Take Back Tomorrow

Featuring powerful essays, interviews, and perspectives in activism.

HERO Spotlight: Jesse Burke

Oct. 23, 2018
Jesse Burke divides his time between personal art projects and commissioned work. Jesse's work deals with themes related to vulnerability and identity, as well as human's complicated relationship with nature. Daylight Books published his monograph, [Wild & Precious](http://www.wildandprecious.co/) 2015. He received his MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, where he is a faculty member. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in the U.S. and abroad and is held in many private and public collections including the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Jesse was recently named by Time Magazine as a top 50 US photographer to follow on [Instagram](https://www.instagram.com/jesse_burke) and by T: The New York Times Style Magazine as a top 5 to follow on Instagram. "We all want to be associated with something greater and more beautiful than ourselves and nature is the ultimate. I just think it is the one thing we can all agree on." -Bernd Heinrich __Where were you born and raised? Do you remember a specific moment in time when you realized your passion for photography and particularly, nature. __ I was born and raised in Stratford, Connecticut. I didn’t really get into photography until I moved to the Arizona desert in the mid 1990s, in my early 20s. Once there I started by taking an introduction to photography class at the local community college. I very quickly realized that it was something amazing and it quickly became my passion. As far as nature is concerned, I grew up using the woods and ponds near my house in Connecticut as an escape from daily life. It was my favorite place to go, and I would often go with my friends to play and look for animals. I think that’s what instilled in me a deep connection to the natural world. I can remember those days like they were yesterday. ![IMG 1049](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/13UxeXCGfW8YQsOeG6UMic/f4c9792598b518bd99abda6cbb376ed5/IMG_1049.jpeg) __Tell us a bit about your journey and your obvious alignment with the environment. You have quite the resume. Your work can be found everywhere from publications like Wild & Precious, to campaigns for L.L. Bean, Carnival Cruise Line, Floating Hospital for Children and so much more. How does this variety of experience map back to your passion for nature?__ The journey in my professional photographic life has been interesting. I started by photographing what it means to be a man (in my personal circles) in an attempt to understand who I was as a man and who my friends and family were as men. Then I had a daughter and I realized quickly that my work would probably change. The thing that shifted my work away from exploring masculinity and more into the nature experience that I practice today is deciding that I wanted my daughter to be deeply in touch with the natural world. So I focused on introducing her to nature by exposing her to it first hand. Taking road trips, exploring, adventuring, constantly being out there. Over the years I have acquired a lot of my family photos doing things in our personal life that have led to my current commercial client situation. Clients like L.L. Bean, Honda, and Carnival Cruise Lines have hired me just to do what I do- which is to document my kids in the way that introduces the natural world into our lives and expresses our love for it. It really makes logical sense for specific clients. Floating Hospital for Children was a little bit different because they were interested in the idea of strength and vulnerability in the face of childhood- which is also something that I am really interested in. It’s evident in my personal work but spills over into my professional client work as well. __How do you live an eco-friendly lifestyle on a daily basis? What are 3 basic things that you would prescribe to anyone looking to do the same?__ We try to live as eco-friendly lifestyle as we can, we really do give it our best effort. One thing that we try to do is recycle as much as possible and be really good about it. Don’t be a lazy recycler. All those little lids make a big difference if you put them in the bin instead of into the trash can. The other thing we do is we try to raise and grow our own food when we could. We have a chicken farm and eat lots of eggs. In the summer we grow a big garden so that we can rely less on the grocery store and more of the natural world. It’s also our favorite thing to do. The other thing we do is go to the beach pick up litter when we’re down there. It looks cleaner and it’s better for the animals. We’re very concerned about the animal's wellbeing and plastic often looks like food to animals. Whether it’s birds or fish, or what have you. So it’s not uncommon that when we leave the beach we have pockets full of trash. These are simple things that we do that jive really well with our lifestyle and aren’t that complicated. I think when you give it a little bit of an effort it’s simple to do. ![IMG 0855](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2yJcr6SGty2ieQIUysI66U/4fc64bf2992cd2d135ebdcff8439490a/IMG_0855.jpeg) __Your relationship with your children is beautiful. How do your children inspire you? How is their outlook on life internalized by your inner child?__ Oh man, I am always being taught and inspired by them. They constantly teach me about patience by pushing me to the limits of mine. They teach me about wonder and seeing things anew. Seeing life and nature through a kid’s eyes is incredible. They teach me about compassion and love. The way they interact with the animals in our lives and their friends is awesome to watch. I have been fortunate enough to raise three kind and considerate souls. I watch them and their kindness and it rubs off on me. They inspire me to be the best dad that I can and to always set a good example, especially when I am inclined not to or in a moment when it’s hard. That is when I really try to look outside of myself and do what is right. They inspire me to show them what being man is about and how men and women are equals. They make me live my life hyper aware of how I can operate in my own life while making sure women are always treated fairly. Their future depends on it, all of ours does. They inspire me to let go and stop being worried about the small stuff. To take your shoes off as much as possible, to climb trees, to look up and to look down when maybe I would just look forward. I think we are constantly teaching and inspiring each other. ![IMG 5184](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4RCkfPvPE4IyO8Q6SmOuaa/b006765d3b2462e0451a3b1ae5e19505/IMG_5184.jpeg) __Life behind the lens is always interesting. Do you ever put down the camera to simply live in the now and capture the moment in your mind's eye instead? Describe a scenario where this happened. Who was with you? Where were you? And why this moment?__ This is a great question, it's something that I increasingly think about. What is the difference between capturing a moment with the camera, so you can relive it over and over and relive the sentimentality of it, or just experience the moment in real time, so you can truly embrace it without any distraction. It’s really hard and as a photographer, I tend to do more of the filming rather than just simply experiencing. But recently, on the 4th of July I decided to leave my phone home and went to the beach with my kids. We watched the fireworks and just hung out. It was amazing to not have the burden of the phone with me, to get any calls or emails, or even use it to take pictures of the fireworks. We just sat there and watched everything unfold, it was awesome. ![IMG 9892](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2OovlfVG2Aoss04IusGgUs/6c20172fddc8d1789d6ed7f04b735627/IMG_9892.jpeg) __What are some unique challenges you have had with your journey? Becoming a well known photographer, father, explorer certainly has its challenges. What were some bumps in the road?__ Sometimes I think people have a hard time interpreting my photographs and might just read them in the wrong way. I have this image of my daughter with a bloody nose, which has gotten a lot of slack, mostly online. I’ve had a lot of comments about being an abusive father, taking advantage of a child, etc. But the truth is she simply had a bloody nose- she was calm, I was calm and it was beautiful. It was one of those moments in life where you can physically see the vulnerability of your child and I really wanted to capture that and add that to the body of work we were creating, which is about empowering my daughter, embracing all things that life throws at us, and being strong in the face of adversity. Blood can be scary and I wanted her to feel comfortable with it. I wanted to capture it as it was laid out before me, but when you see it out of context it’s really misconstrue. You have to have a thick skin if you’re going to be a photographer and expose your family and private moments. I’m fine with the push back because I believe in what I am doing. ![IMG 9163](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6OgSMATpwQ6wUu8W028mec/5c7bffe7d535c108839461ff79712a94/IMG_9163.jpeg) __If you had the attention of fathers and their daughters, what would be a bit of advice you could offer? Girls, historically, are sheltered and protected. Nature builds character and wonder and imagination. What would you say to break that stigma?__ I would say try not to think of your kids as boys or girls but just think of them as little creatures that need love and exposure to things. Expose them as much as possible- to the natural world- let them get dirty, muddy, wet- who cares, you can wash it off. It builds character and allows them to be freer and a little more wild. I like to think of my kids as lion cubs. What does the mother lion let her cubs do? She doesn’t watch them overly closely but she keeps an eye on them, she lets them wander and play, and sometimes even get get dirty and hurt. All of those things teach the children what’s possible, what’s safe, what’s not safe... and I think if you allow for a little freedom, and loosen the leash, that you can see your children grow exponentially. It has worked for us. Also, try to sit down and explain things to your kids that might be scary. Break it down for them to show the beauty and respect, not fear. Spiders, bats, certain animals can typically scare children but if you take a more scientific approach and explain how incredible spider's webs are, how amazing bat's echolocation is, kids won’t be afraid of them and they won’t scream, they’ll be excited and actually look forward to the opportunity to see one. Maybe even hold one. ![IMG 2427](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3SH2Pj7DGMouoQg4UmgeCI/2088e68634b51550f0507c4e4316b682/IMG_2427.jpg) __Where can people find you, follow you, get in touch?__ The best place to find me is on Instagram at [@jesse_burke](https://www.instagram.com/jesse_burke/). We are always posting current pictures, events and things we do. It’s like a working journal of our life and farm. Also, my work can be seen at [www.jesseburke.com](http://www.jesseburke.com) and [www.wildandprecious.co](http://www.wildandprecious.co/) ![IMG 4508](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3Jco6pLNBSkss4W6yE4CAq/a8c22585eb2311c9f8e521a0c1dfb40e/IMG_4508.JPG) ![KAYAFAS INSTALL 01](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3HRUvuiA8EEWyIagKwiaeO/6996a48d0b0aa7e5b271aac2ec90b93a/KAYAFAS_INSTALL_01.jpeg) ![IMG 4211](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6vIHLXqyTmGOce628cywku/28e2d7cb7317704eb20500fe9a36e708/IMG_4211.jpeg) ![IMG 9171](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/44qkEDexgkSowuu4qiQ6YG/80f9e1eec2dd1753ee531bb8a3746f90/IMG_9171.jpeg)

HERO Spotlight: Gillian Levy

Oct. 15, 2018
Gillian Levy is the co-owner of [Humboldt Apothecary](https://www.humboldt-apothecary.com) and started HA with her business partner, Susan Cleverdon in 2015. Gillian's background is in watershed management and botany. She worked as an environmental consultant for many years before collaborating with Susan on the development of the company. Outside of their interest in cannabis, they both have a strong background in herbal medicine and holistic health. Their desire to start the company sprung from a marriage of interest in the growing cannabis industry and their! love for all things botanical medicine related. __Tell us a bit about where the idea for the Humboldt Apothecary was born? __ We initially decided to create a cannabis tincture company with offerings that addressed specific symptoms that could be supported with cannabis use. Our first tinctures all featured a suite of other medicinal herbs with the cannabis to maximize the benefits of each formula. Cannabis was historically used in combination with other medicinal herbs. This is because the suite of constituents that exist in the different plant compounds have a synergistic effect and are thus more potent and effective when taken together. We designed our line of products to fill a niche in the industry that seemed to be lacking. The result has been mind blowing. We have a growing following of customers and some pretty amazing testimonials about our products. __How has the cannabis industry offered alternatives to traditional treatment and medical supplement?__ Most western medicine is based on using pharmaceutical drugs to treat symptoms of a disease. In some cases, it is extremely effective, such as antibiotic use for bacterial infections. In other cases, especially when there are a range of symptoms, traditional western treatments fail to treat the underlying problem. Cannabis can be incredibly effective for a range of complicated disease pictures. The core of the efficacy of this plant is based in the cannabinoid content and it’s unique ability to play a significant role in moderating our own endocannabinoid system. By using cannabis to modify the endocannabinoid system, we can reduce inflammation throughout the body and can frequently have a broad effect on patients that are dealing with chronic pain, sleep disorders, mood disorders, etc. Regular cannabis use can be extremely effective and is considered safe and generally well tolerated by most patients. ![Gilly Susan-0001](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6qKOWnFWzCK8QmSiM6iEKS/1fad181072d0691b55926553cb6fe9b6/Gilly_Susan-0001.jpg) __What separates Humboldt Apothecary from other cannabusinesses?__ At [Humboldt Apothecary](https://www.humboldt-apothecary.com), we focus on whole plant extracts, and we feel that it is the synergy between the suite of plant constituents that makes the best medicine. We source all of our cannabis extract from small extraction operations and small farms in Humboldt County. This is because we want a top quality, vibrant product. We also source organic ingredients whenever possible. Essentially, we aim to create a product that is the highest quality available because we don’t want to compromise the product in any way. We want our customers to know that every time they purchase one of our products, they are choosing quality and consistency that they can count on. __What are some current challenges that the cannabis industry is facing as this alternative becomes more widely acceptable?__ One of the larger challenges that the industry is facing seems to be the standardizing of the testing for cannabis products. Many of the testing facilities have a huge disparity between their results, which becomes a problem for manufacturers that receive vastly different feedback of cannabinoid content, depending on the lab that they work with. This problem can be compounded by the fact that there are many other ingredients that may alter or modify the potency results. __Where is your ultimate goal for Humboldt Apothecary?__ We would like to continue to expand our product line to include other remedies besides tinctures. Currently we are working on a topical line that we plan to roll out over the next several months. Additionally, we would like to start offering our products in other states. We aim to be a leader in the cannabis tincture industry and to continue to offer the highest quality cannabis products available as we grow and expand into new regions. __What about the outdoors and your environment inspire you?__ We are fortunate to live in an extremely beautiful part of California with access to beautiful coastline as well as remote mountain wilderness and wild rivers. In my own experience, I have found the most joy and mental peace in staying connected with the natural environment. Additionally, having access to clean water and clean air are some of the most significant contributors to healthy communities. __Is there a specific environmental issue that you personally feel passionate towards?____ I think that I feel most passionate about clean water and healthy rivers. In our community of Humboldt County, some cannabis cultivation practices have definitely impacted the quality and quantity of water in our rivers. One of the great benefits of legalization in California is that farmers must work very hard to minimize impacts to their water sources in order to be permitted and licensed to cultivate cannabis. They now have access to state agencies and private consulting entities to help guide and inform their cultivation practices and to minimize impacts. This regulatory infrastructure has really raised the bar for many farmers. I think that is of utmost importance. ![WOOD AND SMITH -2](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1bFfVZfwjUkekWgSGIOE26/be090cd6424f4a689b47aaf01bd3557b/WOOD_AND_SMITH_-2.jpg) __How does Humboldt Apothecary and preservation of the environment intersect?__ We try to be good stewards of the land and to build that into our business model. All of the cannabis that we use is sun grown. That is of critical importance to us because indoor growing contributes a huge carbon footprint. We believe that it is imperative to support farmers that are using the sun as their energy source. We work with farmers that pride themselves in creating farms that minimize environmental impacts by limiting nutrient runoff, building healthy topsoils, and preventing erosion that might impact water quality. We also source as many organic ingredients as possible to limit contamination to the environment from pesticide use. Additionally, we try to minimize the amount of plastic in our packaging and to make use of as many recyclable materials as possible. __What are some practical recommendations for consumers as they consider their impact on the environment?__ I hope to encourage more consumers to value sun grown cannabis. As the industry develops, cannabis cultivators are starting to define the unique environmental conditions that shape the quality of the cannabis that is produced. Terroir, or the environmental factors such as soils, climate, and topography that can be expressed in sun grown cannabis, is unique to growing outdoors. Likewise, the carbon footprint from indoor grows is so significant that it is really important to look at the contribution to greenhouse gas production. ![WOOD AND SMITH -3](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3G8evFMxLiaAEsCSu46Osi/e5eab4eb3d7e542529d271ad3db25c5f/WOOD_AND_SMITH_-3.jpg) Where can people find you, follow you, and get in touch? My website is [Humboldt-Apothecary](https://www.humboldt-apothecary.com), and my social handles are: Insta: [@humboldtapothecary](https://www.instagram.com/humboldtapothecary/) FB: [Humboldt Apothecary](https://www.facebook.com/humboldtapothecary/)

HEROES Spotlight: Ariane Resnick

Feb. 19, 2018
*Ariane Resnick is a special diet chef and certified nutritionist who specializes in developing accessible, organic, farm-to-table recipes from whole food ingredients. She has cooked for celebrities such as P!nk and Gwenyth Paltrow; as well as having been featured in Cosmopolitan, CBS’ The Doctors, ABC News, Forbes, Shape, Star, Huffington Post, Refinery 29, Men’s Fitness, and Food Network’s “Chopped.” She is also the author of two Amazon #1 best selling cookbooks, “[The Bone Broth Miracle](https://www.amazon.com/Bone-Broth-Miracle-Ancient-Improve/dp/1634507029)” and “[The Thinking Girl’s Guide to Drinking](https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Girls-Guide-Drinking-Cocktails/dp/1682450481/).”* __Where were you born and raised? How did your childhood introduce you to your passions?__ I was brought up in rural Massachusetts until my family moved to California when I was a teenager. My mom ran a co-op out of our basement and made all of our food, so that set a strong foundation for me. My parents are (and were) very holistic so my upbringing was informed hugely by that. ![ariane at the beach](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/20sHqFvNVOQE8CyUec4G4g/17b77ba0de14f41c92aff1c194f70daf/3.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __When did you first get started cooking and when did you first start seeing food as medicine?__ I had my first chef job at age 19, and no matter how long away from kitchens I spent after, I always landed back in one. I knew of food as a tool for healing because my childhood had had that as a focal point, but I gained first hand experience with it when I dealt with two different chronic illnesses in my 30s, both of which I healed without Western meds. __You have a significant reputation with some of the world's most recognizable media outlets, business and celebrities. How do you always maintain creative control and continue to innovate and refine your craft?__ I’m a human beyond anything else; I’ve been privileged to see how becoming known can change people, and have made a conscious effort to remain authentic as my personal brand has grown. I only work with people and companies I’m excited and passionate about, because I think consumers can sense that. ![ariane in chef mode](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3OS0HvwuNW2AkGmWeqKgKi/5d15c03c6a0665fa0f15f28a2c789be6/8.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __It is known that you have had Lyme Disease. Talk to us a bit about that might have happened and how controlling your nutrition and including holistic treatments has led you to a high quality life.__ Lyme is the result of a tick or mosquito bite. I didn’t heal it purely with nutrition — it was an assortment of holistic modalities that cured it. I was very intuitive about which I chose, and since I was so public about that, it led to others coming to me for advice. I gear people into choosing what feels most right for them in treatments, rather than suggesting what they do based on what ailment they have. I’m a big believer that illness is an opportunity for you to get to know your body better and to get more in touch with it. ![ariane juicing](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1CBu7pkU6QMKGKgMQyMesq/c86341d090b1ba39afec1bb401430a3c/11.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __Most people enjoy cooking, but have significant difficulty cooking nutritiously. What are some basic pieces of advice that you can provide for those who enjoy simple creations, but can’t seem to avoid the unhealthy options?__ It’s all about adding rather than subtracting, and making small changes. Swap out one unhealthy food item for a healthy food item you know you enjoy, and when your schedule has become acclimated to that, choose a second one. I think going “whole hog” and trying to overhaul your life is a terrible idea, as it rarely leads to success. The last thing we need is to feel like a failure! Congratulate yourself for every small positive change, and you’ll find yourself making more of them. ![ariane on the doctors](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/13I4pFlbou2GyCmiooS6CS/d044d10e090f0033066f2a8ae7c3a3a5/13.png) __As a best selling author, you are no stranger to the power of effective communication. How are you able to explore your expertise and digest it into an enjoyable reading experience, ultimately resulting in a 2X - Amazon Best Selling Author with "The Bone Broth Miracle," and "The Thinking Girl’s Guide to Drinking"?__ Writing, like cooking, has always been second nature to me. I have no formal culinary training, and while I do have a writing degree, it’s in creative writing/poetry. I’m incredibly fortunate to have turned my hobbies into my career, and that was mostly the result of a lot of meditation and intention setting to let the world guide me in the direction where I’d be most helpful. I didn’t plan any of this, and I’ve never sought out work, or advertised. When you find your purpose, the universe helps line things up for you. That’s the best explanation I can give, kooky as it sounds. ![ariane making a salad](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6i5uqR0YbSeq6Aea0WUKei/aab7011993e670db77f4c718cfff3ce5/6.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __In your expertise, how do the ingredients we use and consume affect the environment? What are some essential things for the public to be aware of when thinking about their own food consumption in and out of their home?__ We desperately need to find a balance between consuming the most healthful foods and the most sustainable ones. The best example of that is quinoa; our consumption of it has made it unaffordable for the residents of the Andes for whom it was a main staple. Yes, it’s nutritious, and yes, it tastes good, but did we really need to harm a culture to have a new food in our culinary lexicon? I’m wary of many foreign superfoods for this reason. Do some research before delving right into the next food trend to see how the production of the food affects both the environment and the indigenous cultures growing it. ![ariane at event](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1en0rp5qASYyieAg4QwO4E/d0a521b57e28ccb3c0dc521bf763bbf1/7.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __Is there an obvious connection between food consumption and environmental sustainability?__ At this point, most of what we eat comes from packages, so sadly there isn’t an obvious connection. One exists, of course, but it can be hard to recognize and takes a lot of conscious thought and research to discover. ![ariane giving a presentation](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1eSHPoYfRyCGigESGAoEMs/e8a16b34cecf92c01fae3b9c1e71b025/12.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __Where can people find you, follow you, and get in touch?__ My website is [ArianeCooks.com](http://arianecooks.com/), and my social handles are: Insta: [@chef_ariane](http://instagram.com/chef_ariane) Twitter: [@ArianeResnick](https://twitter.com/ArianeResnick) FB: [Ariane Resnick](https://www.facebook.com/ChefArianeResnick)

HEROES Spotlight: Tobi Deckert

Feb. 12, 2018
*Tobi Deckert is a poly-extreme sports athlete, entrepreneur, engineer, and DJ. An all-around incredible human that just can't seem to sit still, he's consistently pushing the boundaries both as a professional and an athlete. Thanks to his love of nature and well-rounded skillset — he is trying to forge new ways to reduce his own footprint by applying his business and engineering skills into larger solutions.* __Where were your born and raised? How did that influence the man you are today and all the interests you have?__ I was born in southern Germany in Munich close to the alps. So I got my ambition to the mountains and all those different sports there from my father. ![Tobi deckert kite boarding](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4n3PsXS9jioiiCmiwaSskM/5904701831c2e66463b1ed4ed51caff6/GOPR5668_1024x1024.jpg) __You are quite the world traveler. Can you give us a bit of a list of the top places you have been to? When you travel, what do you typically do?__ Indeed I have been quite lucky traveling many countries so far. The purpose is quite different, sometimes it is work related, sometimes it’s rather leisure connected with sports. During the last couple of years I was visiting the US, Australia, China, New Zealand, Brazil, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and many places all over Europe. In most of the cases some commercial and promotional shootings and products tests took place there. ![tobi backcountry skiing](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4ayA5txeBySqG8SOA02mAw/6c7edcfa8df0d0bce564066b9f4c6529/P1220628_1024x1024.jpg) ![ski jump series](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/mON0MYfUDAwAwKmw88WGw/ba69d307b2e4909baec60f4c7d8bfe36/serie_bearbeitet2_1024x1024.jpg) __You are a super eclectic individual. You have interests in everything from engineering to kiteboarding to extreme backcountry skiing to DJing. Tell us a bit about your passions and why you participate in such an array of extreme sports?__ Yeah, you listed already all my passions (so far). I just love doing and learning new things. Getting bored of an ordinary life, I was always looking for synergies among my interests. That’s why I probably worked as a product developer at Skywalk, a company that produces kites and paragliders. As soon as I had access to all this different gear, there were no borders anymore. I started mixing those sports throughout the seasons like I would mix my music on a party. Soon I began to earn some money with those side jobs as companies needed versatile content for their social media channels. This even got me some more possibilities to move on with my doings and learn other skills like movie editing or stunts for movies in the theatre. ![tobi paragliding](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/uLznGQQytiiW8uYC8EEM8/b7d373defcb57f42cd18b372281f67e7/P1090171_1024x1024.jpg) __With so much risk, what is the ultimate reward for you? Is there a particular mantra that you live by the fuels your urge to live an extreme lifestyle?__ I cannot deny that I love taking risks, no matter if in a sporty way or business related. Breaking out of your comfort zone is one of the most important things to get progress. The ultimate reward is good vibes together with friends and that can be caused by a nice session of kitesurfing, flying or skiing for example. So sport is definitely my fuel to overcome challenging hurdles at my business and djing and movie editing unleashes my creativity which is quite as important to face daily tasks. ![tobi kite boarding](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3hKaO75yVWMCWOYsaoi8uU/336754b61068ac818e2acab66c7c20f6/G0036743_1024x1024.jpg) __Throughout your youth, how did you originally discover all of these activities, find time to practice them and become world class? Did you have a particular mentor or support system that kept you focused?__ Well I’m not performing at a world class level but gaining skills at some sports in particular is all about the people you are around with. That means my support system has always been my network of really good friends. This is one of the highest influences of pushing yourself to next levels. I have never performed very well in only one sport, as I loved to mix them but exactly this was the reason for cross progress to other disciplines. As one day lasts 24 h, I needed 8h for working, 8h for sleeping, which means there are 8h left over to do some crazy stuff. The only thing is to remain motivated to do some after work “productivities” — and I’m not talking about sitting in front of the TV. ![closeup paragliding](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7J0jj1fcI0IaGcmkEyQiWC/a1605b943c89b85304475f591d150915/IMG_0727_1024x1024.jpg) ![ski hand plant](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4PospHZuMMuoqEEqOWW0cM/611dc223cbff7be179dd6d1998bb02e6/GOPR7642_1024x1024.jpg) __With so much exposure to land, sea, mountains and air, you must be unfortunately intimate with the poor condition of our environment? What are some of the issues you recognize in the remote places you visit?__ Indeed, when I’m in the mountains in the winter I can evidently see melting of the glaciers, when I’m at the beach, there is almost no spot anymore without garbage. Of course I recognize the issue: it’s us. Everywhere where there are human beings, the world does not look like it should look. The more people the worse. __How do you express the environmentalist within you while you are simply living day to day? What are some simple things that you are mindful of which keep your own footprint on this earth small?__ This is a really trapping question as all (my) travelling is leaving a footprint. It’s always easy to blame politicians or big business managers but start thinking about yourself also, for example your buying behaviour (no matter if food or hardware). As environment and it’s healthcare is related to money in most of the cases, look at what you buy for which price. From my point of view as an engineer I can tell that the cheapest things can’t be the most environmentally friendly ones. To get a better conscience regarding all my traveling burning a lot of fuel, I try to use my engineering and business skills to keep my footprint small. One way is to produce and use upcycled products which I do together with “rubbish upcycling” ([https://rubbish-design.com/pages/tobi-deckert-kitesurf-snowkite-freerider](https://rubbish-design.com/pages/tobi-deckert-kitesurf-snowkite-freerider)) Another example is one of my inventions “SHRED RACK” to allow carrying a lot of gear on the roof of a small car. With these inflatable car roof racks people can use only one car and fit in there all together with all their gear. ![ski jumping](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3Q7LdwHWmkEcWC84meSeei/5b719f20cb94c01abc63bad06c8e1ec5/DSC05632_1024x1024.jpg) __Where can people find you or get in touch?__ [www.tobideckert.de](http://www.tobideckert.de/) [www.shredrack.com](http://www.shredrack.com/) [https://www.facebook.com/TobiDeckert/](https://www.facebook.com/TobiDeckert/) [https://www.youtube.com/user/Deckardinhostuff](https://www.youtube.com/user/Deckardinhostuff) [https://www.instagram.com/tobi_deckert/](https://www.instagram.com/tobi_deckert/)

