A Preview of the INTRODUCTION

My journey around the world began on April Fools Day, 1992. But perhaps it was twenty years earlier, when I was six years old and won the "ecology art award" in elementary school, that my interest in preserving the planet began. A humble awareness that ignited a dream to journey around the world, to twenty-nine countries, and to the highest and lowest points on Earth. I sought understanding and to feel a part of the planet. After all, I am a product of nature and felt responsible for what I heard was happening to it. Whether in the rain forests of Sumatra or on the sands of the Thar desert, my mission became a quest for understanding--a search for ideas, examples and models which might help address some of the challenges facing our planet and inhabitants.

Turning twenty-five and realizing that a third of my life had passed, I began to think hard about the world of which I wanted to be a part. It was a natural world, one which I increasingly felt separated from, despite my frequent escapes to the country with a group of outdoorsy nature buffs. I could continue along my career path at a prominent advertising agency and create lots of "brilliant" campaigns to move products off the shelves, or cultivate a demand for services most people really did not need. I could continue to live the young urban professional life of consumption in Chicago--savoring fine dining, partaking in a frenetic night life, and continuing as a weekend escape artist. No, I thought. The "happiness" I achieved was merely illusory; it cannot be bought, eaten, slept with. Happiness is felt in those innermost cavities of our hearts, our spirit. It is the meaningful sense of purpose that transgresses physical want satisfaction.

Time for change, I thought, so I made a break for it. It meaning freedom from the bondage of the office clock and cube. It providing control over my life in order to live in a meaningful way with other people and nature. I refused to separate my personal ethics from my business ethics while recognizing the need to move quickly out into the world before the golden handcuffs clasped down.

I had always been open to risk, to pursue my deeper dreams and aspirations. The time seemed right to break away from the traditional, the expected, and increasingly, the mundane. Unlike my father, and his father before him, I did not face a war, draft, or the Depression. Nor did I have any financial or emotional responsibilities as I had no wife or kids, and in the three years at the agency, I had paid off my $16,444 in student loans. This permitted me to have the luxury to care about the world and follow my green dreams to help restore the planet. That was my decision: to care and try to preserve the planet.

How did my urgent sense of concern arise? It came from watching CNN's hourly updates on the worsening situation in Bangladesh to opening up a magazine to pages filled with images of oil-suffocated birds in the Exxon Valdez fiasco. Or perhaps my anger came from an expose on Nike's exploitative business practices in Indonesia or the Native Forest Council's stirring accounts of the American lumber industry being subsidized by taxpayers to cut few remaining virgin forests for export to Japan for value-added manufacturing.

Rather than ignore the systematic destruction and misuse of our planet, I chose involvement for a change. Not the kind you give every other Tuesday; rather, the kind that forces one to practice what they preach, albeit not without effort or struggle. Meanwhile, one year later, many of my old advertising agency co-workers still keep touting burgers that are low in fat, plastic bags that are biodegradable, and tuna that is "dolphin-free." Of course, they all received promotions and raises for moving their client's business ahead--for making more money, for selling more stuff. I always wondered if Starkist ever thought about replenishing the oceans with the dolphins they accidentally killed. Where's the accountability? The irresponsibility!

But I had to taste the so-called "rat race" at the advertising agency before venturing out on my own path. Societal pressures, I figured; had to be able to say: "been there, done that." While at the agency, I had been consumed by the stress of corporate commitment and aspired to owning that Porsche 944. Twelve-hour days and "anything for the client" became the norm of my behavior--family, friends, and "personal time" were relegated for the holidays or a few quality hours on the weekend. Nature was allocated--rationed--to forty-five minute lunch breaks next to the polluted Chicago River and when fortunate, a whole three day weekend in the woods of Wisconsin or Michigan. Then suddenly, like the appearance of hiccups, I realized that I had been conned by the culture that I had been creating. And like hiccups, I couldn't easily shake them.

