Part 32 – Why we need to conserve wildlife and wild places

DSC_0334The story of the beavers of Meldrum Creek is a wonderful analogy of faith and hope for the 21st Century for it teaches us that it is possible, as with so much else, for ecological wrongs to be righted before it’s too late. The early 20th Century conservationist John Muir wrote, “Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal….”

Nature is infinitely forgiving, and with the right conditions it has a powerful capacity to restore and heal itself. Sometimes it might need a bit of a human helping hand, as the Colliers gave to Meldrum Creek. However, if left entirely alone in time the natural world will return to its former pristine state in successions of growth, provided of course that it has not been damaged past the point of being able to recover.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo traces of human habitation have been found in the midst of tropical rainforests. These islands of grassland, which are surrounded by a vast sea of trees, could only once have been tracts of agricultural land from which the trees have long since been removed. Over time the empty grassland areas have begun to recover, whilst the human communities that chopped down the trees have long ago disappeared from the area.

DSC_0016The works of humankind are not forever. However tall and imposing they once were, they do not endure from one aeon to another. Unmaintained or forgotten, they soon crumble into decline and disappear. Whereas unless checked by a major environmental change, nature reproduces itself indefinitely.

Untended, small blades of grass soon begin to stubbornly push their way up between the paving stones of a neglected garden path until, eventually, they have covered it with riotous new growth. With adequate sunlight and rain, leveled tracts of ground soon begin to sprout vigorous green shoots, which rapidly grow into grass and then bushes, vines and trees. Barren open spaces, however once still and empty of life, retain the capacity to again resound with the abundant calls of exuberant bird and animal life. Nature will not be subdued for long. It soon reclaims its essence.

People who live closest to the Earth understand this fundamental principle. Like Lillian Collier’s Grandmother Lala, they understand and respect the ancient wisdom of the land; a wisdom that decrees that often it is the simple and practical that the land requires, and not the sophisticated and expensive.

DSC_0596They also have a deep, ages-old understanding of the need to conserve in the present, so that there is a base to build from in the future. Ponds emptied of beaver, die for other species too. For all life on Earth is connected in a fragile web of interdependence, one species nourishing and perpetuating itself by preying on another.

To people who live closest to the land, ownership of the soil, water and air of the planet is an alien concept. Instead of being short-term owners with proprietary rights that entitle landholders to do with the land as they see fit, these people see themselves as custodians of precious resources, protecting for the future what is here in the present and leaving as light a footprint as possible as evidence of their passing. Far from being an impossible ideal for the 21st Century, this should become the defining ideology of the present and future. The time has come. It is up to us now. Let the work begin.

You have come to the end of the book! I really hope you enjoyed reading it!!
Best wishes,
Carole Knight

Part 31- How faith and beavers restored an ecosystem

CHAPTER THIRTEEN – LESSONS FOR SURVIVAL

“Our task now is not to fix the blame for the past, but to fix the course for the future.” American President John F. Kennedy

DSC_0929Like all forms of life on this blue planet, humanity’s existence is determined by a finite set of boundaries: the Earth’s mean temperature, the composition of its atmosphere, the quantity and quality of its available freshwater, the health of its sea and soil – these are some of the crucial factors that will determine whether, even with our advanced technological capacity to adapt, we are able to survive as a species on this planet or not. For if one factor in the equation of the Earth’s conditions changes, the interconnectedness of planetary systems will ensure that others soon follow suit.

In spite of our heightened intelligence and intensive intervention, we are learning that it is not possible to push the boundaries of our survival past certain, in some cases still to be determined, limits. For we are learning that the Earth does not conform to humanity’s will. It is humanity that must conform to the limits as set by nature. This is a lesson that we are learning the hard way.

We are learning it with the tragic starvation of millions of southern African men, women and children as devastating drought continues to tighten its grip on the region. We are learning it with the forced displacement of millions of people around the world as the soil of their agricultural holdings becomes too exhausted to support their growing numbers.

DSC_0755We are learning it with the loss of jobs as ocean fish stocks drop to levels that can no longer sustain once-thriving fisheries. We are learning it with the destruction of livestock and property as violent storms lash the landmasses of the globe. We are learning it with die-offs and the extinctions of other species. We are learning it with thirst, disease and poverty. We are learning it with earthquakes, bush fires and mudslides. We are learning it with hurricanes, floods, and rising mean temperatures.

Population figures that are becoming ever more burdensome; human need that is reaching pandemic proportions; an atmospheric carbon dioxide level that is influencing a global warm-up; garbage that is choking the life out of many natural areas; widespread pollution of air, sea and soil; rising background radiation levels; unrestrained and unscrupulous exploitation of natural resources; inappropriate technology choices – these factors and more are drawing the boundaries of our survival ever closer, threatening the demise of our life on this planet as we know it. But perhaps in spite of these harsh lessons, or maybe even because of them, there is a miracle of hope for humankind.

As an ever-widening circle of dedicated people seek to find ways of ensuring a more humane and enlightened tomorrow, it could be possible for us to take survival to a more meaningful level as we find ways to thrive as a species. Another important aspect of hope for the future comes from Mother Nature herself.

The Beavers of Meldrum Creek

On a late spring day in 1922, from a safe vantage point on a high knoll, a tall loosely-limbed young man sat astride a pinto gelding watching a fire blaze its way through virgin forest. The man, who leaned anxiously forward in his saddle that sunny day long ago, with both hands clasping the horn, was Eric Collier. He had come to this isolated area of British Columbia from far-off England, following an instinct for freedom. And as he watched the fire crackle its way through the forest of spruce trees with a hot and ravenous appetite, his thoughts were, “The creek is dying, the trees are dying, the land everywhere is dying… and there is not a soul to save it.”

Eric Collier could not have known, as he surveyed the burnt-out wilderness spread before him for the first time that this tract of land would be where his destiny lay. And he could never have guessed that he would be the person to save it. For this barren wilderness would be the place to which he would bring his young wife Lillian to begin a long and happy married life.

It would be the place where together, working as one, they would first live in a tent and then build a log cabin and raise a son. It would be where they would wrest a hard living from the land; braving bough-splitting cold and soul-numbing isolation imposed by deep winter snows. It would also be where the three of them on occasion would face grave danger from wild animals; such as the time that a fiercely protective mother bear with her two little cubs in tow surprised Lillian and her son in a berry patch. And the day that a murderous bull moose, his ears flattened in anger, got a hair’s breadth from trampling Lillian before Eric dropped him mid-charge with a well-aimed shot. But above all, it would be the place where together they would work to bring life back to the dead waters and empty meadows of Meldrum Creek.

DSCN2109The suggestion to restock the dead creek with beavers, as a way of restoring the marshes to life, had come from Lillian’s old Indian Grandmother Lala. This was Lala’s last injunction to the young pair before she slipped peacefully away one day to be with her ancestors. And so with the ambitious project of re-flooding the marshland clearly in their minds, the Colliers began a Herculean task that at first seemed to be a sheer impossibility.

As the young husband and wife team started the backbreaking work of rebuilding the old, broken-down beaver dams; first shovelling wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load of gravel and soil into the dry saucer-like depressions of Meldrum Creek, tamping it with a shovel and then lining the dams with a network of branches from nearby trees they had cut down, Eric and Lillian wondered where they would get their first pair of beavers from to start the colony. They also wondered whether the beavers themselves would take to the area and decide to stay.

However with a missionary zeal born of an important purpose and an impregnable faith that all would turn out well, they carried on with their self-appointed task working day in and day out, hoping all the while that somehow, someday, once the dams were ready, the precious pair of beavers would be found.

After a fortuitous deluge of rain at the end of their mammoth-rebuilding effort, during which the Colliers were confined to their snug, sod-roof cabin to wait out the storm, the dams began to fill; water inching up the sides, until at last the dams overflowed and the flooding of the surrounding marshland began. Once water had covered the stinking swamp, the marshes began to produce crops of aquatic grasses and tubers. Families of mallard ducks soon visited the new ponds. Then a group of muskrats and a mink tentatively wet their paws before deciding to stay. And in early autumn a flock of Canada geese arrived to splash busily about in the water.

