Spaceship Earth

Solutions in Sight: Environment


(Youth for Environmental Sanity!)

A Conversation with
Tad Hargrave
May 1997


YES! is an international, non-profit youth environmental group that works to educate, inspires, and empower young people to take positive action for the future of life on Earth. YES! leads week-long summer youth leadership events and is also an amazing road show that combines music and drama to show young people that the choices they make affect the way the world is, today and in the future.


The InSite: Who's idea was this?

Tad: In 1989 John Robbins wrote the book, Diet for a New America (which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize). He was flooded with responses for the book which showed people the impact of their food choices not just on their own health and how animals are treated, but also on the environment. This was a connection a lot of people hadn't made before. John's son, Ocean, was brought up by his parents in the wilderness in Canada B.C. [British Columbia]. When he was still very young, Ocean decided that he wanted to make a difference for the environment. So at the age of 14 he traveled to Russia. He met with Mrs. Gorbachev and gave her a copy of the book. He was a really amazing young man! In 1990, when he was 15, Ocean and his friend, Ryan Eliason, decided they wanted to make a difference in the world. So they created this tour called "Creating our Future" tour. It was just the two of them and they went to schools. They did a lot of skits and a lot of drama and a lot of public speaking. They didn't have any music then at all. In their first presentation a band was playing next door, much louder than they were and they had to use a megaphone instead of a microphone to speak! They only had one megaphone so they had to pass it back and forth between them.

They got such a great response from the tour, they received all sorts of national media attention. They got a lot of celebrity support. They kept going and they started holding summer camps too. They used the summer camps to find new people who might want to go on the tour. And it was a rotating thing - every year they'd get new office staff in, they'd get new tour members.

TI: Who was funding all of this?

Tad: A lot of foundations were really excited about it because it was a completely youth run project that was having such an impact. So there was a lot of funding especially back then, because it was exciting.

TI: What was happening to the young people who were seeing this presentation?

Tad: For schools that already had environmental groups, invariably their memberships would increase. And schools that didn't already have environmental groups started them. The biggest message was about making conscious choices.

"Oh my gosh! I've just been advertised to!"

TI: What do you mean by "conscious choices"?

Tad: I mean that you have the power to create the future the way you want to. The tour was called "Creating our Future." A lot of times within our society with advertising and a lot of false information people aren't making the decisions consciously. They think they are. They say, "I'm going to go buy this burger." But they don't understand the impact that it's having. And they don't really understand maybe why they are eating that burger or why they are buying those clothes. Sometimes people don't realize that, and as soon as they do they go, "Oh my gosh! I've just been advertised to!" Most of us don't understand the connections between where we spend our money and the way the world comes out. When people start making conscious choices it's a lot easier to create the future the way we want to.

TI: So the tour is getting this amazing response, and young people who weren't doing anything in the way of environmental activism all of a sudden were saying "Yeah! I can make a difference!"

Tad: Right! The most exciting things that we tell people about the camps is "Guess what? You've come to an environmental camp." And they'll say "Thank you. That was in the brochure." But let's define "environment" before we start. Because a lot of them, especially in the beginning, came thinking that maybe it was going to be like, canoeing and singing Kum Bay Yah and lanyard making.

TI: What was it really?

Tad: The biggest thing the camps are is an opportunity for the youth to remember who they really are. And we tell them the environment isn't just the trees and the grass and the water. The environment is everything that surrounds and affects us. And it's also what's within us. There's problems with the environment out there because it's a world not at peace with itself. Because we're not at peace with ourselves. And if we can really address the root of the problem, which is the individual, then we can make a bigger change.

TI: What kind of specific things went on in the camps?

Tad: We dealt with a lot of things, like gender issues. That has such a powerful, profound impact in so many countries. We don't count a woman's worth as economically valuable as a man's. It doesn't contribute to the figures of how much money is earned. It doesn't show up even though they are raising the children in so many cases. Or like racism issues and how that effects things. Beyond the self-esteem and really taking a look at exploring what's your heart's purpose? What do you really want to do with your life?

TI: How did you personally get involved with YES!?

Tad: When I was in high school I was pretty active in leadership activities in Alberta [Canada]. I became president of my student council. I heard about YES! and I thought "This sounds like such an amazing group." I wanted to make a difference in the environment but I hadn't figured out how. I've seen too many people who have gone into schools and preached. And it was hellfire and brimstone, man! I mean people signed the petitions at the end and they wrote letters because they thought they would burn in hell if they didn't! And I thought, "That's not the way." I saw students leaving more depressed than when they walked in. They were thinking, "Wow! There's no hope." So I ended up going down to this camp.

TI: And what was that like for you?

