Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans. – Evo Morales
This week in my search for good people I found several examples of people spending their time doing good things for the environment, so I decided to follow that theme, in honour of World Environment Day, which was earlier this month on June 5th. While some may greedily take from the Earth without a thought of giving back, there are many who are dedicated to helping clean up and protect our environment. Let us look at just a few of those people.
In Mumbai India, a lawyer by the name of Afroz Shah brought together over 2,000 volunteers to clean up a 2-mile stretch of Versova Beach. The group collectively picked up over 160 tons of trash from the beach, but they didn’t stop there! They also planted 500 coconut trees!
The group was comprised of local students, local business people, and members of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). This in itself is impressive, but what I find most admirable about Mr. Shah is that his commitment is long-term … for the past 87 weekends he has spent his time organizing community clean-ups on the beach.
In the words of one local fisherman, “Before this movement, we were helpless when we saw garbage affecting the marine life, but nothing was done about it. However, after the clean-up drive, we can see the difference. We have realized that if the entire fishing community of Versova comes together, there will be no plastic in sight.”
My hat is off to Mr. Shah for his tremendous and inspirational efforts! See … there are even good lawyers in the world!
Kjell Inge Røkke (please do NOT ask Filosofa how to pronounce this name!) started his career as a fisherman at the age of 18, with neither a high school nor college education. His rise in business is a story in itself, but will have to wait for another day, for today’s topic is what he is doing for the environment. Røkke is considered to be one of the ten wealthiest people in Norway, with a net worth equal to $2.6 billion USD.
On 16 May 2017 Røkke announced that he is funding the purchase of a giant research vessel. The ship is built in cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) in Norway. The Research Expedition Vessel (REV) is a 600-foot vessel that will maneuver the ocean’s waters sucking up plastic waste. Capable of accumulating and recycling up to 5 tons of plastic per day, the REV will also double as a mobile laboratory for scientists to monitor and observe the ocean’s ecosystems.
Once completed, the ship will accommodate 60 scientists who will ‘monitor and observe the ocean’s ecosystems’. The scientists on board will have some of the most hi-tech research equipment available to them in order to properly observe the seas. Røkke hopes that the team will be able to utilize these facilities to discover new ways in assisting and nourishing the ocean’s struggling ecosystems.
“I am a fisherman, and curious by nature. Resources in the oceans and on the seabed have provided significant value for society – and also for my family and myself. For this, I am very grateful. However, the oceans are also under greater pressure than ever before from overfishing, coastal pollution, habitat destruction, climate change and ocean acidification, and one of the most pressing challenges of all, plasticization of the ocean. The need for knowledge and solutions is pressing.”
Røkke told Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper that he wanted “to give back to society what I’ve earned” and described the cost of the ship as costing “the lion’s share of his fortune”.
Think about this pairing: veterans coming home, feeling displaced, often suffering from PTSD or other physical/emotional injuries … and … species of wildlife endangered by poachers with little or no conscience, willing to kill an animal as a trophy or for profit. How do those two connect, you ask. The answer is Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (VETPAW).
According to their website, VETPAW “provides meaningful employment to post-9/11 veterans, utilizing their expertise to train and support Africa’s anti-poaching rangers to prevent the extermination of keystone African wildlife, and the disastrous economic and environmental impact it would have.”
Founded by former marine Ryan Tate and his wife Jeanne, the group of US military veterans he has assembled work in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa. African park rangers are often shot by the poachers who are intent on killing animals for their ivory tusks or horns. With the training and assistance provided by the VETPAW soldiers, conservationists can work to defend the massive mammals, while knowing someone has their own back.
The program has resulted in a 11% drop in the number of rhinos killed during the first half of 2016. Rhino horns are made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, yet a kilo is worth up to $65,000. South Africa is home to 80% of the world’s wild rhinos. The poachers are often criminal gangs, armed to the teeth, well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing.
VETPAW is serving two important functions by helping preserve the wild rhino and other endangered animals, but also giving returning vets a purpose in life, a focus. And there is another benefit from this program … local farmers and communities say they are safer now, as the poachers frequently posed a threat to them.
There is no single cause that is more important than protecting our planet, our oceans, forests, and wildlife. We cannot all go protect wildlife in South Africa, or purchase a billion-dollar boat to clean up the oceans, but isn’t it good to know that there are people out there doing just that? And we can do small things that make a difference.