DSC_0293For the first time in over fifty years, with fresh, clean water flooding the marshes, the area was once again productive. At first the aquatic seeds and tubers provided food for fish, waterfowl and muskrats. Then mink, otter and other small furbearing creatures arrived to prey upon these first inhabitants of the ponds. These in turn attracted larger carnivorous animals to the water-locked marshes. With the creating of a habitat for the smaller creatures, there was food for the larger ones. The wheel of life had been re-established on Meldrum Creek and it was beginning to turn.

News of the Collier’s hard work and their subsequent success with the re-flooding of Meldrum Creek reached the ears of Game Warden R. M. Robertson of the British Columbia Game Department, who surprised the Colliers one September morning a year after the flooding of the marshland by sending a colleague with not one, but two pairs of precious beavers, to be released on Meldrum Creek.

The Colliers’ faith and hope had been rewarded. Beavers were once again swimming in the waters of Meldrum Creek. And with the return of the beavers, the barren, previously stinking and stagnant swampland returned to life. Lillian’s Grandmother Lala had had her last wish fulfilled. Beavers had been given back to the creek. Both pairs of beavers stayed on in Meldrum Creek and in time the marshland flourished, becoming home to a myriad of wonderful creatures…

Part 30 – Here comes the next energy revolution

CHAPTER TWELVE – FINDING SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS CONTD.

DSC_1083The next great energy revolution to leave its mark on the people and ecology of planet Earth was nuclear power. Once the great energy hope of the future, at the height of its popularity as an energy source the nuclear industry grew by more than 700 per cent. But over previous decades it has slowed down, until it has tapered off to an increase of less than five per cent.

This small growth factor is expected to decline even further in the next few years, with the principle reason behind nuclear power’s decline in favour being negative public sentiment whipped up by major nuclear accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, which posed considerable health threats for millions of people around the globe, as well as contributing to an alarming rise in levels of background radiation. The transport and storage of radioactive wastes, which in the case of some substances take millions of years to lose radioactivity, have also become major problems globally. However its lack of competitiveness with other newer forms of power generation, and the prohibitive cost of building and maintaining reactors are the most significant reasons for declining nuclear generating capacity.

Despite providing 16 per cent of global electricity generation in 2002, in many quarters nuclear power is now no longer considered the “wunderkind” of power generation. Even with new technologies such as the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which is a new type of high temperature gas nuclear power plant that has built-in safety characteristics requiring no human intervention, public opinion has turned against nuclear power and for many people who grew up fearing a nuclear meltdown, acting out safety drills under school desks at lunchtime in preparation for a possible nuclear holocaust, it has become an energy pariah. So where to from here?

New Energy Initiatives

DSC_0523From the first to eleventh December 1997 representatives from more than 160 countries met in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate binding targets on greenhouse emissions for participating nations. This meeting of more than 10 000 delegates marked the beginning of the adoption of the principles of the Kyoto Protocol.

It was the beginning of a formal attempt to limit concentrations of the greenhouse gasses: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride which, when found in high enough concentrations in the atmosphere, contribute to changes in the Earth’s climate. As such it marked a significant restructuring of thinking; an important step forward for the energy industry as a whole.

However, ecologically progressive thinking in the electricity supply technology field is by no means a recent phenomenon. Along with the adoption of various ways of reducing energy-related carbon emissions such as adopting more energy-efficient equipment, implementing solutions such as smokestack “scrubbers” and restricting the use of carbon-intensive fuels such as crude oil, gas and coal; energy utilities have been flirting with other sources of energy as viable means of generating electricity for some time now.

With the environmental dangers of electricity generated by the combustion of fossil fuels having become evident and the popularity of nuclear power having declined, we need a major sustainable energy initiative to turn to that will ensure the safety of both humanity and the environment on which we depend for our existence.

In a bid to solve this pressing problem, researchers around the world have experimented and continue to experiment with a host of different possibilities for generating energy, each having its own inherent advantages and disadvantages. Up to now no one particular electricity supply technology has been developed as the next definitive energy trend and a mix of electricity generating technologies are poised to take us further into the 21st Century, depending on each geographical and political region’s situation and needs. These electricity supply options include renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and wave power, gas-and coal-fired power, hydro power, even biomass (vegetation) burning and geothermal energy.

At the moment these alternatives to fossil fuel generated electricity and nuclear power are still only in an infancy stage, providing a relatively small proportion of world energy. However before electricity emerged as a viable alternative to steam-power, it also went through an initial faltering phase of development; until Edison’s first central power generating station began operating in Pearl Street, New York, in September 1882, lighting some 3000 lamps in the area, which signalled the beginning of the electricity revolution.

With the restructuring of thinking and the experimentation of new possibilities that have been taking place, our energy tomorrow looks promising. As with the Green Revolution and the Blue Revolution, the Energy Revolution has progressed from one technological innovation to the next; rejecting some past inventions when their usefulness had declined and other more up-to-date breakthrough solutions had been found, and embracing other new initiatives as they became available. As the raw materials for an energy generating solution became scarce we have been able to substitute others, drawing from the resources of the natural world around us. In this way we have continued to meet the essential energy needs of most of the Earth’s people.

DSC_0323A sustainable tomorrow is our most important goal for the future. Being well aware of the urgency behind finding equitable solutions for global food, freshwater and energy requirements that will take us well into the 21st Century; our scientists, engineers, geologists, ecologists, economists, farmers and many others are pitting their know-how against the need to stretch the dwindling resources of the planet as far as they are able to go. For the people of the world it is a race against time. How we continue to approach the balance between our own needs and the dynamics of planet Earth will determine our future. In our favour is a track record of ingenuity and daring resourcefulness. I do not believe that these qualities will fail us at the eleventh hour. As they have done before, I believe that they will take us into a bright new day…

Part 29 – What the Industrial Revolution has taught us

CHAPTER TWELVE – FINDING SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS CONTD.

Throughout the ages, the universal need for energy and the development of various energy supply sources has had a considerable impact on the shaping of the destiny of humankind. Different methods of energy production create a demand for different raw materials and technologies with varying consequences for humanity and the environment alike. For millennia wood was the world’s primary fuel source, the result of which was widespread deforestation.

DSC_0099This reliance on wood-burning as an energy source virtually exhausted wood as a fuel supply in many parts of the world and during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th Centuries steam became the principal producer of power; a development made possible by the spirit of scientific inquiry and experimentation that arose during the Renaissance, as well as seemingly inexhaustible supplies of coal.

Many momentous changes, some positive and others negative, marked the steam-driven Industrial Revolution. Steam power revolutionised methods of production, initiating changes from manual to machinery-based manufacturing processes, which stimulated productivity enormously. As people moved out of country districts to settle in manufacturing centres, concentrated areas of population and production were created, which were the beginnings of modern urbanisation.

DSC_0906The Industrial Revolution was the catalyst behind the creation of complex systems of transportation and communication; giving rise to roads, canals, and railways. It spurred the evolution of the corporate form of business enterprise, but it also gave rise to deep economic depressions of long duration. It stimulated further scientific research, inventiveness and technological progress. And in the case of England, the Industrial Revolution was the catalyst behind its rise to becoming a world economic, colonial, naval and political power: a progression, which would not have been possible without the impetus of steam-driven energy.

Apart from these important economic and political changes, the Industrial Revolution also drastically changed the face of humanity in the parts of the world where its precepts proliferated. Previously people had worked independently to their own rhythm, in their own cottages, in small agricultural communities. However, with the advent of steam-driven machinery, men, women and children moved en masse into ill-lit, overcrowded, badly ventilated factories. Most of these were situated in teeming urban centres where the factory workers worked long hours under difficult conditions. This was the beginning of factory civilisation as we know it and it marked the destruction of craftsmanship and craftsmen as a class.

Because children as workers were a source of extra income for impoverished families, the Industrial Revolution saw a steep rise in population figures, with the development of a large unskilled working class that was systematically dispossessed and disenfranchised. Greed was the negative human impulse behind profiteering and many of the factory owners ruthlessly exploited factory workers.

Working and living in appalling conditions, with little or no recourse to fair wages or indeed fairness of any kind, the working class suffered both despair and desperation until common grievances eventually united the workers against the factory owners. This created a new revolutionary spirit that was fanned by the significant gains achieved by working classes in other parts of the world with the French Revolution and the American Constitution.

