Foreward of Natural Beauty
By: Matt Petersen President and CEO of Global Green
Sometimes I get discouraged about trying to save our planet. The signs of climate change and environmental degradation are apparent in our daily lives.
Even as the ranks of environmental activists have swelled, and an educated public is on the same page about wanting to invest in a clean society and a green economy, much of what comes out of corporate boardrooms, ballot boxes or the media is fiercely opposed to that agenda.
So why am I hopeful? I think we fundamentally want to reconnect with nature and find a balance in our world; even ensure our species’ survival. Thankfully, there are sources of inspiration; those working hard and envisioning a future where we not only survive, but we thrive. One where future generations can enjoy the natural beauty we enjoy today, not to mention breathe clear air and drink clean water.
This book and multimedia project, Natural Beauty, is one such source of inspiration. When James Houston not only asked if Global Green would be his charitable partner and beneficiary, but if I would also write the foreward, I looked at his idea and images he had captured so far. I was honored.
James Houston’s passion and desire to inspire us all, and engage a wider audience in joining the movement, in particular younger generations, comes forth and jumps off the pages. His vision for the project includes a web series, exhibitions and film installations in NY and LA as well as the published book. It’s an ambitious vision to pull off. Then again, James has never shied away fro challenges. He has helped raise awareness and funds for fighting HIV/AIDS and sexual education amongst teens via amazing images, books and even a documentary film. Now, James has turned to the greatest challenge of our time: environmental degradation, climate change and the fight for the future survival of the human species, through the celebration of natural beauty. Speaking of natural beauty, for the last several years I have been going on an annual father-and-son camping trip with my son, my dad, my best friend from college and his son, to a magical place called Butano State Park in California.
Butano is under the redwoods of Central California. It’s a sublime place that feels like another world – tall groves of cool, light and calm that splash mottled rays of sunlight on the forest floor below. The laughs of kids and parents alike are subdued by the quiet of the surrounding trees.
On a typical day, you’ll find our young boys searching the campground and plotting innocent mischief, Grandpa Petersen preparing his famous Swedish pancakes and myself over percolating the coffee on the fire (to the groans and laughs of the adults). We play a game of spirited whiffle ball in a clearing lined by the huge reddish brown trunks. We crouch at fallen trees to watch the slow dance of banana slugs.
I discovered the beauty of this rare grove of Redwoods – one of the only remaining in California – with my dad on one of our father-son camping trips, over 25 years ago. Most of California’s old growth coastal forests were decimated long before my father was born.
I often wonder, will my son, and his son, get to witness the beauty that nature provides? In Thailand or the Congo or Mexico, where I have witnessed extraordinary natural beauty, there is a serious threat from human develipment, greed, and a growing disconnection from nature.
The readers of Natural Beauty, this beautiful, inspiring book created by photographer and activist James Houston, are taking a first step by educating themselves and seeking inspiration. This book celebrates beauty to help inspire and remind us of the need to create a sustainable future.
James’ images capture this in the form of models on the pages of glossy magazines, or gorgeous nature shots selling us the latest model of a car – is often used to sell us the goods that define us as consumers and imbue a sense of status, however real or false. Featured within these pages are those that give us life – among them Mother Nature and mothers – calling out to us to care and to take action before it is too late.
Too late for what you ask? Certainly the loss of the beauty and wonder that so many of us enjoy today of wild places we have been fortunate enough to visit. The threat of climate change looms largest in the future, yet ocean and acidification, loss of forests, and other ecosystem cruses each stand alone for their urgency. So what do we do? These problems seem vast and there does not seem to be enough political will to act. But I believe these challenges are not too large for us tackle.
So why am I hopeful? Because of you, and the potential in all of us. We can reclaim our role as a citizen and no longer be defined as just a consumer. As citizens, we engage in our community, vote and take responsibility for a corner of the workd. In taking responsibility for a corner of our world – whether armed with a simple solution or a crazy idea – we say to others, “We will not be overwhelmed by the seeing enormity of the problems we face. We will act.” And in acting, we inspire and encourage others to do the same.
We begin to build the political will needed for change in places like the US Congress or the boardroom of major corporations. Citizen entrepreneurs spark ingenuity and create a better home, workplace, school, neighborhood, or park (or other place we love) and make a difference to the environment, poverty, and other challenges we face.
