That Time I Drove A Tesla…

A few months back I had to drive from Anglesey to Edinburgh and back in a day, and I figured that was the perfect opportunity to take the Tesla Model S for a spin.

Tesla vehicles are simply incredible. Ever since their first production contract in 2005, they have been setting new precedents in our expectations of what electric cars can be; from drive experience, to speed, to torque, to acceleration, to battery life and range, to safety, and basically anything else you care to care about. There is nothing on the market currently quite like Teslas.

I picked up a Model S (Tesla’s best-selling Sedan) from Manchester Airport, courtesy of White Cars (credit where it’s due), and instantly fell in love. Everything about the car aesthetically takes your breath away, from the sleek design, double-take-worthy lack of radiator grill, suave interior, very sexy driver HUD and flipping massive touch-screen multimedia system in the middle of the dash board.

It’s weird when you accelerate in a Tesla – as the above video will attest – because you hear absolutely nothing; for a *very* short time you feel the umph of acceleration press you into your seat, and then you’ve reached the speed limit and you should probably get a hold of yourself. It’s like it doesn’t bother to tell you, it just goes right ahead and is awesome.

Range is one of those big concerns with electric cars in general. By the time I’d driven the ~140 miles from Manchester Airport to Gretna Green, the Model S was telling me that if I wanted to get to Edinburgh at any enjoyable speed I should probably top up the charge, which would take roughly 16 minutes. More importantly, from my own biological perspective, I was ready for a wee and a coffee. I pulled up at one of the free(!) Tesla Superchargers, and by the time I was back at the car it was pretty much ready to go.

There’s the ‘review’ stuff out of the way, but here’s what I really love about Tesla.

A decade or so ago, when talk about this ‘climate change’ thing was starting to pick up, and we were starting to accept that we should probably start emitting less, there was a large-scale sulky reluctance to do anything. By and large the response of *most people* was to groan, kick their feet and get skeptical, mostly because we knew that we really liked most things powered by fossil fuels, and being told that we had to cut down on the fossil fuels was immediately equated with having to give up *all* those things that make our lives enjoyable.

TopGear was just getting good for crying out loud! Clarkson, Hammond and May were accelerating the public’s interest in driving like lunatics, bigger more epic [internal combustion] engines, blowing things up, laughing at caravans and environmentalists in almost equal measure, and steering firmly into perpetuating what I’m going to coin the ’20th-century dream’.

Meanwhile the call for an alternative to fossil-fuel burning automobiles had been quietly made, and while most motor-heads turned up their noses, Elon Musk (and a few partners) cooly asked “How hard can it be?” And unlike the TopGear trio, Tesla made something that worked. Really damn well.

And with that spark of mad ambition, Tesla began setting the bar on what the future is actually going to be like. Now we’ve got real-life Tony Stark, Elon Musk actually moving out of Tesla because he’s done all he can to revolutionise the world of motor vehicles, and is taking on world-saving challenges one after another, very cooly doing what no others have the ambition (or know-how) to do.

But throughout, Teslas are this incredible mark of what’s possible, and they don’t even make it look difficult. Environmentalism is still sullied by prejudice that it’s about sacrifice, strife and challenge. We environmental communicators struggle to connect with a large audience because to many, endangered lemurs stuggle to compete – in many ways – with the thrill of supercars. But Teslas have managed to embody how saving the world should feel.

And there’s the big difference: between having to change and wanting to change.

If the world carries on business-as-usual, we will have to change or we will die.
Tesla, Musk, and others are giving us ways to want to change, and that concept is a hell of a lot more appealing.

For those who are just reluctant to change and averse to progress, I proffer an analogy.
A few decades ago something came along that demanded change, and moved people powerfully to become something new. This something looked at the establishment and said ‘No More’, and in sticking-it-to-the-man gave people a feeling to aspire to and to embody. It was about breaking free of business-as-usual, it was about becoming something new, and feeling awesome.

That something was Rock N Roll. And while the music and the means evolve, the song remains the same. To hell with the nay-sayers. Stick it to the man. Be awesome.
A bad-ass new world awaits.

Saving the world should feel awesome.

Saving the world should feel awesome. Like the Tesla Model S.

 

 

[Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored, I’m just a raving fan of ambitiously making the world a better place.]

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Mooooooooove Over, Dairy.

