© 2021 Chris Muhl Art. All rights reserved.

Preamble

I have been meaning to write this post for a while. It is about the interaction between food insecurity and the illicit bushmeat trade, the most significant threat to species extinctions. The bushmeat trade is a critical issue in the wildlife conservation arena, yet I feel that many people are not aware of it, nor the circumstances surrounding it. At the same time, I believe that many people are not aware of the present and future threats to food security, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

The following information has been obtained predominately from, 1) The Future of Food and Agriculture: Alternative Pathways to 2050 (hereinafter referred to as “the FOA report”), a report released by the Food And Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and 2) Climate Change and National Security: A Country Level Analysis, a book edited by Daniel Moran, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. I believe these sources to be credible, and the information that they contain is pertinent to understanding the future of food security on a global level. I have quoted them heavily, copying and pasting key passages to express key points and overall trends. I have tried to provide a succinct, summarized reconstruction of the comprehensive information contained within these two publications, while injecting a few thoughts along the way in support of my concerns regarding the connection between decreasing food security and the increasing bushmeat trade.

As you read through this post, I encourage you to think about this question, how will a worst case scenario in food security impact wildlife populations, especially in the low- and middle-income countries that harbor so many of the planet’s extraordinary animals?

Bushmeat: Driver of Extinctions

When I hear the word poaching, my mind drifts to dreary scenes of the carcasses of Africa’s most charismatic wildlife scattered upon a reddened earth with tusks and horns hacked off. I envision rolling seas and Japanese whaling vessels hauling minke whales up blood-stained ramps. However, until recently, I didn’t know the severity of the impact of bushmeat hunting on wildlife populations. I didn’t know that many species of great apes, monkeys, bats, rats, snakes and other wildlife are poached at unsustainable levels to meet demand within the illicit bushmeat trade. As such, I was surprised when I read the following quote on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website:

“Although habitat loss is a major cause of wildlife decline, the most immediate threat to the future of wildlife in Africa and around the world is the illegal trade and consumption of ‘bushmeat.'”1

– U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

This trade not only threatens the species hunted, but all the wildlife that prey upon these animals. For example, one of the two leading threats to African lions is prey base depletion “fueled by the increasing bushmeat trade.”2

Clearly, the trade in bushmeat is a significant risk to species extinctions. As such, ensuring food security on a global level will be a critical factor in protecting the planet’s extraordinary wildlife. However, the future of food security is anything but certain. 

The Increasing Threat of Food Insecurity

Demand for Food is Increasing

The global human population is expected to reach 11.2 billion by 2100.3(p8) This alone will increase demand for food significantly over the coming years. However, at the same time, per capita annual income growth, urbanization, relative price changes, technological change, value chain developments and globalization are contributing to an increase in per capita calorie intake, as well as to a shift in the composition of diets.3(p12) Globally, the income of the average world citizen is almost USD 11,000/year, which is twice the 1970 level of just over USD 5,500.3(p10) “Rapid income growth in emerging countries has given rise to a global middle class, with food consumption preferences characterized by a greater demand for meat, fish and dairy products and other more resource-intensive items.”3(p12)

How will we handle the growing demand for food? The answer seems simple at first, we’ll just have to produce more, right? According to experts that’s not possible without dramatic changes to the way we manage land and produce food.  

Degraded Lands & Stressed Water Resources Limit Productivity

According to the FAO report, “Approximately one-third of the world’s farmland is moderately to highly degraded.”3(p26) Globally, there are few opportunities left for further expanding agricultural areas. Moreover, much of the available land is not suitable for agriculture, and using it for agricultural production would incur heavy environmental, social, and economic costs.”3(p26)

“In many low-rainfall areas of the Near East, North Africa and Central Asia, as well as in India and China, farmers use much of the available water resources, resulting in the serious depletion of rivers and aquifers. In some of these areas, 80 percent to 90 percent of water is used for agricultural purposes. In this context, FAO estimates that over 40 percent of the world’s rural population lives in basins that are classified as water-scarce. Due to water scarcity, the rate of expansion of land under irrigation is slowing substantially in these areas.”3(p26)  

“Given these limitations in land and water resources, it is likely that the additional amounts of food needed in the coming decades will have to be produced mainly through yield increases, rather than through major expansions in cultivated areas. Unfortunately, since the 1990s average annual increases in the yields of maize, rice and wheat at the global level have reached just over 1 percent (much lower than in the 1960s), while those of soybeans and sugarcane were below 1 percent. In the last 20 years, yield growth has slowed, with recent studies even suggesting that in selected regions yields are already close to their maximum potential.”3(p27) 

Agricultural Investments are Lacking

With land and water resources tapped out, increasing yields will be dependent upon increasing investments in agriculture and agricultural innovation. While the value added through investments in high income countries is increasing, that in low-income countries, particularly Near East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin American and the Caribbean is on the decline. Limited investments in low- and middle-income countries is extremely concerning and will affect future agricultural performance, adaptability to climate change, capability to develop sustainable agricultural practices, and employment and income-generating opportunities.3(pp28-30) “Moreover, decreasing growth rates of global crop yields, land degradation and water overuse, as well as increasing levels of crop and animal diseases and growing antimicrobial resistance, all raise concerns and call for more investment in agriculture.”3(p30)       

Climate Change Negatively Impacts Food Security at the Global Level

The threats of climate change on agricultural productivity are many. “Different social groups and countries display varying degrees of vulnerability to climate change, depending on their exposure to climate variation (changing temperatures, rainfall levels, etc.), the sensitivity of their livelihoods to climate change (percentage of income or GDP made up of agriculture, forestry or fishing), and their adaptation capacity (proximity to flood plains, length of coast line, etc.).”3(p31)  

“A meta-analysis of 1,090 studies (primarily on wheat, maize, rice and soybeans) under different climate change conditions indicates that climate change may significantly reduce yields in the long run.”3(p31)  

“Climate change is already affecting the aquatic environment, for example through changes in sea-surface temperature, ocean circulation, waves and storm systems, salinity content, oxygen concentration and acidification. This will all have an impact on global – and particularly regional – fisheries.”3(p31) 

“The impacts of climate change are also expected to affect aquaculture, including through the gradual warming and acidification of seawater, sea level rises and resultant salt water intrusion, as well as through extreme events such as changes in the frequency, intensity and location of storms.”3(p32) 

“Higher temperatures and less reliable supplies of fresh water are also expected to create severe hardships for small-scale livestock producers, particularly in arid and semi-arid grassland and rangeland ecosystems at low latitudes. Furthermore, higher temperatures and water scarcity will have a direct impact on animal health and reduce the quality and supply of feed and fodder.”3(p32)

Regional Climate Change Impacts on Food Security are Severe and Projected to Worsen 

The effects of climate change in Asia, Africa, and South America are already severe and projected to worsen. These continents hold many low- and middle-income countries that are ill prepared to make the technological advances necessary to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Many of these countries are also plagued by weak governance, which may become a source of increasing political, economic, and social instability as climate trends worsen.    

I provide a few regional and nationwide examples here. I have extracted these examples from the book Climate Change and National Security: A Country Level Analysis. The book was published in 2011. It is important to note that “since 2005, [greenhouse gas (GHG)] emissions have broadly approximated levels projected from the most severe climate change scenario considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”3(p32) As such, worse case scenarios may very well be the reality. 

The Tibetan Plateau

“One of the most severe threats concerns the Tibetan Plateau region, which is potentially a hot spot with respect to both climate and conflict. The Tibetan Plateau, which has been called both ‘the reservoir at the top of the world’ and ‘the water tower of Asia,’ is the source of most of Asia’s major rivers. As global temperature rises, Tibet’s glaciers are melting and grassland permafrost is thawing at an alarming rate. The region’s warming climate is causing glaciers to recede at a rate faster than anywhere else in the world, and in some regions of Tibet by 3 feet per year. These changes will have an impact on the millions living downstream in China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Vietnam, and other countries that are dependent for their water supply on the waters of such rivers as the Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, Salween, Irrawaddy, Indus, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra. It has been estimated that almost half the world’s population lives in the watersheds of rivers whose sources lie on the Tibetan Plateau, and at least 500 million people in Asia and 250 million people in China are at risk from declining glacial flows on that plateau.”4(pp16-17)

China

In China, present climate change impacts “include extended drought in the north, extreme weather events and flooding in the south, glacial melting in the Himalayas, declining crop yields, and rising seas along heavily populated coastlines.”4(p10)

“A commonly cited statistic is that China feeds more than 20 percent of the world’s population with 7 percent of the world’s arable land. Climate change is expected to decrease the stability of agricultural production, causing larger variations in crop productivity. Scientists predict a 5 to 10 percent decline in overall crop productivity in China by 2030 as a result of climate change, and a decline of up to 37 percent in rice, maize, and wheat yields after 2050. This marks a serious challenge for the country’s long-term food security. If this decline in supply were to result in global scarcity and elevated food prices, it could have particularly severe impacts in Africa, where food insecurity is a grave threat.”4(p13)

“The effect of climate change on the glaciers of China’s Tibetan Plateau will have severe repercussions for the country’s lakes and river systems. The total area of its western glaciers is projected to decrease 27.2 percent by 2050. During this same period, glacier thawing will increase water discharge by 20 to 30 percent per year until water levels peak between 2030 and 2050. This increased water discharge would then decline as the glaciers disappear. The mountain and highland lakes that rely on inland glaciers for recharge, such as the lakes on the Tibetan Plateau and Pamir Plateau, could initially enlarge as a result of glacier melting but will eventually shrink as the glaciers are reduced over time. The Yellow and Yangtze rivers, which support the richest agricultural regions of the country and derive much of their water from the Tibetan glaciers, will initially experience floods as the glaciers melt, and then drought, once the glacial runoff is gone.”4(p11)

India

As with China, India holds more than a sixth of the world’s population. As such, its agricultural woes impact a significant percentage of humanity.