HEROES Spotlight: Angy Eiter

Feb. 08, 2018
*Angela Eiter is a professional climber hailing from Austria. She's a champion competitive climber holding multiple Lead Climbing World Cup championships. Last year, she became the first woman to climb 5.15b by sending La Planta de Shiva at Villanueva del Rosario, Spain.* __Where were you born and raised?__ I was born and raised in a valley near my today's home region Imst in Tyrol, Austria. Since I was a child I have always played outdoors enjoying the mountains and forests. Nature has been a part of my life for as long as i can remember. ![Angy Eiter climbing Planta de Shiva 9b. Villanueva del Rosario (Spain)](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/45Lzje5jWg0IEou0wGw4Ss/92aec274e877966de3ccd5c00e5bd119/AP-1TPM59NX51W11_news.jpg?w=1200&q=80) <small>*Angy Eiter climbing "Planta de Shiva" 9b. Villanueva del Rosario (Spain) 25-10-2017. © Javipec / ASP / Red Bull Content Pool*</small> __You have had some recent significant accomplishments in your climbing career. What are some of them and what has the dedication and work been like over the past few years towards achieving?__ I experienced successful competitions where I became 4 time World Champion, 3 time World Cup Winner overall and European Champion in 2010. There are more, but these are some of the most significant to me. My motivating factor is my passion and pursuit of fun. With this drive I am eager to learn how I can improve in climbing and in my life generally. Then, I want to pass my experience over to other people. ![Two time world champion Angy Eiter competing at the World Cup of Kranj, Slovenia](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4e50OjdkMMi8I4Mm4EUkyw/fd41ad0a09e55c6bd7835b81597e7a8a/1329478591332-387831984_news.jpg?w=1200&q=80) <small>*Two time world champion Angy Eiter competing at the World Cup of Kranj, Slovenia. © Stanko Gruden/Red Bull Content Pool*</small> __Being in such a visible position within the sport comes with a lot of pressure and expectation. How do you balance yourself?__ The pressure mainly comes from myself. Over time I have learned how to deal with it. Being satisfied with my performance and accepting the situation leads me to success. __Do you have a specific focus within the environment?__ I simply love nature and as it is my playground I want to keep it clean. __Where in the world do you identify the most with?__ I identify myself with a flower in the alpine areas in my home region of Imst. There, I lead a life in an almost completely clean area, where people protect this specific landscape in order for that rare species of flower to survive in this region. ![Angy Eiter during the ascent of Turkish Airways (8a+) in Anatolia](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/549fBDqkScqcEagcGqYGgq/71c637b0bde5ea5228661bba22092b9b/1329477736084-1069302054_news.jpg?w=1200&q=80) <small>*Angy Eiter during the ascent of 'Turkish Airways' (8a+) in Anatolia. © Bernhard Ruech/Red Bull Content Pool*</small> __If you could send a message to every young person in the world today regarding the environment and the great outdoors, what would it be?__ Nature is your basic tool where you lead your life. Go out and look around at how beautiful nature is, our plants, our animals, the sky, the sun etc. Nature is getting destroyed day by day. Act differently and keep it clean by doing small things. Protecting nature means protecting your future. __What is your next great adventure or goal?__ I want to explore different areas and rocks for climbing. I am interested in meeting other cultures and see the beautiful sides of our planet. __With respect to the environment and its current critical state, what about the future truly scares you?__ I am quite afraid of the result of the disregardful behaviour of human beings. However, I am sure nature will always resist and gets stronger. I am afraid that we simply have come too far and we cannot completely secure the environment for the future. ![Angela Eiter performs during the IFSC World Climbing Championships in Paris](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/39if78vM1iSEgO6SkiCkMK/24c192b181421e1c4e2f416f3aebd825/1347953746882-289397799_news.jpg?w=1200&q=80) <small>*Angela Eiter performs during the IFSC World Climbing Championships in Paris, France on September 15th, 2012 © Stanko Gruden/Red Bull Content Pool*</small> __Do you have a plan to use your gifts as an athlete in combination with your desire for a better environment?__ I take care of my environment with small, simple things. For example, I do not waste water, I recycle, I buy products with little or no wrapping, and i look for recyclable things. I want to act as a positive example and pass on my attitude to other people. __If you could have one wish, what would it be?__ Peace forever and for everyone! __Where can people find you, follow you, get in touch?__ Instagram: [@angyeiter](https://www.instagram.com/angyeiter/?hl=en) Facebook: [@angy.eiter](https://www.facebook.com/angy.eiter/) *Header Photo Credit: Portrait of Angela Eiter in Fuschl, Austria on July 7th 2011 © Philip Platzer/Red Bull Content Pool*

HEROES Spotlight: Jenna Hogg

Feb. 01, 2018
*Jenna Hogg is most notably the co-founder of Free Spirit Equestrian Center & Rescue. A not-for-profit organization dedicated not just to the rescue of horses in need, but also to helping humans who could benefit from the therapy offered by these incredible animals. She is also the vice president of I Stand With My Pack, an organization dedicated to the prevention of animal suffering and cruelty around the world. A primatologist by trade she's also spent time studying orangutan's and their capacity for cognitive development. What she experienced with these creatures forged her path toward helping all creatures in need, large and small.* __Where were your born and raised? How did your youth ultimately influence the work that you do today?__ I was born in Tampa, Florida. I was frequently moving as a child and cannot say that I was raised in one particular place. Every year or two years of my life I lived in a different city in Florida to North Carolina. I went to three elementary schools, two middle schools and five high schools. Because of this, it has made me very open minded. I have met and befriended people from all walks of life, all classes, all races, from the tiniest towns to the big cities. It made me adaptable but also confident in who I am. Every place I’ve lived taught me something and was completely different than the last. The biggest lesson I learned is that society has a way of socially constructing viewpoints and ideologies into our everyday lives. But it is up to us to choose how we live, what we believe in and who we are to become. Our perspective is everything. ![jenna with a rescue dog](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1nPWwieTTemQo6Is20s8Me/f13d3b417be40c676d2669fef0e1b3b1/2.jpg) __You have done so much for animals and the environment. Tell us a bit about your non-profit efforts with Free Spirit Rescue and I Stand With My Pack? What are each of these missions designed to do and what is your participation?__ I am the co-founder for [Free Spirit Equestrian Center & Rescue](http://www.freespiritequestrian.org/), which has been opened for almost three years. My mother and I opened the rescue and built it with our bare hands and only $800 to start. Blood, sweat, and tears has been poured into this animal rescue. Our mission is to create a safe place for both people and animals. A place that is built on compassion as the foundation. We aim to inspire people that each and every life on this planet has a purpose and compassion can change the world but it has to start with each of us. I am the vice president for a non-profit organization called [I Stand With My Pack](https://istandwithmypack.org/). I was drawn to this organization because of its need to bring awareness to global animal welfare initiatives. From saving dogs in Puerto Rico to elephants in Sumatra, this organization is ran mainly by a group of strong willed women who are determined to help keep this world beautiful for our children. ![Jenna with rescue pony](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5wCDl2wBAQWmAueKMcY62k/133ab6a01295db02abb0f63aecfacb14/3.jpg) __You pursue a career as a Primatologist and Medical TA at an Animal Hospital. Can you tell us a bit about this career choice? What is the intersection between your career and your personal missions?__ Since I was a child and old enough to verbally communicate my love for animals, I have always wanted to work with primates. When I was 12 I was given the book, [Gorillas In The Mist](https://www.amazon.com/Gorillas-Mist-Dian-Fossey-Dr/dp/061808360X) by Dian Fossey. Since that moment I dreamed of jungles and saving primates. In my final year of college, I studied orangutans and their abilities for cognitive development and interspecies communication through enrichment. What I learned was fascinating and completely changed my life. These beings are capable of conscious thinking, problem solving, having emotions such as love, and the ability to communicate their thoughts and their needs. My heart broke for their species on the brink of extinction. I went on to work with gibbons, capuchins, marmosets, tamarins siamangs, and lemurs. After four years I wanted to take everything I learned and really make a difference. That is when my mother and I decided to open an animal rescue. We started out with equines and animals saved from slaughter houses but in 2018 we will expand to help non-human primates. These primates more than any other animal are the most similar to us and yet they are tortured in laboratories, locked in tiny cages, and kept as pets. I hope that every life we save we can bring awareness to the fact that we are not superior. Compassion is superior. I have always been an avid learner. In the last ten years, I have learned a vast amount in many different facets of the animal world but one area I was lacking was animal medicine. I wanted to expand my knowledge, so I sought out a position that would allow me to gain more experience at an animal hospital. As someone who rescues animals from abusive and neglectful circumstance, many of these animals need medical attention and care. Being able to learn how to help them not just emotionally but physically has been essential. ![jenna with rescue horse](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5bIkPM2JzOuywQE0caaAC8/cf64d6c2d2c15203fd5149a6605fc626/4.jpg) __You have a particular affinity to horses. Why are these animals your particular passion? Do you focus on other species?__ My mother is the one who showed me how magical of a species horses truly are. While primates where my specialty, horses where hers. Because there was such a prevalent need to rescue horses we rescued our first horse named Apollo, who was rounded up from the wild in Nevada. He was completely feral. He was the definition of a free spirit, or at least he was. When we rescued him at the auction, he was on his third strike and had been shipped across the country from Nevada to Florida. He was broken, I could feel the heaviness of his soul. His eyes simply stared blankly and held such an emptiness. Lost, alone and scared this once free-spirited animal left me with a fierce need to protect his species. Today he is safe and happy, integrated into a new herd where he is alpha and will always have a home at Free Spirit Rescue. But the look in his eyes when I first met him will haunt me forever and make me determined to be a voice for his kind. Currently free spirit mainly focuses on horses, and will be expanding to non-human primates but we rescue a variety of species of animals. From goats to pigs and cats and dogs, we try to help any life that is in need. ![jenna at home in her rescue](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1gkeNcyw2eQCWY0QS2GQM/ae9841514d19fd3ee0df1eca92bb985c/unnamed__1_.jpg) __How do you express the environmentalist within you while you are simply living day to day? What are some simple things that you are mindful of which keep your own footprint on this earth small?__ Sustainable Palm oil is something I am extremely passionate about. The palm oil industry is responsible for animal cruelty, deforestation and climate change. The massive impact it has on deforestation is pushing many species into extinction. The effect of carbon emissions it releases into our environment is crippling. I try my hardest to not purchase or use any products or support companies who are not palm oil sustainable. I try to make my own footprint on this earth small by altering the way I live from "aimlessly consuming" to "mindful consuming" that is where a difference can be made. While I alone cannot create a difference by practicing mindful consumption, imagine if everyone did? __What is next for you? How do you see your mission expanding and your hobbies translating into impact over the next 5 years?__ Besides expanding our primate rescue program, my next step is to launch our pony therapy program to help people in need. I am a big believer in animal therapy. They have an incredible potential to heal in their own way. Much like dogs, ponies can provide an intense form of therapy for those with disabilities, children, veterans, and basically anyone who could use a smile. Over the next five years I hope we can show people that animals have such a beautiful purpose and that it is a gift to share a planet with such amazing creatures. ![jenna with a rescue horse](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2KbtR8WYYo6yUg640yK6A6/eb96115e33206b29932c516928dedf5a/5.jpg) __With regard to your efforts in non-profit, what are your hopes? How do you define mission complete? When will you know that you have achieved your goals?__ My hopes for my rescue is that it will be an inspiration, especially to our youth. I hope that we will be able to grow to create a place that is not just safe for our animals but is a safe place for all of those who walk through our barn doors. Free Spirits Rescue’s mission will be complete when there is no longer a need for it. I love what I do but I hate that the need for it even exists. I will know my goal is achieved when animals have rights and animal cruelty has diminished. Until then we will continue what we do and we will be their voice. __Everyone has some kind of a soft spot for charity or non-profit work, but most people lean on the crutch of not having enough time. What is some advice that you have for people?__ If we really want to make a difference we will find the time to do it. There are multiple ways for people to get involved and help a non-profit and our Earth. Life is so overwhelmingly busy, that we make the excuse of not having enough time to deter us from helping create a positive change. Even volunteering once a week for a few hours helps. Hosting a fundraiser to help local organizations, educating friends and family on an environmental issue, spreading awareness on social media outlets or choosing to be more conscious of what you are consuming in your everyday life can make a difference. There is always time to do something. Whether great or small every good deed matters. __Where can people find you or get in touch?__ If people would like to get in touch with me they can contact me via my social media: [@JungleJen](https://www.instagram.com/junglejen/) or reach out to Free Spirit Equestrian Center & Rescue at [www.freespiritequestrian.org](http://www.freespiritequestrian.org/). I absolutely love talking to our youths and answering their questions and giving advice on what they can do help our planet and spread compassion.

HEROES Spotlight: Sarah Uhl

Jan. 29, 2018
*Sarah Uhl is an artist and activist from Carbondale, Colorado. If there were the perfect example of art as environmental activism, it would be Sarah's work. She has dedicated her efforts to creating art that promotes the protection of our public lands, clean water, and fighting against climate change. She's a free spirit and self-proclaimed joy evangelist. We absolutely fell in love with her work when we first saw it and got a chance to catch up with Sarah to talk about her story, her inspiration, and her dedication to conservation. * __Where were you born and raised?__ I was born in Allentown, PA and grew up in the Appalachian woods up and down the east coast. My parents were avid rock climbers and cave explorers so we spent most of our time outside in nature. __When did you realize that creating art was more than just a hobby?__ I have always been an artist but it wasn’t until I turned 30 that I actually gave it enough attention (and value) to pursue it as a storytelling mechanism. My sense of curiosity for the world needed a new outlet and pursuing professional life as a creative allowed me to chase that further. ![sarah painting in aspen forest](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/hufwG0cECIe88KUYwCUyS/2a40063fb80f4fe4651969ecec4b4f1c/sit_in_aspen_trees_1024x1024.jpg) <small>*Photo by: [Andrew Chad](https://www.andrewchadmedia.com/)*</small> __Where do you pull inspiration from?__ My inspiration is most certainly born in the mountains. I love the alpine and feel most alive when I am high up in the hills. I moved to a mountain town in 2012 because I wanted to be able to look out my door and see a mountain on my horizon every morning. I kept saying that I wanted to be able to “have breakfast” with Mount Sopris every morning because I knew that would set me up to thrive. ![Painting in Skinner Castle Valley](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/37v4yxlgI8EoeqKS04MOaO/d68cba41dd424fe596de3424ff5bdd29/Skinner_Castle-Valley-2048px_1024x1024.jpg) __What are the kinds of emotions you look to evoke when your work is complete?__ Creating artwork is a form of chasing the truth for me. I hope to convey my own experience combined with the experience I perceive from the land. When I paint a mountain I am not only painting what I see but also what I feel. I feel as though my work is a visual recording of the conversations I have with the landscape. Sometimes the land is jumping for joy, pleased to share her beauty and wonder with us. Sometimes she is weeping, begging us to know her more so we may find ways to live more harmoniously together. My goal as an artist is to provoke all of this in hopes that the work serves as an invitation to others to create their own relationship with the land and whatever the land has to say to them. ![Hell Roaring painting from sleeping bag](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/do1vlwejoOkkE6caiW8wY/7a4933e7f6b587a4456d226b949b893f/Hell_Roaring_painting_from_sleeping_bag_-_1_1024x1024.jpg) ![painting the tetons](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/Zhm6xHp0C4QGUMkQy0Iui/edd6d3337e0a5a844be4095500711c28/painting_the_tetons_2_-_1_1024x1024.jpg) __Your work seems to reflect the world around you. What is your personal connection to nature and the environment?__ I believe in magic and I think the best place to find and experience magic is in the natural world. She is full of wisdom and beauty. I go into nature to seek a sense of connection, guidance and reassurance that we are all one… that we all coexist in the same cycles, the same woes, the same joys. I also go into nature to feel a sense of constant growth. We only know so much and if you keep seeking growth you will discover an endless world of opportunity to expand in all dimensions. ![buy art support water](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5CIGXQLTyw2euQmSOo0QUO/f24a6f46203e6963f9917504a17bf669/buy_art_support_water_1024x1024.jpg) ![Running with joy at Hell Roaring Ridge](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/a8MKAsfpPqMu02Oeu8S8u/5ef6e7dfe2c88a1086057267439f0c18/Hell_Roaring_Ridge_Joy_1024x1024.jpg) __What about the world inspires you?__ People practicing kindness inspires me. People being vulnerable inspires me. People seeking growth and personal expansion throughout their inspire me. The magic kingdom of the natural world is also a constant source of awe and wonderment that seems to dish up unlimited refills of inspiration. Getting to know myself and my own edges inspires me to keep digging in, asking hard questions and going to places I’ve never been before. We are such resilient beings and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by so many incredible folks living beautiful lives and making a difference in the world. It makes me want to do the same and never fall to complacency. ![Painting Kula Mural](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/110a4AmMIAUOYYcMO2CKOy/eafa0bafbe021e23fe02fd2851e22c9f/Kula_Mural_-_1_1024x1024.jpg) __Is there a specific environmental issue that you personally feel passionate towards?__ Yes. Like many of us, I believe in the protection of our public lands. Time spent in the beautiful wild places is our reservoir of hope and connection; it is the keystone to caring about our planet and paying attention to how our actions impact the world as a whole. If you do not have access and exposure to a beautiful wild river, it’s hard to care about clean water or water conservation. If you have never seen the remnants of those who have come before us, it is hard to think that anyone will come after us. Access to our heritage and the wild world that sustains us is paramount to protecting it. ![bears ears back painting](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5xI1IifHziUGWa0CMccs0q/31f98c62cfc35e09a6dc59c62f29d359/bears_ears_back_painting_-_1_1024x1024.jpg) ![Long Live Bears Ears painting](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2KiHyJMkgwUa2GuoEW4Gsm/1dd81458eef828f7158f1ff5fbe83de7/Long_Live_Bears_Ears_1024x1024.jpg) __Has there ever been a time in your career where you felt extremely passionate about using your work for cause?__ Right now, Right now, Right now. I actually always have wanted my “work” to relate directly to causes I’ve cared about but I didn’t have as direct of an equation to pull this off as I do now. I have always wanted to be an advocate for the land, and for sustainable practices, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to apply myself in other ways that made me feel like I was really moving the needle. Creating art that can be used to bring attention and connection back to the land is a very satisfying equation. My success as an artist is directly related to my ability to draw more people into these challenges that need all hearts and all hands on board. I am extremely motivated and that motivation stems directly from my deep love of the land and my desire to carry her voice through my works. ![protect our public lands](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6q4lUKc2xGK8yMusKcM0eO/e1abdb5b43a3fc1553cf9cf9bdec0cf6/protect_public_lands.jpeg) ![riding bike in aspen trees](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/35PxGVFFCoG08sKqkwGyIg/ac926a89aa53ee98122d98db273097ea/riding_bike_in_aspen_trees.jpg) <small>*Photo by: [Andrew Chad](https://www.andrewchadmedia.com/)*</small> __Art seems to be a universal truth. A final product left to interpretation by the audience, but ultimately, focused on the artist's ability to tell the story. What is it about art that allows you to be so expressive, but also focused?__ Great question! I think it just stems out of my own love of the land. My work is a transcription of an incredibly authentic and gushing wellspring of love for the land. I feel more like an advocate for the land than an artist. Art is just the mechanism I’ve chosen to convey something so wildly important and compelling to me. I hope that everyone can find their way into knowing what makes them come most alive so they too can serve the world through amplifying their own truth… their own undeniable question about why we are here and what makes us tick. ![Sarah wings painting](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4dCuhDsfEIgI8agawWkAU2/44f55b169537270efe464b29a9ebfc9c/Sarah_Wings_WEB_1024x1024.jpg) ![sarah painting in the mountains](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/17VM5CC8gIS8iKsCegI6YS/99de05af6f9d99d49ee727cb5bda72b9/IMG_1173_1024x1024.jpeg) *If you love Sarah's work and want to see more check out her website at [sarahuhl.com](http://sarahuhl.com/) or instagram [@sarahvirginiauhl](https://www.instagram.com/sarahvirginiauhl/).*

HEROES Spotlight: Lizzy Asher

Jan. 22, 2018
*Lizzy Asher is a sponsored rock climber as well as a climate scientist, a potent combination. She received her PhD in Oceanography in 2015 from the University of British Colombia and her accomplishments in science run as deep as those in climbing. Lizzy offers a unique perspective as someone that understands both the science behind the changes our planet is undergoing as well as the joy one experiences from a life spent playing in the mountains.* __Where were you born and raised? How did your environment growing up introduce you to your current hobbies and career interests?__ I was born in Austin, Texas, but grew up partially in Toulouse, France. I spent a lot of time tagging along with my older sister, Alexis and her friends (still true!). My dad first introduced us to hiking, backcountry skiing and climbing at a young age. My love of the outdoors really fueled my passion first for environmental science in college and atmospheric science and climate science thereafter. ![Climbing Democracia (8b/13d) in Terradets, Spain Nov. 2016 | Photo by: Ben Shear](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1X72ugucg8egACQ2W0M2Cy/7ce8fdae674eb799fa8794ce12fc0ae1/IMG_3707.JPG?w=1200&q=80) <small>*Climbing Democracia (8b/13d) in Terradets, Spain Nov. 2016 | Photo by: Ben Shear*</small> __As a climber, what have been some of the greatest challenges you have experienced both on and off the wall?__ The greatest challenge that I’ve faced is having to set a dream aside, whether it’s injury related, a climbing project I’m simply not physically or mentally strong enough to climb yet, or a job or an academic opportunity that slipped through my fingers. Thankfully, or perhaps as a result, I’m rather tenacious. __How did you end up focused in climatology and transcontinental pollution for a career?__ I care deeply about the environment and about the human experience of our natural world. In my opinion, air quality and climate change are the two greatest problems threatening that experience today. ![Atom-3 (last deployment) group photo. Oct. 2017](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3KguoT2PG0IsiYIAAQ2KOo/f05d3b78e72921f9c7666137989176cd/2017.10.27_End_of_ATom-3_Group_Photo_in_Palmdale.jpg?w=1200&q=80) <small>*Atom-3 (last deployment) group photo. Oct. 2017*</small> __Most people are aware of environmental problems, some are aware of solutions, but few are likely to be as intimate with the data as you are. What are five startling statistics with respect to climate change and marine pollution?__ 1. The surface ocean has warmed at least 1 degree Celsius since 1970. Due to thermal expansion, this (even without glacial melt) leads to an increase in sea-level (something not many people consider). 2. Overall, sea-level has risen by 0.2 m since 1900. 3. Less than ½ of the anthropogenic CO2 remains in the atmosphere, leading to observed rising CO2 concentrations (~¼ is absorbed by the ocean and ~¼ is absorbed by plants)! 4. Yet CO2 concentrations continue to rise at record rates (3 ppm yr-1). 5. A 0.1 change in pH (a log-scale) is equivalent to a ~30% increase in Hydrogen ions, which drastically changes environmental conditions for marine biota (i.e. corals and phytoplankton with calcium shells). Just think if someone reduced the available oxygen by 30% (it’s a little bit like climbing a really big mountain for which most people require supplemental oxygen). ![Skiing in Silverton, CO Jan. 2016 | Photo by: Ben Shear](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/52Zn9CRRGE0SYMSga2Y8O8/fc0680a6a6fd5e90fdd79a8ee33f6929/lizzy_ski_silv.jpg?w=1200&q=80) <small>*Skiing in Silverton, CO Jan. 2016 | Photo by: Ben Shear*</small> __With respect to the climate, what is one major threat that nobody is talking about?__ The Southern Ocean (and remote atmosphere in the southern hemisphere) are relatively well insulated from the rest of the globe due to strong circumpolar winds and currents. As a result, the majority of Antarctica, is warming at a much slower rate on average than the Arctic or West Antarctic Peninsula, and remains less polluted as well. Whereas melting the West Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctic Ice sheet would cause a sea-level increase of ~0.25 m and ~3 m respectively, melting of East Antarctica’s glaciers are estimated to cause a 60 m rise in sea level (time to redraw the world maps)! __Through your education and now your career, what are some of the greatest successes you have seen focused on a cleaner tomorrow?__ I am impressed with the environmental legislation that has improved regional air quality by reducing industrial emissions of various pollutants, particularly in the US thanks to the EPA. ![Group photo after teaching a women's climbing clinic in Bishop Feb. 2016 | Photo by: Ben Shear](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/48kWpt2Bdeeo8AeaQE26W0/3b50094a6ad9646efa7541df298a852d/IMG_0753.JPG?w=1200&q=80) <small>*Group photo after teaching a women's climbing clinic in Bishop Feb. 2016 | Photo by: Ben Shear*</small> __What is your formula for a sustainable tomorrow? What are some simple ways that everyone could potentially implement this into their daily lives?__ - Try to go on vacation (or work trips) less often but stay longer when you do! - Have an apartment or small house (as opposed to very large one because it takes much less energy to heat or cool it) - Consider having a small nuclear family (unfortunately, a rapidly growing population only exacerbates problems related to anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and pollution) - Commute less, or carpool, or drive an electric car (or hybrid) or motorcycle... - If you eat meat, eat smaller animals (i.e. chicken vs. beef) - Try to buy locally made stuff...also buy fewer, nicer things __What is your next adventure, assignment, expedition and why there?__ I’m currently participating in the Atmospheric Tomography Mission, which circumnavigates the globe on a NASA aircraft and aims to map out the layers of the remote atmosphere in different seasons. Our next field campaign is this spring. Where can people find you or get in touch? I’m an postdoc at NCAR. Send me an email at [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]). Instagram: [@lizzyasher](https://www.instagram.com/lizzyasher/) *Header photo by: Ben Shear*

