STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN

Moving forward, my work will be divided in 3 main themes/campaigns.

Yesterday, I wrote about RANDOM CONNECTEDNESS, a social project which focuses on illustrating how we are all connected, in ways that go beyond social media.

FEEL THE WILD is about my work as a wilderness explorer, photographer and writer – I will write more about this in another post.

The third campaign, STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN is related to my mission to help and inspire people in their life’s journey. It is the platform on which my public speaking and coaching are built on. The campaign is about creating a space for introspection, where people can find the answers they are looking for. It is about honoring and welcoming our path, finding peace with our journey on this planet and celebrating who we are as human.

To explain more about it, let me share with you an excerpt from my Adventure Travel Trade Association 2017 Summit Keynote:

… As an artist, Wilderness is my studio, my inspiration. It is where I go to create – to photograph and write. But most importantly, I go there to meet with my mentor and teacher, Nature. My creative process is simple, by welcoming solitude, I open myself and am able to listen and receive the treasures it has to offer.

All this time alone in the wilderness, has led me to experience many epiphanies, moments where I felt that the veil of mystery on some of Life’s most precious secrets had disappeared. I have realized along the way that there was a certain pattern for those revelations to appear, a certain formula that seemed to work as a calling card for these insights to sneak up into my mind and reward me with a “eureka” moment. This pattern that I have observed has translated itself into one of my most powerful mantras – STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN. 

These 4 words have transformed me and changed the way I experience life. They have helped me manage my way out of challenging and struggling situations. They have given me a way to connect with life, with the world, and with others. By following them, I have come to understand who I am and who we are, individually and collectively  

STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN is about creating boundaries, so that you get a new perspective, which will bring you clarity and in the process allow you to receive the help life is sending your way. STOP and create your boundaries. BREATHE and get a new perspective. RELAX and welcome clarity. LISTEN, not with your ears but with your heart and mind so that you can open yourself to the signs Life is giving you, the guidance it is showing you.

Let me give you a way to visualize the mantra

Imagine that you are like a glass jar filled with water, sand, and floating candy (floating candy don’t really exist but the concept works for this exercise), all contained with the lid tightly on. Now that jar represents you, your own self. The water is the world around you. The sand is your thoughts, you worries, everything that populates your minds. And the candy, they are the insights, the rewards, ideas, those eureka moments. From the second you wake up, and until the very last moment when you fall asleep, you are constantly and frantically shaking that jar. Making a big mess of what’s inside. The water is blurry. The sand is all over. And the candy, well, good luck! They are like shooting stars, tiny dots of color that disappear the second you see them. If you want to see, pick and eat the candy much like if you want to find, receive and apply those insights that help you process your life’s journey, what you need to do is take that jar. Put it on a table, don’t touch it. Let the water stop spinning. Wait for the sand to rest and settle. Then and only then, you will clearly see the candy float up, calm at the surface, ready for you open the lid and pick them up. 

Experiencing the world through the lenses of humility, reciprocity, and vulnerability opens the path to so many treasures and priceless discoveries. Transforming our struggles and pain into growth not only brings us happiness and peace, but it also make us celebrate what it is to be human. Life is not easy. Life is not fair. It is not meant to be fair. It is not meant to be perfect. It is meant to be lived, to be experienced, to learn and grow from it. 

And what is there to learn today, in 2017? Well, there is no need to shame the human race with guilt, constantly pointing the finger at ourselves on how bad of a species we are and have been. How could we do the things we have done in the past. Simple, we have done them because in that moment we thought it was best. Some of them were good and some turned out to be real bad. And that is ok. We learn through feeling the consequences of our actions. And now we are feeling them. But remember, change is hard. Nobody wants change. The reason why we are 7 billions on the planet is not because we are a bad species, but because we are extremely good at learning from our mistakes, we rise in face of challenges, we shine and figure our way out when the shit hits the fan. This is who we are, this is what we do.

STOP and lets create our boundaries. BREATHE so that we can get a new perspective. RELAX and lets welcome clarity. LISTEN, not with our ears but with our hearts and minds so that together, united, we can become better humans, protecting and caring for this world, leading towards a bright and inspiring future.”

Random Connectedness

RANDOM CONNECTEDNESS is an on-going photography project through which I illustrate the random connectivity of the human species.

I ask a person to choose a character of the alphabet with which they want to be photographed. With all the photos of people and letters, I combine the portraits and make words, sentences, paragraphs.

My goal is to have thousands of portraits/letters and present them in a “MANIFESTO OF HUMANITY” exhibit, all displayed on a HUGE mural.

I will also use my project to put a human face(s) on social issues and cultural realities our world is currently dealing with. More information on this will soon be revealed.

The letters are RED, because of the Chinese legend of the Red Thread of Fate. According to Chinese mythology, the Gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way.

In time, an Instagram account will feature daily portraits and “Word” campaigns. You can take the lead and follow the Instagram site by clicking here.

Recently, the project was used to feature the residents of Juneau and why they have chosen to live there. Read story THE SPIRIT OF JUNEAU here.

An embossed silicone wrist bracelets – #IAMCONNECTED will be given to each participant, solidifying the community, loyalty, participation and reach.

Here are some examples from RANDOM CONNECTEDNESS.

DELETE DELETE DELETE

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 3.21.20 PM

“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.” Ray Bradbury

My friend is standing in front of me, her head stuck looking down. Her thumb has been scrolling endlessly over the glass of her smartphone for several minutes. Sometimes, she stops the motion and looks carefully at the thumbnails, then starts scrolling again. “It is somewhere, I know it is. Wait! Here it is! No! It is not this one” She says. Somewhere buried amongst thousands of other photos, there is one she has been wanting to share with me, a photo that captured a special moment, something beautiful. Feeling the weight of the endless search, she sighs and concludes, defeated: “Anyway, I swear it was so beautiful… I just wished I would have been able to show you.”

Not a week goes by without someone wanting to share with me the photos they love and most of the time, the moment is ruined by their failure in finding the pictures that mirror their memory or the intimidating challenge of suddenly having to choose the right one amongst a series of simile photos, just slightly different from one another, while I wait in front of them, my eyes wandering, looking for distraction as the minute pass.

The world of photography has changed a lot since the days of film. Back then, the craft was expensive and time consuming. Every time you pressed the shutter, you were mindful of the outcome, both financially and in the amount of work needed. Space was also very limited. Film rolls contained at the maximum 36 photos and the amount of rolls one would or could carry was depending on the level of trouble you would want to go through. Once the pictures developed, they would be manually put, one by one, into an album. By doing this, by actively participating into the creative process and development of the narrative, people took ownership of the stories they wanted to tell. There was always a certain pride in opening an album and showing it to a friend or a family member. And for those friends or family, the experience was memorable and personal. These stories were crafted with time and commitment. Each photo placed with care and thoughtfully. The order far from being random, the creator of the album had set each photo with the intent of telling a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Today, the picture is quite different!

Technology has conquered the limitations we once faced. But with this new reality came a world a new problems.

Our capacity to create without any limit has rendered us prisoners of our own creations. We don’t own our photos anymore, they own us.

When I am asked what is the best advice for doing photography, my answer is always the same – learn to DELETE FIRST. As much as we are privileged, living with tools that give us so much freedom to experiment, that freedom quickly disappears if we are not able to delete the junk – and yes junk it is!

Learning to delete is to my opinion the greatest challenge and most necessary skill today’s photographers must develop. And since we are all photographers now (amateurs and professionals) that means that everyone should learn to delete.

Deleting photos is more than making room in your library, it is an empowering skill and a crucial tool in developing your craft. By deleting the ones you don’t like, you start to discover what you like. You start taking ownership of your photos. And with ownership comes pride. And with pride comes value. Instead of being passive, you become an active participant in the art of telling stories. Instead of letting the photos dictate your narrative, you create the narrative.

Recently, well-known photographer and an early Instagram fan, Richard Koci Hernandez, announced he was deleting all of his pictures from the photo-sharing service. Talking to Chris O’Brien at Venture Beat, Richard stated that:

“I’ve always felt that a photograph deserves a life span. Nothing should live forever… my ‘photo stream’ has recently seemed less like a stream and more like a dammed-up river. I know this all sounds very heady, but I’ve been thinking that the Internet doesn’t respect time in the way that I think it should. Especially in relation to photographs. I’ve always thought that the institution of an art gallery was a satisfying way to experience work. And recently my Instagram account has felt like an exhibition of work that is always on display, the doors are always open 24/7, and that dismayed me a bit.

Think about it. If you love someone’s work and a local gallery puts on an exhibition, there is an excitement — you attend the exhibition and potentially you take away a print, a book, or a poster, and there is a sense of having had an experience and finality once the show ends and moves on. I desperately wanted my work on Instagram to have that same quality. Simply put, I’m saying that the current exhibition is over and it’s time to hang a new show. On another note, because of the seemingly permanent nature of an online photo gallery, I didn’t want everything I’ve ever done always on display. Some of the work that I’ve posted isn’t as mature as I’d like it to be, and it deserves to be forgotten.

Deleting these images gives me a sense of freedom, of potentially shedding an old skin and developing a new one. It’s very liberating. I’ve taken this idea to the extreme and many of my close friends and in particular my wife have had to prevent me from permanently deleting the original files themselves.

If I had my way, I’d pore through the work, find my favorites, print them out, and put them in a box, then I’d delete all the originals. In this flood of digital photographs, in an era where nothing seems special or sacred, I love the idea of scarcity. In a funny way, it’s just another version of Snapchat.”

Richard brings forth two very important points: the space to create and the value of a photo.

So the question begs to be asked. What is the value of our photos today? How much do we truly value the moments we try so hard to capture and record? Do we really honor those precious episodes by dumping our photos into a virtual cumulative album that has no narrative, no order, other than the dates they were taken. What is to say about our relationship with our photos when we fail at finding them or lose the expected joy by facing too many of the same?

Barry Schwartz in his TED talk “On the paradox of choice” presented to the audience his belief that today’s abundance infringes us rather than liberating us.

