Two days ago, my 15 year old daughter and I discussed that new subject she had to take at school: "Economic and Social Sciences". The term is broad and vague, hence the discussion.
For My daughter, Mei, understanding how our human organisation functions is interesting. So we ended up having a conversation about how capitalism, mass production and productivity need to be re-thought in order for us all to have a future. I found myself trying to explain that the "Environment" isn't just the environment, but truly has to be part of the way we think our social and economical organisation. I wonder what they teach Mei in Economic and social sciences: the old school capitalism or the changes that we will all have to make to solve the environmental crisis.
The Environment question has become a "please, not again..." kind of subject for many of us. Too often we are bombarded by the dramatic statistics and facts, watch documentaries which are giving us a long list of tragedies, leaving us helpless and really unsure of how to contribute to solving the problem. Doom & gloom all over...
Randomly, last night I watched LIFE ON OUR PLANET: a doc starring 93-year-old wild life reporter and activist David Attenborough. This piece is his "witness statement and views for the future".
The first part stresses the dramatic changes which have occurred in Sir Attenborough's life time: how progress and innovation soon became over-production, productivity, then devastation and annihilation of most natural habitats and biodiversity. It put things in perspective, and remind us that only a few decades back, the world was still almost pristine. I couldn't refrain from thinking that the only world my daughter knows in the current one. In my mid-forties, I have the privilege of remembering the real taste of tomatoes in the summer, the wonderful and occasional beef steak my grand-mother was buying from the farm or the untouched wilderness of the French Atlantic coast. She doesnt.
Towards the end of the second third, be prepared to be moved and teary as you realise (deep into your guts) the amplitude of the damage. More so, one realises how none of us ever wanted such life of destruction, excesses, illnesses and extinction. None of us wanted to eat blind chickens raised on steroids in a factory, none of us wanted to see decimated forests in order to get a new IKEA cabinet or get cancer from heavy metals inhalation or from the aluminium in our deodorants. We didn't want this.
Usually those documentaries leave us indeed helpless and unsure of what to do next. But the last third is what other docs don't do: provide solutions and encourage us all to think the world differently in the context of over production and over population.
- Slow population growth: obviously, more of us means more damage. It turns out that historically, as families increased their standard of living they also limited their offspring to 2 or about. Very soon, the growth population will peack for the very first time. By raising people out of poverty, giving all access to healthcare and enabling girls to stay in school as long as possible, we can make this peak occur sooner and control/ limit population growth. the trick is to raise the standard of living around the world without increasing our impact on it. And here are ways to do this.
- Phase out Fossil fuels: the natural world is mainly solar powered. The earth's plants capture 3 Trillion KiloWatt hour of solar energy each day! That's 20 times more that what we'd need for our economy to function. And that's just sun light. "We need to run our world on the eternal energies of nature". Morocco runs 40% of its energy through solar power now after being dependent on fossil fuels for decades.
- The oceans / No fishing zones: the oceans are our ally to reduce carbon dioxyde in the atmosphere and provide us with food. But they do this better when their biodiversity is preserved. We can still hope to feed ourselves through fishing but only if we do it right. Palau is a small island relying on fishing and tourism to survive. When the fishing stock reduced, Palau limited fishing practices and closed off some fishing zones entirely for the wild life to reproduce. The fish population became so healthy that it spilt over areas where fishing was allowed, in turn providing ressources which would have expired otherwise. It increased the fish catch of local fishermen and allowed the reef to recover. Estimates show that turning 30% of our coastal zones in "No fishing zone" will provide more food that we'd ever need. The UN is currently attempting to create the biggest "no-fish-zone" of all in international waters.
- The land: reduce dramatically the farming areas and change our diet: the key to solving the problem is in restoring wilderness and ecosystems. What we eat matters in this context. In the wilderness, large carnivores are rare because they need a lot of preys to survive and a lot of preys, means a lot of land. For each predator in the Serengeti, there is has a pool of 100 potential preys. So for each piece of meat we consume, we too need a huge expense of land to host/produce these animals. The earth is just too small to sustain billions of meat-eaters.
- We need instead to increase our consumption of plants: we would only need half the land to sustain the world population. By only raising plants, we would increase their yield substantially. In Holland, a small country with a dense population, they use hydroponic cultures (photo) to produce more on a fraction of the space and have raised their yield 10 fold in two generations, using less water, fewer pesticides, less fertilisers and emitting less carbon! Despite its size, Holland is the 2nd largest exporter of food. So we can produce more food indoors, in cities.
- Halt deforestation EVERYWHERE: they are the best device we have to locking away carbon and are the real centres of biodiversity. Again, they do the job better when the biodiversity is preserved.
Palm oil and Soya plantations shouldn't trigger deforestation, instead they should be planted on soil that has been deforested long ago (and there s plenty of it!). Acentury ago, more than 3 quarters of Costa Rica were forests. By the mid 1980's, one 3rd was left. The government offered grants to land owners to replant native trees. In only 25 years, the forest has returned to cover 50% of the country.
"A Species can only thrive because the other species thrive too"
We need to become sustainable again. We have to rediscover how to be "a part" of nature rather than "apart" from it. It's time to help rather than hinder wilderness. We have to learn how to work with nature rather than against it. We all know that, we all feel it's right, we all unconsciously know we'll hit a wall if any of the current "Economic and social sciences" continue to focus on profits and productivity.
Clearly, these things will have to be motivated by the politics and new laws, but unless we ask for it (by voting and consuming differently) our leaders won't change things much as they haven't in the last past 30 years.
"This is not about saving our planet, but about saving ourselves"
This is a beautiful testimony by a 93 year old man who's seen every bit of the world and say it like it is.
I felt compelled to share this documentary and recommend you to watch it, especially with your kids because the urgency is here and if we could stop walking blindly and start contributing, we may have a chance at surviving.