HEROES Spotlight: Sara Jagielski

Jan. 18, 2018
*Sara Jagielski is the founder of [Joy Is My Armor](https://www.joyismyarmor.com/), an Ashtanga Yoga studio in Hoboken, New Jersey. Not only does the studio bring the practice of Ashtanga Yoga to her local community, but it also serves as a platform for Sara to raise funds for charities. Right now that charity is the [Wild Bird Fund](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/), which rescues and rehabilitates birds on the Upper West Side of New York City. By donating its profits to these missions Sara's studio is able to both enrich the local yoga community as well as the work of important charities like the [Wild Bird Fund](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/). Currently Joy Is My Armor has a [campaign on Indiegogo](https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/joy-is-my-armor-ashtanga-yoga#/) so they can continue their mission.* __Where were you born and raised? Tell us a bit about your childhood and how it influenced your passions today.__ I was born in Roger's Park, Chicago and spent most of my childhood on a farm outside the city in a small town called Hebron. My dad commuted an hour and a half each way to his job in Chicago, which seems very far, but I think he liked the idea of raising us in a rural setting. We owned Morgan horses, and showed them saddleseat, which is a type of English-style pleasure riding. We bred and raised a lot of other animals too, including doves, quail, pigeons, ducks, pheasants and chickens. My childhood was pretty eccentric. My sister and I had a lot of freedom to do whatever we wanted. We'd take a horse out on our own for a long ride through the countryside, go ice skating in the winter on a frozen floodplain in the pasture, and play on the rooftop of the barn (talk about dangerous!). One year, we even built a winter chicken coop near a window in our basement because we thought it was too cold for the birds to be outside. Winter mornings meant waking up to the sound of a rooster crowing in the basement. We also had a lot of chores too, mostly involving taking care of animals, but as long as we did those my parents didn't seem to mind what we did. Growing up this way left a lasting impression that the world was filled with promise, and I could do anything I set my mind to. It also gave me a boundless imagination and taught me how to be alone with my thoughts. To this day, though I appreciate the company of other people, I prefer getting lost in my head and don't really get lonely. ![sara and sister as children](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2TQvmwy7J6KY0uwkAGYOQe/e6b35d975eee7292b0e5ebc887d1ed4c/Little_Sara_and_Sister.JPG) __Tell us a bit about your journey, when did you first get into yoga? How did you get into teaching?__ When we were kids, my dad taught me and my sister Hatha Yoga and a type of mediation called Yoga Nidra. Eventually, they bought us a book with illustrations so that we could practice. I remember really liking kurmasana, turtle pose, though I don’t like it so much today! I stopped practicing when I became a teenager and instead did amateur long distance bicycling. I was a very meditative sport, a bit like running, where you can lose yourself in the repetitive movement. I got back into yoga after college. My first real job was at an ad agency in Chicago, and they had a gym for employees. I'd walk across the street and practice vinyasa yoga. I remember that I felt so good afterwards, I couldn't believe I'd ever stopped. Then, a couple years later I moved to New York City and made it my mission to try different styles of yoga. I think I tried them all -- Bikram, Iyengar, Anusara, Jivamukti and even Tantric. Then one day in 2001, I walked into an Ashtanga yoga class. It was the toughest class I ever took, and it seemed to go on forever. The teacher was unrelenting -- posture after posture, transition and non-stop movement with interlinked breath. I thought it was the craziest yoga I'd ever experienced. So, of course, I made it my mission to master it. Now I realize how absurd that was. I’ve been practicing Ashtanga since then and still have not bested it, nor will I ever. I decided to teach Ashtanga because there is no shala where I live in Hoboken, NJ. The classes in Hoboken are mostly vinyasa and hot power yoga. I think that's fine for many people, but Ashtanga can deepen your practice and be personally transformational. I am stronger, kinder, better person because of Ashtanga. My mind is clear and my body is strong. I wanted to share this with my community, so I opened up my own Ashtanga studio in September called Joy Is My Armor. ![Sara in Karandavasana (duck pose)](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/DYafgqv2hME6ASgUiwOQa/dd3f85433eb88cfd9e48ee5d4eaa3637/Sara_in_Karandavasana__duck_pose_.JPG?w=1200&q=80) __How does Ashtanga differ from the other disciplines in Yoga? What drew you to Ashtanga over Hatha and Nidra that your father taught you?__ The major difference is the way that it's taught, which is as a set sequence of postures in the same order with the breath linked to each movement. Students practice the Primary Series, or part of it, three to six times per week, 30 to 90 minutes each time. If and when those postures are mastered, the student moves to a second and third series of postures, called Intermediate and Advanced A. There are more series beyond this, but the level of difficulty is so great that most humans never attain them. I practice up to part of the third, but do so with laughter because it's crazy hard. Secondly, Ashtanga is taught as a self-practice supervised by a teacher in a group setting where students memorize the order of the postures. This is called Mysore-style. You can think of it as a "open gym" where everyone has a different start time and is working on different postures. It can seem a bit intimidating at first as a new student, until you realize that you're practicing at your own pace, building stamina and focus gradually with a community of like-minded people supporting you. Once a week the student will attend a "led" class where the teacher calls out the poses like any other yoga class. This ensures that you're not cheating the breath count and following the order properly. ![Helping Students into Headstand](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7BNzQiV0iWmY4ME0Kk8aWU/1800f0aee7baeda0e60bff1ab59f62ea/Helping_Students_into_Headstand.JPG?w=1200&q=80) I started out enjoying the physical challenge, but ended up liking how grounded it made me feel. Because I had memorized the postures, I could unroll my mat anywhere at any time and practice. When I travel, the first thing I do is the primary series. I've done this in a tiny hotel room in Amsterdam, a river boat cruise in Germany, a sailboat in the Caribbean, by pools, in backyards and in other people's living rooms. It wipes away all of my anxiety and stress. I still practice Yoga Nidra because I enjoy the meditative aspect, but I don't follow Hatha at all anymore. I prefer the rigor of Ashtanga. ![Students in downward dog pose](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/dvWGIPLxXqq2IoqCUIGGC/188bf1291194e73fe6800ba381869155/Joy_Ashtanga_Downward_Dog.jpg) __Mindfulness is a cornerstone of yoga. You live and work between New Jersey and New York City, which are extremely chaotic places. How do you practice mindfulness amidst all of the chaos? Do you find you need to take a step back sometimes and if so what is your method of doing so?__ I love living in the New York City area. I am an introvert, so the chaos draws me out. If I lived in a quieter place I would not have a healthy lifestyle and probably would become fearful of the world. So for me, finding a balance here is easy. When I need to unwind I practice or teach Ashtanga, write or relax at home. Meditation is also very helpful to clear the mind. __So we’ve heard you actually wanted to be an Ornithologist once upon a time. Where did your love of birds come from? Do you own birds today?__ As a kid, I was in charge of taking care of all the birds. So being an Ornithologist seemed a natural career goal. I liked the idea of living in a cabin in nature, studying birds. They’re fascinating creatures, diverse and quirky, a vestige of dinosaurs. It’s beautiful to think, from an evolutionary perspective, they crawled out of primordial sludge, grew colorful feathers, became winged and now fly above us. Today I only own one bird. He's an eight-year-old bright red Fire Finch named Sanjay. I don’t think I’ll own domesticated birds again for awhile though. I’m focusing more on caring for those in the wild. ![Sara in Snow Ardha Baddha](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2T32COdZS8gg0W6CkOiEIg/26138165b35b49e53cc16d4ce04ef1db/Sara_in_Snow_Ardha_Baddha.JPG?w=1200&q=80) __Tell us a bit about your work with the Wild Bird Fund. What do they do? How are you working to help them?__ The [Wild Bird Fund](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/) rehabilitates sick, injured or orphaned wildlife and releases them back to the wilds of New York City. They also educate New Yorkers on how to help wild birds thrive. They’re a 501(c)3 charity with a facility located on the Upper West Side. Each year, they rehabilitate over 5,000 of New York City’s birds. This includes medical diagnosis, surgery, medication, bandaging, splinting, physical therapy, feeding and sheltering. All native and migratory birds are treated, from common sparrows to swans and owls. Their work is accomplished through private donations and volunteers. I’m raising funds to help the [Wild Bird Fund](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/) through my yoga studio, which I created to serve my students as well as the community at large. I’m not out to make a profit off of Ashtanga yoga. To me, that’s the antithesis of the practice. I just want to get the studio to pay for itself and donate whatever is left over. [The Wild Bird Fund](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/) is enthusiastic to work with Joy Is My Armor. ![Sara in Snow Padmasana](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/8gkxwYkxeECMU44wgsgAA/f2845b82867c493a334a804de7e5723a/Sara_in_Snow_Padmasana_.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __What are some of the more surprising birds that have come in to be rescued?__ There are a lot of birds that live in and pass by New York City during migration, so it’s naturally a diverse group. [The Wild Bird Fund](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/) assisted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo who collided with a building in Brooklyn, then was attacked by a cat and lost its tail. It needed antibiotics to save its life. ![Yellow Billed Cuckoo WBF](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3HtFiIkVcIEi6yMuIW8qkk/c17dccbf7911f0dc5970b451d7534b11/Yellow_Billed_Cuckoo_WBF.jpg) <small>*Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the Wild Bird Fund © Antonio Sanchez*</small> A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was rescued lying helpless in Harlem. He needed 2 weeks of rehabilitation before being released back into the wild to continue his migration to Central America. There was also a Great Blue Heron who had fishing line wrapped around his legs and feet with deep cuts. Fortunately, he was rescued by the [Wild Bird Fund](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/), treated, then transferred to another wildlife facility on Long Island where he could recuperate in an outdoor cage. He made friends with another bird named Jackson while he was staying on the Upper West Side. I think Jackson is a funny name for a bird. ![Jackson The Bird](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4ueGpcrOCQSW2ImguSCQcG/b5f3fe1dbb5fda30ac0e467163d41667/Jackson_The_Bird.jpg) <small>*Jackson the bird.*</small> __We were surprised to hear that there is a bird rescue here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Are any of the injuries to birds common and/or due to human causes? What can the average person living in cities do to be mindful of this and help prevent it?__ 90% of animals brought to the [Wild Bird Fund](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/) are there because they were injured directly or indirectly by human activity. This includes being struck by vehicles, hitting skyscraper windows and falling pray to cat and dog attacks, as well as litter and pollution. A lot of garbage that causes injuries to birds, including everyday household items, like ribbon and string, plastic rings from 6-packs of soda and milk jugs. Cut these items into small pieces before throwing them away. Birds also get tangled in refuse along coast lines, including the Hudson and East Rivers. When walking along our city’s rivers and lakes, keep a bag with you and pick up any garbage that you think animals might get tangled in. Plus, picking up garbage will help beautify our city. Of course, if you see a bird in need, call the [Wild Bird Fund](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/). You can also place it in a paper bag and take it to the center. A paper bag makes a good bird ambulance because the bird can't strike the side in fear and injure itself further, as it can in a cage. If you do use a cage, put a towel over it so that the bird can’t see out. This will help it stay calm. ![Sara in Supta Padangusthasana](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1xwAD5jzSggmGk6UOIGUwi/b8417e962255ac999979aa42f4778731/Sara_Supta_Padangusthasana_.JPG) __What environmental issues are you most passionate about and what do you do everyday to try to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle?__ I am really alarmed by the use of disposable plastic bags. I see people take them for one-time use and then throw them away. Where do they go? Gutters, oceans and landfills. I hope one day soon that we'll have to pay for plastic bags to encourage people to bring their own, as in many parts of Europe. I carry my own bags with me. Also, let's talk about cars. One of the reasons I like living in New York City is because we have access to public transportation, can walk or bicycle. It's environmentally friendly to avoid driving when possible. My husband and I own one car, but we only drive once or twice a month and would rather bicycle or walk. I also pool rides when I can. Pick up a friend or co-work and drive together. It’s much more fun! __Where can people find you, follow you, get in touch?__ Website: [www.joyismyarmor.com](https://www.joyismyarmor.com/)<br/> Fundraising: [https://igg.me/at/joyismyarmor](https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/joy-is-my-armor-ashtanga-yoga)<br/> IG: [@joyismyarmorhoboken](https://www.instagram.com/joyismyarmorhoboken/)<br/> FB: [Faceook.com/joyismyarmor](https://www.facebook.com/joyismyarmor)<br/> If you want to donate directly to the Wild Bird Fund: [www.wildbirdfund.org](https://www.wildbirdfund.org/)

HEROES Spotlight: Tommy Caldwell

Jan. 15, 2018
*Tommy Caldwell is a professional rock climber and personal inspiration to us here at Cause of a Kind. We grew up watching his incredible ascents around the world in every discipline of climbing. He is one of the world's greatest all-around rock climbers with ascents like Flex Luthor (5.15a), the first free ascent of [Dawn Wall](http://www.tommycaldwell.com/dawn-wall-yosemite-climbing-pictures) on El Capitan, and the first ascent of the [Fitz Traverse](http://www.tommycaldwell.com/patigonia-fitz-traverse-artical) in Patagonia. For those that want to hear even more we encourage you to check out his memoir, [The Push](https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01MRNJOBF?tag=randohouseinc37971-20), released in 2017.* __You have had a seriously significant rock climbing career. Tell us a bit about your origin story. How did Tommy Caldwell find rock climbing and why did it become your life's work?__ My dad was a mountain guide and had me out climbing from age three. I never aspired to make it my life's work. I just did what I knew and what inspired me. In my early 20’s I started to understand what a privileged life I lived. I traveled the world and went on progressively bigger trips. I did a lot of sport climbing and bouldering. I became increasingly obsessed and at some point I realized I could actually make money climbing. It has always felt like a bit of a dream to live my life doing what I do. ![tommy making a long reach on el cap](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3yyU8QhKaceUqmOWyGqusE/10cc8188bb505134c1eac590feb6b762/tommy_tight_reach.jpg) __You’ve been kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan, cut off part of your index finger, freed Yosemite’s most difficult big walls, sport climbed 5.15a, completed the Fitz Traverse — the list goes on. Throughout your career we’ve seen you through incredible difficulties, setbacks, and triumphs. It seems that burnout is not something that happens to you. How do you maintain motivation and continue to set your goals higher and higher despite both failures and the exhaustion that comes with success?__ One thing that has kept me immune from burnout is that I have been able to embrace the ebb and flow. Setbacks and and hardships are great perspective builders. They humble me in a way that makes me feel lucky for all the good times. Progression is the most addicting thing in the world for me and continued progression would not be possible without the occasional reset. __Maintaining a position as a top athlete in the world for so long and being in such a visible position comes with a lot of pressure and expectation. How do you balance your career, your family, and your passion?__ The balance is probably the crux of my life these days. I rarely feel like I have it quite right. With my family I have been forced to up my productivity. Constantly ask myself what is really important to me focus on that. I am also quite lucky that my family loves the climbing life. So road tripping to climbing aras and traveling fulfills both climbing and family expectation. I have definitely had to sacrifice sleep in the past few years. ![tommy working corner el cap](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3tBPFE5grSSCQs6iSYummO/5af8d2751a2a98e3d7303d2daedf2013/tommy_working_corner_el_cap.jpg) __How do you come to set new climbing goals? Are there any goals that have eluded you? Do these goals ever seems impossible when you start? And if so, how do you get past that doubt?__ I feel like I spend the majority of my life failing to reach goals. But I am really persistent and in climbing you can just keep coming back to something until you finally manage to do it. I have come to a point where I love process and the lifestyle of pursuit more than the achieving of goals. That helps with the doubt because in a way it doesn’t really matter if I succeed in the end. __In general, what is the scariest or most profound experience you have ever had, personally or professionally?__ My experience in Kyrgyzstan in 2000 was the most impactful of my life. It reset how I view the world. Most days since I have felt incredibly lucky to be here and alive. ![tommy under roof el cap](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7f2hexaOA0Wue2K00IE4Gy/50f0be9b6b90348b8fcdb0b4a342d766/tommy_under_roof_el_cap.jpg) __What has been the biggest surprise and challenge of fatherhood?__ All the cliches of fatherhood become absolutely true once you have kids. I live my life both overwhelmed and absolutely in love. I have been somewhat surprised by how much introspection fatherhood has created. I feel a need to constantly analyze how I live so that I can both support and be a good example for my kids. __What advice would you give to your child as they set out to achieve their own life goals — whether that be in climbing or whatever their passions end up being?__ Maintain a humble heart but an ambitious mind. Focus on the way you live more than on how you are seen by others. ![tommy corner el cap](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/39MT8VI7Zuu0C6Q6MWg6au/22dbe94a0bda449a8839041a0ba6a44f/tommy_corner_el_cap.jpg) ![tommy night climbing](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4xDKUSD3m8oYSUsaUoYQKU/e984f4a6dde79546734a594f3baa965d/tommy_night_climbing.jpg) __You have been literally all over the world for your career and to climb. You must have seen first hand, the darkest of environmental crisis. Can you tell us a bit about some experiences you have had that made you feel upset or concerned for nature's well being?__ The most obvious symptom of environmental change I have seen is in the receding glaciers. The big mountains are melting out and falling apart at an astonishing rate. Bug infestations are wiping out forests all over North America. Forest fires and floods are bigger and more devastating than ever. It hard to pin down the darkest. If your eyes are open you see it everywhere. Travel makes you understand that it is a worldwide issue. __If you could send a message to every young person in the world today regarding the environment and the great outdoors, what would it be?__ In the words of my beloved lost friend Hayden Kennedy, “Respect.” ![tommy big stretch high up in yosemite](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2mpw4N89O0wuKymq800i2S/37d4f838451625d3be359a4bd31571af/tommy_big_stretch.jpg) ![tommy dawn wall](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3YTlo6D0PY4qyw6Amg0UkG/0218e36897ae33de20520b3e6e4f8616/tommy_dawn_wall.jpg) __What is your next great adventure or goal?__ After the Dawn Wall I wondered if I would be done with Yosemite for a while. But I realized that the Family/ climbing/ work balance is best when I am there. So last fall I found a new big El cap project. I am also planning on renting out my house and hitting the road for a full year with my family starting this summer. That will certainly be an adventure. ![tommy ascending ropes against the sun](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5QJiCbfJXa8eU8U8s8YamO/a0074e85b88f57cfb8b5944ee22285bc/tommy_ascending.jpg) *All photography credited to [Corey Rich Productions](https://www.coreyrich.com/index).*

HEROES Spotlight: HaeJun Jeon

Jan. 11, 2018
HaeJun is a writer and award-winning director based out of New York City. We had the pleasure of working with HaeJun when creating our own short film "[Lessons](https://vimeo.com/236393275)," over the summer. Her incredible passion for her craft as well as the environment was emphatic. She is a indieFest Film Awards winner and her films have been featured in festivals such as the New York Short Film Festival, the Out Of The Can Film Festival, and Les Films del la Toile. __Where were you born and raised?__ I was born in Seoul, Korea, but I left when I was six months old and grew up in Germany, Singapore, and Guam. __When did you first discover your passion for writing and directing films?__ I definitely took the “scenic route.” I had always been an avid writer and grew up binge watching MTV, so I secretly wished that one day I could make music videos or films--but got sidetracked and went to Wall Street instead after college. It was a strange side track. As soon as I realized it really wasn’t for me, I didn’t hesitate to make a change. ![hj with her camera on beach](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5hsbRgFVlCKY2OU6YAYkak/1086d5782aabb535f079a7aaa7cd46f1/4B98B001-7FF4-4842-988B-184E92E942B7.JPG) __You didn’t go to school for film. You’ve previously had a career on Wall Street and now at a growing tech startup. What caused you to transition out of wall street and where does filmmaking fit into all of this?__ I wanted to do something that stirred my soul. So I started taking night classes in NYC for film...I had no end-game or transition plan in mind. I just trusted my intuition that this was a good thing for me. Two years and five festivals later, I’m happy to report that it is the best investment I had ever made in myself. __Do you feel that by having your living in one field and your passion in another that allows you a certain freedom in the films you choose to make? Do you feel less pressure to “make it work” as a career?__ Definitely. In fact, not having to worry about bills allows me to be more selective as a filmmaker, because I have the liberty to work on projects that I want to work on. I also don’t want to discount my experiences in Wall Street entirely because there are many transferable skills to filmmaking such as financing, distributing, negotiating, and pitching. Lots of young artists don’t know this side well and aren’t able to rep themselves sufficiently. That said, do I wish I had more fire under my ass? Absolutely. Lucky for me, I have at least ten people in my life telling me to “hurry up jump off the cliff”--including my parents. __What genre do you feel the most connected to and why? How does it relate to your life and your past experiences?__ Drama. It gives me more catharsis than any other genre. I believe that everything is either fear-motivated or love-motivated...and the best dramas I have watched transmute fear into love, and vice versa. In my own life I’ve learned that there is really a thin line between the two emotions...but which side you feel all depends on the version of truth you decide to tell yourself. And filmmaking is all about making your character choose their truth, and why. ![boats out in NYC](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4zEIMKgyi4kSUaEWU2U04o/ae6544cda5e8cdeb7762935b24b71aeb/IMG_4021.JPG) __What inspires you?__ In my own life, spiritual intensity inspires me. When I see passionate people truly living in the moment to pursue their dreams--creative or not--it gives me a jolt. But when it comes to filmmaking I’m inspired by stories of those who wrestle with themselves their own demons, whatever it may be, and even more so by those that try to transcend it. __Your first short film won an award and now you recently created a film that was nominated for several different festivals. Does having the successes you’ve had so early scare you at all? I’ve heard that the pressure of having early wins can make it difficult to keep working out of fear of not being able to produce the same results. Do you feel that at all and if so how do you overcome it?__ It’s all about the journey and I really hope mine is far from over! I tell myself that if I am constantly learning new things and having fun, there really is no reason to stop. And sure, some of my projects may be hit or a miss...but that’s expected. The key isn’t to let that stand in the way. ![hj at part in neon lights](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2JWceWVOAUAgwScSi2SKmi/13856020aee00f2b0aa2471a887f3a57/IMG_4233.JPG) __How do you currently find connections to nature and the environment?__ I try to connect with nature every chance I get--I believe it is important for every creative person to connect to the source to recharge. My room is filled with plants. New York is indeed a concrete jungle, but luckily I live two blocks away from Central Park so that really helps. (Key is to go really early in the morning or after the sunset--during the day it’s teeming with tourists!) I also travel quite far to be where my parents are. They have lived in Alaska, Caucasus mountains, Guam etc...so once a year I get to tag along to some of the most unadulterated parts of the world. __You recently worked with Cause of a Kind to co-write, direct and edit the short film, Take Back Tomorrow :: Lessons. Can you tell us a bit about this project, your connection to its message and your hopes for its message?__ "[Lessons](https://vimeo.com/236393275)" is essentially a love letter from a girl to planet earth. I wanted to humanize planet earth by making her seem capable of everlasting love, except, as you’ll see at the end of the film--she may not be as everlasting as people have hoped for. On a more personal level, I first began writing about the environment when I was living in a tropical island called Guam. In 2008 I had written an essay about coral life preservation which later aired on the local Guam radio. Few years later in college, I toured fortune 500 companies to advocate for corporate social responsibility jobs. But what C.O.K allowed me to do was pause and reflect on the “why” - why anyone would care to write or advocate for the environment in the first place? So I dug deep and connected it back to my childhood, and there I found that my best childhood memories had been formed out in nature. The founders agreed. The story just flowed naturally from there. I think it’s self-explanatory for anyone who has spent camping, gardening, or even walking their dog in the park. I would like to think that it’s only natural for anyone to want to share those kinds of experiences with their future generation. ![hj and the quants film crew](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3NFP1mxJkQOOQciU0gKSoe/4c4d1b99a2a7e322a31bdcff783f05a2/IMG_4394.JPG) ![ny short film festival](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/lhxi9vo7BYi4ECcmIYSWC/8a122db69879e96dd5044c3821cb708b/IMG_4391.jpg) __What is your next project and what are some aspirations you have for the near future? Will you continue to focus on the environment and creating stories that combine drama with a documentary feel?__ I’m wrapping up a coming-of-age story about women in their early twenties entering a competitive work environment for the first time. It is serendipitous timing, because now more than ever women are vocal, open, and brutally honest than ever. And yes, I plan on continuing to team up with C.O.A.K to release more environmental films/drama-documentaries. Lessons was just first of many. The best is yet to come. ![hj in the mountains](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/pWeSECiXUOayqiQE0ug0m/f996afcd50e0caae430e4cf73ce0d62f/IMG_0709.JPG) __Where can people find you or get in touch?__ Insta: [@jheyjune](https://www.instagram.com/jheyjune/) Site: [www.jheyjune.org](http://www.jheyjune.org/) Email: [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected])

HEROES Spotlight: John Weber

Jan. 08, 2018
*We are both psyched and humbled to introduce John Weber, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager for Surfrider Foundation. A New Jersey native that has devoted most of his professional life to the nonprofit sector, John is passionate about the environment and our capacity to actively work to save it. In his current role he oversees nine Surfrider Foundation chapters across five states. We first met John at a [1% For The Planet](http://www.onepercentfortheplanet.org/) member meet up here in New York City and were blown away by his passion, enthusiasm and dedication to the environment.* __Where were your born and raised?__ New Jersey, I’m a lifer; never left except for college. Mostly Wyckoff which is in Bergen County and a few years in Old Bridge in Middlesex County. Summers were in Beach Haven though. My grandmother bought a house there in 1974. I moved to Monmouth County in the early 1990’s, near the beach. __Tell us a bit about your childhood and what was the defining experience that drove you to a life of non-profit work?__ My parents weren’t really outdoorsy, but they weren’t typical American parents either — my dad is German. Instead of going to sporting events and the circus, we went to museums and outdoor places. Not hardcore camping or anything, just visiting the natural areas around our town. This probably showed me there are places worth protecting right under your nose. But summers at the beach really hooked me. Some years in late June, we’d actually have the car packed on the last day of school and go straight down there. After college, I just knew I did not want to work for a big company. I leaned towards environmental stuff with my biology degree. What led me to nonprofit work was literally an ad in the paper, for a door-to-door field canvasser. I did this for environmental and social causes for years. It lead me to where I am now. That job and the organizations I worked for taught me how to organize people. It also taught me that education is not always enough. You need people to demand policies and laws that actually protect the environment and people. ![John surfing](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3e8OYJLOw0Y6U8kq4mqm4W/b9d01d97d209a82eb2f66450cf7b8261/Me_Surfing_Ike___Hannah.JPG) __What are some outdoor activities that you enjoy participating in and why?__ I’m kind-of a one trick pony with surfing. It’s pretty much all I do if I’ve got the time and conditions are good. I’m trying to get into surf fishing, but there is a big time commitment there. I’m trying. I dabble. Some stand up paddling, mostly on flat water. It’s a good way to see birds and wildlife. But really, anything you can do at the beach. __Obviously you have taken a professional path towards focusing on the ocean, beaches and shorelines with Surfrider. As a human being, is the ocean where you personally connect, or is there a greater environmental malady that you are particularly passionate about?__ It is where I connect. I structured my life to be near the ocean. I took a job that let me live near the beach, I bought the closest house to the beach I could afford, twice. Taking the Surfrider job I knew I’d deepen my connection to the coast and ocean. This work has made me realize that the same is true for so many people; it’s where so many people connect. It’s not trivial either. It’s not just playing in the surf and sand. If you think creation is important, then “re-creation” is important too. The world can be such a screwed up place these days. Imagine what it would be like if people couldn’t go to the beach, ocean, or their favorite natural place and connect with nature. We’d be a whole lot worse off. The greater malady of course is Climate Change. While there is plenty of appropriate focus on the causes (emissions) end, everything we do at Surfrider is impacted on the results end — the sea level rise, the ocean acidification, the loss of beaches, and the impacts of storms. So while we don’t work on the emissions end of climate change, it is all related. ![john getting ready to protest for global warming awareness on subway](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/51M3q1YuPuU62masKkmKkS/e3a029042caf16d65044bd4f036475d8/IMG_3580.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __If you could have a conversation with the youth of the world today, what would be your one takeaway point that you would urge them to embrace?__ My message would be different for different youth. If they live in a democracy, I’d say use your democracy, get fully involved in that as a way to bring about environmental change. If not, I’d say reject Western consumer culture and work in whatever way you can to protect the natural environment where you live. __Obviously there are some significant battles that we are fighting with respect to the environment. Do you ever see success?__ Yes! Surfrider Foundation actually measures our successes by campaign victories. We count them. When a decision is made like a law is passed or a policy is created that is good for the environment, we count that as a victory if it was a local chapter campaign. We put it right on the Surfrider website at [http://www.surfrider.org/campaigns](http://www.surfrider.org/campaigns). It’s a great way for people to know what they are getting for their donation to Surfrider Foundation. We have hundreds of victories to date; some big some small. Some big local ones include helping to stop three different proposals for Liquid Natural Gas facilities offshore in the New York, New Jersey area. Also local bag laws dealing with plastic bags, things like that. A big national victory last year was stopping offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic. We won! But now we have to fight that campaign all over again. That’s what’s hard in the environmental movement. Every victory is temporary and every loss is permanent. > That’s what’s hard in the environmental movement. Every victory is temporary and every loss is permanent. __How will you know that you have accomplished a current mission or campaign?__ With a campaign, it is easy. They are clearly defined. If this decision is made, we won, if this other decision is made, we lost. With mission...it’s never over. The coast is never saved, it is always being saved. ![Receiving signed surfboard in DC](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2QhRswuvlYYE2qeWqGACwq/58cce4f7a0d7b02eaf41d9511fbf7b51/Stauffer_Smith_Weber_in_DC_w_Surfboard.jpg) __What are some easy tips and tricks that you have acquired over a lifetime that would help people, regardless of their connection to the environment, to simply live a more conscious lifestyle?__ Simple — get rid of your television. I did 25 years ago. I haven’t missed a thing. In fact, it frees up so much of your life to do and learn other things. Plus, without TV you don’t want all the stuff they are selling you. You don’t feel inadequate or lacking or needy of the crap they are selling you in commercials. Also, when giving gifts, think in terms of experiences, not things, including for yourself. Time with friends or loved ones at a concert, play, dinner, surf trip, ski trip, weekend getaway is the kind of thing that will last a lifetime in memories. The thing advertised on TV will probably not last you until next year. To be more conscious, I’d suggest visiting your “away” — as in where you throw things away. Visit your local landfill (or any landfill if you can) or recycling center etc. It will change your attitude about all the “stuff” in your life. Become more materialistic. That’s right, more materialistic. And by that I mean think and consider the full life cycle of everything that passes through your hands. How was it made? Who made it? What are the raw materials involved? How were they extracted? It’s a way to know your world better and to do less harm when you have that knowledge. > To be more conscious, I’d suggest visiting your “away” — as in where you throw things away. Visit your local landfill (or any landfill if you can) or recycling center etc. It will change your attitude about all the “stuff” in your life. __If you could erase a single environmental issue from planet earth, what would it be and why?__ Greed or ignorance but that’s just not going to happen. ![John and Spring Lake Mayor Naughton](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4YipXv0M7mQowI0uiqwEko/959c4e13fae1822932e502685d89a519/Me_and_Spring_Lake_Mayor_Naughton.jpg) __How can people contact you or their local Surfrider Chapter?__ They can and should go to [surfrider.org](http://www.surfrider.org/) and click on the “Our Network” tab and choose “chapters.” You can search the map or the table [there](http://www.surfrider.org/chapters). There are also clubs in schools. If there is not one in your school, get some friends together and start one up. Chapters and clubs are great but people shouldn’t feel like they have to go through them or go to them. We have an Ocean Friendly Restaurant program now. See the criteria and if you own a restaurant, register it [here](http://www.surfrider.org/programs/ocean-friendly-restaurants). Or just tell your favorite restaurants about it. There are also DIY ways to connect. These days, people seem to just go to the beach, pick up a bunch of trash, take a picture and hashtag it [#riseaboveplastic](https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/riseaboveplastic/) or [#surfrider](https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/surfrider/). For a motivated person, I think there are a lot of options to engage in our mission.

