Humanity is at a crossroads. Apart from the economic crisis that is unfurling on the world stage, there are numerous environmental crises that are rearing their ugly heads simultaneously: human population is at 6.8 billion and increasing at a rate of 80 million each year , climate change is accelerating beyond the worst case scenarios studied by scientists a decade ago [2,18], an estimated 90% or more of all predatory fish stocks have been depleted in the ocean , forests are dwindling at a rate of 20 million acres each year , species are going extinct at an estimated rate of 30,000 each year triggering the Sixth Great Extinction event in the earth's history  and fresh water bodies are becoming increasingly polluted leading to drinking water scarcities throughout the world. Yet, this is surely the most exciting time to be alive, for this generation will be viewed in history as either the Greatest Generation that ever existed on earth for having taken steps to overcome all these crises or it will be vilified as the Worst Generation ever for failing to do so. No other generation was afforded such an opportunity to steer the future of Life on Earth so dramatically.
Of all the crises facing humanity today, the climate crisis has received the most attention thanks to the tireless efforts of former Vice President Al Gore and his non-profit organization, The Climate Project. This crisis is mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels to meet human energy needs which releases the stored carbon in these fuels back into the atmosphere thus increasing the greenhouse effect. However, despite the awareness raised on this crisis over the past two decades, world carbon emissions increased from 6.5 billion tons in 1995 to 7.1 billion tons in 2001 to 8.7 billion tons in 2007 . This growth in carbon emissions is due both to the growth in the world’s economic output, which drives the need for increased energy, and to the continued dependence on the combustion of ancient life forms to supply that energy demand.
A 16 Tera Watt energy pump is needed to satisfy current human energy needs worldwide . To put this in perspective, assuming a human being requires 2000 calories of daily nutritional intake, this is as if the average person on earth has 24 virtual human servants conjured mainly out of coal, oil and natural gas. Prof. Stephen Pacala of Princeton University has shown that half of the energy from fossil sources is being consumed by the top 500 million human beings on the planet and that these individuals are to be found in affluent communities throughout the world, not just in Western countries . In essence, these top 500 million human beings are utilizing 170 fossil servants each, and if everyone on the planet consumed energy at the same rate as these people, world carbon emissions would increase seven-fold instantly. Prof. Jared Diamond has noted in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times that a typical affluent consumer in the U.S. has 32X the consumption impact of a less fortunate one, say in Kenya . If the top 1 billion human beings on the planet achieve the consumption patterns of a typical American, while the rest of humanity devolve to that of Kenyans, then the total impact of our current world population would be that of 37.7 billion Kenyan consumers. Since the only measurable impact on earth is our consumption footprint, it would be truly pointless for members of the 1 billion affluent to counsel the 5.7 billion others to control their population growth just because they might some day aspire to consume like them. Therefore, any solution to our environmental crises must necessarily include the inducement of changes in the consumption patterns among the affluent. It may not be enough to simply replace the 170 fossil servants of the affluent with an equal number of solar ones, while encouraging the less fortunate to strive for such profligacy through millennial development programs.
While the growth in consumption has been the main reason for the rapid increase in carbon emissions over the past decade, the nature of the consumption has been the main reason for all the other biological crises afflicting humanity today. Even though higher forms of life are dying out partly due to climate change as species find themselves in inhospitable environments, 90% or more of predatory fish stocks did not disappear in the ocean because of climate change; they disappeared because we ATE them. Industrial fishing has decimated ocean life as high technology equipment is used to track and trap fish stocks for the benefit of affluent consumers. As the appetite of affluent consumers grew and industrial fisheries set out to meet them, the poor fishermen in Africa and Asia with their outdated nets have been forced to change professions and become bush-meat hunters or modern day pirates in order to make a living. Similarly, as Chinese consumers prospered and their demand for delicacies like shark-fin soup increased, suppliers in Western countries slice off the fins of live sharks, dump the de-finned sharks back in the ocean, and ship the fins off to China to meet the demand. Overall, humans consume about 70 billion fish, or about 140 million metric tons annually and this is the root cause of the rapid decline in fish stocks in the ocean .