“It produces paralysis rather than liberation… With so many options to choose from people find it very difficult to choose at all… Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice we end up less satisfy with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from…”

And I believe that the great irony of our time is that our photos have become ephemeral but not because there existence is limited, but because their value disappears, despite of their existence. By taking so many photos and failing to keep only the good ones, we have lost the ownership of the moments we are precisely trying to own.

Learning to delete our photos therefore is necessary to give our power of creativity room to grow and to return the value and respect to our captured moments.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.” 

― Thich Nhat Hạnh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

 

S2 = C + P

_DSF5104

The beach was made of this creamy white sand – powdery granules made of crushed shells and limestone eroded over millions of years, moved with the tides, currents and wind, slowly and gradually pushed back against the shore, grain after grain, and now forming the soft cushion I was resting on. This quiet little place located on the westerly side of Isla Espiritu Santo, just outside La Paz in Baja California Sur, was tuck between two long cliffs made of a multitude of volcanic ash layers, a product of the Miocene Era. Just like a pair of blinkers on a horse, these mineral fingers that advanced way far into the water, protecting this tiny oasis, were also preventing me from seeing the vastness of the Gulf of California, restricting my sight of this interior sea to just a sliver of emerald water. But that didn’t really matter since darkness had fallen and now my gaze was looking up, laying on my back, my hands behind my head, my eyes lost in an ocean of stars.

I was contemplating a world that was beyond my comprehension, a reality that was bigger than me, a universe that hold more secrets and treasures than I could fathom, and this reigning serenity was the perfect way to end the day.

The morning started with a gentle breeze, as the sun peeking above the horizon began its ascent into a cloudless blue sky, flooding the air with warmth, fueling invisible particles of oxygen and nitrogen with heat, causing them to move and swirl faster and generating the wind that would later slow my progress. This transition from darkness to light, this dance between the Sun and the Earth was affecting everything – the air, the ocean, the animals, the plants, and myself.

This planetary movement was intricately linked to the complex biological process that was happening in my body as my eyes were opening after longs hours of sleep, a ritual that has been fine tuning itself for thousands and thousands of year. The level of melatonin in my blood was decreasing as the presence of cortisol was going up. It is believed that this event is linked to the hippocampus in preparation of facing stress during the day. My lungs were expanding with more vigor, flooding my blood cells with oxygen, waking my muscles back from their comatose state. The same muscles that would later push against the wind.

Every part of my body was awakening. Slowly, I was becoming more in tuned with my surroundings. My existence on this planet was connected to the Universe. These carbon atoms of which my body is made of were affected by a star millions of miles away, by the gravity of the moon above me and by the unknown forces that controlled the solar system. How is it possible that we believe that Life revolves around us?

DCIM102GOPRO

With every paddle stroke, my thoughts, my worries, my wishes, my struggles, my joys and my pains are stripped away, leaving me naked but with clarity and perspective.

After cooking breakfast, sipping yerba mate and packing the gear into the kayak, I walked into the sea pulling the kayak off the beach. With a quick jump, I maneuvered myself into the cockpit and started to paddle. Looking back one last time, I offered my goodbyes to an imaginary host – a customary practice I do every time I arrive and depart a location, paying my respects to a place which doesn’t belong to me, honoring the hospitality I humbly received. In the same manner that I always ask the Ocean permission every time I travel its realm. It is not a religious belief but rather the understanding that my future is in the hands of nature.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

The clear blue sky had become swamped with hundreds of white smudges, much like the freckles on a summer skin. The peaceful clarity of the morning had left and in its place was some kind of an orchestrated chaos. The pelicans were flying everywhere and diving on bait fish while being harassed by sea gulls that trailed them like leeches. Rays of all different sizes jumped out of the water mysteriously, giving me the impression that the sea had turned into a giant Whack-A-Mole game. Frigate birds high in the sky keeping an eye on passing-by blue-foot boobies, waiting to steal their catch. Turkey vultures gliding effortlessly counting the days for the nearby carcass of a sea lion to reach its perfect decomposition state. Bouncing waves from the cliff with the current running around the island, plus the waves coming from the open sea and the head winds were creating this tempestuous surface that made me feel like I was sitting on a mechanic bull. And that was only what I could see. I am sure that if I poked my head underwater, I would discover another world of madness. All this energy, these whirlwinds of life, this pool of bouncing atoms, was creating heat, moving up and feeding what were now giants puffy monoliths.

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength” Jack Kerouac

The tent was up and the dinner was cooked. Pelicans were still feeding, picking the last of the survivors of what had been earlier in the day a bait ball of probably in the tens of thousands. But the way they flew and dove looked heavy and lazy. Even the sea gulls had giving up pestering them, instead floating on the water or resting on a rock nearby screaming like young spoiled brats – Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! I was reminded for a second of what we must look like after a Thanksgiving dinner, stuffed to the ears and still reaching out across the table grabbing one last piece and managing swallowing it down only with a deep breath. Who said we were different from the animals?

After its daily journey across sky, the sun was about to disappear behind the horizon, painting the sky with deep hues of orange, pink, red, and purple. Had there been no clouds but a perfect empty sky, the sunset would have still been enjoyable but would have lacked panache. It would have been simple, humdrum, kind of stale and monotonous. There wouldn’t have been any deep hues and many colors. There would have been only a general fading of the light accompanied by a possible green flash and some orange leftover at the end. It was all this energy, this chaos, this frenzy of everything this world is made of, that this sunset was feeding on and giving it back to everyone to see in the most spectacular show ever produced. Beauty was literally rising from the depths of madness.

_DSF5621

The wind was barely rolling over the water and the round fluffy silhouettes up above were moving away. The night was taking hold and bringing along with it its posses. Venus, Jupiter, Vega, Arcturus, and Regulas were the first to show up but give another hour and the room would be filled with billions of others. As much as this place was buzzing with noise just hours earlier, now silence was of order.

It seemed to be a necessary ritual that he should prepare himself for sleep by meditating under the solemnity of the night sky… a mysterious transaction between the infinity of the soul and the infinity of the universe.” Victor Hugo

Laying down on that beach, I let the world sink in. I let my thoughts disappear. I let the silence take over. I am staring at this night sky filled with stars and know that, like earlier, looking out and seeing only a sliver of the sea, I am seeing only a tiny fragment of what we call the Universe. There is so much out there. How can we think so much of ourselves in front of such inexplicable beauty and mystery? Why are we so insecure about our evolutionary identity? Why can’t we find comfort in the knowledge and humility that there are things that are bigger than us? Having no meaning in the big scheme of the universe doesn’t mean we have no meaning in life. It just means that ultimately, we matter for a moment, for the ones around us. And that is important. But in the end, the atoms that we borrowed are returned. And the only things left are memories and legacies. Even those, unfortunately for the ones who have past but to the benefit of the ones who will come, will fade away with time.

The cacophony of life is necessary. The buzzing and frenzy of our culture has a creative purpose and we shouldn’t underestimate its value but more importantly, clarity and perspective happen only when silence and solitude are present. In our culture of multi-tasking, every hour filled with endless distractions and finding ourselves relentlessly connected to our technology devices, these alone times are becoming rarer and rarer leaving us with an incapacity to delve and think deeper, stuck in the shallowness found within 140 characters. More than ever, we must find the time to STOP. BREATHE. RELAX & LISTEN.

S2 = C + P (Solitude & Silence = Clarity + Perspective)

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.” Mahatma Gandhi

_DSF5083

#ThePowerOfNature

powerofnature

Stories unite us and nature heals us. It is for that reason that I have decided to start a new Facebook Page focused on YOUR storytelling relating to how NATURE has changed your life, and how it has helped you become a better person.

This page is for everyone to post. Feel free to share your experiences, your inspiration, your moments of bliss, your lessons learned, your insightful hikes, your peaceful paddles, your challenging backcountry explorations; share any story that highlights the power of nature to restore our human spirit.

Nature is more than a destination. It is a teacher, a meditation, it is food for the soul and the body, inspiration for the arts, a healer, a mentor, a lover – what is Nature for you? Tell us!

Please use the hashtag #ThePowerOfNature when posting on Twitter, Instagram and Google +. Every month we will award a signed print of my work to one lucky winner, among the ones who posted throughout all social media platforms (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Google +).

Nature, Life & Technology

“All of the biggest technological inventions created by man – the airplane, the automobile, the computer – says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.”  Mark Kennedy 

My work is about nature and our intricate connection to it, so why am I here in Munich attending for the second year DLD (Digital Lifestyle Design), a conference that focuses on promoting the benefits of living in a world of data and technology? As much as I would prefer being in the wilderness, by a creek, camera in hand and quietly observing a bear passing by, attending these kind of events is also important. One cannot truly understand the world we live in without seeing where it is going. One cannot understand the challenges we face in our attempt of finding mindfulness without knowing what those challenges are and why they are so enticing. Having a deeper connection to nature and life sounds wonderful but in reality,  things are little bit more complicated. Every one at this conference is trying to make the world a better place. The sense of creativity and ingenuity fueling all these amazing people is breathtaking and commendable. But as much as we love our computers and smart phones, we need to remember that there is more to life than data and technology.

Last year, in my post Concept vs Reality, a Cautionary Tale, I wrote about my worries of a world disconnected physically from reality, entrenched in a culture of concepts.

“From behind our television and our computers, it has become too easy to conceptualize the world, life, ourselves, our issues and our challenges… The beauty of our lives – of Life – does not find its root in numbers, codes and algorithms. Following a recipe to the letter doesn’t mean it will create the perfect dish. It is the human touch that brings the real value.”

In Our Salvation in God Technologius, my concerns were more about our faith in believing that technology would bring salvation, that we were now seeing humans has flawed and replaceable and that we seek spiritual and religious meaningfulness through our iPhones and other devices.

“…We need to take time to ask ourselves: “Is perfection something we should strive for? Or is imperfection the key for happiness?” Are we just a society in denial, buried in work, blinding ourselves with our capacity for the grandiose only to avoid our sickness? Any psychologist or therapist would say so. I do not believe that the key to our happiness and humanity is in our ability to go faster and embrace technology. I do not believe in fast food, diet pills, fake meat and running on the treadmill with glasses that projects a virtual trail. Instead I believe in opening a bottle of wine, inviting friends for a meal, slow cooking a nice roast and planning the next sailing trip… 

… this utopian belief that we will be able to control, for the greater good of humankind, all technology to come, that all the past mishaps will not apply to the future because we are smarter and know better. This naive and false sense of control is troubling. We are simply drunk with our own god complex… 

… Life is not about perfection. It is not about the shortest point between two points. Ask anyone who travels – not for business trips, but to discover new places, new cultures, new experiences – and the most wonderful moments are the unexpected ones, the ones where you get lost and explore the unknown.” 