HEROES Spotlight: Kait Bykowicz

Jan. 04, 2018
*Kait Bykowicz is a sponsored Obstacle Course Racer, personal trainer, and designer hailing from Oklahoma City. She focuses on supplementing her intense training with just simply being outside. As a designer she owns and runs her own studio [3oh'9](http://www.3oh9.com/), with a focus on helping startups and non-profits achieve amazing results with their creative. Kait is an inspiration to strong women and a symbol of perseverance. We had the chance to catch up with Kait in between races to hear her story.* __Where were you born and raised?__ I was born and raised in Valley City, OH. It's a very rural farming township in North Eastern Ohio. I lived there for 21 years before relocating to Oklahoma after college. __How did you get into adventure racing?__ I got into Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) in 2011. I had been running road races since I was a kid, and track in high school, but had kind of distanced myself from it in college. That is until I heard of this race where you climbed over walls, and under barbed wire, and it was this new kind of big deal thing that sounded like a great time. Although far from what it is today, 6 years later, it was a welcome change from road running that gave me a renewed interest in fitness and running. That same year I ran my first Tough Mudder with my dad by my side, and I walked away with hypothermia, sore, defeated, and hungry for more. The amount of mental strength you have to have, to command yourself to continue when every part of you wants to quit, is amazing. When you gain that ability for your mental strength to be deafening over the pain you feel, you can conquer anything, and it becomes addicting to see what you can do next. ![kate on climbing wall obstacle](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2PkQBicDrGC8iMKc4eWs8W/bf7dc8be6ebd5d95f97dba462881942a/FB_IMG_1510775914453.jpg) __What would you say to other women that want to do their first adventure race but are intimidated?__ The sport is men heavy, often races I toe the start line with maybe 5 other women, after having watched a couple dozen men go off. We fight for equality, yet so many of us believe we aren't capable of things our men counterparts are. Let me tell you, you are. The women who are in the sport are super amiable. I have only ever met one woman at a race, who made me feel inferior purposely. One. Out of 100s of races. I encourage all women to get out there and try a race. Don't wait for your friends to agree to go. I remember the first race I ran alone, I almost didn't go. Mud Ninja, in Ohio. My friend bailed the night before, and I told myself I couldn't do it alone. I did end up going alone, knew no one, and still had help offered when I needed it, and finished. Challenge yourself to go and make new friends, have new experiences, and walk away with a different kind of strength. If running alone scares you, and your friends aren't up for a run, look for a local team. Team Valhalla has become my family away from home. The support always helps calm anxiety before a race. ![kate on monkey bars](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5LePOGVBNmYGE26iMOieCU/833e1de96a1a70e25e876e13b607739b/FB_IMG_1510775971352.jpg) __What was the most challenging race you've competed in so far and why?__ The most challenging race I've competed in was OCR World Championships 2016 in Blue Mountain, Ontario. Although I think 2017's course was harder, I was under prepared for 2016. Living in Oklahoma there are few areas to run any sort of elevation change. The mountain tore me up physically and mentally. I was drained and dead when I crossed the finish line in 2016. Although, the charity Make A Wish 8k at the OCR World Championships 2017 might be a close second. The hurricane winds at the top of the mountain, with the hardest rain I have ever encountered, and cold temperatures made me hypothermic and absolutely miserable. Especially after having ran the 15k, and team challenge before it. ![kate preparing for the monkey bar obstacle](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/B66NwnTB3UAyOImMCU6ya/509c9cf38ce047dd8a27e401379e0a11/race_3647_photo_58286408-01.jpeg) __What's you favorite obstacle?__ I have 2. One of my favorite obstacles is the Indian Mud Run Floating walls, from the Indian Mud Run Race in Coshocton, OH. They've really reinvented them over the recent years, and watching the genius behind it's evolution is awesome. They make for some pretty cool pictures, and the people watching think they're alot harder than they really are. The other was a new one for me at OCRWC 2017, the La Gaffe du Draveur, from The Northman Race. A series of poles that you cross and move from side to side. It was innovative and surprisingly fun. __What weaknesses are you currently working to overcome and what does your training look like to attack it head on?__ My biggest weakness is elevation climbing. I've always hated hills. But I recently bought another property specifically to build obstacles to practice, and it has hills! A run around the block is about 4 miles and 500 ft of climbing. Not much, but for around here it is more than I've found anywhere else. Since I've moved here I have definitely noticed a change in my training, and PR'd my 5k in a local race, on a flat course unintentionally just setting out to have a good time. I run hill sprints weekly now, and while I still hate hills, it definitely helps. __Would you consider yourself to be environmentally conscious, and why?__ I would say I am decently environmentally conscious, but I could probably do more. Is there a particular natural place that you resonate with? Anywhere out in the country. Where houses are few and far between, it's easier to breathe, and it's quiet. The land is often untouched and you pass more cows road running than cars or people. I was raised out in rural OH, and rolling farmland is where I've always felt at home. ![kate and friend getting psyched](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2GkeZtvN4QiiGWywKYAyoI/076908cabfcec3d8c2fd8f1f8da5ef65/FB_IMG_1510775998781.jpg) __If there were an individual cause that you care about, related to the environment, what would it be?__ Animal habitats and the impact we as humans have on them environmentally. I'm a big animal lover. (I have 2 large dogs, and I've been dog sitting a 3rd for 6 months.) The thought that we are destroying their homes, and leaving them with few places to live, and quite frankly just ruining their lives, breaks my heart. We are seemingly careless about species other than our own, destroying their habitats in a moment. If we keep destroying the few places nature still takes precedence, our world is going to become a very dismal place. __Do you think there is an intersection between being an elite obstacle course athlete and caring about the environment?__ Of course there is an intersection between being an elite OCR racer and caring about the environment. Our races are held in some of the most beautiful areas, and anyone who has tried to find a venue for an OCR to be held at, can attest to the fact that there aren't all that many large plots of untouched land left. I took part in a 12 hour overnight adventure race, Dusk till Dawn, that was held in a state park in Kansas. We covered 50 miles on foot and bike, through corn fields, woods, and lakes. Almost everything I take part in is outdoors, and largely requires the environment to be natural and not man made. Those of us who spend so much time outdoors have no problem seeing the beauty, and knowing we have to protect it. It's on us to remind our indoor counterparts such. __Where can people find you, follow you, get in touch?__ You can find me [@kaitmzd](https://www.instagram.com/kaitmzd/) on instagram and also through [my design studio's website](http://www.3oh9.com/) if you are interested in discussing my creative work.

HEROES Spotlight: Erika Bergman

Jan. 01, 2018
*As a submarine pilot and National Geographic Explorer, Erika Bergman is a passionate storyteller. She studied chemical oceanography at the University of Washington while working as a diesel engineer aboard the tall ship SV Lady Washington and a steamship engineer aboard the SS Virginia V. Since then she has worked as a submersible pilot for exploration, research, and filmmaking. Erika is an editor on [OpenExplorer.com](https://openexplorer.com/home), a site dedicated to supporting and curating a new era of connected, citizen exploration. She is also the Founder of [GEECs](https://www.thegeecs.com/) - Global Engineering & Exploration Counselors; providing a network of thrilling engineering camps to girls around the world.* __Where were you born and raised?__ Surprisingly complex question - I was born in San Antonio Texas however I moved often as a girl. We lived in Texas, Florida, Washington, and Hawaii. In high school I applied to Rotary International as an exchange student and was placed in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. So I also consider Central America part of where I was raised, I grew up very quickly in that year. ![erika bergman in submarine in curcao](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3xA6cxllmoiioIAaMmyUgo/0c474b939fd7a63b617f03e10c0f0046/Copy_of_Bruce_and_Erika_with_NG_flag._Curacao._Photo_by_Barry_Brown._1024x1024.jpg) __How did it all begin for Erika? Tell us a bit about your childhood, your early passions and interests and a bit about your support system at home.__ I feel like mixed families can be very good for childhood development. I grew up the youngest between remarried parents and various step-siblings. I’m grateful for them all now, but certainly at the time we all learned how to cope with personality differences. My entire family always encouraged me to march to the beat of my own drum, and they continue to be pillars of support. I spent long stretches of time as a girl on my own in the woods and jungles of Washington and Hawaii. I had pretty standard farm chores, feeding cattle, mowing the lawn, and painting buildings. I particularly loved anything I got to do with the tractor, I loved our John Deere tractor and made as many messes with piles of dirt and manure as I did tidy them up like I was supposed to. Bless their hearts my folks let me get as dirty and wild as I wanted, and let me adventure into nature with a machete as long as I took a dog. It was always, “Take the dog with you, and be back for dinner!” and I was off. It was a glorious childhood. ![filming cursab](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/63lWSo5kROuo0kmEcoe4Sc/25d2d85f0853f53b7f0a5099c8fd7be9/Erika_filming_Curasub._Photo_by_Barry_Brown_copy_1024x1024.jpg) __How in the world did you land on such a niche passion focused on oceanography, underwater robotics and marine and ocean exploration at such an early age?__ “If you cut me I bleed cold, salty, clear.” I think that’s a line from an old sea shanty. I don’t think I can explain it much better, I’m a water person. I’m also a big nerd, so things with motors and engines, like ships, and marine robotics and submarines were just a draw I couldn’t escape. When we docked our tall ship next to a steam ship one summer when I was 18, I could hear the steam engine hissing and thumping and I was instantly drawn in. I simply HAD to go work on it. Being an steam engineer, a “fireman,” was everything I dreamed it would be. My domain was deep in a steamy bilge surrounded by huge thumping machinery. My job was throwing 15 pound diesel atomizing burners in and out of the steam generating “firebox” and locking them in place with a massive lever that seated with a really satisfying thud. I was just alone down there oiling all the pistons and pumps, getting all greasy, I was just so happy. Every new engine and robot gives me that same joy - it’s so tangible. Engines make things move, it’s that simple. ![Erika Bergman on board sub at surface of water](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3rhwiurLy04MMc4Cu4qg6O/d0914665767e1442c81736a2d6e191a7/JAN_25_2017-3_1024x1024.jpg) __What are some of the primary issues do marine robotics and GEEC’s solve for?__ The ocean is notoriously problematic for anything mechanical or electrical. The pressure, the salinity, the biofouling of instrumentation, a true list of the challenges would daunt even the bravest ocean engineering firms. We’re going to need an army of committed innovators to find solutions to these challenges. The goal with GEECs is the inspire a league of future ocean engineers who value a balance of pure conservation and sustainable resource management. The biggest issue, and easiest to solve in my opinion, is that we haven’t even explored the entire sea floor. GEECs enables girls to lead their own small scale mapping projects and inspires scientific questions for their future work. This develops the explorers of the future, but also adds to the sorely under developed network of seafloor data, topography, and ecology now. Double whammy. ![girls learning at GURC alameda](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2dx6rJNQOM88k4wAWGuom2/bf2e7126e41c760f32443a3049df4f5d/GURCAlameda7_1024x1024.jpeg) __What are some of your most notable accomplishments? Humbly, how do you refer to yourself at this point? Scientist? Oceanographer? Marine Conservationist? With so many areas of interest, how do you find focus?__ I think the most telling way to identify yourself is by the way people store you in their phone contacts. Without any suggestions, I’m often stored as “Submarine Girl,” so I guess that’s the best title for who I am. Day to day, I call myself a submarine pilot. However I’ve been described as a renaissance woman of exploration, and I like that. The stellar thing about the ocean is that you really need to consider yourself all of those things (all of the above), to impact any one. The ocean is tied so tightly to everything on the planet, you must maintain a broad picture in your head of who you are, so that you don’t miss an opportunity to make an impact from a different angle. My greatest accomplishments are in telling the untold stories of the ocean, and being a resource/reference for those doing conservation work. I go out there and produce films for national Geographic that tell the story of bizarre creatures of the deep to millions of viewers, but I also sit in a little huddle with 4 or 5 girls late at night at the aquarium and tell ghostly tales about being entangled and trapped underwater in a submarine (we came out of it just fine obviously, but the story is a good one). I don’t know which of those I’m more proud of, but my gut tells me it’s hanging with my young gal pals and dreaming of the amazing things they will accomplish in the future because of the night they camped out at the aquarium with the Submarine Girl. ![kids learning at GURC berkeley](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5UJ0yZPVtuSiIQu6mSGiSG/41eb58de4c5ee3685915329c9b1d2588/GURCBerkeley2_1024x1024.jpeg) __You appear to also be quite the filmmaker. How did you get involved with film?__ Behind every great camera shot, is an engineer who scurried about assembling complex film rigs of tracks, and motors, and bicycles wheels and cables. With National Geographic filmmaking you take that engineering challenge and add distance, jungle heat, bugs, and language barriers, and you have the perfect bait to to draw out the wild child who played with tractor engines and dirt all through childhood. I became a National Geographic Explorer by writing a grant to steam live skype calls from inside a submarine, no film challenge as daunted me more than that, yet. ![Erika exiting her sub](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/28DCgbprFakuKOUmyy2WWs/a551c2882baf63afa63ce14025481f8e/JAN_25_2017-1_1024x1024.jpg) __Your connection to the environment is evident. Can you tell us a bit about the environmental challenges you think are most pressing right now, and some solutions you believe would positively change the trajectory of our current world?__ We’re ushering in a new era of human growth on our little planet. I think we will find ways to accommodate the food and resources needed for this gigantic population, but what we haven’t addressed enough is waste management. I spend a lot of time on the seafloor, and boy let me tell you, it is a garbage dump down there. We need to address our obsession with single use plastics and carefree and liberal use of garbage cans. I think the key lies in sustainable packaging, and sustainable clothing. Those two plastics are suffocating the ocean, and this will quickly come back to suffocate us. One of the solutions I’ve seen in the clothing sector, are sustainable blue jeans production. I had no idea how deleterious the blue jean manufacturing process was on the ocean, and the humans who make them. That’s an area that needs more storytelling. I would encourage consumers to get informed, and hold themselves to higher standards of clothing reuse. There’s a film called River Blue that bent my mind, it’s a good place for all of us to start. ([riverbluethemovie.eco](http://riverbluethemovie.eco/)) ![Erika working with open ROV](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1xzifcshQYMCkoo4imeaOk/18cbd163a35a7ebd35b6ee27b648a8a1/Copy_of_OpenROV_Portrait_1024x1024.jpg) __You work heavily with young girls, helping them to express their intelligence and explore a career in science without boundaries or limits. When you stand in front of the newest group of young, impressionable minds, what do you say? They could choose to follow the next a-list instagram celebrity, but they choose GEEC’s instead. How do you keep them engaged and influence their future?__ I give them the opportunity to make their own instagram rival the awesomeness of any celebrity they look up to. I show them that they have star power. I also do not coddle them, I hold them to a very high standard, and make it clear that every hope of success is on their shoulders. Not a single girl has let me down or made an excuse for a mistake. If you expect great things, they will deliver, and love doing it. ![Young girls working at GURC Berkeley](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/eaV6AjW55Q2OWkGSM0iwY/fca7d4f1afd3ad5bcaff8d1eb923f9ae/GURCBerkeley4_1024x1024.png) ![Girls outside working at GURC Alameda](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/CbC9Le9drasyUgO6g06Og/47cc2a766290241278d859fad6b9363a/GURCAlameda3_1024x1024.jpeg) __What is your next project and what are some aspirations you have for the near future?__ My next project is the most daunting I’ve ever undertaken. It’s to stay the course, and keep doing what i’m doing. An education company is not a big sexy draw for everyone, but it’s important. With 100 girls through the program, and taking leadership roles as mentors during each new camp, I’m so happy to see Girls Underwater Robot Camp growing. Now the question is, what next? I struggle with the next steps, just like anyone halfway down a path with nothing but mountains to climb in front of them, but I’m ready to scale up GEECs to reach thousands of girls the world over. I’m open to suggestions :) <iframe width="100%" height="400" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fkKfjxsOejQ?rel=0" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> __Where can people find you or get in touch?__ Instagram [@theerikabergman](https://www.instagram.com/theerikabergman/) for pretty pictures of the ocean. Email: [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]) for GEECy business. Twitter for those that like thoughts: [@erika_bergman](https://twitter.com/erika_bergman) Or they can follow our various adventures and expeditions on [OpenExplorer.com](https://openexplorer.com/home), and then start their own!

HEROES Spotlight: Catherine Capon

Dec. 28, 2017
*Catherine Capon is a British naturalist, adventurer, animal lover, journalist and traveler. She travels the world in search of incredible destinations for ecotourism while writing about, filming, and photographing the journey in order to inspire others to do the same. Catherine has found through her travels that ecotourism has become a powerful method of conservation world-wide. By encouraging others to value these destinations for their own vacations they become infinitely more valuable as a preserved resource rather than a destroyed one. Her adventures are thrilling and unique and we hope you are inspired to try one for yourself after reading this spotlight.* __Where were you born and raised?__ I grew up in Greater London where the choices of outside space to explore and play in were limited. However, for as long as I can remember, I’ve craved being outdoors. I was the kind of kid who came home from school with frogs in my pockets, muddy tights and grazed elbows. ![catherine with tortoise](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5Z647TY1rikUAsu4aoECGM/af5b6c711d5ef1bcd0790e2008dfbc6d/12309894_10100463871945925_2000163207519819156_o.jpg) __Tell us a bit about your journey and your obvious alignment with the environment and particularly the ocean.__ My passion for nature led me to study zoology and ecology at Imperial College in Central London — perhaps the most removed you can possibly be from the natural systems on this planet. Classroom learning was always frustrating for me as I just wanted to see, smell and feel all that I was being taught in the wild. So, when the opportunity came up to study bats in Honduras for three months, I jumped at the chance. That expedition completely changed my life. I replaced my comfortable London bed for a hammock, cooked rice and beans every day on a fire that I had to start myself ‘Bear Grylls Style,’ washed in a river and had mosquito bites on every square inch of my body. However, I’d never been happier. I’d wake up to howler monkeys calling. Set up mist nets in the forest at night to take data from bats and watch fireflies dance around my head rather than rubbish late night TV. Life there was simple and beautiful and I felt completely connected to the natural world. Upon returning home from Honduras, I knew that, in my career, I wanted to inspire other people to have wild adventures too. I hoped that if others experienced the same awe and wonder that I did, places like the cloud forest of Central America with their network of interconnected species could be cherished and protected. And so, since university, I’ve worked in wildlife TV production, sustainability campaigning, and conservation journalism. I’ve learnt huge amounts about the best way to engage an audience in important global issues. But, the one thing that doesn’t work is fear mongering. ![catherine with snake](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2rx53ELg3amqKISWmwYWCm/e21c01e383da1cbb6493044dc535b18a/12232781_10100462331727535_663905949692446512_o.jpg) ![catherine with chameleon](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1aB8ePSkgEMMSKk8uKGq8I/d92ba4dc666bdd13fbc0f70d5843216d/15039629_10100690242258005_906989763780529833_o.jpg) Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the growing human population is putting unsustainable pressure on the natural world. However, the campaigns, TV shows and articles that I’ve worked on that have been most successful, are the ones that remind us of the beauty of the natural world, the simple things that we can do to make a difference and the small wins that we’ve had. Ecotourism does all of these 3 things. How many of you count down the days until you travel? We all love our vacations. But what if everyone swapped a resort for an ecolodge and sunbathing to wildlife watching? What effect would that have? As well as having life changing adventures, ecotourism is one of the best tools that we have to save endangered species from extinction. The more tourists that come to see and photograph the animals — the more money is coming into the communities. The local people then start to see that the animals are worth more alive than dead. This helps reduce things like poaching, bushmeat hunting, illegal fishing and deforestation. In fact, scientists say that without ecotourism, gorillas would now be extinct in the wild. So, there I was in December 2014. An enthusiastic naturalist with over 7 years of media experience under my belt and a new understanding about the importance of ecotourism. I set myself the almost impossible goal of visiting 12 wildlife hotspots around the world in 1 year. I then teamed up with some of the best photographers and filmmakers in the business to start a not-for-profit blog and vlog about the experiences that you can have with these wild animals. Nearly 4 years later we’re still going! ![Catherine Hiking](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/TYkcO4uC2qe4uiEOCGWu6/2c7739a1026c9797040f14dc6b13213b/Copy_of_4M5A4588.jpg) __You seem extremely well traveled. Where have you been and why did you choose each destination? Pick your favorites.__ I’ve now been fortunate enough to have travelled to over 60 countries (133 left to see!!) and I choose destinations with the greatest opportunities to see the truly charismatic animals of our planet in the wild. This isn’t to say that the less alluring animals aren’t important. However, you’re more likely to inspire wildlife adventures with tigers and orangutans than the critically endangered Bolivian chinchilla rat! One of the toughest questions that I get asked is to name my favourite destinations. Each place really does have its unique highlights. However, if I’m pushed, I’d say my top 3 destinations for wildlife are: Madagascar, the Galapagos and Uganda. You can check out [my blog](http://catherinecapon.com/) to see why! ![catherine with lemurs](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7lKsShRw3YYsMqI2sQuK2/2fce27b904612de848e9c6be94fe4036/12322378_10100464078831325_2569831443984217277_o.jpg) ![baby orangutan](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1M94Afb7Uw66eoQgIso6wQ/b47f27436cb7e9963be13545b342f899/14633332_10100661769447745_1411520115771270181_o.jpg) __In your travels, what are some of the worst things you have seen with regard to the current state of the environment?__ Every destination has its environmental challenges. Overdevelopment and irresponsible tourism in Crystal River, Florida. Deforestation for palm oil plantations in Borneo. The exotic bushmeat trade in Uganda. Habitat fragmentation in Madagascar. I could write something for every destination that I’ve travelled to! However, rather than focusing on the negative practices that are threatening the exquisite animals that inhabit our planet, let’s focus on something good! In every destination that I’ve been to, I’ve also met true conservation heroes who are working locally to make real change. These individuals inspire me to carry on my work because together we really could save species from disappearing forever. __You appear to be involved with many different activities and passions. What are some of them and what is the intersection between your passions and environmental preservation?__ My dream is help people fall head-over-heels in love with nature. A kind of ‘green cupid’ if you will. Whether that’s producing TV shows, running campaigns, writing articles, public speaking or creating content for social media, I’ll try any channel to communicate! Through my travels, research and people that I meet, I’m constantly learning about new issues and causes that need attention. Talking about what can be done and how seems far more impactful than just sharing doom and gloom stories. ![catherine with tiger](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6n1ijRPOO44wYE4we88O2W/2f853e843b74c89b6d91db3925077171/12916118_10100521779349025_7151791292620811760_o.jpg) ![catherine with lemur](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5m78L1Wh9YA4EYQuS2q2KK/e49749a3f41e7f1094e1449f8f3df2c1/13130989_10100543863277655_2521158613060959559_o.jpg) __How do you live an eco friendly lifestyle on a daily basis? What are some simple things you have implemented in your life that everyone could do?__ The more you explore the natural world, the more you see how connected absolutely everything is. You therefore start to realise that every action that you take has a consequence. Buying products containing unsustainable palm oil destroys orangutans’ habitat. Overconsumption of meat means vast areas of forest are cut down to grow soya beans for animal feed. Single-use plastic is choking our rivers and oceans. I try to live as consciously as I can. For me, conscious living means observing every thought I think, word I speak and action I take. This sounds like an exhausting process but, once you start, the benefits are phenomenal. With regards to travel, it obviously has consequences for our planet. Flying isn’t environmentally friendly but for most people’s budget and time off work, it’s the only option. It’s not realistic to tell people not to travel. We’re a curious species and will always want to experience new things. However, resorts, cruise ships and other types of mass tourism can be swapped for far more eco options whilst also giving you better holiday stories to tell than who won the sun lounger war. By choosing wildlife, adventure or eco holiday destinations, we can all make a difference. ![sea lions in baja](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6VjWhRJCGQWYIm6sUA8W48/ec6f63354c2c583f7f3c55635bc6d769/Copy_of_baja_trip-14_1024x1024.jpg) ![whale sharks in baja](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/iR6orLz596cIqiMeEkI0U/016a3972a09783f21fedf3b3bfa0f108/Copy_of_baja_trip-50_1024x1024.jpg) ![catherine holding scorpion](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1p3495qmKQwIue6U2kcqAA/e8d51c3de17ccf7754b16f466f99f697/12356915_10100467216174065_1230688899837596254_o.jpg) __If you had the opportunity to speak to the youth of the world and implore a single life lesson, what would that be and why?__ If you believe in something enough, throw everything you have at it and don’t give up at the first hurdle. You just need to be committed enough to work through the tough parts. And there are ALWAYS tough parts. I’ve come across a fair few challenges on my journey. I've suffered from seasickness so violent that I vomited through my dive regulator into shark infested water. In Malaysia, I had leeches sucking my blood all over me. And I mean EVERYWHERE! I've suffered severe dehydration, almost been arrested by police in Mexico and had a gorilla urinate on my head! But, for me, the most challenging part of these expeditions isn't the physical discomforts. Actually, they often just make for even better stories. The hardest part was/is trying to get other people to believe in my dream as much as I do. I've been well used to rejection and being a woman in this sector has been a challenge that I wasn't expecting. I hope this is no longer a factor in the future as I see more and more female adventurers achieving incredible things. However, I have had people say to me 'But you don't look like an adventurer' and 'I've had to fire women from expeditions before. They are too distracting'. For me, every moment of struggle is worth it and I'll keep on promoting eco adventures as a tool for the conservation of this planet's amazing creatures. My advice is to document the challenges as well as the highlights: write them down, photograph them and film them. They are all part of your story that, one day, you can use to inspire others with to take on those impossible challenges. ![rhino](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6XZVlEo6n6o8C0qAug8KYO/230c19a32ecb42bb3bb135dd4c32115d/12916725_10100524138835595_3509359102002540933_o-2.jpg) ![catherine with gorilla](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1QPErLtmI4qkEO6E822Cem/0aab4991d65d23bf79f9030934eee7a6/10469215_10100382940967255_67011580363830147_n.jpg) ![snorkeling](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3inl2vbQhq2qe2WosMGSGW/07734a4e1f7751d637b8986f1817db6b/Copy_of_4M5A5208.jpg) __If there were an individual cause that you care about, related to the environment, what would it be?__ No country that I’ve visited has touched me quite like Madagascar. Madagascar has the smallest species of reptile in the world, 107 species of lemur (20 per cent of the world’s primates), mysterious Tenrecs that resemble an otter-hedgehog hybrid and Baobab trees that look like they are straight from a fairytale book. In fact five per cent of the world’s biodiversity can be found on Madagascar – not bad considering it’s only 0.4 per cent of the world’s land mass! I’ve become spellbound by Madagascar’s distinction but I’m afraid for its future. 30,000 hectares of forest are being cut down each year and, if this rate continues, there will be no forest left within 25 years. Without the forests, wildlife will have nowhere to live! Ecotourism is a viable way to make the forest’s worth more to the local people than turning them into agricultural land. If the Malagasy people can make a good living from guiding tourists through the forests and showing off the befitting animals it hosts, they are far more likely to protect them for many more generations. The key here is that, if you want to save the lemurs, you need to go to visit them. And if that option is financially unobtainable, then you can donate to make a difference. Primatologists from all over the planet have come together to create the Lemur Action Plan — a scientific paper on how to save all 107 species. Only $7million is needed to ensure their future, if we can persuade 7 million people to donate $1, then we’ve done it! If you’d like to ensure that generations to come can enjoy the splendor of Madagascar, you can donate here: [http://www.saveourspecies.org/get-involved](http://www.saveourspecies.org/get-involved) ![whale in baja](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/60HZPZVBCMQe0W6yaI0cQk/fed684d3cb1839036721f7426697979f/Copy_of_baja_trip-79_1024x1024.jpg) ![on boat in uganda](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4gYezS724wmwsGcOAS000u/0e10f4ad2aa7f17e3298bac8577a5f4c/uganda-people-no-sig-2.jpg) __Where can people find you?__ Instagram: [@catherinecapon](https://www.instagram.com/catherinecapon/) Website: [http://catherinecapon.com](http://catherinecapon.com/) YouTube: [https://www.youtube.com/c/CatherineCaponsWildlifeAdventures](https://www.youtube.com/c/CatherineCaponsWildlifeAdventures) ![with veiled chameleon](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4kHmhO2rOMaWGGuiIK8aEK/26085804b778a9d0bbc52286d0eea7fa/12346548_10100460998798735_8795145627137513297_n.jpg) ![scuba diving](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/MWhtGmPk8SEUCsCWUwcKs/73facefc2e333a1fcbf74dce59756aad/Copy_of_P1160126.jpg)

