If you’re anything like us you’re feeling stressed and depressed about the state of our planet. Almost every day, people who pop into our Christchurch factory store spill their fears for the future, and whether we will have one. It’s no surprise that rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed in the youngest generation – the ones who have the most to lose if we don’t sort out our climate problems. It even has a name, ‘Apocalypse Fatigue.’
It seems bleak, but there are reasons to hope. And hope is important! Without it we’ll all stop caring, stop campaigning and stop shouting for change.
This article is the first in a series profiling people and groups around the world, unsung heroes, effecting real change for people, animals and the planet in their communities and around the world. They deserve to be celebrated, but more importantly, they can inspire and give us hope.
There are many, many people and groups out there doing wonderful things. In honor of world environment day, I’ve selected five to kick off the series.
1. Bhutan and its big goal
Let’s start big. Have you heard about Costa Rica and its ambitious target? They want to be one of the first countries to hit ‘zero carbon emissions’ by 2050. As a first, impressive step, Costa Rica ran on renewable energy only for a record 300 days. That’s awesome, but let me tell you about Bhutan. They’re not happy with just carbon neutrality – they want to be carbon negative. That is, produce fewer emissions than their forests offset. This tiny 700,000-people country is sandwiched between China and India, the two most populous countries on earth. Every year they export enough renewable energy to offset 17 million tons of carbon dioxide. Bhutan's prime minister Tshering Tobgay says the secret to their success is incredible leadership, starting back in the 1970s, when they began measuring their success by ‘gross national happiness’ (GNH) rather than gross domestic product (GDP). Another incredible leadership decision? Their constitution requires their country maintains at least 60% forest coverage. And 50% of their country is protected nature reserve. Bhutan, we bow down.
2. Dr Steve Boyes and the Okavango Delta
The world needs wild places. They’re refuges for animals, carbon sinks for our atmosphere and places where we can explore the planet as it once was. But we’re not doing a very good job of protecting them. Dr Steve Boyes and a team of scientists are. They’re documenting and protecting the Okavango Delta in Botswana, one of the world’s largest remaining wetlands. Home to rhino, leopard, lion, hyena, elephant and hundreds of thousands of species we haven’t even discovered yet. By traveling through and studying the delta, Steve hopes to better understand how to protect it and encourage others to do the same. The team works with government officials, local communities and non-profits to ensure the delta is protected for all.
Dr David Vaughan is one of many scientists working to ensure the survival of coral reefs, which are fast becoming one of the first casualties of the climate disaster. Oceans aren’t just getting warmer. As carbon dioxide in our atmosphere dissolves into water, the oceans are also getting more acidic. This makes it almost impossible for coral to build their limestone ‘skeletons’. No more coral isn’t just a loss for snorkelers – it would also mean losing the 25% of ocean species that are supported by coral. But there is hope! As it turns out, coral fragments and baby corals can be made to grow and reproduce much faster.
Coral fragments are being ‘planted’ in oceans around the world, and they’re thriving, even in what other corals would consider untenable conditions. Programs run by the Mote Marine Laboratory and the Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Research and Restoration have already planted over 40,000 coral fragments in the Florida Keys.
How can you help? This one is easy. Stop eating fish, especially reef fish, like grouper, snapper or parrotfish, which play a crucial role in the ecology of coral reefs.
4. Isatou Ceesay, “The Queen of Recycling.”
If you’ve been reading our blogs, you know the Plastic Crisis is, well, just that. A crisis. Only 9% of plastic has been recycled, ever. The rest is stockpiled, left in landfill or is washed into our oceans. And that’s the good news. In developing countries, the situation is much worse. There’s little collection and even less processing. Plastic is often burned, producing toxic fumes, respiratory disease and environmental pollutants. In 1997, before the plastic crisis had the momentum it does now, Isatou (along with four other amazing women) created the Women’s Initiative Gambia (WIG). WIG is dedicated to ‘supporting financially poor women in Gambia’ and one of the ways they do this is through a recycling scheme.
In Gambia, many households throw their rubbish behind their houses – out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately this was leading to disease and environmental degradation. WIG teaches women around Gambia to reclaim and reuse plastic – it’s sewn into things like purses, bags and balls. This earns the women an income that changes their household’s financial position, while protecting their communities and environments. I love this quote from Isatou: “In order to love the environment, you must first love yourself. This is our responsibility to ensure that future generations do not ever live what we have been through. If we prepare children to become better leaders, and women to play an important part alongside men, then we will be able to mitigate climate change, while living and working in better conditions, and contributing to the development of our society. Everything is linked together. If we understand that, then we are on the right path.”
Get in touch with WIG and learn more about their work here, or even better, start your own community movement!5. Caroline Dama is replanting trees across Kenya
Caroline is the coordinator for the Green World Campaign, a school-based program, which teaches about environmental conservation across Kenya. They’ve helped plant over 1 million trees across the country. Each student is responsible for one tree, and whatever other plants (usually vegetable crops) they grow alongside it. Trees sequester carbon dioxide (they remove it from the atmosphere and use it to build their cellular tissues), so while every tree makes a difference, we need a lot of them! Luckily there over 15,000 schools in Kenya, so the scope for the programme is immense.
The tree of choice is the Moringa olifera tree, which stabilizes soil systems (helping to reverse the problem of soil erosion), has edible leaves, and contains oil used in cosmetic products. This delivers a twofold incentive: immediate economic gains and long-term environmental benefits. We don’t currently use moringa oil, but we want to! I hope to meet Caroline one day and to explore a partnership with Green World.
“Whenever I speak with people, I ask them, ‘What can you do for this place?’ I tell them that it is about what you leave behind, not what you gain. Compassion is planting a tree whose shade you don’t intend to sit under. This is what it is all about.” Caroline Dama
How can you help? Well, get planting! But also click here to see if you can get involved with this fabulous initiative.
There’s hope if you look for it
It wasn’t hard to find these five examples, and it has led me down a rabbit hole of hope – I’ve uncovered thousands of people around the world doing incredible things to support the future of our planet.
So, stay tuned for profiles on more groups and people who are quietly working to save our earth – and us along with it.
Because that’s hope, which is something we could all do with a little more of.