It’s been a loooooooooonnnnggg time coming, but it’s finally crossed the pond! Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Ice Cream is finally available in the UK!!!

I’ve just had my first bowl of both of the below flavours (there is a third, it may have sold-out) – they’re awesome. Go and buy some now.

Ben & Jerry's Non-Dairy Ice Cream in Peanut Butter & Cookies and Chocolate Fudge Brownie Flavours.

I have no qualms with telling you I bought this in Tesco. When other supermarkets in my local area (Anglesey) start providing as many non-dairy options as Tesco, I’ll praise them as well.

I’ve been waiting for this day for what feels like an eternity – why?
Because frankly, cows suck, and dairy-based ice-cream sucks. I’m not saying that dairy-based ice-cream isn’t delicious, but the meat and dairy industry is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, exacerbating climate change even more severely than almost everything else, and our collective love of it is one of the greatest driving factors in the over-exploitation of the planet. (If you’ve not already, go watch Cowspiracy on Netflix, it’s remarkable).
From a global perspective, ice-cream sucks.

So is that why Ben & Jerry’s have given us this gift of non-dairy ice-cream?
Here’s their answer as snapped from their website:

"We asked you. Lots of you. Some of you were committed to a vegan lifestyle, while others can't or would rather not eat dairy. And all of you are missing the indulgent frozen delights you wish you could enjoy. We knew that with some hard work and experimentation we could deliver the taste and creamy texture you've been craving. So we did."

and they’re nice and humble about it too.

So… kind of a variety of sort-of reasons, none of which anyone can argue against, they’re just not giving one solid answer to why they’ve branched into non-dairy.

And nor should they, to be honest. Because this isn’t about one-thing. There are a multitude of reasons why dairy sucks and why non-dairy is a good idea, and it’d be  unnecessary for them to dwell on one over the others when something so undeniably good is happening.

So I don’t care why they’ve done it – I’m just delighted that they have!
This is how change happens people!
Look around you – how many people, even when confronted with the facts, are going to be happy to give up something so deeply brilliant as ice-cream? (Surely only weirdo’s right? And I am saying that as one of those weirdos, but I don’t expect many other people to follow suit).

But what is it about ice-cream that people love? Is it that it’s made from stuff that comes out of a cow? Unlikely.
Is it that the dairy itself is so harmful to the planet? Probably not.
Is it the experience, the sensation, the flavour, and the delight? Yep, that’ll be it (in most cases).

The small print about what it’s actually made from is immaterial, really, from the point of  view of the consumer. (*Insert several morbid examples about how people don’t care about the negative repercussions of the things they buy).
If you keep the elements that people love, you can provide positive, viable alternatives for the elements that facilitate the things they love.

That’s how we’re going to save the world; by keeping people happy.
That’s how we’re transitioning from combustion-engines to electric cars.
That’s how we’re stopping over-fishing in Indonesia.
And that’s how we’re doing dessert.

Thank you Ben & Jerry’s!

How To Fight Climate Change

Happy #EarthDay and #March For Science!

In short, here’s how to fight climate change (and save the world):

  1. Vote conscientiously. Get informed on different parties’ policies on climate and environment and how they intend to tackle them.
  2. Offset your carbon emissions with Saving Species.
  3. Reduce the amount of plastic that you use and throw away.
    (Watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix if you want to know why).
  4. Reduce the amount of beef and dairy in your diet – or cut it out completely (Watch Cowspiracy on Netflix if you want to know why).

and check out everything else in Your Save-The-World Starter Pack 🙂

But here’s a big question that people often ask:-

WHY SHOULD YOU BOTHER???

Amidst all the chaos in the world, the sheer magnitude of the climate change problem, it can be very easy to ask “What kind of a difference can I really make?”
You are, after all, just one person. How can one person’s lifestyle change actually do anything to change the world?

My old answer used to be that even if it seems inevitable, can you really be comfortable knowing that your actions are personally and directly contributing to the destruction of everything you love? (take rainforest destruction, the bleaching of the great barrier reef, or the threat of food and water security for your children and grandchildren as examples). Can you contentedly be a part of that? Or will you take a stand and say “No, I will do what is in my power to not be a part of that“?

That old answer is fairly powerful, in that it makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, but there’s no assurance that you will actually make a difference – and that’s what you understandably really want.

