I haven’t posted on the wall for a while, my goodness, it’s been a month and a flaming half! But worry not, I certainly haven’t stopped building it, and the posts will be coming thick and fast and skinny and quick from now on. I’ve been pre-occupied the last few months volunteering on sustainable farms in Portugal while also setting up a freelance writing service which focuses on helping planet-conscious businesses with their communications. So it’s been busy busy busy times but I have returned from the farm with a wealth of knowledge, experience, sunburn, aching muscles, questionable tattoos, a couple of vineyard related scars, a hankering for fresh fruit and veg, and bucket loads of sustainable agriculture shaped joy and appreciation that I’m very keen to start sharing with the world. (I did manage to keep the Facebook page regularly updated with heartwarming, hope-restoring news from around the world if you’re in the market for daily bouts of positivity and hilarious posting skills.) (Wink wink.)
What the WWOOF?
Now that I’m back from the farm and writing full time again I shall be posting much more regularly on here about all sorts of interesting stuff but first I wanted to do a little post about my farming experience, because that’s interesting stuff too! I was farming as a member of what’s called the ‘WWOOFing’ community, making me a ‘WWOOFer’, which because of my extreme fondness for daft and ridiculous words made the whole experience even more rewarding; I’m a flaming WWOOFer for Spiderman’s sake, I mean what could be better than that? Nothing, that’s what.
WWOOF stands for ‘worldwide opportunities on organic farms’, and it’s an international movement that links curious volunteers such as myself with organic farmers and growers around the world. WWOOFing gives people with an interest in sustainability, green business, and self-sufficient living a chance to learn about and experience these things hands-on, while also providing organic farmers with a cost-effective way of finding enthusiastic ‘helping hands’ to work on their farms. (Believe me, there’s always plenty of work to be done.) So how does WWOOFing work? Well if you’re brave enough to move on to the next paragraph, I’m about to explain the whole process! (Don’t worry, it’s not too scary. Actually, it’s not scary at all. It’s like, the opposite of scary. It’s yracs? Time to move on.)
‘WWOOF’ is an international movement that links curious volunteers with organic farmers and growers around the world.
How does WWOOFing work?
So how does WWOOFing work? It’s actually incredibly simple to become a WWOOFer (hahaha, it gets me every time, WWOOFer!), and if you decide it’s something you want to do, you could be off around the world WWOOFing within weeks. First I’ll give you some of the main things you need to know about WWOOFing, and then I’ll give you a step-by-step run-through of how to set up your WWOOFing adventure. And yes, I am trying to type WWOOF as many times as possible in this post, because why the WWOOF not? Hehe, here’s some of the main things you need to know about WWOOFing.
Things you should know
- You don’t get paid.
You won’t earn a wage as a WWOOFer, but you will receive free room and board (accommodation and food) in exchange for your effort on the farm. I WWOOF’d in two different places and the food and accommodation in both was tremendous.
- It’s (basically) free to sign up.
It’s 15 euro for a years membership on the Portuguese WWOOFing site, which allows you to apply to as many farms as you want within the year. I mean 15 euro for a year? That’s organically grown, sustainably produced beans if you ask me!
- It’s incredibly affordable.
Once you’ve arranged transport to your farm of choice, you can actually survive without any money. All meals are provided, as well as a place to sleep, so if you’re not flush with cash all the basics are there. There’s no reason you couldn’t WWOOF for a year on 500 euro or so (transport between farms and a little spending money), but if you’re like me, when I WWOOF’d in the Algarve, a little extra cash came in handy. (Wine wine wine.)
- You can WWOOF nearly anywhere.
Seriously, you can find WWOOFer friendly farms in most countries in the world, so set sail, we’re going on a WWOOFventure! (couldn’t resist.)
- You will live on the farm.
Maybe this one was obvious, but just in case it wasn’t, as a WWOOFer, you will be living on the farm with the people who run it, so get ready to meet your new farming family!
- It’s easy to organise, and incredibly fun and educational.
How to sign up
It’s as simple as sausages
So how do you sign up? It’s flipping simple. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
1. Choose your location.
Because WWOOFing basically spans the entirety of the globe, each country organises it’s own community, and has it’s own website, so you need to choose your location and sign up to the WWOOFing community in your country of choice before you can start applying to farms. You can choose your location here.
2. Register with your chosen community.
Whichever country you choose to WWOOF in, you will have to sign up to that particular website before you can start applying. Just sign up, pay the very minimal yearly fee, and then you’re ready to move on to step 3!
3. Create your personal bio.
You will then have to create a bio with some information about you. What you’re all about, why you want to be a WWOOFer, previous farming experience, dietary requirements, all that kind of stuff. Don’t worry, it’s very light-hearted, and pretty much all the farms are happy taking people on who have no farming experience whatsoever. (Like me.)
4. Find a farm you like.
There are loads of different farms, and it’s important that you find one that suits you. I for example wanted to work on my writing while I was WWOOFing, so I needed somewhere with WIFI, and a room to myself so I had a quiet place to work. I also wanted a farm where I was the only WWOOFer there in order to limit distractions. This was easy to organise. Each farm has to set up their own WWOOF profile, where they detail things like accommodation type, cooking arrangements, number of other WWOOFers staying, work schedule etc, so it’s easy to find a farm that’s suited to your needs.
5. Reach out to the farm.
Once you’ve found a farm you fancy, send them a message through the WWOOF platform explaining your motivations for choosing them and boom, you’re nearly done. It doesn’t usually take long to receive an answer.
6. Get accepted.
Not all farms will accept you, as they may be booked up or not accepting WWOOFers at that particular time. (you can check their calendar before you apply.) Just wait for your ‘visit request’ to be confirmed, and hey presto! You’re ready for your adventure. (My goodness I haven’t said ‘hey presto’ in a while. I wonder how presto’s doing these days? Hey Presto, how’s it going? Aaaaah good man Presto, good to see you. Nice hat Presto, I’m pretty impressed yo, did you buy it in Tesco? Okay, let’s go. (To number 7.)
7. Sort your transport.
Once your visit request has been accepted all you have to do is book your transport, pack your bags, and gooooooooooooooo farming. Woooo, see, told you it was flipping simple!
This may involve getting on a bus, or a plane, or a combination of the two, maybe even a train, but basically, put one foot in front of the other, repeat for an unspecified number of steps, and voila, you’re a WWOOFer.
So that’s pretty much everything you need to know about setting up your WWOOFing adventure, it’s as simple as sausages, but what are the main benefits of becoming a WWOOFer? And what can you expect to learn from your WWOOFing experience? Well now, you’ll just have to wait and see won’t you? Just kidding, all shall be revealed in the next section.
Why go WWOOFing?
The main benefits
I’ve gone bullet point crazy in this post, but it’s that kind of post isn’t it? Is it? Who knows. But anyways, here are the main benefits of going WWOOFing. (In bullet points!)
From my experience, WWOOFing is incredibly educational. From running a farm using only natural methods, to processing, bottling, and marketing organic wine, to living a self-sufficient, planet-friendly lifestyle, I really did learn so much. If you choose a farm that’s aligned with your interests and learning goals, and you approach your WWOOFing experience with an open mind and a willingness to soak up information, you will learn a tremendous amount.
- Travelling (on the cheap)
WWOOFing presents the opportunity to travel the world on the smallest of budgets. After paying for my flight to Portugal (about 50 euro one-way), and my bus from Lisbon to the farm (about 20 euro), I’m pretty sure I only spent about 20 euro in the first month I was there, and that was on a beer, an ice cream, and a flowery cork hat (which I ended up losing at the beach, don’t ask me how!). The point is, WWOOFing allows you to pretty much travel the world for nothing more than the cost of the transport.
- Experiencing the local culture (for real)
This isn’t just a regular holiday where you barely scratch the surface of the place you’re staying. You will be living with the people/family who run the farm, and they are likely to be connected and immersed in the local community. One of my favourite things about my WWOOFing experience was meeting the locals and experiencing their way of life. At one point I found myself in a neighbours house with their family drinking homemade wine, cracking fresh walnuts straight from the farm, and cooking chorizo sausage over a tray filled with burning alcohol. Apparently this is a post-work tradition in the area of rural Portugal I was staying. I was there with my WWOOFing family and the neighbours family, and I could really feel that I was having a genuine experience of rural Portuguese family life. Now you certainly won’t get that on your all expenses paid three-star package holiday to tourismville. WWOOFing is the way to go if you’re looking for an authentic insight into local life, wherever you may choose to WWOOF.
