Let’s get busy repairing the future, says Jason Drew
Posted 07 July 2011, by Jason Drew, Leadership Magazine (Cape Media), leadershiponline.co.za
I have spent the last 25 years of my life fighting and winning in the game of business – from running other people’s multinational companies to creating and then selling my own. Two heart attacks later, I realised the only game worth playing was that of living. I changed the struggles of the boardroom for a passion for life and moved to live full-time on my farm in the beautiful Tulbagh Valley in the Cape.
I decided to walk myself fit. It turned out to be a journey of understanding, both of the environment and of myself.
As the seasons changed, I saw the streams dry up in summer and I saw floods in winter.
I saw soil erosion where we had felled trees, and the rivers turn muddy as they carried away the soil.
This lit in me a passion for the environment and I read everything I could find on our water, land and the seas.
It was the beginning of an incredible three-year journey that would take me to all the continents of the world to see for myself the damage man is wreaking on these three
I began to understand the extraordinary and unexpected connections between everything I saw: the teeming masses of China’s cities, the fertile plains of the Indus Valley, the vanishing aquifers of the Middle East, the dry rivers of America’s Midwest, the food riots in Mozambique and the uprisings in North Africa, to name but a few.
I realised the complexity of nature and how the environment has shaped our past and will determine our future.
During my travels, there were two stories in particular that intrigued me:
The first is the story of how wolves brought back the aspen trees to Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
Nature is a complex system and, unlike a machine, it acts in ways that we cannot predict at first.
The aspen trees have always been a feature of Yellowstone Park, but the established trees were getting old and no new trees were emerging to take their place.
The last wolf in the park was shot in the 1920s and, without predators, the elk population had expanded to the point where their preference for grazing aspen saplings was destroying young trees before they could grow and mature.
Since the reintroduction of the wolves in 1995, the elk population has been reduced and they have returned to the grasslands that are their natural grazing habit. Fear means they no longer graze at the river edges or in woods, but on the open plains.
Young aspen trees are surviving and the woods are naturally re-establishing themselves.
The second story is of a small island in the Bering Sea.
In 1944, a coastguard introduced 29 reindeer to the remote St. Matthew Island as a reserve source of food for the men working there. The base was closed at the end of the War, and all the men left.
Thirteen years later, nourished by the nutritious lichen that covered the island, the reindeer population had reached 1 350. Without any natural predators on the island, the population exploded over the next six years so that by 1963, there were 6 000 reindeer.
But then disaster struck: The deer had eaten all the lichen, and three years later there were only 42 left – 41 females, one sickly male and no fawns. This is a dramatic illustration of what happens when a species multiplies exponentially: In destroying their habitat, they destroyed themselves.
A hundred years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the human impact on the environment might become so great as to threaten the Earth and our own survival.
The Earth is our only habitat.
We now stand at a turning point in our history and in the history of the Earth. Mankind has acquired both the scale and the power to wreck the biosphere on which we depend, and also acquired the knowledge to fix it.
Throughout history, humans have cleared land or fished out rivers; and when the natural resource is used, moved on. Now, with nearly seven billion people on the planet, we are destroying environmental systems everywhere – and at the same time.
There is nowhere else to go.
It is increasingly apparent that our capitalist global food system is not fit for purpose. With nearly one billion people hungry, and another billion people overweight or obese, something clearly is not working.
As market economics kicks in, with food supply plateauing and demand from an ever growing population increasing, we get food price inflation, civil unrest and political turmoil as we have seen in the first months of this year.
Civilisation has already unwound in many failed states, from Sudan to Afghanistan. In our interconnected global world, state failure may become contagious as environmental refugees migrate to survive.
Our civilisation is on the brink.
Having watched the credit crunch unfold, I saw many similarities in the way our environmental and food production systems were being stretched to breaking point. I then decided to write the story of what I had seen, with the help of a family friend and author, David Lorimer.
The Protein Crunch explains our impact on the planetary systems and resources on which we depend. We detail what this means in terms of how we use water, land and the seas.
The way we respond to these challenges is a matter of life and death – first for the poorest, then for the rest, not to mention for future generations.
Many civilisations have collapsed before ours; will we be the first to foresee our demise and prevent it?
It seems our brains are wired to react to emergencies, but if the threat is not both immediate and imminent, we find it difficult to galvanise ourselves into action. It is as if we are floating down a river heading toward a waterfall, ignoring the roar and waiting until we see the foaming waters before reacting – or looking for someone else to blame for our predicament.
When we collectively reach this tipping point of understanding, we will get the global environmental action and the sustainability revolution we require.
There will be no time to waste looking for scapegoats – we will need to move and make change happen fast.
The best way of making this change happen quickly is to use one of the most potent tools at our disposal – capitalism. It may have caused many of our existing problems, but it is probably the only tool that can get us out of them.
I am unable to stop being an entrepreneur; I have seen and become involved with some extraordinary businesses around the world.
Three of these are particularly interesting:
Agriprotein recycles abattoir waste using fly larvae to create useable protein for animal feed at a fraction of the price of existing natural sources; Oxitec genetically modifies mosquitoes to make sterile males that mate with wild females – reducing their populations and preventing the spread of diseases such as dengue fever; EWF is helping cities power themselves through a breakthrough design using wind-accelerating techniques from aircraft wind design and braking technology from Formula One cars to generate clean power from urban rooftops.
All these could be billion-dollar businesses within the next 10 years.
The next Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg will have made their fortunes in the business of the environment.
Before my journey into the environment, I understood neither the unbelievable risks we are running nor the extraordinary opportunities for entrepreneurs and eco-capitalists such as myself.
We need many more of us to understand where we are at, in order to change our collective consciousness. Commitment is the only thing that has ever changed anything. When you commit, the world changes around you and conspires to help you in ways you never thought possible before you committed.
I am now committed full-time to making a difference to the world in which we live – through creating more awareness about the environment and excitement through the opportunities it can bring for all of us.
The clock is ticking. We are in a race between education and catastrophe.
We hope that The Protein Crunch will help you understand the harsh reality of where we are and the exciting future we can make for ourselves.
Let’s get busy repairing the future.