At DLD this year, I was really happy to see three speakers who were there precisely to talk about the same issues that I have been writing about.

Evgeny Morozov a writer and researcher of Belarusian origin who studies political and social implications of technology, talked about Solutionism and our tendency to expect too much from technology.

Arianna Huffington, who has been busy promoting a new way to defining success (Third Metric) and Paulo Coelho, who wrote the famous book The Alchemist, talked about mindfulness and being able to disconnect.

None of us are promoting the idea that technology is bad or that data is irrelevant. Instead we all want to have an honest and truthful dialogue, a discussion that delves deeper into the realities and consequences from giving our lives away to technology. In other words, we just want to find a certain balance and make decisions that honor our humanity instead of destroying and erasing it. As Oubai Elkerdi puts it so well in his article Rethinking the relationship between culture and technology: “The truth is: the current state of technology is both unsatisfactory and unsatisfying. In many ways it robs us of our humanity much more than it enhances it.”

Life is not about choosing the only things that bring you satisfaction and gratify you. Life is about discovery. It is about realizing that the things we cherish the most are the ones that can’t be quantify. Perfection is boring and beauty lies in the subtle, in the imperfect and in places we try so hard to avoid today. The idea that we are entering a world where people will prefer a relationship with an operating system or a software is deeply troubling. Movies like HER and games like LOVEPLUS are no more science fiction. They are reality! And they bring with them the concept that relationships between humans is too hard, hurtful and complicated. Instead machines will bring us only pleasure, support and love.

“Manaka is the only — could I say person? … She’s the only person that actually supports me in bad times,” says Josh Martinez, a 19-year-old engineering student in Mexico City. He plays LovePlus at least once a day for 20 minutes and considers Manaka his girlfriend of 18 months. “When I feel down or I have a bad day, I always come home and turn on the game and play with Manaka,” Martinez says. “I know she always has something to make me feel better.”

The time I spend in nature teaches me about what is important in life. Through my stories like TIME, DREAMS, DISRUPTION, WAIT &  STRIPPED  I try to communicate and illustrate how the POWER OF NATURE RESTORES THE HUMAN SPIRIT – how through a better understanding of life and what nature is, one can find mindfulness. The goal is not to strip away the hardships of life but rather finding peace in the process.

As our lives become more dependent and intertwined with technology, we have to make a conscious effort not to loose sight on what is it that makes us humans. There is more to life than technology and data. Like any species, we are not flawed. We are nature and we are in constant evolution. We are a species that has mastered adaptation. We rise and hope even in the worst of moments. We create, sing, paint and write. We love and sympathize. We are complex entities that result from our upbringing and ancestry. What we are not, is just a series of zeros and ones.

“…You may think that I am the future. But you’re wrong. You are. If I had a wish, I wish to be human. To know how it feels to feel, to hope, to despair, to wonder, to love. I can achieve immortality by not wearing out. You can achieve immortality simply by doing one great thing…”

“… thank you for teaching us that falling only makes stronger…”

Disruption, the Nature of Life

“The end is the beginning of all things, suppressed and hidden, awaiting to be released through the rhythm of pain and pleasure.” Jiddu Krishnamurti

The wind has been blowing steady at 25mph all morning. The mountains around, which on any other normal day can be seen reaching out to the sky are cut in half by a dull blanket of featureless clouds. My tent anchored in solidly is bending every time a gust comes rushing by. The magpies and crows are flying low while the gulls seem to truly enjoy this treacherous air. The Great Salt Lake, normally with its water flat and still like a mirror, is covered with foot high waves. Interestingly enough though, as if purposely playing tricks for a seemingly obvious weather forecast, the Rabbitbrushes and Sage Brushes are barely moving – their coarse branches specially adapted for this harsh, windy and dry environment. The warmth and quietness of yesterday was now replaced by a cold and noisy today.

img_4688

The little fortress of rocks built around my stove didn’t do much in stopping the fluidity of the wind and I was left with little choice but to improvise if I wanted to have my morning tea and oatmeal. I popped the trunk of the car open, moved the equipment around and set the kitchen there – now protected in this beacon of modern transportation.

In some bizarre fashion, I love these moments when you are reminded that the beautiful and precious you had is never to be taken for granted. Disruption is the foundation of happiness and it is the way the world and nature works. The key is to accept the unexpected and understand that the “ups” are only appreciated because they are relative to the “downs”. Life would be boring if it was constantly positive, independently how amazing it is. Which reminds me of John Maeda’s book “Simplicity”, where he defends that it is the complex moments in life we love, not the simple ones.

img_4623

Everything that we cherish is rooted in disruption. Think about it for a second. The spices in my food, the color in my room, the decorations in a christmas tree – they all disrupt an initial simple state and make it more exciting. It is the clouds in an monotonous sky that make a sunset or sunrise truly amazing. A straight road might bring a little speed, but the real pleasures of driving come with the curves and turns. Point taken, these are small on the disruptive scale, but the way of dealing with them is no different then with the more challenging events. The secret is to realize that disruptions are not meant to be avoided but rather to be explored and appreciated. They expend one’s mind, bring new experiences and make you appreciate the things and people you care for. Too much or too little disruption is only a question of perspective.

“I like learning stuff. The more information you can get about a person or a subject, the more you can pour into a potential project. I made a decision to do different things. I want to do things that have a better chance of being thought of as original. I do everything I can to disrupt my comfort zone.” Brian Grazer, film producer

When our ancestors moved around, nomadic not by choice but by necessity, life was a constant adaption to endless disruptions. The world around them changed, seasons came and go, and with it the understanding of living in a dynamic world. As we became sedentary, no longer adapting ourselves to our environment instead transforming it to our needs, our view of the world changed to a more static one. We started to separate ourselves from nature and what had been so far a world we “lived in” became a world we needed to escape, conquer and control.

Today, with technology, more estranged from nature and the realities of life than ever before, disruptions are the enemy, members of the axis of evil, threatening our sanitized culture. Instead of embracing them and their power of discovery, we do everything to eliminate them. Instead of inspiring and teaching people to find the positive in situations that are mostly unwanted, we propagate the message that life is unfair and that there must be someone to blame.

We have heard many times of people who have said that cancer, how unfortunate and destructive it is, was the best thing that had happened to them. How many times did we fear the end of a relationship only to admit later of its misery and how much life was better since. How do you think we have evolved and survived? Adaptation and disruption go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. We shouldn’t dismiss the gravity of the changes that are upon us today as our impact is threatening our own existence, but we can’t allow ourselves to think that this is the end. The best is always to come, cause I refuse to think that it should be used in the past term.

mg_1335

The day was coming an end and even as I entered the tent to discover the interior and sleeping bag covered in dust, I smiled, remembering how the day had turned out despite the stormy weather. The bland day light and dusty air wasn’t really interesting to photograph so instead I hung out with the Park Manager as he took me around the island – beyond the gates, and told me about the fascinating history of this place. But the surprise of the day was when I went into town for lunch. I knew that dinner would be wet and windy so I wanted to give myself at least a “proper” meal. It was on my way out that I noticed a coyote walking by the water. For the last two weeks I had found it impossible to approach them – they were always on the move and would quickly disappear the minute they would see me. I got out of the car and walked down to the water’s edge, hoping the coyote would keep his direction and pass by me. Perhaps it was because of the strong wind, who knows, but even though he noticed my presence really early he kept trotting his course and finally came within 10 feet of where I was sitting. It was the only time during my stay on the island that I was able to photograph a coyote the way I wanted. Hadn’t been for the wind and rain, this encounter wouldn’t have never happened. Had the day been sunny and beautiful, this photograph would have never been created.

“Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”  Zhuangzi

Stripped

It happens every time, and independently if I want it or not, I find myself pulled into it. Parked at the Big Sur Station, I am getting my equipment ready. The plan is to hike to Syke Camp, spend a couple of nights there then one night on the beach and finally hike a 3,000 feet peak nearby. I should be excited, thrilled and relaxed, but instead I am anxious and worried. I try to focus on making sure that I don’t forget anything – I would really hate finding out that I have forgotten a lens or battery for the camera after a 5-hour hike and having to return. Despite all my previous stories written, despite all the photos that I have taken, despite the fact that deep down I know that it always works out, I can’t stop but stress about the uncertainty on if I will be able to find something to write about or find a nice landscape to photograph. Will I be inspired? If so, about what? Will the light be good? Will I see animals? Will the weather cooperate? And what if I don’t have anything to show by the end of the week? My last story, TIME, was written many months ago in Hawaii. I have since been twice in Alaska, kayaking and hiking a glacier, and even though both were incredible expeditions, I failed to come back with new words. Knowing the reasons why the page has remained blank doesn’t help either.

_MG_7986

Pine Ridge Trail

The creative process is one of the hardest things to find. And even more challenging is to protect that process as the world around you changes. Inspiration is complicated and some are more famous for their bizarre rituals then for their own art.

I love being on expedition – having a set target, a destination to reach, a goal, but it is not what I live and work for. The content that I produce during these adventures is more descriptive – narrating the days, the progression, the ups and downs, the struggles encountered and the magical moments witnessed. It is premeditated. Inspiration is not really the most important aspect, but rather your ability to deliver the story, to capture the local flavors.

What I long for as an artist is much different. It is when I have the feeling, the sensation that the inspiration has come to me rather than me seeking it. It is that sense of being connected to something else, something bigger. As alone as one can be when creating, knowing that you are only a channel through which your environment expresses itself brings a total different perspective – the loneliness disappears and a deep fulfilling connectedness lives – bringing along a sense of purpose.