- Meeting wonderful people
I met so many fascinating characters and lovely people while WWOOFing. Not just the people who hosted me, but their friends and neighbours as well, and the locals I met while adventuring around on my bicycle. I really did make some friends for life, and I couldn’t say a better word about any of my hosts. I think something like WWOOFing tends to attract kind, wholesome, insightful, knowledgeable people who share a passion for helping the planet and sharing their experiences. I would imagine that wherever you decide to WWOOF, you would be surrounding yourself with top-notch humans.
- Staying healthy
Working on the farm, any farm, inevitably involves being outdoors and constantly exercising, and it’s likely this will be coupled with eating mainly fresh, healthy, organic food. Not a bad combination for staying healthy. The peace of the farm and working with the land is also great for nourishing the mind and spirit, and I would highly recommend it.
So those are the main WWOOF shaped benefits I can think of, and there really are no downsides. Also, if you’re a host, you get enthusiastic people to help you on your farm for the very reasonable price of a bed and a bit of food; not a bad deal all in all I would say.
What did I learn?
Everyone is different, every farm is different, and every WWOOFing experience is different, so I’m not going to go into detail about the specific work I was doing on each farm or anything like that. You can read about the kind of work you can expect to be doing on each farm’s WWOOFing profile, so instead, here are some of the main insights I picked up while working on the farm and learning from my hosts.
- Nature is beautiful. (And can surprise you)
Okay so I didn’t learn this for the first time on the farm, but I was certainly reminded of it. Nature is beautiful, and I’m not just talking about big wondrous landscapes and brightly coloured flowers; one of the loveliest things I saw on the farm was ants. I was in the middle of placing bio-degradable sheeting around wine trees in the vineyard to control weed growth and direct as much energy to the wine trees as possible when I noticed three particular ants. (There were a whole lot of ants.) One of the ants was injured, and the two other ants were carrying the injured ant back to the nest. This really reminded me that things like intelligence, awareness, love, and compassion are very much present all around us. Humans are not ‘the be all and end all’, and we’re not the only ones who care for our neighbours and friends. I think it’s important to remember that.
- Everything we do has consequences. (The butterfly effect)
On the farm you quickly realise that every little action has consequences, and this is a lesson that applies to everyday life as well. If I use too much water while watering the plants in the orchard there may not be enough water for the neighbour to water her plants, and if she can’t water her plants they may wither and die, meaning the bees and insects will lose their home, meaning the birds will lose their source of food, meaning bigger plants and trees may have trouble dispersing their seeds, meaning plant life and wildlife in the local and wider area may begin to disappear etc etc etc. This of course is an extreme example, but you get the point. What seem like insignificant actions in life, can have significant ‘knock-on’ effects. Everything is connected, and this becomes much more obvious on the farm.
- Change is the only thing that’s constant. (Nothing lasts, and that’s okay)
When dealing with crops and plants that give fruits and flowers and then shrivel up and die it becomes crystal clear that everything has it’s day in the sun, however long that may be, and then it dies and decomposes, so that other things can grow. (And that includes us!) There was one particular plant I saw that only flowers for one night in the year. You could actually see the flower appear over the space of 12 hours, open up gradually, bloom, and then close and fall off by the following day. I think there are lessons to be learned here for everyday life as well. We tend to worry so much about change while trying to cling on to what’s familiar, we forget that change is inevitable and natural. Whether it’s a failed relationship, an old job or house, whatever it is, old ways will die, and new ways will bloom, and the more openly and willingly we embrace this constant change, the more enjoyable our lives will be. Think like the flowers maaaaaaaaaaaaan; and you will bloom.
(WordPress doesn’t let you put a caption below a ‘gallery’ for some reason, the silly sausages, so I shall put the caption at the top instead. The gallery below consists of photos taken over a 12-15 hour period. The flower was fully shut around 3pm, began opening around 6pm, was in full bloom by midnight, and was already half closed when I found it at 7am the next morning. By that afternoon it had fallen off the plant. This is a wonderful illustration of the fact that nothing lasts, but it can be beautiful while it does, and then, when it’s finished, we move on, and wait for the next bloom! (Such a beautiful flower though and the smell was something else.)
- People can make a difference
The first farm I volunteered on had been neglected before my hosts moved in. The land was basically barren and the trees were so diseased they weren’t giving fruit. The previous owner had left the land idle for over three years. But within a year, my hosts had transformed the place. The trees were giving more fruit than they could handle, there was veg growing everywhere, and there were newly planted trees growing all over the place. The insects and birds had moved in, and the place was a wildlife paradise! This really underlined for me the incredible effect people have on nature, either positive or negative. If we work with nature as a species, everyone, we can absolutely save this planet and turn it into a haven for humans, plants and animals alike.
- There are brilliant people out there in the world. (And they want to save the planet!)
It brought me great hope and comfort to witness first hand the passion and commitment people can have for making the world a better place. All my hosts and their friends and neighbours are incredibly dedicated to doing things as naturally and organically as possible. Not using chemicals, treating the land and nature with respect, minimising waste and plastic use, only buying ethically sourced goods. All of these things and much much more. These people are more than willing to put in the extra time, effort, and finances to make a real difference for the planet, and it’s inspirational to witness. I will try my best to do the same myself.
So that’s it really, it’s been an absolute WWOOF of a time writing this post, and I hope you found it WWOOFfull (that works as useful doesn’t it?) Haha, anyways, if you’re interested in sustainability or self-sufficiency or green business or even if you just wanna travel on the cheap, I would absolutely recommend WWOOFing as an option to consider. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and intend to WWOOF again in the near future.
Aaaaaaaaah, it sure is nice to post on the wall again. Do stay tuned for plenty more interesting posts in the near future. Cheerio dudes.
About the Author
Adam Millett is a freelance writer, blogger, and published poet with an affinity for dressing up as Spiderman and writing about saving the planet. He likes to climb trees and stare at the stars in his spare time and likes to help sustainable businesses tell the world their stories while he’s working. Visit his website at wordchameleon.com if you want to tell the world yours.
Sunday Morning Madness
I have been known for spending entire weeks only rising at the GODLY hour of 1-2pm, and spending entire Sundays in bed after a long weekend’s workout routine of using pint glasses as dumbbells and dancefloors as pilates mats.
It’s early in the morning on a Sunday, 7.44am to be nearly precise, which may not seem early for many, but for me it’s the crack of dawn, especially for a Sunday. I’ve been getting up at 7am every day this week to work on the farm and I’m loving it but really I’m still a night owl masquerading as a bird with a worm addiction. (The early bird usually makes me squirm, unless it’s a menu, in which case it makes me jump for Joy, somersault for Debra, and Cartwheel for Samantha. I wonder why Joy get’s all the jumps? She must be doing something right!) I have been known for spending entire weeks only rising at the GODLY hour of 1-2pm, and spending entire Sundays in bed after a long weekend’s workout routine of using pint glasses as dumbbells and dancefloors as pilates mats.
But alas, I am awake, breakfast in my belly (Granola, not worms) and I even had some coffee, which is unusual for me, I usually stick to tea, cause tea will set you free! A few minutes ago, I got smacked unrelentingly in the jaw with a spontaneous urge to start writing while I roughly brushed my teeth at 7.42.39 am. (That’s not a date, it’s the time with milliseconds included. No of course I don’t remember the exact time I started brushing my teeth, it’s a joke baby! See I put the roughly before the brushed up there and then proceeded to provide an exact time for brushing my teeth, insinuating that I knew exactly when my teeth received their makeover, and it was the manner in which I delivered the makeover that was rough, not my recalling of the time it was done. Well that’s actually not the case; I brushed my teeth gently, but the exact time in which I did it has sadly eluded me, so we will just have to move on. (Move on with sparkling white teeth I might add!)
Too much good stuff to write about!
I’ve found so many incredible stories about inspirational people and wonderful environment soothing technologies since starting this blog that to write about them all in detail would be impossible.
So this tremendous urge to dive fingers first into a brand new document has led me exactly here (hehe, I just hyperlinked from this page to: this page! That’s like hyperlinkception or something, the hypermatrix! Maybe I’m hyper? Is that what coffee does to you???? Goodness.) (I also had to write this post, and then come back and edit it to add the URL in, now that’s flipping dedication for you) and although I have a never-ending list of topics I want to write about for A Wall of Hope, and that’s barely an exaggeration, I’ve found so many incredible stories about inspirational people and wonderful environment soothing technologies since starting this blog that to write about them all in detail would be impossible, (especially while working six days a week on a farm in Portugal, which I am doing right now!) and I just keep finding more and more every day.
That was all a bit wordy so it’s best we go back to the start of the sentence again so this next bit actually makes sense without you having to read back and start connecting dots that lie entire flaming paragraphs apart! SO, although I have a never-ending list of topics I want to write about for A Wall of Hope, I haven’t actually done any topic-specific research yet today, and I usually do quite a lot of research when I write an article on here.
