Josh Thomas

Josh Thomas
Accidental environmentalist

Josh Thomas Accidental environmentalist

Accidental environmentalist

This spring, Josh Thomas told 250 community leaders that he was going to get Charlotte's kids outside. It was the culmination of a leadership seminar, and Thomas was the first person to volunteer to address the group with his personal mission.

"And I know that they were paying attention," says Thomas, thirty-seven, "because since then, three different people have come up to me to say, 'Aren't you the guy who's going to take kids outside in Charlotte?' I feel a responsibility now as a result of that."

Thomas is a principal at strategic communications firm Topics Education Group. When An Inconvenient Truth came out on DVD, Topics and Thomas developed the curriculum based around the film, which has been used by more than 100,000 teachers. He's also the chair of the Central Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club.

The soft-spoken father of three from Boiling Springs, South Carolina, says much of his volunteer environmental work has come from a search "to be the right kind of parent." Thomas is also co-founder of the North Carolina Children in Nature Coalition, a new group that will build awareness of and promote places around the state where kids can get outside for safe, educational, unstructured play. The coalition is scheduled to publicly launch October 14 with an event and lecture by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods.

The people who think they're too busy to go outside are the ones who need to do it the most. There's something restorative about it if you allow it to be. It's also cheap.

If people aren't outside in the middle of nature, they're not going to care about it. We need to get people outside to know what it is that we're asking them to help protect.

Simplicity is undervalued. Staring at a masterpiece for forty-five minutes is not that dissimilar from staring at a still lake, or at a hawk flying overhead. Both of those things are really simple; there's not a lot of skill involved. You don't have to be a trained artist to understand that Da Vinci was a master. And you don't have to be a trained botanist to understand that those redwoods are pretty freaking awesome.

There's gotta be a reason so much art and poetry was focused on nature.

Organized sports can lead to more stress, not less. Especially for kids. I guess being outside can be stressful, too, if a swarm of bees attacks you. But that doesn't happen all that much.

I've coached soccer, and the kids are generally having fun, but not the type of fun when they're in the backyard and no adults are around. There's freedom and uninhibited joy in unstructured play.  

Taking your kids on a hike cannot be about the destination. Even if it's 500 yards away, it may take you an hour to get there. Because there's so much along the way to see if you're willing to see it.

Give one kid the map, and another the camera, and another the journal. So they're in charge of having the experience. It's amazing what five-year-olds will say was their favorite part of the trip. It's so important not to discount what the kids are doing out there—"Don't take a picture of that slug, it's sticky." Why is sticky a negative?

If I'm always inside watching television and I send my kids outside, that sends a mixed message that that's important for you and this is important for me, and this is what you do when you grow up.

Categories: Feature, The Buzz