Imagine. We are just a floating rock in space spinning around a burning star. During these billions of years before the sun explodes, did the deadly and chaotic 2020 pandemic make us better CEOs of our brains and how will that impact the natural world around us?

Although the U.S. population still grew by 0.35% amid more than 500,000 deaths, the world also started to look within itself as an age of A.I. booms and A.I. social platforms, such as TikTok, helped to normalize open discussions around anxiety, depression, and OCD for the 68 million in generation Z born between 1997 and 2015. 

Some argue that we are emerging out of a 12,000-years of climate stability that has allowed humanity to settle, farm, and build civilizations.  A lot has happened in those years. A bunch of ‘ages’ came in waves spanning from the Greek gods to Europe’s Middle and Golden Ages to the Age of Microwaves, Smartphones, and Donald Trump. 

Humankind has built so much… and yet, while we keep building there simultaneously exists a community of explorers, drawn to forgotten landscapes now overtaken by nature. Why do these so-called “Bandos” (short for abandoned) risk arrest and serious injury to explore these places? Can their fearlessness help us avoid the bleak future that Sir David Attenborough warns us of in his latest documentary? What can we learn from their fearlessness about how to avoid a future that Sir David Attenborough warns us that if we don’t improve ourselves, we’ll end up destroying the natural world as we know it? 

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Aha! Moments To Know Now:

Some thoughts require perspective. Experience this collection of what you can read, watch, or listen to that are featured in this Thought Zero.

The Issue, The Shocker, The Main Act, and The Future

Comment on the Instagram post to share what you think should be the issue, the shocker, the main act, or the future within this Thought Zero.

Dominican RepublicDinosaur
There’s a loss of wild places, where the energy of the sun and the minerals of the earth sustain each other.
Photo by Nestor Pool on Unsplash
There’s been an estimated
five mass extinctions over the world’s
four-billion-year history.
Photo by Frank Kroeger on Unsplash
Dense populationGreg Abandoned Ship
“If we do things that are unsustainable, the damage accumulates…[then] the whole system collapses.” David Attenborough
Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky / Unsplash
“Most of the people that I meet, they’re just afraid. They’re afraid of the rules that we impose ourselves on us.” Greg Abandoned
Photo by @gregabandonded / Instagram

Can an Explorer’s Mindset Lead an Innovative World to Sustainability?

Through dozens of documentaries, Attenborough has explored the impact of human society on the natural world while building his audiences’ understanding of the natural world.

In 2015, when asked by then-President Obama, “What is it that led to such a deep fascination with how the natural world worked?”, Attenborough replied, “When did you lose it?” going on to add that he’s never met a child who wasn’t deeply fascinated with understanding the world they have just entered.  He continues that young adults can be taught that the natural world is, “Part of their inheritance and its the only one we’ve got and we got to protect it.” 

If we do things that are unsustainable, the damage accumulates ultimately to a point where the whole system collapses. No ecosystem, no matter how big, is secure.

David Attenborough, speaking about rainforest deforestation

The debate continued with Obama adding “I think all too often we pose [conserving natural world treasures] as an economic development vs. environment problem rather than recognizing that there’s a way you can marry those two concerns.” Attenborough quipped back, “That is indeed the case, but the trouble is that as fast you find a solution along those lines the problem grows bigger.” In his witness statement on Netflix, Attenborough builds on his belief that for our earth’s human population to peak, will require a rise in quality of life and education that would, in turn, encourage fewer births, illustrating there’s also a population aspect to conserving the natural world. 

Greg, known as @GregAbandoned on Instagram, an international math teacher stationed in China, and host of Chasing Bandos podcast (Spotify, iTunes), rediscovered his fascination with exploring the natural world, but where humanity has come and left. The United Nations estimates that 50% of the population is “urbanized” or cut-off from the natural world. For those in NYC, a rat snatching a pizza slice in the subway is a sight to witness. Yet, Greg steps out of line and finds a community of adventurers who seek to preserve the memories of places while documenting nature overtaking sites humanity has abandoned.

In the Thought Zero podcast (watch on YouTube | listen on Spotify | or Apple launching in April), Greg described his risky adventure into what he believed was an abandoned power plant, “This power plant, I was there with my friend and when we walked into it, it was a wreck. The building was just a wreck. It was gutted for parts inside, I could never even imagine there would be the turbine […] in the corner of my eye I noticed the control room in the distance and I turn my head towards that […] After one second I saw on the wall, the buttons with lights on them […] and I see a guy that was a security guy or someone sitting there. And that’s where I freaked out. I was like, Oh my God, there’s someone there.”