My mind, body, soul, tail, hair, wings, extremities, organs, capillaries, hopes, dreams, insecurities, sweat glands, knees, ankles, hands, everything really, was strongly in favour of writing over research this morning (it was more like one of those, who can shout the loudest kind of voting situations you tend to see on game shows and silly sausage shaped singing competitions than an actual democratic vote, and every single part of me started animalistically screaming when the MC exclaimed with financially motivated artificial enthusiasm ‘everybody make some nooooooise for wrriiitttting’, (that was a dig at game shows and commercialised singing competitions and ‘The X Factor’, and certainly not at my motivation for writing, I mean who in their right mind would ever pay me for this nonsense?) where as every little molecule in the Adam shaped blood flesh and consciousness arena fell silent after research had staked it’s claim for the prize. To be honest maybe there’s not a whole lot of difference between the ‘who can shout the loudest’ form of gameshow democracy and the generally accepted and utilised western political version? Voices are just replaced by dollars is all. Or Euros. Or whatever it’s all just numbers on a screen these days. ‘Democracy’ my arse.) I digress.
So with no research done, and a hankering (hehe, that’s a nice word) to start writing immediately, I decided to just write about the fact that I have so much to write about on here. I mean isn’t it an incredibly positive sign that after setting out to find uplifting and inspirational stories about the current human situation and our future, I have found, and constantly continue to find, far more than I can ever hope to write about? That has to be the greatest cause for hope yet. There’s so much good happening in the world it’s unwriteableaboutable. (Un-write-able-about-able) (I just realised that I could probably delete everything but this paragraph, and probably delete some of this paragraph as well, and still make the point I set out to make in this article, but where’s the fun in that? It’s stream of consciousness baby! Beautiful coffee-fueled Sunday morning stream of consciousness. Wooooooo!)
I mean isn’t it an incredibly positive sign that after setting out to find uplifting and inspirational stories about the current human situation and our future, I have found, and constantly continue to find, far more than I can ever hope to write about?
I genuinely thought I’d be struggling to find stuff to write about when I set up this site, and I’ve found it very motivating that I’ve found much more than I can handle. If you want proof by the way, go have a look at the Facebook and Twitter pages, as I’m constantly posting all the good news I can find on those, and I even have a backlog of articles and stories to share there! There’s just so much of it.
Now I’m not saying at all that the world is all safe and rosy or anything, and that we can all just forget about the climate epidemic’s and mass extinctions and the plastic sea monsters because someone else has got us covered, it’s quite dangerous to think that way, and plenty plenty more has to be done, by everybody, but it’s just nice to know that there is plenty of good stuff going on as well as all the carnage. Stuff to build on. Stuff to be inspired by. Stuff for hope.
On the dot
Now would you look at that, 8:41:00 on a flaming Sunday, and I’ve already written an article. (yes of course, it’s a silly article, but it’s an article nonetheless) Also, I actually had to change the time settings on my laptop so that I could see the milliseconds in order to take that reading, and the moment I clicked in to change the settings, the time ticked over to exactly 8:41 on the dot, so I probably didn’t need the milliseconds after all, but there you are, you have them now, two zeroes, side by side, like an owls eyes without the pupils, or an arse, or boobs without nipples, or coconuts, or eggs.
Well, that was intense. Time for a second breakfast now I reckon. Maybe I’ll have eggs, or coconuts, or an arse, or an owls eyes without pupils,
or boobs without nipples? Now that would be berzerk.
Peace out dudes.
About the Author
Adam Millett is a freelance writer, blogger, and published poet with an affinity for dressing up as Spiderman and writing about saving the planet. He likes to climb trees and stare at the stars in his spare time and likes to help sustainable businesses tell the world their stories while he’s working. Visit his website at wordchameleon.com if you want to tell the world yours.
The word ‘economy’ can be defined as the
‘careful management of available resources’,
or the ‘sparing or careful use of something’.
Think about that.
People love ‘stuff.’ It’s the modern day, the western way, to buy and try then throw away and it’s not doing the planet much good. (Even if it does seem like it rhymes sometimes.) People’s unrelenting addiction to stuff, or rather, the way that stuff is being produced, used, and then disposed of, has led to gargantuan islands of plastic mess floating around in our oceans, great big shit heaps of rubbish building up in the ‘developing’ countries of the world, countless beautiful creatures choking to death and being found with plastic packed into their stomachs, and so much more disgustingly common scenery disfigurement and animal cruelty. They’ve even found plastic in some of the deepest parts of the ocean now, I mean for goodness gracious the world’s contagious sake, there’s disregarded stuff all over the place, and I haven’t even mentioned the monumental effect our appetite for buying stuff, using it for a short while, and then throwing it on the rubbish pile is having on the planet’s natural resources and the CO2 levels in the atmosphere. (No need to elaborate on that at this stage I’m sure, as if you’re a regular human being you already know, and if you’re a climate change denier I don’t actually speak your language anyway.)
So yes, we really do love our stuff, and a lot of the time, the slogans on the stuff might rhyme, but the fact is, when it comes to rhyming with nature, the ‘stuff’ just doesn’t. (All the rhyming in this paragraph was done partly to make a point, but mainly because, well, it just happened okay? Good day.) (Okay, the ‘Good day’ there was in no way an effort to say farewell, or goodbye, it was just for the sake of rhyming; I’m not done with the article yet, I’ve barely even started.) (I just farted.) Let’s move on.
You know what does rhyme with nature though? Circular Economy, that’s what. Okay so not in the literal ‘Peter Piper Picked a woolly sweater’ kind of way, but in an ‘ecological harmony’ kind of way. See the picture I painted so rhythmically above (I just have bloody rhyme on the mind today, apologies) of pollution and destruction and environmental disgust is a picture created by ‘the linear economy’, which is the model most of us use to produce and consume things right now. Under the linear economy model, sometimes referred to as the ‘take-make-waste model, a product is manufactured, used for a short time, and then disposed of, resulting in resource-guzzling greenhouse gas emitting damage during production, and physical waste after use. So beautiful, wonderful, preciously finite resources get plundered from the earth, turned into our little toys and trinkets in an environmentally destructive manner, and then, after a short time, get thrown on the shit-heap with the rest of the shit to clog up the lands and oceans for all eternity. Not the most nature-friendly system we have going on is it?
The linear economy model isn’t really an ‘economy’ at all, according to the definition of the word, so how do we build an economy that does fulfil that definition? Enter, the circular economy.
An Economy based on Nature
I insisted above that the circular economy rhymes with nature because it is inspired by nature. In nature nothing ever goes to waste. When a leaf falls from a tree, it breaks down and is used to fertilise the ground. A dead animal becomes food for another animal, which then dies and feeds another. There is no waste involved, and everything operates in a big replenishing cycle, or, you could even say, if you were feeling frisky, in a circle! That is basically how the circular economy works. It can be defined as, according to the world economic forum, ‘an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, which impair reuse and return to the biosphere, and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.’ Wooof, sounds exciting doesn’t it? It sounds flipping necessary if we want to even mildly continue our addiction to ‘stuff’ without turning the planet into an un-habitable boiling soup bowl of melted plastic and glow in the dark fertiliser mountains. If you’re optimistic, the circular economy sounds like the future. But how would it work?
In nature nothing ever goes to waste. When a leaf falls from a tree, it breaks down and is used to fertilise the ground. A dead animal becomes food for another animal, which then dies and feeds another. There is no waste involved, and everything operates in a big replenishing cycle, or, you could even say, if you were feeling frisky, in a circle! That is basically how the circular economy works.
How does The Circular Economy work?
As complicated as the diagram above may seem, the Circular Economy is actually rather simple. There are three main attributes you need to remember, and I have been kind enough to ramble on about them all below.
1. Products are designed for Zero Waste
Around 80% of environmental impacts are determined at the design stage. The waste and pollution that results from our constant consumption of stuff isn’t just a freak accident, it’s a fault in the design! The circular economy aims to design out waste entirely by optimizing products for a cycle of disassembly and reuse. By making sure from the very start that every ounce of material in a product can be used again effectively when the product has been used, (You may be thinking ‘but isn’t that what recycling is for?’, but currently, taking plastic as an example, only 9% of what go’s into our products actually ends up being recycled, the rest ends up as waste) we can practically eliminate waste and ensure that once the raw materials have been taken from the earth to create some of our stuff, they never have to be taken again, and can be re-used in their entirety, again and again and again; just like nature. A beautiful continuous circle of planet saving design efficiency!
