Six (6) Actions to Focus on

We are all, each of us and every person before us, in the last 200 years, complicit with how we got here. I, too, must fall on my sword. My avid birding and traveling hobby makes me a gross consumer of airplane transportation, rental cars, hotel bath towels and all the fuel needed to haul my 185-pound body of water and minerals around this planet just to feed my voracious appetite for nature. Quite a conundrum.

So, I am a part of the problem. That’s why I’m not pointing fingers. However, I’m also one to own-up to my shortcomings and work to make up for it. If I’m grossly consuming in one area of life, I must work at reducingconsumption in other areas of our life. To that end, please join me in promoting these six ideas:


45 Minutes: Spend up to 45 minutes a day with nature at least three or four times per week, on a dirt trail, and without your cell phone.

Fall in love with nature. French Aviator and Writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, once famously wrote: “If you wish to build a ship, do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood. Instead, teach them to long for the vast and endless sea.”

Staring into your screen—TV, tablet, or phone— won’t help you appreciate nature. You won’t appreciate nature more by playing video games, sipping an over-priced coffee at your favorite café, or running on a treadmill. When you walk into a forest, there are literally millions of different things happening. In just a few hours, trillions of buds on the trees change shape. Plants such as the Peony flower grow inches per day. Other plants, such as Sweet Alyssum, Calendula, and the Johnny Jump-Ups grow from seed to full-fledged flower in just fifty to sixty days. And the invasive Kudzu plant can grow a foot per day. With patience, you could sit and watch them move. The forest is always changing.

Learn to appreciate the tree, the classic nearly- invisible stand-in that has no spoken lines on the many stages where children’s plays take place. Examine them and you’ll realize that no two trees in the entire world are exactly alike. They are each unique like our fingerprints. The hanging leaves, the lines of the branches, and the millions of patterns in the bark make each tree original.

Join a local Audubon Club and go on some nature hikes. My own Kane County Audubon Club in Illinois has several opportunities every month to go out into nature with others who can help you enjoy earth. I once led a group, and we got rained on, then sleeted on, and then pea-sized hail plummeted us, right before giant nickel-sized snowflakes gently cascaded on us. It was riveting! The participants saw Bluebirds, Phoebes, Meadowlarks, Woodpeckers, Wrens, Thrushes, and other wildlife they had no idea shared the planet with them.

I once took a group of soccer players on a nature birding hike. Although they loved playing outdoors on natural grass in city parks, the only time they entered the nearby forest was when they needed to retrieve the soccer ball. And, they feared poison ivy! I showed them what poison ivy looked like. No longer an unknown, they won’t fear it going forward.

Upon hearing me speak about birds, one twenty- four-year old male said, “I never knew where

birds went in bad weather.” He assumed they must have a place to hide and ride the storms out. They don’t. Why? They are a part of nature, just like humans once were.

Seriously, bird watching is the number one way Americans enjoy the outdoors. According to the “2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation” produced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, more than 45 million people watched birds around their home and while traveling. They also contributed a total of nearly $80 billion to the U.S. economy. Fishing was only 36 million people and hunting was 11 million.

And, birding has been found to be very therapeutic. See this article, and JUST GO BIRDING!

Watching Birds Near Your Home is Good For Your Mental Health

We are nature.


Change the rate of consumption: For the planet to restore itself, we need to slow our rate of consumption.

We need to cut waste. For example, please try your best to see the paradigm in what I’m about to share. We have built machines to create machines that create the machines we use to sell a single one-ounce cellophane bag of potato chips in retail stores for $1.99, when in all actuality, there’s only $.08-cents of food in the bag! Everything that makes up the rest of the $1.91 is profit and overhead expense. Instead of overhead and legitimate deductible IRS expenses, please try to think of those costs as waste. We’ve been taught to believe that it’s an efficient delivery of product to market. That’s ECON 101. I cry foul.

I believe in the ingenuity of young entrepreneurs to be able to deliver that $.08 cents of food to our gullets with much less overhead waste. The industry of the garbage of those potato chips is ten to twenty times bigger than the chips themselves. Ponder that for a moment. Then think of the thousands of other things we consume where the value of the actual item consumed is miniscule compared to the entire industry of delivering the item to us. It’s simply not sustainable. By the way, this formula is almost identical for vegan food.

Prior to my TEDx Talk, which was a big deal to me and set me on the course to write this book, I went to buy a new suit. I figured this new phase of my life would hinge on the talk, so I went to some of the finest clothing stores in Aurora, Illinois. Upon reflection, however, I chose to go a different route. I walked into a thrift store and bought an eight-dollar suit and a three-dollar shirt and wore it on the biggest stage of my life. I resisted the urge of gross consumerism, and the audience was none the wiser. My opening line was, “This is what a bird watcher looks like.” I was grinning, knowing I had repurposed someone else’s fancy clothes.

Resist the false god of consumerism’s demands of needing to shop for more—more clothes, more sneakers, more video games, more cars the newest furniture, the biggest and smartest television set, the latest technological gadgets, and another wristwatch to join the seven you already own. Utilize Smart Consumerism. Not only will it grow your personal bank account, but you’ll also avoid having those things become landfill in the near future.

We recycle only about 9% – 11% of all plastic. The World Economic Forum once predicted that if we don’t stop chucking so much garbage, plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050.


While this conclusion was hotly refuted and later determined to be impossible to authenticate, the optics and message provide a powerful visual. Who knows, if 90% of all large fish are already gone, which we have already learned is a viable estimate, then who’s to say whether or not the weight of garbage in the ocean will be greaterthan the weight of all fish in the ocean (i.e. remember, whales are mammals, not fish. Ha ha.) But seriously, regardless of the actualrelative weight of our garbage compared to sea life, please remember, single-cell phytoplankton plants produce 50% of our oxygen. Choke them and we choke ourselves. Each of us must recycle and repurpose feverishly!