HEROES Spotlight: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Dec. 25, 2017
*Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced Shu-Tez-Caht) is an indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, public speaker, and all-around a titanic, young voice for the environmentalist movement. He is only 17 years old and he has spoken around the world from the TED stage, to the Rio+20 United Nations Summit in Rio de Janeiro, to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He is the Youth Director of Earth Guardians, a movement to empower other young people to step us as leaders and amplify their message and impact. He is also a plaintiff along with 20 other young activists suing the U.S. government for failure to act on climate change, jeopardizing our youth's future. Xiuhtezcatl is an incredible voice for a neglected generation and has a rare wisdom for a such young man. Without further adieu we give you Xiuhtezcatl Martinez...* __Where were you born and raised? Tell us a bit about your heritage and how it has formed your belief system.__ I was born in Boulder, Colorado and was raised between Boulder and Mexico. I was very young the first time I went to Mexico and my first language was Spanish. I grew up as a young kid with all my time and energy spent exploring and playing; falling in love with the world. I traveled so much as a young child. My parents took me all over mexico. I would go to a lot of different tribal ceremonies and I very much grew up with traditional dances, traditional songs and exposure to the culture of my people. It gave me such a sense of connection with the world. It really helped shape my identity as a Meshika person and someone who is a representative of the Meshika people. I also feel a sense of responsibility fighting as my ancestors did. My father and my grandfather used to tell me stories of my ancestors fighting for our people. It gives me the feeling of being a warrior. I have the same connection to our land and our water and resources that come from nature. I began to learn about environmental issues from my mom and the work that she has done with Earth Guardians. I gained a sense of urgency to fight and protect the planet. It has all helped to shape the way that I am today. My cultural heritage, to everything I learned from mom mother as well. Activism. Resistance. Non-violent disobedience. It was just very much a part of my childhood growing up. ![Xiuhtezcatl Martinez FrontRange](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/53w4iBD8AgWocM4AOQ8aGY/f7105d673d11d6ee043b5dde720fe053/16.07.29_Xiuhtezcatl_Martinez_FrontRange-531_done_1024x1024.jpg) __When kids are younger you'll catch them at the park or playing sports or playing with friends. How did you come to feel so passionate about the environment at such a young age?__ My parents taught me to love and respect nature. Love and respect the earth. It was very much a ceremonial practice with my father. We would celebrate nature with dance and songs and prayer. That allowed me to establish a really strong connection. My mom always took me outside. I used to run around in the first and catch snakes in the grass outside. As a little boy I didn't got to school until third grade. I was maybe 9 or 10. The first time I ever went to school. Everything I knew as a young child revolved around tribal ceremony and nature. I was simply able to form a really strong bond. In my household, it was emphasized to protect and respect the natural world. I did all the fun things that little kids do, I just did it specifically outside. __With your constant travel and your mission, how are you pursuing knowledge? Are you attending school? Do you plan to attend university in the near future and what do you plan to pursue as a focus?__ It has been wild. The last several years of my schooling have been in and out. Taking semesters off to travel. Taking weeks off to travel. I have always loved learning. I love everything from science to history to mathematics, just learning about the world and my place in it. The last school that I went to was an absolutely incredible experience. I am extremely passionate about learning. I stopped attending school last November. I am just finishing online in order to just graduate high school, just to get the certificate. However, the knowledge that I am receiving from the world, is just so much more than I would ever receive in a classroom or from a professor. I am meeting the most incredible, knowledgable people. From economists to politicians and analysts, scientists, entrepreneurs, historians, indigenous leaders, and people that care indigenous wisdom. Leaders on the front lines of different movements. The spectrum of knowledge that I am receiving just by being in the world, living and experiencing it, traveling; all of these things are so much deeper than I would get in a classroom. College is not in the plans right now. I think the institution of university right now is a little bit limited, in terms of what the world has to offer as opposed to paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend a school every year. I think there are a lot of things about our education system that are currently broken. I think education is one of the most important things in the world. I think a lot of things need to change in order to do it appropriately and adequately to help prepare the next generation for the world we are going to grow up in as well as provide the adequate tools to build in it. So yes, I pursue education for the rest of my life but maybe not in the traditional sense. But I am always learning. ![our time protest](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1DuyO6Wb4kgYWUiwqKO40M/9234707c9fea5731eab16f54ef57d68b/MG_5078-2_1024x1024.jpg) __How did you discover your love for hip-hop and what else do you like to do when you're just enjoying some free time? What does your music help you communicate?__ The first hip-hop album I listened to was made by Michael Franti. He had an album called *Stay Human*. It's a really old album of his. Was a very Hip-Hop R&B kind of vibe. Super political. That's actually he first album I owned. I was 8 years old when I got that. An obviously learning more and listening to more and surrounding myself with music that was different. I remember the first time I heard Talib Kweli’s album Ballad of the Black Gold, which was about oil and the fossil fuel monopolization of the planet. I was so moved by that song because it was such a dope beat and such a catchy track with such a powerful message. I listened to KwelI and Mos Def, Jurassic 5 and just really exploring hip hop and its presence in shaping social movements, inspiring social movements and being the anthem for change in the past. Hop hop has been such a powerful tool for change to our history which really excited me and inspired me to use it as an expression of my voice. The last year and a half has been the most music intensive year of my life. I have focused on making my record, Break Free — releasing music, recording, learning my voice, learning about writing lyrics and freestyling, learning how to make beats and tracks. It's been a crazy journey for the last year. Working with other artists and collaborating in the studio is definitely my huge passion. It has helped me find my way as just a kid in this world to things outside of music that make me happy. I still love to just be a kid and go on crazy adventures at night time and run around with some of my friends tagging the city. I love sports too. I could talk about it any day. I love to surf and ski and eat good food. Anything a regular 17 year old kid would want to do. I love to go to parties, I love to dance and meet people. I love to make music and freestyle, meet people on the streets and jam. As long as it is creative and positive, I'm about it. Talking about climate justice, about social justice, about indigenous rights, about my heritage and my story. It's been a major outlet that connects people in a different way and inspires people to wake up in a way that just speaking and giving TED talks won't do. The music is just a different outlet. When I am playing at a club, or a show or a festival, and the audience gives me their energy. When the music is meaningful, you can see it in their eyes and feel them. It is so powerful. Yes there are songs that are just hype and you see everybody dancing and yelling, but they don't really have deep and powerful meaning. You can feel the vibe of the audience. I have had experiences where this energy comes alive when I play these songs. I think to myself, I am not alone anymore when I think these thoughts. All of a sudden the whole world is in my head. ![x making music](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3dkoo5YNmgEyGKAyWMWkK6/89ffdc8fdab852b6aec8dc1ff90f621c/16.07.29_Xiuhtezcatl_Martinez_Home-213_done_1024x1024.jpg) __With the environment in such dire straights, how do you envision your mission over the next 5 years?__ Over the next five years I plan to take a small step back from all of the work that I am doing publicly. I do a lot of speaking engagements outside to educate people. I've become somewhat of the face of a movement. I really want to focus more on Earth Guardians to build the strongest infrastructure possible. I am working really hard to be a part of shifting the culture of activism to be less about be an activist and focus more on creating change and bringing these ideas into our lives. I am doing a lot of work to bring people together who are going to shape and shift and lead this movement. I want to organize it and begin to be a part of celebrating the intersectionality between the social justice movement, black lives matter, environmentalism, indigenous culture, LGBT community and my participation in a lawsuit against the federal government. We are headed to pre-trial at the end of december and our trial date is in February, taking place in Oregon. I am doing a lot to improve Earth Guardians. We have thousands of kids reaching out to us each year trying to get involved and I feel that I need to spend my time building the infrastructure to help catch all that momentum. There are so many people that want to get involved and I think Earth Guardians can be one of the biggest avenues of capturing the action of all these people. ![X speaking out](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4IRfXJbgIEmkaeyScaawUa/47fa2c04bcaf772b2ba2286eddcae3e8/IMGP4551_1024x1024.jpg) __In general, what is the scariest experience you have ever had?__ My mother does not know about this. If she reads this I guess she will now. She's gonna be so disappointed. Love you mom. I was New Zealand with a few of my friends. One of them is my former language arts teacher, now retired. His name is Jim Barnes and he is in his 60s. The other is my crazy producer, my partner in crime, my homie Jazz. It was 8pm and we wanted to get out to the outlook, or peninsula out in the ocean. It was a 2 hour hike to get to. We wanted to do it all but, but time got away from us, so we started super late. We started heading out there and we started walking along the beach. After about an hour we got to a little place where the tide was starting to come in. We had to scramble over some boulders to get to the other side. We saw exactly where we were trying to go at this point. We walked another hour along the beach finally getting to this place which is a beautiful lookout over the ocean. We turned around to head back after kicking it for a little bit and before we new it, the sun was gone. It was a full moon. The waves were insane. We were literally stuck out there. We had to traverse our way back at the bottom of a cliff line where there were smashing waves and there was this moment where my friend actually slipped. It was like he was falling to his death. My 60 year old, former language arts teacher ended up slipping and falling and he was about to land in the ocean. I literally caught his hand and saved his life and it was so so intense. We were super scared after that. We had to take a break and sit for a minute to decide what we were going to do. It was for real a life or death vibe. We were all feeling this way. My friend Jazz, this crazy jungle kid who never wears shoes was also super scared. Obviously we survived and we made it out. We gave thanks to the mood for giving us the guiding light. We made it back to the beach after having to wade through the water. We eventually made it back to the inlet, intentionally jumped in the ocean, had some laughs about the ordeal and just left. It was definitely the scariest experience I have ever had. Also was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. ![x speaking](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2wg2vz0PLSGmYSa0S2aIYa/bf26d78dc7f182452b0507a418e54eed/IMG_3923_1024x1024.jpeg) __If you could get everyone in the world to do 3 things that would positively change the environment, what would they be and why?__ The first thing would be to properly educate yourself. Read articles. Watch documentaries. Talk to experts. The first step is seriously to get educated and informed. Then to integrate the solutions into your lifestyle. Secondly, don't just focus on all of the bad problems that are happening, but also the solutions. What are the most current and efficient energy technologies? What are the newest competitive companies? For instance, Ferrari is producing a fully electric car to compete with Tesla. What will that look like? There are new ways of turning plastic and plastic waste into building materials for houses in underdeveloped countries. Educate yourself about all areas but don't forget to research the solutions as well. The most important part is integrating it into your lifestyle. We also need to recognize the way that we eat. Three meals a day, full plates of food. That is a huge strain on our environment. On our water resources which put a huge amount of strain on places like the amazon to produce food for the world. Eating meat and dairy is one of the biggest contributors to climate change because the entire industry of industrial agriculture contributes heavily to emission-based climate change. One of the most environmentally destructive industries on the planet. That ties into the second one which is to not only be educated, but simply change the way that we eat. Become more aware and make better choices. Taking one day a week and not eating meat. One meal a day and making it plant based. Small steps like that are super powerful. The third thing is to then bring that action to your community. Once you are educated and once you are living it then have that conversation with the community you are connected to. If you are a doctor bring it into your office and talk to people about. If you are a yoga practitioner, while you are teaching classes, tie these messages and these ideas into the studio. It all about bringing these ideas to change lives. Learn it. Live it and bring it out into the world. This can be repeated in every area. Social change, education change, women's rights, LGBT rights and so forth. It translates to everyone. I have never wanted to be in a position to tell people what to do or how to live their lives. I just wanted to spread education and lead by example. ![Xiutezcatl speaking at a high school](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2C0cXk93eQWMq24kiguq86/b6aebe8e72b972a4849a838281ba8402/Xiutezcatl_TzouanakisLR_1024x1024.jpg) __If you could meet one person, alive or dead, who would it be and why?__ Tupac! The cultural influence that he had with his music. He was not truly a political MC. His music was so powerful and ultimately empowering. Especially during that time. Learning and reading his music makes me realize that he was so accessible because he was so real and so raw. His music wasn't beautifully censored. It wasn't all nice and music you would play in front of your mom. It was about explaining thing that translated to message of justice and empowerment. What I love about Tupac and his music, is that he was not reaching beyond himself to be politically correct. He was not reaching beyond himself to be super radical, or beyond his reality to be super gangster. He lived every single thing he talked about. His authenticity is what is missing from hip-hop on a large scale today. You talk about hip-hop today and it's all about drugs and women. That's not what life's all about. That is what I am trying to portray in my music. I am not trying to pretend I am from some place that I am actually not when I am rapping. That is not who I am. ![x performing](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3U8YXpcVDiOmm4kUwEsu8g/e0f7b0b9eb66fd9cf9352a6fcf6c44a3/275_1024x1024.jpg) __How did you find such a strong voice at such a young age and how do you manage the responsibility and challenges that come with it?__ I always came from a very strong platform. A supportive family, supportive community that were always behind me. I never had a doubt in my mind because of the way I was supported from such a young age. That is something that many of the youth today just don't have. I am incredibly grateful for it. Managing at a young age was really not hard. Sometimes it was frustrating because I was missing out on the normal things of a childhood. I wasn't able to just go to school. I had additional expectations that I had to fulfill. The whole expectation thing has been a battle for me. Find the power for that has been a process over the last few years. Taking responsibility for my role as a leader. Recognizing that this is not about anyone else, this isn't about what other people see me as or what other people want for me. I am finding my way through my music. It has helped me to express and be share. I can be authentic and real. I'm not perfect. I'm not a hero, I'm just a kid with a voice trying to find his way and trying to do something good for the world. It has been a struggle but I am finding my way. I am finding more empowerment in my voice than I have ever experienced. ![x shouting into megaphone at march](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1Slw15wW0cawSuKu6iCumg/0baf3b028a918ddb0e63bbc9a16bd8b5/IMG_0354-2_1024x1024.jpeg) __With respect to the environment and its current critical state, what about the future truly scares you?__ There is so much scary stuff that is going on the world right now that I don't often even think about the future. I guess it's connected. Our current rate of species extinction. That scares me. Simply because I am in love with life and knowing that humans are responsible for pushing entire species every year to extinction is just wild to me. Another thing that scares me is the extinction of culture. The loss of indigenous peoples who entire languages, entire tribes, entire voices are actually just gone. In a generation, people are losing ancient, ancient traditions that have been around for so long. From tribes in Australia to Latin America and so many Native American tribes are gone. That terrifies me because it is such a result of genocide and over colonization that has happened at such a systemic level to indigenous peoples. Just my fear that my generation will not take this opportunity to change the world from the way that it currently is. Our generation will not make the right decision and raising the consciousness of others. Our future generations will suffer. I am afraid that when I am an old man and there are 17 year old kids running around the world they are going to have to be doing the same job, but even more intense than I am doing now. I am afraid that people are going to have to live the same kind of life I am now, but maybe even worse. ![x speaking at top of stairs](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6iVeZQ7Jksw8WaMsS60ogQ/e51283a33d02350e391b57b0fe332bd5/DSC00058-_1_-2400_1024x1024.jpg) __Lastly, what is earth guardians and where can it be found?__ Earth Guardians is a global organization working with young people all over the world to empower their voice and offer them a platform to create change by creating a decentralized support network. Earth Guardian crews worldwide that focus on environmental and social justice through this lens of rebuilding a future we want. It's a tribe, it's a family and we are very much connected. It's called an SMO or Social Movement Organization. It is not just an organization or an initiative. It's a living breathing piece of a large social movement. It is significant. [@EarthGuardians](https://www.instagram.com/EarthGuardians/) [earthguardians.org](https://www.earthguardians.org/) [@xiuhtezcatl](https://www.instagram.com/xiuhtezcatl/) [xiuhtezcatl.com](https://www.xiuhtezcatl.com/)

HEROES Spotlight: Patrick Bardsley

Dec. 21, 2017
Patrick Bardsley is the co-founder and CEO of [Spectrum Designs Foundation](https://spectrumdesigns.org/). This organization is incredibly special to us, not just because we could not have built our business without them, but also because they have created a model for providing gainful employment and opportunities for people with autism. Patrick's commitment to helping these individuals lead fuller, more independent lives along with fellow co-founders Stella Spanakos and Nicole Sugrue is a true inspiration and proof that creativity in entrepreneurship can enrich the lives of many. __Where were you born and raised?__ I am originally from the U.K. – I was born in England but raised in the countryside of neighboring Wales. __What brought you to the states many years ago?__ When I was in high school, I came to the USA on a geography field trip. I was blown away by the sheer enormity of the country and I saw so little of it! There’s something about a country this size where you can just feel the potential to take an idea and run with it, and that’s exactly what I ended up doing. ![patrick speaking](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3MNgtlnvFKwymiMccMASUg/2e5e3139f66c413638480edcffb8aaab/13729004_1093374197396828_7070191411033327003_n_1_.png) __How did you get involved with non-profit and specifically, young people with special needs?__ After that fateful high school trip I got the USA bug and got involved with a company called [Camp America](https://www.campamerica.co.uk/), and became a camp counsellor at a camp for individuals with Special Needs. Meeting these incredible people and seeing what an impact the right staff could have on them changed my path forever. __What is your most significant milestone as a young professional?__ As a boy from the UK countryside, there was something unbelievable about being recognized as one of [New York’s 40 under 40](http://nynmedia.com/news/nyn-s-3rd-annual-40-under-40) for the whole nonprofit sector. There are so many worthy individuals in larger organizations, but it felt like a real affirmation of what we’re doing here and underlined the importance of what we’re doing in this region. ![Patrick and co-worker](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/9ktgN2QphuSOO2aowycUG/50fefa0e775d9023296e5aa2447fceb5/16174562_1272016276199285_2788343344767727975_n_1_.jpg) __What is your greatest fear?__ My co-founder, Stella Spanakos! (Talk about fierce ☺ ) __If you could fix one significant, non-political, global problem, what would it be?__ Climate Change! Quite frankly, scientific evidence is non-political. __Why is Spectrum Designs in a position to solve for the problem it has identified?__ At first, I’ll be honest – I wasn’t sure it ever would be. I loved the idea, being involved in something like this from day one you realize there are many times where it could have not worked out if just one or two days had gone differently. Spectrum has grown 80% year-on-year since 2011, becoming a multi-million dollar nonprofit in just 5 years… we are doing something right! People love the story, and my staff and I work tirelessly every single day to make sure this growth is sustainable and meticulously planned. Once we have established our flagship location at the end of 2017, we move to the next phase of regional growth! ![patrich folding product](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/ZfkwqvtuYUcIyoQmkq4mg/f8607a4d8572016870905f321a2ca7b1/IMG_2779_1_.JPG?w=1200&q=80) ![patrick and team](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/60CqPZTbfagWiwwGIcoIAe/a4bc871eb901f17a45a1b7cf2f18ba47/17637033_1327851017282477_3138775202708444039_o_1_.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __If there was a specific environmental issue that you resonate with, what would it be?__ Recycling is something I am pretty passionate about. It is so easy to do, and makes an enormous difference. Why wouldn’t anyone make such a small adaptation to their routine to help society at large? __Is there a natural place that resonates with you particularly?__ For a guy who grew up in the lush Welsh hills and valleys I’m honestly not that fond of the countryside – give me the sound of the ocean over the sound of bleating sheep any day! ![patrick receiving award](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2OLjHlmWYM22OAIOw2weKI/bd378b19e8ef0bd643bb107779d2ee3d/IMG_0295_1_.JPG?w=1200&q=80) __Is there a profound quote or mantra that you choose to live your life by?__ If you want to make a difference, of real significance, here’s what you have to do: Don’t sit down with a smile or a frown, and paddle your own canoe! __When you think about where you live and how it has been negatively affected by environmental neglect, what do you see and experience?__ I once saw an Osprey padding her nest with some plastic garbage. Though I was impressed that ‘nature always finds a way’ there was something deeply troubling about that image. ![having fun at work](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/17p0s7dugYUwS2sAGckYCC/d5c1900d93c044e0987679b790fece07/15541683_1229300393804207_1367340162345711653_n_1_.jpg)

HEROES Spotlight: Kate Williams

Dec. 18, 2017
*Kate Williams stepped into the role of CEO at 1% for the Planet in May 2015 bringing a strong track record as a leader. Her former roles include Board Chair of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Executive Director of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, and founder and owner of a farm business enterprise. She has also served as an elected political leader in her community. Her achievements are only superseded by her vision and commitment to helping our environment through 1% For the Planet's mission.* __Where are your originally born and raised?__ I was born and raised outside of Boston, MA. My Mom was from Louisiana and my Dad from North Dakota, and they had both chosen Boston, so I had the benefit of living in a home and in a place that my parents had chosen and loved. __What is your absolutely favorite thing to do?__ I absolutely love long distance running. A perfect day would include a long run (or hike) on a trail or dirt road, with a few unanticipated adventures thrown in. Add some friends to run with, and...perfection. __Is there a particular phrase or quote that you live your life by?__ I have two - I don’t always embody them, but I always return to them for guidance. The first is “Do something every day that scares you” (Eleanor Roosevelt), and I return to this one as a reminder to keep learning, pushing myself, and generally not getting comfortable. And the second is “Nothing Without Joy,” (Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia educational approach), and this one is pretty self-explanatory and always good to remember. ![Kate 1% logo](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2zJMrFDoiQek6KG4kswqIA/52fdbd5930e9e33e30c32e2e2c7e7b6f/Kate_2.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __What are a few of your hobbies and hidden talents?__ In the hobby department, I basically opt to be outside whenever I can and I tend toward the aerobic-junkie end of the spectrum - hiking, running, cross country skiing, paddling. I’m also an avid reader and Audible book listener. In the hidden talent department, I seem to be good at standing on my head for extended periods on a paddle board. __Do you believe in the idea that one person can impact the entire world?__ Absolutely! I don’t think I could survive without that belief - it’s core to who I am and the work I do. I think it can look very different for different people at different times. Sometimes it’s the Butterfly effect (the hypothetical in which a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil causes a tornado in Texas…) - one person’s smile and kindness in the checkout line changes the course of the day for every person they see. Other times it’s the inspiration of a single act of courage, that inspires other acts of courage that create a groundswell of change. Yet other times, it’s a flash of genius or insight that, when shared, creates a new future. The list goes on. I wholeheartedly believe that each one of us has power and that each of us matters in the shape of our future. That power of collective impact is what 1% for the Planet is all about. We believe that everyone - business, individual, consumer, nonprofit - has the ability to make commitments and take everyday actions that add up to positive global impact. __Why did you originally choose a career focused on aspects of the environment and the great outdoors?__ At age 18 I spent a month in the Wind River Wilderness range with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and I clearly remember being out there and having the realization that I had found my passion and that in some way, shape or form, it was my future. I then, like all of us, had to muck around a bit to figure out exactly what that meant, but all of my explorations were either in the form of outdoor education or working with environmental nonprofits to drive change. I’m actually amazed looking back now at how clear and stubborn I was to hold the thread from that moment of realization until today - and I’m sure I’ll continue that moving forward. ![kate speaking](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7ovypfL6W48gOGWSUc46YI/3f69bb33248ebbdebb35dca73033de02/20170414-RSC_0175.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __How did you ultimately get involved with 1% for the Planet?__ I was working for a nonprofit in the 1% for the Planet network, which happened to be in an office across the street from the 1% for the Planet headquarters, which at the time was in a small town in Vermont. I think it’s remarkable that I was able to find my way from the amazing regional nonprofit, Northern Forest Canoe Trail, where I served as Executive Director for 10 years, to the global 1% for the Planet….by simply a walking across the street. What prompted that walk was the itch to grow and learn more (do something that scares you…), and conversations with friends and colleagues, the path to 1% for the Planet emerged. __What is your single greatest accomplishment with this project?__ I’m really thrilled about our addition of individual membership in 2017. This is a really exciting expansion of our model, and creates a great way for us to connect with a new and different set of members, and ultimately to grow environmental giving. I’m glad we took the leap to create and launch this program. __If you could say something to the youth of the world today, what would you say?__ Have courage and hope. Each of you can do something to change the world - you have to believe that’s possible and have the courage to do your part to bring about positive change. I also want to remind you that there is help and wisdom for you should you need it. __Is there a particular natural place that you resonate with?__ There are so many! But when I close my eyes a couple of places jump to the top. The first is Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. I love the great wide open, colorful, austere character, and the landscape that is so full of life and history. The second is a (to me) nameless stream in the Wind River Range, with a big King-sized flat rock in the middle - I slept there one starry night and it was perfection. I could go on, but the last is Great Pond in Maine, where my family has a cabin. I’ve watched and felt every season, weather pattern, and time of day on that lake, and we even baptized our kids in the lake. It’s my home water. ![kate williams patagonia store](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1kNhN6zeEEKu2COcKeMYq8/c35598a3deed8bd7eb6ea1d3fb24b8d6/kate_williams_patagonia_store.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __It is no secret that we have an environmental crisis. So many different issues to focus on, which can be crippling to people. What advice do you have for people anxious for a better tomorrow, but overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem?__ Annie Lamott wrote this great book about writing called Bird by Bird - as in you can only write a book about birds by tackling it one bird at a time. I’ve adopted that as kind of a life philosophy, and it certainly works as a way to find a path through what is overwhelming. Pick what you care about, find a way to do something for that place or about that thing you care about, ask for help if you can’t figure out what to do, keep trying, join with others when you can, step back and reorient when you need to. You can do something every day, even if it’s just making space to discern what excites or worries you the most. Bird by bird. I get overwhelmed when I let myself get dwarfed by a problem so I remind myself to break it down and believe in the value of taking incremental action that builds toward the whole in a powerful and ultimately huge way. That idea of building seemingly small actions toward a larger goal is important. Create time to stay in touch with the larger change you hope for. You may have to take small steps each day, but step by step you will get there. I worry that this sounds simplistic, but it’s a core concept for me. Each of us has a 1% every day that we can choose to create a positive impact.