I am 2 hours into the hike and my mind is still stuck in that parking lot. I am walking the trail much like I would walk the sidewalks of New York – focused on the destination and shutting myself to everything else in between – a self defense mechanism we have had to developed to protect ourselves from the constant and relentless assault on our senses from our modern lifestyle. Instead of enjoying the moment, I feel heavy and distracted. Layers of anxiety rooting from our civilized, moral and intellectual culture weighing on me. My ears are open but don’t hear anything. My eyes are open but can’t see anything. My body is tensed, preoccupied with every uphill steps I have to make. The Ventana Wilderness is full of wonders with majestic Redwoods and beautiful Pacific Madrones, yet, my head looks down – I am a man walking his purgatory! After 5 hours, I arrive at the destination tired but wired. Where are the hot springs, where to camp? Quick lets get to work – what can I photograph? I can’t rest. This is work and I must produce!

_MG_8748

Syke Camp

It is 6pm – the tent is up, the backpack emptied, the hot springs have been located and already “enjoyed”. The kettle is on the stove. I am camping on this tiny “island” in the middle of the Big Sur River, a magical set up, yet I am totally oblivious to my surroundings. I am pacing frantically. The steam shoots out from the kettle and I am slow to realize the water is ready. So much for someone who is supposed to be “one” with nature – pathetic!

I take my cup of mate tea and sit on a log that rests slightly above the river, bridging my campsite to the north shore. My feet hang with my toes dipping in the frigid running water. I take a sip. Then I take a deep breath. Another sip – another breath. Finally, the moment I have been unconsciously waiting for is starting to manifest itself.

Like the afternoon wind pushing away the morning fog, with every new sip and every new breath, my comatose state starts fading. Free of their societal constraints, my senses awaken from their lethargy. My back arches up. My chest opens up. My ears start tingling to the sound of water swirling around the rocks. My eyes start seeing for the first time an American Dipper just a few feet away, diving for a few second then reappearing with a nymph in its beak. My lungs are beginning to feel lighter. My mind is clear. My heartbeat has slowed down, yet I remain extremely sharp. By the time my tea is finished, everything feels new and fresh – alive. In reality though, it is me who has changed, it is me who is alive now. I was closed and sequestered, now I am freed and attuned. I have finally found the state of mind I came here for. And with it came my inspiration. Thought by thought, sentence by sentence, words have come back. Stripped from the confinement of technology and cultural expectations, I was finally at peace with simply one thing – being.

“Nature is pleased with simplicity.” — Isaac Newton

“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.” — Oscar Wilde

_MG_9292

Sunset from 3,000ft

As much as we want to categorize, compartmentalize, judge, humanize, and beautify nature, for me the “wild” is only one thing – real. Everything is what it is. There are no right or wrong, no bad or good, no judgement. Nothing is pretty, nothing is ugly. A dead tree has as much value as a living one. A fire will benefit some while it will kill others. The prey does everything it can to survive, as does the predator. There are no winners, no losers. No one is more important, yet everyone is connected and interdependent. Nothing is perfect – evolution is this endless chaotic yet harmonious dance where each adjust to the other, over long long long periods of time. Species adapt or disappear. Continents break while others sink. Still, every morning, the sun rises and brings with it life. And even if this sun stops to shine, another one, somewhere else in this huge universe will illuminate another world.

Independently if we believe and speak about it as a separate entity, in reality we are no different than nature. Quite the opposite, we are nature, and we are intricately part of it. We are nothing more than a footnote in the grand scheme of evolution. Yet we have come to believe that everything revolves around us – that everything is about US. Our view of the world is no different then when we thought that the earth was the center of the galaxy. Instead now we see ourselves as the center of Life, of the Universe.

In our quest to conquer – not only territorially, but intellectually and morally, we have lost our connection to the world around us, to the planet and to life. We also have lost our ability to look at our environment (the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates) and learn from it. We no longer look at nature and use it to understand life – instead we see nature and life as flawed systems that need to be corrected and reengineered under our own perception of what it should be. We see ourselves as great saviors with god powers!

Our myopia and shortsightedness have made us inefficient and incapable of looking at the bigger picture. We focus on details, obsessing about single events, while loosing perspective of everything else around. Our expertise at extracting data from pretty much anything – important or not, trivial or useless, has transformed our world into an intellectual dump. Buried under so much information and incapable of managing it, we look at technology as our only hope. Completely lost and feeling powerless, we blindly put our salvation into machines and their ability to “process” – because the only way we can make sense of anything is through numbers, equations, statistics and graphs. Common sense is no longer valued unless it can be measured and quantified.

Sitting on that log, with my empty cup of tea, nothing feels out of place. I don’t feel out of place. The humility brought by the simplicity I find myself surrounded by is relaxing, refreshing and gives me hope. Real and honest is what nature is to me. It is a constant reminder of the true essence of what life is about. It is my source of inspiration, my elixir for meditation and my most profound teacher.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Sunset from the beach

Sunset from the beach

The World is a Cruise Ship and the Cruise Ship is our World!

Being in Alaska, where cruise ships abound, it reminded of a post that I wrote while working with the Pacific Voyagers Foundation earlier this year.

We were quite shocked last’s week in regards to the events aboard the Carnival cruise ship – but not in the way you would imagine. Being sailors and ocean navigators, we are used to take care of our surroundings. In fact we have a saying that goes like this: “The island is our Vaka and the Vaka is our island”. Meaning that if you don’t take care of your boat, you are not taking care of your home, your land, your world. What happened on that particular cruise ship is a great mirror to what is happening in our society.

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 9.57.44 AM

When you are on a sailboat, sailing the oceans, one thing quickly becomes extremely clear. For sanity to exist, for people to enjoy their time and for sailing to go smooth, it is extremely important that everybody respect each other’s privacy and acts with civility. People help each other and communication is gold. Without teamwork, attentiveness and consideration to others, life quickly becomes toxic and unproductive.

Last year we sailed over 140,000 nautical miles circumnavigating the world on Vakas that were only powered by solar energy. We lived to the rhythm of our environment – the ocean. We respected it, appreciated it, and honored it – consequently respecting ourselves, appreciating ourselves and honoring ourselves. Of course, from time to time you have conflicts and issues that need to be address, but these challenges are always welcomed and together we deal with them, growing stronger as a team, and as individuals.

The way we sail, they way we travel, is an extension of the way we live. We only use renewable sources of energy. We fish only what we need. We don’t use the ocean for our garbage, in fact we reuse and recycle as much as possible – producing a minimum of impact. We maximize the use of space. We read books, count the stars, scan the water for possible encounters and only reach out for technological devices when necessary. We eat together and embrace each others company.

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 9.57.58 AM

So when we learned that in only the space of a few days hell had broken loose aboard a powerless cruise ship, we scratched our heads wondering how could this happen. But then again, it didn’t take long to understand why. As a reflection to our society, these cruises are a celebration of consumerism, totally disconnected with the environment. According to Oceana, the average cruise ship, with 3,000 passengers and crew, produces 7 tons of garbage and solid waste, about 30,000 gallons of human waste, 255,000 gallons of non-sewage gray water, 15 gallons of toxic chemicals, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, air pollutants equivalent to 12,000 automobiles, hundreds of thousands of gallons of ballast water, which contains diseases, bacteria and invasive species from foreign ports – every day! With more than 230 cruise ships operating world wide, you do the math.

Passengers leave behind a city only to find themselves into another city – a floating one. Whenever they get off the boat, is only to sit in a bus and experience other worlds, other cultures from the safety of their cushioned seat, behind a thick reinforced glass, bathed in cold air-conditioning. Their evenings are spent watching television or attending one of the multitude entertaining shows. They eat in huge restaurants, served by an underpaid staff. They stay plugged in with their tablets, computers and constant access to the internet. Days are spent lounging, gambling, shopping or swimming in the chlorine water.

This ethos of individuality and pleasure is not only unsustainable but has absolutely no resistance or resilience. It is like a castle of cards, a game of Jenga, barely holding together. The minute you take away one piece, the entire system collapses.

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 9.58.22 AM

The media coverage was also extremely revealing. CNN went crazy with making the event its top priority, and with all the other television stations following. Everybody cried for the poor passengers, yet nobody talked about the even-worse situation of the staff onboard the ship.

“For the workers, it had to be doubly horrible compared to the passengers,” said Ross Klein, the author of “Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations.” Klein, a sociologist and cruise expert at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, noted that workers are stuck dealing with passengers’ “human mess” as well as their “frayed nerves and the short tempers.” Despite the stench of human waste, some workers may not have had the freedom, or the opportunity, to go above deck.  “Cruise from hell”: Don’t pity Carnival’s passengers! On Salon.com

If these cruises are a mirror to our society, what does it say about our system? Isn’t time to go back to our roots and reevaluate our values and what we stand for? Isn’t there a lesson to learn from the success of such endeavors like the Voyaging Societies and the quick failure of supposedly infallible behemoths? Here at Pacific Voyagers Foundation, we have made our choice – we will stand and promote a world where quality matters over quantity, where humanity is a communal celebration, where energy is never wasted and where food abounds because of the care we put into our environment. Who is up for a sail now?

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 9.59.01 AM

Alligator, Earthworm and Champagne

“… It was my understanding that I was going to participate in a dignified ritual. Here I was, in an estancia (ranch) surrounded by mountains and lakes, where cattle still roam free and horses are the main means of transportation. I wanted to respect what the cow had lived for. I wanted to be there and honor her death and the legacy she would leave behind. Instead, what I witnessed, was a brutal and perverted act of barbary. From the kill to the skinning, everything was done with disdain. I found myself sad, not for her death, but for us, humans and how, even in the most remote places imaginable, where one would expect the deepest communion with nature, how disconnected we have become …” excerpt from my story W.H. Hudson

I am a meat and fish eater and I surely don’t hide my love for it. I do not believe or prescribe that one diet fits everyone. Much has been said about the Blood Type diet, and I do side with this belief. My body simply doesn’t work well and can’t process milk and grain product. But give it a Paleo diet and it thrives. I take good care of choosing where my meat comes from and refuse to eat mass processed food, whether they are veggies or anything else. My bottom line is that if I don’t understand the ingredients, then I my body won’t either.

