Models And Modeling

Boy Watches Man In Doorway

Joseph Chilton Pearce, a respected author on the subject of brain development, wrote that a child’s capacity to operate in the world is determined entirely by the models he experiences in everyday life. He observed that all human intelligences—music, math, art, logic, mechanics, even emotions and intuition—are built into us genetically at birth. As potentials. “Their awakening,” he says, even for adults, “requires stimulus from the external world, from someone who has developed that intelligence to a functional level.”

This was certainly true for me. For you as well? Had I been able to interact with a practicing fine art photographer or motion picture director early on, I could have begun to awaken my visual potentials—and careers—that much sooner. Instead, in my youth, I resorted to the only resources at hand—books and magazines, which were highly inadequate. Learning theory says we learn best from having behavior modeled and reinforced, by seeing someone do what we want to do. And, it cultivates the confidence-building attitude, “If she can do it, so can I.”

Having taught at the university level and managed a television production facility for twenty-six years, one of the most important lessons I learned about teaching was to acknowledge and celebrate a student’s potential when it shows up, and then feed it by providing face-to-face, first-hand experiences in that area. I can’t overestimate the extent to which so many of my students benefitted from visits to television stations, commercial and corporate video and audio production facilities and post-production houses—and the professionals who came to class to speak. In addition to subjecting students to working professionals, “real” world models and environments, I encouraged them to introduce themselves and build relationships with these people, and many students gained internships and jobs that way, even developed careers in the field as a result.

The child in the above image, observing the behavior and possibly hearing the conversation between the adults has momentarily diverted his attention away from the toy car. It’s just a moment. But the triangle of attention speaks to me of the significance of modeling, particularly for children. It raises the social question: What are we exposing our children to? And it challenges me to address personal questions: Who and where are my models? Where do get my inspiration? What social and media experiences empower me to live more authentically? What are my potentials? Which of them do I want to nurture? Am I appropriately prioritizing them? What am I modeling for those with whom I interact? This kind of questioning has undoubtedly helped me discriminate between distraction and purpose.

In part, I choose this image and theme because of the domestic and ideological violence being reported in the news lately. In all these instances I watch and think about the children being exposed to models of dysfunction, young minds whose potentials are being radicalized, neglected or suppressed. I’m reminded of Buckminster Fuller who, after I’d produced a program featuring him, took my hands and said, “Keep on doing what you’re doing, young man. We need more of this kind of (constructive) programming.” It was he who wrote that, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Indeed, create a new, more functional model.

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. 

James Baldwin

About This Image

Title: Boy In Doorway

File #: 012-A5

On lunch hours when I worked for Brand Studios as a technician in their color lab, I often drove the extensive and old German neighborhood known as Over The Rhine in downtown Cincinnati. No matter the weather, I would keep the car windows down so when I saw a potential shot I could stop and shoot without the interference of glass. For two years, I “cruised” the area looking for interesting faces and situations, shooting with a telephoto lens on a 35mm camera. If someone saw me or scowled, I just put the camera down and drove on.

I didn’t have to worry about copyright infringement because I wasn’t shooting for profit or publication, not even for exhibition. Besides, a release form is only needed when the photographer directs the subject in some way.

I remember this particular circumstance like it happened yesterday. I’d stopped at a red light, observed the situation through the passenger-side window and took the shot. The light changed to green, but seeing that there were no cars in back of me I exposed a few more frames. As it happened, the first frame was the best.

Whenever I think about street photography, I’m reminded of Henri Cartier-Bresson who was asked: What’s the secret of your success as a street photographer? He replied, “Be there and f8.” So true, especially when photographing people. You have to BE THERE, with a camera, in order to capture “the precious moment.”

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: DavidLSmithPhotography.

Everyday Beauty



When I hear “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” I take it to mean that some people find beauty where others do not. An artist friend who designs and sells jewelry once remarked that he made it a practice to experience beauty every day. I thought that was wonderful. But between work and family life, the only time I found available to search for beauty was when I was out with a camera looking for it.

