July 15, 2015

Princeton Native Joshua Halpern Has Unique Approach to Climate Crisis

Is climate change funny? According to Joshua Halpern, it can be. Finding humor in our environmental crisis is perfectly acceptable, the Princeton native believes, especially if it helps people process the magnitude of the situation and take action for positive change.

Mr. Halpern, who grew up on Maclean Circle and graduated from Princeton High School in 2000, is the son of the late Manfred Halpern, a well known professor of politics at Princeton University. He earned a master’s degree from the California Institute of Integral Studies in Integral Ecology, which combines “science, philosophy, psychology, justice, and spirit,” he said last week. He now lives and works in California’s Bay Area, selling raw honey at farmers’ markets and organizing his own brand of events related to saving the earth.

Sometimes that means going for laughs. “A lot of times, humor can be appropriate at different levels and different scales,” he said. “One of the things I do every year is a future animals party, which is about endangered species. We dress up as our favorite animals from the future. You have this whole imaginary world you can create. It can be an animal we have now that has evolved into something bizarre and hilarious. You can use your imagination and it works really well.”

Mr. Halpern has most recently been involved in developing a curriculum of workshops and teaching events for children and adults. Through his website ecocourageous.com, he is in the final stages of a crowd-funding campaign to raise $2,500 to further his mission. The campaign ends on Sunday.

Local residents will remember Mr. Halpern from his years as produce coordinator for the Whole Earth Center. A film he made about organic farming (he is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in film) was screened at Whole Earth and at the Princeton Public Library’s Princeton Environmental Film Festival in 2009.

Mr. Halpern credits his parents, and his father’s garden, with his appreciation of the natural world. “My Dad’s garden is the first place I learned about relationships with the earth,” he said. “They also took me camping and to national parks, and that was huge. I learned a bunch working at Whole Earth Center, too. They’re tied in with all of these great relationships with farmers and connecting people with the food they eat.”

Much of his current work comes out of his studies with environmental activist Joanna Macy. A current focus is on a concept he calls “solastalgia,” which he defines as “the homesickness experienced while one’s home disappears.”

“After my father died in 2011, we had to empty the house he had built on Princeton University land, where he had raised five kids,” Mr. Halpern said. “We had to empty the house of 50 years of memories. There are so many people around the world who have their own relationships with their homes. It applies on many different scales and severities, from foreclosures to regional droughts or floods, to climate refugees growing by the tens of millions every year.”

Another major concern is the drought in California. “Our aquifers are being depleted quicker than they can be replenished,” he said. “And bees — because I work for a honey farm, I’m aware of the colony collapse and how much of an important species that is in the larger ecosystem. And it’s not just the bees. Things are happening everywhere. They are saying the oceans will be fishless at 2050 at the rate we’re going.”

The workshops and teaching events Mr. Halpern is currently working to fund, designed for children and adults, are through arts, music, and media-making. They can be anything from a two-hour session to a week-long immersion in nature. “We’re developing a curriculum, both for kids who will be facing all of this and adults who can handle more aspects than kids are used to,” he said. One of his upcoming events is a tour of the river where Berkeley and Oakland get their water.

While the situation is grim, Mr. Halpern continues to press ahead for positive change. “What’s great to see is how much movement is happening in the face of such dire situations,” he said. “There are great outpourings of help, and attending to one another. And that’s what I’ve always been doing.”

For more information, visit www.ecocourageous.com.