I do not believe that being vegetarian or vegan is THE solution for our food problem. Independently of the food we eat, it is the scale of consumerism that is simply unsustainable. Jungles in South America are being cut not for cattle but for soy. Corn and soy are over 90% GMO. And when Oprah Winfrey proclaimed the benefits of the Acai berry on her show, she sent the entire small local sustainable harvest into an unbalanced one that didn’t know how to answer the sudden demand.

As I have written in my story W.H. Hudson, it is easy to judge one’s diet when grocery shopping from decadent temples of food consumerism where everything is available at any time of the year. Nature has no place in these stores and its seasonal rhythm is seen with annoyance. So it makes sense to fly apples from New Zealand during winter so that our food habits don’t get interrupted and critic anyone who goes fishing or hunting at the source.

Last weekend, I was in New York for the Explorers Club annual gathering, hosted like every previous year, at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria hotel, on Park avenue. The Club has had a long tradition of serving exotic dishes prior to its gala dinner. This year was no different – as one can read from the NY Times article in the Diner’s Journal. On the menu were muskrat, beaver, alligator, ostrich, boar, goat, earthworm, cockroaches and more. The display didn’t go well at all with many of my fellow explorers / environmentalists. I don’t really tend to side with the “Veggie People”, but in this case I do – simply not for the same reasons as theirs. Before I explain myself, let me point to the irony of the NY Times’ article – James Cameron is chosen to quote on the exotic buffet, while in reality he is an avid promoter of eating nothing but vegetables!

I do oppose the bizarre culinary ritual for the following reason – I simply do not think it is justifiable. It is one thing to find yourself in the wilderness and share the local food habits, but paying $400 to gorge on exotic animals while dressed in a tuxedo, drinking champagne on one of the most expensive streets in the world doesn’t sound “Explorer’ish” to me. It might have worked in the past to attract fundraising from a crowd that knew so little of the outside world, but in today’s reality – I strongly believe that it doesn’t have its place. In fact I think that the practice is childish, provocative and quite frankly rude.

Most of these animals can be eaten in a sustainable way. In fact I have visited places, like in Argentina where a caiman farm has not only helped reduce poaching, but also has increased the population in the wild. The problem is mainly one of consideration and social etiquette. In a world of many diets, strong opinions and social media, these kind of events just don’t cut it.

Judging from the emails in my inbox, I don’t think that the Explorers Club is getting any good publicity and will certainly not increase its membership this way either. It is the second time that I witness the food served at ocean or nature related events backfiring. The other instance was at the Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit, when James Cameron received his award and told the crowd that going veggie was the way of the future, only that have the following diner served steaks! I know that the Pacific Voyagers Foundation made it clear that it wouldn’t get involved anymore if the Summit didn’t change its food policy. The result was that at the beginning of the year, Blue Ocean announced that it was now moving forward with a strictly vegetarian menu.

I don’t think that the Explorers Club should do the same but getting rid of that culinary farce is surely a priority. In a place where exploration should ride on the same level as honoring nature, champagne and alligator are more barbaric anachronisms than anything else. Mind as well go ahead and serve shark fin soup and rhinoceros powder – of course from sustainable farm!

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 1.24.09 PM

Concept vs Reality, a Cautionary Tale

Procrastination! It has been more than a month since my last post. It is not like I have nothing to write about. In fact, I have a long list, my head full of words that are trying to find their way out. The problem has been simple – plain old boring lack of motivation! You might catch me talking for more than my share at dinners or in the car with friends, but when the time comes to sit at the computer and stare at that screen, that same computer I have been trying to get away from for so long, my mind simply disappears. It goes away, fleeing the scene like a child that has absolutely no desire of taking a bath! I sit on that chair, pressing the keys randomly, as if I was waiting for some magical event – a kind of trance where my fingers would start moving without me thinking about it. But then the minutes pass, my mind wanders, my eyes look away – out the window – and next thing I know, I have moved on to something else. Maybe coming clean about my lack of concentration and laziness will force me forward. First step in dealing with a problem is acknowledging you have a problem right?

Hello, my name is Daniel (Hello Daniel). I have been lazy for over a month now. There, I’ve said it! Now let’s do some writing!

DLD_DanielFox_2013_22Last month I attended the conference DLD in Munich, where I was doing some creative photography. DLD stands for Digital Lifestyle Design. It was truly incredible to meet and hear so many fascinating people, creative in so many ways, and all out trying to make the world a better place. But every time I find myself in these events, every time I hear these talks, I am always left with a bitter aftertaste. Let me explain why in two parts.

The first part is about concept and reality. The second is published on the EPIC conservation blog and is titled – Our Salvation in God Technologius.

Air Force captain Theodore Van Kirk, navigator of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan said in 2005:

“I pray no man will have to witness that sight again. Such a terrible waste, such a loss of life. We unleashed the first atomic bomb, and I hope there will never be another. I pray that we have learned a lesson for all time. But I’m not sure that we have.”

There is a reason why today the world is still afraid of nuclear – we still have a physical memory of its destructive power. Whether it is the Second World War or Chernobyl disaster, the damages were so visceral that it’s stayed in our cultural collective memory. Independently of how beneficial nuclear energy could be for a sustainable world, no one wants to go for it.

nuclear-bomb-explosion2There was a time when our world lived in a reality – we were connected to real things, real consequences, our connection to the world was physical. Nowadays, things couldn’t be more different. Life has become a concept. Our connection to our world is through theories, algorithms and computers. Nature is a remote “beautified” possession, an ideology of a pristine static environment. Our “zero casualties” wars are conducted by drones, piloted by video gamers who sit behind a screen and go back home to their families at the end of the day. Collateral damage is only something they see and calculate, not feel. None of these soldiers go home and have nightmares from the horrors of war. The consequences of our actions are pushed out, hiding away the destructive effect our lifestyle and choice of values has. And with all of this, our arrogance grows to new heights.

We have to be careful in our semantics and what we pretend to understand. Loving the cuteness of polar bears does not make someone connected to nature. Fighting a war with drones does not mean you understand what war is. Talking about garbage in the ocean doesn’t make you an environmentalist. Being a vegetarian does not make you a friend of the planet. Being an expert in coding and algorithms surely doesn’t make you expert in life. Having thousands of friends on Facebook doesn’t mean you are a nice person to be around. Being famous doesn’t mean you bring value to society. And having all this technology available doesn’t make us better or more advance.The debate has become really important not only in our relationship with nature, but also with violence. The last shooting in the USA and the need for gun reforms has led to pointing fingers to the usual culprits, with the usual answer – “Violence has always existed!” Yes, it has, but our relationship with it was real, physical. Today, violence is a game, a concept, a virtual experience. The world is constantly exposed to violence, but from its seat in front of a television or while playing a video game. Movies have become more and more violently graphic due to the technology in special effects.

OB-MR292_bullet_G_20110222024233

The most popular video games are the bloody and violent ones where the players kill and butcher their way around. But all of this is only a concept. Even bullying has lost it sense of reality, except for the ones who suffer from it. Hiding behind the screen, kids no longer censor themselves and their mean and cruel behaviour finds false courage in anonymity. In the past, you needed to have balls and arrogance to play bully.  Now you only need to be a coward to terrorise your school. If that was not enough, once home, a child would usually be clear of the bullies, but now victims can’t hide because the attackers find their way into their rooms, into their computers, into their “online identities”. How can we expect the children to have any sense of consequences to their actions when the world around them glamourises damages and feeds on misery?

We are entering a new age where robots will start to perform more and more tasks and with them they will take away our last connection to reality. Will we fully drown ourselves in an ocean of virtuality and concepts? I have written before on how knowledge is our Achille’s Heel

“… from within our cities, sitting behind computers or staring down at our “smart” phones, we claim our superiority and gaze at the world around us in a conceited way. Detached from any realities, we think of aging as a disease, that good parenting means monitoring our children every single second, that consuming green will fix our consumerism, that the idea of implanting a device in our brain to fix an imbalance is pure genius, that people who gamble our savings have a right to do so, that Facebook is real, that the web brings us closer, that food is only a recipe of carbs, proteins, sugars, and fats, and that nature is only a resource that demands to be quantified and managed…”

and about our flawed perception of nature.

“… It is no longer a destination but rather the emotionally charged and personified notion of an animal’s struggle to survive, whether it is the “march of the emperor penguin” or the “fate of the polar bears”. We now live in a world where natural realities are being blown out of proportion and every minute struggle in an animal’s life is over empathised for. Living in cities, feeding ourselves from grocery stores and spending our weekends in the park around the corner, the natural world has become a beautified concept, a Disney story and a pretty picture on the wall…” 

In the book “Concept & Reality in Early Buddhist Thought” the author refers to the mind’s conceptual proliferation, its tendency to create a screen of concepts by which it misinterprets the basic data of experience. From behind our television and our computers, it has become too easy to conceptualise the world, life, ourselves, our issues, our challenges. At DLD, there was excitement in the air, a sense of euphoria, talking about all this new data we are gathering, all these doors that technology is opening – and how all of this will make our lives better, how it will come and take away all our problems. Really? Aren’t we forgetting the most fundamental reality? As much as all this information, all these possibilities, are painting a really bright and promising future, the truth is that, at the end of the day, we are humans, not machines.

All this reminded me of the NOVA’s documentary Mind Over Money, with Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago School of Economics with their rational expectations and their belief that economics has nothing to do with human behaviour.  That it can all be boiled down to equations and formulas – a disconnected utopian world of theories… look where it has led us.

The beauty of our lives – of life – does not find its root in numbers, codes and algorithms. Following a recipe to the letter doesn’t mean it will create the perfect dish. It is the human touch that brings the real value. John Maeda was on the dot at DLD 2013 when he said, talking about design: “The beauty comes from what you experience, the emotions, the facial expressions, the subtleties and for that there is no design thinking algorithm”.

More on the EPIC blog.

