[ Project Watch ]

Out of Eden

While it took the human race about 60,000 years to walk from Ethiopia to Patagonia, Paul Salopek aims to do it in just seven.

This photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 and released by the National Geographic Society on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, shows Paul Salopek standing on the desert flats in Djibouti. (AP Photo/National Geographic, Paul Salopek)

Salopek, 50, set off yesterday, Jan. 10, on this 21,000-mile journey carrying just a simple backpack. He intends to be done in 2020. A two-time Pulitzer prize-winner for Africa reportage for the Chicago Tribune, Salopek promises to write one major article a year and to stop and capture his experience in prose every 100 miles, penning what he terms “narrative core samples,” that aim to reflect the issues directly surrounding him.

Intending to witness the institial events that tie and divide peoples and nations, Salopek’s radical journey is an experiment in “slow journalism.” He describes it this way:

“The sheer volume of news being generated from professional journalists, citizen journalists, from tweets and blogs or what have you, is nearly self-defeating. It’s a tsunami of information. It’s almost unprocessable. We don’t need more information. We need more meaning. … It takes great slowing down to see how the great global stories of our day, whether they be climate change, conflict, poverty, or mass migration, are interconnected. The world isn’t flat. It’s deeply corrugated. And some of the best stories lie hidden in the corrugations.”

Out of Africa: Paul Salopek intends to retrace the journey our earliest ancestors took as they fanned out across the globe.

As reported by the AP, Salopek’s trip, named “Out of Eden,” is no lightweight affair, sponsored as it is by National Geographic, the Knight Foundation, and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Posting on Stewart Brand‘s Long Now blog, Salopek describes the trip this way:

“Starting in the Rift Valley of East Africa, our evolutionary cradle, I’ll follow the pathways of our first dispersal across the world. Seven years later, I’ll reach remote Patagonia, the last continental margin of the globe to be colonized by our species about 12,000 years ago.”

Scientists theorize that we are currently amid a sixth great extinction, one marked by the loss of an estimated 17,000-100,000 species each year. Our species, homo sapiens, is among the most direly threatened. It is fairly certain that we shall wreak our own demise.

Perhaps the understanding that Paul Salopek can glean by walking all day, every day, for seven years and 21,000 miles will bring us a skosh—a step—back from that precipice.

Of course you can follow Paul and the Out of Eden journey on Twitter.

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