Tell me more about your relationship with public lands. What do they mean to you?
First of all, I want to say that I believe we can’t really “own” land/the earth. The best we can be is stewards of this land, and perhaps this approach would help us treat the land better than we currently do.
It is still weird to me that certain beaches, lakes, waterfalls, or creeks are not accessible to the public because they are located on privately “owned” land. In that regard, I find the Swedish and British laws about the “right to roam” (meaning the public can hike on private land) really progressive, and hope the United States would consider a similar approach in the future.
Having access to what we now call “public lands” means a lot to me, as an avid outdoors person. I love being able to get as far from the roar of modern society and fully immerse in nature. I am grateful these places have been protected from development, and that we have the luxury to experience true wilderness. There are very few places left in the world where you can experience nature without visible signs of human interference.
How has learning about the environment impacted your actions?
I am doing my best to reduce my footprint, reduce my consumption first and foremost, fix and repair the things that break before buying new things, avoid having to recycle as much as possible.
Recycling is not a badge of honor. Recycling as little as possible is the new badge. At the most basic example: carry with you a reusable bottle for water every day instead of recycling 30 plastic bottles each month. This can compound to a lot of other things in your life as a consumer.
Ultimately, the burden of solving this problem should fall on manufacturers, forced by laws, but until that happens at a larger scale, we the consumers have the responsibility to protect what we love.
What can concerned athletes, scientists, artists, or creatives do in the face of global challenges?
Lead by example. Live by example. If you can influence one person through your words or actions, you’ve accomplished something.
How important is mitigating climate change to your life?
Extremely important, but I’m aware there is a fatigue of the caring consumer trying to do better, while governments are being really slow at taking more swift action. Real change will have to come from the top, there’s just so much grassroots efforts can accomplish.
Can you tell us a bit about your passions beyond “work”?
I would bundle my passions into two main categories: one has to do with athleticism and the great outdoors, and it would include anything from rock climbing to hiking, backpacking, cycling, mountain biking, skiing, and running.
Body movement and the ability to challenge ourselves and our bodies to do harder, more strenuous, or technical outdoor activities, and get better at it each time.
The other bucket would include manual labor activities, DIY projects, building things with my own two hands, gardening, cooking, painting, knitting, pickle making, and general homesteading tasks. I love doing things with my hands and that feeling of accomplishment after a long day of hard work.
Do you find that these passions blend, merge, or complement your work?
Absolutely. I work as a freelance photographer, and I realize each day that if I wasn’t able-bodied and fit, as well as loving physical labor, I wouldn't stand a chance in this job, which is very physically demanding, in addition to requiring creativity and improvisation.
What are your materials and how do you think about them?
Working as a photographer, my main material is the quality of light, and how I can shape it with the tools at hand (camera and lenses).
I am a firm believer that the best camera is the one you have on you, and that if you have a good eye, you can create visually and emotionally strong images with just an iPhone. Yes, sometimes a good lens makes a big difference, but for the most part, conveying emotion doesn’t rely on an expensive camera, but on composition and framing.
Is there a specific moment in life or a series of events that instilled in you a passion for your craft or passions?
I’ve always been drawn to liberal arts. I’ve formally trained in foreign languages and translation, which I associate with liberal arts, as a lot of studying went into professional translations of fiction and novels. Still, in an ideal world, I would translate novels for a living.
The switch to photography came after taking some elective college classes after moving to the United States. I had never thought of photography as a career before that, but it makes sense now. Ultimately, I love storytelling, so whether I got to translate a story from one written language to another, or had to tell a story visually by capturing still images, it seemed like the same thing to me.
A key ingredient to building a sustainable future?
Rewilding yourself. A concept that means that if all of us gave up a tiny bit of comfort from our modern lives, collectively we would have a huge impact on sustainability.
Examples include: use less water and electricity. Not shower every day. Not heat up the house all day long, but wear warmer clothes indoor instead. Maybe ride bikes a few days a week instead of driving. Maybe fly less? Maybe avoid unnecessary trips and purchases.
Some people would find it hard to reduce 10-15% of their daily comforts, but overall it’s a small price to pay if we want to consume resources at a slower pace and live a more sustainable life.
A book that shaped your life?
Drawdown by Paul Hawken. I wouldn’t say it shaped my life, but I definitely feel that it influenced my current beliefs and it made me feel optimistic that it’s possible to reverse climate change and have a sustainable future. (There is an interview with him on the Rich Roll podcast if you want to get a glimpse into what it’s about and feel empowered to take action in your own way.)
I would also give a lot of credit to the surrealist adventure books of Jules Verne, which I voraciously read when I was a teenager. I think they definitely fueled my imagination and love for adventure.
Who inspires you today?
People who are genuinely, tirelessly, and selflessly working towards promoting certain social changes for the betterment of society as a whole. I will continue to have huge respect for Bernie Sanders for his tireless efforts. But also young athletes like Alex Honnold and his foundation that brings solar energy to impoverished parts of the world.
Most sublime moment in nature?
Too many great moments to rank, but here’s one that I find more “unique” than others. Ten years ago I was backpacking around the world with a friend and we found ourselves doing some trekking in the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal.
We stayed one night in a villager’s house, a very simple room that cost us 9 USD/person/night. I remember opening the window in the early morning, with an unencumbered view of one of the tallest peaks in the world covered in snow, mist rolling in the air, the sun slowly rising from behind the mountain range, and hearing Tibetan monks singing a repetitive chant in the valley below.
The sound of that chant reverberating in the valley gave me goosebumps and tears in my eyes. We later found out that the monks used loudspeakers, placed outside their place of worship, to enhance and transmit the sound of their prayers to the entire village that was spread on the hillsides. Below is a photo taken in that moment.
How can the outdoor industry change?
First and foremost, outdoor brands should manufacture goods out of sustainable materials and should take accountability for the entire life cycle of the products they manufacture. When something breaks, they should have programs to fix it, or take it back and reuse the materials / recycle them or dispose of them properly. Very few companies do that right now, but more should.
Secondly, outdoor brands should actively participate in educating their consumers on best outdoor practices, starting with leaving no trace behind and not littering the wilderness.
Nothing bums me out more than finding human trash in remote places or completely packed trash bins by a campsite in the middle of nowhere. If you brought your shit there, you can take it back. The same with campers who don’t store their food away properly from bears and other wildlife.
What other brands do you love?
Bedrock Sandals, Outershell, Patagonia, Rab, Hipcamp, Ornot, FjallRaven, Hyperlite, BeyondYoga, etc. I may not remember all, but lots of good brands out there with good policies and good intentions. I generally look for brands that are part of 1% for the Planet and/or B corp.
Do you have a mantra?
Yes! I have it written on the whiteboard above my desk, actually. It says: “The simpler our pleasures, the more sustainable our hedonism.”
To me, it translates as: the fewer expenses I have, the less I have to work, and the more time I can spend outdoors doing the things I truly love. I’m not a workaholic. I want a good work-life balance, and I am aware that the more expensive things you want to buy (houses, cars, etc), the more you will have to work to pay for those things.
Given we only live once, I’d rather not spend my entire waking life working to pay for things.