RECOMMENDED
Growing Up Online on PBS
Digital Nation on PBS
Sherry Turkle’s TED talk

Our Salvation in God Technologius

Data & Technology are two pillars that have redefined our world in every imaginable and possible way. From design to healthcare, from business to personal relationship, from war to education, there is not an inch of our lives that hasn’t been affected. While the other essay looked at data and the dangers of living in a world of concepts – disconnected from realities, this text will look at technology and how it is driving us further and further away from nature and the true essence of life.

ipad godTechnology has become today’s most important religion. Much like pilgrimages in the past, people now demonstrate the same kind of devotion to hardware, lining up in front of stores for days or weeks just to buy the newest model. Not that there is a limited amount of them available for purchase. On the contrary. But the act of holding in your hands the newest iPhone seems to offer the same kind of “spiritual” experience as to touching a statue of Jesus after climbing up Scala Sancta on your knees.

Although technology is fulfilling most of the criteria of being a religion, it differs on one of the fundamentals – Divinity. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism worship a God, Gods and Goddesses, supreme beings from a supernatural realm. Technology holds a more corporeal attraction, stripping away the supernatural and putting divinity within the human grasp. Humans are now the divine. Humans are gods and life is something constraining from which they can break free. This new reality was strikingly evident at DLD 2013.

Before we go into the specifics, let’s just have a look at how the application of technology into our lives can be divided into three distinct categories.

SALVATION
The definition of salvation is the following: “Deliverance from sin and its consequences, believed by Christians to be brought about by faith in Christ / Preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss / A source or means of being saved in this way. The word comes from Latin salvare – ‘to save’.

Technology saving earthThat is exactly how we see technology today. We expect, hope and blindingly believe that it will deliver us from our sins. That it will correct and fix the damages created by our unsustainable lifestyle. We think there is no need to reassess how we do things and why we do them, but that the problem is only a question of application, of management. So if we can come up with the right solution, the right technology, everything will be alright. Therefore, we continue to plunder our way through, waiting for the silver bullet, just a like an addict gambler who gambles his last dollar, convinced that his luck will turn around.

UNFAIRNESS
Life is unfair and we anticipate the day when technology will correct this mistake. Our privileged upbringing in the Age of Invention leads us to intuit that natural selection is broken and flawed. Nobody should have to deal with birth defects or the loss of a limb. Nobody should have to live with unbalanced hormones or bad genetics. Everybody deserves to be “happy” and anything that infringes on that “right” needs to be corrected or eliminated. Whether it is a disease, our fear of ageing or our lack of self-esteem, nature is the enemy.

What we have been able “fix” so far is nothing compared to the scale of what we will be able to “repair” in the near future. Gattaca was science fiction in 1997 but today it is reality. No one will want to accept what life has given them, instead focusing on what they don’t have and how to get it. From the moment we are born we will start shopping to mend our undesired and unwanted bodies – hormones, surgeries, implants, electrodes, nano shots, etc. Technology will try to re-create the human body, making it more resilient, longer lasting, resistant to aging, smarter and stronger – so we believe.

FLAWED HUMANS
The evolution of society would teach us that not only is our body limiting us to achieve maximum potential, but it is above all else a source of great risk. While computers are consistent, logical, rational, fast and powerful, humans are – simply put – a pool of emotions always on the verge of breaking. Technology will make sure to correct this unpredictable, risky and unsafe situation by taking humans out of the equation – for the greater good of humanity!

Hugh Herr is an Associate Professor within MIT’s Program of Media Arts and Sciences, and The Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. His talk at DLD 2013 embodied to the core the “unfairness” mentality. He envisions a world free of injustice where bionics and machines “cure” us from our disabilities. He rejoices at the promise of a world where humans will be “fixed”. Himself victim of an accident that took away both lower legs, he professes how he has become a better athlete with his artificial limbs.

It is his moralistic view that worries me the most, that it is a human right to be born “perfect” and that machines and technology will be our way to perfection. He states:

“Over half of the world’s population suffers from a cognitive, emotional, or physical condition and because of poor technology, bad technology, these conditions often resolve in disability and poorer quality of life. It is my view that basic levels of cognitive emotional sensory and physical function should be a part of our human rights. Each person in the world should have the right to live without debilitating disabilities… Through fundamental advances in human machine interaction we can eliminate disability and set the technological foundation for an enhanced human experience. The mergence of humans with machines and the elimination of disability will be one of the great narratives of this century”

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.08.25 PMAt the end of his presentation at DLD, Herr welcomed on the stage one of his climbing heroes Reinhold Messner for a chat. It was obvious that Messner was not so excited about the prospect of living in a world where our bodies would merge with machines – even going as far as to predict the death of our species. In response Herr admitted that there were great dangers on entering these treacherous waters, but believed that we would be able to manage and control the applications.

“… how depressed do you need to be to have an intervention? Do we want people to receive the intervention that are slightly depressed who producing great art or do we only want it to use when they are suicidal? These are very complex questions that we will have to address.”

In response I would draw a correlation to the plastic surgery industry – a medical advancement developed to help people in real need, but which has evolved into an industry which profits mainly from insecure egos. Towards the end of their discussion, Messner posited that in reality this technology would only be used by the rich and leave behind the poor, to which Herr answered that manufacturing would be done in such a way that local communities could build such high tech devices at very low costs, consequently allowing anyone to use it. Again, our record is not really optimistic, whether with medication (drugs) or healthcare. Our system is far from being an example of fair opportunities. It is flagrantly naive to believe that the proliferation of bionics will be any more altruistically managed by society.

428102_10151434935701800_1544050890_nMissy Cummings is an Associate Professor in the Aeronautics & Astronautics Department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director of the Humans and Automation Lab. She appeared on the Daily Show (part 1, 2, 3 of the interview) recently to discuss the technology behind drones and highlight their uses outside the battlefield. Cummings is a firm believer that humans are a risk and that the sooner we take them out of the equation, the better it will be for everyone.

“…80% of all aviation accidents, commercial and military, are due to pilot error, so the machines doesn’t make mistakes that we make…”

Pushing further, she suggested that technology had even been beneficial for gender discrimination

“… technology has kind of equalised the playing field because now the automation is a much better pilot no matter what gender there is [piloting]. It is not men vs women anymore, but Man vs Machine … machines are simply better pilots than humans.”

Stewart then worried that we were taking the “Art” of flying away and warned that even though computers were great, they still failed from time to time. Cummings replied that, just like anybody that works in technology, we would have the necessary structure in place to deal and contain any problems.

With both Herr and Cummings, there is a recurring theme, a word that constantly comes up with whomever presents or talks about technology – speed. Everything is going so fast these days, so fast indeed that the only way to keep up is by going faster. Hence the need for machines.

“… this technology is advancing at such a lighting speed it is ultimately only limited by the human ability to process the information… ” says Cummings.

This for me is the scariest and most worrisome aspect of the whole technology and future debate. The notion of pressing the gas pedal when you are about to loose control is the most illogical and arrogant argument ever.

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 2.39.40 PMWhen DLD audience member Elizabeth Taylor asked Peter Thiel, following his talk (check timecode 47:10), about his Acceleration Model and that perhaps we should decelerate since our quest for growth and constant acceleration has had tremendous consequences on the planet’s resources, Thiel answered that the past acceleration was one of collapse, which he states was not a proper acceleration, that we should focus on “good” acceleration. He concluded with

“… technological acceleration is absolutely critical at this point because the other three models (cycle, deceleration, collapse) are worst … the only way forward is through technological progress with all the risks that it entails … the current model is indeed not entirely sustainable but we have to actually move forward even faster…”

As if we hadn’t learned anything from the past, there is this utopian belief that we will be able to control, for the greater good of humankind, all technology to come. That all the past mishaps will not apply to the future because we are smarter and know better. This naive and false sense of control is troubling. We are simply drunk with our own god complex.

Life is not about perfection. It is not about the shortest point between two points. Ask anyone who travels – not for business trips, but to discover new places, new cultures, new experiences – and the most wonderful moments are the unexpected ones, the ones where you get lost and explore the unknown.

“… there is no better imagery to epitomize our life journey, than the river. It starts from a point, and ends at another. No matter how wild the river is, no matter how unruly it wants to be, it still has a direction, a purpose, to reach the ocean. It flows blindingly to a place where it will cease to exist. It will merge with something bigger, it will become one with the others. Young rivers are straight – giving more importance in the destination rather than the journey, often missing much of the world they flow in. Their banks offering no protection, the water rushes down, in a hurry. Old rivers meander, understanding that the journey is more important. They turn right and left, sometimes go back up, they explore and wander. There curves offer refuge to others and soon their banks and waters find themselves bursting with life.” – from a story I wrote in 2010 Rio Chubut

I am not against technology -believe me. I love my gadgets and all the convenience they bring me. But we need to be humble and remember who we are, and more critically, the limitations of the collective “We”. There are countless concrete past experiences, and stories, that we can go back to and realize that independently however much we think we are in control, we are not. And that our quest for perfection has consequences that are not worth it.

We need to take time to ask ourselves: “Is perfection something we should strive for? Or is imperfection the key for happiness?” Are we just a society in denial, buried in work, blinding ourselves with our capacity for the grandiose only to avoid our sickness? Any psychologist or therapist would say so. I do not believe that the key to our happiness and humanity is in our ability to go faster and embrace technology. I do not believe in fast food, diet pills, fake meat and running on the treadmill with glasses that projects a virtual trail. Instead I believe in opening a bottle of wine, inviting friends for a meal, slow cooking a nice roast and planning the next sailing trip!

“Nietzsche, who believed that every man should be a god to himself, saw the challenge of being human in a very simple phrase. He spoke of the human condition as being between the animal and the superman – that is the challenge of the human condition – what you make out of your endowment as an animal and how far you can go along the journey of becoming a god. But even himself, the philosopher against pity, the master of conceptualising everything, felt overwhelmed by the sight of a fallen horse in the street of Turin and rushed to its side, putting his arm around it. Nietzsche was able to express in one of his last gestures to the world, profound sympathy for living condition animals and humans share. Nietzsche’s last sane action had been to affirm his identity not as a god but as a man full of human weaknesses” BBC Documentary Nietzsche – Human, All Too Human

RECOMMENDED
Knowledge Our Achille’s Heel
Is Technology Creating a Generation of Bad Decision Makers?
Is Computer-Driven Trading Causing Market Spikes?
We are all cyborgs now by Amber Case
Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The Climate Change Issue

Watching Frontline’s latest segment, “Climate of Doubt” I was once again reminded of the failure from the science and conservation communities in reaching out to the public.