HEROES Spotlight: Alison Marras

Dec. 14, 2017
*Alison is a New York based certified Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach, blogger, and health-food chef. Her blog, [Food By Mars](https://foodbymars.com/ "food by mars"), is filled with recipes that are original, healthy and delicious. After experiencing sensitivities to certain types of food on her own, she began to see food as medicine and found great benefits to the Paleo way of eating. We loved learning about how she comes up with these incredible recipes and how to analyze your own eating habits to feel your best.* __Where were you born and raised?__ Brooklyn, NY. By age 9 we moved to the suburbs in New Jersey. __When did you first get started cooking and when did you first start seeing food as medicine?__ I first started cooking as a kid. My parents always worked and as the eldest, it was my responsibility to start dinner! I had to be around 12 when I started getting comfortable with cooking. I always felt eating healthy was important, my Grandfather would often talk about what herbs, spices or types of foods were healthy and for what purpose - he was big on reading about that. But I, like most people, grew to follow whatever health trends were out there and whatever was the latest diet-craze, not understanding the science behind any of it. I always tried to eat well when I could. By the time I was in my early-mid 20’s and on my own, I started noticing some sensitivities and issues with certain foods. I started looking more into food as medicine and began my blog around that same time to both express my love for cooking and healthy food. ![alison cooking](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5dJhP3trxSkCcEaaQUmcoy/161883cc87c17167516a92f72e5e8b28/20170518-_MG_2933__1_.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __What type of recipes do you focus on? Do they adhere to a particular diet like Paleo, Ketogenic, Vegan, and why?__ I’m mainly Paleo and focus on what’s called, “Ancestral Eating”. I’ve found that this is how I feel my best and after being diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disease and dealing with a lot of symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, digestive issues, skin and hair issues, etc. -- the Paleo diet has proven to be very healing. After going back to school for my Health Coach & Nutritional Therapist certifications, I’ve gotten to learn more at a cellular level on how foods really affect us, having that knowledge has changed the game on following popular diets… it’s given me the tools to make the decisions on what to eat, when to eat it and why… regardless of diet. __Are all the recipes on your blog your own? Where do you find your inspiration?__ Yes! Sometimes they’re adapted which I usually mention. I find inspiration from all over, many times it’s just something I’m craving or really miss eating that I need to Paleo-fy in order to eat. Most recently, I saw my husband eating a Greek Lasagna called [“Pastitsio”](https://foodbymars.com/home/2017/paleo-spaghetti-squash-pastitsio/ "pastitsio") that I missed after years of not eating dairy or gluten, so I made it “Paleo”! Other times, it’s from restaurants or traveling and also from my fellow food bloggers - I’m part of a fabulous and creative community that always keeps me inspired. ![bacon and eggs](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5N3y1Vt5dKuciYE2uMw6Ug/38e1a6c2f206e0e85259297873d5155b/IMG_0249.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __If you could give people three foods or ingredients to avoid, what would they be and why?__ Generally speaking, everyone is unique - and I love teaching my clients and readers how to listen to their bodies to figure out what’s working for them or not. That being said, there are foods out there that anyone could benefit from eliminating. 1. SUGAR - Sugar is not just the sweets you eat, it’s snuck into many processed foods in some shape or another. It’s the reason most people in this country have blood sugar imbalances, and why Diabetes type 2 is on the rise. Sugar feeds cancer and bad bacterias/yeasts in our digestive systems and in large amounts (which is usually how it’s consumed) can be toxic. We were simply not meant to eat as much sugar as we do in a sedentary lifestyle that we now lead, and our bodies are crying out in the form of disease, and overall sub-par living (like always tired, need to run on coffee, need to snack, etc.). 2. Processed Foods - Fake, de-natured foods that come in boxes and bags are often devoid of any nutrients and nutrients are WHY we eat. Our bodies are depending on specific vitamins and minerals we can only get from foods that our bodies cannot make. The less whole vegetables, fruits and naturally-raised animal proteins we consume and more boxed, microwaved, processed “food” we consume… the greater the degeneration our bodies will experience. The unrecognizable ingredients are not only nutrient-less, but they’re actually stripping our bodies of the nutrients we do have. Doing a challenge like Whole 30 is a great way to see how much you might actually depend on processed foods and how great of a need it is to greatly reduce it from your life. Everyone should experience how their body can function with much less of these in our lives and the ones we do use should have as much whole/real, simple ingredients as possible. 3. Unhealthy, Hydrogenated Fats & Oils - Many of us grew up in the “low-fat” era where margarine was a “healthy” alternative to butter and oil. Canola oil and vegetables oils were pushed on us as a “heart-healthy” cooking oil. This notion has been completely disproven and no one should be consuming this stuff. Healthy fats are CRUCIAL to our body’s ability to regenerate, to create hormones, to heal and so much more. When we use healthy fats properly, we are giving our bodies what it needs. By using the alternatives, we are denying our body of what it depends on and giving it a dangerous substance. The oils I use are: Virgin Coconut Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Grass-fed Ghee (lactose-free butter from cooking butter down), and Lard (yes, lard - duck fat, tallow, etc.). Raw Sprouted Nuts, Seeds, and nut/seed butters are also a great source of fat as well as avocados and coconuts. If that sounds insane to you, please do read “The Big Fat Lie” for more information. ![kale, cabbage, avocado salad](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2xupQkPwpSq8iyumWQgKya/cfd3fc143c1d4d71fdc942ed1e42ddf8/IMG_4658.jpg?w=1200&q=80) __If you could get people psyched on one food or ingredient what would that be and why?__ Ooh that’s a tough one! I love to switch up ingredients constantly. Perhaps coconut because it has so many uses - the milk as a dairy milk alternative, the oil as a high heat cooking oil (since it’s saturated and will not oxidize in high temps.), the meat that creates coconut cream (great for whipping with vanilla on top of fruit!), the water for it’s electrolytes. Coconut has many healing benefits and is definitely a staple in my kitchen in many forms. __If people are having health issues how do they begin to understand if their diet is to blame? Where should people start in terms of diet to begin figuring out what their sensitivities are?__ Food Journal, food journal, food journal!! This is the first step anyone can take. Besides recording what you eat and when, you MUST record how each meal makes you feel. After you analyze and look back at your week or even just 3 days, you can learn a lot. For example, let’s say you start each day with a sugar-packed smoothie and see that you get a headache before lunch, you could experiment with eggs and greens for a few days as your breakfast and see what that does instead. ![PALEO SPAGHETTI SQUASH PASTITSIO](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/12cjYsgQzYcqEOGE6W8CQ2/1c7218064957e63c153135b02d08cc63/IMG_0334y.jpg?w=1200&q=80) <small>[PALEO SPAGHETTI SQUASH PASTITSIO (AIP-FRIENDLY, LOW-CARB, DAIRY-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE, GRAIN-FREE)](https://foodbymars.com/home/2017/paleo-spaghetti-squash-pastitsio/)</small> __How do the ingredients we use and consume affect the environment?__ I could go on and on about that, but to keep it short, I’ll say that many of the processed foods for example are obviously a strain to our environment in the form of factories, etc. The poor farming practices that have been widely accepted and even forced on many farmers by using harsh chemicals in the form of pesticides and GMOs is wreaking havoc on our soil (which is depleted of nutrients) and the health and well-being of the livestock that we then consume and in turn hurts our digestive systems leading to a cascade of health issues. Our water is toxic and needs to be heavily filtered and often times needs minerals added back in because we’ve gotten so far from natural spring water that collects minerals naturally. We drink out of plastic that is a massive endocrine disruptor (hormone imbalance issues) and then sadly do not or cannot recycle this plastic so it just sits. We are only as healthy as our environment. __Can trying to eat more sustainably-sourced foods additionally have a positive impact on our health?__ Absolutely. Firstly, from a socially responsible aspect, you can feel much better about the food you are putting in your mouth. I’d rather support farmers and companies that are trying to make a difference in this world and treat animals and their customers with respect than eat factory farmed, fake and toxic ingredients that not only hurts me but the environment. Eating as close to natural, organic, and how our ancestors ate is how our bodies are meant to thrive. ![CHICKEN FLORENTINE BONE BROTH SOUP](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2onyZi0hfCo0O6wImSgCc2/a6a42d36086b77c7839900baa05fe505/IMG_5588y.jpg?w=1200&q=80) <small>[CHICKEN FLORENTINE BONE BROTH SOUP (AIP, PALEO)](https://foodbymars.com/home/2017/chicken-florentine-bone-broth-soup-paleo/)</small> __Are there any other resources (websites, publications, books) people should know about if they want to research the effects of food on their health?__ A great resource is the [Weston A. Price Foundation](https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/). Dr. Price was a dentist who studied indigenous communities who hadn’t been exposed to modern food (processed) and were living and eating off their own land. He observed they were MUCH healthier than the rest of us and compiled his findings from numerous tribes around the world. All the commonalities of these tribes are the basis for Ancestral Eating. It focuses on nutrient-dense, properly prepared food (even including dairy and grains when prepared properly!). __Where can people find you, follow you, and get in touch?__ Follow me on Instagram: [@foodbymars](https://www.instagram.com/foodbymars/) (same on [Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/foodbymars/), [Pinterest](https://www.pinterest.com/foodbymars/), and [Twitter](https://twitter.com/foodbymars/)) And sign up for my newsletter for a free recipe e-book and to get my weekly recipes at [foodbymars.com](http://foodbymars.com/)!

HEROES Spotlight: Alessio Bariviera

Dec. 10, 2017
*Alessio Bariviera is an actor, photographer, filmmaker, conservation photojournalist, survivalist and Earth Day Ambassador. His efforts to showcase the beauty of this planet and highlight our unique relationship with wildlife are extraordinary. He is also passionate about exposing environmental abuse and corruption and has worked on assignment for government authorities to help expose these crimes. Without further adieu we give you our conversation with Alessio Bariviera.* __Where were your born and raised?__ I was born and raised in Arezzo, a small city in the fabulous Italian region known as Tuscany. __When did you first discover your passion for travel, photography and indigenous work?__ My passion for travel unfolded during my years as an undergraduate student in Los Angeles. I wanted to do cinema back then but the more I saw the reality behind the screen the more I grew disenchanted with the industry. I took a semester off and went on a one-month and 2.500+ miles road trip with my best friend around California, Baja California, and last Hawaii. It was life changing. Suddenly I didn’t want to live an actor’s life anymore, instead I wanted to be a host for wild tv formats. To me photography began as, and still is, a means to an end. ![Alessio with gorrilla](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2jmd1bRwvyk0CiusK422Uq/4413221f6aaea185fc89b51ff3939ed4/_BMB0430_1_-2048.jpg) __You have traveled all over the world. Even some places that are extremely remote and feel almost unreal. Where in the world have you felt the greatest connection to and why?__ I have felt the greatest connection deep within the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, where I spent 3 weeks looking for wild male orangutans and tracking tigers. However, I have come to feel that one’s connection to the environment runs parallel with his survival skills. I am not referring to the much advertised military kind of survival, but to natural survival. The former teaches you to look at nature as an obstacle between you and your life, instead the latter tells you that nature is really your ally. Once you start looking at nature as your ally, you are one step closer to becoming one with her. All of a sudden you see things, you pick up smells, you hear things, the whole way you interconnect with nature changes. It is not about superpowers, it is about dusting off the ancestral and wild self we all have but have forgotten. __You're also an avid adventurer and have found ways to blend that into much of your work. Could you tell us about a time when you got in over your head?__ I wasn’t born a conservationist, nor was I raised and educated as one. I am self-taught. And It took me few years to develop that much awareness and knowledge that one needs to turn his detrimental energy for stunts into life cause. During that time I was assaulted and robbed by a baby gang while walking alone at night in Madagascar’s capital. I risked gas suffocation when I ventured solo to Halemaumau’s crater to see bubbling lava at night in the Big Island of Hawaii. More recently, I pretended to be a pangolin buyer to meet up with poachers in Sumatra. I was stranded at a logger’s camp on Papua New Guinea’s upper Sepik river. I caught the deadly Malaria - *Plasmodium falciparum* - and was chased by gun firing pirate bandits in the Solomon Sea while filming my first docu-film. ![alessio by airplane](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4IHtG9PjGwwMciikqYwIu2/1761de27f5562049377c70902294a00e/PNG_3940_1_-2048.jpg) __You are an Earth Day Ambassador and an environmentalist. What are some of the greatest issues you have witnessed around the world?__ I feel like one could talk all day about environmental problems but in the end there is only two roots linking them all: overpopulation and lack of education. Western people are slowly switching to electric cars, are increasingly avoiding single-use plastics, are eating a plant based diet and are buying green energy. What about one less child? Medias don’t dare to take on this topic because it goes against the laws of capitalism. But capitalism doesn’t care about famine, or forests, or the planet. Until humanity as a whole learns to sort itself out, we will hardly ever get out of this. Asian countries wish to develop as Western countries did after WWII. Except when we went through industrialization the world population was less than 3 billion, microplastics weren’t outnumbering fish in the oceans, and wildlife population numbers weren’t down by 58%. __What do you feel is the biggest overlooked issue with respect to the environment you wish would get more attention right now?__ I feel he biggest overlooked issue is equality. Equality for indigenous people. Equality for women. How many problems would not occur if countries and people gave up their arrogance and sense of superiority and listened to indigenous people’s wisdom? How many more green warriors and fewer people there would be if women were respected as men and weren’t forbidden emancipation in Muslim countries? ![alessio befriending wildlife](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6zHL08MJwIYOwcSE22mAGy/56c4f8871473259d8b56dd8b040f1898/PNG_3231-2_1_-2048.jpg) __What is your next adventure, assignment, expedition and why there?__ I’m not a big planner. Adventure, by definition, is about coping with the unexpected. Once one starts planning on something, he is undermining his chances of being surprised or amazed. So, unless I’m on assignment, I usually think about different projects in different countries and I let myself be influenced until the very end. I found out that setback are eventually the one factor that defines all adventures. I currently work as creative consultant for Banijay Group. We will know within days if my first tv format as a host has been given the green light. The format is about submitting myself to indigenous initiations to manhood all around the world. I care about this project because there is still so much lack of understanding and of respect when it comes to indigenous people. Common people often greatly underestimate them. Through this project, as I did during the filming of my docu film in Papua New Guinea, I want to upset how people see them. I want people to look at most of them and see superheroes. ![treehouse in jungle](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5zCRANcYTeWSKYuWOqCC44/9a8c968227dc681748a4387a57fa1cc6/_IDS2338_1_-2048.jpg) __Tell us a story that connects you to the environment. We know you are a survivalist by trade. Something radical must have happened in your tenure.__ I’ve become obsessed with human-animal inter-relationships and cognitive ethology. While I have embraced natural survival as an important step in the rewilding process, it was really up-close and personal encounters with wildlife that have radically fueled my connection to the environment. How? By empathy through wonder. We have been hearing and seeing more and more often of trapped animals sensing when humans were there to help them. The same, though less observable, happens with plants. We have also been pushing interactions with wild animals beyond previous beliefs. The most radical event of this kind that has happened to me involved a jaguar. I was volunteering at an association for jaguar research and conservation in Brazil. Every night I would go pay a visit to the enclosure of a particularly playful male jaguar and play a stalking kind of game with him. I played on all fours. The fence kept us apart. We would try hide as best as we could, crouching low, until one of us went for the other, and then back to hide. During breaks, I would talk to him and we would carefully make hand-paw contact with each other. When reading an animal’s body language, empathy is the key. The night before I left, I pressed my face against the fence and he licked me. Jaguars are among the wariest of animals. When a wild animal makes you such a gift, it empowers you forever. ![alessio with jaguar](//images.ctfassets.net/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2wpOf5cCTegCO00qEKEcAQ/ae5911faef11881e35225f2d36c7b1c4/_IDS9957_1_-2048.jpg) __Where can people find you or get in touch?__ Environmental photojournalism is my rent to live on Planet Earth. People can find me or get in touch through my Instagram and Facebook pages, or by email through my website. FB: [Alessio Bariviera](https://www.facebook.com/alessio.bariviera "Alessio Bariviera on facebook") IG: [alessio_bariviera](https://www.instagram.com/alessio_bariviera/ "alessio bariviera on instagram") Website: [http://www.alessiobariviera.com/](http://www.alessiobariviera.com/ "alessio bariviera website")

HEROES Spotlight: Maggie Sheerin

Dec. 06, 2017
*Maggie is a Rhode Island native who decided to ride her bike across America, all to raise money and awareness for proper recycling through [Recycle Across America](http://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/ "recycle across america"). The journey is over 4,000 miles long and Maggie only took what she could carry. Along the way she stopped and talked to folks about the work of [Recycle Across America](http://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/ "recycle across america") and how we can build a more sustainable future. Her campaign was called [Cycle for One Planet](https://www.facebook.com/CycleforOne/ "cycle for one planet") and we were super excited when our friends at [Recycle Across America](http://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/ "recycle across america") introduced us to Maggie.* __Where were you born and raised and tell me a little bit about it?__ Born in Boston, MA and moved to Rhode Island at 2 years old. Rhode Island has my heart, as the Ocean State and home of many many rock formations, four unique seasons that are so noticeably changing, and wild, open shoreline ready to be explored by anyone who is wild and open enough! ![AWQI3048](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/145sbfRWsyO2YCekYSImiW/dd8a231f6e5199dec04eb09a3f15701c/AWQI3048.jpg) __What were some of your hobbies when you were younger?__ I was always on or in the water. I swam, sailed, kayaked, jumped off rocks, bridges, rafts, and swam some more. In the winter, I swam competitively. I was also fortunate to travel up north to nearby mountains in Vermont, New Hampshire, even into Canada with family. Started picking up lacrosse and traveling with Rhode Island Metacomets. __Who is your favorite superhero of all time?__ Wonder Woman, for sure. Her grace and peaceful message, while strong and diplomatic embodies a true superhero to this day. ![100 5604](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5CkSqMF78s2oUyWwem8GYM/d8fbc79608830313a147ab4a85a326e6/100_5604.JPG) __Biking across America is an extreme endeavour. How did you prepare for such a journey?__ Preparation... I feel like I prepared my whole life for the tour and every endeavor, for that matter. I did take some necessary steps — bought my first road bike (from a highly reviewed ebay seller), reached out to some friends who have traveled on bike for advice, researched a lot for budgeting reasons, reached out to a couple wellness brands for potential sponsorship, received an approval for leave of absence from work, and bought some maps! __What was your most challenging experience along the way?__ There are a lot of challenges, got to love them all so the one to follow won’t be as hard. With that being said, Pennsylvania was challenging for me with consistent ups and downs. The beginning challenges, however, did not / can not prepare me for the weather ahead. The MOST challenging may have been my first century of the tour, 100 miles in one day. It was heading into Amarillo, Texas. Really, it is the mentality you persevere that will overcome any challenge. Began the day confidently before sunrise with the idea to take a midday stop at a lake ahead. Long day short, I went through a thunderstorm, hopeful for blue skies and it did eventually clear. Continued to the lake, which knowingly extended the time I would be riding. Back on the road. Straight. Flat. Long. HOT. First century in 100 degree weather. I did have enough water and the good part about this challenge was about 10 miles from Amarillo - a peace garden perfectly designed by Richard Daniel Baker. ![GOPR0505](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2I9aDM0ieIKsqymgu0qasi/59471c9e5bfd4a06a1e53e83b588f06e/GOPR0505.JPG) ![GOPR0500](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6oi57aAjWoA4UASgEUAs4w/143b64c84d4b61a2a6b96135ab7b5d29/GOPR0500.JPG) ![GOPR0507](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/19miRYZo2qqYc6gmMayaIK/20ee8c6a6dbfc9aba65e8a23fd09a2e0/GOPR0507.JPG) ![GOPR0513](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2ywINzBoraQI8mMICWG8Cu/e48800ec328d457c18498ee6afa6f007/GOPR0513.JPG) __Why did you resonate so strongly with recycling? Where did that focus originate?__ I knew that I wanted to talk to others on the road about wellness and our connection to the surrounding environment. Recycling, for me, is a way of enjoying our natural world. If you enjoy something, then it is equally important to respect it. It is a huge problem. I really started working toward sustainability at the College of Charleston. As a member of the ECOllective Student Project Committee, we supported and guided student funded sustainability projects, we replaced the landfill trash bins with a dual Paper and GPM (Glass, Plastic, Metal) system, we created a Zero Waste event initiative, and we hosted zero waste audits in the middle of campus demonstrating everything that can be composted and disposed responsibly. This focus must have originated from the pure admiration for our planet. __Is there a specific goal that you have with your journey after the trip?__ I would absolutely love to continue this journey by providing guidance to companies, schools, individuals on sustainability steps. __What inspires you to continue to achieve and grow as a human?__ Ah myself. I would say that I am self-motivated. Also, the idea that we are all connected. So what is growth for me is growth for you is growth for our ecosystem. ![RRPU1906](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/26UA7ceHVCwUgmKEGkSSSE/d62d066c67faa8dff38ef8c0a960eb8f/RRPU1906.jpg) __Tell me about your partnership with Recycle Across America.__ About a month before I left for the road, I reached out to several local wellness brands that may want to be represented across America. One of which (not local) was Aimee Lee, national account director of RAA, who was extremely enthusiastic and supportive of the mission! She immediately told her team, sent out a T-shirt, Earth flag, and sweet card. We are now working on bringing 5 elementary schools standardized recycling programs with the money I raised on tour. __Is there a particular natural place that you resonate with here or around the world?__ This is a hard question for me!!! I have traveled outside of America but, am going to focus on our country here. I love Taos, New Mexico. The cycle of water is everywhere there, from the mountains to the Rio Grande. I think everyone should spend time by a natural water source to have a tangible understanding of the support Earth provides for us and a consciousness of daily resource consumption (i.e. water, electricity, gas, plastic, coffee cups). ![IMG 3334](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4465ox7pbGAU2QwuUCG4mo/58b4aa12526d1c3083f912a7012ff7ad/IMG_3334.JPG) ![IMG 4180](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3hMpnodCakoUeOYuY8I6yE/073bd91ee16ccbc4890980d83032231c/IMG_4180.JPG) __Is there a profound quote or mantra that you choose to live your life by?__ Mindful. Need less. Manifest. Something like that :) I enjoy being mindful of every single moment. Traveling on a bike allows you to truly harp on every breath, thought, rotation. Take it in. If we can go along our day with less, then there is only more room to be mindful! On manifestation, it all starts with an idea...nuff said. __When you think about where you live and how it has been negatively affected by environmental neglect, what do you see and experience?__ Oh gosh, thank you for asking such questions. I have not officially written this down before but, it is very painful for me to live in a city environment with the amount of waste everywhere. It has become fanatic for me seeing cars, coffee cups, litter, plastic, even reusing materials hurts because it is still purchasing the material and supporting it to be reproduced. That’s just me, though, I try to put it toward my own next step in zero waste living and sustainability. Rhode Island is definitely doing amazing things - recently restoring our wild oysters reefs with The Nature Conservancy. Spread the word! ![QGRB2854](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3w4tNks22IyQgQuo06yIkq/2e3d9fb33a6aa756be309caf40f80e12/QGRB2854.jpg) *If you are inspired by Maggie's story, you can follow Maggie at [@cycleforone](https://www.instagram.com/cycleforone/ "cycle for one planet on instagram") on instagram and [Cycle for One Planet](https://www.facebook.com/CycleforOne/ "cycle for one planet on facebook") on facebook.*

An Open Letter To Our Government

Dec. 05, 2017 By: Justin Abrams
Dear Sir or Madam, I come to you from a place of love, empathy and gratitude. I am having a hard time understanding and justifying the actions of our country's current leadership, focused on the matter of the environment. It feels like sheer negligence. From what I can see, it feels like the government is so rabid for economic growth in direct spite of the environment and its well being. I love our country. I am grateful every single day that I am an American. We come from one of the most spectacular places on earth, with lands, wildlife, and history as rich and as important as any other. I am incredibly empathetic to any American that has a different experience. I lead an organization called Cause of a Kind. We exist to socialize the earth's greatest environmental maladies and facilitate partnerships between people and environmental non-profits who are actively working to take back tomorrow. We work around the clock to find people around the world, dedicating their lives and attention to actively making the world a better place. We look for people pursuing extraordinary goals and pair their efforts with environmental organizations that are on the frontlines working to truly secure our future. Do you not see the confluence of your actions? You are constantly expanding oil and gas exploration at the expense of our critical aquifers and public lands. You are relaxing rules on trophy hunting, putting our rare and endangered wildlife at further risk above and beyond their current habitat challenges, which humans are largely responsible for. You backed out of the Paris Agreement and have been the only world leader to do so, further straining our reputation and position of power. You drive industry that supports deforestation and ecosystem destruction for continued real estate development, mining, and corporate gain. You acknowledge unsustainable shortages of fossil fuels but offer no scalable renewable energy alternatives. Marine and oceanic negligence causing rifts in the food chain and irreversible damage, such as the death of the Great Barrier Reef. Do you realize that there are many more issues as well that are threatening our home, let alone the entire globe? We have one earth. The United States are supposed to lead the world. We are designed to set an example to every other country and be a symbol for hope and innovation. That is simply what leaders do. In our recent past, we have failed at this critical role. I write to you in desperate concern for our future. I do not have children yet, but I am incredibly concerned that they will not experience the world the way that I did. What else do the people of this country have to do to make you realize that we need massive change? How could there even be a debate? This is your home too. I find it hard to believe that you are not personally concerned with the availability and quality of drinking water, or the preservation of public lands, or even proper sanitation systems. Your children and their children are at risk. Restoration of the damage done takes a tremendous amount of time, global effort and money. But let's agree; you are making it worse. The citizens of the free world need our governments support. We need bold leadership that is willing to stand up for our future and make significant strides towards sustainability. We need to start caring about tomorrow or there will not be a tomorrow to care about. With love and in mission, Justin Abrams Cause of a Kind

HEROES Spotlight: Nadia Redel

Dec. 04, 2017
*Co-Founder of [World-Class Surf Trips](http://www.worldclasssurftrips.com/ "world class surf trips"), global adventurer, yogi, climber, surfer and environmentalist, Nadia Redel is making an impact around the globe, one awesome experience at a time. Her company does more than create incredible surf experiences, they also promote sustainable travel, products, and lifestyle choices. Nadia and the company she has built are a true inspiration to us, so naturally we had to get in touch. We got a chance to speak to Nadia in between adventures. Enjoy.* __Where were you born and raised?__ I was born in Berkshire County in Massachusetts. It was great to grow up in the country, surrounded by nature, yoga and good small town vibes. I grew up with a close connection to nature. __When were you first introduced to your passions of surfing, climbing, yoga, and other adventure based activities?__ My passion for adventure started at a young age. My parents really encouraged traveling which introduced me to many different types of activities including yoga, cliff jumping, free diving, rock climbing etc. It wasn't until my early 20’s when I met Mac ( co-founder of World-Class Surf Trips) that I found my love for surfing. ![Nadia Redel World-Class Surf Trips 3[1]](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6IBxi9ZljUgoyWmGUEKgya/7a09cbbf52515ddac3bf34d920712d8e/Nadia_Redel_World-Class_Surf_Trips_3_1_.png) __What makes Nadia tick? What are some of the things that motivate you to wake up and charge the day?__ Someone once told me, “If you’re not progressing, you are degressing.” That idea gets me out of bed every day. I apply that to every aspect of my life including work, health, fitness and my own impact on the environment. __What are some of your most creative experiences that you have had, personally?__ When I was a kid, I was part of a creative problem solving team called D.I. It was really fun and it encouraged me to solve a problem from a unique perspective. One of my most creative experiences has been starting a travel company. Every day it is different and it has been a fun journey shaping and changing World-Class Surf Trips as it grows. ![Nadia Redel World-Class Surf Trips 1[1]](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5klF5zeTjG8geKOCSuWqaa/74cc2ec5a7c7e9f22b26bb0c944991ef/Nadia_Redel_World-Class_Surf_Trips_1_1_.png) __What do you enjoy doing when nobody's watching and you are alone or with friends?__ I’m the biggest goofball in the water, especially when it’s my core group with me. I’m always singing, trying handstands on my board and dancing down the waves. Life shouldn't be too serious. __If you could have advice for the youth of the world today, what would it be?__ My advice for the youth would be to look at the world through an environmental lens. In order to achieve any amount of success, the world we live in needs to be healthy. It is important that the environment is a part of every single decision that we collectively make. ![Nadia Redel World-Class Surf Trips 2[1]](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/11CpvQsUYiOuueCi8A2M0g/9a7e68eb405cba205df346d356d6b784/Nadia_Redel_World-Class_Surf_Trips_2_1_.png) __What is your relationship with nature, the environment and organizations that are fighting for a better tomorrow?__ I have always had a high level of respect for nature. Growing up in the country gave me a unique understanding for the wilderness and a feeling of home among the sublime. I have volunteered for many organizations in the past that benefit the environment. Two projects that are close to my heart right now are Vatuvara Foundations, that helps protect the marine ecosystems within the Fijian waters and the International Anti-Poaching Foundation led by ex navy seal Damien Mander. __Is there a particular natural place that you resonate with?__ The ocean is a place that resonates with me. I feel truly at home in the water. I love holding my breath and swimming down deep among the fish and marine animals. It is at this depth that time seems to stand still. It is this connection that makes me so passionate about marine conservation. __Within the Environment, what is a primary focus for you? Is there a specific malady that you resonate with the most?__ One of my biggest passions is to limit the use of plastic. This can be very challenging and at times might seem impossible, however if everyone tries to make a conscious effort to reduce, reuse and recycle we can limit the amount of plastic waste on our planet. I’ve been very fortunate to travel a lot and it always saddens me when I visit a remote location and find plastic waste littering the coast and land. ![Nadia Redel World-Class Surf Trips 4[1]](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/36pfhsj67CO8YA6Oc4awks/da4b19891d52b7345c45be732da9c852/Nadia_Redel_World-Class_Surf_Trips_4_1_.png) __It is no secret that we have an environmental crisis. So many different issues to focus on, which can be crippling to people. What advice do you have for people anxious for a better tomorrow, but overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem?__ Don’t feel like YOU need to fix ALL the problems. Find something that inspires you, and then become passionate about it. We need to all keep living our lives, but we can do this through an environmental lens. It might start as small changes, but even these make big differences. The best way to feel inspired is to spend more time outside! We encourage you all to follow [@worldclass.surftrips](https://www.instagram.com/worldclass.surftrips/ "world class surf trips instagram") or checkout [www.worldclasssurftrips.com](http://www.worldclasssurftrips.com/ "world class surf trips") to plan your next adventure!

