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Nature is truly awesome.

And even if we don’t acknowledge it on a daily basis we inherently know it. Why else would we pay a premium to get closer to it when we get away from our everyday lives? Sea, or forest view from our hotel costs us more because it’s worth more to us than staring at a piece of concrete.

As well as this being pretty obvious when you think about it, it’s actually been proven – that being surrounded by trees and nature has a calming effect on our brain and many health benefits. National Geographic reports;

‘Motivated by large-scale public health problems such as obesity, depression, and pervasive nearsightedness…Strayer and other scientists are looking with renewed interest at how nature affects our brains and bodies…they’ve begun to quantify what once seemed divine and mysterious. These measurements of everything from stress hormones to heart rate to brain waves to protein markers indicate that when we spend time in green space, “there is something profound going on”.’

We’re part of it

It’s not surprising we feel so much more content and relaxed, as human beings, since the beginning, have been a part of nature and living within it.

It’s only the last few hundred years – the blink of an eye in history, that we’ve built grey, concrete towns and cities all around us. So much so that we’ve had to invent the phrase ‘escape to the country’. It’s easy to forget that when it’s what we’ve been born into, but we’re not living in environments natural to human beings, so no wonder we feel more tense and yearn for natural surroundings.

life without forests

“The forest is not a resource for us, it is life itself. It is the only place for us to live.” Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan.

The cost of profit

Unfortunately, in western culture we’re still entrenched in ideology thought up by people like Francis Bacon that is as ignorant as it is arrogant. – That we humans are masters of nature and can do as we wish without consideration for it, as we can control it, and it exists only to benefit us. This mindset, along with an economic system that has an insatiable need for consumption and profit at any cost, means we’re rapidly destroying our natural environment.

We are destroying the environment that we naturally should be surrounded by otherwise we’ll be more stressed, less content and ultimately long for it. If we don’t do something about it, we risk permanently longing for what we’ve lost.

forest destruction

Ancient amazing ecosystems

You’ve probably seen or heard of some initiatives happening around the world to plant more trees. Well, this is great and I’m all for it. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t as simple as planting new trees for old. Even to grow the beginning basics of a forest takes up to 100 years, and anyone who’s been into one will know that they are complex ecosystems of wildlife that have harmonised over centuries. And more than that, New Scientist states “…recovering the proportion of native species that are unique to the original forest which takes the longest time – the model predicts this will take up to 4000 years.”

deforestation

In a fascinating Ted talks called ‘How trees talk to each other’, Suzanne Simard adds to this. She says;

“A forest is much more than what you see… Underground there is…a world of infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate, and allow the forest to behave as if it’s a single organism. It might remind you of a sort of intelligence.”

Anyone else being reminded of the movie Avatar?!

deforestation

She explains how the older trees in a complex forest eco system nurture the younger ones, even of different species, and taking out too many of them through logging creates a tipping point that will bring down the whole system. Talking about our attempts at planting one or two species in their place she says; “These simplified forests lack complexity, and they’re really vulnerable to infections and bugs. And as climate changes, this is creating a perfect storm for extreme events.”

So not only is the notion of living in a world without forests and the creatures which inhabit them truly depressing, but the knock on effect on the world’s climate will be cataclysmic. Clearing and burning forests releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and as Greenpeace puts it; “So much carbon is released that they contribute up to one-fifth of global man-made emissions, more than the world’s entire transport sector.”

So, we know that destroying forests is a mammoth issue both globally, and for us as individuals. We know that the system we’re living under is a huge contributor to this happening and it just feels wrong. And we know that we want to be able to do something about it without spending our weekends hugging trees. But we just don’t know what.

Break it down

One of the many things Lean and Agile thinking has taught me which we can apply here, as well as to life in general, is if the problem seems too big to deal with, break it down. Once you’ve broken it down into actionable issues, prioritise them.

It may surprise you to know that Palm oil is the most widely consumed veg in the world! The average person probably won’t know much about palm oil or even have heard of it, but just typing it into Google will instantly bring up pages of results on why its use is so detrimental to the environment. It’s in so many everyday processed food products that its industrial-scale production is clearing forests at an alarming rate.

“Up to 300 football fields of forests are destroyed every hour for oil palm expansion. Indonesia, the largest producer of palm oil, made headlines when they were published in the 2008 Guinness World Records for the “fastest forest destroyer.” (onegreenplanet.org)

Clearly Palm Oil use is a key issue to prioritise and take action on. But if we’re being convinced to buy buy buy so companies can make as much profit as possible with total disregard for the damage it’s doing, what can we do about it?

