The author of this article is a member of Saving Our Planet. I know him as a person dedicated to fighting climate change, and I believe his personal legacy put forth in this article may serve to inspire members and visitors to action on climate change. Thus, the views expressed in this essay are the personal views of the author, and not necessarily endorsed by SOP. However, SOP values individual and minority expression, as long as it is not a factor of division and makes a positive contribution to our common goal: Climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Hans Joergen Rasmussen
Leaving the Earth with less CO2 in the atmosphere than I put in, a personal legacy.
By Rob de Laet
I am 61 and have had a great life so far, it feels more like a ride, a journey though. Especially because I have been travelling a lot, really a lot in my life and that is finally how I made my living too. From an early age, I was conscious of the strains humanity was putting on the livability of our Planet. The Limits to Growth report formed me at the tender age of 17 and that book made me vow not to have children, a driver’s license or a car (which my father offered to me at my 18th birthday).
Climate change as a problem had not even surfaced, but environmental problems were multiplying and the forests and wild animals were retreating at an breathtaking pace. The seventies of the last century did see a whirling attempt at escaping the rational wealth building economy through music and drugs and oriental journeys of transformation, in short the hippie era. It was magic and mesmerizing and while it seemed to have accomplished little, maybe, just maybe, it laid the seeds of the transformation that is bound to happen.
Years of travel to Africa and Asia followed, and I stayed for long periods in India and Kenya till I no longer found ways of having fun, while avoiding any form of organized work. Halfway through the nineties, I realized at the age of almost forty that I needed to do something, as I only had debts to my name and slept on people’s sofas. So I started a small travel company, specialized in tours to India. Soon I was an entrepreneur with eighty hour workweeks and things were going great. I wasn’t paying much attention to climate change although I was aware of the clear dangers involved. Since it was a no-brainer to do something about it, I would reckon that the politicians would solve that. The Kyoto protocol was not a beauty, but it was a good start and the arrogant USA would probably come around (as a nation they tend to operate a bit like their current president, completely full of themselves). So, I was working my butt off and creating this wonderful adventure travel company that in the year that I sold it, sent more than thirty thousand people a year to different parts of the planet, especially to Asia, Africa and Latin America. I am sure it enriched many people’s lives and since we were operating with small scale local operators and hotels, I hoped we would have a positive effect on local economies. Sometimes we negotiated better working conditions and pay for people, like with Nepali porters, but mostly we hoped we chose the right partners and frankly we were too busy to work out the details. Human rights, wildlife protection and reforestation were part of our mindset, but CO2 was not. Again, putting a price on emissions of these intercontinental flights was a no-brainer, but no company could start on its own if it wanted to stay in the race. I trusted in those days that politicians would do the right thing, as it was in everybody’s interest to deal with it.
When I sold my company in 2007, I finally had more time to think things over and look at the larger picture of our life on this planet and what happened was something very weird. I both got all kinds of visions of catastrophe and at the same time I wanted to ignore these signals, because what crept up to me was something way too big to handle. In 2010 I bought a 470-acre valley in the coastal mountains of Brazil with about 30% forest. It was a combination of having my own paradise but also a refuge and a place where I would grow food for fifty people if push came to shove. These years I lived in Brazil for fun, on the beach, caipirinha in hand enjoying life, sometimes cursing the country for its deep egotism and thoroughly corrupted soul.
But something bigger was nagging me. I had told friends after the 2008 crisis a few years before, that I wanted to write a book about the future, but nothing came of it. Too much fun, too much distraction.
I prided myself of having predicted the 1987 and 2008 crashes, though I missed the IT crash of 1999, being too busy selling my own ideas to pop-up billionaires in India and California, but failed.
What nagged me was that the 2008 crash was more complex, more profound. It was clear something was deeply amiss in the world economy and I kept on racking my brain trying to understand the full extent. I did not make myself very popular telling people that a second crash would come, a far greater one that would wipe out the current financial system and the complex economy as we know it.
Still, I did not want to give it too much thought, it was too big and too complex to get a grip on what happened. I knew the housing crisis in the USA and the way the banks had been loaning and repackaging loans, was the official trigger, but I knew also that that was only the trigger. If a hare runs over a snowy slope and triggers an avalanche, is the hare to blame? I looked at the shocks in food prices and oil (intimately connected) at the wild gyration of major currencies, it was as if the system was experiencing an anaphylactic shock. The weird heatwave of 2010 in Russia and giant forest fires threatening the wheat crop, while a part of Pakistan, the size of the UK was being flooded, created the trigger for the Arab spring. The meandering Jetstream had gone in a staying pattern ravaging whole countries and triggering revolts in others. Climate change was whacking away at humanity big time. It was absolutely frightening.
