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Folk Life: Stephen Blanquie
Aerial view of Mount Hood in Portland, Oregon. Something about looking out the window of an airplane allows one’s perspective time to cultivate. Watching, as the residential and commercial developments of the city’s framework transform into toy houses and, seconds later, neat sections revealing the divisions of the land and the layout of the city, until finally all that is visible are the clouds suspended.

I begin to reflect on my short five-day journey to Arizona for the GreenBiz 20 conference.

I believe every generation is presented with a challenge, which inevitably ends up unifying the contemporaries. The situation confronting our generation is the climate crisis and all the factors that are inescapably associated. In the 21st century, we are on trial for our actions, and a response to the catastrophes our species has created is being demanded.

We have disrupted and manipulated natural cycles throughout our habitat so much so that the damage is conceivably irreversible — and in worst-case scenarios, we have validated that fear. Plant and animal species are disappearing more rapidly than could have been predicted. Sea level rise is expected to increase, adding to the variables overwhelming coastal impoverished nations, communities who have inadequate resources to respond to the level of these destructions. Greenhouse gas emissions are threatening the stability of our world as we know it, yet countries, corporations and individuals are carrying on business as usual.

Perhaps the most frightening news yet: Not all of our inhabitants, including our world leaders, understand or, worse, are convinced that these factors are direct results of our species’ poor planet stewardship. Yet, as the Boeing 747 rises over the Sonoran Desert, I can’t help but feel an energy of excitement and inspiration strengthening my spirit. Despite the odds, I have never been more convinced of humanity’s potential to overcome the challenge that lies before us.

The justification behind my unprecedented optimism is born out of my reflection from the testimonies and solution-centered workshops I attended at the conference. While the current state of our planet is alarmingly vulnerable, I am encouraged by the creative problem-solving underway. GreenBiz 20 unveiled good news stories happening all over the world, including responsible individuals and businesses that are setting themselves apart as leaders during this time of a new decade.

Intoxicated idealism

One story involved Dennis McClung, who established the international NGO Garden Pools after losing his job. Now, McClung creates innovative solutions to sustainable development in climate-vulnerable communities by constructing closed-loop food systems called “Climate Smart Farms.”

I also witnessed inspiration in practice through listening to panelists Kamillah Knight, diversity and inclusion lead at Unilever; Beric Alleyne, director of diversity and inclusion at Ebay; and Jyoti Chopra, chief diversity and sustainability officer at MGM Resorts International. These individuals demonstrated how they are paving the way for corporate equity and inclusivity in their places of work.

Another leader, 25-year-old Komal Ahmad, founder and CEO of Copia, approaches the issue of hunger and food waste with a seemingly simple solution: a food-bank donation system.

Gratitude and appreciation flood my consciousness upon hearing the stories from these green heroes. I was particularly humbled having had the honor and privilege to listen to the notable Temple Grandin, animal behavior expert and autism advocate, who expressed humanity’s need for all types of thinkers to collaborate in solving our world’s greatest problems.

Simply being in the presence of these courageous innovators, I grew intoxicated in idealism and fueled with the optimism that is desperately needed in this day and age.

Or maybe I am just drunk off Stephen Ritz’s contagious enthusiasm. After hearing how his edible classrooms have grown food for disadvantaged youths in the Bronx and how the “whole school” approach to education has gained traction internationally, I would be wearing a cheese hat and screaming the good news to the world, too. Now, when the realities of the damages our world are attempting to crush my spirits, these uplifting testaments of individuals, no different from me, will remind me that not all is lost.

As night swiftly envelopes day, 38,000 feet above home, I ease my mind with the comfort of our potential. I have faith in human beings and a belief in the power of collectivism. If future generations are to exist in a world that is safe and sustaining, global cooperation is a necessity. I put my trust in the human race, not only because I believe we are capable of reclaiming eco-balance, but because I have to.

Will we respond with the urgency and pace needed to accelerate our commitment to a sustainable global ecosystem and economy? I have to believe we will.

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