Searching for opportunities to compose elements within a frame in ways that fed my aesthetic hunger, I frequented scrap yards, construction sites, abandoned buildings, tractor-trailer grave yards, empty fairgrounds and musty antique shops. As a consequence of creating order out of visual chaos, I was experiencing beauty in unconventional places and subjects. I first noticed this when I realized that I didn’t need to go to the beaches, national parks or anywhere else to experience beauty. It was at hand. To transform an ugly or ordinary object into a beautiful one, all I had to do was to decide to see it that way—with or without a camera.

My interest in “beauty” as a subject has been an evolution. As a child, I thought certain people, places and things were intrinsically beautiful and others were not. Through readings and formal education I learned that beauty is subjective and it varies widely between individuals. Camerawork taught me that beauty can be manufactured, as when we light or arrange objects in a more pleasing way. And that by deliberate choice, an ordinary object can be transformed into something beautiful. Actually, that was my job as a producer-cinematographer for television stations, often challenged by advertisers to make their everyday products—like sheets and pillow cases, watches and toys—look beautiful.

Of course, beauty is such a subjective experience it cannot be defined. Nonetheless, each of us can, with contemplation, find some language that will help us better understanding its place in our lives. For me currently, the experience of beauty presents me with feelings of joy and harmony, sometimes awe. I think it comes, mostly at a subconscious level, from attunement to nature’s design principles.

The above image reminds me that beauty can be found everywhere we look—even in the kitchen sink. And I can predispose myself to experience it by choosing to see it in everyday places and objects. Beauty is not only something to be found, it’s something to be receptive to—and make.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

Henry David Thoreau

About This Image

Title: Kitchen Highlights

File: DC10

Each spring, the sun comes through our kitchen window and sprays these highlights onto the backsplash above our sink. All I did was turn the faucet a little to maximize the width of the “spray” of sublight.

Whenever I see something and the thought comes to mind that it would make a great shot, I try to get a camera and photograph it. Doing so enhances the experience and makes it last. Moments of beauty, no matter how subtle, are precious.

Linda is a master in this regard. Regularly, she’ll place a shell, a blossom or a stone that she picked up and place it in a bowl to be displayed on our kitchen table. I can’t count the number of times I photographed these little gems. As I write, there’s a red maple leaf gracing our table in a saucer of black china.

Nature’s Design Principles

Winged Red Maple Seed

Over time, a species of tree that evolved into the maple did so in part because it succeeded in finding a way to disburse numerous seeds over a greater distance. As kids we called them “pinwheels” or “helicopter seeds.” Hedging no bets in the area of reproduction, between 12,000 and 90,000 of these seeds can fall from a single tree in one season.

In this image I see a delivery system, a “package” perfectly designed to accomplish its mission. The heavier bulb containing the seed responds to gravity, pointing downward so it can penetrate the ground, while the aerodynamic “wing” system takes advantage of the wind to disperse the seed beyond the tree’s roots where it can germinate in fresh soil with the added advantage of increased sunlight. The design alone increased the odds of successful reproduction.

Because creation begins with imagination, when I think of seeds, I think of ideas. Of the number of ideas I’ve had, relatively few passed beyond germination. Fewer yet reached maturity. With time and experience we become more selective in our wanting, but how is it that some goals, even when pursued with passion and persistence, do not come to fruition? Two examples, one from business the other from teaching, come to mind for me, both of which—in hindsight—provided the same simple but profound lesson: Apple trees don’t grow from peach seeds. They are both fruit trees, but their inherent designs, growth needs and strategies are very different.

If I were king of the world, students would be exposed to nature’s design principles and strategies before they graduate from high school. Like many of us with vivid imaginations, I generated many ideas about what I could do and what I wanted to do. Had I known, even metaphorically, that ideas and initiatives grow organically from the ground up (not the top down), from seeds (ideas) planted in soils rich in nutrients (money and resources) with lots of sunlight (intelligence and wisdom) and caring hands (a collaboration of peers), the ideas mentioned above would likely have blossomed. Instead, they now reside in folders in my “Uncompleted Projects” file drawer.

On the other hand, perspective: had those ideas manifested, I would not be the person I am today. And although those ideas still tug at my heartstrings, I consider myself better off for having learned what doesn’t work. Certainly, had either idea matured my lifestyle would have been chaotic. I needed to learn some very important lessons by missing the brass ring. And that’s perfect. Still, had I understood something of nature’s design principles and strategies, I might have directed my attention differently.