With respect to land animals, as human population doubled from 3 billion in 1960 to 6 billion in 2000, dairy consumption doubled, beef consumption tripled, egg consumption quadrupled and chicken consumption increased eight-fold . In other words, as population doubled, humans deliberately climbed up the food chain for their sustenance, which is the exact opposite of what an intelligent species should have been doing. Currently, nearly one-third of all the ice-free land area on the planet, or roughly 12 billion acres, is used for livestock production . Humans consume nearly 60 billion land animals for food annually and a substantial portion of the energy expended for transportation on the planet is to ship food to these "farmed" animals and to ship their harvested meat in refrigerated trucks to human consumers so that the consumption can occur within seven days of the animals' demise . There are 1.3 billion heads of cattle on earth and they are fed the equivalent nutrition consumed by 8.7 billion human beings , with almost half the agricultural output of the planet going to feed livestock and not human beings  ( it is 40% without including “waste protein” from by-products of cooking oil production. ). Despite this already enormous impact on land use, transportation costs and agricultural output, the UN FAO estimates that meat, egg, chicken and dairy consumption will all double again by 2050. Of course, such estimates are based on the assumption that there are no limits on our finite planet.
Limits usually manifest in an unpredictable, non-linear fashion. The collapse of the reindeer population on St. Matthews Island is a case in point . When the U.S. Army introduced 29 reindeer on that island off the coast of Alaska in 1944, it was to ensure that there would be meat for the soldiers in that theater during the war, and certainly not to conduct an ecological experiment. Nevertheless, the army didn't need the meat during the war and there were no other predators on that lush island and the reindeer population multiplied to about 1350 by 1957. In 1964, the reindeer population had exploded to 6000. but in the next year, it collapsed to about 40. The die-off in population from 6000 to 40 in one year occurred because the reindeer ate all the vegetation on the island and then starved to death. There is now much debate in environmental circles as to whether human beings are smarter than reindeer as our ecological behavior is actually that of an intellectually denser species. While the reindeer had no choice but to eat the vegetation on the island, humans are deliberately choosing to eat up the food chain while destroying entire ecosystems on a planetary scale when there is plenty of lower impact nutrition readily available on the planet.
The slow-motion destruction of the Amazon rain forest has planetary scale implications and both the root cause of humanity's problems and the kernel of a solution can be traced to the fact that 70% of the deforestation that is occurring in the Amazon is to clear land for cattle grazing and most of the remaining 30% is to grow crops to feed livestock . If our consumer choices are dictating such critical land use changes, thus contributing to both the climate crisis and the species extinction crisis, then by making different choices, we can perhaps reverse the destruction and heal these afflictions. Yet, there is a "Great Disconnect" between the awareness of environmental problems and the role of our individual consumption patterns towards contributing to those problems. This is why even today, environmental conferences continue to serve porterhouse steaks and seafood soup for dinner while distinguished guest speakers lament about the state of the planet on stage. It is estimated that if everyone on the planet ate a Western diet, at present levels of food production efficiencies, we would need four Earth-like planets to feed humanity. Yet, the corporations that cater such Western diets continue to successfully market their products to people in developing countries and convert them over to such unsustainable dietary practices.
An Ideal Solution
Life is an all-pervasive carbon sequestration mechanism freely available on this planet. Roughly half the weight of a tree is carbon sequestered from the atmosphere and since half the weight of a tree is usually underground in its roots, the above ground weight of a tree approximates the total amount of carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere by that tree. All life-forms in an ecosystem are carbon-based and function to maximize the totality of life in that ecosystem and this, in essence, maximizes the carbon sequestered in that ecosystem. Around 20% of the weight of a human being is also carbon that used to be in the atmosphere not too long ago. In addition to sequestering carbon and thus mitigating climate change, flourishing ecosystems also stem bio-diversity loss and restore the purity of fresh water sources. Thus, any solution that addresses all of the environmental crises facing humanity would likely require a change in our attitudes towards life.