Around 80% of environmental impacts are determined at the design stage.
2. ‘Consumers’ become ‘Users’
I’ve always really quite despised how people are so often referred to as ‘consumers’. I think it sounds really disgusting, and kind of proliferates the hopeless idea that people are born to just work, fuck, work, consume, work, work, consume, work, and die, but in the linear economy model people are just ‘consumers’. That’s really just how it works. In a circular model, people instead become ‘users’. In order to ensure that people actually return products to the manufacturers when they’re finished using them, the manufacturer retains ownership over the products and the raw materials composing them, ensuring that the raw materials retain their value, and people just lease the products from the manufacturers when they need them. Now this may sound quite odd and awkward at first because, well, isn’t it just nicer and simpler if we actually own our nice comfy thick woolly jumpers and flat screen TVs instead of having to go to the bother of leasing them? But if you think about it, when do you actually need your nice big woolly jumper? Are you planning on wearing it to the boom boom pow pow pool pool party your work is throwing in July? And then dragging it along for the mid-summer weekend blow out in Vegas the following weekend? Probably not. Wouldn’t it make more sense if you could bring your big thick 100% turnableintosomethingelseable jumper back to the manufacturer when the weather gets warmer in February, (or May if you’re from anywhere near the west of Ireland) and swap it for six pairs of flowery swimming shorts and some flip flops? Safe in the knowledge that the manufacturer can then turn 100% of your well worn, winter torn jumper into a completely new product without having to use any extra raw materials? Hmmmm, maybe this leasing products business isn’t such a bad idea after all! I’m sure we could get used to it.
3. Clean energy is used wherever possible
This one’s pretty simple; elimination of fossil fuels. The circular economy would operate entirely by using renewable energy sources. Although this may not be 100% possible today, the aim is to utilise as much clean energy as possible right now, and to push the transition toward 100% clean energy infrastructure as rapidly as possible. The future is clean and it turns in circles!
When you learn about how the circular economy works it just makes so much sense on so many levels. It’s better for the planet, better for people, and it’s even better financially! (Which is good, because it’s finance that really get’s the ball rolling on these things.) Here are some of the benefits of going circular.
What are the benefits of a Circular Economy?
Saving the planet
Well, that was an obvious one.
Boosting the economy!
Using resources more effectively could increase the size of the global economy by $2 trillion by 2050, so the benefits of going circular really are economic as well as environmental.
Contrary to the idea that to save the planet we’ll have to completely demolish the economy and go back to living in the woods and gathering nuts and berries (which I actually think would be tremendous fun), going circular can actually boost local communities and local jobs, both through its potential to create new markets and products and its emphasis on creating local material loops and shortening supply chains. The International Resource Panel, part of the UN’s Environment Programme, says that using resources more effectively could increase the size of the global economy by $2 trillion by 2050, so the benefits of going circular really are economic as well as environmental.
Good for business
In a circular economy model materials are completely re-used, which is much more cost efficient than the linear method of extracting or purchasing brand new materials for every product produced, so the circular method brings with it financial benefits for businesses and manufacturers.
Good for Humans
A cleaner planet to live on, an economy that runs smoothly for us and for nature as well, cost-benefits from increased manufacturing efficiency, and the potential for always being able to ‘lease’ whatever product you may want or need at a given point in time, and then trade it in for a different one when you’re done with it. There are so many benefits from going circular, and the possibilities are endless. (Haha, that’s funny, because circles don’t actually have an end, they just go around and around and around and around, so maybe I should say, the possibilities are infinite. Aaaaaaaah, yes, that’s better.)
In my mind, the circular economy is the future, but what really does make me optimistic is that this isn’t just some distant theoretical concept that’s never actually going to happen, it’s already happening, and seems to be gathering speed as we speak! Here are just a few examples of how the economy is starting to turn in circles today.
Real World Examples
Construction and demolition waste accounts for 25 to 30% of all waste created within European Union countries, which is quite a hefty chunk. Enter circularity. The Committee for European Construction Equipment (CECE), which represents the interests of over 1200 construction equipment manufacturers, is currently working together with other industry bodies in calling for a circular economy approach to construction. A total of eight construction industry organisations have signed a declaration entitled Construction in the circular economy: Towards circular materials, products and buildings. The organisations state that the industry needs an expert platform to develop a comprehensive strategy within the future construction policy initiative. This is an incredible example of the circular economy taking shape. This is not merely a greenwashing campaign or a corporate social responsibility stunt, it is an entire multi-nation spanning industry realising that the current way of doing things isn’t working and that a circular approach is the way forward. Circularity is going to happen, and is already happening, in one of the most raw materials heavy industries in the world.
Adidas has created a running shoe, christened the ‘Futurecraft.Loop’, that can be 100% recycled, over and over and over again. Unlike traditional shoes, which are constructed from diverse materials, the Futurecraft.Loop is made entirely from TPU, from the sole to the laces, and its various elements are fused together with heat, so there’s no glue or stitching required. So once the shoe is worn out, or the person ‘leasing’ the show fancies a newer, shinier, prettier shoe, it can be broken down into pellets, which will then be used to make a brand new Futurecraft.Loop sneaker. This can be done over and over and over again, meaning that no new raw materials will be needed to create shoes in the future. The materials that make up the shoe you buy in 2021 when the shoes are released (obviously you don’t have to buy a pair, but it might be a good idea!) can be used repeatedly, meaning that you can keep running and running and running for years and years to come in brand spanking new beautiful shoes, but the actual raw material in the shoes will stay the same. Now that’s pretty nifty. This may seem like a small development right now, I mean it’s just one shoe design, but don’t underestimate the influence it is likely to have on the industry. Adidas are a big big player, and if this proves to be a financial success, which I really think it will be, circularity is likely to proliferate through the fashion industry as if it’s sprinting at top speed while wearing lightweight sustainably produced running shoes! (That one was bad, I know.)
Spotify, AirBNB, Uber etc etc etc
Spotify, AirBNB, Uber, all these kinds of companies that we’re well accustomed to using on a regular basis are all a part of the circular economy as well. Spotify has turned what was an incredibly raw material heavy industry into an entirely digital one, where we lease our music for a monthly fee instead of owning it, and the music is produced and distributed in a waste free manner. AirBNB (when it is used properly and not taken advantage of by greedy flipheads with too much time, too much money, and too much property) allows people to make use of homes and spaces that would otherwise be sitting idle, a demand altering phenomenon which may have already contributed to Jeramiah knows how many extra hotels and guesthouses not being built. And Uber and Lyft and apps like that have the potential to allow for car sharing and a reduction in private car ownership. These are all examples of how the circular economy can exist and prosper in today’s world, and there are plenty more examples out there if you look for them!
Into the Future
So that’s it then, I’ve said my bit, talked my shit, now it’s time to split. (I’ve still got the rhyming bug, after writing an entire article, interesting, it’s like I started with rhyming, wrote all the paragraphs in between, and now I’ve managed to come: full circle!) Goodness, I’ll stop now. Do spread the word though, the circular economy is the future.
As Buzz Lightyear would say if he was designed to be 100% recyclable, manufactured and distributed using only clean energy, and leased by his lucky owner for a short time before being traded in for the Spanish speaking version in a manner that requires no extra raw materials to be harvested;
to circularity, and beyond!
And if you’ve managed to make it this far, for one, I’m absolutely astonished, and for two, fair flooping play to you! As a reward, here’s a tremendously concise video that pretty much sums up everything it just took me 2500+ words to explain. I could have just put the video at the start of course, and saved you the bother, but where’s the hilarity in that? Enjoy, and Bon Voy.
About the Author
Adam Millett is a freelance writer, blogger, and published poet with an affinity for dressing up as Spiderman and writing about saving the planet. He likes to climb trees and stare at the stars in his spare time and likes to help sustainable businesses tell the world their stories while he’s working. Visit his website at wordchameleon.com if you want to tell the world yours.
Time to wake up
I woke up this morning with the intention of writing a tribute post. I wanted to write a post to celebrate the success and effectiveness of the climate strikes that have been happening all around the world lately, and how amazing it is that the young people of the planet have banded together across borders to bring the climate crisis into the centre of the political discussion. I wanted to write about Greta Thunberg and what an inspirational figure she is and how she’s a shining beacon of hope for us all. I wanted to write about the bright new world this defiant generation are going to build where everyone works together for the good of the human race and the planet. But I feel like writing a tribute post would be missing the point, and would be doing them a disservice. More is needed.
We are in the midst of a crisis, there is no doubt about that, and we have to start acting like it.