There are always options and some of the longer term solutions would entail bringing in a new system. My personal belief is that the only way to do this without a potentially bloody and very messy revolution is by using Lean and Agile principals, i.e. move towards the ideal bit by bit for a sustainable solution that works. Each of these blog posts have that in mind as the ultimate goal, and how by our actions, we can shift towards something better.

deforestation

Doing it right

For the last few months, I’ve just been boycotting anything with palm oil. Now I’ve looked into this I think a more thoughtful approach is required.

What we’re pretty bad at us humans, is attempting to resolve an issue without considering whether we’re creating a new one. An even worse one in some cases. Environmental damage is an incredibly complex issue and we have to be smart about what we do about it. We’ve got to this place where our future existence is at risk through carelessness. If we’re going to create a future world that works for us and the planet, we have to wake up and switch our brains back on.

In the case of palm oil, swapping out everything we buy that contains it for a product that contains a different vegetable oil probably won’t solve the issue of deforestation. It will possibly make it worse. That’s because palm oil is very high yielding so it takes less area to produce the same amount than other vegetable oils. Producers would certainly get the message that we don’t want products containing palm oil but would they get the message that we won’t stand for destruction of forests? Or will they look for the next underhand way to maximise profits at any cost? My guess is the latter.

What to do

Just take one product out of your cupboards that contains palm oil and ask yourself whether you really need it in your life. Does it make you as healthy, happy or fulfilled as the advert told you it would? If the answer is no, then consider admitting to yourself that you’ve been done on this one. It happens to the best of us. Now you can take a deep breath in and a long breath out, and with it experience all the liberation and satisfaction of knowing you’re no longer going to buy something that adds no value to your life and causes serious harm to ancient ecosystems.

deforestation

If the answer is yes, do a search for an alternative version that uses sustainable palm oil, or doesn’t use vegetable oil. Of course there will be other ingredients that have a detrimental effect on the environment, but we’re aiming to limit our impact and demonstrate to producers that we’ll make our buying choices based on their consideration of that.

Feel empowered to save our forests

Once you’ve taken this easy step once, and got a taste for the empowerment it gives you, doing it again and again until you’ve pretty soon minimised any non-sustainable palm oil products will be easy. Better than that, it will be a joy and a passion, because you’ll know each time you do it that you’re giving direct feedback to producers that you won’t stand for what they’re doing to our natural environment. You won’t let them destroy our beautiful home and the well being it provides us with, and have the cheek to advertise the processed food products as if they are what will make our lives better. Each time you make a conscious buying choice, you’ll remind yourself and them what actually matters and makes us content, and your actions will bring us all closer to it.

The point of starting to make more conscious choices isn’t that you’ll immediately be perfect and never buy palm oil again. Our brains just don’t work like that so it’ll be virtually impossible to even try. The point is however, that once you’re aware of the size of the issue and what it means for our planet and for you, it makes being more selective over what you buy much easier.

dorestation

Motivated by need

My sis for example, has a particular penchant for Nutella. Just knowing that it contains palm oil which she had some vague notion was bad for forest and species destruction, wasn’t enough to quell the desire for the (let’s face it) delicious chocolatey spread. It wasn’t until I sent her a video of an orangutan physically attempting to fight off a bulldozer that was tearing down his home around him did the guilt override the urge to reach out and take it off the shelf.

A nifty trick for more motivation is to search for something relating to palm oil on social media and click ‘like’ or ‘follow’ or whatever. Similar posts will then pop up now and again and it always seems to be just when you’re in need of a reminder of how important this is.

deforestation

For a little motivation to get you on your way, here’s a quote by Chico Mendes, born in the Amazon and a fighter for sustainable practices there, who was assassinated outside his home;

“At first I thought I was fighting to save Rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity.”

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Sources and further reading:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14112-how-long-does-it-take-a-rainforest-to-regenerate/
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/feb/11/forests-trees-climate
https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/what-we-do/forests/deforestation-climate-change/
https://www.ted.com/talks/suzanne_simard_how_trees_talk_to_each_other/transcript?language=en
https://theecologist.org/2012/may/16/how-green-are-vegetable-and-rapeseed-oils
https://amazonaid.org/9-inspiring-quotes-forests/
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/video/2013/dec/23/legacy-chico-mendes-sustainable-profiting-brazils-forests-video

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Leila

A very informative and thought-provoking read. Thanks for sharing useful and practical tips for making conscious choices about products we buy.