When things are going spectacularly wrong in any given system, it is usually a safe bet that one or more underlying assumptions in the system are also spectacularly wrong. Very often, a simple solution to the problems can be realized by just correcting these wrong assumption(s) and operating the system accordingly. The litany of environmental crises afflicting humanity reveals that things are indeed going spectacularly wrong in the system that is our current civilization. In the past, when civilizations collapsed, the effect was confined to a small area of the world so that the survivors could migrate and resume living in a different location, but at present, civilization's breadth and the scope of the problems are all on a planetary scale. However, at the root of all these crises is the universal assumption that humans are superior to all other species and that these other species were all put on earth to be at the disposal of humans. Almost a hundred years ago, Sri Aurobindo captured this root cause very succinctly:
Humanity's true moral test, its fundamental test, consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect, humankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.
In order to verify that this is indeed the root cause of our environmental problems, we need to show that it is indeed possible to mitigate all our crises if we overturn this assumption, and conversely, that catastrophic consequences await if we don’t. Now, imagine that we all live without causing harm or suffering to any other animals. In such an "Ahimsan" lifestyle, to use Philip Wollen's terminology , humans use plant based substitutes for all animal, bird and fish products. Even dairy and egg consumption is disallowed in this ideal setting, since these inevitably lead to the consumption of veal, beef and chicken meat to dispose off male offsprings and aging cattle and chicken. In the ocean, marine life recovers as there is no more fishing taking place. On land, humans directly consume the crops they grow instead of feeding them to animals and then eating the animals or drinking their milk. As a result, the land required to provide for human nutritional needs reduces by an order of magnitude allowing the remaining land to be reclaimed by nature to stem bio-diversity loss and nurture wildlife. As ecosystems recover, animal and bird populations recover, the hydrological cycle is enriched creating greater abundance of fresh water. With the abundance of food and fresh water, the poor don't need to rear more children for their security and human population growth declines. If even half the land currently being used for livestock production gets reforested and if that reforestation fixes just one-quarter of the carbon that the Amazon currently stores per acre , the total carbon fixing due to this reforestation would be sufficient to completely offset our fossil fuel based carbon emissions for the next 30 to 40 years. This buys humanity 30 to 40 years of time to revamp its energy infrastructure and convert it to renewable sources like solar and wind, thereby addressing all the problems listed above. Such passive forest regeneration efforts have shown that it doesn’t take long for nature to recover even in arid areas of the world. The photographs below are courtesy of the Foundation for Ecological Security, Anand, Gujarat, India and the Karech Village Forest Protection Committee, Karech, Rajasthan, India and the forest regeneration was accomplished over a four year period by simply fencing off livestock from the land .
Conversely, imagine that we convert all our energy infrastructure over to renewable sources and arrest climate change, but continue to treat other species as disposable and continue to collaborate in their extinction. Consumption of animal products continue to increase and perhaps double by 2050 as forecast by the FAO as more and more people climb up the food chain. Currently, only 2 billion people live primarily on a meat-based diet while the rest live primarily on plant-based diet , but as the number of the former increase, the pressure on forests would increase as well. In addition, as the human health consequences of factory-farmed animals becomes well-known, people switch to farm-bred animals as part of the “Slow Food” movement advocates, which then doubles the resources required to produce the daily meat . A sudden eco-system collapse similar to that which happened to the reindeer on Matthew’s Island or a slow-motion collapse that occurred to the humans on Easter island or what’s happening in Haiti today would perhaps be inevitable. As Prof. Jared Diamond poignantly asked, “In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism. Are we about to follow their lead?” .
Overturning that one simple assumption leads to a cascade of benefits that can potentially right the system that is our civilization. This gives a whole new meaning to the words attributed to Chief Seattle,
Humankind has not woven the web of life - we are but a part of it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together - all things connect.