Here’s my new answer:

We’ve recently seen the Brexit referendum and the rise of Trump.
How many people said those things could never happen? How many people cast their votes the way they did because “they never thought it would actually happen“; because they “Just wanted to make a point“?

In the last year the world has been completely turned upside down, and we’re desperately close to irreparable damage on a host of issues – not least of which is climate change.

It’s a bizarrely bitter-sweet assurance that’s come out of the last year’s of turmoil:

IF YOU BOTHER TO TRY,
YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.

(now go change it for the better 😉 )

 

A Phone That Redefines “Smart”: INTERVIEW with FairPhone

Now thanks to PokémonGo, fewer people then ever are managing to prize themselves away from thier smartphones for any length of time – even when out in the great outdoors. Technology, and smartphones in particular, have become deeply integrated into our lives. They are for work and for play. They open up a universe of information, and eons of hapless distraction. Ask most people now if they could function without their smartphone either for work or for their general lives, and most will concede that it’d be an awful lot harder if not impossible.

[I would like to suggest here that, at some point, you get off to a jungle and leave your phone in the rest of the ‘real world’. It is a gloriously freeing experience. Then return to society refreshed, work with the system to make it better, and look forward to your next opportunity to get out in nature.]

But where do these miracles of technology come from? What is the cost of something that enables and provides so much? A fundamental component in most technological goods is heavy metals – particularly things like gold, tungsten and tin – and if you look at where these metals generally come from things start to look a little darker than even your favourite Instagram filter could brighten up. The smart phone industry is an incredibly wealthy one, though one still very tied into market forces and all too-often cheap raw materials come with some sombre hidden costs. The fact is that almost all smart phones are currently produced with non-fairly traded raw materials. That might not sound like the worst thing in the world, until you realise that for many people around that world, that is a distinction between life and death at the hands of industry.

This injustice has not gone unnoticed, and the call to produce tech that has a positive impact on the world has been enthusiastically answered by a great bunch of people from Amsterdam; the team behind FairPhone.

FairPhone, “the smartphone with social values”, tackles four major issues in standard product development and distribution; the mining of raw materials, the way a product is designed (they don’t really agree with the concept of “inbuilt obsolescence“), the manufacturing of the product, and the overall lifecycle of the product. The result is a fantastic smartphone that is responsibly and fairly sourced from the moment it’s components leave the ground, is built to last and also built to evolve – you’re in control of your FairPhone, as it’s modular design makes for easy repairs and upgrades as technology develops. And there’s a kick-ass recycling scheme built in there too.

FairPhone

The FairPhone is as transparent and integrous as they come.

I recently received my very own FairPhone2, and I must say that I love it. Habitual iPhone users may sneer that the camera’s not yet as clear as theirs, or that there’s no virtual butler to dictate text messages to, or that it doesn’t automatically sync up with your new Apple Watch;  but frankly, if we can’t produce Apple level of slick-ness without ignoring human rights and the environment, then I’m not interested.

I dropped the team a line and asked if I could get to know a bit more about them as – and I’m sure you’ll agree – they deserve some praise for taking on the challenges faced by modern society in such entrepreneurial and altruistic ways. When I got in touch, Daria from Fairphone was more than happy to chat:


You’ve just launched Fairphone 2, how’s it been received? (I should point out at this point that I’m a big fan of mine, so as far as I’m concerned it’s been received very well).

 Over 40,000 have already bought the Fairphone 2, around 17,000 of them crowdfunded the phone last summer to kick-start the production and had to wait for their device for around half a year (now we finally have the phone in stock and for the new customers the delivery takes place within a week). We are very thankful to all these people for joining the community of 60,000 Fairphone 1 users who enabled us to take this next step towards fairer electronics and invest in the Fairphone 2.

The phone has also been received well by many technology and sustainability experts. For example, the Fairphone 2 has been the first smartphone ever to receive 10 out of 10 reparability score from iFixit. We’ve also received the highest rank among electronics manufacturers assessed by Rank a brand recently.

But we’re just getting started. In 2016, our goal is to focus on growth in order to create even more impact in our supply chain (with higher volumes we can become a more interesting and important partner for suppliers). We aim to sell 100,000 phones this year. This is a very ambitious target and in order to reach it we need to appeal to a more general public as well as to corporate clients and expand our distribution network. It is challenging but we’re working hard on it. This is why this year the support of our community and buyers is by no means less important than previously, but perhaps even more important than ever before.