So I broke away on my trip to reflect, understand, and question. I wished for eyes like Buddha: all-seeing and all-observing; one Earth became my new paradigm. I did find meaning and a rejuvenating sense of inner confidence, happiness, and strength; these things were not based on money or found in the global marketplace. This knowledge is what I share in following pages. With each chapter, you will be able to slip, stumble, blunder, explore, and grow with me as you chronologically join my adventures to some of the most exotic and wild places still left on Earth.

Leaving the office cube, the comfort zone of America, and the "security" of the Chicago advertising job in the face of a recession, I ventured into the world of unknowns. My new form of compensation became discovery, natural beauty, adventure, a renewed sense of humanity. Financially, I had scraped enough money together to get myself around the world without any frills, any fancy restaurants, and any souvenirs. I was left with little other option than to travel close to the land, from fruit markets to vegetable stands, and live relative to the lifestyle of the country I was in, not as a transplanted Western tourist.

Perhaps I was that Capital F Fool that Ann Medlock referred to in her National Public Radio piece called "All Fools Day." In case you missed it, I love repeating it:

"I know April Fools day to be silly, but I've got to tell you that this day has taken on a 'non-silly' meaning for me.

"When I see a capital F on the word fool, I don't think of silliness, I think of power. Danger. Spirit.

"You see, I was, for a while, a student of the great mythologist Joseph Campbell and he did not see the Fool as somebody being mischievous on an April morning. Oh, no.

"The Fool is a hero.

"The Fool, Campbell explained, is the character in ancient card decks, the ragged one with a tramp's sack on a stick over his shoulder, and dogs nipping at his heals. He's paying no attention to those dogs and he's about to walk off a cliff. The Fool is a hero because he's on a mission to save the world and nothing's going to stop him, not his poverty, not the warnings of the dogs, not the precipice ahead.

"Fools are powerful because they don't listen when they know something's got to be changed and they've got to change it and everybody tells them, 'you can't change that. Yeah, it's awful, but it's the way things are around here and there's nothing we can do.'

"Fools don't listen when people say You can't do that--it's too dangerous. Or You're too old--or too young, or too powerless. Or Where's your degree? Or a really scary one--You're gonna go broke.

"Fools only listen to their own compassionate instincts, to their own drive to make it all better. So they go right ahead, no matter how sure sensible people are that they should keep their heads down...

"Something in me knew that in this time when so many things need changing, we need our heroes. Not the rich and famous--and trivial, but the ordinary people who hear a call to serve and take the challenge on, no matter what they have to give up or go through. The people who can show us a way to live our lives that is exciting and meaningful.

"You know what's wrong with too many of us? We're bored. Just plain bored. Nothing's on the line. There's no make or break challenge in our laps. Nobody's life depending on us. No adrenalin pumping. Each new day is just same old same old.

"I think that's why so many men remember combat fondly. They may have been scared to death at the time, but what they were doing then mattered. Every move counted and they were bonded to their buddies, committed to seeing each other through the horror.

"For a lot of men, nothing in the rest of their lives was ever as meaningful, so they get nostalgic about those terrifying days, knowing that peace has been--boring, and that as peaceful citizens they have been less than fully alive. "After talking with over 600 people who've been named Giraffes for sticking their necks out to serve, I know that ordinary lives--here, where no bombs are dropping--can be full of meaning--and adrenalin. Their lives can be almost unbearably exciting.

"But you have to be a capital F Fool, putting yourself on the line for something you believe in, no matter how many people tell you to be cautious, to look out for number one, to play it safe.

"Cautious is boring. Self-involvement deadens the soul. And safety is an illusion--being alive is a risky business and capital F Fools are alive.

"I do like playing tricks on people, and I'll pull a few on this April Fools. But in my heart, this is All Fools Day, a day to honor the Capital F each of us can be--if we stick our necks out."