The Industrial Revolution effectively marked the beginning of democratisation. It also marked the beginning of trade unionism, the one weapon the industrial workers had against their exploiters. As such its most positive aspect was the beginning of widespread factory and social reform. And although industrialisation was initially a bitter pill to swallow for people used to the slow pace of country living and an independent lifestyle made possible by the work system of “putting out” whereby people took their work home, selling the product of their labour instead of selling merely their working-power; over the long-term it afforded many benefits that eventually came to represent significant social progress.

DSC_1046With the coming of machinery and the hard grind imposed by harsh factory life, industrial workers learnt the discipline necessary to become the forerunners of modern industrial society.

This was the most important long-term human consequence of the change from wood burning as an energy source, to steam power: a technological revolution that forever changed human affairs. From an environmental perspective, it swapped one set of problems for another, replacing widespread deforestation with the problems attendant to coal mining and burning.

The Arrival of Electricity

Although steam power as an energy source marked a significant step forward, along with horse-drawn carriages and gas lamps, it eventually became obsolete at the turn of the century and was usurped by electricity as the world’s primary power-producer. With the advent of electricity a whole way of life ended and another began.

DSC_1085Clean to use, reliable, smoke-free and fume-free, electricity was a marvel of modern ingenuity. It opened up a multitude of possibilities to improve daily life and it spurred many new inventions; enabling people at the flick of a switch to light and warm their homes and offices, to generate power in their factories or to turn on a kettle for a cup of tea.

Humanity’s standard of living rose correspondingly as an increasing number and diversity of electrical appliances became available. With electricity as a relatively inexpensive source of energy with which to power progress, the Economic Era was able to become a reality, pushing human aspiration and productivity to new heights and driving a booming world economy. However, with time it has become evident that the widespread use of fossil fuel generated electricity, as a power source, has become a double-edged sword.

Although electricity has undoubtedly been a boon to the modern lifestyle, underpinning significant social and economic development; huge centralised power stations have been required to generate enough electricity to satisfy increasing demands for power and these coal-fired power plants have literally gobbled up coal.

Worldwide the amount of coal burnt annually has equalled the amount formed geologically over a million years during the Carboniferous period of the Palaeozoic era. As a consequence of coal burning, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide have been formed in significant enough quantities to adversely affect the biosphere and atmosphere.

Through the development of acid rain and global warming they have proved to be expensive by-products of an affluent lifestyle in terms of harm caused to the environment. An ever-upwardly spiralling dependence on energy consumption in both the developed and developing world has also meant that coal, like oil another important non-renewable global resource, has been stripped away on a scale never before attempted or achieved, leaving a deep scarring of the Earth in places…

Part 28 – How water scarcity is the mother of invention

CHAPTER TWELVE – FINDING SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS CONTD.

Dam - Masingir MozambiqueJust as the agricultural Green Revolution with its technological innovations kept the sceptre of world hunger at bay for a while, so the water conservation strategies of the Blue Revolution will help to alleviate chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water as we move further into the 21st Century.

Already as with advances in agriculture, much has been done and is continuing to be done in many different quarters to get the Blue Revolution under way, and every little bit helps. Whether this is by changing rapid-flow showerheads to low-flow ones and repairing leaky pipes in our homes, to recycling wastewater used in industry and reverting to drip irrigation in agriculture.

Conserving water is as much a mindset as anything else. It is a mindset that looks for water savings in every situation; in every factory and in every field and in every home around the world, teaching children young enough to pour their first glass of water, the importance of turning the tap off afterwards and not leaving it dripping; the underlying message being, that water is a most precious commodity and not one to be wasted. For ultimately savings in water usage, wherever they can be obtained and however small, will be a key factor in surviving a thirsty future.

Water has been called “Blue Gold”. It has also been described as “a liquid more important than oil”. Yet there are only two ways that we can meet the world’s growing needs for clean, fresh water. On the one hand we can increase our supplies through efficient water harvesting and catchment management. And on the other hand we can use the water that we have more effectively through ongoing research into areas such as water purification and non-flush dry sanitation technology.

With clean water stewardship increasingly becoming a global imperative, water resources management is requiring, and receiving, a holistic and integrated approach from all stakeholders; whether they be national governments, local governments, water management bodies, water researchers, industry, agriculture or domestic users alike.

DSCN3626Water economy has been the impetus behind some impressive water savings initiatives and clever technologies. Research is also currently under way to find cost-effective ways of neutralising acid mine drainage, the pH factor often being the most important parameter to be adjusted during industrial effluent treatment, with mining industries carrying out extensive studies to evaluate possible sulphate removal technologies. This trend toward cutting water consumption and increasing purification and recycling is growing as people become more aware of the need for water conservation. Educational and environmental awareness programmes, incentives and penalties will further hasten this encouraging development into the future.

With water scarcity being the “mother of invention”, some remarkably creative conservation solutions have been developed as noteworthy examples of human ingenuity. One such invention is a non-flush, dry sanitation toilet developed by a South African company, which uses no water, power or chemicals and which has the added advantages of being hygienic, odour-free, cost effective, low maintenance and environmentally friendly.

As a further initiative towards water conservation, water knowledge is being swapped and shared around the world. This international transference of knowledge from one stakeholder to another has given rise to encouraging developments such as waste minimisation clubs which represent a pooling of information among industry members: participants receiving the assistance of experts in the development of technology strategies for specific applications, such as the utilisation of reverse osmosis water treatment systems for reusing effluent. And proactive efforts are under way in many parts of the world to clean up polluted groundwater sources in order to improve water quality, as well as developing initiatives to protect important rivers from potentially catastrophic mishaps such as industrial accidents; also regulating the building of industrial and chemical factory plants on river shores.

DSC_0294Away from urban areas with their homes, offices, shops, factories, and municipal works, efforts are also in progress to reclaim wetlands with research projects on water ecosystems in natural environments generating useful information, which is also being shared across international boundaries and between concerned stakeholders.

In an ideal world affordable access to clean fresh water for drinking, personal hygiene and sanitation should be a fundamental human right for all people everywhere on Earth. Certainly this is an ideal worth striving for in the future. However we are a long way from this positive state of affairs and as water is an essential resource, it could be a crucial factor in relation to global stability and even survival. As such it should be protected, developed, conserved and controlled by people who have the best interests of the greatest number of other people at heart: ethical, wise and responsible people with nothing to gain from water’s misuse or abuse.

How we use the water that we have says a lot about us as a species. It says that at times we can be heartbreakingly careless, squandering essential supplies with unthinking extravagance. However, we also have the capacity to be encouragingly thrifty and resourceful when the chips are down and we realise the importance of water conservation. The need to stretch water resources as far as possible has already brought out, and is continuing to bring out, the very best in us as evidenced by the international sharing of knowledge and the development of innovative technological solutions.

But unfortunately, as with so much else, the scrambling for scarce supplies also has the potential to bring out our darker side and we are already seeing this sobering aspect of our collective nature in the attempts of some to corner the world water market; attempting to sell this vital resource to the highest bidder like any other common or garden saleable commodity. This is an act that would effectively ensure even greater thirst, want and suffering for the world’s poor; driving a deeper wedge between the haves of the predominantly water-rich developed countries and the have nots of the water-strapped developing countries.

DSCN3784As in all things, having enough encourages equanimity and having too little ferments dangerous insurrection. The management of our planet’s water, a resource essential for the lives of the entire world’s people, as well as the multitude of animal and bird species with which we share the planet, may provide a definitive test for the human race. On the one hand water terror could tear us apart, exacerbating social tensions and causing deep divisions, potentially leading to devastating water wars.

However, on the other hand it could unify our differences and solidify our human allegiance, becoming a test that we pass with flying colours. As with so much else, the path we follow in the time ahead will be determined by our attitudes and beliefs, ethics and concerns. Hopefully the gains of the Blue Revolution will tip the balance of global water availability toward a situation whereby we can proceed into the future confident that if we don’t have an abundant supply to generously meet the needs of most of the world’s people, at least we will have enough water and technological know-how to begin an equitable sharing, acting out our highest potential in the spirit of the common good until other, more technologically and socially advanced solutions can be found…

Part 27 – What it means to “teach a man to fish”

CHAPTER TWELVE – FINDING SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS CONTD.