Two friends of mine, Frank and Wout, with whom I worked together came over in May of 2013. I had known them for a long time and they had started their own wonderful branding company, brilliant! But they actually came over to tell me that it was time to write my book. We talked and talked long nights about the interconnectedness of things happening, food, climate, stock exchange, the Syrian conflict, the culture of greed and consumption, peak oil and overpopulation. Both have travelled a helluvalot as well and we are sort of global citizens, feeling connected to a lot of people and places around the world. They left me with my promise to write the book and went back to Amsterdam to build their great company named ‘The Story of Brent.’ I wrote my book in about two weeks and when it was ready I was so depressed at the outcome, I was not even sure I wanted to show it to anyone. At first it was called ‘’The end of Dignity’’ and then it was changed into ‘’Brace for Impact’’. My friends and three others read it and were equally depressed. Basically the book said that the combination of overpopulation, resource depletion, pollution and the effects of climate change would break up human society completely, wreck it, wreck human rights. Most importantly it would happen far faster than anybody thought because almost no-one was counting on the multiplier effect of the stresses of all factors together which would make society ungovernable, people crazy and angry, and therefore unable to put in place the enormous coordinated efforts needed to turn things around. I predicted that it would take maximum till 2018 before we had entered complete mayhem around the world and a spiraling down of the situation, and I am afraid to say, I think the deadline has not moved. I did not publish the book as it did hardly anything more than depress people and it did not solve anything.
And now I am here, sitting in my valley. It is six in the morning and the sun is still behind the mountains, but the birds are chirping away like there was no tomorrow. The valley survived the second ‘’once in a century’’ drought in a decade and I am reforesting the valley with the help of my friendly illiterate workers, one of whom simply gave up trying to write his three-letter name ‘’Gil’’. He was born five hundred meters from here and has not traveled beyond a city 55 km from here. He is part of the land. He sees me as his boss and thinks it completely natural that he owns nothing and I am the owner of this beautiful piece of land. We are slowly transforming the ting, taking out grass and cows and replacing them step by step with trees, increasing swamps and surface water and letting the area around the rivulet grow wild. My one goal at least is to take more CO2 out of the atmosphere than I must have put in over the course of my life, as a personal legacy. But also as a protection to the young ones who will live here, as I am confident I can push back the effects of climate change for this valley by a decade or two, beating the heat, the droughts, the torrential rains that will come with trees and earthen dams, with shade and fruits on thousands of trees inviting the birds and rare wild animals to come and live here. The number of birds and the variety has already increased incredibly over the short seven years I am guardian here. Two thousand new trees are growing, another eight thousand to go.
In a sense, after looking at the state of the world, I am in waiting mode. The story will unfold, there will be immense suffering but maybe also the chance that after all a solution will emerge, a new culture holding the sanctity of life on this Planet as its central moral theme, sustainability at its core, away from the poverty of trying to grab millions at the expense of others, away from the poverty of the ego towards the richness of serving life instead of futile attempts to try and master over it. We will be able to find solutions to the great existential crisis of today, and we can find ways to stabilize our numbers and find a balanced way of living as part of Nature. There is great dignity and happiness in realizing how small we are, how tiny and how much we just play a small, short but beautiful, in a great symphony of evolving life. How easy is it to whirl gently to the ground like a withering leaf that has enjoyed the sun and the saps flowing through it and finally will rest and nourish the soils to once again sprout new life.
The great challenge of today is much more revolutionary than most of us can fathom, for now. It is not just to cut emissions, which must of course happen at a dizzying speed, to curb human population, to prepare to grow food for ten billion, to fight the fresh water crisis. The real challenge is to take an evolutionary leap of consciousness at a moment that we as a species are digging our own grave. Waking up, sensing the new dawn, a dawn of warmth and bliss of being part of this great universe, this unending river of consciousness in which you will dissolve.
Once this consciousness starts streaming inside of many of us and engulfing us, it will be a joyful – to some people even sacred – duty, to start serving, protecting and supporting the new life that is about to flourish. Not only small humans, but birds and trees and the whole brilliant tapestry of interwoven life. Solving the climate crisis will be hard, but with a song in our heart and a smile on our face we will be able to do it, because of the immense joy of serving life on Earth. Let this new culture celebrating life arise!