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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien

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Op-Ed

Mar 05, 2019

A Visit To “The Border Wall”: Here’s What I Found…

This isn't an article with a political agenda, but an observation, about how two feet separated by three rusty, old wires can drastically change your life.

WRITTEN BY

Evan Quarnstrom

As I listen to politicians, middle Americans, Democrats, Republicans, blatantly partisan news anchors, and bumper sticker flaunting owners of lifted pickups alike bicker about the severity of this problem, I begin to ask myself, “Do these people really know what they are talking about?”

Have they ever crossed the border? Have they ever been to the border? Have they ever seen the border with their own eyes? Do they know anyone who lives near the border? Do they know anyone who lives on the other side of the border? Believe it or not, there are people, just like you and me, who live beyond the abyss.

I will add the disclaimer that I am not an expert on immigration policy, but I come from the perspective of someone who lives in a border community, someone who crosses the border relatively regularly, and someone who knows people well on both sides of the border. To San Diegans, this may seem like nothing special, but only 2.5% 1 of the country lives in a county that borders Mexico. The perspective of a border region resident is one that most people who are arguing the issue do not have. Simply living near the border does not warrant claims of expertise on the subject, but in my opinion it does add a level of credibility.

Only 2.5% of the country lives in a county that borders Mexico.

Before things get heated, my intention is not to write a politically slanted piece. I will gladly state that my views on immigration are the polar opposite of the standing president, but I would like to take a more objective approach to communicate the ‘issue’ at hand.

So, to see what the fuss is about and to show those that have never been to the border what it’s like, I visited and documented an unfenced portion of the border in California — just as advertised via the endless, looping B-roll on the national news.

Here’s what I found…

This section of the border is actually very accessible. The well-traveled Interstate 8 comes within 1.3 miles of the border and the paved road comes within a half mile.
Selfie at the border to prove I did in fact take the photos! At about 3,000 feet of elevation, winter temperatures were a bit chilly in the low 40’s.
This section of the border lies in east San Diego County near the town of Jacumba Hot Springs. It was built in 1995 by the Clinton Administration. I did a little research and came across an interesting story in the LA Times about how the border construction ignited a decline in the town due to its symbiotic relationship with its Mexican sister town of Jacume on the other side. It’s a good read if you have the time.
Going on 25 years, the wall has seen better days. The rust and stress have caused cracks in some places. A theory of mine is that this could be caused by tectonic activity, as many small faults cross the border in this area. The San Andreas fault, which crosses the border into Mexico about 45 miles east of Jacumba Hot Springs, is a strike-slip fault, meaning the plates slide parallel to each other, offsetting the land by about two inches per year.
Peering into Mexico, I saw the first sign of crossing activity in this area — tossed water bottles
As you walk up the hill, the border comes to an end. Aside from the steep hill, there is a moderate gorge just beyond this point, which is why I presume they elected not to undertake the task of building a border any further. Getting heavy machinery up there would have been nearly impossible without seriously altering the land to build access roads. Just beyond this hill the border continues again.
Someone stored a large jug of water here for migrants. I know there are non-profits in San Diego that do this — cool work in my opinion.
As the steel border comes to an end, a makeshift barbed wire fence made by a combination of metal rods and sticks, yes sticks, proceeds to mark the border more or less (it isn’t a perfectly straight line, bending slightly into the US, so it’s not the exact border).
Sticking my camera over into Mexico.
A rope lying on the ground right where the border ends. Seems like a tool to tie the barbed wire fence together to create a safer opening.
Someone got snagged going through the barbed wire.
A big rock has been placed on the fence here to make a larger opening between the wires for people to squeeze through.

The difference that an arm’s length can make…

The above photo really strikes a chord with me because it demonstrates how a mere geographic distance of literally two feet separated by three rusty, old wires can drastically change your life. If you are born on that rock across the fence, you will be born Mexican, learn Spanish as your first language, and unfortunately likely face more challenges in attaining a comfortable economic situation in your life. (Of course, I say ‘likely’ because money does not necessarily mean happiness, not everyone wants to live in the USA, and not all Mexicans have financial struggles.)

If you are born where I stood, you are American, which can give you an opportunity that you may not have on that side of the fence. Also worth noting, being born on my side of the fence gives you the freedom to cross the fence as you please. Freedom of movement does not stop where the fence begins. For many born on the southern side of the border, they will never receive a visa that allows them to cross, never able to come to stand where I was.

Think about the difference that an arm’s length can make.

This leads me to a related thought (possibly a slight tangent). As with most things in life, I think patriotism is okay in moderation. But at the same time, I look at this photo and think, where you are born is pure luck. Putting aside the infinitely small chances that you were even born in the first place, you could have just as easily been born on that side of the fence. I mean hell, when you enter the world, there is a 60% chance that you will be Asian, 20% chance that you will be Chinese 2. Should we be proud of this luck?

I look at this photo and think, where you are born is pure luck.

Given the extremely small chance that I was born in California, USA, do I have an inherent responsibility to care more for those also born in my country, or can I look at every human on Earth on an equal playing field, all equally deserving of my consideration? I tend to lean towards the latter.

Again, nothing wrong with patriotism, but there’s a little food for thought to start off your day.

So… What did I learn?

