These stories make simple-to-see links between some of the things we do and the effects they have. Joining the dots can be pretty revealing. Connections and consequences are what joined up living is all about. There is another way and all it needs is for us to rethink the things we do without thinking…


Your ‘disposable’ coffee cup

From JULIA BUTTERFLY HILL, Author and Activist

‘When you say you’re going to throw something away, where’s “away”? There’s no such thing. And where “away” actually is, is social justice issues and environmental justice issues. Every plastic bag, plastic cup, plastic to-go container – that is the petroleum complex in Africa, Ecuador, Colombia, Alaska, you name it. Every paper bag, paper plate, paper napkin – that is a forest. Everything that is called waste or disposable is the ways in which we are saying that it is acceptable to throw our planet and its people away.

‘Disposables are one of the huge magnifiers of how we’ve lost our connection to the sacred. We just take it for granted that we’re going to go to the coffee shop and get coffee that came from an exploited community somewhere, where a forest was destroyed for a monoculture, put it in a paper cup that used to be a forest, put a plastic lid on top of it that used to be an indigenous community somewhere in a beautiful area, drink it, and then throw it away where it goes back and pollutes a nature community or a human community at the end.

‘I am so fiercely passionate about it, because I know in my heart that as long as we are trashing the planet and trashing each other, a healthy and a holistic, and a healed world is not possible. We cannot have peace on the Earth unless we also have peace with the Earth.’

• Every day, the US throws “away” 137 million aluminium cans
• Every day, the UK throws “away” 41 thousand mobile phones
• Every day the US throws “away” 27 million paper bags
• Every day, the US throws “away” 600 million plastic bottles


Plastic shopping bags 


From JAKE RICHARDSON 11 May, 2011

A rare Gervais beaked whale was found on a beach in Puerto Rico with 10lb of twisted plastic in its stomach. The ball of plastic caused the whale to starve to death. It was a juvenile female, and was emaciated due to not eating for days.

In February of this year, another beaked whale died after ingesting a single plastic bag because the chemicals reacted with the whale’s internal organs very negatively. Some whales mistake the plastic shopping bags for jellyfish, because they are moved by water currents in ways that resemble the motion of jellyfish. Once a whale swallows a plastic shopping bag, they can’t digest it properly, and it can kill them.

It isn’t the first time a whale has died due to a stomach blockage composed entirely, or in part, of plastic bags. Last year Discovery News reported a grey whale near Seattle, USA, washed ashore after dying from having too much plastic in its stomach. In this case, the contents included 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball.

A recent Scientific American article stated the world creates 260 million tons of plastic each year, and much of it winds up in the oceans. We can do our part by not using plastic shopping bags.


The guilty secrets of palm oil

Report from MARTIN HICKMAN (The Independent)

It’s an invisible ingredient, really, palm oil. You won’t find it listed on your margarine, your bread, your biscuits or your KitKat. It’s there though, under “vegetable oil”. And its impact, 7,000 miles away, is very visible indeed.

The wildlife-rich forests of Indonesia and Malaysia are being chain-sawed to make way for palm-oil plantations. Thirty square miles are felled daily in a burst of habitat destruction that is taking place on a scale and speed almost unimaginable in the West.

When the rainforests disappear almost all of the wildlife – including the orangutans, tigers, sun bears, bearded pigs and other endangered species – and indigenous people go. In their place come palm-oil plantations stretching for mile after mile, producing cheap oil – the cheapest cooking oil in the world – for everyday food.

It’s not that people haven’t noticed what is going on. The United Nations has documented this rampage. Environmental groups have warned that what we buy affects what is happening in these jungles. Three years ago, Britain’s biggest supermarket, Tesco, was persuaded to join the only organisation that just might halt the chopping, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

In his globe-trotting Tribe series two years ago, the TV explorer Bruce Parry was visibly moved by the sad fate of the Penan, a forest-dwelling tribe in Borneo. Most recently, the BBC’s prime-time Orangutan Diary showed the battle to create fresh habitats for “red apes” orphaned by deforestation, principally for palm oil.

