Have you ever heard of a buffalo jump? It was a tactic used for thousands of years by Native American hunters to efficiently kill large quantities of plains bison. The feat was performed by stealthily surrounding the herd on three sides with a large number of hunters, leaving only one direction of escape. All at once the hunters would jump up and run at the herd, startling the bison and causing them to flee in the predetermined direction.
Along this route to apparent safety, other hunters would disguise themselves under bison hides to fool the buffalo into following them towards a nearby cliff. At the last second, the decoy hunters would hide themselves in a safe spot while the rest of the group kept driving the herd forward over the precipice. The frightened animals in the rear would keep pushing onward because they couldn’t see that the ones in front were being forced to jump to their death.
So what can be done? How do we avoid the leap? I believe the answer lies in something called the Law of Diffusion of Innovation – a model for describing how new ideas gain mass market acceptance.
Graphically, this theory is a standard bell curve that defines us either as innovators, early adopters, early/late majority or the people who still think the world is flat.
Image: Sally King at SK Graphic Design skgraphicdesign.co.uk/
The courage and vision of this tiny minority to defy expectations and social pressure is absolutely essential if we are to successfully navigate the overwhelming challenges of climate change adaptation. This is why I so passionately believe in the importance and power of individualism to serve as a catalyst for progressive change, to alter our course and avoid sharing the fate of the buffalo.
After all, I should mention that buffalo jumps were not always successful. When a sufficient number of animals refused to be guided to their destruction, the herd changed course and survived. Doing so also made them wiser and more capable of recognizing the threat when the hunters tried again the next time.
I am utilizing this same strategy to popularize environmental stewardship, but with one key difference: we are attempting to shift the population to the left on the bell curve by helping them recognize their own innovative potential and inspire them to value their own individuality. To do this we must set a precedent that shows that this transition is not only possible, but personally rewarding. It has to be to make the hardships worthwhile.
It’s no small request to ask people to stand apart from the herd. It’s a frightening place to be and is why so few are willing to do it. My own father still thinks climate change is just hippy propaganda. He thinks this, because most everyone else in my Montana hometown thinks this. Despite being a highly intelligent person who is passionate about spending any available time immersed in the natural world, he won’t allow himself to admit the reality of what's going on around him. Doing so would mean standing apart from the comfort of the herd, and possibly making his friends think that he drank the Kool-Aid and turned into “another one of them sumbitchin' hippy liberal environmentalists” that towns full of timber-industry families so vehemently despise. We simply must find ways to give people incentive to make this sacrifice feel worthwhile if we hope to change our direction.
My strategy to help create this paradigm shift is The Steep N’ Deep Project. I have designed this endeavor to be irrefutable evidence that individuals truly can make measurable contributions to the advancement of our society, and to show our audience that people just like them are undertaking these globally-impactful challenges.
To give this message weight I am essentially stacking the deck against myself by taking on the most difficult circumstances I could dream up. I can’t think of a more unlikely story than deep-sea divers helping communities adapt to the hazards of climate change in our planet’s highest mountains, let alone having to invent their entire method of exploration from the ground up.
I stopped taking commercial diving jobs for over a year in order to dedicate my time and energy to advancing The Steep N' Deep Project. We couldn’t afford it, but it had to be done. So instead of making that sweet diver cash working underwater, I took a minimum wage job working nights as a janitor so I could have my days free for meetings and to keep evolving my project because I truly believe in the value of what I am trying to accomplish for the sake of the world. I only mention my time as a custodial engineer to show that I truly am in the trenches with everyday people, and I started with no greater advantage than they will have if they choose to undertake this challenge of leading by example.
We at Vanguard Diving & Exploration are creating a hybrid of exploration disciplines I’ve dubbed “Isolation Diving” to enable our team to be safe and proficient when conducting experimental research in remote extreme environments.
The secondary purpose is to craft an image for our audience that changes how they view the people tackling the problems facing our society and makes it something they admire, instead of distrust.
Most kids don’t play games pretending to be scientists. They pretend to be explorers, or warriors or whatever else they view as cool and heroic. So we must appeal to this if our message is to be accepted. So we are creating a public perception of Isolation Divers as badass explorer-astronaut-commandos doing extreme things in dangerous places in the pursuit of knowledge and for the good of all mankind. That’s who will draw someone’s attention away from the hockey game on TV, or from playing some mindless game on their phone, to devote some of their time and energy towards something that is so critical for preserving their own quality of life.
I am asking for your support to help my team set this precedent, to try a new tactic for making the all-important climate message heard and to inspire others to discover their own spirit of innovation to help shape our collective future. Thank you very much.