 What kind of impacts have you already achieved through your design, and what are you hoping to tackle in the near future?

 We designed the Fairphone 2 ourselves (as opposed to the licensed design used for the Fairphone 2) in order to gain more transparency in our supply chain, build deeper relationships with suppliers and be able to choose materials and influence the production processes. It has enabled us to work closely with partners such as Fairphone 2 PCB manufacturer AT&S (second-tier supplier) and, for the first time in consumer electronics, we managed to integrate Fairtrade gold in our supply chain. Furthermore, recently we’ve announced that we’ve established a supply chain for conflict-free tungsten from Rwanda – again, thanks to working together with our suppliers (such as the mine and the smelter) behind the first tier. However, these are just the first steps and in the future we want to engage with more suppliers to increase our impact.

From the product perspective, with the Fairphone 2 we have managed to increase the reparability of the phone – users can replace the most commonly broken parts of the phone easily, without any technical knowledge. We sell spare parts that are needed to replace broken ones. Modular architecture also allows interesting upgradeability possibilities. We’re going to continuously improve the device doing incremental upgrades so that the product lives longer in the market commercially. As the first step, we are going to refresh the camera module as it’s one of the most utilised features of the phone.

In addition, we included an expansion port in the back of the transceiver. This expansion port gives us the option to build alternative back covers with integrated additional functionality.

 The big thing that I really want to ask, is Why is Fairphone special? By which I mean – why are more devices not like Fairphone? It’s great that Fairphone is special because it is fair, but obviously it’d be great if everything was fair, so why is it not? Why is it not just the expectation that we operate fairly?

 It’s a philosophical question. I think that one of the key reasons is that there is not enough visible demand for more ethical and long-lasting products, especially in electronics. Why is there not enough demand? There is a lack of awareness: people just don’t know where their stuff comes from, who makes it and in which conditions.

And this is exactly why we created the Fairphone – as a means to build the movement for fairer electronics and inspire the entire industry to tackle issues across the value chain: from mining to design and from manufacturing to life cycle. The Fairphone is a storytelling object. By making it we can open up the supply chain and bring its stories all the way to the consumer. By using it users can spread these stories further. Together we can show that there are people who care, that there is a market for more ethical products. This can motivate the industry to act more responsibly.

 Along such lines, what do you think that we could all do to improve our practise? Both on the large scale of corporate social responsibility, and on a personal level in the things we buy and our approach to the world.

Apart from what I’ve described so far, there are many actions that we as consumers can take to push towards a fairer economic models.


My sincere thanks to Daria and the rest of the FairPhone team for all that they’re doing to make the world a better place. Everyone else, get yourself a FairPhone and make some positive changes to global industrial practise.

Now if I could only catch that Snorlax

Your Search To Save The Planet Is Over: INTERVIEW with Ecosia.

Even in Your Save-The-World Starter Pack, most world-saving actions do actually require you to do something, to donate or give something up. Very very few initiatives out there just fit so seamlessly into your daily lives that you can save the planet without noticing. But there is a search engine out there that is beautifully bucking these trends and doing something great. I would like to introduce you to Ecosia; the way for you to save the world while you search.

EcoHow

Click here to install Ecosia as your default search engine from their homepage now.

It’s wonderfully simple. You search the web with Ecosia, and the revenue generated from advertising plants trees! It even keeps track of how many trees you’ve helped plant! What I love about this most is that Ecosia are beautifully and simply facilitating greatness, with no imposition whatsoever to the user. You don’t have to think about it, but it’s brilliant, and I’m going to tell you their story.

It was a trip around the world that highlighted the issue of global deforestation for the founder & CEO, Christian Kroll, and inspired him to take action. But he and his team didn’t just set out planting trees anywhere; they had vision.
The Great Green Wall is a heartfully ambitious movement of local communities to plant 8,000km of green across northern Africa to combat deforestation and the expansion of the Sahara – think Jadav Payeng but on a continental scale – and that is where Ecosia have set to make their impact.

And what an impact it is! Such a mass of trees will have a huge impact on the climate – not just globally but, thanks to evapotranspiration, on the local environment as well.
In supporting the Great Green Wall, Ecosia (and you, by searching with them) are not only directly combating climate change in one of the harshest environments on earth; they’re proving food and jobs to hungry communities. They’re bonding communities together, promoting healthier lives, cleaning air and water. This is striving to increase environmental, social and economic prosperity. And, in the words of The Great Green Wall, they are “Growing a World Wonder“.