But if there’s plenty of evidence of the devastating environmental effects of palm-oil, little of it can be seen on the products in Britain’s biggest supermarkets.

Until now, the best estimate of the number of leading supermarket products containing palm oil (Elaeis guineensis) has been one in 10, the figure quoted by Friends of the Earth in its 2005 report, “The Oil for Apes Scandal“. After a two-month investigation, The Independent has established that palm oil is used in far greater quantities. We can reveal for the first time that it is confirmed or suspected in 43 of Britain’s 100 bestselling grocery brands representing £6bn of the UK’s £16bn annual shopping basket for top brands. If you strip out drinks, pet food and household goods, the picture is starker still: 32 out of 62 of Britain’s top foods contain this tree-felling, wildlife-wrecking ingredient.

What, then, is “unsustainable” palm oil? Step one: log a forest and remove the most valuable species for furniture. Step two: chainsaw or burn the remaining wood releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gas. Step three: plant a palm-oil plantation. Step four: make oil from the fruit and kernels. Step five: add it to biscuits, chocolate, margarine, soaps, moisturisers and washing powder. At breakfast, when millions of us are munching toast, we’re eating a small slice of the rainforest.

From outer space, Borneo and Sumatra resemble giant emerald stepping stones between Thailand and Australia. Reaching the heart of their still-massive jungles takes days of boat trips and trekking. Gibbons hoot and long-tailed macaques squawk. Mongooses and pangolins scamper through the undergrowth. Large-beaked rhinoceros hornbills soar above the forest. The huge green and black Rajah Brooke’s butterfly flutters by.

These rainforests are honeypots for flora and fauna, among the most biodiverse places on Earth. Consider the figures. Sumatra – the size of Spain, owned by Indonesia – has 465 species of bird, 194 species of mammal, 217 species of reptile, 272 species of freshwater fish, and an estimated 10,000 species of plant. Borneo – the size of Turkey and shared between Indonesia and Malaysia – is even richer: 420 birds, 210 mammals, 254 reptiles, 368 freshwater fish and around 15,000 plants.

All these species evolved to live in this unique forest environment. The Sumatran rhino is the smallest, hairiest and most endangered in the world; the Sumatran tiger is the smallest tiger. The black sun bear, with its U-shaped patch of white fur under its chin, is the smallest bear. Some of them are curious in the extreme: the bug-eyed western tarsier; the striped rabbit; the marled cat; and the tree-jumping clouded leopard, which feasts on pygmy squirrels and long-tailed porcupines.

Of all the animals, though, the most famous by far is the orangutan (or “man of the jungle”). With its orange hair and long arms, the orangutan is one of our planet’s most unusual creatures. And one of the smartest, too. The Dutch anthropologist Carel van Schaik found that orangutans could perform tasks which were well beyond chimpanzees, such as making rain hats and leakproof roofs for their nests.

The primatologist Dr Willie Smits estimates that orangutans can distinguish between 1,000 different plants, knowing which ones are edible, which are poisonous, and which cure headaches. In her book Thinkers of the Jungle, the psychology professor Anne Russon recalled that one orangutan keeper took three days to solve the mystery of who’d been stealing from the fridge. It turned out that an orangutan had been using a paperclip to pick the lock of its cage, then hiding the paperclip under its tongue.

Along with chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos, orangutans are great apes, sharing 97 per cent of their DNA with humans, having split from us a mere 13 million years ago. They exist only in these forests of Borneo and Sumatra, and it is their arboreal nature that leaves them so vulnerable to deforestation. Between 2004 and 2008, according to the US Great Ape Trust, the orangutan population fell by 10 per cent (to 49,600) on Borneo and by 14 per cent (to 6,600) on Sumatra. As the author Serge Wich warned: “Unless extraordinary efforts are made soon, it could become the first great-ape species to go extinct.”