We have a number of fine examples of fossil fuel divestment campaigns, but how many of those students spend a significant amount of time outside? In my experience of an (excellent) environmental studies major, we spent a lot of time talking about going outside, but more time still sitting inside eating cookies and drinking tea and writing papers and wearing our Chacos in a noble attempt at proving that we were indeed outdoorsy.
Studying abroad is considered essential–learning how to operate in another culture is valuable–but in this time of economic and ecological uncertainty there should be a serious academic encouragement, if not a requirement, to study outside. This could be dismissed as mere fun or messing around, but playing is valuable. Exploring is essential for kids of all ages. We need to understand what we have in order to be more effective at protecting it. And the stresses of college will seem a bit more insignificant if we can also prioritize life outside, where there’s no internet to check and worry about.
College ought to require or seriously encourage a wilderness study program like the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Learning the principles of Leave No Trace on a backcountry trip can carry over to leaving no trace in life. Once you take a minimal amount of stuff with you backpacking, and you do just fine, maybe you won’t want so much junk in regular life. If you feel a personal connection to the canyons or forests or rivers or deserts, any instinct you have to protect natural resources comes with a greater relevance.
We should follow the classic and oft-quoted Ed Abbey directive: “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.”
As long as we are filling our brains with literature and new experiences in college, we ought to deliberately learn about spending time outside before we get too comfortable sitting inside at the computer.