I must say that I was not expecting to find much at the border, so it was mildly surprising to see such clear evidence of what has unfolded on this small chunk of land in the past two decades. The discarded items, the fence, and the worn trails tell a story. Between the plethora of water bottles, food wrappers, backpacks, clothing, and cell phones, it paints a picture of those that have undertaken the treacherous journey north.

I must admit, President Trump might be right about at least one thing: a bigger, more robust border wall would likely slow down illegal immigration into the United States to some extent, at least in the short term.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to follow the evidence of crossings straight to where the current border wall ends. The barbed wire fence showed clear signs of crossings, whereas the steel border did not.

I must admit, President Trump might be right about at least one thing.

On the other hand, if you think that the situation at the southern border is such a crisis for Americans that it needs to divert billions of our tax dollars, that’s a different conversation. I could go over a laundry list of more urgent things that need funding more than a wall, but that’s not what I am aiming to do in this article.

And for those that are worried about all the “rapists” that are crossing the border, I challenge them to attempt to understand, or at least hear out, the other side of the issue. A good way to start is to shift your perspective to an internal problem and read up on the crimes and political meddling (yes, Russia did not invent this tactic) that our country has committed in countries such as El SalvadorGuatemalaHondurasNicaragua, and Panama, just to name a few. It should be no surprise that life in the United States has caught the eye of those born to underprivileged situations in these countries that were deliberately destabilized by the US.

I hope that this story humanizes the people that are crossing, so they are not just an intangible idea that you see on the news, not just a game of politics. That sentiment is what I can say this quick trip reinforced for me. These are people that drink water, just like you and me. They wear jackets when it’s cold, just like you and me. They too brush their teeth. They are looking for a peaceful place to live where they can create a future for their family, just like you and me.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

This article first appeared on the author’s website: www.evanquarnstrom.com. All photos are by Evan Quarnstrom.

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Op-Ed

Oct 20, 2019

Introducing Climate Neutral Certified

A little over a year ago, I co-founded an organization called Climate Neutral. The intent of this organization is to create, distribute, and certify a label that we call Climate Neutral Certified. 

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WRITTEN BY

Peter Dering

The Outdoor Journal supports the Climate Neutral initiative. However, our editorial team was not involved in the writing, editing or fact-checking of this article. The author of this article is Peter Dering, CEO Peak Design + Co-Founder Climate Neutral.

You’re probably familiar with other labels like 1% For The Planet, Certified Organic, and Certified B-Corp. These labels tell us something about the products we buy or the business we support. When you see the Climate Neutral Certified label on a product, it means that the business displaying it has measured their carbon footprint, reduced what they reasonably can, and then offset the rest. In a world where climate change exists and is a legitimate threat to our children’s way of life, we strongly believe that this should be the minimum standard for all companies. We should stop emitting carbon without paying the cost to clean it up.

Peak Design sews backpacks in Vietnam and ships them all over the world. Sure…we use recycled materials, we’re conscientious about our packaging, we make products that last, and we try to avoid air freight. But the fact is, no matter how intensively you focus on reducing your footprint, it persists. The notion that we can reduce our way out of our carbon problem is a farce.

The incredible thing is that we can still take responsibility for that carbon. We can measure it (approximately). After we’ve reduced it (reasonably), we can offset it. That’s right. We can offset it.

Climate Neutral Co-Founder, Peter Dering speaking with Alex Honnold at Outdoor Retailer.

“isn’t this the least we can do?”

It is possible for Peak Design to create carbon emissions across the globe, yet sequester an equivalent amount by some other means. Means such as planting and maintaining a field of seagrass off the coast of Puerto Rico. Or by covering a decommissioned landfill in South Carolina. Or subsidizing wind farms in India, which lessens the coal generation necessary to power that country. There are all sorts of ways that Peak Design, and every company in the world (and every individual, for that matter), can truly and verifiably offset our carbon impact. And if this climate change thing as real as all those scientists are saying…isn’t this the least we can do?

That’s what I thought. I especially thought this when at the end of 2017, Peak Design measured its carbon footprint and found we were responsible for about 20,000 tons (we rounded up significantly). The crazy thing is that it cost us only $60,000 to offset that entire carbon footprint, and that was on $30m worth of sales. It very loudly begged the question…. ”why isn’t everyone doing this?”

You can support Climate Neutral’s Kickstarter campaign here.

Climate Neutral Certified is the result of asking that question and realizing that most people and companies have no idea how large their carbon footprint is, and have even less of an idea about how much it might cost to eradicate it.

This is our effort to make everyone aware that they can do something about their impact, and it has been all-consuming. Prior to the launch of this campaign, 50 businesses have signed up. And a 175 more are lying in wait. We want to get thousands of businesses to sign up during the course of this campaign, and it will take individuals spreading the word to make this happen.

“I wish there was something I could do about climate change.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have supported Peak Design through Kickstarter or as a customer over the last 9 years, and I am grateful for that. I would be even more grateful if you visit the Climate Neutral kickstarter page, and support this campaign. This is a solution that has the potential to scale big enough to actually make a dent in this seemingly intractable problem. If you’re anything like me, you’re tired of wringing your hands and saying “I wish there was something I could do about climate change.” Back this campaign, and you will be doing something about it.

I am grateful for the opportunity to help alleviate climate change, and I am grateful to all of you for the support you have ushered in over the years. That support is the reason I have this opportunity. I will do all I can to make the most of it.

You can support Climate Neutral’s Kickstarter campaign here.

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