In our consciousness, there are many negative seeds and also many positive seeds. The practice is to avoid watering the negative seeds, and to identify and water the positive seeds every day.

Thich Nhat Hanh

About This Image

Title: Winged Maple Seed

Theme: Nature’s Design Principles

File #: 732-C2

There are many times when an object of interest can best be photographed under controlled conditions of lighting and background. So one of the best tools a serious photographer can have is what used to be called a “copy stand.” Basically, it’s a device where a camera can be fixed to an adjustable arm that moves up and down so it can be positioned closer or farther away from the subject. The option of bringing objects home to photograph expands the possibilities of subject matter.

For this image, I put the seed on a piece of glass with white paper beneath it and positioned photoflood lights on both sides to light the paper evenly. With a macro (close-up) lens on my camera I was able to come within inches of the seed and fill the frame.


Times Square


“Makin’ your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got…”

Cheers (Theme song)

Messages coming from others—

You could…                                                    Distraction

You need to…                                                 Distraction

You’re so good at…                                       Distraction

Why don’t you…                                            Distraction

Let’s go to…                                                    Distraction

Save! Buy now…                                            Distraction

If only you would…                                       Distraction

If you want to make me happy…                Distraction

You’d be better off…                                      Distraction

You should go to…                                         Distraction

More people would notice you if…             Distraction

You never…                                                      Distraction

You don’t have what it takes.                       Distraction

Messages coming from within—

I could… (do anything)                                  Distraction

If only…                                                             Distraction

I need to…                                                         Distraction

If I work harder…                                            Distraction

How can I get him or her to…?                     Distraction

The easy way would be to…                           Distraction

He or she does or does not like me.             Distraction

If I had…                                                            Distraction

I should go to…                                                 Distraction

I can get it done…                                             Distraction

I can’t…                                                               Distraction

More. Better. Faster.                                        Distraction

I could be cool.                                                   Distraction

What will they think?                                       Distraction

Distraction from what?                          Purpose

Not knowing it, I am adrift.

Knowing it, I have both an engine and a rudder.


Find out who you are. And do it on purpose.

Dolly Parton

About This Image

Times Square

Theme: Purpose

File: DF 4099

I had a meeting in Manhattan and decided to stay an extra day to photograph. I walked around with a camera and happened to be in Times Square around four-thirty in the evening. Walking in from a side street, the sea of people, the traffic and the colorful building-sized signs made me laugh out loud. To get out of the way, I squeezed between a pole and a waste can and made several shots. Leaving, I stopped at a light and this is what I saw.

I selected this image because it diverges significantly from my usual preference, which is simplicity. In a section of my Visual Communication classes, I spoke about the strategies of “Image Simplicity vs. Image Complexity,” the former best applied when the objective is to express a feeling or convey a sensibility, the latter serving the purpose of conveying information. Take any image and count the visual elements. The fewer the elements, the simpler the image and the greater the emotional impact. The greater the number of elements within an image, the more information that can be derived from it. Sometimes, an image comes along that accomplishes both.

Electric Power

In the summer of ’76, the year Linda and I were married, we went to the Cayo district in Belize so I could better appreciate where and how she’d lived for a year, teaching English to high school students under the auspices of the Papal Volunteer’s—the Catholic church’s version of the Peace Corps. We hired a taxi at the Chetumal, Mexico airstrip to drive us a hundred miles into the jungle. For hours, the only lights we saw were the taxi headlights on the deeply pitted dirt road and occasional kerosene lamps flickering through the trees.

Linda’s dear friends were excited to reunite with her and they welcomed us to stay with them. That same night, a roach as big as my forefinger was on the sheet when Linda pulled back the blanket. And the fluttering I heard as I brushed my teeth in a basin, turned out to be a bat. I said I wanted to leave in the morning. But she informed me that there weren’t any taxies in town, there was no bus that day and the only telephone line had been destroyed by the Maya burning their fields for planting. So I resigned myself to stay one more day. The next morning I stepped outside and into a jungle with dripping leaves, parrots, glistening lime trees and sparkling bright sunlight. I ran and got my camera. I was in photography heaven.

