illum_t he SUNSHIP III program is designed for young adolescents (13-14 years old), with a dual focus on perception and choice, exposing them to another way of seeing their planet and the choices they can make in their everyday lives to live more lightly on it. SOL-logo-300x298The program is about the exploration and discovery of SOL, our Ship Of Life (the third planet from the sun), and how we live on board this vessel in space.

The experience begins with a “Congratulations” card sent in recognition of having reached the transition to a very important stage of life, one in which the young people will be making more and more decisions for themselves, plus an invitation to attend special “Commencement Exercises” to mark that occasion.

The Commencement Exercises are a residential experience that lasts two and a half days. Everything that happens during that time is tied to two things: perception and choice — seeing things in a new way and making alternative choices for a new lifestyle. The experience begins with a commencement speech (one with a surprise conclusion) that introduces the idea of a fork (Y) in the path ahead, offering them a choice of a “harmonious” or “disruptus” route on their journey through life. Where most people see only a path of more and more consumption, the Commencement Exercises suggest that there is another path open to them. This journey involves making choices about the amount and kinds of energy and materials they will use and about their ways of relating to and interacting with the other life on SUNSHIP III. The participants maintain checking accounts containing “solarians” (units of sunlight energy) to spend during the Commencement Exercises. At registration everyone receives a checkbook and uses the checks to purchase permits for all the energy and materials they will use for everything from brushing their teeth to using paper.

SSIII-check-300x141To learn about SUNSHIP III, the young people take part in experiences focused on the Systems Of Life (ecological concepts) that govern it, plus its Sections Of Life (natural communities), and their Styles Of Life (making lifestyle choices). There are four Systems Of Life, and there is a “Conceptual Encounter” for each. The first is the energy system (energy flow). In the Conceptual Encounter “Solarville,” the young people travel from the sun, where they receive 100,000 “solarians,” to Earth where they visit “Mario’s Pizza Parlor” to purchase a pizza. They lose most of their solarians along the way because most of the sunlight energy hitting the earth is reflected back into space by the atmosphere, or is not captured by green plants, or is used rather than stored as it moves through the food chain. At the end, each group still has 25 solarians though, which is enough to order a pizza. The catch is that it takes more than food-chain energy, which is what the participants have left, to make a pizza. There are many hidden energy costs – growing, transporting, and processing the ingredients – that require sunlight energy from other sources, such as fossil fuels. A trip to the Fossil Fuel Reserve Bank is required to withdraw fossil fuel solarians from the reserves. Of course, the reserves are limited, and using them contributes to pollution and adds carbon dioxide to the air. Care must be taken to use as little as possible, so choices are made about what ingredients to include on the pizza. In the end, the participants get pizzas along with new perceptions of the hidden energy costs in everything we do. Similar participatory Conceptual Encounters help the learners construct deeper understandings of the other three Systems Of Life: cycling, interrelationships, and change. The Commencement Exercises also provide opportunities to get to know some of the natural Sections Of Life on board, the ecological communities of the sunship. In “Objet Trouvé,” an Immersing Experience, the teens explore different natural areas, borrowing (and later returning) natural objects for an art exhibition. Every participant also spends time alone in a “Magic Spot,” immersed in the flow of life and reflecting on his or her changing perceptions. Finally, rising before dawn one morning, everyone takes part in the “Endangered Species Ceremony,” revealing the ways we contribute to the destruction of other life.

hidden-kingdom Examining our Styles Of Life, how we use energy and materials, is the focus of the “Daily Lifestyle Analysis” sessions. Energy and materials use is recorded in the participants’ Ledgers, and permits are purchased for the next day. A film revealing the many ways energy is involved in something as simple as toasting a piece of bread is shown one evening, while on the other evening there is “Billy’s Day”, a powerful skit about a typical day in the life of one teenager. Participants pick out ways that Billy is using energy and materials inappropriately and suggest alternatives. The skit is then re-enacted, with Billy following their suggestions.

The Commencement Exercises close with the most important part of all – the introduction of the “Quest” that commences when the young people head back to home and school. With the help of a special map of their home community, the teens embark on a journey of exploration and discovery, seeking how they can live more in harmony with the natural systems and communities of the planet. They visit natural places, interview residents, and begin to craft a more harmonious personal lifestyle, all on their own Quest for truth, adventure, and harmony in their lives.