Back in my early days, I used to be an agent for photographers and painters. From the talents I represented, it was clear to me that there were two categories of artists. The ones who believed that work would come to them and the ones who knew they had to go and get the jobs themselves. This reality also led me to understand one thing. The world is filled with talent and someone who might have less of it, but possesses great skills at promoting himself will fare better than the prodigy who is incapable of reaching beyond his studio. It is not always the ones with the greatest talent who become famous, but the ones who know how to promote their work. The moral of the story I concluded was that it didn’t matter what you had, it didn’t matter if you were the best, it didn’t matter if you held the truth, it didn’t matter what you meant to say. What mattered was how the world perceived you and how people understood you. It is not what you say, but what people hear. It is not what you do, but how people feel about it. And this is something the scientists and environmentalists – and by the same token, the democrats or liberals, have still failed to understand.

Communication, according to the dictionary, is “the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium”. It is achieved when the receiving party processes the information with the same intent the emitter had when sending it. This means that if I say “Hello” to a friend, he or she will understand the polite gesture and therefore reciprocate with another “Hello”. This brief communication was a success since both agreed on the meaning of the word. If I say the same “Hello” to a total stranger walking down the street, my seemingly innocent gesture might be misinterpreted and suddenly the tone, what I wear, the location, the time of the day, my age, all will have an affect on how my simple salutation is going to be interpreted.

Communication is one of the most complex and difficult tasks in the world. Why? Because it is filled with innuendoes, interpretations, opinions and emotions. Add body language, culture, and religion to this, and you quickly find yourself with complete “miscommunication”. The US conservatives (Republicans or climate change deniers) realised a long time ago how to communicate efficiently. They have understood that the public doesn’t care about scientific facts. What people care about are jobs, the economy and security, in others words, their own priorities and personal values. Science is not this unbreakable knowledge. Some facts might be obvious but their interpretation varies extremely. But the scientists believe that simply giving people the facts will be enough not only to understand, but also to change the behaviour of an individual. In “Climate of Doubt” John Kerry (minute 33 in video) blames the loss of momentum in public perception about climate change because of a lack of money and lies:

“… as the campaign of fear built up people began to retreat they spent huge sums of money in a campaign of major dis-information that had a impact, a profound impact, and it has now made many people in public life very gun-shy because they are afraid of having those amount of money spent against them…” 

His view is not only wrong but also reinforces the evidence of total lack of understanding of the dynamics of communication.

For most people, climate change is an overwhelming and extremely confusing topic. In a post I wrote earlier this year, “Climate Change: A Pointless Debate, I argue that:

“Instead of attacking the source of the problem, our lifestyle, our values, our system and its obvious, concrete, and irrefutable consequences – pollution, ocean acidification, disappearance of fish stocks, total destruction of the environment – so obvious in fact that no one can argue about them, we have had to focus our attention and debate on something so conceptual and evolutionarily insignificant as the rise in temperatures on a global scale….it is also moving the most pressing issues away.”

The issue has a lot to do about perception. Climate change will be good for some, a great opportunity for others, bad for many and tragic for numerous. It all depends on which side you stand.

Polarising the debate has also been part of the problem. For many, there are only two parties – the ones accepting climate change and the ones who don’t. But in reality, there is a broad range of opinions in between. Through media and other campaigns, the debacle now insinuates that if you don’t support climate change, you are against nature and don’t care about the future of our children. If you do agree with climate change then you don’t care about jobs and the economy. Both statements are preposterous and extreme.

The strategy of the environmentalists and the Al Gore team has been to use the “Cane of Guilt” – meaning to bash people over their heads on how bad they have been and give them an ultimatum on how fast they need to change. Anyone with a little bit of education will tell you that fear is not a good way to inspire people. After a while, people are simply tired of the negative narrative. This year’s article in the Washington Post “Young Americans less interested in the environment than previous generations” is no surprise:

“…Mark Potosnak, an environmental science professor at DePaul University in Chicago, has noticed an increase in skepticism — or confusion — about climate change among his students as the national debate has heightened. That leads to fatigue, he said.

“It’s not so much that they don’t think it’s important. They’re just worn out,” Potosnak said. “It’s like poverty in a foreign country. You see the picture so many times, you become inured to it.”

A lot of young people also simply don’t spend that much time exploring nature, said Beth Christensen, a professor who heads the environmental studies department at Adelphi University on Long Island in New York…”

Going back to communication. It is not the two words “climate change” that people have now come to avoid. It is what they mean to them and what they insinuate. It is because of how they have been presented to the public, that the world is simply fed up of the topic. It is not a question of money, but a failure of understanding the core of the problem. The “pro climate change camp” keeps telling the world that the issue is about saving the world. This egotistical view is greatly limited. Over time, planet earth has been subject to worse catastrophes than climate change and is likely to see worse in the future. Changes in temperatures have come and gone over billions of years. Of course we are participating in, and accelerating the current trend. Of course there will be dramatic consequences, but they are small compared to the garbage choking our waters, the acid killing the oceans, the relentless plundering of the planet’s resources, and a total lack of respect of the consequences of what we do and create. As with disease, the western culture has always been more concerned about the symptoms than the causes. Obesity is not just a question of exercising and eating more vegetables, it is about our total relationship with food and about consumerism. Our problem is our absolute pretentious and arrogant approach to the world around us which is simply unsustainable.

It is important to watch “Climate of Doubt” to understand why the momentum on climate change failed. Fred Singer, Myron Ebell, Rep. James Sensenbrenner and Lord Monckton are not stupid, nor bad people. I don’t agree with neither of them, nor should you. But they have been successful at communicating their message, whether it is the truth or not. I have said it before, science is NOT and should NOT be the horse we ride on. Conservationists and scientists need desperately to understand that.

Knowledge, our Achilles’ heel

WIP_011609_Thinking

“In your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information”. Anthony J. D’Angelo, founder of Collegiate Empowerment

It is hard today to hear a conversation that doesn’t involve the belief that our technology will be the key to solve our problems. We truly trust that our salvation lies in our ability to invent and create. We think that the issues we see do not reflect a problem that lies at the core of our values, but rather simply needs an adjustment in its application. At pretty much any conservation summit (The World Ocean in Singapore, BLUE in Monterey, etc) the message is always the same – the problem is only a question of bad management. If we could only find out the missing pieces of the puzzle, if we could only know more about the planet, nature, and its resources, then, only then, would we be able to act accordingly and “save” what is left. Our understanding is that the destruction of the planet and the abuses we have been responsible for, have occurred only because we lacked the know-how. So now we look at the present and the future and conclude that we must know more if we want to change. This, to my opinion is the root of the problem.

We consider ourselves to be the most intelligent species ever to populate the planet. We look at the past and compare ourselves to what was before. The fact is that all previous cultures once thought of themselves as omnipotent, powerful and of being capable of ruling the world. Each empire thought of itself as better than the one before. And each fell to its demise. We continue to understand our role as “stewards” of this planet. We think it is our duty to protect it. We continually see ourselves at the top of the pyramid looking down over our dominion. We don’t believe we are part of nature, but rather that we stand above it, separated from it, since we are better than it. We think of nature as this disconnected thing that exists outside of ourselves.

Our obsession for knowledge has turned us arrogant and immature. We are addicted to our brain and its capacities. We get high on what we can do. Our society lives in a constant sugar rush, drinking the technology & knowledge “Kool Aid” without any filter. We have kicked wisdom out of our lives, deeming it boring and against progress. But it is not because the chocolate cake is on the table that we have to eat it. We don’t think about the long-term consequences. We don’t think about the social impact of our discoveries. We only focus on the short-term gains. We only look for quick personal individual gratification. Frankenstein’s tale was precisely about that. When Mary Shelley wrote the horror story of the scientist and a monster, she did more than creating a new genre. Her novel was a premonition to what is in store for our world.

From within our cities, sitting behind computers or staring down at our “smart” phones, we claim our superiority and gaze at the world around us in a conceited way. Detached from any realities, we think of aging as a disease, that good parenting means monitoring our children every single second, that consuming green will fix our consumerism, that the idea of implanting a device in our brain to fix an imbalance is pure genius, that people who gamble our savings have a right to do so, that Facebook is real, that the web brings us closer, that food is only a recipe of carbs, proteins, sugars, and fats, and that nature is only a resource that demands to be quantified and managed. What Richard Louv wrote in his book “The Last Child in the Woods” can’t be measured so it is hardly considered. So we go the opposite way and go crazy with our quantification. We have to put a value on Planet Earth (5,000 trillion dollars according to astrophysicist Greg Laughlin) and on the oceans (check the Ocean Health Index for an orgy of numbers) to understand their importance. If it doesn’t have a number, we can’t understand it, or more, we don’ know how to value it. Knowledge is indeed important but it should not be the horse we ride on.

We have lost the ability to see the big picture. Because we are so good a looking at everything on an anatomical level we have become blind at grasping the bigger perspective. William R Catton does an amazing job at explaining why in his books Overshoot and Bottleneck. I strongly recommend you read the two.

Knowledge is not the reason why people change. If it was so, no one would smoke cigarettes, everybody would pay their credit cards on time, no one would break the law, everybody would follow the rules, there would be no economic crash and every politician would always make decisions for the good of society. The reality is that our life structure is based on values. And values differ. If we want to change, we will have to understand how people come to truly value things, and unfortunately, it is not through knowledge. No one that cherishes nature do so because of numbers, they all got to care and love nature by spending time in it. And here is the core of the argument.

For people to change, for children to develop the love and care for nature, we will have to literally reconnect our society with life and the planet. First, there needs to be direct correlation between our lifestyle and the state of the environment. We can talk about garbage littering our beaches and polluting our oceans as much as we want to and for many years, the fact remains that each and one of us is totally disconnected with the amount of garbage he or she produces and its impact. Everyone takes their garbage to the curb and says goodbye – out of sight, out of mind. There are absolutely no incentives whatsoever for people to produce less garbage and to understand the consequences of their consuming habits. Something they can’t physically feel is simply impossible to understand and care about. How can we make society care about the state of fishing stocks when subsidies create an illusion that masquerades the tragedy? How can they grasp the seriousness of the situation when the price of fish at the market has barely risen over the years. Even if they hear about the problems, the reality doesn’t touch them. Our world lives in a bubble detached from any consequences. We are sheltered from the impact our lifestyle creates. For our society to change, we will foremost have to accept the blame and consequences of our actions. We will have to be open to the idea that the fundamentals of our society are no longer valid with the current state of the planet. Until that day comes, all we will be doing is keep drowning in our own arrogance.