I had a crazy idea that Global Green USA could help New Orleans rebuild green after Hurricane Katrina. I put a vision for rebuilding New Orleans green, and many thought I was crazy. But some people responded with an offer to help. Armed with a crazy idea, fortitude, creativity, and persistence – and lots of hard work – we did make a difference, and remarkably made progress on each of the initial goals I set out.
Thanks to our supporters and the incredible team we built. We keep making a difference and help to rebuild greener homes and schools. TIME magazine has said, “There is no organization doing more for the green rebuilding of New Orleans than Global Green USA.”
I helped take responsibility for our corner of the world. You could say it was part of my job, but nobody told me that I needed to help New Orleans rebuild better. I was moved by the horror and inability of our government, at every level, to act and to help our own nations’ citizens. I rallied others to join Global Green and I, despite resistance or reluctance from some, both in and outside the organization.
Once I got to New Orleans, I was also inspired by another citizen entrepreneur, Pam Dashiell. Pam was an activist in the Lower 9th Ward who, after Hurricane Katrina, decided to lead her neighborhood association to make a commitment in the rebuilding. She got the Hold Cross Neighborhood Association to commit to rebuilding the first carbon neutral neighborhood in the US. It is truly thanks to Pam that there are more LEED Platinum homes in the Lower 9th Ward than any other neighborhood in America. Now, it’s not just Hurricane Katrina that showed us the face of the march of sea level rise and global warning which assaulted New Orleans. Hurricane Sandy has shown us how all our coastal communities are at risk.
More people are waking up, sadly, thanks to disaster. Global Green is helping respond in New York and New Jersey with our Solar for Sandy initiative, searching for ‘Citizen Sandy’-the next Pam Dashiell – and supporting their green rebuilding idea. We also see other citizen entrepreneurs popping up everywhere, taking responsibility for a corner of the world.
James Houston’s amazing book, Natural Beauty is one such example of an individual taking responsibility for a corner of the world. With a portion of the proceeds benefiting Global Green he is shedding his definition as a consumer and claiming his role as a ‘citizen entrepreneur’.
The creativity in evoking the beauty of nature through the incredible images on these pages is moving and stirring. This is an elegant yet poignant and evocative collection to help reconnect us, and inspire us. I hope you feel the same.
James did not have to create this book. He told me he was moved to create it as the media, and the economic crisis, take our minds and priorities away from the environmental crisis.
It is the tension of our consumption that is stressing the Earth, and pushing every ecosystem toward collapse. It is estimated that if we continue to consume at the same rathe with the estimated growing population, we will need the equivalent of 2.6 planets to provide us with the clean water, energy, food, wood, and other resources that make our lifestyles possible. Particularly in the US where 5% of the world’s population uses 25% of the worlds energy and resources.
We need to act now to take a different direction; to create a sustainable future. And to be able to reduce global warning and protect the increasing endangered environment, not to mention ensure all of humanity has access to clean water and to reduce poverty.
We can no longer plunder the beauty that exists on this planet to serve our desires. Whether it is the beauty of nature or beauty of women and men, we must change our relationship and no longer claim domination over both.
Last August, I returned from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, where our addiction to cell phones and electronics is driving illicit mining of the rare earth minerals in that part of the world. In turn, the armed militias in the region terrorize the villagers that live near the mines to ensure they continue to profit from the peddling of the rare earth minerals.
In partnership with the organization V-Day, Global Green helped install a solar system at the City of Joy, which serves over 90 women, for 6 months at a time, with emotional healing and training to reclaim their lives.
The convergence of plundering these ‘conflict minerals’ from the region and the plundering of women and girls (with an estimated 500,000 rapes in the last 10 years alone in the region) cause this, in my mind, to be the place where how we treat those that bring life into the world – the Earth and women – come together like no other place in the world.
Beauty can no longer be stolen from us, or just be used to sell us things we think we want or need.
Thank you James for your crazy idea, fortitude, creativity and persistence (and lots of hard work) in helping us reconnect with nature.
» Read more: Read Matt Petersen’s foreward from James Houston’s new photo book “Natural Beauty”