“Water shortages will affect the country’s agricultural production, especially in the already-arid regions of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. [Shortages] could curtail agricultural production even in India’s granary states of Punjab and Haryana. A depletion of internal food supplies would mean inflation in food prices, which would affect the poorer sections of India disproportionately. Added to this is the increasing global demand for food, shortages of supply in the global market in general, and the price increases that would follow from the increasing need to import food.”5(p75)

“The melting of snow from the Himalayan glaciers means that India’s major rivers – especially the Ganges, its tributaries, and the Brahmaputra – could alternate between abnormally low flows in the early summer and winter months and extraordinarily high flows during the monsoon, posing the  double risk of drought followed by flood. The glaciers on both sides of the Tibetan Plateau and its Himalayan rim, which are the source of water for the Indus, the Ganges, and Brahmaputra, along with several river systems in China and Southeast Asia, have been melting rapidly…”5(p75) “India’s vulnerability in this respect is amplified by the fact that more than 60 percent of its population still depends on the vagaries of the monsoon for subsistence farming. The impact of climate change would therefore depend on whether the annual Indian monsoon, which is the single biggest influence on agriculture, will remain stable and cover its normal area during the June-August period of the year.”5(p75) “If monsoonal rains become increasingly erratic as a consequence of global warming, there will likely be serious food shortages in the regions that depend on them, unless new farming technologies are implemented quickly. [However,] the agricultural sector, on which a large majority of the population depends for basic sustenance, has been growing at the lowest rate of any of India’s economic sectors in recent years. The economic reforms initiated since 1991 have primarily affected services and industry. Increased food imports are a very constrained solution, because of the likelihood that major food shortages in India will be echoed elsewhere in the world, and because the cost of imported food exceeds what those Indians most likely to be affected will be able to pay.”5(pp75-76) 

“Another major issue facing India in the climate area would be a rise in sea levels. India has a coastline of 12,700 kilometers [~7,891 miles]. According to one study, a 1-meter rise could cost the economy approximately 2 trillion rupees [~USD 27 billion] due to the impact on fisheries, shipping, and port facilities in the three main cities of Chennai, Mumbai, and Calcutta, while displacing 7.1 million Indians. This will also have an impact on agriculture due to the loss, by flooding, of low-lying arable land along the coastline. Fisheries would also suffer, and the effect would be devastating for those who rely on small-scale traditional fishing.”5(p76)

Bangladesh

With over 164 million people, Bangladesh is the world’s eighth most populous country. “Bangladesh’s location, combined with the dominance of floodplains and low elevation from the sea, has made the country exceptionally vulnerable to ongoing climate change.”6(p103) The livelihoods of millions of Bangladeshis are at risk from “sea-level rise, severe storms, repeated floods, increased water salinity, and worsening water scarcity.”6(p112) These events “will directly affect the availability of food”6(p112) and make the country dependent upon the international food market.6(p112)  

In brief, “the impact of climate change on Bangladesh is as follows: A one-meter rise in sea level would submerge one-fifth of the country by 2050-2075. Cyclones would be creeping deeper in the delta because of saline intrusion. Cyclone velocity would increase, and storms would be increasingly more intense.”6(p104) “Floods would be more frequent; irregular rainfall would make it difficult for farming; and the North-West would become drier increasing the chances of greater food insecurity.”6(p104)

Northern Andes Region: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, & Peru

“In Latin America as a region, according to the IPCC, by 2030 the number of people under water stress will increase from 7 million to 77 million.”7(p249) In particular, “the countries of the northern Andes region [, including Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru,] will face a number of challenges as a result of climate change.”7(p248)

In Bolivia, “glacier loss is one of the most important challenges, and the impact of glacier loss in the Andean western half of [the country] may lead to particularly disruptive consequences. Currently, the residents of La Paz and El Alto rely on glaciers for a third of their water consumption.”7(p252) “Glacier loss is also an issue in Ecuador, whose Andean capital city [, Quito,] also depends heavily on glaciers for water…”7(p254)

In Peru’s southern departments of Arequipa, Moquegua, Puno, and Tacna, climate change is expected to drive declines in rainfall.7(p254) “Less rainfall would have a negative impact on agricultural productivity in this already-arid region.”7(p254)  Additionally, water scarcity is expected to fuel interdepartmental feuds and intrastate territorial conflicts.7(p254) 

Africa

“For reasons having to do with chronic poverty, weak governance, and high dependence on agriculture, Africa is the region estimated to be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”8(p235) 

Given the size of the African continent, the direct impact of climate change varies among nations and regions. Some countries, such as those of the Maghreb, including Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia are projected to experience severe impacts. Others, including Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, are expected to fare better with regard to direct climate impacts. However, weak governance may exacerbate the effects of even modest climate events. 

The Maghreb: Algeria, Libya, Morocco, & Tunisia

“Climate change will affect the Maghreb in profound ways because is it already characterized by exceedingly fragile environmental conditions.”9(p189)  “The Maghreb’s geographical position and complete lack of temperate climes renders it more intensely vulnerable to climate change dynamics…”9(p190)  

“For Morocco, 99.5 percent of the population is deemed “short of water.” According to the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, the long-term outlook is worse than dire. The Maghreb and the broader Mediterranean Basin will experience extensive drying associated with an expansion of the Hadley circulation cells at 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south latitude. The mean annual rainfall is expected to decrease by as much as 20 percent along the Mediterranean Coast between 2080 and 2099, with summertime temperatures anticipated to increase for the 2070-99 period by up to 9 degrees Celsius.”9(p190) 

Within the Maghreb, “the water table has decreased in recent years, which has contributed to the salinization of coastal groundwater, low potability, and low freshwater volume. As for soil, the region has experienced both intensive erosion and significant degradation, and the ‘development’ of forested areas will only [further] exacerbate these trends. All four countries have been vulnerable to desertification. The Jifara Plain in Libya’s northwest and the Ouergha watershed in Morocco are especially vulnerable to decreases in rainfall. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, 97 percent of the Libyan population, and 80 percent of Moroccans were already at risk from desertification in 1997.”9(pp193-194)  

“Using IPCC projections, regional specialists within the FAO [have] argued that water runoff (the difference between rainfall and evapotranspiration) will decline, the number of dry days is expected to increase, and surface temperatures are expected to rise. The result is a decrease in the yields of key crops, the possible extinction of some species, and a silting of rivers and dams.”9(p194)

Additionally, the FAO has expressed concern “about the impact on rangelands for livestock, because reduced rainfall and increased evapotranspiration will cause significant changes in vegetation cover and organic carbon storage in the ecosystems. Livestock pests and disease distribution and transmission may also result in new epidemics.”9(p194)    

Côte d’Ivoire

“Climate-related changes that could lead to increased drought, rainfall variability, and desertification in this ecologically and politically fragile region are likely to adversely affect agricultural production of both food and cash crops, specifically corn.”10(p206) According to the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute, “Côte d’Ivoire is likely to experience substantial declines of more than 20 percent of the growing season by 2050 in six different agroecological zones…”10(p207) In the southern part of the country, increasing sea level rise and severe storm events could lead to increased erosion of barrier beaches and possibly affect densely populated urban areas and economically important coastal fisheries and palm oil plantations.10(p207)    

Nigeria

“By 2030 considerable parts of Nigeria may confront issues related to climate change, which could seriously affect agricultural production, water availability, and coastal environmental conditions. Desertification in the north and erosion in the middle belt and south of the country are major concerns, placing 90,0000 and 134,000 square kilometers of arable land at risk of degradation as a result of climate change, according to government estimates.”10(p211)    

“In the semiarid steppe environment of northern Nigeria, which makes up one-quarter of the country’s territory, there is a potential for a significant decline in agricultural production due to increased drought and rainfall variability associated with global warming.”10(p211)   

“The anticipated decline in future water availability has serious implications for Nigeria, especially given the sizable population living in the semiarid north and the rapidly growing urban areas in the south. As in the case of Côte d’Ivoire, the United Nations also projects that Nigeria will see its national water situation deteriorate from one of ‘abundance’ to one of ‘stress,’ with an anticipated decline from about 3,000 cubic meters per capita per year in 1990 to about 1,300 by 2025.”10(p211)      

Senegal

“In recent decades, the country has experienced severe agricultural and livestock losses, along with extreme human suffering and fatalities stemming from prolonged droughts…”10(p215)  

“As in the case of Côte d’Ivoire, the mixed rain-fed and semiarid agropastoral systems practiced in these more Sahelian regions are likely to experience negative consequences due to declining agricultural productivity and water availability. Estimates for changes in agricultural productivity due to global warming by the late twenty-first century indicate that Senegal may experience a ‘very serious’ downturn in food production, possibly at a rate eight times the expected level of global decline.”10(p215) In terms of water supply, in 2000, “two-thirds of the Senegalese population already experienced water scarcity conditions, a figure expected to increase to almost three-quarters by 2030.”10(p215)   

“The country’s important artisanal fishing industry is also considered at risk due to the effect of rising ocean temperatures on nutrient availability in the marine food chain.”10(p216)   

Southern Africa (Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe) 

In many parts of Southern Africa, “temperatures have been increasing steadily [and] droughts have been more frequent and severe, [a significant concern in a] region that is sensitive to freshwater availability. As these climatic changes have taken hold, we have already witnessed evidence of some of the intermediate effects of global warming in the form of declining agricultural production, freshwater scarcity, economic decline, and increased migration.”8(p243) It has been projected that “Southern Africa can expect a significant decrease in moisture during the growing season, leading to declines in food production and a reduction in the flow of the Zambezi, Limpopo, and Save rivers.”8(pp235-236)  

Southern Africa is “particularly sensitive to change in its water resources.”8(p235) “For instance: the Okavango Delta is Botswana’s only source of surface water; Zimbabwe is expected to reach its water resource development capacity by 2035; and South Africa’s industrial and mining heartland, Gueteng, reached the limits of its water resources in the 1980s, such that it became necessary to import water from Lesotho.”8(p235)   

In South Africa, climate change may lower “agricultural production, [and] it is estimated that climate changes will increase the proportion of South Africans living on less than 1,000 cubic meters of freshwater per year from 55.4 percent of the population to 58.2 percent – an increase of 2.7 percent –  by 2030.”8(p236)   

“Estimates for Zimbabwe show smaller increases in the average temperature, but more dramatic agricultural and freshwater availability effects. The combination of an increase in temperature and higher levels of evaporation are expected to have more serious impacts on Zimbabwe’s agricultural performance.”8(p236) 

“Lesotho is already struggling to cope with overgrazing, soil erosion and exhaustion, desertification resulting from demographic pressures, and periodic droughts.”8(p236)    

Similarly, the projected climate changes for Swaziland will interact in complex ways with its current environmental problems of overgrazing, soil depletion and degradation, droughts, and limited supplies of potable water.”8(p236)   

Lastly, Southern Africa “has a number of elements that make conflict over access to freshwater likely, [including] preexisting water scarcity, a high proportion of people living within river basins, many rivers whose watersheds are shared among several countries, and a history of international tension and competition over water resources.”8(p238)  

Food Insecurity: Driver of the Bushmeat Trade

In light of the foregoing, it seems probable that low- and middle-income countries will be increasingly plagued by food and water shortages in the coming decades. 