The saga that follows is about perceptions, partial truths, myths, and illusions that have permeated--without context or heart-felt meaning--into our day-to-day life; I make a case--suggestions--for a new way of living, caring, loving, and being based on ecology and more humane relationships.

We are on the verge of a new ethic, one that will transform every aspect of our lives and which will carry us into the next century. Paul Hawken speaks of this transformation in The Ecology of Commerce and Wendell Berry in Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. None of us have the magical crystal ball to predict the changes ahead; but we all have the potential to lead to change. The question we all should be asking is: What kind of future do we want to live in? The outcomes of our decisions will be far-reaching and full of uncertainty; at best, there are hints--clues--that these changes are coming. This book delves into some of these movements and the people, companies, and organizations behind them.

You'll join me around breakfast tables, on island bike rides, and in grass huts or bungalows, and peek over my shoulders to witness and hear my discussions about these changes. Many global issues will be introduced by ordinary people with extraordinary ideas--and extraordinary people who have already dedicated their lives to preserving and protecting our planet and the life it sustains. From visiting with the Saami people in the Swedish Lapplands to walking along side the orangutans of the Sumatran rain forests, I invite you to travel with me as I discover the truly beautiful, mysterious, and inspiring features of Earth against the disturbing backdrop of its increasingly grotesque abuse, degradation and waste. Perhaps we can find a path--the least imperfect path--for a future where all people can live with one another and, perhaps even like U.S. Vice President Al Gore suggests: in balance with Earth.

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for the planet. This somewhat familiar, but altered, statement compelled me to write this book. No, I am not asking everyone to drop what they're doing and become another Mother Teresa or John Muir. I am asking you to CONSIDER another perspective of the world from a concerned traveler who thinks he has a different view that could alter, in a meaningful way, the way you live your life. The journey I took around the world for a year, while seeming to be a dream to most Americans, was a disturbing and humbling learning experience for me. It affirmed what those so-called "damn environmentalists" were crying about--the destruction of the Earth's ecosystems--and often contradicted the stories from the Channel 4 news room, White House, and Exxon Corporate Offices.

This book is about taking personal responsibility and becoming more involved with the future of this planet--me, you, all of us on this planet together. This is only possible when we can better understand the increasingly complex and interconnected issues, and join a global movement--as a community of those who care--toward redirecting and re-prioritizing our personal lives to insure a sustainable, more equitable future, not only for ourselves, but for many generations to come and for all life on Earth.

My approach to life has been forever changed by the trip; I view the world in a more holistic way--that our property is common property. The ills of a global society are our ills, even if they disguise themselves by our own ignorance, intolerance, or near-sightedness. To merely believe in hope is not enough. This book speaks to more than the hearts of caring people; it seeks to rekindle the adventuresome spirit of curiosity, evoke the sense of responsibility, and satisfies the want of meaningfulness that exists in all of us--although at times incredibly dormant--to make strides forward for a future that preserves and restores. Stewardship of our planet and the appreciation of different perspectives compose the melodic score of diversity under which we all live, and prosper.

The Least Imperfect Path--A Global Journal For The Future is a selection of stories, interviews, anecdotes, and experiences as recorded in my journal during my year-long journey as I immersed myself in the culture and environment of the world. My quest exposed me first-hand to some of the most pressing concerns of our day: the population explosion; environmental degradation; illiteracy; and the impacts of globalization and industrialization. Suggestions of sustainability come by way of those who I encounter along the way, at times eerily prophetic.

My travel experience speaks for itself--rawly, boldly, and candidly--and does not profess to be the final truth to all issues, an impossible task for any experience, or book, or lifetime. Our Earth is un-condensable, though Science makes futile attempts at doing so. The pages reflect the collective philosophies, ideas, visions, and concerns for the future from many of the people with whom I visited. My words and experiences should not be taken as gospel, but for what they really are--impressions and experiences of a traveler eager to understand, learn, and help lead positive change. By "positive change" I mean: change that brings about ethical business practices; development that sustains life and ecosystems, not exhausts them; an empowering sense of community that fosters self-sufficiency; and the preservation--not extraction and destruction--of nature, the nature upon which our life, and all life, depends.