So what’s that got to do with a lightbulb? Appreciation—for the gift of electric power and the lack of it. At that time, San Ignacio had neither televisions nor electric refrigerators. Most energy came from kerosene, which was very limited, and the town’s electric generator shut down at ten o’clock after three hours of use. So as darkness approached our hosts, friends and Linda and I sat around a 60 watt bare bulb that hung from the ceiling on a wire—and we talked. As I remember it, these were less like conversations and more like family reports on who did what, who went where, when certain animals would be slaughtered for market, who said what to whom and what politicians were doing. When the generator shut down the talk continued for another hour, by the light of a kerosene lamp.

The light bulb in this image evokes memories of that challenging and wonderful week, in particular an appreciation for the luxuries—and necessities—that electric power affords. I understand now, how the light bulb became the symbol for the word “idea.” Now, instead of sharing the news and gossip of the day with family, friends and neighbors, electric power allows us to converse, interact, read and watch movies at night, and in the comfort of our well-lit and air-conditioned homes. It’s staggering to consider how much has been gained because of access to consistent, affordable and abundant electricity. Don’t we notice, whenever it goes down, for whatever reason, our appreciation awakens and grows with every passing hour.

But something has also been lost. We no longer sit together, face-to-face in the evenings, sharing the close-in happenings of the day with family members, friends and neighbors. It’s not that I miss what’s been lost. I don’t. But the light of that 60-watt bulb in San Ignacio, Cayo gave me a fresh appreciation for how people—and our not-to-distant ancestors—managed and thrived without electric power. The light of that little bulb created a context, a call to gather without distraction. And share.

We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100 watt light bulb.

Bill Bryson

About This Image

Title: Light Bulb

Theme: Electric Power

File #: T13

Studio: Rochester Institute Of Technology, Rochester, New York

This photograph was made as part of an assignment at R.I.T. The bulb was about 12 inches tall. Someone had discarded it and I wanted to see if it worked. Not having a proper socket to screw it into, I stripped the end of a lamp cord and taped the wires to the terminals. When I plugged it in, the filament glowed yellow.

The setup was simple. I unrolled a length of red seamless paper, punched a little hole for the wire that ran under the paper, and used modeling clay to stand the bulb upright. I critically focused on the filament and set the camera’s aperture to wide open so the taped base of the bulb and the clay would not show. After setting two flood lights to evenly light the paper, I found that there were distracting reflections on the glass. So I darkened the room and moved the lights to minimize the reflections. I plugged in the bulb, did a last minute check of focus with the filament burning and made two exposures on Kodak 4×5 Ektachrome film.


Leaf In The Surf


One among many leaves that float on the surface of life, I ride the waves.

The calm—

meaningful conversations,

helping where help is needed,

Linda’s cooking; Graeter’s ice cream; Skyline chili,

researching and writing novels of the ancient Maya; visiting sites,

Scott Hamilton’s tenor saxophone; Barry Manilow; Andrea Bocelli

traveling backroads to photograph; making prints in the darkroom,

orange tabby cats,

The West Wing; Northern Exposure; Morgan Freeman’s Through The Wormhole,

The Life of Pi; Avatar; Singin’ In The Rain.

And the turbulent—

war; man’s inhumanity to man; intolerance

cruelty to animals,

not being able to help when help is needed,

health challenges,

loud music in malls; discordant jazz in bookstores,

loud talkers in restaurants; busers clearing gravy-stained plates near the table,

littering; line jumping; horn honking; cursing; telemarketing interruptions,

television ID’s in the corner of the screen; hype and destructive commercials

apocalyptic movies

On the surface I come to know who I am and where I fit.

Beneath the surface, I become aware of the depths; expanse, and it draws me.

Further down, there is stillness, the prospect of peace of mind.

Deeper yet, ironically, in darkness comes greater illumination.

Descending through the abismal plane, the adopted surface-self diminishes.

With no place to look and nothing to see, authentic self emerges.

At Tranquility Base, where not knowing is embraced, being takes precedence over doing.