HEROES Spotlight: J.J. Kelley

Nov. 26, 2017
*J.J. Kelley is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, director, adventurer and explorer. His work focuses on conservation, exploration and wildlife crime. Some of his most notable works are Gyre, a National Geographic documentary that explores the growing issue of ocean trash killing wildlife; and [Warlords of Ivory](http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/explorer/episodes/warlords-of-ivory/ "warlords of ivory"), an Emmy-nominated film on how the ivory trade funds some of Africa's most notorious militias and terrorist groups. If this weren't impressive enough, he has paddled [1,400-miles from Alaska to Seattle](http://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/movies/kayakers-laugh-off-foibles-in-1200-mile-long-journey/ "seattle times article") in a homemade kayak and the full length of India's River Ganges. He has also hiked the Appalachian Trail and biked 1,300 miles along the Alaksa Pipeline. Blending his filmmaking with his desire for adventure has given his work a unique perspective that is both compelling and immersive. We had the good fortune to catch up with J.J. between adventures and hope you enjoy this awesome interview as much as we did.* __Where were your born and raised?__ I was born in Minneapolis and raised in Taylors Falls, Minnesota. A small town of about 1,000 people. I helped on a family farm where we raised goats, honey bees, chickens and made maple syrup. __When did you first get into journalism and filmmaking?__ When I was 20, I did a year of college and then left. I was studying something that didn’t make me happy. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I liked being outside. I drove a truck to Alaska and lived in a tent for the summer; there I got a job driving a tractor at an outfitter. They had a kayaking department where instructors took guests deep into the wild; I was in love! I slowly made my way onto the kayaking department as in instructor. This kicked off many Alaska adventures, some a few days long others months long. One day I thought, you know there are some wild stories you encounter on these big trips, I bet people would find the characters you meet and places you see interesting. So I picked up a video camera, got some advice and made my first film. Touring the film at festivals, I caught the attention of National Geographic; they purchased 7-min of my video for a TV show. Most importantly, I was able to secure an internship position at National Geographic. This lead to me move to Washington, D.C. working out of the National Geographic headquarters. I’ve been learning to make and making films ever sense. ![IMG 0037](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7qLQyJJ7iMk6sgoSkmYQkq/ad5ea86b516b6508b5cb2a00d54d3876/IMG_0037.jpg) ![BattleForTheElephants06](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5HJZF2fWveW4IqGCag0EgK/82775459b4013dd84342ee8089adbfb3/BattleForTheElephants06.jpg) __From poachers in Africa to the drug war in the Philippines, you've covered some difficult and sensitive topics. As the artist behind the lens it's your job not to look away. How do you push forward when faced with such emotional subject matter?__ One of the most tragic moments I’ve witnessed was the suicide of a Maasai man in rural Kenya. There were no other journalists there, not even another person who spoke English. Through a series of chaotic events I found myself holding a camera as a man accused of murder was surrounded by angry Maasai warriors. The accused didn’t want to face their wrath so took his life right in front of them and me. I’ll leave out the details, but I’ll never forget the courage the lens gave me. I felt like I was there reporting on something greater; there was no time to be scared for myself, I had a job to do. Since then I’ve filmed many events that would normally make me sick to my stomach or pee my pants, but having that sense of purpose gives me a courage that’s almost superhuman. ![man-with-ak-full-body](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4jd8Vl4dWgY2IOAEOEKeeq/fc5bb613e1934fbb2330f4549366ecb0/man-with-ak-full-body.jpg) ![man-with-ak](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6yedtE7biwoesqa6U4CuOW/82d372150990d4d80a6b6ae131665de9/man-with-ak.jpg) ![jj-elephant-carcas](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/DUwv3hSnL2UA2wGsIUEE/1dc2bfc2a021dbf9180da3e7484a8fb8/jj-elephant-carcas.jpg) __You're also an avid adventurer and have found ways to blend that into much of your work. Could you tell us about a time when you got in over your head?__ I had the opportunity to work in Antarctica for 5 months. For a full month I was to deploy onto an ice shelf the size of France, and for all I knew our small party of 15 would be the only people there. The entire area was riddled with cravases, but using a sonar device we were able to prove routes where we could travel. One day I went out with a snowmobile to film on my own. A crazy thing about Antarctica is that though the continent is covered with snow and ice, it’s a desert--it rarely snows. It’s just so cold that when it does snow, the snow rarely melts. With all this dry snow blanketing the mile thick slab of ice I stood on, when a 50-mph wind storm picked up, I could hardly see my outstretched hand. My world view was reduced to inches. The windchill was now close to -50F and I needed to get back to the shelter of our tents. I had a satellite phone and a GPS, but I was about 30-minutes away from help, too long to stand and wait. My heart was racing out of my chest. I did my best to draw on all the courage I could gather, took a deep breath and said you got this dude. I knew if I didn’t freak out, staying confident and calm, that I could navigate back. I’d done it before without issues, now the only difference was the pressure of frostbite, getting lost or worse. Staying calm and confident worked. I remember almost crashing into the camp when I intersected with my home course, the snow was so all consuming I almost drove right into a tent. ![penquin](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4Lg8aY0jJmcAuIKuk6cU60/ae526bdcb39dc7571182cd46501ca5ca/penquin.jpg) ![jj antartica](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2hGaUaSqxWwuCoQ4WUqWEC/f71897b1909d95e97ef25caac39542bf/14.JPG) ![jj-antartica](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5eRlpiiqf64ScMIsiWAAkk/e502421eb3155093ce7f35384e483e1a/jj-antartica.jpg) __If you could have lunch with another person alive or dead, who would that be and why? What do you think you would discuss?__ This is a hard question for me. I think my answer would change almost weekly depending on what’s inspiring me. Today I’d say Joan of Arc. I’m compelled by people who exhibit great courage, strength and leadership. Joan was fearless and lived her life by her ideals. She poured everything into what she believed was just. __What do you feel is the biggest overlooked issue with respect to the environment you wish would get more attention right now?__ I just finished filming a story with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. He’s fighting environmental racism, which is a subject that was new to me before starting work on this story. We witnessed people living in the United States with straight pipes that literally run from their toilet into their back yards, where the kid’s aren't able to play. We saw case after case of people living next to environmental disasters, like skyrocketing cancer rates in a stretch of Louisiana with over 150 chemical factories built on freed slave land. It’s described as the new Jim Crow. The Senator just announced a bill to address the issue. It’s been an emotional process learning more about an issue I recently didn’t know anything about. ![new jim crow filming](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6tQJE0TWGAWmKu8UqQuK2U/7bb7ac141074c56488c0042d490e5c6a/IMG_0018.jpg) ![jj camel](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7xI4Jl4tu8AIg00QAyqy2q/66a8966ae09c0ce3c4d6a506a39bd0a0/IMG_0019.jpg) __If you could give three pieces of advice to an aspiring journalist or filmmaker in college right now what would they be?__ Don’t let excuses keep you from telling your story. Too often I hear from aspiring filmmakers who say, as soon as I can get this camera or as soon as someone gives me money to make my idea, I’ll go do it. You’ll never get there if you rely on other people for your strength, grab a camera, tell a story, watch what you shoot to celebrate the successes and learn from from the mistakes. Stay fresh. Continue to learn about the latest gear, the most innovative shooting technique and other sides of storytelling that you’ve never tried. When we get too comfortable our stories suffer, we get lazy and use the same techniques again and again. Take on something that makes your heart race, something that freaks you out, try to get comfortable in that space, and when you do, try something new. Apprentice. My successes in filmmaking are the result of an unpaid internship where I could learn from people who were much more talented than I was. I had to work an extra job to pay the bills, but it was worth it for the skills I gained. Looking back, I was so clueless then. I often take gigs that don’t pay as well as I’d like when they come with the opportunity to learn from someone I admire. To be a great filmmaker you don’t have to go to college for filmmaking or journalism, there are extremely talented people out in the world telling great stories and if they offer up a chance to ride along and show you a few things, go! ![jj battle for elepha](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6DLgVAIFOgg4qmy4kEys86/7b995804970f6f9c1cfed09080d10b34/BattleForTheElephants05.jpg) ![jj grizzly bear](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3aebLSbw0ME8QwM0eYoMK/2a8e3772018890084aae7756e13ebda5/Gyre05.jpg) ![jj filming battle for elephants](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7LkYSzNG3S8A0WgOAmqIuq/1feb396c14baf14d60a0db1e8df99b44/BattleForTheElephants12.jpg) __What's next for you? Any lofty goals that you are pursuing right now?__ Every 5 years I start to get restless in my career. I adore traveling the world and telling stories from near and afar. However, how I tell those stories can get a little repetitive. After being a producer for a few years, I decided to shoot more as a director of photography, then an editor. Now, I’m starting to do more work in front of the camera. I just hosted a new show for The Travel Channel. For me it’s about loving what I’m doing, with that comes passion. The most profound works for me are the ones inspired by passion. __What comes first, the adventure or the story? For instance when you paddled the Ganges was that adventure something you always wanted to do? Or was shooting a story about the Ganges the goal and paddling just an interesting way to immerse yourself in the story?__ For me storytelling is a progression that evolves as you gather life experiences. When I was younger on a small farm in Minnesota the idea of taking a rowboat down the most polluted river in the world, in the most populated country in the world, was a thought I would never naturally stumble upon. I bet I didn’t know more than 5 things about India then, nor was it a place I ever thought about going. Then I knew the Minnesota woods, this lead me to dream up taking a super long walk in the woods, which lead me east where I took 5-months to hike from Maine to Georgia on the Appalachian Trail. Out east I was exposed to people who’d traveled further, outside of the U.S.. This lead me to start traveling overseas where I experienced intense pollution, people living in poverty who are surrounded by trash and industrial runoff. Then I thought, well instead of doing a long trip in a pristine wilderness, what if I went down the most polluted river on earth. A quick search lead me to the Ganges River in India and 6 months later I was in India. I bring my cameras to places that compel me with the hope that what I make might inspire others who would otherwise never see such exotic places; like the me who lived on a farm in Minnesota. ![jj-showing-kids-camera](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7Hih5XiV682uCCcKws8qgE/d2e0e2e41eafa0298f20c6266146ee98/jj-showing-kids-camera.jpg) ![jj-stepping-off-helicopter](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2s6vyAkTLKoYO2aKQYwYMW/335cc3c1196f4d0e338ad8aca86fb5be/jj-stepping-off-helicopter.jpg) ![jj kayaking ](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6mnYjKBcgo0gq0YaAGUIYs/0e8466e7c7ca16411819da4a83533f2c/PtoS8.JPG) __Where can people find you or get in touch?__ [www.jjkelley.com](http://www.jjkelley.com/ "j.j. Kelley's website")

Take Back Tomorrow | Lessons

Oct. 01, 2017
Based on our collective reality, Lessons follows a young woman from childhood to motherhood and her relationship with nature, what it has taught her, how it has supported her through tough times and how she has grown to embody its purity and power. Until the realization that due to a lack of care, pollution and degradation, her wild places will not be passed down in the same way to her child. We must Take Back Tomorrow, today. This was the first brand film that we did as Cause of a Kind. Special thanks to our entire crew for helping make this amazing shoot happen! <iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/236393275" width="100%" height="360" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href="https://vimeo.com/236393275">Take Back Tomorrow | Lessons</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/user72107976">Cause of a Kind</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

HEROES Spotlight: Aja Nikiya

Nov. 20, 2017
*Aja Nikiya is an international traveler, humanitarian, photographer, and activist for animals and under-served populations. A modern-day warrior and a true example for us all to look up to we continue to be inspired by Aja's efforts around the world. When we caught up with Aja, she was on her way to Utuado, Puerto Rico to help animals in need after Hurricane Maria. Her story is beyond impressive and we are super honored to be able to share a small piece of it with you here.* __How did you get started in this type of work? What is your origin story?__ I'd have to go back to second grade for this question as I was quite the advocate back then. Always on animal rescues, [writing letters to Congress](https://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ "how to find your congressional representatives") on behalf of animals and going around the lunch room getting petitions signed for bears in captivity. I've always had the urge to help those in need, be it people or animals. But in all seriousness, I started my nonprofit work about 4 years ago after leaving corporate America to live out my dream. I broke away from the 6-figure job to travel and help vulnerable people and animals around the world. ![aja nikiya image1](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5JjeWvjycEq4mkykoWu8Oy/7e598535ebcde0d9925fdc6924b53279/image1.jpeg) __Looking at your Instagram it looks like you are passionate about many causes from animal welfare, to humanitarian issues, to environmentalism. With so much to do in all these areas how do you pick your focus?__ It is very difficult at times to pick a focus. I think in general, I always try to advocate for the betterment of animals, people and the environment so I can at least serve as a voice for them. Generally, I pick up projects as I travel around the globe and see a need. I assess how I can be of most help and I try to pick projects that are mutually benefiting to people and animals and even the environment. I try to focus on the most pressing needs in each of the areas I work in. I look for the entire trifecta. As I travel and meet other compassionate people, projects start to develop and before you know it, I've got an entire team in a new country within weeks. It can be overwhelming at times but I wouldn't trade it for the world. __We've noticed that everyone involved in this type of work has a unique compassion for the world around them, but they also have unique strengths that make them successful in such a tough mission. What is your superpower?__ My superpower is the ability to connect with any culture. I've had great successes in areas of the world that some fear or think are impossible to work in. My other super power is the ability to function on no sleep when I am in project mode! ![aja nikiya image 4](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2IUWLL8cjea8OeY20CKCC8/8a65adf3e57d49406ef1183fcef7644a/image4.jpeg) __We noticed that you recently wrote a blog post on conscious consumerism, what are the top five ingredients you wish people would boycott and why?__ That is a great question and hard to narrow down but if I had to choose, it would be [palm oil](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_oil "palm oil on wikipedia"), plastic bags, petroleum, sunscreen and leather. Palm oil is in many of the foods and beauty products we use and is one of the [top ingredients destroying the rainforests](https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/topics/palm-oil "rainforest rescue on palm oil"), releasing carbon into the environment and killing endangered animals like the Orangutan. Plastic bags are destroying the ocean. They are one of the top killers of sea turtles, whales, dolphins and puffins. Petroleum is an ingredient often found in lip balms and Vaseline. Petroleum is toxic to the environment and often destroys shorelines and nesting grounds due to spills. Sunscreen is the leading cause of coral bleaching and leather requires massive amounts of energy and chemicals to produce. It is harmful to animals, people and the environment. ![aja nikiya image 6](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2d6Flh60K0asUY2ayoGgEc/1f5441064c7ffdb4badaa657ac2be206/image6.jpeg) __Could you tell us a bit about your NGO project Compassion Kind?__ [Compassion Kind](https://www.compassionkind.org/ "Compassion Kind") is a 501c3 focusing on creating a more compassionate culture through global change. We envision a world with less suffering and more compassion; a conscious culture that extends its circle of compassion to all kinds regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or species. We work with the most vulnerable populations; those without a voice. We work in a few key areas including humane education, global awareness, disaster relief and community action. Our projects range from [disaster relief in Puerto Rico](https://www.compassionkind.org/puerto-rico-relief "Puerto Rico relief") to Wild Dog conservation in Tanzania. __What were some of the unique challenges to starting your own international NGO?__ Getting started is difficult on your own. You've got big ideas and small pockets and are your own accountant, project manager, travel agent and marketer. Once you get past the initial setup, keeping your projects going is the hard part. Getting funding isn't easy and when you're doing a lot of the work on your own, it's hard to promote your organization and solicit funds. But as time goes on, you get better at all of it, meet great people along the way to offload some of the work and things really start to come together. ![aja nikiya image 9](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/25yWODV1ti8mUmgCwgAsKA/52a71bc04acf17de8879d8c1ef965f3d/image9.jpeg) __What are your future ambitions for both yourself and Compassion Kind?__ I want to continue this work indefinitely. It feeds my soul and is the most rewarding job one could ever have. I'd like to see [Compassion Kind](https://www.compassionkind.org/ "Compassion Kind") become an internationally recognized organization with staff and volunteers in every country around the globe. We want to be the driving force behind the compassion movement. For me personally, I'd love to start filming documentaries and showcasing amazing individuals around the world and this type of work. I'd also like to improve my photography skill set and do assignment shoots for [NatGeo](https://www.nationalgeographic.com/ "national geographic"). __What is your biggest victory to date?__ I'd have to say my recent flight back from Puerto Rico with 26 animals was quite the accomplishment. We were able to rescue these animals from horrific conditions, get them vetted with certificates, driven to the airport and flown to Florida, all in 24 hours. We have them all in foster care now and some already adopted. With no service, power or water and many different obstacles, this was one for the books! ![aja nikiya image 3](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5hfq32F9I4kWUGUiYEa868/110946e93c238756a06756dd4085c9b4/image3.jpeg) __What's one thing you wish every person would either do or be mindful of every single day when they wake up?__ I wish everyone would wake up grateful thinking about how they can make a difference in the world. Every decision we make has the power to change the lives of many. __Where can people find you, follow you, and get involved in what you do?__ You can find me [@compassioncurator](https://www.instagram.com/compassioncurator/ "Aja Nikiya on Instagram") on Instagram and [Aja Nikiya on Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/AjaNikiya "Aja Nikiya on Facebook"). Compassion Kind also has its own social media pages [@compassionkind](https://www.instagram.com/compassionkind/ "compassion kind instagram"). If you are interested in getting involved, we are always looking for new volunteers and ambassadors. Feel free to send us an email at [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected] "email compassion kind"). ![aja nikiya image 8](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4tsGiZGNlea0864wCeYmUc/fbe466cf7b9dd0f59912b05800fd650b/image8.jpeg) ![aja nikiya image 7](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3iVH8g8ubY2IAiw400WQSO/f6275948edef24a6337e13a1c07ecfc8/image7.jpeg) *We encourage everyone to follow Aja on the socials and you can donate to Compassion Kind [here](https://www.compassionkind.org/donate/ "compassion kind donate page").*

Searching for Silence and Solitude in Utah

Nov. 17, 2017 By: Michael Rispoli
> “I liked the work and the canyon country and returned the following year for a second season. I would have returned the third year too and each year thereafter but unfortunately for me the Arches, a primitive place when I first went there, was developed and improved so well that I had to leave.”<br><br> > — Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire In the fall of 2016 my wife and I took a trip to Utah. We aren’t the type for fancy resorts and high brow dining. For us vacation is renting a car and seeing as many places as our time there would allow. We book no hotels, and make no reservations ahead of time. We buy plane tickets, we rent a car, and we see where the road takes us. This type of travel gives us a freedom we don’t get in our day to day life, where each day blends together under the rhythm of routine. We want our vacations to be as far from predictable as we can get. For us, this is the perfect escape. Before that, the last time I was in Utah was the winter of 2011. I just earned my first two paid vacation days in my life, and like a good 25 year old, I thought saving them for an actual illness would be wasteful. I moved to Denver six months earlier with the idea that I would spend all of my free time rock climbing and hiking in the Rockies. The cruel trick was that my job as a rental car agent kept me chained to the airport in a suit every day. It was about as far from my dream life as I could get—but I had never gotten paid to go on an adventure before, so I reveled in the moment. I left Denver after work that evening and planned to drive through the night, with the goal of reaching Hurricane, Utah ten hours later. It ended up taking closer to 15 hours since a snow storm formed over the entire western front. Had I owned a smartphone, I could have checked the weather. Had I understood the point of AM radio, I would have known about 1010 WINS. Instead I put my iPod on shuffle and drove onward, clueless as to what awaited me. My little Mazda3 entered Eisenhower Tunnel on the eastern side of Loveland Pass under a pleasant flurry of snow. I exited to the wrath of a Rocky Mountain blizzard that produced near white-out conditions. The roads grew treacherous and snow fell so hard that my car felt like a small boat as I slid down I-70. My left palm cramped around the steering wheel and my right hand slid over the shifter as I prayed my driving skills would keep me from careening off into the runaway truck ramp. I could have turned back, I should have turned back, but I was determined not to waste my mini-vacation. I would later learn the storm got so bad they closed Eisenhower tunnel, restricting travel through the mountains that evening, right after I made it through. Five hours later, as though the state line were more than just a mark on a map, I crossed the curtain of snow to clear, starry skies. With no cars in sight, I stopped the car right in the middle of the interstate and lay on the hood of my car, wiping sweat from my forehead and laughing in relief. And that feeling is how I would always remember Utah, salvation. The evening my wife told me she wanted to go to Utah, I thought back to that night. It was such a shame that driving to and from Denver, I saw most of the Utah frontier in darkness. Sure I saw Zion and some of southwestern Utah, but on the way back to Denver I drove through the night again under the comfort of clear skies the entire way. ![View of the south-side of Zion National Park](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/20uJsqxxgwQKKS28qIMis8/b8c9f28ca8a6dcff84d783c27c4a113d/zion-panorama-1440px-03132.jpg?w=1200) <small>*View of the south-side of Zion National Park*</small> ![Hiking over the orange slick rock in Zion National Park](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1KXfx4PEJqeKYgI6M64Co2/734b451f5421d736c368aa6e07569aec/zion-hiking-1440px-03151.jpg?w=1200) <small>*Hiking over the orange slick rock in Zion National Park*</small> We planned to go for seven days and I made it a goal to not drive at night if we could help it. Seeing every mountain, rocky outcrop, and canyon was essential. We planned our route starting in Salt Lake City and driving south to Zion. Then we would make our way east across Bryce Canyon and Grand Staircase - Escalante before heading up through Capitol Reef and ending in Moab where we would see Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We had the goal of exploring a slot canyon. I had assumed we would do this when we got to Canyonlands National Park at the end of our trip, however I found a small blog post on a place in Grand Staircase - Escalante called Peek-a-boo Canyon. We decided we couldn’t wait until we got all the way to Moab and would check it out after Bryce Canyon. We arrived at the entrance to Zion National Park on a Saturday morning to the glimmer of crawling lines of automobile hoods and RV roofs. The glowing orange towers rising out of the lush valley leave you in a surreal trance — but the freight train of motorists and pullouts filled with tourists, holding phones in outstretched arms, took something away. It made it impossible to just relax and enjoy, to stop and meander around, to get lost in the grandeur. The following day at Bryce Canyon, the experience was similar to that of a shopping mall, circling the parking lot for ten minutes as we waited to see back-up lights. We decided it would be better to come back around dinner time when the crowds cleared. I was re-reading Desert Solitaire on that trip and was seeing first hand what Edward Abbey cautioned us against fifty years earlier. ![View from the top of Bryce Canyon National Park](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1BCw8JOCSk02km26KiwGwg/6479b71b67cf88c20db989760c74e6ff/bryce-bw-1440px-03255.jpg?w=1200) <small>*View from the top of Bryce Canyon National Park*</small> > “Those were all good times, especially the first two seasons when the tourist business was poor and the time passed extremely slowly, as time should pass, with the days lingering and long, spacious and free as the summers of childhood.”<br><br> > — Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire While we loved our time in Zion and Bryce, my wife and I reflected that we would have to remember to return on weekdays and in the off-season in the future. National Parks are incredible places, but it is clear that the demand has grown far higher than the supply. Today’s political struggle for the protection of public lands is astounding to me. When you consider the human herds that migrate over every square inch of roadway and trailhead every year, do we really need another resort casino or golf course? The following morning we began the drive to Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. A National Monument is different from a National Park in that it is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rather than the National Parks Service (NPS). The land becomes off limits for industrial uses, however local ranchers use it to allow their cattle to graze on the open plains for a small fee. Many farmers rely on this land to provide the kind of space they need to raise their livestock every season. National Monuments are also far less manicured, and a bit more rugged. This is precisely why I love BLM land. It is typically free to enter, void of immense crowds, and ripe with little adventures and a play at your own risk ethos. When we arrived at the entrance to Grand Staircase - Escalante, the difference from Zion and Bryce National Parks is striking. There are no fee booths, covered kiosks, or parking lots—just a mid-sized sign that reads “Grand Staircase - Escalante,” and a wire fence. Near the fence is an angled information display and six inch road sign warning visitors the road is maintained for four-wheel access only. We took a look down the dirt road that rolled over the desert plain, a look back at our tiny Chevy Cruze rental and started rumbling down the road into the interior. ![Stefany at the entrance to Grand Staircase - Escalante](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2C3HQjTFm8OoaEW2aaoaaU/0edcf1b966fa2c23303eff6696da62ad/escalante-entrance-1440px-03274.jpg?w=1200) <small>*Stefany at the entrance to Grand Staircase - Escalante*</small> ![stef-taking-wheel-1440px-03296](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/JH7iNrbTa0GqS6ocYYKao/0d50a7b0e55891bc0b3947bd7bb1d132/stef-taking-wheel-1440px-03296.jpg?w=1200) <small>*Stefany revoking my driving privileges.*</small> The maps on our phone were not going to be much use since the road we were on did not appear anywhere on Google, just a pin in the rough location of Peek-a-boo canyon. We knew the road that led toward the canyon was 26 miles in. So we reset the trip odometer to zero and hoped that we would see a turnoff when we got there. As we crept down the dirt road, our bodies’ rumbling under the weak suspension of our rental, the emptiness of the place started to creep into our heads. Crowds can be frustrating, but the absence of a single soul gets frightening. When was the last time my wife and I were truly alone like this? Had we ever been? Our phones soon lost service and we just watched the odometer and prayed that this car would not get stuck in a sand trap. Roughly 10 miles in we saw a truck hauling cattle in a pull-off where they would be left to graze open and free, which gave us some relief. At around 15 miles my wife got frustrated by my slow driving and decided to take the wheel. And at 26 miles, right when we were starting to think these canyons were a hoax and we would never find them there was a small road that cut off to the left. We started down the road and saw a small cluster of cars and vans, relieved that we were in fact somewhere. We pulled over and made a quick lunch before heading over toward the trailhead. Again there were no road signs or markers, just stacks of rocks piled at various points indicating the way. We descended across the slick rock, into a sandy gulch, and at last arrived at the entryway to something we had only seen in pictures before, our first real slot canyon. ![stef-entering-slot-canyon-1440px-03366](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3f2RzG3R9u8Uq4cgIIaGsk/082fb69174969a0a1253879acf92fe20/stef-entering-slot-canyon-1440px-03366.jpg?w=1200) ![stef-taking-slot-canyon-1440px-03328](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6FOfp1WBjiM6i4Yso0aaMS/d93994b2f155b02e108d138228b01ccd/stef-taking-slot-canyon-1440px-03328.jpg?w=1200) Arches National Park in Moab was as Edward Abbey described—developed and crowded. While it still retained its beauty everyone had to wait in line under Delicate Arch like taking a picture with Donald Duck in Disneyland. There’s always a special place in our heart for all of these places, for the beauty far outweighs the crowd. But when we look back and talk about the trip we always tell one story. The day we took that poor little Chevy Cruze into Grand Staircase in search of a true adventure and found it. --- *Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument was created by President Bill Clinton in 1996. At 1.9 million acres, it is the largest national monument in the United States and was the last piece of the lower 48 to be mapped. Its terrain is just as diverse, being home to both low-lying desert and coniferous forest. It was the home to the Anasazi and Fremont and contains one of the most extensive fossil records of the Late Cretaceous Period.* *The history and scientific potential of this monument is enormous. However in 2017 its future is uncertain. President Trump has approved measures to shrink the size of Grand Staircase - Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. I wrote this piece to urge people to both see the importance of these sites and to go enjoy them for yourselves. Their relative anonymity keeps the landscape pure and the crowds low. They are truly our last national treasures and worth our attention and efforts at preservation.* __Sources:__ 1. [Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument | BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT](https://www.blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/utah/grand-staircase-escalante-national-monument "Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument BLM") 2. [Utah’s ‘Grand Staircase’ Leads Back in Time to Dinosaur Shangri-La - The New York Times](https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/science/utah-grand-staircase-dinosaurs-kaiparowits-plateau-fossils.html "Utah’s ‘Grand Staircase’ Leads Back in Time to Dinosaur Shangri-La - The New York Times") 3. [Trump Plans to Shrink Two National Monuments in Utah - The New York Times](https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/climate/bears-ears-utah.html "Trump Plans to Shrink Two National Monuments in Utah - The New York Times")