In that respect, the monumental problems that we face today are a direct consequence of our actions towards our fellow inhabitants on earth. After all, it was livestock production that motivated most of the land use changes that are currently underlying the species extinction crisis, the water crisis and has been contributing mightily to the climate crisis. Therefore, our environmental crises can be rightly viewed as the revenge of the livestock and it is truly astounding that gentle animals like cows, pigs and chicken can collectively inflict such suffering on humans so thoroughly and so immediately.
Climate Healers - A Practical Implementation
Currently, while the affluent community can easily adopt an Ahimsan lifestyle as numerous plant based substitutes are readily available on the market for every animal, bird or fish product, the impoverished communities in remote regions still rely on their livestock for labor, food and fertilizer. Further, through the use of taxpayer subsidies and other price distortions, plant-based products actually cost more than animal-based ones in Western countries despite the enormous increase in fresh water and land resources required to produce the latter . However, this is also serendipitous as it implies that if the affluent choose to set an example, the poor might strive to emulate them as they develop. Further, just as in the ideal solution, any practical solution to our environmental crises must seek to redress the inequities in the distribution of the earth’s resources among species, while simultaneously involving the affluent community in a grassroots fashion and enabling the impoverished, remote communities to enhance their living conditions. This is contrary to the development agenda of most organizations and foundations who focus mainly on enabling the impoverished to grab extra slices of the earth’s resources without paying much attention to other species.
As a practical approach towards a more equitable relationship between man and nature, Climate Healers, Inc. was formed as a tax-exempt non-profit corporation, registered in the State of California, USA. with the purpose of implementing a holistic, grassroots solution to mitigate climate change, bio-diversity loss and other environmental crises afflicting humanity. This solution is based on the observation that currently 2 billion people throughout the world depend on wood for their daily cooking and together they collect and burn 1.5 billion tons of wood each year for cooking alone. This is equivalent to the estimated amount of wood that can be regenerated each year over a billion acres of land through passive reforestation and if we accumulate just six years worth of such reforestation, the amount of carbon that is sequestered each year would offset current emissions from fossil sources. Besides, if most of that wood is not removed from the forests, the trees also have a greater chance to grow and sequester even more carbon.
Climate Healers partners with the affluent community, campus clubs in universities and schools and with Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and villagers in developing countries to heal the living environment through such passive reforestation. It provides the villagers with renewable energy technology and resources to become net negative carbon emitters, i.e., the “Climate Healers,” monitors their performance with cell phone technology and the internet, rewards them appropriately and then invites the affluent community to support them. This is an integrated effort that includes careful inventory control strategies, leveraging distribution and maintenance with in-country, on-the-ground NGO partners, and utilizing advanced technologies to create transparency in the process. This approach to deal with the environmental crises is in accordance with the law stated by the great naturalist, Prof. Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University, that “if we save the living environment, the bio-diversity that we have left today, then we will also automatically save the physical environment. If we only save the physical environment, then we will ultimately lose both.”
Climate Healers is initially targeting the 1.6 billion people who live off the electric grid to become the net negative carbon emitters, called stewards. Since their main carbon emissions come from two activities, namely their burning wood for cooking and kerosene for lighting, Climate Healers plans to provide a solar stove, a cell phone and a LED light with rechargeable batteries, free of charge to each household in a “dark” village, and then pay each woman head of household for using the stove. The solar stove is designed to provide at least 900 Watts of cooking power between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. in tropical latitudes in the absence of cloud cover, sufficient to cook the daily meal for an average household in about two hours. It is also outfitted with a ThermoElectric Generator technology that is sufficient to charge the cell phone and the LED light in two hours. The LED light contains a software application that counts the number of hours it has been charged, thus monitoring the number of hours that the stove has been used. Then, the cell phone reports the stove usage to a central server via an encrypted text message periodically. In response, the server sends a text message that increases the talk time on the cell phone proportionate to the stove usage. In case of equipment leakage or breakage, the whole village pays for the replacement cost by means of reductions in this reward, which results in social pressure against abuse of the program. Finally, each village also forms an equitable Forest Protection Committee and designates a minimum area of common land as a “no-take” zone in which livestock grazing and bio-mass removal is discouraged and which can be monitored through Google Earth and related satellite technology on the internet for vegetation growth.
