Our Eco Challenges

What are Eco Challenges, you may ask?  Read on, dear reader, and find out!

As a learning focused organization, The Upper New is creating opportunities for people to challenge their conceptions and perceptions of reality (and our relationships with this reality), as a form of environmental education, so to speak.

What is reality?  Reality is the biosphere, which is briefly defined as “the worldwide sum of all ecosystems”1Biosphere – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosphere.  This is the physical space in which our bodies operate as we exist on Planet Earth.  The biosphere is, by another name, referred to as “meat space” (as opposed to virtual space, the cloud, etc.).

Here’s a slightly more detailed definition of our biosphere:

“By the most general biophysiological definition, the biosphere is the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements of the lithosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.”

Biosphere – Wikipedia – link
lithosphere

Earth’s lithosphere, which constitutes the hard and rigid outer vertical layer of the Earth, includes the crust and the lithospheric mantle (or mantle lithosphere), the uppermost part of the mantle that is not convecting.

Lithosphere – Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithosphere)
cryosphere

The cryosphere…is an all-encompassing term for the portions of Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, and frozen ground (which includes permafrost). Thus, there is a wide overlap with the hydrosphere. The cryosphere is an integral part of the global climate system with important linkages and feedbacks generated through its influence on surface energy and moisture fluxes, clouds, precipitation, hydrology, atmospheric and oceanic circulation.

Cryosphere – Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryosphere)
hydrosphere

The hydrosphere…is the combined mass of water found on, under, and above the surface of a planet, minor planet, or natural satellite. Although Earth’s hydrosphere has been around for about 4 billion years, it continues to change in shape. This is caused by seafloor spreading and continental drift, which rearranges the land and ocean.

Hydrosphere – Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrosphere)
atmosphere

The atmosphere of Earth is the layer of gases, known collectively as air, retained by Earth’s gravity that surrounds the planet and forms its planetary atmosphere. The atmosphere of Earth creates pressure, absorbs most meteoroids and ultraviolet solar radiation, warms the surface through heat retention (greenhouse effect), allowing life and liquid water to exist on the Earth’s surface, and reduces temperature extremes between day and night (the diurnal temperature variation).

Atmosphere – Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmosphere_of_Earth)

From “Cultural Events” to “Eco Challenges”

The Upper New founder and publisher Dr. Erlandson first came in contact with a nascent form of this concept as an undergraduate student at UNC-Asheville at the end of the last millennium.  There, as part of the four-year core curriculum of the humanities in the liberal arts program, students were required to complete several “cultural events” each semester in order to pass the courses.  These were pre-approved events in and around Asheville (such as lectures, performances, gallery shows) which students could attend and then write up short critical essays somehow relating back to the course topics.

As a UNCA student, you could propose your own cultural events and hope they were accepted for credit.  As someone who spent about as much time in the rivers with a fly rod in my hand as I did sitting in a classroom, I was able to write a comparison between fly fishing and Zen Buddhism for my HUM 124 professor.  I think it was the best grade I got in that class.

“As a UNCA student, you could propose your own cultural events and hope they were accepted for credit.  As someone who spent about as much time in the rivers with a fly rod in my hand as I did sitting in a classroom, I was able to write a comparison between fly fishing and Zen Buddhism for my HUM 124 professor.  I think it was the best grade I got in that class.”

Dr. Erlandson

Fast forward over a decade to the years Dr. Erlandson worked as a university professor researching and teaching communications design and instructional design in California.  In one of his courses, he created a sort of transmogrified version of these cultural events, called Cultural Challenges, which his students could complete in order to receive extra credit toward their final grade for the course.

Now, in 2023 and beyond, Dr. Erlandson has rebooted, refined, and expanded many of these cultural challenges to become the Eco Challenges we now offer here at The Upper New.

A few of our current Eco Challenges

Below is an introductory snippet from each of our current Eco Challenges.  We would love for folks to take on these challenges and report back to us.  

Listed in the instructions for each Eco Challenge, there is an option for fee-free private submission of completed projects to be considered for digital and print publication in The Upper New Review.

Click the links below each description to access each full Eco Challenge (as well as a PDF version to download or print). Use the table here to jump to individual introductions.

Eco Challenge: Write Me A Letter

When was the last time you wrote a letter to another person?

Have you ever written a letter, on paper, by hand, to another person?  Perhaps you typed it up in a typewriter or used a word processor and printed it out instead?  Business, or personal?  What was it about?  What compelled you to write the letter, as opposed to sending an email, or a text message, or using social media?

View the Write Me A Letter Eco Challenge.

Eco Challenge: The Soundtrack of Our Lives

How does your daily life actually sound?

To complete this challenge, you need to switch yourself into “aural observation mode,” which entails the following:

  • If you use any personal technological device (e.g., smartphone, mp3 player, walkman, etc.) that produces music or podcasts or audiobooks (or whatever) through any type of headphones or speakers, turn it off and don’t carry it on your person.
  • If you drive a car, do not listen to the radio or music (or anything through speakers or headphones) in your car.
  • Avoid unnecessary conversations on the telephone, and in person.
  • Practice natural, active, deep listening…

View the Soundtrack Of Our Lives Eco Challenge.

Eco Challenge: Unplugged

How strong is your tether?

To complete this challenge, you need to switch yourself into “unplugged mode,” which entails the following:  Avoid the Internet (of Things) completely, even through engagement with other people or smart devices connected to a network of any kind, including your watch, phone, refrigerator, thermostat, etc.

View the Unplugged Eco Challenge.

Eco Challenge: Where Is Your Bioregion?

How much do you know about where you live?

We are all living in bioregions, whether we know it or not.  Wherever you live on the planet, you are within a bioregion.  Where is your bioregion?

There are certainly many ways to think about and define bioregions, as well as the perspective of bioregionalism, considering such concepts as biogeography.

According to Wikipedia’s Bioregion page: ”A bioregion is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than a biogeographic realm, but larger than an ecoregion or an ecosystem, in the World Wide Fund for Nature classification scheme.”

View the Where Is Your Bioregion Eco Challenge.

We’re Challenging Ourselves To Create New Eco Challenges

What do you think our next Eco Challenge should be?  We’ve got a few in the pipeline, but we’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions about new Eco Challenges as well.  Drop us a line!

Stay Tuned

We’re always working on new Eco Challenges to expand our library of self-paced learning activities.  If you’d like to stay in the loop, consider joining our mailing list!

Works Cited

Upper New #ecoliteracy logo to support participation in eco challenges