DSC_0972Globally the fishing industry is being revised, with authorities taking a tougher stance on catch quotas, the size of species caught and the fishing of protected species; many of which were previously fished to the point of extinction but which are now being allowed to recover.

Besides enforcing restraint in the fishing industry, stricter laws and stiffer penalties are now also governing the shipping vessels of the sea, protecting ocean habitats and marine creatures from oil spillage and other environmental disasters. As we move into a people-abundant but food-scarce world of the future, every bit of food-producing innovation and protection will help, whether it derives from conventional sources or not. Hopefully by paying close attention to the needs of the land and the sea, and by employing all the previously mentioned and other future food producing initiatives, as yet un-envisaged, untested and un-utilised, we can reverse the global emergency of diminishing food supplies for the entire planet’s people.

And hopefully these practices will blaze the trail towards an environmentally sustainable tomorrow; ensuring that we can keep on feeding ourselves and the other species that have come to rely on us, well into the 21st Century, providing a reliable base of intelligence and innovation for other generations to build from when it becomes their turn to meet the daunting challenge of providing enough food for all the world’s people. In the meantime we can only carry on pushing agricultural boundaries and carefully harvesting the sea. Doing the best that we can in the hope that it is enough.

Little boy with puppyBut is the equation of balancing out the world’s food supply really as simplistic as ensuring that we have employed, and will in the future continue to employ, every technological and traditional food growing and restrained fishing option open to us? Or is the equation a lot more complicated than that? Unfortunately it is.

Already in today’s world some 840 million people, including 200 million children, are going hungry. If we are to avoid even wider spread hunger in the future, it is imperative that all factors that relate to global food security have our utmost concern in the present, for almost enough food now could well be far too little food tomorrow.

Feeding the world’s hungry people in the future will depend on the continued improvements in agricultural technology and crop productivity that we now make in our fields and laboratories, as well as the restraints we impose on the fishing industry. However besides taking the utmost care of the land and sea, the global war on hunger will also be waged in our hearts and minds; with our intentions and attitudes determining the choices that we make. These choices, in turn, will depend on vital questions being asked and answered: questions that relate to cultural, economic, political and many other factors that stand quite apart from agricultural and fishing initiatives.

For example, some of the questions we need to ask ourselves are as follows: What crops are being planted on the croplands of the planet? And what are the criteria for their selection? Are they nourishing food crops such as potatoes, beans, barley, tomatoes, lentils and bananas, which are accessible enough in terms of price and availability to benefit the greatest number of the world’s people, allowing even the lowest-income countries to feed their citizens? Or is an inappropriate amount of valuable agricultural land being taken up with luxury food items which titillate the palates of a few affluent and demanding consumers, but have little broad-based nutritional or hunger-satisfying value?

Are non-essential crops such as flowers, which have little relevance in meeting the needs of the planet’s hungry populations, replacing food crops in too many farmlands around the world, allowing economics to outweigh ethical and moral considerations?

YogurtIs the grain, either wheat or corn that is produced, being consumed directly by humans in the most economical way possible or is an expensively high percentage of it being used as livestock feed with which to satisfy the meat- and milk-intensive diets of an increasing number of people living in developed and developing countries?

Is it not possible through media-awareness and consumer campaigns to convert people who eat a high proportion of meat and milk-based products in their diet to change to a predominantly grain-, fruit- and vegetable-based or even a vegetarian diet, which has been found not only to promote better health and less expense, but which will also help to relieve the pressure on overgrazed rangelands around the globe, ensuring that the crops that are produced, go much further?

Bearing in mind the truism “Give a man a fish, and he has fish for a day; teach a man to fish and he has fish for the rest of his life”, are we in the developed world doing enough with regard to teaching poverty-stricken populations in the developing world how to grow food for themselves, using the limited resources at their disposal? How is the food that is being produced, being distributed? And is it not possible to distribute it in a more equitable way so that all people can benefit from surpluses and be relieved of the destabilising pressures that arise from desperate shortages? Is this, in fact, a realistic notion for us even to contemplate? And can we afford to be so idealistic in an imperfect world?

One of the members of the ill-fated Scott Antarctic Expedition of the early 20th Century, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, wrote in his book The Worst Journey in the World: “Any age, new or old, wants courage and faith.” In a way this quotation sums up the challenge of living in the 21st Century, with the feeding of the world’s masses representing for our generation, a problem of formidable proportions. But then in terms of human history we are no exception.

DSC_0109Finding and producing enough food for everyone has never been an easy task, in any age. Since agriculture first supplanted hunting and gathering approximately 10 to 12 millennia ago, it has occupied much of human thinking and endeavour, requiring no small measure of courage and faith to meet the requirements of ever-growing populations.

However the scale of the challenge has always been proportionate to the number of people who needed to be fed. With six billion people already living on our planet and with billions still to be born within the first decades of this century, the world has never known a challenge of this magnitude. It is one for which we will need a multitude of miracles in order to transform food production into marvels of compounded returns. But then we have already achieved many miracles.

Every new laboratory innovation that is discovered, every new crop strain that is developed; every new process of agricultural production that is initiated, every quantum leap of intelligence, every decision of grace and unselfishness, every act of compassion and human kindness, every undertaking of vision and determination, is a miracle in itself. Who says that at our best we are not the miracle children of Mother Earth?…

Part 26 – How farming innovations have changed food production

CHAPTER TWELVE – FINDING SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS

“In many ways we remain ecological illiterates. Nevertheless there is enough knowledge to cure almost any ecological disease; it needs only to be applied.” Conservationist and biologist Dr George B. Schaller

DSC_1248Finding sustainable solutions to the pressing problems of global hunger, thirst and energy requirements will occupy the time and intelligence of tomorrow’s leaders in a race against essential resource impoverishment.

However this is not just a challenge of the future. With the world’s population having hugely increased over the decades of the second half of the 20th Century; the demand for food also proportionately increased, putting enormous pressure on the world’s farmers, as well as the carrying capacities of important food-producing croplands, rangelands and the sea.

The short-term solution to this problem came in the form of the Green Revolution, which at first seemed to be a miracle of human ingenuity and endeavour. Through major advances in the agricultural technologies of breeding, fertilising, irrigating and mechanising, farmers were able to increase food production significantly. For a while the amount of food produced outpaced the demand. This was an important step forward in the direction of providing food for the world’s hungry people. However all was not as it seemed. In time it became apparent that the gains in yields were being offset by important losses. Farmers had come up against the law of diminishing returns.

For every bushel of wheat produced in the United States, 1000 times more energy was required than that needed for the production of the same amount of wheat in India, using traditional farming methods.

DSC_0899Mechanised ploughing, which sliced and broke up clods of earth, destroying the structural integrity of the soil, was used extensively; with the result that precious topsoil was lost at an alarming rate from the farming lands of some of the world’s most productive areas.

Green Revolution methods in developed and developing countries also required a substantial increase in the use of synthetic, petrochemical-based fertilisers, use of which, over time, made the soil more compact causing it to harden and dry out, and eventually erode. It also depleted the soil, exhausting its natural growing capabilities. Wasteful irrigation methods resulted in the evaporation of water from Green Revolution fields, causing salts to build up in the soil, which further diminished its fertility. And technology-driven farming techniques that required expensive machinery to sustain high production quotas, meant that farming had become cost intensive in many parts of the world and a livelihood for the rich, which effectively precluded the poor.

During the Economic Era, with the advances made possible by the Green Revolution, farmers had gone forward with many progressive new developments. These innovations were important in light of the climatic, agricultural and sociological problems that the world was facing at the time: problems such as increased average temperatures, altered wind patterns, changed patterns of humidity and rainfall, increased levels of air pollution, decreased access to water, overgrazed farmland, diminished land availability for cultivation, reduced soil fertility, increased resistance of insects and other pests to herbicides, insecticides and pesticides, an increased wind and water erosion problem and ever-escalating numbers of people to feed. In essence, by putting all their faith in modern technology, farmers in the developed world and parts of the developing world had moved away from the ancient wisdom of the land, and had literally reaped what they had sown.