There, aware of how much more there is—and how much more there is to me,

I rise to the surface with fresh insight: Though I am still a leaf, I am more the water.


You can’ t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.

Henry Louis Mencken

About This Image

Title: Leaf In The Surf

File #: 463-C4

Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

Although it has been many years since I made this photograph, I remember being reluctant to take my 2 1/4 Bronica to the beach. Even though you can’t see the sand in the air—it’s there. So on this occasion I kept the camera in a sealable plastic bag until the last minute when I saw a shot. The plastic enclosure emboldened me to get in the water with it.

So I was up to my knees in the surf around sunset when I saw this leaf bobbing up and down in the waves. I adjusted the settings while the camera was still in the bag, got into position, removed the camera and took the shot. The camera doesn’t have a built in exposure meter, so I made the best compromise I could between a shutter speed fast enough to “freeze” the leaf, and an aperture small enough to keep the background highlights sharp. Fortunately, it was a good guess. In my printing notes I identified it as “numinous,” an image that fed my soul. It still does.


Urinal Handle

If this object happened to be found by future archaeologists, isolated and with nothing to compare it to, it would signify the existence of a complex and highly advanced civilization—even if its function was not known. The evidence: chromed metal, parts that function together as a whole, intricate design, meticulous manufacturing, a “system” to convey the flow of water complete with fittings, seals and regulators to control that flow—all without leaking. Although such an item could well be exhibited as an object of ancient art, the clear indication is that it was functional and mass produced.

Civilization. It’s what can happen when people, oriented toward a common goal, come together to collaborate, not to serve or support a powerful individual or committee, but to build a social structure that works for everyone. Bottom to top. For me, at this stage of human evolution, one of the indicators of an advanced society is the extent to which people work together to create and maintain an infrastructure, particularly, but not solely, systems that satisfy basic human needs including abundant and healthy food, clean water, sanitary and safe living conditions, efficient and effective means for managing waste, safe and efficient transportation modalities and widely distributed electric power.

Social collaboration is difficult and slow to evolve, in part because of the prerequisites. People have to have a common objective, come together, and agree. They have to be willing and able to pay taxes. There has to be a trustworthy management team that has both know-how and access to resources. And all of this needs to be coordinated within a structure where, again, the intention is to build a workable and sustainable society—for everyone.

What prompted my selection of this image for contemplation is that it stands as a symbol of collaboration, in contrast to symbols of dysfunction, such as war, poverty, and crime. Other signs include the felt need to own guns and other weapons for protection, buildings that lack plumbing, contaminated water, open sewer trenches, shanties and so on. Without becoming maudlin or political, I observe that in many places age-old rivalries, greed, and power-grabs are preventing the possibility of collaboration, thereby sustaining conflict and violence in a vicious cycle of pain and retribution. I don’t have a solution. But I do have faith. In the final analysis, human beings want to have the freedom to be more, do more, have more, know more, contribute and experience life more fully. Those who interfere with that, cannot long endure.

It’s going to take collaboration of the whole planet to save the planet.

Joseph Firmage

 About This Image

Title: Water Control Valve

File #: DF 1094

Something wonderful happens when you take up a camera and start looking for subject matter. You find it! Just as a hunter becomes more sensitive to movement in the forest and a cook discovers the nuances of flavors, the search for images sharpens the eye, enhances perception and activates the aesthetic “muscle.” This is why some people carry a camera with them wherever they go, a circumstance made easy by smartphones. But just having a camera available is not the same as looking for images that communicate or express.

I went to our local conservatory with the intention of photographing flowers on a day when the temperature was in the single digits. The men’s room is located between the entrance, which is glass and cold, and the interior of this tropical greenhouse, which is warm, so there was a great deal of condensation on this valve. What you see is how I found it. I took the shot and didn’t think much of it, beyond the curiosity of it being attached to a urinal. Until now.

It’s not a great photograph by any stretch of the imagination, but when I gave it more than a cursory glance, it struck me as a symbol of infrastructure, and that led to a contemplation of both appreciation for what we have and insight into its significance considering what had to happen for it to exist and function. Vision, collective will, and collaboration.