This program is supported by members of the affluent community, called Patrons, through a share purchase plan, which is then amplified through carbon offset mechanisms. While these shares do not constitute securities for SEC purposes, they monetize the involvement of each Patron in this implementation of a solution to our environmental crises. This grassroots involvement of the affluent community is critical to any solution as it is their consumption patterns that will dictate demand on future world resources. For each village, these Patrons are recruited by a Youth Club in a school, university or institution that is assigned to a village, and this Youth Club will also be responsible for monitoring the stove usage and the vegetation growth in the village through the internet and for influencing changes in the consumption patterns of their respective Patrons. The Patrons, Youth Clubs, NGO Partners and Stewards are inter-linked in a social network on the web, which enhances the transparency and community experience in this solution. It is hoped that when a sufficient number of stewards are enrolled in this project, world annual CO2 emissions will decline and in due course turn negative as the forests regenerate sufficiently in the no-take zones and beyond, thus buying time for humanity to solve its energy infrastructure issues.
As CO2 emissions reductions occur through the use of the solar stoves, Climate Healers will cash them in the official United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) regulated carbon market or through the Voluntary Carbon Offset (VCO) market in order to expand the program. Households that are supplied through such cashed offsets are then associated with the original patron thereby enhancing the impact of their original contribution and allowing the project to snowball in size. As the impact of the Patrons’ contribution increases and allows the program to grow, the original shares of the Patrons will be periodically “split” to reflect their impact. Thus, the project could become self sustaining with sufficient up front capital expenditure. It is projected that with a $10M infusion of funds to cover the costs of the pilot implementation involving 500 households in the first year and for the expanded pilot involving 40K households within 1 km of three sanctuaries near the pilot villages, the Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan, the Satkoshia Gorge Wildlife Sanctuary in Orissa and the Brahmagiri National Forest in Karnataka, India, the project could become self-sustaining. Surrounding these sanctuaries with households that are motivated to preserve them will create facts on the ground that are visible and measurable to the affluent community, inspire them to expand the project and support it fully with lifestyle changes. If the project charts a growth path as shown in the table below, then there will be significant reduction in worldwide carbon emissions beginning Year 6 of the project:
Exponential growth can only occur when a project inspires all participants and cascades into a movement. Such movements cannot be predicted, but the initial feedback from potential participants has been extremely positive. The stewards in the pilot villages of Hadagori in Dhenkanal district of Orissa and Karech in Udaipur district of Rajasthan in India were unanimously receptive to the idea of cooking with solar energy when accompanied by the project incentives. The solar cooking equipment has been prototyped by IDEA in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India and it was used to cook Bajra Rotis, dhal and rice, which form the staple diet of stewards in the pilot villages. Further refinements have been identified to make the stove more compact and user friendly and the project has now entered the manufacturing definition phase.
The stewards were initially given two solar lamps per household and their pictures were taken to populate the web database and to iron out the social networking aspects of the project. The twin tasks of nurturing the forest regeneration and caring for the solar lamps have already seemed to have empowered the women in the villages and they appeared to especially relish their critical role in healing the environmental crises on behalf of all life on earth. The distribution of solar lamps itself has caused a major change in the lifestyles for the stewards. Firstly, since the women in the pilot villages visit the forest early in the mornings to do their ablutions, they had been customarily bitten by snakes that they couldn’t see. However, after the solar lamps were given to the villagers, not a single snake-bite has occurred and the women were very thankful for this deliverance. Secondly, the solar lamps have extended the day for the villagers and their monthly income increased by Rs. 300 due to their improved productivity.
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