“Hello muddah, hello faddah. Here I am at Camp Grenada...”
Even when everything goes wrong, there’s nothing Allan Sherman’s singing camper wants more than to stay at camp. It’s where he and his fellow campers enjoy getting away from home — playing, making friends, learning Judaic practice, and getting into mischief. Simultaneously, campers are picking up subconscious information — about fair play, contributing to society, and identifying with place, culture and religion — all within a context of assuming that adults will take good care of them.
Care-taking is the first level of adult/parent consciousness around camps. But there’s more — the assumptions we carry about the “dependable” things in life. And in this summer of the Gulf of Mexico oil volcano, adults should be seriously thinking about and discussing:
• Resource abundance
• Healthy air, land and water
• Easy mobility
• Cheap food, water, clothing, materials and shelter
Every time we use a cell phone, drive a car, or carry a plastic bag, we’re spilling oil like BP. We don’t complain about that, because all the oil in these things has been tamed and spun into things we enjoy and use. Most of them will end up as pollutants and landfill, however, and even though that’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind, it’s just like what we see now pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.
What if everything in our environment stopped working the way we assumed? What if the costs of fuel, electricity and food doubled or tripled by 2015? Prices for oil, coal and gas are rising as they become scarcer, and more expensive to extract and process. That translates into higher prices for everything connected with them: Energy, water and food production, appliances, toys, tools, personal devices, cosmetics, suitcases, vehicles, etc.
What if camps couldn’t find clean drinking water, or had to operate in polluted air? What if they couldn’t dump garbage, or handle sewage? Summer camps and conference centers are like little tourist towns that puff up with vacationers in high season, and empty out in low season. They’re attached to roads, utilities, suppliers, and sewer and garbage pipelines. And they generate waste just like every small town.
What are we adults teaching kids about these things? Only a handful of camps build environmental learning into their programs, but every camp should these days. What humans do to nature is like tiny mosquito bites on our own big bodies. We can feel them; they agitate us. Likewise, those tiny agitations humans add to Earth’s water and carbon cycles are affecting the planet’s land, water and climate.
The way we run our camps now is part of the problem, but camps can become part of the solution. And if we want our children to continue enjoying camps, and grow up to run camps well themselves, we must insist on improving their environmental structures now. How? By moving them toward self-sufficiency.
It doesn’t make sense to run camps like remote tourist towns, vulnerably attached to myriad “grids.” It makes more sense for each one to supply as much of its own energy, water, food and materials, and handle as much of its own waste as possible. More rustic camps are less attached to grids, and can operate more self-sufficiently. More sophisticated camps depend on more outside connections. But both have work to do.
At this point, every camp from San Mateo to Savannah should be using solar heaters for most or all of their hot water needs, and using wind, mini-hydro and/or solar for energy. They get as much sunshine as Israel, where building codes require solar water heaters on every roof. Camp buildings should be using natural landscaping, structural design and airflow for air conditioning. They should be collecting rainwater year-round for use during the camp season, and managing liquid and solid waste on-site.
For participant transportation, buses from central pick-up/drop-off points, and carpooling are more fuel-efficient and create smaller carbon footprints than individual vehicles carrying one camper each. On the supply and kitchen side, ordering ahead minimizes supply trips, and reduces incoming waste. Eating low on the food chain boosts health and cuts carbon footprint. Growing a drip-irrigated garden can supply basic foods for mess hall tables.
Ideally, we’d re-think and re-design everything this very season. In reality, challenges of planning, budget and materials will require spreading this transition over several seasons. But the sooner we start, the faster we create camps better suited to today’s environmental challenges. The faster we teach our kids the better ways to live at camp, and on their planet. And the smarter Muddah, Faddah and the rest of us adults will look.