How will this affect the demand for bushmeat?

“Unsustainable hunting for consumption and trade of wild meat (bushmeat) by humans represents a significant extinction threat to wild terrestrial mammal populations, perhaps most notably in parts of Asia, Africa and South America.”11

“[Bushmeat] has long served as a principal source of protein and a key contributor to the food security of millions of people across the developing world, most notably in Africa, Latin America and Asia.”12 This is especially concerning given that these regions, 1) are projected to see significant increases in population numbers, 2) are at the highest risk of maintaining/obtaining food and water security, and 3) are, in many areas, already reliant upon an unsustainable bushmeat trade to meet food demands.

Furthermore, in many parts of the developing world, climate change is expected to increase conflict. Political and social turmoil have been linked to significant declines in wildlife populations. Drivers of species decline that can accompany social and political unrest include “lack of adequate protected areas for wildlife, inadequate law enforcement, and lack of management capacity in range countries…”13

In the past decade, many African countries have experienced conflict ranging from election violence to civil war, including Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Mozambique, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Nigeria.

Insuring Food Security is Critical to Saving Wildlife

Imagine a future in which severe food shortages plaque vast regions of Africa, Asia, and South America. I believe this scenario could easily drive unprecedented rates of poaching, resulting in rapid extinction events at local, regional, and national scales.

Decreasing food security threatens decades of conservation progress made by scientists, conservationists, and volunteers. Decreasing food security undermines our conservation victories and devalues the worth of the billions of dollars that have made these achievements possible.  

I doubt that even the unified strength of high-income nations, non-governmental organizations, and non-for-profits can protect wildlife from the most fundamental needs of humanity, these are, the needs to eat and drink.  

How Do We Reduce the Need for Bushmeat?

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations (UN) has developed the Sustainable Development Goals

Image Credit: United Nations Sustainable Development Goals https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/poverty/

These 17 goals “are the [UN’s] blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, and peace and justice.”14 Supporting these goals is a critical step in doing our part to reduce the human impact on this earth. However, the UN has been criticized for neglecting to include the most important issue of all in its blueprint to a sustainable future, this is, stemming human population growth. 

The size of the global human population and its continued growth are the underlying causes of humanities most pressing environmental problems. These two factors, combined with an unsustainable way of existence, drive the overconsumption of resources, resulting in climate change, pollution, deforestation, species extinctions, loss of biodiversity, food insecurity, and so on.   

Any attempt to remediate the troubles of our time must begin with a concerted global effort to check human population growth. To do otherwise is to swim against a very big tide. 

Women’s Education to Reduce Fertility Rates

Of all the Sustainable Development Goals, I believe that education is one of the most important. Education, and especially women’s education, correlates highly with lower fertilities rates. “Educated women are known to [make] informed reproductive and healthcare decisions. These result in population stabilization and better infant care reflected by lower birth rates and infant mortality rates (IMRs), respectively.”15

Globally, fertility rates are declining. Continued investments in education will bolster this decline. In high-income countries, we can all partake in the improvement of education by voting for measures that increase educational funding and support teachers. However, population growth projections are the largest in low- and middle-income countries. Slowing population growth in Africa and Asia is critical to ensuring global food security. As such, support for national and intergovernmental educational programs and donations to non-governmental organizations devoted to improving education, specifically women’s education, are of paramount importance. Donations to schools, such as the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, and non-profits, like Room To Read, are excellent ways to support women’s education in the developing world.      

Improving Education Among all Nations to Reduce Demand for Resource Intensive Foods and Excessive Waste

“Agricultural production is expected to rise worldwide in response to population growth, dietary changes and increased incomes. Raising consumer awareness about environmentally sustainable and healthier diets, reducing food waste, pricing food to reflect the negative externalities of its production, and limiting the use of grains for biofuel production will all be critical to curb the demand for agricultural products.”3(p14)  

Healthier Diets and Lifestyles Can Reduce the Strain on Food Production

“Rapid income growth in emerging countries has given rise to a global middle class, with food consumption preferences characterized by a greater demand for meat, fish and dairy products and other more resource-intensive items. While progress in increasing overall calorie availability globally is welcomed, concerns have arisen about the accompanying shifts in dietary patterns away from staples such as cereals, roots and tubers and towards increasing consumption of livestock products, vegetable oils, sugar, and processed and fast foods. This “nutrition transition” has also been seen as a tendency towards the convergence of diets to the Western European or North American model, and in turn linked to the increasingly widespread prevalence of overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases.”3(p12)

Interestingly, “in high-income countries, obesity prevalence is highest among the poor, while overweight is prevalent across all wealth groups. In contrast, in low-income countries, the prevalence of overweight and obesity is higher among wealthier individuals than among poorer individuals.”16(p1) In high-income countries the link between poverty and obesity occurs because, 1) low-income “families choose high-fat foods dense with energy – foods such as sugars, cereals, potatoes and processed meat products – because these foods are more affordable and last longer than fresh vegetables and fruits and lean meats and fish,”17 2) “poor neighborhoods have a disproportionate number of fast food chains and small food stores providing cheap, high-fat foods,”17 3) “economic insecurity – such as trouble paying bills or rent – leads to stress, and people often cope by eating high-fat, sugary foods,17 and 4) low-income families can lack the financial resources to engage in physical activity (i.e., unsafe neighborhoods, gym memberships, recreational equipment…) and lead more sedentary lives.18   

All nations can play a part in reducing the strain on food production by improving nutritional education and access to healthier foods. At the same time, governments can improve overall health and well-being by investing in programs that promote more active lifestyles among lower-income demographics.   

Reducing Food Waste

The figures on food waste are staggering. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, “roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year  – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes [~1.43 billion tons] – gets lost or wasted.”19  “Every year, consumers in [developed] countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes [~244 million tons]) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes [~253 million tons]).”19 “If just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.”19 “At the retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance.”19 In other words, enormous amounts of food are discarded simply because it doesn’t meet the “appearance standards” of markets or restaurants. 

In the United States, the “Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more food reaches landfills than any other material in our municipal solid waste (MSW), making up over 24 percent of MSW…”20 “In 2018, approximately 103 million tons of wasted food were generated in the industrial [food and beverage manufacturing and processing], residential [households], commercial [restaurants, fast-food chains, catering, sports venues, hotels…], and institutional [schools, colleges, universities, military installations, hospitals, correctional facilities, nursing homes…] sectors. Excluding the industrial sector, approximately 63 million tons of wasted food were generated in 2018.”20 

Clearly, food waste is a significant threat to food security. “By managing food sustainably and reducing waste, we can help businesses and consumers save money, provide a bridge in our communities for those who do not have enough to eat, and conserve resources for future generations.”21 Individually, we can make changes at home to reduce our food waste. These changes include storing food in storage containers; freezing food; preparing, cooking, and freezing perishable meals ahead of time; using foods that are past their prime in smoothies, soups, and casseroles; ordering only what you can eat and/or saving leftovers when eating out. To learn more, see the EPA’s recommendations on Reducing Wasted Food At Home.  

Fighting Climate Change

“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”22 

Climate change is a clear and present danger to global food security. The most fundamental contribution people can make to reverse the climate change trend is to stop denying climate change. With matters related to planetary conditions, we must believe scientists, not politicians. Scientists devote their lives to their areas of expertise. They travel the world and process volumes of data to reveal trends in the Earth’s systems. They use historical data to develop mathematical models that are used to project future events in both the short and long term. Politicians on the other hand, serve the interests of industry and economy in the short term. Politicians are not experts in science. They have not devoted their lives to the study of the Planet. Most have no sound understanding of statistics, physics, chemistry, or any of the other disciplines that provide for the understanding of scientific research. Would you ask an accountant to design a spaceship to travel to Mars? Of course not. You would employ the combined knowledge of thousands of experts. Why would anyone rely upon the words of a politician to build their understanding of the Earth’s natural systems? Politicians possess neither the education, nor the experience to provide such guidance. 

Mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change begins with reason. We must trust the consensus of the majority of experts. And in so doing, we must collectively support policies founded upon the consensus. 

Individually, we have to strive to develop lifestyles that promote a sustainable human existence. A recent publication, The Climate Mitigation Gap: Education and Government Recommendations Miss the Most Effective Individual Actions, conducted by researchers as the Lund University Centre for Sustainable Studies and the University of British Columbia, identifies “four lifestyle choices that most reduce your carbon footprint.” These are, 1) eat plant-based diets, 2) reduce air travel, 3) live car-free, and 4) have fewer children.23 Admittedly, I look at these lifestyle choices and see the challenges inherent in each. However, small changes in our individual lifestyles can collectively amount to tremendous progress towards sustainability. Our “sacrifices” do not need to be immediately monumental to affect tremendous change. Furthermore, dietary changes, telecommuting for work, and having fewer children can all lead to significant improvement in physical and mental heath.

Change: Hurdles and Rewards

Plant-based diets can be costly, especially when comprised of organic foods. Meat alternatives, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, are not yet affordable for everyone. And developing the nutritional education required to create a healthy plant-based diet requires both learning and the time to figure out what diet works for you. Furthermore, many people simple have no desire to give up meat. However, if we truly want to ensure food security for our children and future generations, we must reduce our individual impact on the planet. The production of meat, fish, and dairy products is resource intensive. In a future characterized by resource scarcity, we will have to embrace every agricultural efficiency. We can all reduce our intake of animal-based foods. Eating less meat- and dairy-based fast-foods is a great place to start. Over time, we can move toward increasingly plant-based diets, and for many of us, we may dramatically improve our physical health in consequence. 

