Via Basel: Passions, Part 3


Via Basel: Passions, Part 3: Outdoors and Environment

My 3rd passion, related to the well being of our planet Earth, is perhaps the most important and consequential of all. If the arts and literature were about beauty and aesthetics, and mindfulness was about health and wisdom, then this one is existential, and without paying attention to it present and future generations may not be able to enjoy the first two. Before I elaborate any further let me me tell you how I wandered into this passion.

For the first 50 years of my life I was not what you would call ” an outdoor enthusiast.” Yes I enjoyed walking on a beach, sauntering in a forest preserve locally, and downhill skiing out west once in a while, but that was the extent of my exposure in that domain. After a close friend encouraged me to start hiking it was love at first encounter. I challenged myself gradually to more difficult terrain and higher altitudes in different mountain ranges and found it exhilarating and exciting. Whether at the Tetons in Wyoming, Glacier National Park in Montana, the Dolomites in Italy, the Himalayas in Bhutan, the Andes in South America, or the Whites in New Hampshire, I find trekking and camping in these places a spiritual as well as an earthly experience. Also, being a physician, it reinforced my belief in its importance to my physical, mental, and spiritual health.

As a member of the Sierra Club since 2007, I have taken advantage of the variety of trips and outdoor activities they sponsor in the USA as well as all over the world. If you haven’t heard of the Sierra Club yet you need to. Founded by legendary conservationist John Muir in 1892 it is by far the largest and most influential grass roots environmental organization in the country, with over 3 million members and supporters. Its motto “Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet” says it all.

Then around December 2016, after our presidential election and knowing that my retirement was around the corner, I felt compelled to do more than just going on their trips, wonderful as they are, to actually become part of the change that I want to happen and thus became an activist. I am not a scientist nor an expert on environmental issues, but I trust and believe what the vast majority of them have concluded. That climate change is at least partially caused by human activity in the form of fossil use in energy, especially coal, on  one hand, and the destruction of earth’s self-protecting systems, such as tropical forests and ocean’s coral reefs on the other. I will not go into more details on the subject since it’s unlikely to convince the skeptics.

Instead, I will offer an analogy for those who distrust experts, keeping in mind there is always a place for “healthy skepticism.” For decades patients came to me as an orthopedic expert because they trusted my credentials and honesty. The vast majority accepted and acted on my advice and even gave me permission to operate on them in spite of some risks. It was humbling to have that responsibility and I took it seriously. Similarly I have great respect for environmental scientists all over the world who are warning us about global warming and its alarming effects. In every aspect of our lives we put our faith in experts in areas ranging from health and economics to aeronautics and space technology. It is amazing to me that people who never question these domains find fault with environmental sciences. 

As I mentioned in a post last year my granddaughter Sophie and her generation are a major motivational factor in my new environmental activism. I am sure every one of you has a “Sophie” in your life that you love unconditionally and whose future health and happiness are important to you. Maybe you, too, will be motivated to save the future by becoming more active in the present. In my next post I will explore in more detail the activities of the Sierra Club, especially in my beloved city and state, Chicago, Illinois.

Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, retired, he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.  

Via Basel: Passions, Part 1: Art & Literature

Via Basel: Passions, Part 2: Mindfulness/Meditation

Sierra Club Chicago

Sierra Club Illinois