In November 2014, Ecosia planted their one millionth tree. To date, at time of writing, they have planted 3,523,742 trees (14 of which I’ve been responsible for, and I’ve only been searching with them for 24 hours), and they’re currently on track to reach their target of 1 Billion trees planted by 2020. Upon discovering their awesome, world-saving initiative, I was dying to speak to them. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to have such a lovely interview with Jacey Bingler of the Ecosia team:


 

You mention online that Ecosia was formed after a trip around the world, which brought to light the problem of deforestation. How did you decide where to begin in tackling this issue, and what lead you to focus on the great green wall?

As Christian first learnt about reforestation when staying in Argentina, a reforestation/rainforest protection program in the Atlantic Rainforest (spreading across Argentina and Brazil) seemed a good starting point for his efforts in late 2009. A couple of years and two tree planting organisations later, the Ecosia team came across the planting program in Burkina Faso. We are fascinated by the idea of keeping the Sahel and Sahara desert from spreading by planting a wall of trees. Those trees don’t only absorb CO2, they also have the power to nourish communities, they can restart water cycles and stabilize economic and political situations in the region.

So how does this actually work? Who’s planting the trees? What trees are they? Who owns the land?

The land is owned and treated by the communities. The communities are also the ones executing the tree planting program with the help of WeForest, who organize the tree planting program in general and OZG, a Belgian NGO, operating with the local people on the ground. The communities do receive “sustainability training” and they must agree to certain standards in order to participate in the program, like granting women their own income from tree planting. But apart from that the program is about empowering people to help themselves and to create as little dependancies as possible. The local communities know best what trees to plant when and where and thanks to a very efficient planting technique the survival rate of the new trees and shrubs is at an astonishing 70%. We are very happy that the feedback from the communities has been very positive so far.

 10911259_10152617584126611_6524060338408198916_o

Your next target is one billion trees planted by 2020. Will that be focussed along the great green wall? What will be the greater impacts of this?

We initially set ourselves this goal of planting 1 billion trees because we determined that as a number that would significantly help mitigate climate change and do a lot for the biodiversity and stability of ecosystems in the planting regions. It is a very ambitious goal but it reminds us of where we are going and what we want to achieve. It motivates us to improve our product and spread the word about this great tree planting search engine every day. Where all these trees will be planted is yet to be determined. The Great Green Wall is an amazing project we are glad to be part of, but there are surely uncountable regions all over the world that are in bitter need of reforestation.

You’re taking on Google; how do you feel about that, and how’s that been received?

Google offers great search results and user experience, otherwise it wouldn’t have become such a popular, omnipresent product. But this omnipresence and monopolist status is what troubles us. Rather than telling people what not to use, we want to show them that there are alternatives and that no one has to use a search engine or product in general just because it is preinstalled in most browsers or on most devices. Lately more and more people seem to be driven away from Google and towards us, probably largely due to the latest tax affair. This shows us that the future belongs to businesses who offer a product that benefits the user and supports a greater cause at the same time.

Ecosia seems set to be able to make a big difference, not just to the environment, but to the whole concept of corporate social responsibility. What element of Ecosia are you most proud of?

We believe that Ecosia is a great tool that empowers everyone to do good, without any additional cost or effort for the user. It capitalizes on a daily habit and turns something as abstract but also lucrative as search advertising into something as nurturing and tangible as trees. But as you already indicated, the product and the good cause it supports could really be anything. The fact that this system works in general, gives us hope, and we celebrate every new social business who joins the movement. Something that is very important to us on the way is being transparent and offering our users as much insight as possible. This is why we publish all our monthly donation receipts and business reports and are happy to answer any kind of question regarding the mechanics that keep Ecosia going.

Do you have any other advice for people wanting to save the world with something as simple as a click?

Don’t underestimate how much more you’ll be able to achieve, if you allow yourself to scale. We used to donate almost all of our total income to tree planting. This never really allowed us to employ additional team members who could help us improve our product and spread the word. Hadn’t it been for our community members who usually are so excited about Ecosia that they share us with their networks, we would have had a very hard time growing and even being able to keep Ecosia running. A little over a year ago we decided to get additional team members on board and invest in new features and product improvements. We started paying our monthly costs first and then donating at least 80% of our profits. This has helped us scale our product so much, that we are now in fact able to donate more money than before. There’s a very interesting TED talk by Dan Parlotta on how social businesses often have a very hard time explaining why and how they invest money. Christian introduced me to it a while ago and I think it’s incredibly insightful.