Air travel has certainly made the world a whole lot smaller. It provides the opportunity for everyone to travel to every part of the globe. It enables families and friends to spend time with one another far more often than would otherwise be possible. As such, for individuals, reducing air travel requires a deeper analysis of personal needs and desires. For example, if time with family is of upmost importance, perhaps we should consider jobs closer to home? If we want to travel and see the world, perhaps we can reduce our carbon footprint by taking longer trips less often? And while exotic journeys appeal to us all, we don’t have to travel far to discover incredible beauty and exciting adventures. Air travel is all about destinations. Few people truly enjoy long hours in a cramped airline cabin. It is possible to create far more memorable journeys with other means of travel. Increasingly, motorcycles, cars, and trains will become all-elective and powered from renewable energy, providing the opportunity for ecofriendly sight-seeing all along the journey to a destination. For companies, air travel has been essential for business development and growth. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that telecommuting is not only effective, but costs reductive. Desirable business outcomes can be achieved with substantially smaller office spaces, or none at all.   

Living car-free presents unique challenges for everyone. It is simply not an option for many people. In the US, many cities do not provide the public transportation infrastructure needed to facilitate a car-free lifestyle. Yet, despite this, enormous gains can be made through small lifestyle adjustments. For example, combining errands can drastically reduce fuel consumption. “Several short trips, each one taken from a cold start, can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.”24 Running errands via carpooling and public transit with family and friends can become a fun experience in and of itself. And active transportation (biking, walking…) offers obvious health benefits. At the same time, as mentioned above, the increasing prevalence of hybrid and all-electric vehicles will greatly reduce carbon emissions, especially as electrical grids become more reliant upon renewable energy sources. By embracing these new technologies (instead of resisting them) and making small changers in our transportation habits, we can greatly reduce our carbon footprint.   

Having fewer children is an obvious solution to reducing global population growth and easing the demand on the Planet’s resources. The irony is the choice to have more children creates increasing disadvantages for them. In other words, it’s an “advantage” only to the parents, and that’s when overlooking the physical and emotional effects that many parents suffer from the burden of care. For most families, having fewer children reduces the financial burden of raising them and increases the number of opportunities that can be provided to them. Fewer children can also equate to greater savings, resulting in more financial security, and less stress and anxiety.    

Lastly, we can also offset the environmental impact of our choices by investing in the conservation of nature. For example, the carbon footprint of motorized recreation (e.g., aircraft, boats, 4×4, ATV…) can be offset by donating money to organizations that plant trees or protect forests. Likewise, we can offset the impact of our travels through donations as well. Offsets may not afford an entirely balanced approach to reducing our impact, but their use is significantly better than doing nothing.   

Overall, I firmly believe that we can develop sustainable lifestyles while creating far more rewarding ways of living. We will free our minds of all the things we think we need and discover all the wonders we truly desire. And in the process, we may greatly improve our physical and mental health.

Ending Corruption & Strife

While it is obviously important for high-income nations to respect the sovereignty of low- and middle-income countries, the suffering of innocent civilians as a consequence of political turmoil must not be overlooked. Multilateral efforts must be made to ensure that all people can enjoy the benefits of peace, justice, and strong institutions. This is the foundation upon which nations can develop food security and prevent environmental degradation. Efforts to improve the political, economic, and social institutions of developing nations are critical to alleviating the burden on the natural world. Those of us in high-income countries must support the programs of governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and non-profits working to develop stronger institutions in low- and middle-income countries.          

Conclusion: The Road Ahead

Humanity is a global community of ~7.6 billion people. But we are not alone. We share this earth with trillions of other lifeforms. And we all share, in our own unique ways, in the struggle for survival. While it is easy to see our own struggles as individual, the reality is that they are communal. The ecosystems of the world cannot function if their components have been destroyed, and the societies of humanity cannot function without ecosystems. Consequently, human survival hinges on the conservation of the natural world. If we wish to see the magnificence and utility of nature protected in perpetuity, we must develop a sustainable human existence at the global level. We must work together to ensure that no nation is left behind as we develop more equitable, healthy, and sustainable ways of living. And we must provide for the needs of all people if we are to prevent the destructive consequences of deprivation. 


References:

1. Bushmeat. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service International Affairs. https://www.fws.gov/international/wildlife-without-borders/global-program/bushmeat.html#:~:text=Although%20habitat%20loss%20is%20a,and%20consumption%20of%20%22bushmeat.%22

2.  Bauer, H., Packer, C., Funston, P.F., Henschel, P. & Nowell, K. 2016. Panthera leo (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T15951A115130419. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T15951A107265605.en. Downloaded on 09 December 2020.

3. FAO. 2018. The future of food and agriculture – Alternative pathways to 2050. Rome. 224 pp. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

4. Lewis, J.I. (2009). China. In D. Moran (Ed.), Climate Change and National Security, A Country Level Analysis (pp. 9-26). Georgetown University Press.

5. Paul, T.V. (2011). India. In D. Moran (Ed.), Climate Change and National Security, A Country Level Analysis (pp. 73-84). Georgetown University Press.

6. Riaz, A. (2011). Bangladesh. In D. Moran (Ed.), Climate Change and National Security, A Country Level Analysis (pp. 103-114). Georgetown University Press.

7. Eaton, K. (2011). The Northern Andes. In D. Moran (Ed.), Climate Change and National Security, A Country Level Analysis (pp. 247-258). Georgetown University Press.

8. Munemo, N. (2011). Southern Africa. In D. Moran (Ed.), Climate Change and National Security, A Country Level Analysis (pp. 233-245). Georgetown University Press.

9. White, G.W. (2011). The Maghreb. In D. Moran (Ed.), Climate Change and National Security, A Country Level Analysis (pp. 189-201). Georgetown University Press.

10. Beck, L.J. and Pires, E. M. (2011). West Africa I. In D. Moran (Ed.), Climate Change and National Security, A Country Level Analysis (pp. 203-220). Georgetown University Press.

11. Ripple W.J., et al. 2016. Bushmeat hunting and extinction risk to the world’s mammals. Royal Society open science 3: 160498. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160498

12. Cawthorn, D. & Hoffman, L.C. 2015. The bushmeat and food security nexus: A global account of the contributions, conundrums and ethical collisions. Food Research International. Volume 76, Part 4, Pages 906-925

13. The developing Crisis Facing Wildlife Species Due to Bushmeat Consumption. Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Committee on Resources. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-107hhrg80615/html/CHRG-107hhrg80615.htm

14. Take Action for the Sustainable Development Goals. United Nations. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

15. Saurabh, S., et al. 2013. Female Literacy Rate is a Better Predictor of Birth Rate and Infant Mortality Rate in India. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care. 2(4): 349–353.

16.  Templin T, Cravo Oliveira Hashiguchi T, Thomson B, Dieleman J, Bendavid E (2019) The overweight and obesity transition from the wealthy to the poor in low- and middle-income countries:
A survey of household data from 103 countries. PLoS Med 16(11): e1002968. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002968

17. Lee, H., Harris. 2012. Why Poverty Leads to Obesity and Life-Long Problems. https://scholars.org/contribution/why-poverty-leads-obesity-and-life-long-problems. Original source Lee, H., Harris, K.M., & Gordon-Larsen, P. 2009. Life Course Perspectives on the Links between Poverty and Obesity during the Transition to Young Adulthood. Population Research and Policy Review 28, no. 4: 505-532.

18. Levine. J.A. 2011. Poverty and Obesity in the U.S. Diabetes. 2011 Nov; 60(11): 2667–2668.

19. Worldwide food waste. United Nations Environment Programme. https://www.unenvironment.org/thinkeatsave/get-informed/worldwide-food-waste#:~:text=Nearly%201%2F2%20of%20all,is%20thrown%20away%20each%20year.

20. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2020. 2018 Wasted Food Report Estimates of generation and management of wasted food in the United States in 2018. Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. EPA 530-R-20-004.

21. Reducing Wasted Food At Home. United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home.

22. Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate is Warming. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/.

23. The four lifestyle choices that most reduce your carbon footprint. Lund University. http://www.lunduniversity.lu.se/article/four-lifestyle-choices-most-reduce-your-carbon-footprint#:~:text=A%20new%20study%20has%20identified,free%2C%20and%20having%20fewer%20children.

24. Saving Money on Gas. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/vehicles-and-fuels/saving-money-gas#:~:text=Combine%20errands.,fuel%20and%20car%20maintenance%20costs.

Hi everyone,

I hope you’re all doing well, learning new survival skills, and finding unique ways to have fun and enjoy life.

This here’s a garden update.

CMA_Garden_2

The first garden came together nicely. It is so incredible to watch nature just doing its thing; plant seeds, give them water, and sit back and watch. I also marvel at the thought that these plants are performing the same internal functions, growing in the same soil, drawing in the same water and minerals, yet they produce flavors that are so unique from one another.

CMA_Garden_3

I’ve been enjoying gardening so much that I decided to expand. Collecting stones from around the property, I’ve been able to create two garden areas.

CMA_Garden_4

The gardens lie on a slight slope, so they are sunken into the earth on the uphill side, and fairly level with the surrounding area on the downhill side. Basalt stones and boulders line the perimeter. Additionally, I trenched the perimeter of each garden and lay slate down vertically to a depth of about 14″. This is meant to serve as a natural gopher and mole barrier. So far it’s working. However, not so much for the cats.

Unfortunately, our furry friends were playing around in the garden and trampling the veggies. So, I had to build a fence around each area. I found a heap of free wood scraps at a local lumberyard. I grabbed a few pieces and ripped them into stakes.

CMA_Garden_1

While spending time in the garden, I have noticed that there are ants everywhere. A quick Google search revealed that ants are great for insect control. And sure enough, I see the ants combing the leaves of our vegetables for other insects. Or, perhaps they’re just farming aphids, which I hear they also do. Either way, it’s enjoyable to create a space in which life thrives.

I’ve also planted marigolds and sweet alyssum around perimeter, but they have yet to arrive. These two flowers are supposed to attract beneficial insects to the garden.

All in all, creating the gardens and growing veggies has been a fairly simple project. If you have a little space and some time, I highly recommend the experience.

Again, I hope you are all well and finding unique ways to be productive during these days of COVID-19. Wishing you all the best.

A few years ago I started laying down the framework for a web map called the Human Impact Map. However, after several weeks of coding, work pulled me away from the project. Since then, the map concept has lingered in the back of my mind. From time to time, I have searched the Internet hoping to find a similar project given the value that I believe something like this can offer. I thought that National Geographic or Google or some other company with robust, mapping tools would embark on a similar endeavor. I’ve found that small attempts have been made, but I have yet to see the concept built out into a fully immersive and interactive web map experience. Unfortunately, I lack the Javascript/JQuery knowledge to develop the concept as it is envisioned in my mind, but I have made an attempt. With the functionality mostly in place, I am now building out the map categories.

