Live from Greenbuild 2009: Josh Bernstein on learning from past cultures

International explorer Josh Bernstein addresses a full house at Greenbuild 2009 (photo by Beth Pratt)For the presentation at Greenbuild 2009 by international explorer and Discovery Channel host Josh Bernstein, it was standing room only. Bernstein, who has traveled to over 40 countries and owns the innovative outdoor survival school BOSS, shared with the audience his ideas for making the environmental movement more relevant and engaging.

His talk included a brief survey of past cultures and the reason for their demise, and he focused on two that may have disintegrated for environmental reasons: the people of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and the Maya civilization. Bernstein connects both cases to our current situation: the societies were “highly advanced but also unable to stop their own ruin through the over consumption of natural resources.” Despite the parallels to our present environmental crisis, he is hopeful we can learn from these historical mistakes and take action at this critical juncture. “We seem to love stories with a rough time before the end. Think of Rocky or Star Wars,” he joked.

To move forward, and to address the current problem of global warming, Bernstein believes the environmental movement must make a fundamental shift in its approach. “It’s unfortunate we’ve tied the movement to a color. This may be semantically petty, but the environmental movement is not visual, but visceral. It has to be about what people are feeling.” He urged participants to be strong leaders and commit to a course of affecting change, but change that connects to people on an emotional level. “We need to shift the way we relate to each other and to the planet from one of ignorance to one of openness.”

To help minimize his environmental footprint, Bernstein purchases offsets for his 500,000 miles of annual travel, and for the travel of the participants to his outdoor school. He recognizes offsets are a temporary patch to the overall problem, but thinks it’s an approach that at least helps foster investment of new energy sources. During his extensive wanderings across the globe, he is already seeing the impacts of climate change in the cultures he studies; he told the audience of the societal devastation an Eskimo tribe experienced that had to relocate from their ancestral home due to the widespread melting of ice.

Bernstein hosts the popular Discovery Channel show, Into the Unknown with Josh Bernstein, and also owns BOSS (The Boulder Outdoor Survival School), the oldest and largest such school in the world. Participants at BOSS “exfoliate the urban world” by embarking in a wilderness experience from the perspective of traditional cultures; primitive survival skills are taught such as fire making. The courses are powerful and transformative and as Bernstein states provide a “renewal of connection to the natural world that can be life changing.”