J500 Media and the Environment

Sustainability…Earth’s Ecological Tightrope by jasonmer

Experiences form our belief system and allow us to define the world we inhabit; my experiences as a former research chemist and current student help me define sustainability through the portal of a scientific term called homeostasis.

Maintenance of a constant or the pursuit of balance is homeostasis.  Chemical reactions, simple and complex life, AND the earth seek balance.  Man’s actions are negating earth’s ability to naturally achieve balance.  Balance, or homeostasis, is the goal for earth on the ecological tightrope; a coexistence with the daily push and pull between conservation and natural resource utilization.

My definition of sustainability:  Finding balance in mans utilization of earth’s resources by practicing environmental stewardship through reduction of our ecological footprint, and restoration of the Earth’s natural ability to maintain homeostasis.

Frequent reminders exist on how far society wanders from this definition.  An example can be seen in my recent return camping trip last weekend to Rocky Mountain National Park.

The park spoke once again to nature’s grandeur and delightful simplicity.  Upon arrival to the park something was noticeably missing – the weathered, worn, and affable face of Betsy, the Park Ranger for the campsite, was gone.

Wood chopping, tents out of place, coolers and food left out, fires burning unattended, scattered trash, and improper water disposal fill the void left by Betsy’s absence.  Nonexistent stewardship of the campsite and ecological trampling by the visitors handicapped nature’s homeostasis.  The park policy of “Leave No Trace” was ignored.

Leave No Trace from "hikingdude.com"

Leave No Trace from "hikingdude.com"

My camping trip is not an incident in isolation.  Destruction of the Earth’s natural resources is occurring at an excruciating pace on the world stage.   Indefinite sustainment of a linear materials economy can’t continue; current levels of consumption in the United States would take three to five earths to sustain if the rest of the world were consuming the same amount.  We are outstripping Earth’s biocapacity by 39 percent and leaving a footprint which knocks Earth off her ecological tightrope.

Is achieving balance realistic in our lifetime?

Jason Merckling


6 Comments so far
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Hi Jason. This story makes me sad. I would have thought the opposite would be true, that more of an emphasis on “leaving no trace” would be apparent. Is this an issue of a park ranger who is not as enthusiastic about regulations as the one before, a lack of information to campers about proper etiquette, or perhaps both? I wonder what could be done to make sure this doesn’t continue? Is there something that could be done to return this beautiful camp site to its former glory?
Maggie K.

Comment by maggiekol


Thankfully the campsite hasn’t gone down the tank…yet. It is early in the summer in the Mountains. Maybe the new Park Ranger is inexperienced and things will catch up with her soon.

To your question, is it an issue with the Park Ranger or is it the campers poor etiquette? I think it is a little of both. These are experienced campers for the most part and it was equally shocking to see some of the things that were taking place. The sign at the entrance to the campsite says “No Chopping Wood”. It was unfortunately happening throughout the campsite. The campers next to us were taking showers with bags of water they heated up during the daytime. They used soap and shampoo. They didn’t capture the water. This creates what they call “Gray Water” or simply contaminated water. “Gray Water” is a big no no in any park.

It was a stark contrast to last year due solely to the leadership of a Park Ranger named Betsy.

Jason Merckling

Comment by jasonmer

What an amazing story about how one person really can make a difference! To see the environment being treated with such disrespect such a short time after Betsy left is a shame. Does the new ranger just not care? Sadly he’s a strong representation of the way a lot of the population acts. America has become a truly wasteful society. Food Production Daily believes that 40-50% of America’s crops are never eaten. They claim that even just reducing food waste by half would reduce environmental effects by up to 25% by reducing landfill use, soil depletion and application of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
We need a few more Betsy’s in this world to tell us to “leave no trace” and take responsibility for our actions.

-Jenni Brown

Comment by Jenni


Sadly, I don’t believe the new Park Ranger was disconnected or uncaring but rather she didn’t have the training to deliver the message to new campers. The Park Rangers have to actually camp at the site permanently all summer. Clearly these folks are dedicated to their jobs.

With that being said it is curious that avid campers would need someone to explain the “Leave No Trace” policy. This campsite was not for your average camper. It was at a high elevation and typically used as a base camp. These campers should have already known this policy.

I guess when the cat is away the mice will play.

Jason Merckling

Comment by jasonmer


I hate to assume, but I wonder if the practice of “Externalized Costs” that’s mentioned in the Story of Stuff video has anything to do with Betsy’s absence. It seems like she was taking on a pretty big load at the National Park. I’m not sure where that funding comes from exactly but diminishing the role of the Park Ranger seems like it could have possibly been a cost savings practice.

The idea of human sustainability that’s mentioned in the video is something that I hadn’t really considered before. With jobs in their area being diminished, a lot of people are moving to where the jobs are. It doesn’t seem like we can keep this up forever because we’ll inevitably just end up expanding the lower class, spreading the bulk of the wealth among fewer and fewer people. I’m not economist but that just seems to be the path unsustainable practices are leading us down.

*Trey Williams*

Comment by TreyW


I also was struck by the “externalized costs” description in the “Story of Stuff” video. Her correlation with the radio and all of the costs associated with it was a compelling story.

Due to the length of my blog I was unable to make the point that the Park Ranger oversees just 24 tent campsites at Long’s Peak. The campsite is near 10,000 feet and typically used as a base camp for hikers that are summiting the mountain. Long’s Peak is one of the so called “Fourteeners” in the Rockies which means it is simply greater than 14,000 feet in height.

What shocked me most is the fact that most people staying at this camp would likely consider themselves “in touch with nature”. What drove the difference in campsite practices this year versus last year was Betsy the Park Ranger. Betsy was adamant about the “Leave No Trace” policy. She taught each person what it meant and how to best practice this policy. She was kind yet direct person. She had an innate leadership style that commanded respect. I am not sure what happened to her but I missed her presence.

Jason Merckling

Comment by jasonmer

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