I listened to BBC radio last night, and a story about Madagascar was especially interesting. It was one of those stories that holds no punches and – I would think – stretches just about anyone listening. I was certainly brought well outside of my comfort zone in several different way.
Madagascar is a relatively small island outside of mainland Africa, and is most known for its astonishing biodiversity. Apparently, even local areas of the island typically have several species unique to it.
At the same time, it has desperate social problems, including massive poverty. People slash and burn the forest to grow food, but even doing that are hardly able to survive.
The sand under the forest contains minerals used to whiten paper, toothpaste and similar things, and a mining company has finally received green light to mine large areas – destroying coast line and forest in the process.
Through a long drawn-out process, battling and in dialogue with environmentalists, the mining company has included aspects in their operation that will save some of the most biodiverse land and at the same time channel some money into social projects such as education. Apparently, this – in combination with the desperate poverty of the country – has gained them the support of the Madagascan government and a majority of environmentalists, some of which now work for the company.
The island of Earth
Maybe the most painful aspect of the documentary is that the story of Madagascar is the story of Earth. We are all Madagascans, although we don’t know it yet.
There are far too many of us, consuming far too much, on a finite island of a planet. We are in overshoot, consuming far more than can be regenerated by our ecosystems. And the capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems to generate and regenerate is rapidly plummeting as they diminish in size and quality.
Some aspects of this decimation has to do with excessive consumption and poor policy, but much of it has to do with plain survival. At some point, we will hit the wall and know it, and what will happen then is anybody’s guess. There may still be time and capacity to turn around, but not without a great deal of suffering. We see this suffering even today in many places of the world, Madagascar being only one of them.
And many of us who could make changes already now are too sheltered from the current expressions of the collapse to do what is needed. We are too comfortable, too sheltered by a media that is dependent on stories that sell. Too ingrained in the view that change and sustainability has to do with deprivation. Too caught up in the business of daily life to think ahead in decades and at the life of future generations. Too invested in what is.
Another painful aspect of the story is the real-life decision we have to make, which do – as said by one of the environmentalists – often involve tradeoffs. The Madagascan government was willing to have significant portions of their biodiversity done away with for the sake of increased cash flow – the crumbs off the table of the wealthy corporations, and indirectly from the wealthy segments of the world.
One aspect not addressed by the story are the more genuine win-win situations. Here, there was at best a win-win between the corporation and the population. But there are also solutions that are win-win several ways, between economy, population, ecosystems and future generations.
Of course, these several-way win-win solutions are often not well known, and they require corporations and government to think in different ways. In addition, each one is usually only a piece of the puzzle and only together yield the sufficient benefits.
An obvious piece of this puzzle is of course ecotourism, which is welcomed but not sufficient in itself. Another may be to train the population in more sustainable agriculture practices. And yet another one to plant fast growing wood for firewood and lumber. Other pieces may be to mine just those areas already cut down, where the sand is already exposed and the land is not much use for anyone. Preventing population increase through education and access to birth prevention. And so on.
With a more whole systems view, and the intention of finding several all-way win-win solutions working together, it may be possible to turn it around. But it does require a clear intention and the resources and will to do so.
The sooner and more fully we move in this direction, the less painful the transition will be. Globally, we still have enough resources to funnel in this direction and turn the ship around. And it will yield benefits in so many areas, including our immediate quality of life.