I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography

Bounty And Beauty


Amish Hay Shocks

Two words come to mind when I look at this field: bounty and beauty. Even more than the shocks, the cultivated ground on which they stand evokes in me a sense of the skin of the earth—how thin it is and how marvelous that, year after year, seeds dropped into it rise in such a short period of time to provide the nutrients we need to survive. It seems like a miracle—until I remember that it’s part of the chain of interconnections that evolved to make life sustainable and more abundant.

Images like this also remind me to appreciate that we in the technologically developed nations of the world enjoy regular and bountiful harvests. It’s not something to take for granted when, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 870 million people (of the 7.1 billion people in the world—one in eight) suffered from chronic undernourishment between 2010 and 2011. More recently that number dropped to 843 million, but it’s still a sobering reality.

I made this photograph in Amish country with a 4×5 view camera. As I was standing close to the roadside with my head under a dark cloth to adjust the composition on the ground glass, I heard a horse and buggy approaching. Not wanting to get my tripod bumped or frighten the horse, I stepped aside and waved to the driver. Surprisingly, he stopped. “You like that field do you?” said the long-bearded farmer wearing a wide-rimmed black hat.

“I do,” I replied. “These fields are amazing. May I ask what those stacks are called?”

“Shocks,” he said. “Wheat shocks. Do you know why we arrange them like that?” I shook my head. “It’s a lot more work to do it that way, and it takes longer than rolling. Either way, the bulk of the hay stays dry. But we do it because it’s beautiful.”

That little but precious comment took root in my soul that day as both an inspiration and an injunction to, as much as possible, make beauty an essential component of all my creations. I don’t always succeed, but the intention is firmly planted.

Beauty is finally our surest indication of whether what we do is in the most creative direction for nature as a whole. 

Fredrick Turner

About This Image

Title: Wheat Shocks

Theme: Bounty And Beauty

File #: 602

Sugarcreek, OH

In the middle of Ohio there are miles and miles of rolling hills inhabited by the Amish. I photograph there often and in every kind of weather. The fields change so much from season to season. The same spot where I set up my tripod years before, always has something new to show me. Also, the houses, barns and schoolhouses provide exceptional forms and textures, particularly at “magic hour.”

While I never photograph the Amish themselves without asking permission, I often have them in the frame, rendering them simply as “people” from a distance too far away to recognize their faces. And what a treat it is to photograph where there are far fewer fences and wires.

Initially, this field caught my attention because the long row of shocks looked so much like a row of Ewoks (Star War characters) marching in procession. By increasing the print contrast and brightening the highlights, I began to also see them as hooded monks. And that contributed to a more contemplative sensibility. A large print of this image has hung in our living room for many years now. And I never tire of it’s subtle but profound reminders—to appreciate the bounty we have and to make beauty an integral part of everyday living.

Solutions (To Climate Change)

This is the final posting in the series on ecology

We’ve reviewed the climate change situation from a whole-systems perspective observing that the key to managing complex living systems is to manage the parts in right functional relationship with the whole. With regard to climate, Earth is the whole and individual humans are the parts—“members” actually. The proper function of members in a living system is to maintain their integrity—health, ability to communicate and collaborate with others, and make their unique contribution.

We noted that individuals and select groups, mainly the worldwide network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) are effectively responding to change appropriately despite  the failure of political leaders to lead. For every human problem, there’s an organization we can turn to for assistance. One of the things to do is to support the particular NGO that is working to resolve or effectively manage the challenge at the top of our concern list.

What’s important to do  
Shift Perception

For me, the highest priority need are shifts in perception. First and foremost, who am I? By virtue of being aware of ourselves, there’s a spark that makes us more than our bodies and thoughts. It’s been observed that within each of us are the archetypes of both devil and angel. Right there is a choice. Am I in tune with “The Force” or attuned to “The Dark Side?” Is my being in the world making it better? Is what I do an asset or liability for people and planet? Do my sharings of opinion and information uplift and empower myself and others? Or do they make people feel bad about humanity, helpless or less optimistic about the future? Am I choosing information and entertainment sources that uplift or confuse and depress? 