A Greener Revolution

With the ecological problems of the latter part of the last century becoming more severe and the overall success of the Green Revolution declining, something had to change. Another approach had to be found. Luckily one was right around the corner. With the shortcomings of the intensely-technologically driven Green Revolution having become apparent, as well as the timely emergence of a completely different philosophy characterised by the Environmental Era, an increasing number of farmers decided to get back to the basics of farming.

Since then organic farming has come full circle and the results of its re-emergence in the mindsets and fields of modern-day farmers and consumers have been astounding. By re-employing many of the old, traditional farming methods: methods that give greater precedence to nature, knowledge of the past has been synthesized with technological advances of the present. And in the process many ecological wrongs have been righted and new solutions have been found for 21st Century agricultural and environmental problems.

For example, by combining both ancient and modern agricultural practices, soil erosion, which was once a major problem for farmers, has been virtually eliminated in many important food-producing regions of the world by the practice of “no-tillage”, whereby a cover crop is planted between the rows of the main crop.

DSC_0095Drip irrigation, another combination of ancient and modern farming technology, is being employed by many of today’s farsighted farmers as a way of conserving water; ensuring that the water that is used to irrigate crops is utilised in a more economical way, thereby preventing evaporation and wastage.

In this way, by employing simple lengths of perforated pipes hooked to pumps, considerable amounts of water are being saved every day, which is vitally important in the water-strapped world of the present and future, as agriculture uses the highest percentage of available freshwater. Drip-irrigation has also meant that reliance on giant hydroelectric dams, remnants of a water-wasteful past, has been reduced.

Staggered planting with harvests and fields being rotated, which takes into account natural growing cycles, is helping to prevent soil exhaustion and erosion. With the planting of crops such as velvet beans, lost nitrogen once supplemented by inorganic fertilisers, is being replaced, replenishing by natural means the nitrogen requirements of soil in an increasing number of food-producing fields around the world.

Sugar cane harvestHeavy machinery which damages the soil has been replaced in many areas by animal power which is cheaper, doesn’t break down requiring expensive and often difficult-to-obtain spare parts, doesn’t compact the soil and is able to work in uneven terrain.

And the soil’s need for careful management and enriching has also gone back to nature with the use of terracing, taking pains to minimise the disturbance of adjoining natural areas, and feeding with farmyard manure and compost, which in turn means that organic matter is recycled, thereby retaining important nutrients in the agricultural system.

The knowledge for this resurgence of organic farming was there all the time, it just needed to be brought forward into present-day consciousness and then acted upon in simple and practical ways by first- and third-world farmers. However even with an intelligent combination of Green Revolution technology and traditional farming methods, 21st Century agricultural needs have required and received a further quantum leap of innovation.

Feeding the World

The challenge of finding sustainable agricultural practices for farmers all over the world is one of the most important and pressing challenges facing us in the future, because the need to provide food for hungry people is growing proportionately with each new baby born. Another important consideration in the hunger equation is that hungry people are angry people. Conflict has erupted over less than a plateful of food with which to satisfy an empty belly and serious food shortages have the potential to further destabilise an already unstable global situation. Will the increasing demands of the world’s hungry people be enough of an incentive to spur further agricultural innovation? It has in the past so it seems axiomatic that it will do so again in the future.

With regard to the technological innovations that have already been and are currently being developed, it is possible that there is light at the end of the future agricultural tunnel and that the current imbalance between food and people will be redressed in time. For once again human ingenuity has risen to an enormous challenge with a shopping-basketful of food solutions of dazzling inventiveness.

StrawberriesBiotechnology has produced varieties of crops that are more resistant to disease and insect pests; more interesting in terms of colour, shape and form; more resilient when being shipped or stored; more drought-resistant; more nutritious; more salt-tolerant and more able to produce higher yields per acreage.

One such breakthrough is a new wheat strain, which has increased production of wheat in Mexico tenfold, turning Mexico into a wheat exporter rather than an importer, which it previously was. And a new strain of “super rice” which requires less water and fertiliser has provided 25 per cent higher yields than other traditional strains; both developments being important breakthroughs due to the fact that at present wheat and rice are part of the vitally important triumvirate of just three plants; rice, wheat and corn, which provide one half of all human energy requirements worldwide.

In terms of land usage, researchers are experimenting with plants that can grow in high-saline seashore and coastal deserts, as well as hot arid areas where previously they could not, extending valuable plant-growing ranges. They are also experimenting with the possibilities of seawater irrigation for salt-resistant crops such as eggplant, as well as the use of crops such as jojoba to stabilise soil in desert regions.

Hydroponics, a means of cultivation whereby plants are grown in water containing an appropriate mix of nutrients, is also receiving its fair share of research attention; as is the cultivation of strains of micro-organisms such as spirulina, cyanobacterium, which has a higher protein content than soybeans. All this has been made possible through extensive laboratory research as well as the practice of genetic engineering, whereby genetic material is recombined into variations that are more desirable in terms of human requirements, although the jury is still out on this point.

From a non-scientific point of view, progressive farmers are also experimenting with, and receiving, good results from “New Age” agricultural practices such as planting when the moon is full, playing taped music over loudspeakers to increase “growing frequencies”, growing plants in pyramid structures to enhance energy fields and increase growth, as well as reverting to original, open-pollinated, resproutable seeds, instead of relying on commercially produced hybrid seeds.

DSC_1183But human ingenuity in the face of food shortages does not begin and end with husbandry of the land. Aquaculture, whereby aquatic species such as tilapia, trout, salmon, shrimp, catfish, crayfish, oysters, prawns and shellfish are bred, raised, farmed and processed in commercial ponds, is gaining favour in many parts of the world becoming an important international food producing industry, although instead of helping to take the pressure off marine fish stocks as was originally intended, it is contributing to the problem because of the proportion of wild fish stocks needed to provide feed for farmed fish. Even sea horses are being commercially farmed to produce food condiments, a further example of human ability to adapt what is available to what is needed…

Part 25 – Why change only takes place through action

CHAPTER ELEVEN – HOLDING THE KEY CONTD…

DSC_1210Thoreau wrote, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world”. But is the preservation of the wilderness and hence as Thoreau would have it, the world, purely the responsibility of dedicated pockets of Earth scientists and eco-warriors who have the foresight and technological expertise to attempt to solve the complex problems that lie before us? Or does the solution to the planet’s ecological problems lie with a far wider group than this? Perhaps biologist Dr George B. Schaller answered these questions when he wrote in his book Stones of Silence: “There is a tendency to think of ecological problems as scientific and technological when they are actually social and cultural”.

Because the major threat to the natural world lies with the overwhelming numbers of human beings who inhabit the planet, together with our ecologically damaging practices and unsustainable consumption levels of natural resources, it stands to reason that the solutions to environmental problems also lie with us. However it is not enough for us to see the problems without developing a deep commitment to solving them. It is not enough for us to review erroneous thinking patterns without replacing them with others that are more relevant to the realities of today’s and tomorrow’s world. It is not enough for us to undergo a renaissance of values without evolving a complete change of heart. And it is not enough for us to engage our minds with what needs to be done without progressing to a widespread call to arms.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has said, “Change only takes place through action”. Dreams, hopes, thoughts, beliefs, principles and decisions are so much empty air without action to follow them through. At the end of the day it is the taking of cumulative steps by each and every one of us, in an individual and combined effort that will accomplish the urgent goal of nature conservation, and with it, the preservation of our world.

Thandi-calf-Jan2015-GaryVanWyk1In a letter to the “Ride for the Rhino” girls, Julie Edwards and Charlene Hewat, following their visit to “Kampi ya Simba” in Kora National Reserve, George Adamson wrote, “I have always believed that it will be up to the young people of today to save the endangered wildlife of this world for the future”. With time running out, perhaps this is the most hopeful place for us to start.

Hope With Youth

Regardless of where in the world they come from or the social strata that they inhabit, with each young person comes hope for the future. Because young people, with their excitement for life not yet bludgeoned to death by the negative reinforcement of a jaded world, see things with fresh eyes. Not yet world-weary enough to resist taking on challenges, they see opportunities where their elders tend to see only problems. They also see many possible solutions where older people sometimes see only one likely outcome. And their natural enthusiasm, as yet untainted by comparison with painful past experience, is like an old-fashioned steam train that has begun to gather momentum. Instead of hesitantly chugging its way around obstacles, losing steam in the process, or stopping short of its goal altogether, youthful enthusiasm is able to use its own momentum to blast its way through barriers.

