BGI Change Agent: James Workman

JGWorkman.colorJames Workman came to BGI this Spring as a Change Agent in Residence (CAIR) to not only modestly share his past work from his time in Botswana and with the Department of the Interior, but to eagerly illuminate his current projects and future hopes in the communities of western fisherman and fresh water management strategies. Reading his book, Heart of Dryness, in April was invigorating. It was the Three Cups of Tea with all the hope, culture, and severity, without the self-serving deceit. For a subject I cared for so deeply – fresh water resources – it was eye opening to read what a full community and country was struggling with and what length one man would take to reveal the truths. The resounding quote that shook me was, “We do not govern water. Water governs us.” A truth I believe we forget so often, and when reminded is so daunting, and humbling at the same time.

Jamie is an incredible human. Kind, intelligent, modest, and continuously curious. I only had wished that more people joined in on the Saturday afternoon conversation as he sought to open our eyes to the realities of the tragedy of the commons, and the complex ecology of fires, forests, trees and the resource that we can’t live without: water. While we get so excited to talk about solar energy, or biomimicry, or organic food I feel like one main topic is often missing from the table because it’s a) either too daunting or b) it’s so large that people are just unable to step back and see the bigger picture… which I guess is daunting too.

If you missed Saturday’s afternoon CAIR conversation at May’s Intensive, Jamie presented a fascinating reality, and successfully shifted a few mental models in the room: Trees are damaging our water resources. Okay, more like over-forestation is suffocating our waterways due to a century of unnatural forest-fire mitigation. If you missed it, check out this LA Times article written by Jamie and another colleague, that is gripping to say the least and outlines the complex ecology that had led to our current condition.

He left us with a few threads to think on: how we can learn from Africa’s indigenous populations to regulate water; the business potential of biochar, applying concepts like Cap and Trade to water use. In addition, the complex dynamic between early 1900’s forest management and our current watershed imbalance that is threatening communities in the form of fire hazards and as depleted streams and aquifers.

A CAIR is more than just a guest or a speaker or someone who cares. They’re someone who gives back, and is willing to spend a whole weekend with our school on a little island in Northern Washington. The belief in what we’re doing, and for those of us that have little experience in the field from our past, they are the hand held out to pull us up to speed. They are not to be met or treated as celebrities, they are inspirations that we get to have a few glasses of wine with over dinner, or ask the hard questions towards. CAIRs are a pillar in the education of BGI. Jamie Workman is my proof. To host a CAIR is like a chance of guiding the guide for one weekend, tapping out into the world of change and work, and it is an honor not to be underestimated.

Thank you Jamie.

about the author

Alana Kambury

Alana is continually humbled by those she’s honored to have as friends, and inspired by the ‘why nots?’ in life. A BGI C11, she hails from Portland with a background in resource management and hydrology. When realizing that there were greater possibilities for her working with people instead of in labs, she pivoted to this new path, easily adopting the “beginner’s mind”. Everyone is a story or has a story, and she’s curious in the lessons learned in new and unique conversations. If not behind some emails, she’s ideally out of phone service on a walls of granite, limestone, or sandstone. Words to live by: “Tell me what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” – Mary Oliver

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