main pointing to mountains
Photo by Jeff Wagner
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Environmental Problems Begin with Culture—Upcoming Groundwork Podcast

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Former Instructor for Where There Be Dragons, Jeff Wagner, was interested in seeking answers outside of traditional academia… now he’s diving into his questions in a new podcast. Jeff will explore reimagining our relationships with the Earth, addressing environmental challenges, and draw from communities visited on Dragons programs to offer hope for a better, more sustainable future.

Imagining A Better Future

While I was studying environmental science in college, I’d return home most days in a state of panic. I learned daily that our world was speeding towards a cliff. But none of my classes presented solutions that matched the scale and severity of the problems. I realized then that one of the greatest environmental problems we face is an inability to imagine better futures. The modern world needs to be restructured, but the people who built modernity aren’t ready for that. Deep solutions to environmental problems won’t come from the same mindsets that created them.

Leading Dragons courses for six years completely changed the way I perceived the world, especially our relationship with the Earth. Being a Dragons instructor was like being in graduate school for cultural anthropology, with additional classes in global history, development theory, and human ecology. I had the privilege of learning from some truly inspiring environmental leaders around the world. The message was always the same: environmental problems begin with culture.

“Teaching semester courses for Dragons was where I learned to imagine a more sustainable future.”

man pointing to mountains

Photo by Jeff Wagner

We need to reimagine ourselves in order to establish healthy relationships with the Earth. Since I returned to the U.S. in 2019, I’ve been running a small environmental nonprofit called Groundwork. Our primary work is building people’s capacity to imagine a better future and adopting better tools to bring this vision to reality. Finding the right tools is one of our biggest challenges and Groundwork is committed to this essential pursuit for the collective wellbeing of our planet.

people crouched down in the dirt

Photo by Jeff Wagner

Announcing Our New Podcast Project 

This winter, Groundwork is launching a new project: a podcast designed to reawaken and rebuild the muscle of cultural imagination.  Starting in the new year, I plan to return to the communities who put me on this life path and to speak with fellow Dragons instructors, community leaders, and other important stakeholders around the world. Our conversations will focus on different cultural relationships that we have with the Earth and sharing stories about sustainable practices.

building, table with bowls, and holding corn

Photos by Jeff Wagner

The Groundwork podcast will have a simple message: there is a possibility for a better world and a more livable future. The communities Dragons works with around the world hold knowledge and wisdom that we, the Western world, needs to learn from.

In my 6 years with Dragons, I continually witnessed hyper-local connections with place, that focused on local community, tradition, and an appreciation for sustainable cultures that are an embodiment of a  partnership between people and their home place. Whether it was indigenous seed keepers in Bolivia, earthen builders in Nepal, anti-dam activists in Thailand, or economic relocalization efforts in India, efforts to maintain sustainable culture always involved high-minded ideals and deep, localized practices.


man holding potato

Photo by Jeff Wagner

The Plan

Dragons instructor Babacar Mbaye sparked the idea for this podcast with a discussion we had at the Dragons 30th anniversary instructor reunion. He shared that in Senegal, not only do extended families have specific roles and relationships in society based on their last name, but species of plants and animals also have last names and are part of these extended family relationships. That insight spurred me towards this storytelling project with new optimism that the right tools for change are out there.

people building a house and bricks

Photo by Jeff Wagner

Here’s What’s on the Horizon

​​Season 1 of the Groundwork podcast will focus on Senegal, India, and Nepal. Key collaborators are Sharon Sitling (Dragons instructor & indigenous leader in Sikkim, India), Babacar Mbaye & Samba Sow in Senegal.

  • Season 1 (Release planned summer 2024): Senegal, India, & Nepal
  • Season 2 (Release planned summer 2025): Bolivia, Peru, & Guatemala
  • Season 3 (Release planned summer 2026): Thailand, Laos, & Cambodia

man holding big mushrooms

green logo with leaf sprout

As our world faces daunting environmental problems, we need to find sources of hope, and resilience as well as inspired visions for a viable future. I see that with more avenues of reaching broad audiences, cross-cultural educators can play a key role in imagining a better future and helping bring that future into reality. We’re excited to bring this podcast to life as a tool for positive change.

If you have any questions or would like to hear more about Groundwork – please reach out to us here

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