Admittedly at the saddest end of the spectrum is a proportion of the world’s youth who have lost their way or fallen off the rails of life completely, which is an indication of young people under siege from the pressures of a civilisation in transition. However, in spite of what a sensationalist media would have us believe, the lost ones are in the minority.

Handball - Games (taken by Domenic Gorin) (2 of 3)At the other end of the spectrum are enough young people, bursting with potential, to make a significant difference to the world. With their imagination and ingenuity, as well as their idealism and high hopes for the future still intact, each young person brings with them a unique combination of intelligence, gifts, talents, perspectives, personality traits, skills and experience to add to the global pool. This combination of ability and character is each person’s individual contribution to the universal collective and it is a resource of enormous consequence – because the greatest global resource is the human mind.

The Israeli Uri Geller was able to bend metal spoons merely by concentrating on them, and in a scientifically controlled experiment, a young American, Dean Kraft, was able to kill a particularly virulent form of cancer cells in a sealed culture flask while standing some distance away just by focusing his mental powers on the culture. With these and other powerful examples of extraordinary mind power, to what heights can human potential soar? The advanced capabilities of the human mind are able to take us far beyond the realm of what is traditionally considered possible, illustrating that the unexplored heights of human possibility could be infinite.

Another Way of Doing Things

Regardless of our planet’s overall clemency, without human ingenuity to utilise the gifts that the Earth has offered in the most intelligent manner possible, taking advantage of abundance where and when it was available, our stay on this planet would have been a short one indeed.

DSC_0145Climate and periods of inclement weather would have squeezed early humans into pockets of temperate terrains; with vast areas of inhospitable biomes such as hot, dry deserts, boggy tundra, windswept mountainous regions and frozen polar ice, remaining uninhabited. Food sources would have been limited to what could be found on the ground, picked from trees or scavenged from the kills of predatory animals, making ancestral people vulnerable to climatic uncertainties and over-gathering. Without the means to protect themselves, early humans would themselves have been prey to predators. Shelters would have been caves and rock overhangs with prehistoric communities competing fiercely for these few protective sites. Injuries and diseases would have gone unhealed except for those that the body could heal itself. And migrations would have been limited to places they could travel to on foot, with catastrophic natural occurrences such as droughts, floods, mudslides, volcanoes and earthquakes taking a heavy toll on ancestral people.

In short, prehistoric communities would have been limited by the carrying capacity of their environments. And without their own intervention making the extension of this carrying capacity possible, the growth and development of early humans would have been severely restricted within static environments, leading to the high natural extinction rates that modern biologists have found to occur in small, isolated habitats. Our stay on this planet has been possible not only through the availability of resources themselves, but primarily through our remarkable ability to develop technological innovations that have enabled us to harness the planet’s resources with continued success.

JM WF & Thandi 22 July 2013By building on the foundation laid down by the intelligence and experience of our ancestors, which has been passed from generation to generation, across a time span that has bridged thousands of millennia, as well as the gains achieved by the modern environmental movement; today’s young people with their heightened awareness, precocious curiosity, better education, fresh perspective, teeming energy, Information Age skills and optimistic outlook on life, hold the keys to solving the problems of the planet for the future.

For with a far greater exposure to ecologically attuned print media, films and television documentaries than ever before, today’s young people are more environmentally aware than any previous generation. They have grown up with an acute sensitivity to the survival of planet Earth, closely identifying with issues such as global warming, thinning ozone, air and water pollution, burning rainforests and nuclear testing.

And with thanks to the influence of Dr Spock and a generation of baby-boomer parents who adopted the belief that their children should be both seen and heard: post World War Two parents who allowed their children to grow up with more freedom of thought, speech, behaviour and choice than they themselves had been allowed in their youth, today’s youngsters have become an important and outspoken force to be reckoned with. Adding their voice to the voices of countless others around the world who have declared a moratorium on global ecological and human destruction through whatever means possible.

DSC_0459Today’s young people face a difficult legacy. It is probable that the compelling issue of global survival will hit closer to home with them than with any generation that has preceded them. Profound struggle could well be their heritage. But is this necessarily a bad thing? When all is said and done, perhaps struggle is good for the human psyche. For with difficulty comes the capacity to test weaknesses and build strength, gaining in goodness and grace.

Certainly struggle is not limited to the human race. The struggle for survival is a fact of life for every living organism on Earth as it is the definitive force behind the phenomenon of natural selection, ensuring that only the strongest and worthiest inherit the Earth. Perhaps as they learn to survive and beyond that, thrive in a world marked by insecurity and adversity it will be the making of the young people of this planet.

Hopefully when their turn comes to be in the driving seat, they will manage to do a better job of things than has been done before. Building on the example set by previous generations of concerned world citizens and committed eco-warriors who have provided the impetus for today’s young people to improve on prior intentions and expand on achievements; creating a better world for all of humankind…

Part 24 – What do Greenpeace, rock stars and rhinos have in common?

CHAPTER ELEVEN – HOLDING THE KEY

“All that we can do is to keep steadily in mind … that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life and to suffer great destruction.” Charles Darwin

In direct proportion to the immense challenges that lie before us, lies the potential for humankind to come up trumps with an array of ingenious solutions such as the world has never seen before. At the very least these challenges are forcing us, with a sense of urgency, to rethink many of our basic assumptions.

HIV/AIDS has frightened us into revising previously-old-fashioned injunctions, such as “no sex before marriage” and marital or one-partner fidelity, as the only sure-fire ways of avoiding a lingering and painful death. The escalating threat of terrorism, sparked by the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, and the conflict in Iran and Iraq have forced us to re-examine the overall threat to humanity that no-holds-barred biological, chemical or nuclear war would inflict should regional terrorism explode into full-scale warfare across the globe. And the morality of DNA cloning has compelled us to reconsider our right to play God, before we cross over an irretrievable boundary with the reproduction of a human embryo in a laboratory.

DSC_0093As with so much else going on at this time, these and many other issues have required our immediate attention. However there are few items on the human agenda as pressing as that of global ecological preservation. It has been and continues to be, an issue of such vital importance, that it is forcing us to re-evaluate the very attitudes and beliefs that underpin our civilisation.

In a way this is probably a first for humanity: making an about-turn before it is totally, completely, absolutely necessary. Of course it could and should be argued that the scale of worldwide environmental devastation facing us at this time makes it totally, completely, absolutely necessary right now.

However, as it is a facet of human nature not to believe something until we see evidence of it with our own eyes, with few of us being able to travel extensively enough to gain an overall perspective and see firsthand the effects of widespread ecological damage, this is a situation beyond our immediate grasp. We have to take it on hearsay, with the written word, radio reports and television images never having the impact of the real circumstances. How can they?

For to see the image of a forest burning in a black and white photograph on a newspaper or magazine page, or within the small detached square of a television screen is not to hear for oneself the roar of crackling flames or the squeals of terrified creatures fleeing for their lives. It is not to feel the searing heat of the fire as it scorches everything in its path. It is not to see burnt-out husks of tortoises and other small creatures too slow on their feet to avoid the conflagration. It is not to smell the stink of burning vegetation or touch the spiky cindered stalks of dead grass. And after the fire has burnt itself out, it is not to see hungry animals wandering aimlessly over the smoky blackened landscape in a fruitless search for food. In other words the media image of a burning forest is an abstract impression that engages us for a mere minutes-long time span. It cannot accurately convey the devastation of a real-live inferno burning in front of us for hours.

DSC_0599This is how much of the information that comes to us about our world is received: as brief, second-hand, abstract images that do not have the gut-grabbing, sensory-engaging immediacy of the real situations. And yet in spite of this, and despite our removal from the natural world, we are still connected enough to our environmental heritage for images such as these to have a powerful impact on our collective consciousness. So powerful in fact that they have inspired a groundswell of concern, with public personalities as diverse as government leaders and rock stars putting the clout of their fame behind ecological issues in order to motivate increased public awareness and with it, hopefully, solutions to environmental problems.