The final EarthSource chapter is an edited reference section of media, organizations, and companies out to do what they can to restore or preserve the planet. Use it as a resource for understanding and action in areas that interest you most.

This book is intended to move you to question, challenge, and set off on your own journey or campaign to protect and preserve the planet as you best see fit. You too, can be the Capital F Fool. The future lies in the human ability to think and feel for the past and present, and recognize that change is a natural--necessary--aspect of life. While we are good at changing the environment to suit our needs and wants, how adept are we at changing ourselves in the face of global turmoil? My trip suggests that we need to re-evaluate how we live with each other and nature. The rewards are not financial, but rather what many people tell me they seek, yearn, and want: connection to nature; empowerment (control); spirituality; meaningfulness; peace, community; and collective security.

Two friends accompanied me at different points in my travels; the rest of the time I was solo. First I traveled with Tina, a friend from the University of Michigan. Lisa, my supportive and loyal girlfriend from Chicago, accompanied me on the final seven weeks. While they were companions for the experience of travel, neither had such a defined mission. Our involvement with an international peace organization, Servas, offered us access to open, eager people excited to share their culture, ideas, and hospitality. The Servas hosts offered a personal glimpse into their cultures, providing the opportunity to understand, celebrate, and cherish our common love of humankind, nature, and peace. From our sharing flowed compassion, caring, trust, and respect. As the essayist Wendell Berry once said--and contrary to Pentagon sources--war cannot bring peace. Servas understands that people bring peace. Berry called it "peaceableness."

Beyond the Servas interactions, I pursued my interests by reaching out to people, organizations, and companies I wanted to see and learn more from first-hand. These visits took me trekking to the Annapurna Conservation Area Project headquarters in Ghandruk, Nepal, and snorkeling in The Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I joined Mikael in a traditional Saami grass hut to discuss how he hopes to save his heritage before it is swallowed up by the Swedish lifestyle and modern land development practices.

The more I traveled and experienced, the more disturbed I was by what I witnessed--recognizing the magnitude of my ignorance. I knew my I understanding and interpretations would be only as accurate as the places and people with whom I visited. As with beauty, I began to see truth as being in the eyes of the beholder. Hard to swallow as an American, I discovered no meaning in the expression "common sense," except to illustrate how ethnocentric one could be. There was no right or wrong way, only an Indonesian way, or Spanish way or Australian way. Or a globally restorative and sustainable way? Even now I wrestle with these things, and probably will never be at ease.

In its most rudimentary form, the nine chapter journal captures my love of adventure travel. I was--and will always be--addicted to travels' highs and lows; I willingly accepted the financial cost of tripping out. Common elements of discovery, travel wisdom, and learning from the school of hard knocks in globe-trotting are to be found in the pages that follow.

Because I see this book as a catalyst for thinking, acting, and changing, I would welcome your stories, adventures, and understanding of our planet. Perhaps my next book will merely paint a picture of global issues by how a collection of concerned global citizens, some of you reading this now, see them.

People say I am asking a lot for people to think, question, understand and change. All I know is that change is inevitable; our approach and the paths we choose are pivotal to our survival. If we continue to ignore the signals and mask the truth--if we cling to our present, nature-destroying, consumption-driven, growth-oriented approach to living--the consequences will be indeed tragic for all life on Earth. Tragic, because the outcomes could have been avoided.

John D. Ivanko

Preview the FOREWORD by Richard J. Bangs, Editor-in-Chief of Mungo Park and Founder of Sobek Expeditions.

Return to BASE CAMP.

The Least Imperfect Path is published by Paradigm Press Ltd.

Exploring distant lands or one's backyard, Ivanko's publishing credits and clients include subjects or material from 35 countries across six continents.