Twenty-two years ago, I was living in northern Namibia, teaching English to local women and looking forward to pursuing a career in public health. But what I saw throughout the next two years radically changed that.
Living right next to a village health clinic, I witnessed some incredible things. I saw babies being born. I saw people very sick with diseases such as malaria, cholera, tuberculosis and a new, particularly deadly one — HIV, which was just emerging in this area and still much stigmatized in the communities. I also saw many others suffering from chronic conditions that were symptoms of the poverty in which they lived.
I remember noticing the women in particular. A lot of the respiratory diseases that plagued them came from inhaling smoke while cooking over fires in their small huts. Many women and girls would walk for miles every day to find water and firewood, labor which took its own toll on their health. In addition, the time and energy this required also had opportunity costs, as it kept them from being able to do other activities, like study, tend their fields or look for work.
So many of the health issues I saw in these communities were directly related to poverty — and directly related to the environment.Continue reading →
If you’re quiet enough, you may be able to spot one of the forest’s furry inhabitants in the high reaches of the canopy.
Despite the many threats facing Madagascar’s lemurs and the forests on which they depend, there is some hope for their survival. In the remote southeast region of the country, we are working with local communities to reduce threats and create sustainable livelihoods for people that do not rely on the destruction of forests.
This is our second blog about Nature Is Speaking, our communications initiative that uses a series of short films narrated by major celebrities to spotlight the vital links between nature and human well-being. Read all blogs in the series.
“Wilderness is hard on our economy.”
I recently heard those words coming from an elected official in Idaho during an NPR story on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
Unfortunately his words express a common belief.
For too long, environmentalism and conservation have been focused on saving nature for its intrinsic value. We talk about endangered species and national parks, and worry about the state of the world’s coral reefs. We don’t really talk much about people except almost as an afterthought. In some instances, we’ve even allowed our efforts to be framed as favoring nature at the expense of people.
Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I love nature and have as long as I can remember, starting with my childhood in West Africa where colobus monkeys and pygmy hippos were never far away. But I have become frustrated with the view of nature as a fragile painting: a Sistine Chapel dripping with life, to be admired from afar and described in reverent tones.
Sure, some people are drawn to this idea, but they are far outnumbered by the number of people negatively impacted by the rapidity with which we are stripping our forests, mining our soils, drying up our water and fundamentally altering our planet’s atmosphere and ocean’s chemistry. Love alone is not enough; we need this place. Continue reading →
I’ve had the privilege of doing research in places that are seldom seen by humans: remote, nearly pristine reefs in the Phoenix Islands; seamounts near Cocos Island; and the waters of Indonesia and Palau. But Antarctica was the locale that took my breath away. It is the biggest, wildest, strangest and most remote place on Earth. There the air is so clear and its beauty so stunning, you wonder if you have just learned to see.
Today, the Ocean Health Index released itsfirst assessment of the health of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The results show that distance, fierce winds, bitter cold, the raging seas and plenty of ice have managed to diminish the human impact on the inaccessible Southern Ocean. But despite its geographic isolation, it has not been enough. Continue reading →
This week has been one of the most important for climate change in recent history. On Sunday, I was one of nearly 400,000 people participating in the People’s Climate March in New York City — the largest-ever climate change rally. In 161 other countries, thousands more gathered in public spaces to demand global action.
The march’s timing was particularly significant; it was held to draw attention to Tuesday’s United Nations Climate Summit. Convened by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the summit encouraged the more than 125 heads of state, corporate leaders and civil society representatives in attendance to put forth ambitious commitments of climate change action.
The march was deeply personal for most attendees. Messages ranged from critiques of global capitalism to promoting meat-free diets. For me, it demonstrated that climate change really isn’t just an environmental problem anymore. There is now a pervasive, deeper understanding that climate change is a development, societal and even moral issue. Continue reading →
These clans traditionally manage their own land their own way. Yet over the past two decades, communities scattered across the Huon Peninsula have defied tradition, joining hands to create a community-based group that collectively manages what in 2009 became known as the YUS Conservation Area, the first legally protected area of its kind in PNG.
These communities did this because they realized it was their best chance of saving an important cultural icon: the Matschie’s tree kangaroo. Five years later, their success has been internationally recognized; today their community-based NGO, the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program-PNG, was officially awarded one of this year’s Equator Prizes.Continue reading →
During 2010 and 2011, millions of Colombians were in the rain.
Throughout many months that saw little relief from the downpour, urban areas of Bogotá and several rural areas of the department of Cundinamarca experienced very severe flooding as rivers spilled over their banks, flooding a nearby university and destroying agricultural fields.
Other areas on the slopes of the northern Andes saw a lot of landslides, causing not only significant losses in human life, but also economic costs like crop failure and infrastructure collapse. Continue reading →
Almost all of the families I know make their living in some way from the lake where they live, which provides two-thirds of Cambodia’s protein consumption. But I was recently surprised to learn that one of the species they’re the most dependent on is not a fish, but a tree. Continue reading →
Far from my creature comforts in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown, I found myself jostling around in a 4×4 SUV over the rough terrain of the Rupununi. Red dust billowed behind us as we moved across the savanna toward the village of Sand Creek, in the foothills of the Kanuku Mountains.
My colleagues from CI Guyana and I were on our way to learn about how the indigenous men, women and youth of this region interact with each other and their environment. Our assumption was simple: Greater equality and equity within communities will lead to more conservation success, spur economic development and improve livelihoods.
But how do we achieve this? How can we ensure that everyone can equally participate in — and benefit from — our projects?Continue reading →
If someone told me a year ago I would soon be presenting at a United Nations conference dedicated to the issues faced by small island developing states, I’d truly believe that person was pulling my leg. Yet last week, I found myself doing exactly that.
These islands, which occur across the globe, have been identified as special case studies for sustainable development. Although these islands are particularly vulnerable to threats like species extinction and sea level rise, how they deal with these challenges could serve as useful examples for the rest of the world. In fact, the U.N. has acknowledged their importance by christening 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States.
So, how did I get here? I was born and raised on this island; all that I love belongs to this land. My interest in conservation lies with the desire to see the environment and development work together to ensure sustainability.Continue reading →