Be Prepared. For rising sea levels, shrinking polar regions, diminishing glaciers, drier droughts, wetter floods, more intense cyclones, say a growing global cadre of scientists. But the phrase is also the motto of the worldwide Scout movement, which this year celebrates 100 years since the first issue of that seminal publication Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell. One of the best selling books of all time, coming in after the Bible, Quotations from Chairman Mao, the Koran and equal to The Lord of the Rings.
To write the book, Baden-Powell drew heavily on the 'woodcraft' skills of nature observation from indigenous people the world over, including North American Indians and African tribespeople. His work resonated with the youth of a century ago, who were in the grip of their own nature deficit disorder of the day. Their enthusiasm for self reliance in the outdoors has seen Scouting grow into the world's largest youth movement, with 38 million Scouts and Guides in over 200 countries.
An open letter to all scouts, found when Baden-Powell died in 1941, includes the following observations which seem, to this writer, to resonate with the ideals that TreeHugger now espouses some sixty years on."Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one."
Baden-Powell continues, "But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best."
Thinking back on my own decade long involvement in the 'Brussel Spouts' movement, I get the warm fuzzies from all the rich memories it provides, not least because it yielded my teenage girlfriend, (unlike in the US, many countries long ago embraced mixed gender scouting) but also because it got me into the wild doing fun stuff; learning how not to pitch a tent, burning good food, falling out of canoes, toasting mashmallows under a star-studded skies, etc. That love of the outdoors continues today. Plus we went on whole-of-town glass bottle recycling forays, long before municipal recycling schemes were introduced.
It is no surprise to see that direct engagement in the natural environment continues to be a mainstay of the scout movement. The list of environmental projects that Scouts the world over are participating in is impressive: "From Australian Scouts identifying ways to reduce water consumption in their Scout halls or around the home; Mexican Scouts making the world's largest Scout fleur-de-leis from cans in an effort to educate the community on the values of recycling; Scouts from Canada partnering with Southern African Scouts in learning to reduce their impact on carbon emissions and understanding about climate change..."
Back in July of this year the Scouts Association of Japan hosted the Scout International Environment Youth Forum in Tokyo, with 120 particpants from 90 countries.
Internationally there are what they call SCENES, or specially dedicated Scout Centres of Excellence for Nature and Environment to help seed the above eco projects. The nine centres range across ecosystems from the Swiss Alps to South Africa, from Australia to Florida.
Now may be a good time for anyone with a sense that scouting has passed it prime, and is a bit of an old fuddy duddy thing for youth to get involved in, to re-evaluate their preconceptions. Scouting might be just the place we should be encouraging young people (and more adult leaders) to hang out in.
For as Baden-Powell said, "The open-air is the real objective of Scouting and the key to its success."
::World Organization of the Scout Movement and ::World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, via site visits.
PS. Do any of our readers think they can trace their interest in environmental and social responsibility back to time spent in Scouts or Guides? (If so, you may be keeping illustrious company, as apparently 11 of the 12 astronauts who walked on the moon began their adventures as scouts.)