This is a wall of hope, and the emergence of Greta Thunberg, the global climate movement she has ignited, and the rate at which it has spread is certainly a phenomenon that inspires, but it can only become a true driver of hope and progress if we actually start listening to what the protesters are saying. Really listening. It’s no good just reading the headlines and watching the videos of the protests and getting all warm inside with the notion that ‘the youth are going to save us’. In the words of Greta herself, ‘’We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.” It is clear, we need to fucking wake up. And fast.
Politicians, businesses, billionaires, famous musicians, footballers, backpackers, people. Everyone. Humans. We have to start paying attention, real attention, and we have to start now. Because we are in the midst of a crisis, there is no doubt about that, and we have to start acting like it.
Changing our Priorities
Greta continues, and these are all words from her speech to the UK parliament. “People always tell me and the other millions of school strikers that we should be proud of ourselves for what we have accomplished. But the only thing that we need to look at is the emission curve. And I’m sorry, but it’s still rising. That curve is the only thing we should look at. Every time we make a decision we should ask ourselves; how will this decision affect that curve? We should no longer measure our wealth and success in the graph that shows economic growth, but in the curve that shows the emissions of greenhouse gases. We should no longer only ask: “Have we got enough money to go through with this?” but also: “Have we got enough of the carbon budget to spare to go through with this?” That should and must become the centre of our new currency.”
These changes won’t be easy to implement, on any level. On a personal level it is extremely difficult to maintain significant alterations to our lifestyles. What we eat, what we buy, how we travel, how we live. These behaviours are so ingrained in our daily lives that leaving the comfort zone of our every day structures, rituals and routines can be very daunting. On a political level it can seem nearly impossible to implement any real change when so many of the available candidates have been corrupted by money and nothing significant every seems to get accomplished. On a societal level there is so much division, so many vastly differing beliefs and contrasting agendas that working together for the greater good can seem idealistic and completely unachievable. But we have to try. We absolutely have to.
If we don’t start laying the foundations right now for a better future, there will be no human future at all.
I started a wall of hope to find and explore reasons to believe that we can overcome this crisis, reasons for hope, but I think it’s very important that we direct our own actions to create our own hope as well as searching for it externally. The more we act in a positive way with regard to the emissions curve that Greta talks about, the more hope we will create, individually and collectively. Greta suggests that ‘avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking.’ That ‘we must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.’ The future is unclear, and it can be scary to swap a trusted, familiar way of living for a completely new one, but what is perfectly clear is that if we don’t start laying the foundations right now for a better future, there will be no human future at all. So what can we do?
We can all make a difference
I think it starts with accepting personal responsibility for our actions. Deciding that we alone can make a difference, and that how we choose to live our lives bares significance for the world around us. It’s all well and good blaming the big bad corporations, and my goodness they do deserve a gargantuan portion of the blame, but that’s not going to do us any good if we don’t start setting the right example ourselves as well. Up until very recently I was of the belief that I couldn’t really make a difference, that one person couldn’t make a difference. One extra vote in the elections didn’t matter, one extra body in a climate protest didn’t change anything. One person fewer living a sustainable lifestyle had no significant effect in the bigger picture. I didn’t believe in voting, had never taken part in a protest, and hadn’t made any real effort to live in a more sustainable manner. I have started to try and change this.
It’s all well and good blaming the big bad corporations, and my goodness they do deserve a gargantuan portion of the blame, but that’s not going to do us any good if we don’t start setting the right example ourselves as well.
I am currently volunteering on a farm in Portugal as part of what’s called the ‘Wwoofing’ community, which is a worldwide movement that matches organic farms with curious volunteers and allows anyone who wants to learn about sustainable living and organic farming to offer their services in exchange for room and board and a whole lot of education, and I am learning plenty.
Everything on the farm is done as sustainably as possible; no artificial chemicals are used, efficient water conservation methods are utilised, the heating systems are solar powered, large wild areas are conserved to attract wildlife and increase biodiversity. The couple who run the farm are very passionate about being as friendly to the earth as possible, and I am learning loads about how to maintain a farm sustainably. But obviously, we can’t all be farmers, and it is the lessons regarding my own personal lifestyle choices that I feel are most important, as they will influence my effect on the emissions curve long after I am done volunteering on farms!
I’ve only been living on the farm for a week and a half but have already been inspired to commit to some simple lifestyle changes that will significantly lower my effect on the emissions curve, and hopefully encourage others to do the same.
I have decided to pay much more attention to labels when I go shopping, to not buy any products that contain palm oil, and to try and determine the source of the products I purchase to ensure that I’m choosing the options with the most desirable effect on the emissions curve. I’ve also decided to significantly cut back on my meat and dairy consumption, something I was already doing before I went farming, and to only buy from sustainable sources when I do consume meat and dairy. No longer buying bottled water, bringing my own bags when I go shopping, using public transport or walking and cycling as much as possible, not leaving chargers plugged into the sockets when they’re not charging anything. It all makes a difference.
I do understand that we require fundamental systematic and infrastructural changes on a universal scale, and quickly, if we’re going to significantly mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, but a lot of that is beyond my control, so I’ve decided to focus my energy on the changes I can make myself. It’s going to take time, effort, and constant research, but I am determined to do it. We are in a crisis after all, and solving a crisis isn’t supposed to be easy!
A more productive outlook
A failure to vote counts as one less opposition vote to all the hot-headed lunatic extremists out there, and every vote that opposes the oil-hungry rainforest demolishing climate change deniers is a vote worth casting.
So that’s me trying to live more sustainably, but I’ve also decided to start voting and taking part in protests. It was actually a recent conversation with the couple who run the farm I’m staying on right now that changed my mind with regard to voting. They convinced me that even though the political system is corrupted by money and corporate donations, and the options and candidates available are very limited in scope, and most of the promises made by politicians in the run-up to elections turn out to be false ones, that it is better to vote for the best available option, than to not vote at all. A failure to vote counts as one less opposition vote to all the hot-headed lunatic extremists out there, and every vote that opposes the oil-hungry rainforest demolishing climate change deniers is a vote worth casting.
I used to say to myself that ‘voting is a load of nonsense, there needs to be a ‘none of the above’ option, all the candidates are crapheads, and if nobody voted then we would break the system and the ‘powers that be’ would be forced to find a better alternative’. This was a lazy, wildly naive, responsibility shifting idealistic outlook, and I realise now that we have to utilise the system that’s already in place if we want to build a better one. Unfortunately, this gift of a revelation didn’t come to me in time to vote in today’s European elections, but I will be voting from now on. Better late than never.
With regard to the protesting, I don’t know why I’ve never taken part. Laziness, hopelessness, a mix of both maybe, but once I’m done working on the farm I will be joining in, and posting about it on the wall. So watch out for that one!
Building the Cathedral
I am not writing all this to boast about everything I’m doing to save the planet. It’s not worth boasting about, and I know I can be, and need to be doing much more. I’m writing it to try and show that each of us can make a difference in the climate fight by altering our lifestyles in a way that lowers our impact on the emissions curve. Out of respect for Greta Thunberg, the climate strikers, and all future generations, we need to do more than just swoon at their courage and determination. We need to actually listen to what they’re telling us and try to do whatever we can to put their advice into practice.
Greta suggests that ‘cathedral thinking’ will be needed for avoiding climate disaster, that we have to ‘lay the foundation when we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.’
We can only change what is within our control; our individual outlooks and personal choices and behaviour. That is the foundation we each need to lay without knowing ‘exactly how to build the ceiling’. If we all start by doing that, by trying to live our lives with the emissions curve as the primary instigator, with some luck and a whole lot of determination, maybe we can figure out how to build the whole cathedral.
There is dormant hope all around us, but we actually have to start acting if we want to bring it to life. I really hope we do.
About the Author
A world of power
A simple truth; if we cover 1.2% of the Sahara desert with modern solar panels we can convert enough energy to power the entire world. That’s a fact.
This isn’t particularly new information. After excitedly blurting it out all over Facebook messenger immediately upon reading the headline somewhere online recently I was abruptly informed by multiple acquaintances (I used to consider them friends, hehe, Jay Kay) that this particular piece of hope shaped certitude has been doing the rounds for a few years now. But I didn’t know about it, and maybe you didn’t either, and my goodness me it nearly made me jump for joy while shouting ‘flaming hell people, cancel the Wednesday evening marketing strategy meetings and get your arses to the desert, there’s a planet needs saving!’….. So I’ve put it on the wall.
It’s a crazy statistic to read though, as my expression above underlines. It seems so simple, but let’s not be silly barking billy’s here, because nothing in this world is ever as simple as it seems. So here’s the lowdown.