Realizing an introduction to law enforcement presented a greater danger that could lead to him being fined, arrested, or, worse, deported, he quickly left but his presence was found. 

He continued, “When we got up the Hill, the security guide spotted us because we are going through the bushes and we were making a bit of noise there. And he started shouting after us. We quickly run. What I discovered on the top of the hill there were train tracks and there was a tunnel. They dig the tunnel through the mountain so we went through that.”

“We climbed down from the mountain in a completely different place and this time we were outside now and there was a bit of a barbed-wire fence. And then there was a river.” Presented with a dilemma and to ensure that he ended up on a different side of the river than the security guard, “I had to take my trousers off, my socks off, my shoes off, and I went into that water. It was super, super cold.” Ending up in a safer location, the adventure was done for the day. But it wasn’t over completely. 

“I don’t know how other experts do it, but I just have the mentality of not giving up, I just don’t give up. And I wasn’t willing to just call it a day.” And so he nonetheless continued on the next day to explore an abandoned steel factory that had been built as a mini-city with a hospital, train system, and a movie set but that was now in the process of succumbing to nature. 

Attenborough, a more subdued explorer compared to Greg, explored spaces that are alive with animals, organic land untouched by humans, and areas where overpopulation is changing the ecosystem. He hypothesizes that with an increase in health care access, more opportunities for enhanced quality of life, through innovation, we can find what our max population could be and cease the excessive building into the natural world.  

Greg’s reply to Attenbough’s perspective, “There are a lot more people that just don’t don’t want to have children anymore and who are kind of more focused on achieving something for themselves and the family takes the second priority.” This drive to enter unknown places at high risk might just be a mindset that we need for a post-pandemic world. Greg adds his take on how having an explorer’s mindset in our daily lives can lead to the innovation needed to bring us closer to a max population, “I would say, it’s the fear that drives people. Most of the people that I meet, they’re just afraid. They’re afraid of the rules that we impose ourselves on us. And they don’t look beyond those.”

He continues, “I decided at some stage in my life where I needed to do the things that make me uncomfortable, the things are out of my comfort zone, those are the ones I want to do.”

Imagine. A world that leans into uncomfortable and emerges more whole. 

Listen to the interview with Greg Abandoned:

The Thought Zero

The best stories are inherently vulnerable and each Thought Zero aims to find the common threads between people, places, and ideas from around the world. The common thread between David Attenborough’s witness statement on Netflix and explorers of abandoned places is:

We are floating on a rock in space and reliant upon keeping it the f*ck together.

Filed Under: Documentary Vs. Human

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Behind The Curtain

A peek into where this story began, from the mind of the writer.

This first-ever Thought Zero reflects upon the early months of 2021. Nick Shippers, the founder of Thought Zero, noticed resilience as a common theme frequently covered by Forbes (where he happens to work). Shippers recalls, “I kept seeing resilience not just being covered, but multiple audiences engaging enough that there was a rapid increase in subscribers to working remote content…one article, in particular, kept gaining interest no matter where I included as a suggested read within the C-suite. An explorer’s mindset leads to innovation. What better message to resonate with at a time where ‘thinking outside the box is a calling?”

Nick continued, “During this same time, @GregAbandoned appeared in my explore feed on Instagram likely due to my obsession over nature and plants. His shocking view of places of the past overtaken by nature paired with the high risks towards safety and consequences of fines or jail made me wonder what is it about these explorers of the places being overtaken by nature?”

Getting in touch with Greg had multiple technical hurdles including an incorrect [older] email address losing emails sent to spam. It felt like the universe was amplifying Greg’s story by creating barriers and challenging Nick’s search for the story. The practice became a testament to resilience. Having written a lengthy email to Greg about Thought Zero and receiving no reply did not stop him from reaching out again in new and different ways until, finally, there was coordination to record a conversation for a podcast.

Nick’s favorite moment during the conversation was easy to miss, “Greg, in a state of surprise, saw how his work as a math teacher taught resilience to students who often failed math problems over and over.  He connected how the fearlessness of his exploration of abandoned places transcended to teaching his students that an explorer’s mindset can guide you through to success.”

Editing by Lauren G. Judy Reynolds, Ph.D.

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