An Environmental Lesson From Bob Ross

During this past week, Twitch featured every episode of The Joy of Painting. Bob Ross, the host and artist of the program, works a sort of magic on a blank canvas that brings to life beautiful landscapes. If you ever have had the opportunity to watch a few episodes, then you too may appreciate Ross's inspirations. His manner and method seem to be based very much on his environmental perspectives.

One lesson that I learned from Bob Ross, and something he repeated throughout the show, is that everyone sees nature differently. The importance of such a statement is that it guides our own behaviors and may be interpreted in different ways. While understanding there are competing forces and interests that accompany any given experience, Ross affords the viewer opportunities to discover how he or she relates and reacts to the natural environment.

Perhaps, as a complement to the previous point, is Ross's emphasis on social-ecological holism. It would seem that most of his work possess a human-free landscape, with also very little or no impact left by humans. In works where there are human structures, such as an old barn or shed, there is a seamless blending of human impact with the natural environment with both often complementing one another. I remember one Indiana-inspired painting in particular where he did include a large barn in the foreground and a smaller shed behind the barn. There also was a fence, wooden, of course, but it all flowed as though the landscape naturally possessed these structures.

Watching some of the episodes reminded me how The Joy of Painting influenced my own environmental philosophy. While I have always had a keen interest in the environment -- as a child I would pretend to be an environmental detective who sought out offenders of environmental crimes in the neighborhood, complete with a notebook and a pen hanging on year that I wore around my neck -- it was this program that helped to refine my understanding of interpreting nature differently than someone else. The truth is that many of us will have different views of the environment.

With so many views, can we find enough commonalities through various interpretations to develop legitimately sound environmental policies? I would say yes, although the context under which we have been doing that is not always that beneficial to the natural environment and therefore the biosphere (us). I immediately think to more recent environmental policy developments and their implementation process. I think about domestic and international climate change negotiations over the past 20 years.

We are not having very holistic conversations about the environment. An important aspect of environmental policy making is not just addressing a problem, but creating a system aimed at preventing similar issues. This means that we, as individuals and members of a community, need to put forth efforts to nurture and protect the system that has been doing the same for us since our ancestors were single-celled organisms.

Thinking too largely and the issues become daunting and overwhelming. But, on the other hand, it may well be important for a central governing system to establish some ground rules for environmental management and protection. A lot of the best work is done at the state and local levels, where implementation of policies is more visible. This creates a responsibility for us, as members of our respective states, cities, towns, and communities. What are you doing to create happy trees, happy clouds, and, therefore, happy life?