The alpha release is now available for viewing. Click here to check out the map. Please note that there are still many bugs that need to be worked out. The primary issue relates to the zoom function. Currently, it is best to interact with the map markers and popups from the default zoom extent. To return to the default zoom extent, click the home button or refresh your screen.

Thank you all for your support!

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to exhibit my work at West Elm Los Angeles. This three-day event made it possible for me to reveal my artwork and the cause that I promote to hundreds of West Elm customers.

Some people have asked me, why West Elm? Why not place your art in a gallery? It is said that art holds three primary values, 1) aesthetic, 2) social, and 3) commercial. In developing artwork to promote causes, the social value is extremely important me. I want the cause of my artwork to reach a broad audience. With their roster of clients and designed to cater to art lovers, galleries are an excellent place to sell artwork, and I do hope to have my work in galleries. However, foot traffic through most galleries is a tiny fraction of that moving through a major interior furnishings company. West Elm LA’s weekend foot traffic reaches roughly 2,000 people per day. That’s some major exposure for Drawings for Africa!

During the event, dozens of people took the time to read through the materials that I had presented about African elephants. I spoke with people from all walks of life. I met many people who knew about the current poaching crises, but I also met many who did not. An exhibition for elephants in a gallery might draw elephants lovers from far and wide, and I might sell more work. But elephant lovers aren’t generally ivory consumers. In getting my work and its message in front of everyday consumers, perhaps I was able to inform one or more potential ivory buyers of the true impact of their actions.

It means so much to me that a major interior furnishings company has supported my artwork and the cause. Thank you West Elm for this incredible opportunity!!

What I love most about art is the opportunity to develop an experience in which the audience can feel a connection. I strive to create works that have value, both aesthetically and socially. To achieve this, I enjoy merging mediums. I find that mixed media provides me with a broader range of possibilities for expression.

Two of my favorite mediums are wood and metal. For My Life for an Ivory Trinket, I have designed brass, corner accents to accentuate the message of the work. Development of the accents was a multi-step process integrating Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, AutoCAD, and 3D printing and laser cutting technologies.



Created from African designs, each accent contains a primary symbol with a meaning relevant to environmental protection.


CMA_CornerAccent_6a


In the upper left corner, the primary symbol is symbolic of knowledge, and the human capacity to learn and grow. Resolving the environmental issues of our time will require a continued commitment to improving our knowledge of the natural world and the effects of the material world upon it.

In the upper right corner, the primary symbol represents the importance of Mother Earth and her role in sustaining life. Our planet provides, not only all the resources that make life possible, but also critical ecosystem services that cannot be replaced by human-made systems. To ensure a viable future for all life, we must protect nature.

In the lower left corner, the primary symbol signifies learning from the past. If we are to create a sustainable way of life, we must strive to learn from our mistakes, and move forward with the wisdom of lessons learned. We must act deliberately and consider the true long-term consequences of our actions.

In the lower right corner, the primary symbol represents the importance of striving for the best in human endeavors. The environmental troubles of our time can only be resolved if we strive to be the ideal version of ourselves. This requires an honest evaluation of our individual impact on the world, and the will to change our ways.

In preparation for moving My Life for an Ivory Trinket for shows and exhibitions, I built an art exhibit stand.

My goal was to create a stand that can, 1) withstand the weight of the artwork, 2) be rolled around easily, and 3) matches the visual appearance of the artwork.

The design interates wood and steel to create a strong structure that is also visually appealing.

I want to thank Schlosser Machine Inc. of Hood River, Oregon for welding up the base brackets. They were able to provide a finished product within 24 hours. I am extremely impressed with the quality of their work and the amazingly quick turnaround!

After a few weeks in Portland for scanning and framing, My Life for an Ivory Trinket is now back at home!

Along the way, I have met some extraordinarily kind and talented people. Tekoah of Pearl Gallery and Framing is constantly amazing me with the breadth and depth of his framing and art history knowledge. Justin of Makers Woodworks created a frame that far exceeded my expectations. And David of Pixelpoint Artistry has done an exceptional job scanning and correcting the digital reproductions of the work. I feel so fortunate to have met each of these individuals.

Thank you everyone for your support!!

Transporting big art has proven to be an interesting experience requiring far more labor than I had expected.

I have already posted about the apparatus that I created to contain the artwork during transport. That apparatus has proven to be quite effective. To learn more, check out my block post titled The Art Transport Apparatus.

In order to transport the art from one location to the next requires renting a U-Haul van or truck. So, I’ve been getting familiar with the ins and outs of renting and driving U-Haul vehicles.

Additionally, to move the art and frame around, I have been using a dolly. However, the casters (wheels) on the off-the-shelf dollies available at hardware stores are small, and I have found that they can easily get caught up on small rocks and cracks. The hard rubber wheels also create a rough ride with a good deal of chatter. To get around this issue, I have created The Dali, designed to provide a smooth ride over rough terrain, keeping the art safe throughout the journey.

After completing DFA No. 1, I set out to create a custom frame. In my mind, a frame is an extension of the artwork, enhancing the experience that I strive to present to the viewer.

I know that many artists struggle with the question of whether or not to frame their work, knowing that a buyer may prefer to choose their own frame. As a mixed media artist, I see the frame as another area for artistic exploration and expression.

DFA No. 1 is meant to reveal the extraordinary texture and beauty of an animal. In creating a frame, I wanted to expose the exquisite color and grain of wood. The aim is to create an experience in which the viewer can see the extraordinary nature of non-human life.

After several hours of researching wood colors and grains, and of developing frame mockups in Photoshop, I decided to use Oregon black walnut acquired from Goby Walnut in Portland, Oregon. The Company specializes in salvaging wood from dead and dying trees.

To build the frame, I chose to hire a carpenter. I went with Makers Woodworks, out of Vancouver, Washington. Their work is exceptional and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

I have also used Adobe Illustrator, AutoCAD, and 3D printing technology to produce plaques made of a bronze-steel composition. These plaques detail the frame maker, the artist, the artwork title, date, location and so forth.

I strive to produce galvanizing works in which every detail is addressed at the highest level of quality. I hope that the audience and the buyer of DFA No. 1 can see the love and passion that went into this piece.

The Elephant Arrives

I am excited to announce that DFA #1 is finished!

It has been nearly two years since I began the Drawings for Africa project in the summer of 2017. In total, I have made 4,902 measurements to ensure that all elements of the drawing are in near perfect proportion to one another, and that all wrinkles, folds, and other features are true to life. Using scientific sampling techniques and GIS software, I have been able to estimate the number of shapes that I have drawn in developing the texture of the skin. DFA #1 contains around 205,000 discernable shapes within a figure that is 35.5” wide by 50.5” tall. To draw a comparison, it is said that on a cloudless and moonless night, a full-sky reveals to the human eye around 9,000 discernable stars.

It is my hope that DFA #1 finds a home in a place open to public viewing. In my mind, art achieves its most valuable service when it inspires an audience to feel an intimate connection with the world beyond the self or encourages the viewer to contemplate the morality of their own way of life.

When we question the morality of our interactions with the world, compassion is alive within us, and there remains a potential to achieve greater degrees of equality among all life. But when we become indifferent, when we no longer question right and wrong, nor the impact of our actions on the world, we lose the ability to grow and progress together and to the benefit of one another. Questioning the goodness of our actions marks the difference between being truly alive, and somewhat dead inside. It is this deadness that I seek to change through art.

As the writer, Viktor Shklovsky remarked, “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.”

We tend to accept life in the form in which it is handed to us. We adopt ways of living defined by technological innovation. And our interactions with the world are shaped by the ideologies of our time and the forces of social conditioning. But the abundant extravagances of the modern world often tarnish the quality of our own lives. As many people have remarked, we are so busy trying to experience everything, that we no longer feel the full substance of anything. And all too often, our encounters with the animate life occur through the inanimate window of technology. So, the stone loses its texture and the rose its fragrance.

Drawings for Africa is every ounce of the artist and environmentalist within me poured out onto a sheet of paper. It’s my attempt to “make the stone stony,” and to help an audience avoid the deadness of indifference.

Thanks for reading!!

Inching Ever Closer

When I started drawing this elephant, I had five white hairs on my head. I can now count nine. I have also earned a gaggle of wrinkles around my eyes from squinting while drawing the tens of thousands of tiny shapes that make up the texture of the skin. I have visibly aged while working on this one drawing. But white hairs and deep wrinkles I warmly embrace. Within the wrinkles of a face, lie the stories of each passing year. With time, each face develops its own unique character. This is the character of you. Worn by the wind, colored by the sun, shaped by decades of laughter and smiles, and sadness and pain. What a beautiful thing to age. With each day, we become more and more unique. And the more we explore, the more risks we take, the more we expose ourselves to the elements of life, the more exceptionally unique we become. The breadth and depth of our character expands exceedingly the further we venture from the crowds of conformity, like trees that grow at the extremes. If you have ever seen a bristlecone pine, you know what I mean. If I were a tree, I would want to be a bristlecone. Their beauty is not defined by height or girth or symmetry. Not everyone admires this type of tree. To one beholder, a bristlecone may appear peculiar, to another just downright ugly, yet for every bristlecone there is someone somewhere who will stand transfixed in wonder as their eyes take in the most glorious tree they have ever seen. They are not loved for being normal, but for being entirely unique. A bristlecone is loved for all its quirks. And isn’t that what we seek most in love, to find that one person who adores us for all our idiosyncrasies? So, there are some perks to growing old and gray. To all of you out there, I hope that you are accumulating the wrinkles of your dreams.

 

Introduction

One of the things I love most about art is that it provides an opportunity to create and learn simultaneously. While the hands are lost in the creative expression of the mind, the ears can take in the wisdom of the world through audio books, podcasts, TED speeches, and so on.

