Posted on by Keelin Burke

In 1976, The Audubon Society published their bicentennial calendar with the following message: 

“There is a persistent notion in this country that clean water and air are ‘frills’ that should be shelved and forgotten during hard times. Too many citizens and leaders are tending to panic in the face of energy shortages or to act as if sacrificing our land, water, and air will somehow appease the duties of inflation….We believe that the ultimate goal of our economy is to provide a good life for all. We think a healthy economy and a healthy environment are inseparable goals. In our view, this country, given proper information and leadership, can fight inflation and recession simultaneously with protecting our land and water and wildlife against unwarranted abuses.”

This concern still echoes 42 years later, but a different number has garnered our recent attention: 12. That’s how many years the UN reports we have to slow the effects of climate change before it’s out of our hands. If you haven’t read, let alone heard of this newest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it’s possible you’re living under a rock. Which, frankly, amid these blaring statistics, is starting to become more and more appealing. We’ve seen the direct impact climate change has had on our parks, waterways, seasons, and communities. Hurricanes have significantly increased in strength, wildfires in California are more powerful and widespread than ever, oceans are suffocating with plastic, winters are colder and more extreme, and summers have become oppressively hot in many parts of the world. Our response to the UN report needs to be greater than the collective and motionless awe we’ve adopted. We have the ability to change our course and preserve our planet’s beauty and wonder for generations to come. It may read like a cliche, but the call of the wild is louder than ever.

Lauren and Ross from Universe Driven have captured our attention with their stunning, vibrant photos across the U.S. We first learned about the couple after they tagged us on Instagram during a trip to North Carolina. To complement their mobile lifestyle, the couple uses our Judd folding bikes for their convenience and space-saving design. Earlier this year, Lauren and Ross found themselves in a position that warranted a major life change. Rents in their Colorado city, as most of the country, had gone up astronomically. The couple was faced with a predicament of maintaining their lives or taking a risk to pursue a daydream. Amid word that their landlords were selling, Ross and Lauren’s hushed conversations about simplifying, pursuing their creative endeavors, and exploring the backcountry began to inadvertently cement. A Craigslist listing for a 2004 Chevy Astro in central Washington resolved a number of unanswered questions and soon served as the couple’s new home. Ross, finally pursuing his passion for photography, and Lauren, working remotely out of Colorado, began their uncharted chapter.

Ross and Lauren have been devoted to the road long enough to see the seasons change. Cities skylines, condos, cement sidewalks, and paved roads no longer camouflaged the effects of climate change. Ross is an adventure, landscape, and outdoor lifestyle photographer - a category of photography that is in a position to best tell the story and expose the reality of earth’s state.

“One thing that Ross wanted to work on this summer was astrophotography,” Lauren notes.  Astrophotography relies on long exposures to capture the disorienting, yet magnificent vastness of the night sky. The plans, however, were quickly rerouted. “Due to the large number of forest fires across the country,” Lauren continues, "it was incredibly hard to find clear skies. We couldn’t have a campfire all summer because there were so many fire bans across the country.” 

As of October, there have been roughly 49,658 wildfires across the United States. Since 1980, wildfires have notably increased in frequency and severity.

According to the Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions (C2ES), the average wildfire season is 78 days longer than it was in 1970, burning more than twice what it did in the past. Warmer temperatures and drier years cause wildfires to spread at rates faster than ever before. Statistical evidence of gradual temperature increases fails to adequately exemplify the severity of what is really happening. It’s difficult for us to grasp 1-2 degree changes as having any major changes on our environment. For humans, we perceive those influxes as minutiae and overlook the reality in exchange for a comfortable, but problematic ignorance. 

Over time, these shifts alter habitats that rely enormously on equanimity; or at least seasonal predictability. To adapt, many species relocate to entirely new areas to preserve their kind. With these bizarre, climate change-related migrations, certain species can inadvertently have a negative impact, causing changes to their new environments that increase the detriments of global warming. (see: the mountain pine beetle's significance in regards to wildfires).

So, why should we care? The “why” in that statement is what commits us; our personal and collective environmental responsibility to our planet and to each other. Ross puts this sentiment simply:

“Yes, climate change is not something we can stop, but we can help to minimize and slow the negative impact we are having on the planet. Why bother? The short answer is so that we can enjoy it longer. The longer answer is that it is our duty to protect the land that gives us life.”

If the planet isn’t healthy, neither are we. The CDC reports that ground-level ozone (smog, in large part), is related to decreased lung function, asthma, increased hospital and ER visits, and early deaths. Additionally, those same wildfires that blocked the night sky for Ross contribute to reduced air quality and cause multiple health and lung-related issues. Everything is connected.

Ross and Lauren’s work is, without exaggeration, stunning. Ross captures the emotion of a single moment and stretches it across an entire landscape. His photography embodies the “why” we strive to find and feed. Universe Driven is creating something special while exhibiting a life that often feels unattainable. Finding a place to start with your own “why” can be challenging, but Ross and Lauren offer an accessible place. “Never say no to an experience. If you’ve never done something, the only way you’re going to find out if you like is by doing it.”

Indicating a love for our planet is the first step in helping to save it. Step two is deciding how to change. Ross suggests that "the most important thing is to focus on yourself. What are YOU doing, how can YOU be better." Ross and Lauren have gone to further lengths than most to decrease their carbon footprint. Even with gas in the tank, living life on the road still leaves a smaller environmental impact than living in an apartment building year 'round (use the EPA's carbon footprint calculator to learn yours). Ross and Lauren take additional strides, like working to eliminate single-use plastic from their lives, in commitment to the earth. "It can be weird walking into a restaurant with your own silverware, but who cares," Lauren says."You're never going to see any of those people again. [But maybe], someone seeing you do that convinces them to do the same."

A cool breeze, the smell of ocean salt, and fog receding from the mountains. Morning dew clinging to the grass, the sound of a fish jumping on a lake smooth as glass, the smell of rotting leaves on the forest floor. That familiar crunch below your feet, the blinding white of a fresh snow, the recognizable numbness after a deep breath of frozen air. All these things could be lost to us if we don’t act now. 

 

“We weren’t placed here to use everything up and destroy it,” Ross concludes, “We were put here to fall in love with it. To discover it. To live with the land, not to live in spite of it.”

Follow Ross and Lauren @universedriven on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and on their blog to learn more about their lives, their travels, and their impact.

JUDD Folding Bike

Judd is perfect for the rider that is big on convenience but low on space. Whether you’re pedaling your way across campus, heading in to the office, or packing up the RV for a quick getaway (or a new chapter!) the convenience of this folding bike is unmatched.