In just six hours, the worlds deserts receive more energy from the sun than the entire human race consumes in a year. Six flaming hours! (quite literally flaming in this case) That’s just flaming madness! (again) It doesn’t sound real, but it’s true. Now that’s a whole lot of driving to work and driving back from work and driving to the shops and buying things in the shops and keeping the big lights on in the big massive shops for twenty four hours a day seven days a week and driving back from the shops and watching atrociously terrible TV programs for five hours every evening while also using your smartphone and your smartwatch and your oversized tablet and your laptop while being bombarded from all angles with a relentless stream of advertisements about what you should buy next from the big bright shops, from just six hours of sunlight. (Maybe harnessing this desert energy isn’t such a good idea after all?)
In just six hours, the worlds deserts receive more energy from the sun than the entire human race consumes in a year.
According to Mehran Moalem, a professor at U.C Berkeley and expert on nuclear materials and nuclear fuel cycle, the total world energy consumption in 2015 (it has gone up a little since then) was 17.3 Terawatts continuous power during the year. Also according to Dr. Moalem, by covering an area of the earth 335 km by 335 km with averagely efficient (does that make sense? I’m going with it) modern day solar panels, more than 17.4 Terawatts of power would be generated a year, which leaves a whole 0.1 Terawatts of power a year left over according to my calculations. Let’s have a Terawatt party to celebrate! Given that the Sahara desert has an area of roughly 3.6 million square miles, and the area required to achieve this magic Terawatt number is 43,000 square miles, and the Sahara is probably the bestest hottest most wonderful place in the world if you have a lifetime supply of factor billion sun cream and a large bottle of water that replenishes itself by magic, it can be calculated that covering just 1.2% of the Sahara desert in solar panels would be sufficient to cater for all of the worlds energy needs. Pretty astonishing stuff. So why haven’t we done it yet?
Committing to such a significant initial financial outlay for a project with relatively low chance of immediate profit has proven to be quite the stumbling block so far.
There are a number of reasons. Cost, as always, is a big one. The estimated cost of such a project clocks up to the modest sum of around five trillion dollars, one time cost. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Well. It was reported that the cost to bail out the banks after they made a few minor, understandable, honest mistakes back in 2008 (I wonder what the opposite of sarcasm is? Because I was not being that just then) was around $700 billion. According to Forbes that number is actually closer to $4.6 trillion, rising to a projected $16.8 trillion when the mess has been fully cleaned up. The estimate for next years US ‘defence’ budget is projected to be over $750 billion, and will probably be a lot more when all the hidden costs are accounted for. Now nobody can be sure exactly how accurate these figures are, but the point is that there’s an absolute desert load of cash knocking around that we could be using for silly little things like saving the planet if we started treating money abuse as an addiction instead of something to aspire to and ensured that every millionaire, billionaire, trillionaire and zillionaire receives the treatment they so dearly need to kick their dreadful habit for good. But nevertheless, we live in a world where short-term profit rains supreme, so committing to such a significant initial financial outlay for a project with relatively low chance of immediate profit has proven to be quite the stumbling block so far.
There are also issues when it comes to the environmental impact of producing the solar panels, the technology surrounding energy storage and transport, and the frustratingly inevitable geopolitical challenges that are nearly guaranteed to arise whenever a project like this needs to be spread across multiple borders.
All of these concerns came to fruition in one way or another during a project known as the Desertec industrial initiative, a venture largely driven by the German private sector with the aim of providing around 20% of Europe’s electricity by 2050 through a vast network of solar and wind farms stretching across the middle east and north Africa. Now that was quite the energy pumped mouthful. Not quite powering the entire world, but an ambitious plan nonetheless.
Kicking off in 2009 with 17 big name investors including E.ON, Siemens, and Deutsche Bank, the project seemed like it was destined for success, but by 2014, after encountering all sorts of problems, only three partners remained, and the dream seemed to be over. So what went wrong? Plenty went wrong. The Desertec plan called for a centralised power station that would deliver electricity across three continents, and transporting that much energy across such long distances isn’t an easy task. There are also issues with storing the energy. (you can’t just keep the energy in the sand until people need to use it.) So the technology is an issue that needs working out. On top of this, political instability in the Sahara, as well as issues surrounding natural resource rights (entirely justified issues, as the sunlight in these regions can be considered a natural resource just like oil and coal, and the exploitation of this resource by the ‘international’ private sector should be taken very seriously, and discouraged if done in a way that fails to provide benefits for local communities and economies) ended up discouraging most of the investors. A five fold fall in price for solar panels and wind turbines in the EU also severely dented the profitability of the whole exercise, and we know how important profitability is. So the project failed. Well, not quite.
The project has been downscaled significantly since, but still lives on under the guise of ‘The Nur Energie Sahara to Europe Solar Export Plan’, another energy pumped mouthful, which aims to export 4.5 gigawatts of solar power from the northeastern edge of the Sahara, mainly Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria, to Europe. Of course there is no guarantee that this project will prove to be a success, there are still plenty of issues with the technology that need working out, but it’s a cause for hope that there are people and institutions in the world who are actively working to find solutions to these problems, and with a little more cooperation between people we might just get there. (Slowly does it, but not too slowly!)
Sustainability for everyone
Speaking of cooperation between people though it’s important to highlight some of the social issues around projects like this. Tunisia for example depends largely on its neighbour Algeria for it’s energy needs, and can often face significant power cuts, so if this ‘Solar Export Plan’ intends to exploit Tunisian natural resources entirely for the purpose of exporting solar energy to Europe while making a tidy profit, without also providing for Tunisia’s energy needs and giving back to the local communities, then there’s a big problem. If we want to power the world sustainably, it needs to be sustainable for everyone. Sharing is caring and caring is essential baby! So power Tunisia first, (or whatever country the energy is being generated in) then some of the countries surrounding Tunisia, then send anything that’s left over to Europe, take it from there, gradually improve the technology, and as it improves, power more and more of the world until eventually, everyone’s a winner. Sound good? Good. And you know, there are even more reasons to get as many projects like this going as possible.
If we want to power the world sustainably, it needs to be sustainable for everyone. Sharing is caring and caring is essential baby!
An added Incentive
Researchers have concluded that installing huge numbers of solar panels and wind turbines in the Sahara would have a major impact on rainfall, vegetation, and temperatures. “Our model results show that large-scale solar and wind farms in the Sahara would more than double the precipitation, especially in the Sahel, where the magnitude of rainfall increase is between 20mm and 500mm per year,” said Dr Yan Li, the lead author of a paper from the University of Illinois, US. “As a result, vegetation cover fraction increases by about 20%.” In the Sahel, the semi-arid region that lies to the south of the Sahara, average rainfall increased 1.12mm per day where wind farms were present, according to the study. This upturn in rainfall is generated by the mixing of air caused by the blades turning, where warmer air is mixed from above creating a feedback loop whereby more evaporation, precipitation and plant growth occurs. Solar panels contribute to an increase in rainfall by reducing the reflection of sunlight from the surface, a process known as ‘the albedo effect’, which leads to more solar energy absorption and surface warming, which in turn strengthens the Saharan heat low, (a thermal low, or heat low, is a non-frontal low-pressure area that occurs over the continents in the sub-tropics during the warm season) leading to more rising air and precipitation. Holy smouldering smokes I’m learning a lot today.
So not only will these initiatives go a long way to sustainably powering the entire gigawatt guzzling world, they will also directly combat the threat of desertification and dramatically increase the ability of some of the poorest, driest regions of the world to grow more food and improve biodiversity. I mean how absolutely wonderful is that? It’s very very absolutely wonderful, with an extra very on top in case it rains. (Let’s hope it rains.)
It’s all coming together nicely
Funnily enough I’ve already written a blog post about land regeneration in the Sahel region in Africa and how the farmers there are using natural methods to bring millions of hectares of land back to life and combat desertification and climate change. I followed that post up with a post about plants with superpowers that have been designed to absorb much more carbon from the atmosphere than regular plants and keep it there for longer as well. It struck me that both of these initiatives seem to compliment each other perfectly; the farmers in the Sahel are planting as many plants and trees as possible in an effort to combat climate change, and there are plants being designed to be more effective at combating climate change. Put both ideas together and the effectiveness only increases. And I swear I’m not actually choosing these blog posts strategically to fit them together, I’m choosing the topics randomly depending on what inspires me the most on the day, but add in some solar panels and wind turbines to the mix here, and they will actually increase the effectiveness even more. The farmers can regenerate their land using plants designed specifically to combat climate change, in an environment with significant increases in precipitation caused by the solar panels and wind turbines, meaning more of the plants will grow, and grow quicker, all while clean energy is being generated for the world to use.
