It’s been a while since I posted. The last time I wrote on this blog, I was an excited newbie in a country I had no previous experience. I write to you, dedicated readers, a changed man. My brain has been pushed to the limits with thoughts that are both frustrating and intriguing. The past couple of weeks have been challenging but very eye-opening in multiple ways. I have seen the immense beauty of the deep forests of Nikko, and I have seen the destruction of the Ashio copper mine (not in person, but the pictures were moving enough). To tell you the truth, I have at some points begun to lose hope for humanity and our vast mistakes with the environment. I know what you’re thinking, “Trevor come ON. You were so pumped about all the great things you were experiencing last time, I know you can pull a positive out of this. It can’t be as bad as you say it is.” 

Well, I guess I could give it a shot. So here it goes, Why We’re Not Doomed by Trevor Stewart, coming to a bookstore near you. 🙂

Let’s start with something that really gets the spirits up, start off on a strong note. Did you know that there’s a project going on in Ashio called Grow Green in Ashio? This is a movement that started in 1996 (Happy 20th birthday GGA!) with the goal of planting 10,000 trees a year! First off, that’s a lot of trees, and in the 20 years that this project has been going on, they’ve successfully planted 180,000 (!!!) trees. That’s only 20,000 off of what they would’ve liked to hit in that time. Not bad for a citizen movement eh? The not so good news is that this number of trees doesn’t even come close to fixing the big picture. I know, I know, I promised to keep this upbeat, but I have to give you all the facts don’t I? But here’s the best part. The people who started this organization and who are currently participating in it know that they won’t see change in their lifetime. Think about that. That is one of the bravest and most nobel things that a person can do. They are starting a movement of change that won’t help them, and maybe won’t even help their own kids. These people, these incredibly brave and thoughtful people are sacrificing both time and energy for their grandkids, and their great-grandkids. In approximately 200 years this project will have helped the solution in a substantial fashion. This attitude that we need to work not for today or tomorrow, but for our grandchildren’s tomorrow is something that should be a part of more people’s mindsets. This sacrifice is one they won’t see pay off, but they do it anyway. That feeling you have right now, that little flurry of something in your chest? That’s hope. Pay attention to that.

So what, Trevor? That’s one group of people, what if kids your age don’t want to do anything about the problem? Well, my good friend and current volunteer at ARI, Cora, would like to disagree with you. Cora is 20 years old and comes from a rural town north of Hamburg, Germany. She’s in her fifth month of a six month program here at ARI. I interviewed her for an assignment for class, and our discussion is one that will stick with me for a long time. We covered many things, but I won’t go on a tangent. My final question was about what I’ve been talking about. Can we change, is there hope? The short answer, yes. But I’m not writing this to you for the short answers, I’m writing this to keep that flicker of hope going. One of the most interesting things that Cora had to say was that we as humans have fallen into a convenient lifestyle. We stay inside and watch TV because its convenient and easy for us. The most striking quote that she said was “Convenience doesn’t make you happy.” Take 30 seconds to let that sink in, read the quote another time if you have to, it’s that important. Ready? “Convenience doesn’t make you happy,” well then what does make you happy? If what Cora claims is correct, then we can state that the easy way is not the path towards happiness; let’s be honest, humanity has a really bad track record of taking the easy path, especially in environmental matters. So what makes you happy? Working with your hands, spending time doing something with the people you care about, and being outside for goodness sake! These things are exactly what we’ve been doing at ARI, and what do you know, I’m happy here. I’m talking really happy, so happy that I’ve begun to question why I don’t do more things like this back home.

And there in that last sentence is what should make your eyes light up a little bit. These experiences that I’ve had here, they will directly impact my choices when I get back. I’ll spend more time outside, be more aware of what I’m eating, and pay closer attention to how I’m using resources. Sure I’m one person, but there is an even more amazing and talented group of St. Olaf students who are here with me. I have no doubt in my mind that they will do just as much if not more than I when we get back home. And thus begins the ripple effect. The good deeds and actions of my peers will influence others. The stories they tell will inspire others, their blog posts will inspire you to start being more mindful. Sure, this won’t change anything right away, but as I mentioned earlier, that is not an acceptable reason to not participate. We have a duty, not to ourselves, but to our children and our children’s children.

I’ve begun to rant, so I’ll finish this with one thing. A request. Start to break away from convenience, do more things outside, get your hands dirty, feel the wind in your hair. Enjoy what you have, and take the small but necessary steps to ensure that our kin get to do the same. We should all be like those who work for Grow Green Ashio. Work for the future. There, I hope that I have successfully turned around what started as a somewhat depressing blog into one of hope and promise for the future. If we move in the right direction, I think there’s still hope for us.

I’ll leave you with some images that show you just how beautiful it can be here, hopefully it shows you why it’s so important that there’s some more hope in this world.