Tad: It was the most amazing experience! The camp was in Klamath Falls, Oregon. One of the greatest things about the YES! camps is that they are held in the most beautiful environments. You can hold a camp in the middle of a city, but you're connecting with concrete. One of the biggest outcomes is that people actually get out into nature. In so many cases, youth haven't had that opportunity to connect. So I was in love with the place as soon as I arrived. The thing that touched me so much about the camps was that they were so safe. People really listened to each other! And a sense of genuine care came through. There's a real power in being active and being focused. But there's also a lot of power in just being open and letting things happen. So often we try to make things happen.

"They look so happy and they don't seem to be on drugs."

TI: Or we try to resist things happening.

Tad: This is so true! We try to resist and not accept the way things are. We're really creating a space which is a whole new way for some people. One of the years we had a youth come who's name was Robby Choudhry. He came from outside Phoenix, Arizona. At the age of 12 he was in his first gang. At age 14 he was selling drugs to make money. He had his pants on backwards, his hat on backwards... rebelling against everything! The gun in one pocket. The beeper. The gold chain. Then one day the YES! tour came to his school. He saw the presentation and thought, "They look so happy and they don't seem to be on drugs." And a little spark got ignited. And he thought about it and thought about it and he decided that he wanted to come to camp. I think it was because he was so sick of the city. He did value himself enough to take care of himself a little bit. He couldn't afford it but we were able to give him a scholarship.

TI: What was it like for Robby at camp?

Tad: There were a lot of people there who were already sort of into the environment. They were leaders in their community. And there all happy to be there, playing, and he's sitting there going, "Oh man! A bunch of happy white people!" He really wasn't into it. He had been taught his whole life that if people are really nice to you then they want something from you. It's not just that he wanted to believe that, but his whole life taught him that... if you reach out to someone. They may look great, but then they'll burn you or stab you in the back.

TI: It must have be tough for people like Robby to open up.

Tad: It is! Especially when everything you do [to be nice] they resist it. The beautiful thing about the YES! camp is that it's not about pushing anything. It's not about preaching. It was just about finding the safe space for him to open up at his own pace. And he did! Because he got it! "Like wow! It's been three days and no one wants anything from me." The food is amazing because they get pure vegetarian food. It's so good the way they prepare it. So he was eating this great food in this great environment. I don't think he had eaten healthy food in a long time. And just the support he had. And he started to open up more and more. And you could just see this little crack that got created in the armor. Day by day it got opened a little more, and one day it just finally, completely fell apart and there he was.

TI: So what happens to this vulnerable heart that's out there for the first time when he goes back home?

The biggest challenge in the inner cities is not the violence, the drugs, the abuse, the poverty, it's that people lose their dreams.

Tad: He was changed. He was speaking so powerfully about the pain he'd been through, and then he had to go back home, and he had to go to jail for the stuff he had done before, and he was tried as an adult for his past record. And he was put in a shock incarceration unit. It's a boot camp, essentially. They are designed to break you down and build you back up. Which is ironic because it just becomes a training ground for incredible criminals! He wrote us a bunch of letters from inside the jail. His mom was so concerned. She didn't know if he was going to make it in there. He was the youngest person in there. But Robby said, "I swear. If it weren't for YES! camp, I wouldn't have made it." What he got, and what a lot of people get at YES! camp, is a vision for the future. This hope. The biggest challenge in the inner cities is not the violence, the drugs, the abuse, the poverty, it's that people lose their dreams.

TI: What happened to Robby?

Tad: He is actually an amazing guy! His parole is recently ending. He may be coming back to camp. But even in jail he was so inspiring. He'd walk by in the dining room and people would be eating steak and he'd be like, "Why are you eating that? Do you know what it's doing to do to your heart? Do you know how many square feet of rain forest are cut down for that?" He got people recycling! And pretty soon people couldn't wait for him to open his mouth and talk. I mean, he was the most positive thing in there! He's getting involved in his community. He's making a difference and he keeps writing that he wants to join the YES! tour. It's been so inspiring, because it's not just about one person. It's that amazing ripple effect.

One of the most exciting things that YES! has accomplished in the last year was our World Youth Leadership Camp. We invited an intimate group of only 40 leading young activists from around the world to come together in California for a week. I was selected to go from Canada, and it was one of the richest, most beautiful, and amazing experiences of my life! Each youth there could have been the keynote speaker at a major international conference. We shared ideas, strategies, and tools, but more importantly, we created friendships without borders. It was a huge leap in my feeling of connection to the world as a whole.

The camp was covered by ABC, CBS, NBC, and even PBS! We also filmed it ourselves and that footage, plus stock footage from around the world was put together into a 23 minute video called "Connect" which was beamed, internationally, into over 300 million homes on prime time MTV on Earth Day. We are reaching the world!

We are reaching the world!


Want to find out more about YES!
Check out their web site at

or email Tad at [email protected]

YES! Action Camps
420 Bronco Rd.
Soquel, CA 95073

Toll free: (877) 293-7226
Fax: (831) 462-6970


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