Another, critical shift in perception relates to how we view ourselves in relation to the planet—if we think of it at all. Am I simply a decades-long passenger, here for the ride wherever it takes me? Am I just playing the hand I was dealt at birth? Or am I an engaged member of a living system, doing what I can to take only what I need, clean up after myself and keep the house in good repair for others. These are the “Earth House Rules” articulated by Sallie McFague who says the Earth is a house, not a hotel. Am I doing what I can to take care of it, especially the spaces entrusted to me? Scientist James Lovelock has demonstrated that the planet is a living system, an entity that possesses all the qualities that define life. Am I treating her—Earth Mother in Native American parlance—as the source and sustainer of my life? All life? 

The paradigm of separation, fear, domination and competition have resulted in the blossoming of the human species—for many, but not the majority. That manner of thinking and action has been so successful in creating wealth for the few in the “developed” world, it’s nearly impossible for financial and political interests to release their grip. It’s even hard for us to imagine a world no longer dependent on fossil fuel, coal and nuclear energy, strip-mining, deforestation, ocean pollution and meat production. Yet that’s on the horizon, and it needs to happen fast—“it” meaning a 180º shift to the paradigm of unity, love and respect for each other, nature and the Earth and collaboration. Like it or not, we are the generation of the shift. We will succeed together or our children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences, which in the near term (scientists predict two decades) is a systemic crisis that affects survival for many and a serious reduction in the quality of life for everyone. Sixteen-year-old Greta Lungren said “We need to act as if our house is on fire—because it is!”

When asked what she considered the core of her message, Greta said it’s for all people everywhere to engage in conversations about climate change. That’s key. We have to acknowledge that there is a problem, that it’s critical to whole systems survival and that something can be done about it. 


For me, another top priority toward becoming part of the solution, is to listen carefully to the priorities of political candidates of every persuasion. What do they talk about most? The economy, jobs, energy, education, health care, military, space, abortion, reforms, threats from other nations, personalities? All of these have one thing in common—money. Of course, it’s important to talk about money; it’s one of the primary functions of governing at all levels. But none of these issues are going to matter if we don’t first attend to the survival threat that is real and bearing down on us. 

Understandably, many of our political and business leaders have their heads in the sand. If they admit that climate change presents a real threat to survival and diminished quality of life for everyone, the economy and profit margins would suffer due to public restraint on purchasing. But that’s precisely what needs to happen if we’re to come back from the brink of widespread disaster. Crisis precedes and is often necessary for positive transformation. At a certain level of the frequency and severity of environmental calamities, the Federal government, insurance companies and banks will reach a ceiling, unable to rescue or even come to the aid of states and cities. The whole system could collapse. We could loose electricity, fuel for vehicles and grocery shelves would be empty.

However, the window of opportunity is not yet closed. There is still time to affect substantive change. What it requires is electing individuals of integrity—intelligent and wise, truth-tellers who understand the seriousness of climate change, make it a top priority, commit to taking responsible action in response to it and LEAD Congress and the American people in the difficult initiatives needed to reverse the damage that’s been done. Never before has so much been at stake when we vote.  

Expert Recommendations

Sallie McFague (Ecologian): She suggests a fourfold practice. I summarize from her book, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming.

1. Voluntary simplicity

2. Focus on the needs of others

3. Cultivate the inclusive Self—expand the circle of caring to the world and everyone in it

4. Apply the above at all levels of activity, personal and public

Charles Eisenstein (Ecologist): Climate: A New Story. “Climate change is inviting us to forge a different kind of relationship, one that holds the planet and all of its places, ecosystems, and species sacred—not only in our conception and philosophy, but in our material relationship. Nothing less will deliver us from the environmental crisis that we face. Specifically, we need to turn our primary attention toward healing soil, water, and biodiversity, region by region and place by place… We must enact a civilization-wide unifying purpose: to restore beauty, health and life to all that has suffered during the Ascent of Humanity… If I were pressed to offer a universal solution, it would be to see and treat the world as sacred again. As my friend Orland Bishop says, the sacred is something that requires sacrifice; that is, it is something we value—and would sacrifice to protect—beyond its use-value to ourselves.”