 


So get to it! You can install Ecosia as your default browser right now by simply clicking the link on their homepage here, and you can also download the Ecosia app for android or iPhone. It takes seconds to do, and every day you’ll be able to make huge impacts with them. Think of it – you can be proud that you’re making the world a better place, every time you fire up the internet!

clickhere

Click here to search with Ecosia. Original image courtesy of http://www.beeldkas.be

My sincere thanks again to Jacey from Ecosia, to the whole Ecosia team for their phenomenal work, and to all of you future Ecosia users 🙂

My One Man Climate March

OMCM1

COP 21 is just around the corner, and to environmentalists, scientists and people who think life on Earth is OK, that’s a big deal. Essentially, our world-leaders are coming together to decide the fate of the world as we know it. Over the 2-weeks build up to COP21, starting on 28th November, everyone else is banding together in a huge global effort called the Global Climate March – in association with 350.org and Avaaz.org – taking to the streets to show support for the world’s leaders in their thousands, and reassuring us that there are a huge number of people out there passionately committed to saving the world.

In the build-up to COP21, I’m doing things a little differently and undertaking my own One Man Climate March. Something that I’ve learned in the last few years of conservation & environmental management is that the world is facing some serious threats right now, and that actually doing what’s needed to be done about that is very very difficult. Saving the world is going to be about a lot more than blustery promises and lower emissions. About a lot more than shouted protests and activism. It can only be done by properly understanding the issues and finding great solutions to them. My One Man Climate March will tell that lesser-known part of the story.

With jungle-grown anecdotes, loop-hole-laden legislation and a strong dose of environmental fanaticism, I’m going to be visiting schools, sharing my experiences and  engaging students in debates all over Nottinghamshire and beyond. And together we’ll be standing with our world-leaders, understanding what needs to be done, and changing the fate of the world.

What’s the Difference Between David Mitchell & Hoverboards?

David Mitchell is brilliant. He’s a very clever chap, eminently likeable & damn entertaining too, which is a great thing in every way – particularly from the perspective of being a great communicator. So when he released a new Soap Box recently likening the future of our planet to compulsory tidying up, I couldn’t decide if I thought it was profoundly brilliant or a complete, soul-crushing undermining of my very being. See for yourself:

And yes, honestly, given the choice, I’d rather go driving to the North pole drinking Gin than go on a Bat Survey tonight – though I do still quite enjoy cutting about in the wilderness chasing bats. But the future isn’t as David says – or as he says environmentalists say; it’s not a case of “tidying up” or trying to make that fun.

What we’ve come across is a necessary leap in our industrial revolution & progress. We’ve come a long way in the pursuit of making things easier & having more fun – basically everything that burns fossil fuels. But we’re reaching the limits of that technology because we’re reaching the limits of the fuel itself – or at least of how much of it the planet can take. We’ve set ourselves a great baseline in ability & fun, and we want more of it.

The invention of the wheel has been pivotal in our evolution, as has the development of things for wheels to go on and things to go on wheels. Wheels allowed us to discover taking more stuff to places further away, and rolling really fast down hills. And what did we do with those newly discovered abilities? We thought “Hey, you know what would make this even better – no wheels!” And hence we invented planes to do those things even better.

Hover-boards are the perfect example. We’ve had skateboards for ages, but we’ve always had that dream – mostly inspired by Back To The Future – of Hover-boards. Well… we’ve gone & made them (and they’re catching on, even Lexus is getting in there).

Throughout out past we’ve had a lifestyle we covet, and something’s got in the way & we’ve had to technologically overcome it. Wars, despite being the vessels of gross global atrocities, continue to facilitate the desperate need to develop new technologies to do things better, faster, harder, more secretly, or with more of a bang. It’s our technological version of The Red Queen Hypothesis.

Back to the Mitchell/Clarkson example of driving to the North pole drinking gin being brilliant fun. We can all agree that we’d like to do that. But it’d be nice to be able to without destroying the world (though its’ a close-call I know). Back when we relied on steam engines to get around that was all fine but it didn’t fulfil our needs perfectly, so we got the internal combustion engine in it’s stead. Now that’s letting us down, so we need to find another kind of fuel to use to get around.

