between cult & cultivation

chance in younger days

Nature or nurture? Cult or cultivation?

This Earth Day we salute our future environmental leaders and pray for their ever-lovin’ souls. I can’t help wondering how quickly they will outgrow their graying groomers and speed themselves to disillusionment.

The sooner the better…

Last week, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality announced its top honors to an assortment of 12 individuals, non-profs, schools, and conservationist programs.

Austin’s Eco Box was in the mix with UT’s power plant, a Grand Prairie green grandma, and a “low-volatile organic compound”-using cabinet maker. Then there were Rio Grande River preservationist warriors at the Texas Water Resources Institute, and the city of McAllen’s “Save the Greens” program.

Representing San Antonio in the Texas Environmental Excellence Awards glamor are Josh and Chance Ruder, a pair of budding eco-celebrities and naturalist educators (a younger Chance is top left).

Amazing Kids! of the Month website introduces us to Chance this way:

Meet Amazing Chance Ruder, age 12. Since an early age, Chance has pursued his passion for helping animals and the environment. At 6, he was an apprentice to a master falconer, volunteered at a rehabilitation center for injured birds of prey, and wrote a book about the experience!

It was at during his apprenticeship that he discovered his very special purpose in life: helping animals by educating people about the importance of taking care of the environment, so that the animals’ habitats (or places they lived) would not be destroyed. Everyone needs a home, including animals, birds and plants and people. If their homes are destroyed, they will not survive.

Though he was only 6, Chance decided to change his name from “Brooks” to Chance, because he felt he was a “chance” to help animals survive. (You can read about Chance’s work at age 6 in our Amazing Kids! of the Month archive on our website, as Chance first appeared as an “Amazing Kid” in our June 1999 Amazing Kids! of the Month story!)

Chance thinks of himself as a “translator” for those injured and endangered animals who don’t have a human voice or a way of telling humans about their plight. Chance hopes he can work to find other young “translators” like himself, so they can work together at the large task in front of them.

daughter of skepticIt’s obvious Chance — now in his teenage years but Capital-A amazing already at age 12 — has grown up in the spotlight and primed for primetime. I met him briefly about a year ago and found him to be a sweet and sincere kid. He apparently has gotten what too many children never do: parental support for his passion.

At the other end of the eco “touchie-feelie” spectrum is young Kristen Byrnes (right), our newest global warming celebrity skeptic.

Last week’s NPR story about Kristen opens:

If you’re a scientist trying to convince people they are making the world warmer, Kristen Byrnes is your worst nightmare. She’s articulate, intelligent, she has a Web site, and one day her people will be running the world. Her people, meaning 16-year-olds.

Kristen’s Web site, “Ponder the Maunder,” has made her a celebrity among climate skeptics. After she posted a critique of Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, her Web site got so many hits the family’s internet service provider sent them a warning.

Apart from serious problems with the story and Byrnes’ many errors, I, for one, don’t know of any climate scientists out struggling to convince people of what is today standard accepted science. I certainly have witnessed how the chambers of data on climate, coupled with science’s culture of critical debate, have enabled sparring over what is dead certain and what is still unresolved.

Ponder has become so popular that is has been cited on numerous sites by global warming deniers. The message from Earthlink I got said unapologetically:

The Web page or file that you requested is temporarily unavailable. It has been so popular this month that it exceeded its free monthly traffic allotment. Access to this Web site will be restored on the first of next month. Please come back then.

However, this post is intended neither as a global warming primer nor as a forum for debate (I put in my rounds already, learned a bit about the state of the science as well as where those ruddy herrings lie). I am more interested in the forces that propel us and our relations with the natural world.

Chance engages nature with a poet’s heart; Kristen enters, it seems, through the head’s ideological trapdoor.

Back to the NPR report:

And she has a quality scientists try to cultivate: she is skeptical. Has someone made a claim? She wants to see the data.

So about a year ago, when she was 15, she started to look at the scientific evidence. When she got confused, she consulted Mike.

Mike, by the way, is her stepfather, an (hard to believe, I know) avid opponent of prevailing global warming theory.

Kristen says when her determination sagged, Mike encouraged her.

“Kristen! MOTIVATION!” she remembers him saying. Mike is deeply skeptical humans are behind global warming and pulls up a graph on the computer to help make the case.

Not hard to see where the direction and motivation is here. In fact, it is impossible for children not to absorb the values of their adult network. That necessary teen rebellion to still to come for both Chance and Kristen. From inside that great self-searching they may begin to look beyond their inherited and/or coached assumptions.

I can hardly wait.

For a clear and burning conviction to form, it must pass through the fires of real world experience. So, is nature or nurture responsible for our strange state? Perhaps it is the refining work of our natural selves constantly grating against our nurturing, our indoctrination.

Like the ambitious high school (middle school?) athletes they may share locker space with, Kristen and Chance share to some degree the hopes and aspirations of others. As do you. As do I. What makes life exciting is the stripping away of these illusions, the dis-illusionment process, where we find our footing.

So am I suggesting that Chance is not an animal “translator”? Or that Kristen is not basing her analysis of climate change findings on purely objective science? Not necessarily. I’m just one of those observers that cringe when I see childhood celebrity in play, knowing how many times such lives are created for a viewership living for drama. Or for a parent who never (fill in the blank).

The sooner these two pass through the fire of individuation, the better. Then they can come back to us with a courage and conviction they hadn’t known before. Perhaps they will have swapped places by then. Likely not. Just so long as they are shaken.

The TCEQ awards banquet is April 30 in Austin. To submit nominations for next year, hit

AGIN’ US: In a recent post I had said that Texas had the power to toughen up its auto emissions standards. I should qualify that with a “for now.”

Lame Duck Bush is still gunnin’ agin’ us, according to this AP report.

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration, in support of the auto industry, has urged a federal appeals court to set aside a ruling by a federal judge that said states have the authority regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

The Justice Department, in a friend-of-the-court brief filed late Wednesday, said the ruling in Vermont should be dismissed because the case was dependent upon California receiving a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

The government argued that federal law pre-empts state rules in the regulation of fuel economy standards, and Vermont’s rules were contingent upon EPA granting California the exemption.

Because the EPA rejected the California waiver in December, the lawyers wrote, Vermont “lacks authority to implement its proposed regulations.”

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell countered Thursday that “there’s a long way the Bush administration has to go before they’re going to uphold the validity of the denial of the waiver. We look forward to that fight.”

Congressional Democrats and states supporting the waiver accused the EPA denying the exemption on the basis of politics, rather than science.

Last September, U.S. District Judge William Sessions of Vermont wrote that he was “unconvinced” that automakers could not meet the regulations imposed by Vermont and California and could respond to new technological challenges.

Automakers appealed, arguing that the regulations, which have been adopted by California and at least 16 other states, would not stop global warming and cause economic hardship.

The limits would require a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks by 2016.

Bush on Wednesday called for a halt in the growth of greenhouse gases by 2025, but has opposed measures in Congress that would impose mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions beginning in five years. Environmental groups and congressional Democrats have favored mandatory emission cuts, arguing that approach is needed to address the affects of global warming.

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