We Are the World
With optimism and visionary ideas, inventors, activists, and yoga practitioners are reimagining the future of life on Earth—and making it happen.
If you read enough headlines about the current state of the environment—icecaps melting, species disappearing, water tables drying up—you're likely to get discouraged about the future of our planet. But along with all of these very real disasters, something else is going on—something inspiring and exhilarating—and if you pay attention, it just might reinvigorate your motivation to help make a better world.
There is, right now, a global outpouring of passion to solve our eco-troubles, coupled with boundless innovation in service of the greater good. People around the world are patenting inventions, starting Earth-conscious businesses, and forming organizations to rethink the way we live.
Paul Hawken, a leading environmentalist and the author of Blessed Unrest, says that, taken collectively, those of us who are bringing forth new ideas and committing to living more lightly on the earth make up the biggest movement in history, one with the potential to uplift humanity and the environment. And in a movement like this, every good idea and every sincere effort counts. "Whether it's a cell, a bug, or a weed, everything in life starts small," says Hawken. "The beauty of small acts is that they cannot be stopped. There is no inconsequential action, only consequential inaction. Real transformation originates from the bottom and moves outwards."
Nature adapts to challenges with an outpouring of life. Rivers change direction to move around obstacles. Weeds take root on burned hillsides, preventing erosion. Humanity is no different. We are part of nature and are a vibrant living system like any other. And the very traits that created many of our environment's problems—the brilliance, restlessness, and inventiveness of our minds—are our greatest assets in facing our challenges.
"There are all the negative statistics about the environment, but there's also this rising energy of creativity and life force," says Gillian Kapteyn Comstock, a yoga teacher and co-director of the Metta Earth Institute in Lincoln, Vermont. "There are so many people being generative and thinking up solutions."
To follow, you'll find life-altering innovations from change makers and yogis around the world. It's uplifting to consider the efforts and progress being made to reverse the tide of environmental devastation. Learning about all the cool projects others have started may inspire you to start one of your own.
If it does, take some time to be in nature. Spend quiet, reflective moments in meditation. Ask yourself what kind of world you want to live in and what you can contribute to the quality of life on Earth. Then offer up your best!
Game Changer: Fresh-Grown Fuel
Millions of years ago, before oil was oil, it was algae—tiny marine plants that were compressed beneath the prehistoric ocean floor. Now, scientists have discovered new methods of harnessing sunlight and carbon dioxide to turn pond scum into oil in months, not millennia. Last November, United Airlines flew the first commercial flight in the United States powered by this renewable biofuel, and the airline has signed on to buy millions of gallons in the future. The Navy is getting in on the action, too. It has ordered 450,000 gallons of biofuel (including algae and cooking oil) to test in its ships and planes.
Think About This: A single round-trip, cross-country flight is the carbon-emitting equivalent of two months' worth of driving in a medium-sized car. But algae remove carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, so burning biofuel gets jet passengers where they need to go with no net increase in heat-trapping gases.
One Thing You Can Do: Flash Mob for the Planet
How can the average citizen be heard by the corporations and governments that make world-changing decisions about our climate and environment? Environmental nonprofit 350.org says the answer is banding together and sending a message that goes viral. Last November, the group organized 12,000 people to encircle the White House, helping to convince President Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Last year, more than 2,000 groups in 175 countries planned marches, bike rides, yoga classes, and flash dances to remind governments at the UN climate talks that millions care about the planet. Images and video from the actions were shown during the climate talks in Durban. Learn more at 350.org.
Bright Idea: Green Lantern
Nearly 1.3 billion people around the world live off the grid, and not by choice. In developing countries, the rural poor often have to use kerosene lamps to work or study after dark, and they must walk miles to get a cell phone charged. Greenlight Planet, a start-up company run by yoga teacher Radhika Thakkar and several business partners, distributes affordable solar-powered lanterns that produce up to 16 hours of light (larger models can produce 30 hours of light and charge a cell phone) to rural homes in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Since its founding in 2008, Greenlight Planet has brought clean, green light to almost 1 million people.
Feel the Power: A Good Reason to Practice Jumpbacks
When most people think of clean energy, they think of wind turbines or solar panels. Sustainable designer Elizabeth Redmond thinks of the human body. POWERleap, the company she founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2008, develops flooring that harvests electricity from the vibrations created by footfalls. The technology could soon be coming to a mall, dance club, or stadium near you, creating a hyperlocal form of renewable energy. Redmond and other innovators envision embedding the technology on roads, in shoes, and on stairways to power streetlights, gadgets, and small appliances. In fact, Redmond, a yoga practitioner, says her technology could even find its way into sticky mats.
Eco-Practice: Renewable Wisdom
At least twice a month, Los Angeles-based yoga teacher Shiva Rea spends a day without electricity (and that includes her cell phone and laptop). Unplugging for a day is a practice, she says, with personal and environmental benefits. It lowers your carbon output while raising your awareness of your own energy consumption. And it lets you recharge by slowing down and living electronics free.
Power Retreat: To take yourself off the grid, try this practice. First, let go. Disconnect from all of your carbon-creating activities.
Commit: Choose a full-day or half-day retreat.
Pull the Plug: Unplug all appliances except your refrigerator.
Go Tech Free: Power down your computer, cell phone, and television.
Park It: Keep your car parked and walk, bike, or ride the bus if you want to go somewhere.
Then, tune in to your surroundings and your personal energy.
Illumine: Try oil lamps, soy or beeswax candles, or natural light.
Connect: Spend time connecting with friends and family.
Breathe: Practice asana and meditation.
Reflect: Read something that nourishes you.
Be Wild: To outside for a walk, bike ride, or more-playful activities.
Tech'n It to the Streets
Imagine reducing your energy use by 43 percent in one week through small daily choices. That's what students at an Oberlin College dorm did by using a digital tool called Building Dashboard, which shows users in real time how simple actions such as powering down a computer or unplugging appliances can reduce energy consumption. Made by clean-technology firm Lucid from Oakland, California, Building Dashboard makes it easy for people in corporate offices and apartments to see their energy consumption. Though the Oberlin students achieved their energy savings through a campus-wide competition, Lucid reports sustained energy reductions of between 10 and 20 percent for corporate and collegiate users, proving that real-time visual feedback in a group setting helps people voluntarily consume less—and have fun doing it.
Think About This: The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US come from commercial and industrial buildings. Even a 10 percent increase in energy efficiency would be the emissions-reduction equivalent of taking 30 million cars off the road.
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