March 24, 2010

Media Saves the World? Mountainfilm Tackles the Extinction Crisis.

At Under Solen we work with a variety of non-profits; Mountainfilm happens to be one of them. This isn’t advertorial, we truly believe in the Mountainfilm message and cause, and so we’re writing about it here on Elephant.

Did you know that it’s estimated that a species dies off every 20 minutes? That’s a staggering statistic, but the issue of extinction and the loss of biodiversity often gets forgotten when it comes to environmental messages embraced by the public. Yet this destruction of biodiversity is considered by many scientists to be the paramount challenge facing the planet. That’s why at this year’s Mountainfilm festival in Telluride, the Moving Mountains Symposium will be focused around this ever-growing issue, welcoming scientists, artists and conservationists to come and talk about what’s at stake for our planet and the populations that call it home.

In conjunction with the upcoming festival, Mountainfilm is also featuring a profile series on its blog, talking to festival friends past and present. There are some big names on the list, including philanthropist Greg Mortenson and artist Chris Jordan, and all of the profiles focus in some way on extinction and biodiversity.

From Midway collection by Chris Jordan

Jordan, an Elephant favorite, was recently interviewed and it’s quite honestly one of the most real, honest and inspirational interviews I’ve read in a long time. An excerpt:

Most people can’t or won’t make as dramatic a shift in their lives as you have, but many still feel passionately that they would like to help agent change in the world. What can ordinary people do to meaningfully impact the kinds of global crises we face today such as climate change and species extinction?

That’s the big question, isn’t it? I’ve spent the last seven years of my work focused on that question: what is the role of the individual in an overwhelmingly enormous and complex global culture? And maybe that’s actually another simpler question in disguise: “Do I matter?”

I think that’s one of the central questions facing humanity right now, that we each have to grapple with as individuals. What we decide internally, each one of us, adds up to a collective attitude that has unbelievable power. If people can feel that, if they look deeply into this question and find that they do matter, then they’ll figure out what to do next. It’s not up to me or anyone else to tell them.

Each of us is 1/6.7 billionth of the world’s population. That’s a really, really small number that’s very hard to come to terms with. The Green Movement and others posit the importance of the individual and individual efforts. They have all these beautiful quotes like Margaret Mead’s about never doubting the power of one person to make a difference.

I don’t negate the truth of that sentiment but I do think there’s another half of the picture that’s being ignored or obscured, at our peril. And that’s this feeling of not mattering. I think almost all of us carry that feeling – I know I do. Whether we acknowledge that or not, it’s there, as evidenced by our wasteful daily behaviors.

As an analogy, think of an old-fashioned gauge with a needle, that can either point left or right. On one side, the reading is: I matter. I’m a contributing, valuable member of the human community, and every detail of my life is important. On the other side, the reading is: I don’t matter. I can be however uncaring and wasteful as I want to because I’m too small to make any difference. My problem is that my needle jumps back and forth all the time.

I think the challenge is to get us to behave as if we matter, even when our needles point to the side that says we don’t matter. Because the truth is, our small behaviors really do add up. As proof, just look at the world we live in: it’s the product of hundreds of millions of people each behaving as if we don’t matter. The result is a catastrophe, which we have all participated in creating. And so it turns out, so far, that we all mattered without even realizing it. Each one of us really has made a difference, perhaps in a bigger way than we have the courage to admit to ourselves. I think once more people feel that, they’ll know what to do, or they’ll care enough to find out.

You can read the whole interview here.

These interviews are all about spurring conversations and encouraging people to engage on pressing issues that affect all of us. But in putting them together, I’ve also been truly inspired by the amount of energy that is out there to do good. Sure, we are just 1/6.7 billionth of the world’s population, as Jordan says, but it’s amazing to see what the collective spirit is capable of doing, and it’s interesting to watch the role that media — photo, video, art, and even the written word — is playing in that cycle.

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