There is no shortage of deeply concerning news around the environment these days. It isn't hard to get a strong sense that we're on a fast track towards a nasty precipice. Yet, news continues to pop up that gives a sense that all isn't lost; that there is some hope that nature might be more resilient against our travesties than we had imagined. Just last week there was news that the almost extinct Red Kite was making a dramatic comeback in the UK. Back in January there was the incredible story of a polar bear spending nine days swimming in search of sea ice. Whilst that story shows us just how seriously we've changed the planet, we can only marvel at the spirit and resilience of that bear.
It is important to tell positive stories if only to offer something of a counter to the constant stream of bad news that greets us each day. We do tend to dwell on the negative but the human spirit needs to be nourished and uplifted by hope and good news from time to time as well.
I had my own recent experience of how resilient nature can be in January when visiting a palm oil plantation in Indonesia. I was in a seriously degraded forest in the middle of a palm oil plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The plantation company had set this remnant forest aside many years ago when it developed the area. We'd wandered in off the road to get a look at the forest from within, to feel its heartbeat, if it still had one. Loggers had hammered the forest in advance of the plantation company taking over. There was no proper canopy, only a few scattered emergent trees left behind after the bulldozers had hacked their way through. My sense wandering in had been that it was a desolate place, devoid of richness and that the company's effort to protect it was an admirable though fruitless gesture.
Standing by a riverbank in the morning stillness, I wondered if the silence was because the house was empty. Then I heard it. At first it didn't register; no gibbons here surely? You don't hear something your mind tells you cannot exist but then, again. "What's that?" I asked my Indonesian colleagues.
"Gibbons" they responded.
"There are gibbons here?" I asked.
"Yes, and orang-utans too" they replied.
"Here, in this forest?"
"Yes, here are our records." The two forest guards produced their observation notebooks. Over the previous two years, they had recorded all the animals they'd sighted during their daily patrols. I was stunned. How did these animals survive here? The forest covered around 1,400 hectares, a long and thin snake of seriously damaged habitat running either side of the river yet it still supported a rich biodiversity of primates, birds and other creatures.
We stayed a good hour in there listening to the gibbons. I heard at least three or four; far less than what you hear in a virgin forest but what hope it stirred in me! What resilience! If these animals could survive here, what else might we achieve?
I subsequently went back to Indonesia in early February to launch the palm oil company's forest conservation policy. If implemented, the policy will see more forest, just like the gibbon's in Kalimantan, set aside, protected and given a chance to re-grow. It's long-term stuff. There are many mountains to climb before we'll get to where we need to be but the hope inherent in that gibbon's call is driving me, and others, forward.
That gibbon's call is a real symbol of nature's resilience and of what just might be possible. Many news items reflect how low we go with our disrespect of nature. Yet we owe it to nature, struggling to hang in there just like that gibbon, to hold on to the idea that there could be a better future if only we all work harder.
We each can do something every day to reduce our environmental impact. When everything is gloomy and you can't imagine things ever getting better, the human spirit takes flight and determines to find a better way. A sense that something is possible, that yes, we can do what was thought impossible has recent history of bringing about dramatic change. Let's take hope from that gibbon's call and redouble our efforts to bring change to how we treat nature. Go on, let yourself go.
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