Sunday, April 21

In Winter’s Trail – Part Two

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I think it’s prudent to start at the beginning: there are many reasons why people want to save the planet’s species, of which one is that insects are needed to pollinate crops (flowers) and they rely on an eco system that includes their predators in the food chain, so they (predators) must also be saved. Think hawk eats frog that eats fly. But even if you don’t know it yet, there is a thing that Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson called our deep connection to nature: biophilia.

This is what draws you to the savage wilderness of the African plains, that drives you through the impenetrable forest to peek at a Gorilla in the wild and to brave the open seas for a glimpse of whales or dolphins. See any depiction of paradise and animals abound.

So now back in my room, I’m searching for solutions to the current crisis that might mean the survival of earth itself. There have been multiple mass extinctions in Earth’s history. There are clear signs that point to our living in the midst of one now.

Humans have pumped green house gases – water vapour with carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that act as a thermal blanket warming the surface of the earth. They did this primarily by burning coal and oil for industrialisation, clearing land for agriculture, industry and settling.

More evaporation and rain means more dry weather and more rain. Warming of the oceans and melting of ice polar caps are raising sea levels. Because this is happening at the pace and magnitude not experienced by species in their evolution on earth, they are dying out.

This will have a chain reaction and impact the survival of human civilisation. The challenges ahead are not only to develop and grow enough food to feed over seven billion people but how it can be done without pumping out green house gases or converting tropical forests to farms and killing off other species for short term gains.

And I come up with Kevin MacKay’s argument – As a social science professor he thinks the collapse of civilisation is controlled by oligarchs – that is a handful of powerful people in politics, wealth and media, who despite possessing the cultural and technological know-how sabotage solutions for short term gains.

George Monbiot wrote for The Guardian’s Newspaper – “Last Wednesday I attended a meeting about environmental breakdown at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Many people in the room seemed to understand that continued economic growth is incompatible with sustaining the Earth’s systems.”

I’ve been stuck here in the countryside through Christmas and New Year, unexpectedly longer than I had envisaged. Surrounded, as I am by the excessive consumerism and excitement, touched with a measure of hedonism – extravagant shopping, eating, drinking and partying that gets us through the short cold days and long dark nights, past the winter solstice when the days begin to get lighter. It’s given me the chance to converse with a dear old friend in America about the wisdom or not of celebrating thanksgiving. Here, discussions on Brexit and the diet that will save the planet, have been dominating the media. This, whilst the puppy is curled up against my daughter, stretching only her paws towards the flames, looking at them without fear.

We live in times where technology has made communications exceedingly easy. And so, whilst the main change must come from government initiatives, there are many things we can all do. I like these best:

Spread the word – Have faith in human innovation. Talk to and inform your friends and family so that people understand that this problem is real and urgent. There live amongst us people with different talents, the solutions will come.

Reduce your carbon footprint – Consume less. A small change made by millions of people adds up to a huge amount. Especially, if you live in a developed country: Think of ways in which activities waste less resources – car pooling, recycling, packaging. Use a kikapu, carry a refillable, drinking water bottle. The economy will survive by diversifying to suit your needs.

Buy sustainable – Don’t just pass on a Facebook message, do your research. Palm oil is found in many foods and toiletries. Find out who is committed to sustainably producing. Companies such as Unilever, Kelloggs and Palmolive have good records in their commitment to source sustainably.

This also includes learning about permaculture and buying organic if you can. This ensures that bugs are not eliminated or forced into extinction by pesticides but rather kept in check.

Eat less meat. And Fish only from healthy fisheries – Overfishing, like hunting has wiped out 90% of top predator fish – shark, blue fin tuna, marlin, swordfish and king mackerel. Seek the names of sustainable fisheries and you shall find. We would feed at least 50% more people if land that is being used to grow crops to feed livestock were used to grow crops to feed people. This would prevent further clearing of indigenous forests and habitats.

You don’t need any animal trophies – ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, exotic furs. The substitutes are nicer. There also exist medicines that are better than those ancient concoctions – it’s been proven.

Support leaders who care – Developing nations deserve their wealth and growth but we need innovations and solutions that are timely and relevant to the modern culture not what has already been done and is working no more.

Choose leaders who actively seek clean energy, value nature reserves, have efficient agricultural policies and who promote education and the rights of women and children. Specially, the girl child. Women in many developing nations are at risk of being married off early, being kept ignorant and of being turned into birthing commodities which doesn’t help the population explosion.

Enjoy Nature – Explore the bush or the sea, even your garden. Try a camel or horseback safari, walk through the Mara or sail and swim around the coral reefs off Mnemba Island and Kuruwitu. Instead of excessive shopping, spend your time cooking or learning pottery, take up social dancing. Paint or photograph nature. Adopt an animal. Join a conservation society. It will make you happy.

Whilst seeking warmth, from fire or fellowship, I have come across the writings of John Muir, early Scottish American conservationist who is credited with saving America’s soul from excessive materialism. Samuel Hall Young quoted him in 1915,

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

And in an unpublished Journal in 1938, he wrote

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

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