HEROES Spotlight: Mitch Hedlund

Nov. 12, 2017
*Founder and Executive Director of [www.RecycleAcrossAmerica.org](http://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/ "recycle across america"), Mitch Hedlund is on a mission to fix the world's recycling problems. Realizing that the process of recycling is over complicated, ambiguous and seemingly avoided due to the unnecessary confusion at the bin, Mitch and her outstanding team have devised a solution that has gone viral. Make recycling fundamental, make the decision clear and concise, and nurture the movement until it is no longer a choice, it's instinct.* __Where are your born and raised?__ Palos Verdes, California __Do you believe in the idea that one person can impact the entire world?__ Absolutely. This is proven throughout history. One person can absolutely change the world with a solution or a new approach — and collectively the power of many can expedite the progress of that solution, which also means that each person in that collective is changing the world. Each of us prove this everyday. ![mitch hedlund and team](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4PTfhPFmKcoMyAEYgaM0wY/c936ba97068d7b9c971bd1346392580b/unnamed.jpg?w=1200) __Why recycling? Why is this your life’s work and not some other environmental issue?__ There is no greater impact that each of us can have on the environment, the economy, on manufacturing, on mitigating climate change, on conserving fresh water and energy, and to help prevent waste from going into oceans and waterways than recycling. It is the only action that can hit on so many critical points to help us become a sustainable species on this planet, especially as the human population continues to grow exponentially. We are the only species on this planet that doesn’t live within the system or the cycle of the planet; recycling can help us begin living within more of the system again. Every other species uses, reuses and even is used — which helps them and other reliant organisms live and thrive. Since the industrial revolution, and possibly even before then, the human species has increasingly been in the habit of a manufactured and one-use existence, and that simply doesn’t work. It’s a bad math equation for our species to continue to have that approach. Fixing recycling can help prevent that bad math equation and help reduce CO2 levels, which are also threatening us. Recycling even helps create jobs and helps stimulate the economy. It’s a home run on so many levels AND the infrastructure exists. The public is passionate about it and the manufacturers are demanding the materials. The only thing standing in the way of thriving recycling is the public confusion at the bin! Once we fix that little issue, which is why we’re doing the standardized labels for recycling bins, it will release the bottleneck in the industry — and finally allow recycling and closed loop manufacturing to begin to truly live up to its environmental potential. ![mitch hedlund and youth](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1d81xWU0QASUoSMqCI8MMc/e75ff1132e409cd3db9060de8fa475eb/unnamed__4_.jpg?w=1200) __Why did you make a significant career shift after spending so much time in the corporate world? Was becoming an enviro-entrepreneur always the goal?__ I’m extremely solutions driven and have been my entire life, including when I was just a little girl. It was almost to a fault. My mind continuously looks at problems or issues that present themselves or that I witness. As an analogy, my mind looks at large scale (and small scale) issues almost as if they are Rubik’s cubes — and my mind continues to turn the cube until I can see a solution. This has been my way of looking at situations my entire life, both personally and professionally, including when I was in the corporate world. I grew up with a mother that was very health and environmentally conscious, although I don’t think we thought of it as a category or title. My mom would shop at healthfood stores and co-ops long before co-ops were cool or trendy. In fact at that time, they were anything but cool. I think that way of life affected my DNA, and therefore I’ve always looked through the lens of being conservative with resources and understanding that every action we take, affects more than just ourselves. I’m always scaling up decisions and scenarios in my mind. For instance, “If I do this and everyone does this also, will the world be a better place, a worse place or simply neutral?” When we start looking through that lens, it helps us all make better decisions for ourselves and for the world around us. At one point in my career, about 12 years ago, I had an opportunity to look at the green movement from a broad perspective. I quickly realized how dysfunctional and confusing the environmental movement is from the public and consumers’ perspective. Once we fix the confusion for the public and consumer, and make it easier for people to act on their good intentions (such as recycling), or easier to make consumer choices to truly support environmentally responsible businesses, then we’ll see dramatic environmental progress in the world. The confusion is the barrier to progress, as seen in the recycling industry. __What is your single greatest accomplishment with this project?__ It’s not so much about my accomplishments as it is about people, brands, and organizations that have come into this mission to help move the needle more quickly; Groups that are standing by my side. Those accomplishments, by their leadership and understanding of this issue, are the greatest hallmarks of this journey for me. One example is when I became an Ashoka Fellow. Ashoka recognized this as a “world changing solution,” and provided me with a three year stipend to allow me to continue this mission. Disney came on board to pilot the standardized labels in all of their employee areas in Florida, and they were one of our most high profile early adopters — which led to others following their lead. Here are other examples: Bank of America, Kiehl’s, and Whole Foods. So many other great brands continue to carry this mission out. Our small, but oh-so mighty little team, with RAA, is our little powerhouse troops that carry this mission forward everyday, lifting the load from my shoulders. Rhode Island is our first state to utilize the labels throughout the state, and show other states why this is critical to do statewide and nationwide. It’s the celebrities that have said yes to our PSA campaign, the US Bank Stadium that started using the labels and is the stadium for the next Super Bowl, the 140 South Korean students that came to the U.S. this year and last year — and took time to help people in the U.S. know about this solution, and why recycling right is so critical to people all around the world. The young woman who biked from Rhode Island to San Francisco, who carried our literature and our Earth Flag on her solo, riding coast to coast to help people know about our mission, and all on her own, helped raise money for labels for K-12 schools. I could go on and on. These people, groups, brands; they move me! They are my fuel and the fuel of this mission! Individuals can change the world. ![mitch hedlund directing](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/33neRZ88DmEqu4yAokwA2g/5f86783ef77a2a87226ff904c00d3a7a/unnamed__3_.jpg?w=1200) __If you could say something to the youth of the world today, what would you say?__ The first thing I would say is, "I’m sorry." I’m sorry that it has taken this long for all of us from previous generations to take these issues seriously. Then I would say, “I’m so hopeful because this next generation gets it, and is passionate and ready to take action!” I would encourage them to look for and to support big solutions to address big problems. The solutions don’t have to be complex, but at this point they do need to have a big impact. Small actions are incredibly important for each of us to take. But we also need to start implementing big solutions that can have the fastest and broadest impact as well. It’s time to recognize how critical common-sense is, when it comes to the environment. Don’t wait for the government. Use the power of a collective people and as consumers to affect change rapidly. And, of course, recycle more and recycle right! __What is your relationship with nature, the environment, and organizations that are fighting for a better tomorrow?__ Not to sound negative, but when I started RAA, I was really surprised and a bit disheartened to see how fragmented the nonprofit space is. I think it has to do a bit with the fact that many nonprofits are having to constantly look for funding, and they see others as potential competitors for funding. This isn’t true everywhere, but I’ve heard from others that they witness the same thing. The reality is that if all the nonprofits working in each category of a problem, such as recycling, really united together to fix recycling, it would be fixed. That’s a simple fact. So if we’re all saying we’re trying to make it better, working together to implement solutions and programs to do so, collectively, would truly fix the issues. I believe that is true for hunger and education etc., but there is so much autonomy, which is good I guess from a for-profit business perspective, because it creates constant need and job security, but honestly, I think all nonprofits should be considered short term organizations. They should be designed to solve the issue that their mission is focused on as quickly as possible, and strive to eliminate the need for their organization to exist because they have eliminated the problem. People might say that’s unrealistic or too altruistic, but perhaps it shouldn’t be unrealistic. Perhaps donors or supporters should ask the nonprofits they fund, “How are you going to solve the problem and how long will it take, and how much funding do you need to solve the problem?” versus having an open ended approach to issues. From our perspective, our goal is to make the need for our nonprofit extinct. Just as there isn’t a need to have a nonprofit organization promoting standardized stop sign and speed limit signs, there should be a day when our organization isn't needed anymore in the recycling space because the standardized labels are in fully in use throughout the U.S. And people are able to recycle more and recycle right, everywhere they go. It is then that I will personally know that we did our job... *because we eliminated our jobs!* ![mitch-and-team-1200px](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3XK0cwYnWMOuASUkWYKOWS/f948908c860fee11eebbeb23ad8db6d0/mitch-and-team-1200px.jpg?w=1200) __Is there a particular natural place that you resonate with?__ Everywhere outdoors, especially by water. I’m a serious water person. I grew up with our house overlooking the ocean, and I swear I’m either a dolphin in my next life or was a dolphin in my previous life. I love water (rivers, oceans, lakes). I love mountains. I love animals. I love watching nature and seeing how it works. It doesn’t need meetings or phone calls or discussions or panels or symposiums to know how it should exist. It just exists in harmony (for the most part). I love that about nature — I’m humbled by it. __It is no secret that we have an environmental crisis. With so many issues to focus on, it can feel hopeless and crippling to people. What advice do you have for people anxious for a better tomorrow, but overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem?__ There are simple solutions to fix the big problems, period. We have the ability to overcome the massive issues, but we need to fix the lowest hanging fruit that has the biggest impact. This is why we’re focusing on fixing recycling. People need to see something that actually gets fixed today. People are overwhelmed and exhausted by hearing about problems and awareness of issues. Fixing one big issue at a time will provide momentum and enthusiasm to begin tackling the next big issue. Society and industry has become a bit schizophrenic. It’s time to tackle one thing at a time and make some measurable progress. Fixing recycling is a way to unite people, manufacturers, cities, and to work together to make it thrive. I’m super excited that that is what we’re working on and that there is so much momentum to achieve that goal. I believe in the next five years that we’ll look back and say, “Remember when recycling was confusing and when most manufacturers couldn’t close the loop with the manufacturing?”

What Snows of Kilimanjaro?

Nov. 06, 2017 By: Justin Abrams
I was 23 years old and it was 2012. As a kid I was an avid athlete. But not in the traditional sense. Yes, I played soccer and baseball, but team sports just weren’t for me. I was always better off as an individual contributor. I think it's because I was competitive to a fault. I was often so hyperfocused on the victory that I forgot about the journey. I was always drawn to "extreme sports;" finding myself immersed in mountain biking, rock climbing, snowboarding and mountaineering. Anything that could challenge my comfort zone and allow me to challenge myself. I was 22 years old when I saw an opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, reaching to the sky at a height of 19,341 feet of dormant volcano. Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the African continent and is the tallest freestanding mountain on earth. Not being part of a mountain range, it rises up out of the flat Tanzanian desert with nothing to distract from its grandeur. I was intrigued, scared and motivated. ![kilimanjaro](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3WJVixrmM0q4aWq8kUKo8e/d46dd0bb30c0659d9e8eebef07879cb9/CIMG2164.JPG?w=1200) I flew out of Dulles International in Washington DC and had two connecting flights in Abu Dhabi and Kenya before arriving at Kilimanjaro International Airport 27 hours later. I was meeting a guide service coordinator there from Zara Tours, who was to pick me up at the airport to take me to my hotel. He didn't arrive for 3 hours. The entire time I was waiting, there must have been over 100 men viciously soliciting for me to take a cab ride with them. I had over 100 pounds of gear and various pieces of luggage which ended up in the trunk of multiple different vehicles. A trying situation for anyone, let alone a bright eyed kid in a third world country. I was struggling. ![justin kilimanjaro basecamp](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/1HlSbAveeIyGem28C46MKS/b285318cb8928dd66d08f26c017ed7f5/File_Nov_06__8_11_19_AM.jpeg?w=1200) My first wildlife encounter in Africa occurred the second we exited the airport, after I was finally picked up by the guide service. In the middle of a 2 lane highway stood a gigantic Wildebeest with huge horns that was easily the size of a horse. Seconds later we passed a 6 foot ant hill on the side of the road. I was instantly intrigued and intimidated. Driving through the streets of Arusha, the scene was humbling. There are huge stretches of farmland and crop, with intermittent roadside stands selling varieties of fruits and vegetables, toys, clothing, and many other creature comforts. There was even a roadside stand called “Best Buys” that sold electronics like televisions, computers, cell phones and more. The markets were buzzing with every mode of transportation on a mixture of dirt roads and rutted pavement. The children, the businessmen, the mothers; I saw one mother carrying an infant on the front of her with a toddler on her back and a massive weave basket filled to the brim balanced on her head. She was then carrying multiple plastic bags of groceries in each hand. I was so humbled and felt at the time that she must have been the strongest woman in the world. There was such an overwhelming feeling of controlled chaos. It made me extremely uneasy, yet so grateful for the life that I am accustomed to. I noticed something fundamental about Africa, that I have come to look forward to in all of my travels around the world. The less people appear to have by western standards, the happier they appear to be. ![africa market](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6AmdXjMRDqucyWoSaK8moC/55045435a38dd5fc2e308190b35430d6/File_Nov_01__7_20_16_PM.jpeg?w=1200) However, I remember the pollution vividly. There is no sanitation department in Arusha. The heaps of trash and filth emitting an odor that physically affected me was practically unbearable. Clean water and simple hygiene are a rarity to most who populate this city and region. What is incomprehensible is how this one common denominator, Kilimanjaro, has become the life source for this area. What little resources the people have here are all provided by this mountain in some form. Over the next 8 days I would hike the 43 miles of the Marangu Route up and down Kilimanjaro and find out a barrage of interesting and shocking facts about the mountain and the effects that pollution and environmental neglect have had on it. ![kilimanjaro carrying gear](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/7N0hsljmJqIKGgUieCusWQ/6b22bbfb6d604f6a8d4a742e4a6ac6bb/File_Nov_01__7_19_18_PM.jpeg?w=1200) ![hiking kilimanjaro](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5Uk6WhIAjmi2Cyg802IG0a/92a78d26e881f7aee5a4d92a7e4adb71/File_Nov_01__7_15_41_PM.jpeg?w=1200) Kilimanjaro covers nearly every terrestrial micro environment or ecosystem found on earth. Cultivated land, rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and an arctic summit make up this extreme landscape. Despite direct human contact, the people that work on Kilimanjaro as guides, cooks, porters and builders, take a keen care of the cleanliness of the mountain. While Kilimanjaro is heavily populated and [sees roughy 25,000 to 35,000 visitors a year](https://www.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/kilimanjaro-facts/), the mountain appeared to be in relatively clean condition. My guide Mudi, who had climbed and summited 69 times in his lifetime, had seen massive change over the years and showed me along the way, what had occurred. Pollution from cities at the base of Kilimanjaro, littering the circumference of the mountain, have caused much of the destruction on the mountain. ![kilimanjaro basecamp](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5zNvs8VGBG4E0IaMaAo6oA/df1a4733d6f2dd4a19af78bfc5221ee3/File_Nov_01__7_18_01_PM.jpeg?w=1200) My summit day had the most notable evidence. We had left the final camp for our summit attempt at 2AM. Climbing through the night in -20 degrees F, but a clear, perfect night nonetheless. By the time we had reached snow, it was sunrise. The scene was incredible, but missing something that the books and the movies had promised me; massive glaciers. The infamous snows of Kilimanjaro. It was shocking to see how massive it was when I finally found it, but even more shocking to find out how much it has shrank over the years from my guide. The mountain’s snow caps are still diminishing, [having lost more than 80 percent of their mass since 1912. In fact, they may be completely ice free by the year 2030, according to scientists](https://www.worldwildlife.org/blogs/good-nature-travel/posts/ten-interesting-facts-about-mt-kilimanjaro%20). The environment at this elevation can no longer maintain a sub-arctic condition due to unsustainable levels of greenhouse gases emitting from Arusha and the cities circling the mountain below. All the pollution, gas emissions, sewage and waste have caused an environmental shift to occur at a rate that is irreversible. I realized that this was a prime example of global warming. This was the hardest blow. I realized in that moment, that my future child, and the next generation looking to tackle this mountain, will not experience it the way that I did. ![kilimanjaro clouds](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3D2MRmZNRuokKcMa4YgmeO/4150a2d747cc8b8d0a5df18ffb023dd2/IMG_0487.jpg?w=1200) ![kilimanjaro hiking](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4MGvdovxFeiw4mwGIe8uCW/72ea1ea5204b0e8f2adbd051e5741d4e/IMG_0484.JPG?w=1200) Human impact on the world is nearly irreversible. In an extremely short period of time, we have managed to destroy our home, particularly, the places that most of us will never see, because our lives revolve around the urban environment. What else needs to disappear, go extinct, mutate or dry up before we do something about our impact on our own homes? ![Kilimanjaro Sunset](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6o5z8pSFtmYwk8Mg2aEGSA/43c97a7346130f338ef27267bc75bec2/IMG_0471.JPG?w=1200) __Sources:__ 1. [https://www.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/kilimanjaro-facts/](https://www.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/kilimanjaro-facts/) 2. [https://www.worldwildlife.org/blogs/good-nature-travel/posts/ten-interesting-facts-about-mt-kilimanjaro](https://www.worldwildlife.org/blogs/good-nature-travel/posts/ten-interesting-facts-about-mt-kilimanjaro)

HEROES Spotlight: Alexandra Kahn

Oct. 30, 2017
*Alexandra Kahn is a photographer, videographer, story teller, rock climber, and all-around creative based out of Broomfield, Colorado. She has a passion for the outdoors and travel that is evident in her work and lifestyle. We first caught up with Alex before she embarked on a climbing trip to Hawaii. We got to ask her a few questions about her journey and how that translates into a passion for the environment.* __How did you get started climbing? What is your origin story?__ My mom is actually a climber, she started dragging me to the gym when I was 4 and outdoor trad and sport crags when I was 7. So as long as I can remember it has been a part of my life but I wouldn’t say I truly fell in love with the sport, to the point where I now go outside to climb alone if I can’t find someone to join me, until I was 25/26. I’m 29 now. But I’ve always appreciated it and thought of it as a part of who I am. ![alex simone 4](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5Kplt4a1BSOOgg4keqEYsk/b5bb0157eca57f57fc24b24928f6f27b/alex_simone_4.jpg?w=1200) __Looking at your Instagram it looks like you are passionate about many causes from animal welfare, to humanitarian issues, to environmentalism. With so much to do in all these areas do you have a particular focus?__ While I would love to get more into animal welfare and plan to, my first love has always been the environment. I work with the [Access Fund](https://www.accessfund.org/), [American Alpine Club](https://americanalpineclub.org/) and a few eco friendly brands like [Onsight Equipment](http://www.onsightequipment.com/), and can only hope to leave some sort of legacy in terms of environmentalism. __If you were able to speak to all the young people out there looking to identify with an activity or passion, what would be your advice?__ My true love of nature blossomed with the ability to travel and photograph my surroundings. My advice would be to go to a new place alone, or with a patient person, go for a walk and get off the beaten trail and take your camera. Walk slowly and look everywhere, attempting to see the subtleties and intricacies of the world around you. I do this all the time and it rejuvenates my soul and makes me so grateful to live in such a diverse world. ![Alex Simon 2](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/6oioFBcTPq2CskcKewAoE6/42367a1080f04d2c68ed281b6bfcd9a7/Alex_Simon_2.jpg?w=1200) __Tell us a bit about your current work with the environment and any organization that you are working with for a better tomorrow?__ I am a full time photographer and videographer who works in the outdoor world. I do commercial, fashion, weddings and portraits and for the most part everything is outside. I work hard to get the people to appreciate the nature around them by capturing the beauty. I am an ambassador for [Onsight Equipment](http://www.onsightequipment.com/) and [LifeStraw](https://lifestraw.eartheasy.com/), two companies trying to make a huge impact in the outdoor industry. And like I said before I work with [The Access Fund](https://www.accessfund.org/) and [American Alpine Club](https://americanalpineclub.org/). My goal for this year is to work with more outdoor centric non profits and sustainable outdoor brands and I recently made a commercial for Women’s Wilderness Project. I feel like I can make the most impact by teaming up with the companies that need more creative marketing and media content and helping to spread awareness of those brands and organizations. __What are your future ambitions for both yourself and the brand you are building?__ Hmm well I want to finish a young adult book I have been writing for awhile. I want to have multiple creatives working under me but with a diversity of skills so we can provide more to the clients we work with. And I want all the companies I work with to provide something meaningful for society and inspire change towards a more sustainable future. I would like to create content for an adult audience but then have in-house animators to create simplified and animated versions for kids since educating them about the environment and inspiring their love for the land is the only hope we have. __What is your biggest victory to date?__ Hmm professionally, I just found out my last documentary film is on [Qantas Airlines](https://www.qantas.com/us/en.html) which is super cool and I landed a multi page article with my words and photos in the French Climbing magazine [Grimper](http://www.grimper.com/) which will come out this winter. Personally, I would say coming back from a horrific back injury where I was told I could never boulder again. ![Alex Simon 1](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/5JUAboy5eoUkWc4C6ga8eo/32945e9e8394c651101573c1ffbfcc7e/Alex_Simon_1.jpg?w=1200) __What's one things you wish every person would either do or be mindful of every single day when they wake up, focused on the environment and self improvement?__ Be mindful of the natural world around you each morning. Look at the sky, the birds, listen to the plants rustle in the wind. Watch the sunset or the moon rise as often as you can and be grateful to be in the present moment. Take a deep breathe and relax, however, remember that every person on earth including you has a meaning and an impact and what you think and do and say matters to the earth and it’s people, so be mindful of your choices. __Where can people find you, follow you, and get involved in what you do?__ My personal Instagram with my adventure and climbing photos of myself, my friends and my personal stories is [alex_simone88](https://www.instagram.com/alex_simone88/) and then I have a commercial account as well [@asinspiredmedia](https://www.instagram.com/asinspiredmedia/). I also have a website [asinspiredmedia.com](https://www.causeofakind.com/blogs/blog-of-a-kind/asinspiredmedia.com) *Stay tuned! Alex is currently working on a collaborative design with us to support The Trust for Public Lands. We're super excited to work with Alex on this and if you're as excited as we are sign up for our newsletter below to get a sneak peak before the launch!*

HEROES Spotlight: Danielle "Dee" Esposito

Oct. 15, 2017
*If you don't recognize Dee Esposito, perhaps you need to take another look at our homepage. Dee has been a close friend to the Cause of a Kind family since the beginning and we finally get the chance to talk more about her.* *Dee is not just a Cause of a Kind model, she's also a competitive Spartan racer! We got a chance to catch up with her last week so we could tell everyone her story.* __How did you get into adventure racing?__ My old gym was bootcamp-style, meaning it had walls, ropes, fake barbed wire, monkey bars, etc. They used to do a ton of Spartan Races, so just being there and having my trainer and buddies around me all the time sort of convinced me to try it. I had always had an interest in them but never felt comfortable enough to actually do one. Those guys made me try... and changed my life entirely. ![dee 1](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/AuiEEHH2rmgwoaQuWkOi2/3509e7cfceccfccc4286e49764968faf/20170425_185719.png?w=1200) __What would you say to other women that want to do their first adventure race but are intimidated?__ Evvvvvveryone is intimidated. I'm still intimidated before every single race, no matter how short or long of a distance. But I'm also a firm believer that those nerves and that intimidation comes before all of the best things in life. The best I can promise is you'll come out the other side with a new sense of what life actually is. Where today we're so accustomed to thinking life means texts and Google searches and losing ourselves in this crazy digital world, these races take all of those things away for a moment. For those hours that you're on a course, you'll remember what it's like to be a human - when you're in tune with your breathing and your steps, when your mind and your body gets to work together... and you get to just be. Also, the Open Heats guarantee friendships - you'll see all different types of people from all walks of life on that course. I've seen 90 year old women, blind men, children and the handicap conquering a course alongside each other. The only thing to be intimidated by is your own mind... because once you cross that start line, you CAN do this - and we won't let you fail. ![dee 2](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/MougsclH42KqasQ6YgmKy/0cabe2bbd58168040725a73037d47dd4/593cf8699be581977a96c095-o.JPG?w=1200) __What was the most challenging race you've competed in so far and why?__ Easy. The 2014 Spartan World Championships in Killington, Vermont. It was my first season doing any sort of OCR (obstacle course racing) and my first time running a Spartan Beast. Killington is known as being one of the most challenging courses (it's the birthplace of the Spartan Beast, after all), because they love to utilize their steep ski slopes. I remember it was freezing that year, and at the summit we were walking in a cloud. I had busted out my knee on Mile 5 of this 12+ mile course and had to do every decent in a crab walk. I had strangers who carried me over walls, some that had warned me to quit to avoid further injury, and others that told me not to. It was the first race where my mind really had to come in to play to keep me moving, and I LOVED that. I think that's partly why I've been so interested this season in endurance events - I really like the mental aspect of pushing myself to break through those mind games. There's something very satisfying about that. ![dee 3](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/3uFRyH3KNGIOeWkSiK0Cas/e6c51856c6eee030ddc0b42a696d0bab/57663fd9cc7ee3285048dd53-o.jpeg?w=1200) __What's your favorite obstacle?__ Rope climb! I also really like rig work now that I'm developing a stronger grip. __What weaknesses are you currently working to overcome?__ Two things: grip strength and steep climbs __How are you training to overcome them?__ Honestly CrossFit has helped me make leaps and bounds with my grip. Probably all that barbell work and those pullups. Other than that though I do dead hangs a lot, play around on the gym rig and I've gotten some grippy tools like the GripSling. For steep climbs it's a little harder because we don't have the terrain in Queens that other parts of the country get, but I throw on my ruck and find stairs and a few spots that I know of that have some hills to work on. If you had to train for an adventure race in four weeks what would your regiment look like? I'd keep WODing daily and doing ruck workouts after. One thing I will say is since I've begun training nightly with my ruck, heavy carries in a race have felt so much better. Also, use some weekends to focus on timed training rather than mileage training. What I mean here is a road mile and a mountain mile are two completely different things, and you might be out on a race and find you've only covered 3 miles in an hour. Get used to working for long periods of time. Carve out 4 hours to just explore - run, burpee, speed walk, pick up a heavy rock and carry it around for a bit. Just use that time to get your body acclimated to long non-stop movement. ![dee 4](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/4CiUDV3Qr6Ksq88YAeEAyu/4d6f83d00c917199ad758bde8f280fb0/5923959b5ae6ad3211da2ddd-o.JPG?w=1200) __Would you consider yourself to be environmentally conscious, and why?__ I'm environmentally conscious but I do think I could get better at it actually executing that consciousness. __Is there a particular natural place that resonates with you particularly?__ Two things: bodies of water and trails. __If there were an individual cause that you care about, related to the environment, what would it be?__ Water pollution and wrecking beautiful forests. ![dee 5](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2ADhbXIHwkyuSE0mYgK20a/40edc5b21041051519704c01d55baf5f/59a28c79fd4131af6b17fa0e-o.JPG?w=1200) __Do you think there is an intersection between being an elite spartan athlete and caring about the environment?__ Well, of course. Spartan Racers, or really any racer that races out in the world, cares about the environment because that's where we play. Obviously you don't have to race trails or swim lakes to care about them, but we're connected to them differently. They're an intricate part of our world not only physically, or in those typical aspects, but we use these places to train, we suffer here and grow here, and there's something very special that comes from living part of your life with this sort of primal connection to the earth. I think it helps us to really appreciate it. __When you say that you are environmentally conscious but wish to do more, what do you feel you could improve on?__ Volunteer more, donate more, live consciously, etc. no wrong answer. Live more consciously. I mean, I already don't litter, and while racing I'm one of those that picks up any wrapper some inconsiderate person threw on to the trail, but I mean most people can always do MORE, right? It's just a matter of having the outlet and resources... and education... to do that. ![dee 6](//images.contentful.com/o3vn3w2yy4rp/2NkZLkNpwImic8Mk6KiU40/d8448290ae184428b266dd50942da614/5987acd8fd4131af6b148c9e-o.JPG?w=1200)