How about Salt Water?

This is an electric sports car powered by salt water. Click for awesomeness.

Yep, that’s a thing now, and it’s freaking awesome. What’s better than driving around really fast and destroying the world? Driving around really fast and NOT destroying the world! The fossil-fuel-free future is not a drab case of a nicely tidied room. It’s touchable holograms, hover-boards, and SOLAR. FREAKIN’. ROADWAYS.

It’s no parent-y notion that ‘tidying up can be fun’ – we just need to drop the adolescent winge that something fun becomes work the second someone tells you to do it. If we resent it, we’ll all die. If we step-up and get involved, we’ll all get shiny hover-boards. This is globalised Having-your-cake-AND-eating-it. You wouldn’t buy that Lemon Drizzle cake from Tesco because of the potassium sorbate preservatives and palm oil that’s in it – you’d buy it because it tastes nice. Similarly you wouldn’t buy an almost-identical competing cake from a vegan farm shop purely because it didn’t have those things in it – well maybe some people would – no, you’d buy it because it tastes nice. And if you don’t think these world-saving efforts like solar-freakin’-roadways and ocean-powered sports cars are awesome – who cares? You’ll still get cake, just carry on not thinking about what goes into it.

 

What if we could have everything?

The evolutionary & technological arms race is as alive as ever, and we’ve never been in a better position to make awesome.

And ironically, of course, we wouldn’t have these awesome lifestyles to aspire to if it weren’t for fossil fuels.

The Superlative Allure

Here’s a little film about Madagascar. Madagascar is the world’s oldest island. There are more endemics – species that live in here and only here – in Madagascar than anywhere else on Earth, and the diversity not just of the life here, but of the environments on this 1000-mile island is unrivalled; Lush Rainforests, Spiny Southern Forests, and Dry Deciduous Northern Forests. Though with as little as 2% of original forest remaining, nowhere is as remarkable yet so near to complete, irreplaceable destruction.

Madagascar is classified by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as a Biodiversity Hotspot – meaning that it’s within the top 35 (it’s quite near the top) of the most biodiverse-yet-threatened places on Earth. In short – the one’s we really want to hang on to.

So, Should We Save It?

That’s a question that the IUCN, WWF, Opwall, Saving Species and many other Conservation NGO’s have to ask every single day; and it’s not that easy to answer. Resources are limited, so if we’ve only got so much protection to go around, but a planet’s-worth of things that need protection, we end up having to be quite strict. The IUCN designed their Red List & the Biodiversity Hotspots idea to help us get the maximum return for our investments – the places where we can save the most stuff, that’s most in need of saving & most likely to disappear if we don’t. Their exact criteria is “Must contain more than 1500 species of Vascular Plants” (cos they’re easy to count & quantify) and “Must have lost more than 70% of it’s original habitat”.


Sidenote:

I’ve stated that “Resources are limited”. In 2012 , Donal McCarthy et al calculated that we’ll need to spend $76 BILLION, every year for the next 10 years to save all the species & habitat that needs saving. Does that sound like quite a lot?

Turns out that’s actually <20% of what we annually spend on soft drinks…

In 2013, the US Military fiscal budget was $610 BILLION –  that’s 8 of the 10 years of saving the world covered in one…

and last year the US’s GDP was $17.4 TRILLION, while the UK’s was just $2.5 TRILLION.

So… the money is out there…


The Superlative Allure

So, being the story-loving species that we are, we’re actually selecting stuff that is the most worthy of remark. This is beyond the simple charisma of the cuddly-&-endangered Giant Panda, we’re attracted to extremes. In the same way that limited edition chocolates sell-out, lost-sessions albums are fought over by fans, we drool over fine wines & rare spirits and even go to the extent of believing that this is an exclusive sale at DFS; we select for the last of something, the most threatened, the biggest, the smallest, the fastest, the fattest, the most genetically isolated, the rarest. It’s fair enough; we like to feel special.

This is a brilliant book.

Randy Olson says in his book ‘Connection‘ that, in relation to story-telling “[Superlatives are] the difference between “one of” the best things in storytelling and “the” best thing in storytelling.” It’s why The Last Polar Bears are more encapsulating than Some Polar Bears.