While drawing DFA #1, books have carried my mind to every corner of the globe, and deep into the emotions of the heart. I am always amazed how often authors from entirely different worlds say the same things in their own unique ways. Whether on topics of love, nature, religion, philosophy, politics, or society, I hear the same messages again and again. For example, Dale Carnegie, the author of one of the best selling books of all time, How to Win Friends and Influence People, wrote “Everybody in the world is seeking happiness—and there is one sure way to find it. That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions.” Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (a.k.a His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama) has said “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” And in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

In this post, I attempt to dissect the relationship between nature and humans in the 21st century. I believe that an understanding of this relationship is critical to developing a sustainable human existence on Earth, while concurrently improving the condition of human happiness at a global scale.

I write of my own experiences, and of thoughts that have arisen within me from the books that I have learned from. My words here are divided into several parts, 1) I start with my own views on our place in the world with nature, 2) I present a few philosophical ideas for how the division from and oppression of nature arose, 3) I describe the dangers of unchecked adherence to beliefs, 4) I present statistics on human health to demonstrate the effects of our beliefs on human well-being, 5) I provide a little information on current environmental problems to reveal the effects of our beliefs on the natural world, 6) I present a few ideas that convey the importance of reuniting with nature, and 7) some food for thought.

Some readers may interpret my words as an attack on western religions, spiritual philosophies, and creation stories as a whole. This is not my intention. I espouse the virtues of religious and spiritual beliefs. I mean only to call attention to the nature and power of “beliefs,” and the troubles that can arise when large groups adhere strictly and unquestioningly to a belief system. I refer to western religions often because they have been instrumental in shaping the beliefs of modern, western society. I express some concerns about religious and social beliefs, but I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t embrace them. Indeed, it is beliefs that establish the foundation of morality, and right and wrong conduct in society. They can foster acts of kindness and charity, and impel people to live honorable lives. Beliefs are instrumental in forming and upholding peaceful communities. And perhaps most importantly, for many of us, we just need something to believe in. It gives meaning to our lives, and provides us with a foundation upon which we can better make sense of the world, and our place within it. Beliefs, in one form or another, are the initial stepping stone in the journey of human life on Earth. The trouble is, like a gun, beliefs have the power to destroy. However, while the gun requires conscious input to initiate harm, beliefs do not. Our actions are often directed by our subconscious adherence to our own beliefs. And so it is, that we can harm people, decimate wildlife, and ravage the entirety of the natural world without a second thought. They say, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” but it is beliefs that direct the actions of both.

If we seek to create a sustainable human existence on Earth, while improving human well-being, elements of our belief system will need to change. We cannot follow the predominant ideologies of the preceding generations, for they are the source of the environmental and social problems of our time.

One With Nature

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

As a child, when the summer months rolled around, my parents would take me into the backcountry of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Crystal clear lakes, meandering streams, and fields of emerald green, all crowned by colossal, granite peaks, provided a playground in which the endless curiosity of a child could adventure for eternity. As I grew older, my friends and I would spend time here fishing and reading. Time in the basin grounds mind and body, soothes emotions, and reestablishes the connection between nature and human.

It has been nearly eight years since I stepped foot in the Cottonwood Basin. On my last trek into this wilderness my friends and I were called to the aid of a hiker suffering from the effects of altitude; I assume acute mountain sickness or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). After nearly an hour and a half of CPR, we stopped. The man had passed. Today, what stands out most vividly in my mind from this incident are the man’s shoeless feet extending over the flat rock on which he lay, and down into a stream. He died with his feet in the flow; two feet, deep in the cycle of water, the cycle of energy, the cycle of life.

The Cottonwood Basin, and the experiences that I have had within it, have contributed considerably to the development of my own spiritual belief. Though, it is not really a belief at all. Rather, it is an acceptance that I am nothing more than an assemblage of matter and energy in the natural cycle of life in the universe. I believe in that which remains when the human element is removed. I believe in what I can see before me. I am wary of the beliefs of the imagination for the mind is master of deception. I do not doubt that there is some spiritual force, or some mysterious spark of life, but I have never met anyone who can convincingly explain to me how this all works. I remain open-minded, but skeptical.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

The cycle of life is all around us and all within us. We are interwoven into the fabric of existence. Perhaps even more extraordinary, is that all biotic and abiotic forms exist together and within one another. The abiotic elements, such as water and oxygen, give life to the biotic, and the biotic enrich the cycle of abiotic elements within the ecosystems.

Look at your hands. While not visually discernible, at the cellular level they are undergoing a process of continual decay and rebirth. Each cell of the epidermis will be replaced in roughly 10 to 30 days. The body disposes of billions of dead cells every day. The ingredients required to produce new cells are obtained from the world around us. The matter of our bodies and the matter of our surrounding environment are in a state of constant exchange.

To smell the fragrance of the rose, to taste the mesocarp of the pear, to hear the waves upon the shore, to feel the wind upon your face, to watch the sunset upon the Earth, is to be immersed in the everlasting cycle of matter and energy in the cosmos. The pulse of our hearts is a cycle of the elements of life, no different from raindrops descending on a journey to the sea, or the budding and withering of leaves in the spring and the fall.

In life and in life beyond, we remain in this system. We are together forever, giving life to one another. What it is within us that we see in the mirror, is no different than all that we see around us. In this moment the matter of existence may be divided by space, but in the next moment it is united. Time brings all together and all apart and all together again; this is the rhythm of the universe.

When we pass on from what we call “life,” we become ever more a part of all that is around us. Decomposition of the body is quite literally a transfer of matter and energy. We become the next generation. We become the budding flower, we become its nectar, we become the infant hummingbird, we become the young hawk, we become the matter and the energy that is within all. We are reborn into every shape and form. And what is more beautiful than new life? Life in its infancy is the most extraordinary form of being. What a beautiful privilege to be a part of this system.

I find peace in knowing that all who I have loved, and who have moved on, remain around me forever. If we wish to be with those who have passed, we need simply to sit a while in nature and relish the beauty that is all around us, for that beauty is the new and present face of those who have journeyed on from their previous form. Isn’t this extraordinary enough to soothe the mind? Do we really need beliefs to give us peace? Must we separate ourselves from nature, to feel significant?

Apart From Nature

“Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” – Genesis 1:28

In college, I took a class in environmental ethics. The course dove deep into the realm of environmental philosophy. It was one of my favorite classes because it addressed the origins of ideologies that justify human dominion over nature. One philosophical movement that resonated with me is termed ecofeminism. This movement explores the rise of patriarchal domination, and provides several explanations for the division between humans and nature, and the origins of global oppression.

Many ecofeminist see the rise of patriarchal religion as the origin of division and oppression. “They date the origin of the oppression of nature back to 4500 b.c.,… when the shift from goddess-worshipping cultures to male deities began. In the goddess religions, both the earth and women’s fertility were seen as sacred. There was no gender hierarchy, and divinity was seen as immanent. With the advent of patriarchal religions, people worshipped a sky god, and nature was seen as his creation. The role of the male in reproduction was elevated above the role of the female; women were compared to fields which would gestate and bear the male seed… In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a great chain of being was established with god at the top, appointing Adam to be in charge of his entire creation. Woman was created from Adam’s rib and placed below him, and below the divinely appointed heterosexuals were the animals and the rest of nature, all to serve man. The patriarchal domination of both nature and women was divinely commanded.”1

Other ecofeminists look to concepts of self and dualisms in patriarchal culture. “Value dualisms give rise to value hierarchies, where all things associated with self are valued, and all things described as other are of lesser value. These dualisms of self/other are manifested as culture/nature, man/woman, white/non-white, human/non-human animal, civilized/wild, heterosexual/homosexual, reason/emotion, wealthy/poor, etc. Domination is built in to such dualisms because the other is negated in the process of defining a powerful self. Because the privileged self in such dualisms is always male, and the devalued other is always female, all valued components of such dualisms are also associated with the male, and all devalued components with the female. Ecofeminist who use this approach see the self/other separation as an effective means for explaining the twin dominations of women and nature, since both are always configured as ‘other.'”2

Ecofeminists also provide other explanations for the separation between humans and nature and the emergence of male dominion, including the scientific revolution and gender roles established during early human evolution.

I believe some combination of the above is very likely responsible for the emergence of a patriarchal society and the oppression of women and nature throughout history. Male dominance may have initially been established via inherent behavioral characteristics (males typically more competitive, aggressive, violent…) and physical qualities (males larger, physically stronger…). This is the case in the animal kingdom, why wouldn’t it be true of us. After all, we are just animals. Survival of the fittest is often, but not always, established by the strongest male outcompeting the other males and subduing the female for reproduction. Male dominance could be an evolutionary development, established through the forces of nature to encourage the proliferation of those genes most suitable for the present environmental condition. Patriarchal religion most certainly has played a role as well. Nearly all the major religions and spiritual philosophies follow the words laid down by a male figure; God, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, Krishna, Lao Tzu, and so forth. In Greek Mythology, the Earth and sky, the oceans, and the underworld are ruled by three brothers, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. The beliefs of the world have also done their part in upholding dualisms. Everyone is at the center of their own universe. The rest of the world is everything else, thus dualisms arise naturally. However, the relationship between ‘self’ versus ‘other’ is defined through social conditioning, and religions and philosophies are hugely influential in shaping the condition of the human mind.

In developing a sustainable human existence and improving human well-being, we must understand the power of beliefs. Beliefs can keep us grounded, but they can also lead us into oblivion.

The Trouble With Beliefs

“Three blind men come across an elephant. The first man happens upon its leg, and concludes it’s a tree. The second man bumps into its trunk, and concludes it’s a snake. The last blind man feels its tail, and concludes it’s a broom.”

In speaking of “beliefs,” I am not only referring to religious beliefs, but also those that uphold social, political, and economic ideologies. However, much of the development of western society has been influenced by religion, as attested to by Thomas E. Woods Jr. in his book, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. With western religion a driving force in the development of western society, and a fundamental player in upholding beliefs that justify human dominion over nature, I do wonder how compatible some interpretations of the scriptures are with developing a sustainable human existence. It is evident that the Catholic Church itself is concerned about this, as demonstrated by Pope Francis’ efforts to clarify the human obligation to protect nature. He has said, “If you are a Christian, protecting the environment is part of your identity, not an ideological option,” and “A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us.” Clearly, the Pope is working to dissuade interpretations of the Bible that suggest that humans have a right to destroy the whole of nature to fuel their material desires. This is the trouble with beliefs, they are open to endless interpretation, and when embraced by the masses they can carry tremendous momentum and inflict immense harm.