Daniel J. Boorstin, in his book “The Discoverers” said: ”The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.” I think, today, it would be more accurate to say that “The greatest obstacle to living sustainably and in harmony with our environment is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge”.

Climate Change: Pointless Debate

Disclaimer: For the record, I am not financed by any  energy company, oil company, any other corporation, or even conservation organizations. I do believe in the global increase of temperatures and the catalyzing effect human’s society has had on this process.

In a recent article, Business: Blue and Green, the author Michael Sutton, Vice President at the Center for the Future of the Oceans, in Monterey, referred to a report published in 2009 by the Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions. In it, the writers of the “Pacific Ocean Synthesis” concluded that climate change was the ultimate threat to the ocean and coastal environments. The second biggest threat was pollution and the third, overfishing.

In October 2011, Yale Environment 360 posted on their site that Europeans believed climate change was an even greater threat than the current economic crisis, and second worldwide only to poverty.

Back in November 2010, online magazine Grist bore the headline “Climate change and consumerism are the biggest threats to future, U.N.  warns”

In 2004, UK Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir David King said climate change was the most severe problem faced by the world, even greater than terrorism.

Friends of the Earth, Europe, “the largest grassroots environmental network in Europe campaigning for sustainable solutions to benefit the planet, people and our common future”, goes as far as to demand climate justice! For this group and so many others, climate change is the biggest threat our planet is facing!

For others, it is the biggest threat our planet has ever faced! Bigger than the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 75 million people or 3% of the world population – the equivalent of 210 million today. Bigger than the Black Death, which between 1300s and 1720s killed more than 100 million people, roughly 25% of the world population back then – and equivalent to 2.25 billion people today. Bigger than smallpox, measles, malaria which, combined together have killed close to a billion people in the last century. Bigger than the first and second world war with casualties close to 100 million or the Lushan Rebellion that took away 15% of the world’s population back in 755.

Those are extremely serious statements!

What is climate change anyway? According to Wikipedia, it is “a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average (e.g., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change may be limited to a specific region or may occur across the whole earth.” 

By following the logic, climate change has essentially been a threat since the beginning of time. First, temperatures went down, then up, down, and finally slightly up again. At one point, glaciers covered most of the Americas. At another the Sahara was green. The fact is that temperatures on earth have been nothing but stable. It has been a constant roller coster with certain periods more drastic than others. At that point, the following argument is presented: “All these were not created by humans, like now”. Yes, I agree, so what?

Imagine a room full of people. Imagine all these people smoking cigarettes. The air fills up with smoke and various chemicals. The floor becomes thick with cigarette butts, making barely possible to move. Physically, people turn yellow, and constantly cough. When one of them dies, his chest is opened to reveal black asphalt-like lungs.  Yet we keep smoking. Puff after puff, gradually and surely, the air in the room becomes hotter and hotter. Whether it is all this combustion, or the fact that the smoke can’t escape, no one really knows, but then, who really cares? People live, breath and eat cigarettes. They sell packs of them to each other. The more they smoke, the better. This is called “growth”. Their lives are literally consumed by cigarettes. Then, one day, someone takes his shirt off sighing how hot it is. Sure enough, the group of people, now crammed by their numbers and the amount of trash they find themselves in, start to argue about the meaning of such a phenomenon. What could cause this unpleasant feeling? Or is it a pleasant one? Who really knows. One celebrates this new reality, he is more of a tropical type. While the other complains, he was more comfortable before. People take sides. Everybody has an opinion. Yet, people still smoke, because that is what these people do. Should they try to reduce the temperature? Maybe, but, how? One of them proposes to make cigarettes that make less smoke. Another comes up with the idea of making a machine that filters the smoke. Because the smoke is the enemy right? Or is it the cigarette? Why not start recycling them. Maybe that will fix the problem. How about creating biodegradable ones? Should they stop smoking? Preposterous! What are they going to do if they can’t smoke? The problem is not their habit of smoking, but rather how they smoke. There must be a solution somewhere that will fix this problem and keep them happy and smoking.

Our society is addicted to consumerism and whether climate change is a direct consequence, is absolutely irrelevant. Even if the world stopped today, even if the global economic power shut down tomorrow (which will not happen), temperatures would most likely still go up for god knows how long.

Instead of attacking the source of the problem, our lifestyle, our values, our system and its obvious, concrete, and irrefutable consequences – pollution, ocean acidification, disappearance of fish stocks, total destruction of the environment – so obvious in fact that no one can argue about them, we have had to focus our attention and debate on something so conceptual and evolutionary insignificant as the rise in temperatures on a global scale. In our view, it is not our lifestyle that is the biggest threat to the planet but rather an environmental event! It is not our unstoppable consumption, but rather a problem of applying it. We are the smartest species ever existed, the pinnacle of evolution, the enlightened ones. Or the elected ones, chosen by God – whatever God you believe in. How could we be at fault? How could our idea of growth and society be so erroneous?

Climate change is an economy of believers and deniers, with people in between who simply don’t know what to do. What can they do anyway? Sign a petition to curb carbon emission? Everyone who is not personally involved in the debate (meaning everyone that does not make a living out of the climate change debate) is honestly overwhelmed by the topic. What does climate change mean to them? Why is it that they have to make an effort while the economy and the governments are not? They have to feed their families, make a living and survive – what does climate change have to do with them?

Not only climate change is empty of any meaning, but it is also moving the most pressing issues away. Do we really need to focus on the melting glaciers, which have been melting for centuries (yes, even if they are melting faster now) when our rivers are loaded with chemicals, when billions of pounds of trash are dumped in the ocean, or when global energy demand, which is based largely on fossil fuels, is expected to increase 35% by 2030? Do we really need the face of a polar bear cub having a hard time finding food to remind us that we are doing something wrong? Our problem is straightforward: growth and consumerism. Unfortunately, as the Guardian points out, no one is ready to slow down:

The global mining, oil and gas industries have expanded so fast in the last decade they are now leading to large-scale “landgrabbing” and are threatening farming and water supplies, according to a report by environment and development groups in Europe, Africa and India. The catalogue of devastation is growing. We are no longer talking about isolated pockets of destruction and pollution. In just 10 years, iron ore production has more than doubled, coal has risen 45% and metals like lithium by 125%. Across Africa, Latin America and Asia, more and more lands, rivers and aquifers are being devoured by mining activities. “Industrial wastelands are being formed by vast open-pit mines and mountain top removal, and the poisoning of water systems, deforestation, and the contamination of topsoil,”

Or as the Economist puts it:

Like China, (India) is ploughing resources into nuclear power, oil-and-gas exploration and imports, and renewable energy. Like China, too, however, India finds coal the obvious option. It is something it has plenty of – already the world’s third – largest producer, it has the world’s fifth-biggest coal reserves. But it cannot exploit them fast enough to meet demand. In fact, output has not increased for two years. Coal India, the state monopoly, blames the difficulty of securing mining permits. So India may soon become the world’s biggest coal importer. On current trends, as estimated by McKinsey, India’s carbon emissions will increase by about two-and-a-half times by 2030, by which time its power industry alone will account for about one-tenth of the total rise in global emissions. Like China’s government, India’s points out that, per head, its people will still be producing far less carbon dioxide than Americans or Australians (though China is rapidly catching up with some European countries in pollution per person). And, in India’s case, total emissions (at 5 billion–6.5 billion tonnes) will remain well below China’s.

Andrew Simms, in the Guardian, writes about the lessons we could learn from previous collapsed societies. Still he fears that we are repeating the same mistakes: “our own response, reaching for the crutches of technological fixes and intensification in both agriculture and energy, are ways to keep our existing lifestyles and patterns of consumption going, rather than seeking out social innovations and different ways to live”.

Independently of the climate, our lifestyle is simply unsustainable. We can argue about how hot it is, or drill to find out what it was like million of years ago, but it will change absolutely nothing. It’s all part of a Kool-Aid we love to drink and debate on. Self centered and pretentious, we argue about the consequences while staying away from the real causes. Our god complex is so elevated that we need to place ourselves at the center of a planetary event.

Doomsday predictions on theories have always been good for movies and to sell newspapers and magazines but extremely hard for the public to grasp. Not because they don’t hold some truth, but simply because they are not physical. If the media was not there to constantly remind us, day after day, every single day of the year, that climate change is the biggest challenge our world is facing, no one would even notice. All these predictions end up sounding more like “end of days” prophecies, shouted to who ever wants to listen. And that is part of the problem. Climate change is an observation, or rather an ideology debated on beliefs. For some it will be good and for others, it will be bad. How can we compare that to historical and factual events where hundreds of millions died?

Lets stop wasting the hundreds of millions spent on a science that is highly questionable and biased, depending on which side you stand, and lets invest in ways to decrease our impact and perhaps rethink, and reassess the principles and values by which we live. Lets look at past Empires, Societies and Global Powers that have collapsed and learn from them. If we are so intelligent, it shouldn’t be a problem right?

“In our disenchanted, post-religious, ultra-technological era, catastrophes can no longer be rendered meaningful as part of a natural cycle or as an expression of divine wrath … like the anthropomorphic universe, magically designed for man’s comfort, the so-called balance of nature, which humankind brutally destroys with its hubris, is a myth … Catastrophes are part of natural history … Gradual or sudden change in our environment, about which science can do little more than offer a warning, may force unheard-of social and cultural transformations … Maybe it’s time to reverse our concept of what is possible and what isn’t; maybe we should accept the impossibility of omnipotent immortality and consider the possibility of radical social change. If nature is no longer a stable order on which we can rely, then our society should also change if we want to survive in a nature that is no longer the good caring mother, but a pale and indifferent one.”  Slavo Zizek