His Holiness The Dalai Lama: The Universe In A Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. “Because of the profoundly interconnected reality of today’s world, we need to relate to the challenges we face as a single human family rather than as members of specific nationalities, ethnicities, or religions. In other words, a necessary principle is a spirit of oneness of the entire human species. Some might object to this as unrealistic. But what other options do we have?”

Brian Swimme (Cosmologist): “The solution to our crises: Reinvent ourselves, at the species level, in a way that enables us to live… not just with humans but with all beings—so that our activities actually enhance the world.”

Sarah VanGelder (Editor, YES! Magazine): “Small actions and choices can have major, although unpredictable, effects in determining what comes next. Among the possibilities is that the thousands of experiments and millions of choices to live more consciously will coalesce into a new civilization that fosters community, provides possibilities for meaning, and sustains life for the planet.”

“Small Actions” (Little Things Add Up)

The following is a sampling derived from an internet search among people who are committed to amending their lives in response to climate change. I offer it as “food for thought.”

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Fly less. Use video or phone conferencing for work meetings and gatherings instead. 
  • Travel by train or bus. On long distances, cars pollute more than airplanes.
  • Turn lights off, except when necessary.
  • Turn down the thermostat & wear sweaters in the winter time.
  • Set the summer time air conditioner a little less cooler.
  • Shop close to home; ride a bike.
  • Car pool or use public transportation.
  • Deciding where to live, what vehicles you buy is a 10-15 year commitment to energy.
  • Improve the energy efficiency of the house
  • Turning off the hot water heater while on vacation.
  • Satisfy wants less frequently than needs.
  • Not buying or replacing a vehicle that burns fossil fuel until or unless it’s necessary.
  • Not buying shoes, clothes or other wearing apparel that’s not necessary.
  • Using existing materials of any kind before buying new.
  • Borrowing books and videos from the library rather than purchasing them.
  • Never litter and picking up litter.
  • Wrap sandwiches and other short-use foods in recyclable paper rather than plastic.
  • Offering charitable contributions to NGO’s.
  • Driving the shortest distance between two points.
  • Turning off electronic devices when not needed for long periods.
  • Cutting back on meat.
  • No longer subscribing to a lawn care service because it kills insects and worms.
  • Buying organic foods as much as possible.
  • Switching to pencils, so not to use ballpoint pens.
  • Never throw waste into a pond, stream, river, lake or any other body of water.
  • Using fewer devices that require disposable batteries.
  • When searching for a job, look into alternative energy companies.
  • Using cloth rather than paper towels.
  • Using natural cleaning products; ammonia rather than Clorox.
  • Stopped buying anything with real fur or leather.
  • Using washable cloth rather than commercial diapers.
  • Using existing office supplies before buying more.
  • Mulching leaves in the Fall, don’t just throw them away.
  • Use a printer and copier only when necessary and recycle the cartridges.
  • Reading more; watching television less.
  • Don’t buy the next generation smartphones—or anything—until it’s necessary.
  • Recycling everything possible, and in appropriate ways.
  • Recycling metals that are no longer needed; don’t let weeds grow over them.
  • Using hand rather than power tools, especially not those that burn fossil fuel.
  • Asking for paper rather than plastic cups and straws in restaurants.
  • Borrow or rent tools rather than purchase them; sharing tools.
  • Reusing binders, folders and mailers as much as possible.
  • Reduce, ideally eliminate, single-use plastic bottles and other containers.
  • Taking my own cloth bags to the grocery store.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

The Earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.

Pope John Paul II 

You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.

Jane Goodall

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Greta Thunberg

This is the 10th posting in the series on ecology

In a previous posting in this series, one of the reasons I expressed optimism regarding climate change was the concern and initiatives of young people. Because sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has stepped up to speak to power with intelligence, wisdom and passion, I dedicate this posting to her and those she is influencing worldwide. 

As the image above illustrates, a storm is brewing and it’s time to do something about it. Next week I’ll offer some suggestions.

You may have seen sound-bites of Greta on television, but I highly recommend these presentations:  

Greta Thunberg’s 11 minute TED TALK

 (1, 734,269 views)

Greta Thunberg at the UN (4 minutes) “How dare you!”

(Over 2 million views)

Greta Thunberg speaks to EU leaders (4 minutes)