Humans like to explain everything, to identify and name all the elements of the universe, to have an answer for all things. Consequently, beliefs abound. I think this is dangerous. Personally, I don’t follow the school of thought that we need a human contrived answer for everything. Why do we have to believe? Why do we feel a sense of guilt or fear if we do not embrace the doctrines of society? Why do we feel a sense of comfort from embracing society’s convictions? Social conditioning, perhaps?

I do not believe that humans are “qualified” to accurately define and explain all the mysteries of the universe. To be blunt, I do not believe that humans are so brilliant as to have a “true” answer for so many of things that we attempt to explain. A review of human history reveals how often all the things we think we know, just aren’t so. Or as Mark Twain put it, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

We have a tendency to interpret the creations of the imagination as reality, and then to pass on that reality to the next generation. Why do older members of society impel children to adopt their beliefs, and to varying degrees, shun those who do not adopt them, or those who do not embrace them as vehemently as they do? True, beliefs uphold the presently accepted “reality,” but what if that “reality” upholds prejudices, fosters hatred, fuels bloodshed, or justifies the annihilating of the natural world? Should not that reality be altered? Our reality is the product of the human imagination. The whole of the material realm, with all its beliefs, and social, economic, and political ideologies are a product of the human mind. We can transform any element within the material kingdom to better serve humanity if we desire to. Take a look at the world around you. From obscene political behavior, to senseless environmental destruction, to a rapid decline in human mental and physical well-being, problems abound. Have we learned nothing? Have we not seen what works and what doesn’t? Why must every generation start from square one, making all the same mistakes as the previous? If we wish to improve anything, is there any point in revisiting what doesn’t work? Of course not, yet we force upon our children the same way of thinking that led to all the mistakes we have made in our past. This form of social conditioning forces generation after generation into the same school of thought, with the same ideologies, and inherently all the same misconceptions and biases. No wonder we cannot achieve world peace.

Children are not born biased towards others. They adopt negative or positive biases via social conditioning. And even if one’s beliefs are grounded in love and understanding, the very act of believing creates dualisms. There remains an underlying credence that this belief is right, and that belief is wrong, or this group is right, and that group is wrong. And so, even within a peaceful community, we see divisions. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” And humans certainly “flock together.” We divide ourselves into nations, then into political affiliations, then into religious groups, then into racial associations, then into ethnic communities, then into college or sports affiliations, and on and on. Research suggests that it’s simply human nature to band together. There are clear advantages to doing so. According to Herbert A. Simon, “Organizations are visible everywhere in all civilizations, ancient and modern, and they provide key social mechanisms because we are so ready to form attachments to them, and to orient our behavior to the accomplishment of their goals. Governmental organizations, corporations, formal and informal associations, and traditional groups like the tribe or family all depend on our loyalties for their effectiveness and utility.”3 However, there are also strong, social disadvantages that arise from group formation. To quote Simon again, “loyalty to groups creates in us a strong tendency to evaluate events and prospects in terms of whether they are good or bad for ‘our’ group, whatever their effects on others. We divide the world into ‘we’ and ‘they’, and when the outcomes for ‘we’ and ‘they’ diverge, we have little hesitation in choosing the outcomes favorable for ‘us’, whatever may be the detriment to ‘them’. When the conflict becomes acute, as it often does, we are quite ready to visit harm on ‘them’ if we believe it will protect ‘us’ from harm, or even if we believe it will simply lead to gains in the achievements of ‘our’ goals. So war, conquest, and slavery have been with us from the earliest history of humankind.”4

At the heart of any group is the belief system upon which the group is founded. It is beliefs that drive a group to engage in productive or destructive behavior. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that often arises from within groups. It is an event in which members of a group make irrational, dysfunctional, or non-optimal decisions “fueled by a particular agenda or simply because group members value harmony and coherence above rational thinking”5 The concept of the “American way of life” is an example of groupthinking. At the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 George Bush Sr. declared, “The American way of life is not up for negotiations.” And millions of people buy into this belief because it is our God-given right in the land of the free. Unfortunately, the American way of life is the most destructive force on the planet. It is entirely unsustainable. “With less than 5 percent of world population, the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper,”6 according to Dave Tilford of the Sierra Club. Mathis Wackernagel, director and co-founder of the Global Footprint Network, and his colleagues have calculate that “it would take four Earths – or to be precise, 3.9 Earths – to sustain a population of seven billion at American levels of consumption.”7 Clearly, in Terms of achieving sustainability, beliefs can be a very big problem.

Firm beliefs can prevent the mind from questioning the validity of “truth,” and can foster blind allegiance. This has fueled many of the most egregious atrocities of humanity. The numerous events of ethnic and religious cleansing throughout human existence are a prime example of blind allegiance in action. However, blind allegiance fuels violence and oppression of every form and scale. Feelings of hatred and/or acts of cruelty towards others because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or physical and mental disabilities initially arise from social conditioning and blind allegiance to the condition of our own individual “reality.”

The more entrenched we are in our beliefs, the more our sphere of influence decreases. We read books, watch shows, associate with people, and engage in conversations that uphold our beliefs. We shun those who threaten our beliefs, and in the process, we may exclude the bulk of the wisdom and knowledge in the world from our sphere of influence. We lose our capacity to learn and grow. We trap ourselves within the box. Why? Perhaps, it is because of fear. To quote David Bayles, “Nature places a simple constraint on those who leave the flock to go their own way, they get eaten.” Yet, time and time again we see that growth arises from leaping out of the box. To quote Bayles again, “We do not long remember those artists who followed the rules more diligently than anyone else. We remember those who made the art from which the rules inevitably follow.” The innovators of human society, including the revered spiritual and religious leaders form our past, are remembered because they wandered far beyond the box. They chose their own path. However, in their wake, new boxes were formed, and the vast majority of people jumped into them. Society loves to make boxes, and people love to jump into them. However, no one can reach their full individual potential when they are glued to the footsteps of someone else, especially when those footsteps have been obscured, often beyond recognition, by many generations of interpretation. Such is the way with footsteps. They fade away with the wind, the rain, and time. What remains is only interpretation. And interpretation is subject to the follies of the human imagination, and worse yet, to the desires of the human agenda.

Perhaps it is simply human nature to bend, twist, reshape, and manipulate information until it is in harmony with our own ideological reality. For humans, subjective reasoning often forms the foundation of logic. One might argue that this is not a very strong foundation. I would agree. One might also argue that this would lead to a world of biases, disagreements, violence, and war. Look around you.

The Destruction of Nature

We live in a world that has been radically altered and redefined by the human imagination. We live in a material kingdom that grows and grows under the guise of progress. What is our destination? Is progressing for no other reason than to progress, a good thing? We are racing forward into the unknown without a map. We are burning up the planet’s finite resources to fuel a way of life that is not sustainable, nor beneficial to our emotional and physical health. What are we doing?!!!

Earth is the only home we have ever known. Our livelihood is dependent upon the condition of this planet. The natural world provides us with all the resources we need to survive, and it is in fast decline. Climate change is only one of the many problems that we face. Overpopulation drives human consumption of natural resoucres at a pace far beyond the planet’s biocapacity. Species extinction threatens the balance of ecosystems and undermines their capacity to provide the ecosystem services that make life on Earth possible. Our oceans have become the largest landfills on Earth, with the amount of plastic expected to outweigh pound for pound the amount of fish by 2050.8 Air quality, the world over, poses risks to respiratory health in many of the major cities of the world.

The list of environmental issues goes on and on, yet we remain stubborn to change our ways.

FYI, the following animals are critically endangered. They represent only a tiny fraction of the total number of species listed as critically endangered or endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Primary threats include habitat loss to humans and loss of genetic variation within populations. The later is largely as a result of overhunting and poaching.

The Destruction of Ourselves

Do we really prefer parking lots to paradise? Is the material world so amazing that we should destroy the entirety of the natural world to uphold it? Are we creating a world that is in tune with the natural emotional and physical condition of our species? I mean this quite literally. Is the material kingdom the ideal habitat for Homo sapiens? What is the true cost of living within the world created by the human imagination? I rarely, if ever, hear people asking these questions. Yet, I believe they are the most important questions that we can be asking ourselves as we attempt the creation of a sustainable human society. There are many indications that the current state of modern society is wreaking havoc on human physical and mental health.

Modernization has brought forth the sedentary lifestyle, and with this, a gamut of health problems. According the the World Health Organization (WHO), “approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity, prompting WHO to issue a warning that a sedentary lifestyle could very well be among the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world.”9 “Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression and anxiety. According to WHO, 60 to 85% of people in the world—from both developed and developing countries—lead sedentary lifestyles, making it one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems of our time. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of children are also insufficiently active, with serious implications for their future health.”10 Clearly, the world that we have built is not in tune with the natural condition of the human mind and body.

Increasingly, research is revealing correlations between increasing use of technology and decreasing life satisfaction. According to an article published by UNICEF, “Too much passive use of social media – just browsing posts – can be unhealthy and has been linked to feelings of envy, inadequacy and less satisfaction with life. Studies have even suggested that it can lead to ADHD symptoms, depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation.”11 Jean Twenge, a professor from San Diego State University, found a significant increase in major depressive episodes among teens between 2011 and 2015. “With more examination, Twenge recognized that the rise of the smartphone among teenagers coincided with the rise of teens’ feelings of uselessness, as well as with the fall of their satisfaction and happiness.”12

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “depression affects about 16 million American adults every year.”13 That’s nearly 5% of the US population. In my mind, this is an enormous number people trying to make sense of the world that they are living in. I have read that many indigenous tribes have no concept of depression or anxiety. And research has shown that there is a strong correlation between urbanization and declining mental health and increasing behavioral problems. “The range of disorders and deviancies associated with urbanization is enormous. Some of the [these] are severe mental disorders, depression, substance abuse, alcoholism, crime, family disintegration, and alienation.”14

Additionally, in the US, “suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.”15 Am I missing something here? If the field of psychology is truly advancing, if our understanding of the human mind is improving, if the effectiveness of our medications is progressing, how on Earth are these conditions and statistics possible?