It is remarkable that the environmental movement has grown to the point it has within such a short period of time. It is a proud example of our ability to make a dramatic change of direction in the relative blink of an eye. Responding to the seriousness of a situation with battle stations blazing, in an all-out attempt to solve a pressing problem.

But which was the point at which the environmental movement began? Was it the celluloid image we saw of a deadly mushroom cloud reaching high into a morning sky that first awakened our fear? Or was it a shared sixth sense even before then, an ancestral instinct awakened after a long slumber that alerted us, like good sons and daughters sensitive to the needs of their beloved parent, to the agony of Mother Earth? Whatever it was, many people all over the world felt it and responded with alacrity to the call: people like Jim Bohlen, Irving Stowe, and Paul Cote, who founded the Greenpeace movement.

Fighting the Good Fight

DSC_0992Greenpeace started in a modest way with this small group of determined men hiring a battered old boat and sailing it into the area of a nuclear test site. Their plan was simple: they would not try to interfere directly in the test in any way, they would simply “bear witness” to the event by anchoring their boat close to the test site.

Bearing witness is a Quaker concept of passive resistance, whereby opposition is registered simply by one’s presence and along with direct action, it is the cornerstone philosophy of the movement. Since that first brave act of resistance, Greenpeace has grown into a respected international organisation, counting its membership in the millions around the globe and expanding its operation, from its small beginning in the 1970s of one battered borrowed boat, to ownership of a sophisticated fleet of powerful ocean-going vessels and river craft. It has also enlarged its coverage of concerns to include a considerably expanded range of environmental issues, from toxic waste disposal in Antarctica to kangaroo slaughter in Australia, grabbing public attention with campaigns that are bold and imaginative.

At first most Greenpeace protesters seemed with their long hair, beards and jeans to be defiantly anti-establishment, venting their frustration on a system that did not accept them. However this was misleading as many of the members were then and are now, highly educated people working in respected professions: people such as lawyers, psychologists, geologists, social workers, medical practitioners and scientists. What this diverse group of activists has in common is a passionate commitment to the environmental cause and a willingness to show outstanding courage and perseverance in the face of enormous odds. Often putting their personal safety at risk in their David and Goliath struggles, these volunteers give selflessly of their time, energy and expertise. Some members have even put their personal assets at the disposal of the movement when needed.

dscn7435The message of Greenpeace is simple and clear. The organisation believes that everyone in the world has the right to clean water, fresh air and a safe future. And the movement has taken it upon itself to safeguard these precious commodities in order to ensure survival for all. But Greenpeace, as powerful and visible a force as it has become, is just one of a growing number of environmental organisations which have proliferated around the globe during the past decades. There are now literally hundreds, and maybe even thousands of organisations safeguarding different aspects of the natural world. From huge professionally run, international agencies dealing with a broad base of environmental issues with memberships counted in the millions. To small home-based trusts with memberships of hundreds; some crusading for just one niched item of concern, such as the trust that has been set up in Britain to preserve the last remaining population of wild camels found in the remote Gobi Desert.

Exceptional efforts by concerned individuals have also highlighted specific areas of need. One such effort was the “Ride for the Rhino” campaign. This daring campaign was conceptualised by two deeply committed young Zimbabweans, Julie Edwards and Charlene Hewat, who undertook to cycle a staggering distance of 22 000 kilometres over a period of 18 grueling months, from Glasgow in Scotland to Harare in Zimbabwe, in order to bring to world attention the plight of the black rhino. Their courageous story is told in their book Extinction is Forever.

Baby rhino may 2012 kariega game reserveEnduring sweltering heat, pedaling over soft desert sand, suffering exhaustion and thirst, braving the threat of lions and the frustration of punctures, these two valiant young women succeeded in highlighting the fact that, from a population size of over a million individuals in the 1960s; by the 1980s, the world’s black rhino population had become seriously endangered, teetering towards extinction. The reason for this dramatic population decline was due to the fact that these great prehistoric-seeming beasts were being relentlessly slaughtered for their horn, which was sold illegally to shady merchants to make dagger handles in the Yemen and medicines in the East.

At the start of the “Ride for the Rhino” cycle, Julie and Charlene set out to achieve the ambitious goal of widespread awareness for their campaign. This they accomplished through the extensive media coverage that their marathon cycle was able to generate. However in order to increase credibility and cachet for the campaign, they enlisted the support of many international personalities: personalities as diverse and world-renowned as His Holiness the Pope, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Bernhardt of the Netherlands, the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, rock star Phil Collins and well-known wildlife conservationists George Adamson and Daphne Sheldrick, who were all willing to be associated with the cause of the endangered black rhino, unstintingly giving of their time and assistance and striving in the process to “defend the undefended and secure for the vulnerable invulnerability”.

What a long way we have come! From a species that over millennia wantonly exterminated other species without a backward glance. To millions of people across continents and national boundaries who now have conservation as a cornerstone concern, passionately fighting for the protection and preservation of the natural world, and the wild creatures that live within it by whatever means necessary.

Whether this is by providing underpasses or bridges for migrating caribou where oil pipelines disrupt their long northerly trek to summer grazing grounds, or by dangerously zigzagging in small rubber inflatables across the bow waves of huge whaling vessels ploughing through open sea.

Antarctic11By battling the elements of cold, wind and snow in the clearing-up of human debris from the seashores of Antarctica and the slopes of Mount Everest, or by harnessing public indignation through clever media campaigns.

Or simply by adding an individual voice to the collective voice of the concerned people of the planet through membership and participation in environmental causes; speaking up through public protests, political action, legislator lobbying, corporate policies, consumer demands, information campaigns, petitions, internet exposés, publications, conferences and boycotts.

Abraham Lincoln stated that, “With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed”. It is fervently hoped that the public sentiment that focuses on the preservation of the natural world will continue to grow to a point where it can never again be ignored. And may this profound ideological shift in our collective global conscience ensure that the world never again knows the killing fields of the North American bison or the shooting parties of the maharajas who indolently whiled away leisure hours with the purposeless slaughter of tigers.

SONY DSCLet there never again be huge piles of elephant tusks burnt in fierce bonfires to make a point against the poaching of ivory. May whales and other diverse marine species as well as species of the land and air, never again be brought to the point of extinction through extermination or wholesale destruction of their habitats.

May voiceless creatures never again be intentionally exploited to satisfy human vanity, selfishness and greed. And may our combined human voice speak up, no shout for them, in a deafening roar of public outrage, with the fear of social and political ostracism preventing such atrocities from ever occurring again in the future…

Part 23 – How eco-business is classing up

CHAPTER TEN – RENEGOTIATING HUMAN DESTINY CONTD.

Environmental Era Business

Gareth-Knight_lFrom the individual who is undoubtedly the starting point of any major groundswell movement, the changing cultural values of the Environmental Era have filtered down to the worlds of business and industry, where there is now a broad move in the workplace away from the strict formal hierarchies of the past toward lateral management with its less autocratic decision-making style.

A more intense commitment to accommodating the personal lives of employees and achieving a greater work/home balance has led to policies that are more humane: policies such as flexible working hours or “mommy-tracking” whereby a woman’s family commitments are taken into account in career planning, as well as extended maternity leave for mothers, and in some countries, even maternity leave for fathers. In some enlightened companies on-site medical services, job sharing, homeworking or teleworking, study leave, sabbaticals, day care facilities for young children and even care for the elderly have made the difference in retaining talented staff members, as has a focus on personal development and continued learning.

With the loosening up in business that has taken place over the past few decades more relaxed people are now working to live and are no longer living to work. However, conversely, despite the complexity and speeding up of business practices that has also taken place with globalisation, there does not seem to have been the marked decline in productivity that could be expected. With innovative human resource policies such as corporate stress management and retirement counselling programmes in place, the psychological and physiological needs of working people and people who have recently ended their working lives, are increasingly being addressed by their employers.

Companies are also trying hard to spread this “do-good” philosophy to other social concerns away from the office, with corporate philanthropy now becoming more involved in important community projects such as charity sponsorship, hardship relief and ecological cleanup and recycling programmes.

