“What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans” (Evo Morales).
Earth Day turned 48 this year (22 April) and a lot has happened environmentally since it was first observed in 1970. Senator Gaylord Nelson was the brains behind Earth Day (after he saw the devastation caused by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California), and he wanted a day that urged elected officials, not just in his senate, but around the world to recognise that the environment is a political issue.
As opposed to covering the most pressing, and somewhat depressing, environmental issues facing the planet, which is usually the case for the Earth Day (and Earth Week), we have decided to showcase encouraging signs for the environment and great acts of individual conservation efforts.
The Forest Man of India
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” (Margaret Mead). This first story isn’t about a collection of individuals, but the efforts of one man – Jadav Payeng.
In 1978, Jadav returned to his home village called Aruna Sapori (he was 15 at the time). This little village is set on an island on the Brahmaputra River. When Jadav finally reached his village he saw something that left him distraught. Over 100 snakes were twisted and lying lifeless on a deserted sandbar. With those images firmly in his mind, Jadav sought counsel in the nearby village of Deroi. He was told that the snakes had died from recent floods because there was no tree cover. The villagers urged Jadav to grow trees to save the reptiles. With the wisdom of the villagers, including 50 seeds and 25 bamboo plants, Jadav set off to plant new life on the desolate sandbar. The villagers of Deroi at that time probably never thought Jadav would reap a forest one day. But 36 years later Jadav is now referred to as the ‘Forest Man of India’.
Jadav too never thought that his efforts would have such a massive impact and reap such rewards – “I never thought that my small initiative would make such a difference one day”. Jadav still lives very much like his father did. He has a hundred cows and buffaloes and makes a living by selling milk. What sets him apart though is his 1,360 acres of forest. The trees have become part of Jadav’s family and he sounds off species names as he wanders through the forest – “bamboos, baheda, teak; gambhari; custard apple, star fruit, gulmohur; devil’s tree, tamarind…”
If it’s possible for one man to reap a forest of 1,360 acres through his own efforts and human spirit, then imagine what’s possible with a handful of people just like Jadav.
To see a short video documentary on Jadav and his story, click here.
From Fast Food Tycoon to Conservationist
This is anything but your run of the mill conservation story. Former fast food tycoon, David Bamberger, cashed in his chips on a successful fried-chicken chain and used the money to buy up a degraded and derelict piece of land in Texas.
For anyone with a business mind-set, this may not seem like a savvy investment, especially from the man purchasing the land who has years of experience in making astute business deals. This was no business venture though – “My objective was to take the worst piece of land I could possibly find in the Hill Country of Texas and begin the process of restoration”.
David definitely found the worst piece of land possible. It was 5,500 acres of overgrazed, “wall-to-wall brush, there wasn’t any grass, there wasn’t any water, nobody wanted it”. It was the start of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve. Selah means “to stop, to pause, to look around you and reflect on everything you see.” True to his words, that’s what David did.
This conservation story is 50 years in the making. David bought the land in 1969 and since then, he has been tending to it. You may think that with the help of deep pockets and a lot of materials and equipment, David brought the land back to the green and natural expanse of life it is today. However, David says “You don’t need a bulldozer. You need a chainsaw, wheelbarrow, axes, hand tools, and a lot of friends coming out from time to time, and a little time. You can buy used equipment – don’t waste your money on new – and you can accomplish on your property what I’ve done here.”
To see a short, eight minute video documentary on David and his story, click here.
Some people may argue that these are the exceptional actions of two individuals and everyone is not like Jadav or David. While that may be true, they are great examples of human initiative and action that encourage others to do their bit. You don’t have to plant a 1,360 acre forest, or purchase 5,500 acres of derelict land, but you can make small changes in your life.
Partho Burman, 2015. An Assamese who created a woodland in a river island is the Forest Man of India. The Weekend Leader.
Clint Rainey, 2017. The Founder of Church’s Chicken Spent His Fortune Restoring 5,500 Acres of Texas Wilderness. Grub Street.
Melissa Breyer, 2017. Meet the visionary who restored 5,500 acres of wrecked Texas land to paradise. Tree Hugger.