, it’s children.
The logic and path forward all seem so clear to me. All I do is have to think about the children and young people I know in my life, and any and all sacrifices I need to make to secure their future become a modest price to pay.
I dedicate my involvement to the cause and hopefully the effect of the TerraTrek to my granddaughter Illari (and everyone elses’ grandkids), to Oliver, Jia, to Matty, Emma, Colton, and all the other kids in my extended families in the U.S. and Peru, the young folks dedicating their time and energy to the TerraTrek project (Angie, Mike, and Emma), the kids I see flying kites at Bug Light Park in South Portland, and every other kid in the world…kids that deserve a safe and happy future.
On behalf of Angie, Mike, Emma, Will and all of the people behind the scenes working to make this expedition happen…
Thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you on the road!