Also representative of the rising tide of change to affect the global workplace, are office buildings and working areas. Like so much else over the past few decades, the workplace has undergone a remarkable renaissance of thinking, planning and design. Dark, poky, pigeonhole offices in sick, soulless buildings, which characterised previous periods, are thankfully becoming a thing of the past.

DSC_0809Around the world, offices are becoming more “people-friendly”, with greater consideration being given to office building sites. Locations in grassed and leafy office parks, which provide easy access to shopping malls and lunchtime recreational areas, have become a welcome new trend. Fresh air, plants, clever use of natural lighting and colour schemes for wall finishes and carpeting that soothe the senses, as well as innovative, ergonomically sound office furniture design and space utilisation, have all helped to make the new workplace a healthier, more comfortable, more welcoming, more relaxed and yet more productive environment for a changing workforce.

In line with classing up as demanded by tougher trading conditions and more competitive markets, there is a higher level of corporate entrepreneurship. Companies are moving away from the draconian structures of the past through the practices of downsizing, outsourcing, redirecting and re-organising.

In order to survive in an increasingly congested global village, companies have also had to become more homogeneous in terms of international currency, travel, customs and communication. More openly transparent operating procedures and greater accountability, as dictated by stricter legislative control measures and vigilant consumers who watch what they buy and whom they buy from, have led to more humane and ecologically friendlier policies. And in fact environmental policies have become big business with marketing strategies being driven by demand from green consumers who want cleaner, less ecologically harmful, products.

A positive aspect of Environmental Era business and related industry competitiveness to emerge is eco-efficiency, which has arisen from the need to develop creative technologies that focus on greater efficiency in the use of resources: making high-quality products that require less energy and fewer materials in the manufacturing process, whilst simultaneously generating as little waste as possible.

In fact, cleaner technologies and cleaner production processes have become global trends, with many companies engaging in environmental risk assessment studies as part of their operating procedure. This is a way of assessing the impact that their production processes have on the environment and in this way factors such as energy consumption, emissions of greenhouse and acidic gases, water cleanliness and amounts of solid waste generated are monitored.

Apart from satisfying a strongly emergent eco-conscience, these practices make good business sense as non-compliance in terms of environmental regulations could mean stiff penalties in some countries for companies that do not meet stringent manufacturing environmental performance standards, as well as demonstrations and boycotts from unhappy customers and communities.

In line with the deepening spirit of environmental best practice that is developing around the world, some committed companies are also pursuing an intensive self-monitoring process as a means of charting the environmental impact or imprint of their activities within their supply chains. One way of doing this is by conducting life cycle assessments, whereby after compiling an inventory of all emissions to air, water and land associated with its operations, as well as resources utilised, the assessment monitors the life cycle of all activities.

Water tankThis could incorporate the obtaining of raw materials needed to manufacture products as a first step, through modification processes of the raw materials into finished goods, up to and including distribution and point of sale, and finally product use and disposal of packaging by the consumer: classifying each process into impact categories such as global warming potential, acidification potential, nutrification potential, ozone depletion potential, non-methane voc emissions, energy consumption and solid waste production. As a final step, all impacts within a category are then aggregated, resulting in a total impact per category.

Keeping to the theme of environmental accountability, other initiatives such as product life cycle assessments, which monitor the safety of products both in use and after disposal, help to maintain corporate environmental excellence. As do benchmark studies, supplier certification programmes, environmental standards specifications, environmental improvement targets, employee environmental awareness training and manufacturing site audits.

In line with the global business trend towards enlightened environmental practice, words such as recyclability, biotoxicity, biodegradability and bioaccumulation have become important watchwords for big business. Many companies are also revising their packaging requirements, eliminating unnecessary packaging components and making use of ecologically friendlier packaging options. Even distribution cycles are coming under scrutiny, with companies looking to reduce traffic congestion, exhaust emissions, unnecessary fuel consumption, journey time and noise levels as ways of reducing the effects that road transport has on the environment.

Doves of Steel

TamatoesIn response to widespread global resource depletion the Environmental Era is all about resource safeguarding; focusing on sustainable development alongside conservation and thriftiness as defined by the practices of the four big Rs – Rethink, Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. In this way, we are attempting to guard against an ecologically impoverished future by reducing environmental impact whilst stretching the Earth’s resource base to sustain all life, with technology practices that are less extractive and more preserving.

In a nutshell, the defining ideology of the Environmental Era is all about a new global imperative: that of ecological security as guaranteed by international, inter-group, corporate and individual collaboration. It is about extending the Earth’s carrying capacity for as long as it takes for us to get our act in order, buying time until the massive challenges that face the human race can be resolved with sustainable and equitable solutions.

This new ideology of the Environmental Era is both timely and refreshing. It is similar to that other great tide of changing human consciousness that washed over the world during the 20th Century: the 1960s era with its long hair and beads, its peace signs and Ban the Bomb slogans, its rebelliousness and anti-war sentiments. Yet in fundamental and important ways the Environmental Era is quite different from the naïve idealism of the 1960s. It is more hard-edged and clearly focused. It is also infinitely more ecologically orientated.

Instead of spaced-out hippies seeking to change the world with music, free love and psychedelic flower power; hard-headed conservation activists who are prepared to put their lives on the line for their beliefs, now characterise our time. Grounded in tough 21st Century realism, our messengers of hope and peace are doves of steel.

However, in a heartening similarity with the 1960s, the overriding ethos of the Environmental Era is to seek harmony, both between world citizens and between citizens of the inhabited world and the natural world on which we depend for our existence. The difference being that our generation of eco-warriors, more than any other generation that has gone before it, is fighting to change a global mindset to accommodate the pressing reality of planetary depletion before it’s too late. And in the process, the best among us are becoming:
more aware…
Scrutiny and judgement of government, corporations and even personal lives has increasingly become a feature of 21st Century life.
more informed…
Alongside the Environmental Era we are well and truly entrenched in the Information Age, with more information becoming available about a wider array of subjects than ever before. Big Brother continues to watch!
more concerned…
Solutions for a broader range of social and wildlife issues, from coping with the aftermath of an earthquake in India or Afghanistan to preserving the ancestral migration routes of caribou in the Arctic, are occupying our time and attention, with the problems of others becoming our own.
Photos from Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Cape Town, South Africa.more compassionate…
A host of international concerns impacting on humanity, as outlined by The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) adopted at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in September 2000, have warrented discussion and resolution around the globe.
more militant and less accepting…
Consumer awareness and protest groups are becoming more organised and vociferous and in the process they are increasingly becoming important forces to be reckoned with, helping to change damaging policies and politics worldwide.
less arrogant…
As the devastation that the Economic Era has wrought on the Earth’s natural systems becomes progressively more obvious, so too has recognition of our fallibility as a species correspondingly come under the spotlight.
less short-sighted…
We know that we can no longer live for today, hoping that tomorrow will take care of itself, as we are now faced with the challenges of trying to undo the effects of this past mindset for a safer, more sustainable future. One positive example of people and nations working together for a future benefit was the signing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol by more than 180 signatory states who committed to phasing out the use of nearly 100 ozone-damaging substances.
less materialistic…
We are no longer buying into the concept of unconstrained consumerism as a panacea for spiritual poverty, as an increasing number of us around the world become aware that spiritual satisfaction lies elsewhere from the purely material aspects of life.
less self-orientated…
Instead of focusing solely on aspects of our own small existence as we did in the past, many of us are taking larger concerns into our consciousness, thinking and living more expansively whilst embracing universal difference, which is just as well, for in the words of Nobel Laureate for Peace, John Hume: “Intolerance of difference goes to the heart of conflict everywhere in the world”.
And most of us are trying hard to become more decent and ethical…
An increasing number of us are trying to do the right thing by ourselves, by others and by the world at large.

DSC_0525In many fundamental and important ways, we are changing as a species. Over the past few decades our values have undergone a tidal wave of transformation. However, perhaps in a way the naïve flower power optimism of the 1960s was a natural precursor to the Environmental Era. Maybe it was a premature start toward a new beginning. Its birth short lived.

Perhaps it was destined to wait for a new millennium, with a new awareness and new generations, before it could be repeated under an entirely different guise. Whatever. There can be no doubt that alongside the Environmental Era, the Age of Aquarius is now definitely upon us. And it has the potential to be our most shining hour yet…