Three separate initiatives, complimenting each other perfectly for the greater good of the planet. Sounds like some sort of human-made nature-friendly technological ecological ideological utopia or something! Sounds impossible.
If we can learn to work together and for each other, and move past all the political squabbling that’s been holding us back for so long, it’s really not.
About the Author
Back to school
What was it they used to teach us in Biology at school? One of the very first things we learned when we opened up the chapter on plants and animals? I’m sure there was something in there about plants breathing in all that dirty smelly planet warming carbon dioxide that us animals like to expel while we’re frantically running around the place looking for our dinner? Or was I just dreaming? Maybe I was too busy turning all those funky looking lab taps upside down and spraying water all over the classroom to concentrate and I’ve mixed up my facts? Nope, I just googled it, and it’s true! Plants actually breathe in carbon dioxide, the gas most responsible for global warming according to National Geographic and a whole forest load of other respected scientific institutions around the world. There’s always time for puns right? Even if the world is burning? I mean, lighten up dude. Wait, was that another pun? Okay, let’s get back to it!
Nature to save nature?
In wake of this groundbreaking discovery that plants actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere, some absolutely batshit crazy people have been suggesting that the restoration of natural forests and coasts can simultaneously tackle climate change and the annihilation of wildlife, a concept that’s already being put into practice in the Sahel region in Africa as I discussed in my last post! Who would have thought it? Using nature to save nature; maybe humans should just stay out of it from now on? All jokes aside though, this is a very simple, incomprehensibly obvious, and heartwarming idea. Amongst all of the complex (yet still very welcome and inspiring) talk of building machines that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere or the more outrageous (and considerably more questionable) notions of creating chemical clouds to block out the sun, the idea that simply by planting more trees and plants we can naturally bring down the planet’s CO2 levels and temperature while simultaneously saving all the beautiful animals is a pretty wonderful and accessible one, and you know what? It doesn’t stop there.
The restoration of natural forests and coasts can simultaneously tackle climate change and the annihilation of wildlife.
So we already know that plants are magical wonderful beautiful life-giving creatures that turn sunlight into energy and produce the very oxygen we breathe, but what if they had superpowers? Enter Dr. Joanne Chory. Dr. Chory is an esteemed scientist, professor and director of the plant molecular and cellular laboratory at The Salk Institute (an independent, non-profit scientific research institute based in San Diego, California) and an all-round badass and figure of hope for us all. Perhaps the world’s leading botanist, and someone who has been advocating for climate action for some time, Dr.Chory is working on something that really has the potential to save our planet. She has figured out how to design plants capable of storing even more carbon in their roots. ‘Ideal Plants’ she likes to call them; I prefer ‘Super Plants’, but that’s probably just my obsession with all things ‘superhero’ shining through. Spider Plants? Maybe not, but whatever you choose to call them, they may very well keep us swinging around our ‘friendly neighbourhoods’ for some time to come! Seriously though, Spiderman often says that, ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’, and us humans have a whole lot of power don’t we? Jonas Salk, founder of The Salk Institute reckoned ‘our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors’, a very noble and sensible way of looking at it. Inspiring quotes, but how do we put them into practice? Maybe these Ideal Plants can help.
Plants have evolved over time to be the perfect vehicle for carbon capture and storage. Through photosynthesis they remove CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen and biomass. What Dr.Chory and the fine people over at The Salk Institute are doing is splicing the genes of regular crops and everyday plants like beans, corn, and cotton, with a new compound called Suberin that makes them absorb even more carbon. The roots then transfer the carbon to the soil and keep it there. ‘This approach essentially supercharges what nature already does’.
So following on from the idea of planting loads of plants and trees to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and combat climate change, imagine if it was these supercharged Ideal plants we were planting. And imagine if we planted like, millions of them? I mean it’s like a buy one get one free kind of situation here, only it’s plant one get one free. Plant one plant, get another plants worth of CO2 demolishing capability free; it’s plants on bloody steroids! And there are other benefits too. In addition to mitigating climate change, the enhanced root systems should help protect plants from the stresses caused by climate changes, and the additional carbon in the soil should make the soil richer, promoting better crop yields and more food for a growing global population. So that’s more food to go around, and all that dirty carbon in the ground. Sounds pretty flaming majestic to me, but can these plant shaped Avengers really save us?
Not only do ‘Ideal plants’ remove more CO2 from the environment compared to regular plants, they also store it in the soul for much longer.
Can they save us?
Right now, the institute is negotiating with seed companies and prepping tests on nine agricultural crops to introduce Ideal Plants on farms around the world, and they have received over $37 Million in grants and funding so far. A decent start; but time is short, and the world is hot! Each year, we produce 18 more Gigatons of CO2 than the earth can currently handle and fossil fuel use is predicted to rise in the short-term future, so my god we really do need to get planting!
But like with any real, beneficial, significant progress in this frustratingly preposterous world we call home, there are plenty of unknowns involved, and plenty of resistance. Receiving global buy-in from farmers is a big one, as money truly does make the world go around. The time it takes for the plants to reach maturity is another, as the clock really is ticking. And the general aversion people tend to have for anything ‘GMO’ is also a potential roadblock, as ironically, the very same people who don’t seem to mind pulverising the natural world with artificially produced chemicals and plastics via their undeterred tendency for purchasing heavily processed goods, tend to get a little bit antsy when our manipulation of what we consider ‘natural’ moves from the outer realms of pesticides and plastic lives to the inner world of DNA and gene editing. It’s not a very logical world we live in I know, but if promising gene related technologies like the Ideal Plants are to have any chance of saving our asses, people need to be convinced of their legitimacy and potential. And my great big giggling goodness, they’ve got potential!
Right now, the institute is negotiating with seed companies and prepping tests on nine agricultural crops to introduce Ideal Plants on farms around the world, and they have received over $37 Million in grants and funding so far.
The Salk Institute believe their solution can achieve as much as 46% annual reduction in excess CO2 emissions produced by humans. This, of course, is assuming that things go to plan, and that people take to the idea, something that’s far from guaranteed. But imagine if people do take to the idea, and imagine if the plants actually work. That’s nearly a 50% reduction in excess CO2 emissions! 50%! That’s basically half the problem sorted just by planting a few plants. And that doesn’t even take into account the positive effects the plants would have on biodiversity and crop yields. So can they save us? Nobody can be sure, but they can certainly give us a fighting chance!
Spread the word!
The Ideal Plants can make a significant difference, but they’ll be much more effective if people know about them and support them.
There are loads and loads of wonderful people and ideas and technologies out there that are trying to get us out of this cruel hot mess we’ve found ourselves in and these plant based superheroes are one of them. In conjunction with the other solutions, solutions I intend to explore in detail on this blog, the Ideal Plants can make a significant difference, but they’ll be much more effective if people know about them and support them. So spread the word! Shout it out loud! ‘Ideal Plant’ and proud! Get these things in the ground! A brand new life saving planet raving queen of all things agriculture has been crowned! Potential benefits profound! From the hills to the underground! Or, you know, just share this post or something? Peace.
A living legend
I thought that was a lovely way to end the post, as plants are pretty damn peaceful you know? But since I’m in the business of hope, I felt I had to write a few words about the wonderful inspiration that is Dr. Joanne Chory. Not only is she a world renowned scientist dedicating her life to finding ways to save the planet, she’s also a woman in her 60’s who is currently battling Parkinson’s disease; but it doesn’t seem to faze her at all. “Look at me, I’m 64 years old. I’m not going to be around to see this project go to fruition, I’m not going to be working at Salk, probably. That urgency is there. The climate urgency is there. Every week there’s a new climate disaster. How can we get there? We can’t really get there any faster. I don’t know if we can do it, but I want to be part of the solution. I don’t just want to sit around and complain.” What a truly tremendous outlook. Even while staring her own mortality in the face she is striving to live in the present and determined to build for the future; a future she is unlikely to be a part of. We could all learn a whole lot from her, and I’m not just talking about science! So god bless her, god bless the future, and god bless the super plants! There is hope for us yet.
About the Author
An Inspirational Story
Compared to hope, it turns out, hopelessness is just no fun at all.
There’s so much doom and gloom and, well, probably a little more doom on top of that in the world these days, and it can all get to be a little overwhelming. Deforestation, rising seas, climate change, superbugs. Narcissistic red faced aliens attempting to build walls out of fabricated fears and misdirected discontent. All we ever seem to hear about is a demoralising ‘who’s who’ of the newest, fruitiest, most positively terrifying ways our world is about to come to an end, and I don’t know about you, but it can leave me feeling more than a little bit hopeless. And compared to hope, it turns out, hopelessness is just no fun at all.