Really Superlatives are just adjectives, but they’re the best adjectives. It’s whatever makes a Ming Vase more than just a vase; what makes M&S food more than just food.

The Price of Life?

So this leads me to a wondering; if we prize rarity over commonality… if only the most threatened species get funding… could we be making endangerment an attractive position in which to place species? We can argue for ‘Umbrella‘ and ‘Indicator‘ Species (Take Tigers or Tapirs – rare, kinda easy to monitor but massively representative of everything else living in their ecosystem), but at worst this could mean that we drive species to extinction just to make them more interesting & fund-able; or similarly we could waste money protecting the rare or cuddly purely for rareness’ or cuddliness’ sake (*cough* Pandas *cough*).

Economy Ecology

There’s 2 things we can do to make our pursuit of Conservation & World-Saving more viable, efficient & effective.

1. Look for the hidden benefits of things – also known as ‘Ecosystem Services‘. Best example – BEES! It’s quite true that we cannot live without them (at least not without invoking huge struggling and faff), and they underpin & support basically everything from the plants that they pollinate to the thing-that-eats-the-thing-that-eats-the-thing-that-eats-the plants that they pollinate. That’s the wonderful thing about Ecology – it all functions as a whole, and we need most of what the world naturally does to survive.

In a more casual sense, I’m saying ‘Stop & Smell The Roses‘.

2. Give Alluring Superlatives

Do you know how many words we have in the English language? 750,000. Of those, 3,000 are to describe emotion – of which your average westerner will habitually use 12. Tony Robbins is a vibrant advocate of the power of words, stating that if you simply transform your vocabulary you can transform your life – & he’s right. The way that we use words has a direct effect on how we experience the world around us. So try it; describe the world as if it’s a place of wonder, as if you could be excited by a single bee, of millions.

But when it comes to describing a world most-full of wonder, there really is only one expert;

The Song That Saves The World.

 

Neil Young is about to release a new album, titled Storytone, on which he features his proudest new song ‘Who’s Gonna Stand Up (And Save The Earth)‘. He’s a hugely respected musician, (borderline aging-hippy), but will this song save the world?

Personally, I don’t think so. It just lacks…. depth. Narratively speaking, it’s nothing we’ve not heard before; it’s a list of all the things that are destroying the Earth that make those of us who care feel bad which, when spelled out like that, make sustainable living seem like a big, many-versed difficulty…

Rather than continue to point out what I think Neil’s song lacks (like some generic climatologist), I’ll show you a song that’s actually moved people, a song that is worthy of huge praise (like a Rock’N’Roll Conservationist): Kimberley, by John Butler.

John’s actual song starts at 4:40, but if you’ve watched this video from the beginning (thank you), you’ll have the full story behind this song. The song itself has a great narrative story; personifying The Kimberley region of North-Western Australia, a truly incredible environment, as a girl from a classic hero-tale. Not in a way dissimilar to the brilliant folk behind Nature Is Speaking. Immediately – a story! Something we humans can instinctively follow. It’s got the role of villain perfectly filled by ‘Prince of the Cowboys‘, Colin Barnett, from the sounds of it Butler’s long-time nemesis and the perfect Baddy in this tale. And most poignantly, we have the tale of John’s friend Paddy, who’s side we’re on before the song even starts; the simple, honest, good man, who’s trying to be no more than that and thereby plays the hero. And finally, there’s you. John echoes the thoughts of thousands in lyrics ‘Where do I stand? There’s a hole in my heart & a line drawn in the sand… etc.’

The efforts of John and fellow campaigners went on to actually save the Kimberley in a massive victory a few years ago, for which they should all be immensely proud. I’ve heard though, that all their hard-work has been thrown out the window since the rise of Australia’s current PM, Tony Abbott, who’s just so… um, yeah, and he’s declaring an active war on the environment.

Overall, while Neil’s new song fills us with, if anything, a sense of obligation, John’s has the power to speak to us in our hearts & souls, and fill us with Pride. And I thank them both.

What moves you more?

Who’s going to stand up and save the Earth?” – Neil Young

Neil Young & John Butler; two powerful environmental visionaries. (Origional Neil Photo from neilyoungnews. Origional John photo screen-shot from youtube.)

I am what I am, and I am strong, cos I got my Land, and I got my song.” – John Butler