Corporations need to add Nature to their P & L Statements: The FREE water and FREE pollination labor that companies get to take advantage of, for example, need to appear on their Profit & Loss statements or else they will never value them. And therefore, we will continue to consume them at astonishing rates.

Consider a company that makes the chemicals for the dry-cleaning industry. If one of the essential ingredients didn’t cost them a single penny, and therefore didn’t appear on their profit and loss statement as an expense, why would that company ever try to use it wisely or spend any money to preserve it or capture it if it spilled? They wouldn’t! It could slosh out of containers and literally go down the drain, and nobody would care, because it was free (and of course, once down the drain, some would end up in our drinking water).

According to Gallup, about 52% of Americans own stock.

What Percent Of Americans Own Stocks?

Yet, each year when we receive those notices of the annual meetings of stock companies, barely any of us go. It’s time to go to those annual meetings in droves, and sign up in advance to speak at the microphones and let your voices be heard. Yes, we are complicit in consuming those $.08 cents of potato chips in such an inefficient fashion. However, if we don’t change the paradigm so as to eliminate at least half of that $1.91 of waste within the next ten years, the earth may simply reach a point of exhaustion. We can do it!


Every environmentally friendly club has won battles but we’re losing the war.

I’ve belonged to several environmental organizations: World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club, Ducks Unlimited, National Audubon Society, Chicago Ornithological Society, Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, DuPage Birding Club, Kane County Audubon, and even was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to sit on the state Endangered Species Protection Board, to name a few. So I’m sad to admit that, for as many times as we’ve won minor battles, which we must continue to fight, we’ve lost the war. From deserts to mountaintops, from streams to oceans, from small strands of trees to mammoth swaths of forests, simply put, biodiversity has gone down in just about every nook and cranny of our planet. Restoring and then increasing biodiversity is a war that must be won, or humans won’t be supported and populations will shrink drastically.

According to the National Rifle Association (The NRA), they have nearly five-million members. And politicians will tell you they are, perhaps, the most influential and powerful lobbying group in America. But, imagine if we could all unite—bird-watching clubs, Kiwanis clubs, Save the Whales organizations, and every other environmentally-focused organization or person who is consciously aware of the plight of birds, mammals, forests, oceans, and clean air—we could easily have more than five-million members, from which we could get one-million of them to march on Washington and DEMAND reforms and changes to our laws and ensure drastic measures required to save our planet, millions of endangered species, and ourselves. It doesn’t just have to be in Washington; people could march in Europe, Africa, Asia, Japan, and Australia and everywhere.

5. CHILDREN HAVE POWERChildren unite. Do not let anyone tell you that “someday” you’ll make a difference in the world. Because you can make a difference RIGHT NOW.

First, imagine busload after busload of elementary and middle-school kids descending upon state capitals and the U.S. Congress to voice their concerns about whether or not they will have clean water, fresh air, or pollinated fruits & vegetables, or fish to eat. Moms, Dads, and Grandparents … please make this happen. Your children’s minds are not yet poisoned by our economic bias and the shallow, hollow, and vacuous language of consumerism that is riddled with mistruths and slight-of-hand.

We adults blithely accept fake-marketing, such as a toothbrush claiming to be number one at getting into hard-to-reach places (when the truth probably is they just have more annual revenue sales than any other toothbrush; NOT the same thing), or a gasoline claiming to have the number-one detergent (God only knows where they get that claim from). So, before your kids are completely sucked-in to that empty void, let them testify in committees of legislatures. Your kids really do care. And they have enormous power. My wife was the chairperson for an entire state’s education committee. One day, she was in an elementary class of third graders. She told them she’d like to do an exercise whereby all the kids were to close their eyes for two minutes and imagine what they would do if they were each given a powerful magic wand, which they could use to do anything they wanted. Well, when they opened their eyes, did they ask for a million dollars? Did they ask to have fancy clothes or to look like a glamorous model on TV? No. Heck no!

The first nine-year old boy who raised his hand, stood up and said, “I would use the magic wand to get rid of all of the garbage in the ocean, because it’s killing the fish my family needs to eat.” My wife, with tears welling up in her eyes, called on the next little girl with her hand in the air. She said, “I want to get rid of suicide, because two people I know killed themselves.” At this point, my wife, the school principal, and all the teachers in the room needed tissues for their tears. You, dear reader, now know that nature preservation is the answer to both of those magic-wand, youthful desires.

6. ENGAGE BILLIONAIRESIf just a few dozen billionaires championed nature’s cause, we could ensure our survival as a species. I’m going to get real right now. According to Money Magazine, the richest 10% own 84% of all stock in corporations.

And the top 1% own about 40% of all stock. And if you want to get a feel for what it’s like to be in the wealthiest 10% of all people on the planet, take a look at this website:

So, instead of spending so much time and effort trying to get local, state, and federal policymakers to get serious about preserving nature, the greatest marginal benefit will come if we focus our efforts on getting the wealthiest 10% to convince corporations to offer us consumers more efficient choices.

There are now over 2,100 Billionaires, an increase from only about 400 in 1985. As drinkable water supplies are stressed around the globe (remember, we are depleting drinkable water faster than the earth can restore it and faster than our city water reclamation centers can make it clean again), the wealthiest nations will inevitably do a rush job and spend trillions of dollars to take salt, heavy metals, and

Vernon LaVia and Eli Gonzalez dangerous chemicals out of our waters. We will have to waste an inordinate amount of resources just to have water.

But if five to ten billionaires agree now to step up and focus on water, that’d be the quickest and cheapest course of action. Now, the linchpin to this might be for them to figure out how to make it profitable and create jobs, but I’m sure they can.