It was in the midst of one of these cold, hopeless, ‘human beings don’t deserve this beautiful world we’re living in’ kind of moments that I stumbled across a story about a wall, and it’s not the one you’re used to hearing about. Not at all concerned with placing needless barriers between fellow human beings or acting as a springboard for political success, this was a wall intent on bringing people together. Twenty one countries and counting to be precise; now that takes some doing.
The story I’m referring to is that of Africa’s ‘Great Green Wall Project’, which officially launched in 2007 as a plan to combat desertification by planting an 8,000km long, 15km wide band of trees across the width of Africa in the ‘Sahel’ region just below the Sahara desert. (The image below represents the countries that make up the Sahel region, it is not in any way a representation of the wall in question, or any other wall for that matter; just a map of the countries involved. Okay? Cool! Just wanted to make sure that was clear. Nice map though isn’t it? I especially love the blue diagonal lines that represent the ocean. I mean what kind of funky looking, football shirt wearing ocean are we dealing with here? Looks like the oceans around Africa must support Real Sociedad! (Real Sociedad are a football team in Spain who wear blue and white stripy shirts.) (I don’t actually think the oceans around Africa, or any oceans for that matter, have any preference for which football team scores the most goals and therefore wins the most games; I’m just being silly.) (Okay now I’m typing brackety parts inside brackety parts, so I think it’s time to enjoy the image and get on with the rest of the story okay? Cheers.) (Go Sociedad!)
The project has since morphed into a much wider initiative for land regeneration, poverty eradication, and the tackling of other social and environmental issues that affect not only the millions of people across Africa currently living in the region, but the entire world. Not a bad story to stumble across when you’re run down with a dose of ‘the apocalypse blues’ right? Certainly got my hope flavoured juices flowing.
The fight against Climate Change
The catalyst for the Great Green Wall can largely be attributed to one of those terrifying monsters I mentioned above; climate change. We tend to think of climate change as being something that ‘might’ affect us in the future, but in so many regions of this great ‘green’ earth of ours, usually the poorest ones, the effects are already being felt. The Sahel, one of the most impoverished regions in the entire world, has been heavily affected by recurrent periods of drought since the 1970s, which has threatened the livelihoods and future of entire populations across the region. Livestock numbers have plummeted, crops have failed, and millions of people have been left facing an uncertain future. For me, and my insatiable appetite for hopeless pie, the conditions in the Sahel seem like a precursor for what our entire world may soon be facing. Land degradation, impending starvation, rapid population growth, outbursts of mass frustration leading to increased migration and conflict over a shrivelling resource base. Sounds like a pretty standard Guardian article right? Time to drop tools and start rioting; all hope is lost.
But the people of the Sahel didn’t drop tools. Instead, they searched for solutions, and the Great Green Wall project was born. What began as a simple plan to plant a line of trees across the width of Africa has since morphed into something even more extensive, and crucially, more sustainable. The vision for the Great Green Wall has shifted into that of a mosaic of interventions addressing the challenges facing the people in the Sahel and the Sahara region as a whole. As a programming tool for rural development, the goal is to strengthen the resilience of the region’s people and natural systems with sound ecosystem management, the protection of rural heritage, and the improvement of local living conditions. So basically the aim is to work together, love the land, treat nature with respect, and reap the rewards. The main reward here being a hospitable, liveable environment for everyone involved. Now that sounds like something I can get on board with, and maybe even something that could be scaled up a notch or two? Say, for the whole planet maybe? Maybe.
Niger leads the way
One of the very poorest countries, doing some of the most successful work. It’s not all about money you know. Seriously.
Speaking of scaling up, come have a look at what’s been going on in Niger! Niger, one of the countries in the Sahel to make the most progress so far, is one of the poorest places in the world. In 2011, it was ranked 186 out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index devised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Life expectancy at birth is 53 years, and infant mortality is the second highest in the world. The country is 75% desert, and has suffered from widespread droughts and crop failures for years. A tough place to live; some might even stretch as far to say, hopeless. Yet despite all of this hardship and misery, hope has stood strong, and over the past 30 years or so farmers in Niger have been able to revive vast tracts of arid land with minimal investment. “Niger has seen the largest positive transformation in the whole of Africa,” says Chris Reij, a sustainable land management specialist and senior fellow of the World Resources Institute. One of the very poorest countries, doing some of the most successful work. It’s not all about money you know. Seriously.
The farmers in Niger have been practicing natural regeneration of the land using innovative practices such as reviving the roots of plants and trees, and digging “half-moon” pits to store water. Trees destroyed during droughts are allowed to recover over years, and then carefully maintained. These methods have succeeded in restoring 5 million hectares of land and around 200 million trees. Reij estimates that this delivers an additional 500,000 tons of cereal grain a year, which is enough to feed 2.5 million people. The investment amounted to less than $20 per hectare. Now that’s a whole lot of regenerated bang for your buck! Amazing what can be accomplished when we start working with nature instead of against it.
The farmers in Niger have succeeded in restoring 5 million hectares of land and around 200 million trees; enough to feed 2.5 million people. (With chilling time to spare!)
The amazing success that has been achieved in Niger is now acting as both an inspiration and an education for the rest of the Sahel region, and there are many lessons to be learned. Interestingly, one of the key factors that led to the success in Niger was the introduction of a new forestry code which transferred ownership of the countries trees from the government to the farmers who actually owned the land. Before this change in policy, under laws that remained from colonization, tampering with trees was something to be greatly feared and often resulted in hefty fines and even imprisonment. By returning ownership of the trees to the farmers, the trees were transformed from an alien entity, not to be tampered with, into a ‘treasure to look after in their fields’, and this played a pivotal role in the unprecedented restoration that was to follow. It just goes to show how effective a little personal responsibility, hope, and empowerment can be for achieving sustainable success; a concept not entirely restricted to the Sahel!
Lessons for the west?
Personal empowerment, when implemented correctly, has been found to create a whole host of advantages and efficiencies in the western business world as well. Gathering valuable input, increased productivity and employee engagement, attracting the right type of employee, and improved customer service to name but a few. And of course, the bread and butter of the whole operation; a more attractive bottom line. And that’s what it all comes down to in the end really isn’t it? Sigh. Increased personal responsibility in the workplace can also help companies embrace change, a truly essential capability for sustainable long term success in any industry. By tapping into the collective knowledge and expertise of a fully committed workforce, and empowering employees to think outside the box, a whole host of innovative strategies and ideas can be developed that otherwise may have gone unnoticed. Such diverse, fast moving, flexible innovation and idea generation breeds adaptability, and adaptability breeds success. Sustainable success.
I’m sure we can all agree that when you feel a real connection with your work, the quality of the work you produce shoots up; like a tree that’s been properly looked after. (I couldn’t resist.)
I mean it does kind of make sense that a bunch of happy, engaged, committed individuals who care about what they’re doing and feel as if they can make a real difference are going to perform better than a bunch of miserable robots who do nothing but take orders and bitch about their jobs at the watercooler while taking as many extended breaks as they possibly can in a desperate effort to escape from their mundane, passionless, disconnected assignments doesn’t it? I think so. I’m sure we can all agree that when you feel a real connection with your work, the quality of the work you produce shoots up; like a tree that’s been properly looked after. (I couldn’t resist.) Personal empowerment it seems, is essential for achieving sustainable success no matter where you go, from forest to office. Business world take note. Aaaaaaannnnyyywaay, I digress.
Personal empowerment also fosters personal pride in one’s achievements, and largely, it was this pride that motivated the successful farmers in Niger to provide training to other farmers, who in turn provided training for others, and it was this progressive effort of working together and the sharing of knowledge that allowed the initiative to truly prosper. It is these same virtues of cooperation and connection that can make it possible for the successes in Niger to be scaled up across the entire Sahel region, and hopefully, the whole wide wonderful world. Wait a second now, did I just say hopefully? My goodness me I must be getting inspired or something. Quick, turn on Fox News! I’ve been infected with hope and I’m in need of some urgent treatment! Lol.
The Great Green Wall project is already producing results across Africa. In Senegal, 12 million drought resistant trees have been planted in less than a decade. In Nigeria, 5 million hectares of degraded land has been restored. In Ethiopia, that number is closer to 15 million. There is a long long way to go if the relentless threats that climate change brings with it are to be defeated, but the progress that has been achieved already in a region that stands at the very front of the battle is truly inspiring. By 2030, the Wall aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon, and create 10 million jobs in rural areas, bringing 21 countries and over 200 million people together in an effort to significantly improve the world around them.
Some might say it’s ambitious, some might say it’s too little too late; but goodness gracious me, from the land that supports us to the top of the tree, it is certainly not hopeless.