Recently, I watched Salif Mahamane’s TED speech about his life with ADHD and his research on the origins of this condition. He remarked that researchers have recently discovered that “men of a certain nomadic group in kenya who had a genetic variant that’s implicated in the restlessness and shifting curiosity [characteristics] of ADHD were better nourished than their counterparts without the variant, but in a group of those same people who had split off to live sedentary lives, the men with the variant were undernourished compared to their counterparts.” This research suggests that ADHD may very well be an adaptive trait, and has raised new discussion as to whether ADHD should even be pathologized. In other words, behavioral characteristics that psychiatrists have associated with the term ADHD, may simply be normal human behavior in a unnatural, material world. I am not a medical professional, but I cannot help but wonder how many behavioral patterns pathologized by medical “professionals” and stigmatized by society are simply normal human responses in a world of concrete, steel, congestion, and noise pollution. Imagine how a mind evolved to identify a flash of color in a forest of green must react on the streets of a bustling city, with all the colorful billboards, honking horns, shouting people, and not a tree or deer in sight. Could it be that many of the patients that psychiatrists shower with medications are simply struggling to cope in a world completely, and unknowingly, alien to them? Perhaps more concerning, is that a dozen psychiatrists may each prescribe a slightly or entirely different concoction of drugs to the same patient. Do we really know what we are doing?

What was it Mark Twain said? “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

One of the fundamental tenets of evolution is that it generally occurs over long periods of time; at the very least, multiple generations. There are examples of species evolving in relatively short periods of time (several decades), such as the finches of the Galapagos Islands studied by Peter and Rosemary Grant, and the peppered moth of England during the Industrial Revolution, but generally when we speak of evolution, we are referring to events that occur over thousands or millions of years. For example, if you embrace the scientific origins of Homo sapiens, then modern-day humans are the product of roughly six million years of hominid evolution. Species evolve as environmental conditions change, and in nature, these changes generally do not occur rapidly. Through natural selection and genetic variation, species better adapted to the present environmental condition outcompete those with less favorable traits. Sound familiar? As I wrote above, researchers have recently discovered that “men of a certain nomadic group in kenya who had a genetic variant that’s implicated in the restlessness and shifting curiosity [characteristics] of ADHD were better nourished than their counterparts without the variant, but in a group of those same people who had split off to live sedentary lives, the men with the variant were undernourished compared to their counterparts.”

One of the fundamental characteristics of the human material kingdom, is rapid change. Not only does technological innovation occur at lightning speed, it is encouraged because it fuels economic productivity. I propose, that we are manually altering the condition of our surrounding habitat at a rate that far outpaces our ability to adapt to it, and for no other reason than greed and “progress.” Genetic variation may very well favor some individuals over others, and so there are those who can cope with the changing environment. However, if there is any validity to evolutionary science, then there is every reason to believe that large numbers of people will struggle to exist in a rapidly changing environment such as ours.

Return to Nature

Through the ages, we have relocated our society from within the natural world into the modern, material realm. The innovations of humanity are extraordinary. There is no question about that. However, I do believe that we should more often question the effects of our innovation, and whether they are beneficial or detrimental to the condition of the natural world, and to our mental and physical health. It is very clear that in transforming our ideas into reality, we have failed to manage the planet’s resources sustainably. But there is also growing evidence to suggest that the condition of our well-being is in peril. Our inner world, comprised of mind and body, is in a battle against increasing depression, anxiety, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and so on. Clearly, a wave of evolution is needed to restore the balance of our outer and inner worlds.

Evolution is a change in the characteristics of an organism(s) over generations in response to a changing environment. Though, generally used in reference to species, I do believe that evolution applies as much to animate life, as to inanimate systems. Systems must also change to adapt to changing environments. There is sufficient reason to change our social, economic, and political ideologies. Those of the preceding generations are no longer suitable to guarantee the health of the natural world, the health of the material world, and the health of our inner world.

I think of Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

For humanity, the two roads are ideological. Both are “paved with good intentions,” but only one will lead us to our salvation. It is the road “no step [has] trodden black.” It is the path of evolution. We may as well embrace it, for whether we like it or not, necessity will hurl us down it. Increasing demand (overpopulation) and decreasing supply (dwindling natural resources) will foster increasing government regulation. New policies will redefine the ways we live our lives, they already are. The question is not, what will change? It is, what won’t?

I believe there is sufficient evidence to suggest that human health is dependent upon a connection with nature. Research is revealing that many of us possess traits that are best suited to natural environments. Additionally, research has shown that time in nature can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, improve sleep, and speed up recovery from injury and illness.

Bill First, of Forbes writes, “Increasingly, healthcare and public health professionals are recognizing that the social determinants of health—including where we’re born, live, work, play and age—collectively have a far greater impact on our health outcomes than the healthcare delivery system. It’s estimated that healthcare services account for just 10% of longevity, while social and environmental factors account for twice that at 20%, genetics 30%, and individual behaviors an estimated 40%.” 1617 Additionally, First writes, “A 2006 American Scientist study on perceptual pleasure and the brain chronicles how viewing stimulating, dynamic natural scenes triggers an increase in interactions of the mu (opioid) receptors in the brain’s visual cortex—making viewing nature a physically pleasurable experience compared to looking at a blank wall or concrete-covered street.” 1819

I believe humans seek nature because it is where we naturally belong. We visit national parks, travel to foreign lands, and hike, and camp, and bike because we are inherently drawn to wild places. What it is in a view that captivates the soul, that leaves us speechless, and reawakens the sense of wonder that children know so well, must to some degree be the resurrection of a connection that wanes whenever we turn our backs to the world from which we came.

What is a life without nature? Every place we mine, or log, or otherwise decimate, is a place that will never be as it once was. There are places on Earth that only memories or photos can now describe. It saddens me to think that places of extraordinary beauty, such as Palau, Tuvalu, the Maldives and the Seychelles may be lost to sea level rise. And imagine a world without gorillas, orangutans, lions, rhinos, and elephants. What then? Increasingly, will our interactions with nature become virtual? Will we have to slip on a pair of virtual reality headsets and wait while nature loads? What will this do to our mental health?

Nature_Loading_4a

Conclusion

We may know the lay of the land, but we are only just beginning to understand the way of it. Humans are not omniscient creatures. There is so much we do not know.

We speak often of progress, yet by definition, progress is nothing more than moving towards a destination. As far as I can tell, humans have no clear, or universally agreed upon destination in mind. Perhaps destinations should be brought to the forefront of social, economic, and political debate. For only then can “progress” be substantive. I also believe it is important to distinguish between negative and positive progress. In my mind, positive progress means moving towards a sustainable human existence while improving human well-being. Positive progress is a process of evaluating the consequences of the actions of the past, accepting what has worked and what hasn’t, and not repeating the later. All too often, our beliefs and ideologies do not progress. They remain stagnant because we do not scrutinize their impacts on both human and planetary well-being. While in theory, technology and medicine are always progressing, in reality they cannot actually progress if our understanding of ourselves is not progressing. For example, we generally view innovations in technology as positive progress. Yet, correlations between increasing technology and declining mental and physical health suggest otherwise. Likewise, we typically view innovations in medicine as positive progress, but all too often these advances are simply remedies or band-aids to problems that we have created.

Achieving sustainability and improving human well-being are goals that can be obtained simultaneously. However, we will never achieve these ends, if we are unwilling to acknowledge the flaws of our belief systems. If we are to progress in a positive direction we must embrace ideologies that “truly” promote the well-being of nature and our place within her. The prominent Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess wrote, “The ideological change will be mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between bigness and greatness.”

So much of the human journey throughout history has been characterized by a separation from nature. Carried on by our beliefs, we journeyed, physically and mentally, further and further away from her in our quest to build out the “big” kingdom of our imaginations. We tear down forests to build walls to keep nature out. We adorn our walls with windows to see the world, but through glass we cannot feel, hear, touch, and smell the world out there. We have created traps and poisons to kill every living creature that dares to enter into our domain, with not a care in the world for the pain we inflict. As our population grows, we push further into nature, forcing all the “vermin” to walk the plank toward extinction. And Increasingly, to view the world around us, we look not up, but down into a magical, electronic mirror.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, show me the fairest life of them all.

In seeking “big,” many of us have diminished the quality of our lives to nearly zilch. We are holed up within our homes, within our rooms, at our desks, or glued to a screen through which we experience the majority of life. What a sentionally “big” life we have created.

It need not be this way. We can rediscover “great.” It comes naturally when we let go of “big.” When we stop seeking more, and strive to appreciate less, we discover a world of incredible depth. Perhaps Louis Armstrong said it best:

“I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world”

Yes, it is a wonderful world, and our happiness lies in believing that it is worth protecting.

From all of us here in the studio, thanks for reading!

Update: 30/17/2019

When I first wrote this post, I was concerned that some people might find my words too aggressive, or my attack on the “brilliant” innovations of humanity, unjustified. I know I am strong in my own opinions. However, after writing this post, I began reading Silent Spring, by the renowned, American marine biologist, author, and conservationist Rachel Carson. Throughout the book, I have encountered striking similarities between her words and mine. I want to share a few words of hers here as I believe it lends credibility to the points I have made in this post.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” ― Rachel Carson

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.” ― Rachel Carson

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” ― Rachel Carson

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” ― Rachel Carson


1 Gaard, Greata, and Gruen, Lori, “Ecofeminism: Toward Global Justice and Planetary Health,” pp. 276-287 in Environmental Ethics: An Anthology (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003).
2 Gaard, Greata, and Gruen, Lori, “Ecofeminism: Toward Global Justice and Planetary Health,” pp. 276-287 in Environmental Ethics: An Anthology (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003).
3 https://academic.oup.com/icc/article-abstract/11/3/607/1044114?redirectedFrom=PDF
4 https://academic.oup.com/icc/article-abstract/11/3/607/1044114?redirectedFrom=PDF
5 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/groupthink
6 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/american-consumption-habits/
7 https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33133712
8 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/20/by-2050-there-will-be-more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-worlds-oceans-study-says/?utm_term=.b02894c41e60
9 https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release23/en/
10 https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release23/en/
11 https://www.unicef.org/stories/social-media-bad-teens-mental-health
12 https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/06/gse-phones-study/
13 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/depression-anxiety.html
14 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996208/
15 https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.html
16 https://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrist/2017/06/15/the-science-behind-how-nature-affects-your-health/#66c0709e15ae
17 https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa073350#t=article
18 https://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrist/2017/06/15/the-science-behind-how-nature-affects-your-health/#66c0709e15ae
19 http://cvcl.mit.edu/SUNSeminar/biederman_vessel_amsci06.pdf