22 Aug Solutionologist
Who am I? I have had many titles, speaker, film maker, activist, campaigner, environmentalist but sadly they can come with an adverse perception. An image of angry anarchists, tree sitters (yes I have done that also) and sprout loving idealistic hippies. So when asked recently “what do you do?” I decided to give myself a new title….How would I introduce myself? What do I actually do? My focus, and what I seem to be good at, is finding solutions and inspiring others, which is why I am called a Solutionologist.
I have spent many years working with mycologists, biologists, and geologists in the mycoremediation project which seeks to find the best method of remediating oil spills in the Amazon. Although I was the founder I had opted out of university so was the only one that was not an ‘ologist’….however I have done my time, contributing to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research and I am now a self proclaimed Solutionologist who went and continues to learn from to the University of Life.
What have I done? For over 15 years I have been cleaning up after big business, meeting challenges in, for example, remote mountain villages and paradise beaches piled high with the rubbish left by humankind. Ocean gyres spewing out plastic on once pristine coast lines, villages living under the toxic smoke of burning rubbish. We may wonder why they don’t recycle it but what if those facilities just don’t exist in the majority of the world?
In a blink of an eye, in the last 50 years we are turning the planet into one big rubbish dump. So what to do? I taught how to turn this rubbish into something useful. For example, make a brick by filling an empty plastic bottle with rubbish and build, build anything. I started with benches and walls and then went on to assisting with restaurants, schools and health centres built from the villages rubbish. A picture speaks a thousand words. I traveled with photos of eco-brick buildings and inspired numerous people to get involved and start cleaning up their backyards and villages and build something useful.
For years I have worked on grass root solutions. When asked to help build a community centre in Colombia out of eco-bricks I had no idea I would be faced with beaches filled with vast heaps of plastic rubbish. This was beyond the scope of eco-bricks.
I realised machinery would be necessary to clean up on this scale. Project Planet Clean Up was envisioned. Not just one or two machines could be used but to strategically locate these machines around the world. The poorest of families paid to bring the plastic to a machine which can chip it, melt it and remold it into something else. Turning rubbish into a resource. Alchemy. An environmental, social and economical solution.
My work led me to Ecuador where I witnessed rivers in the Amazon running black from oil. Downstream families drank that very water. They knew it was contaminated but had no choice. They had always drunk from the numerous streams running through their land. It never occurred to them to collect rainwater. I started small, building the poorest families simple rainwater systems. Over the years I have added filters, first flushes and continually improved them but always kept them simple so they may be easily replicated. Now other organisations have come along and rainwater systems are springing up everywhere.
To find out more I decided to go by boat down the Amazon from the headwaters in Ecuador to Brazil to see what effect the oil industry was having. From this eye opening journey I filmed, edited and produced a feature documentary Blood of the Amazon.
After discovering mycoremediation (the use of fungi to clean up contaminated land) I invited scientists to come to the Amazon and start work to find the solutions to clean up this ecocide.
In 2016 I worked with the Municipality and the Mayor of Cascales, Ecuador to overhaul their waste dump. Currently all food waste, plastic, cans, batteries and rubbish get thrown into one big hole in the ground. Not so very long ago this happened everywhere. I feel a responsibility to share what I know. We are now working towards a zero-waste waste dump, separating compost, recycling and production of plastic wood. (Plastic rubbish can be chipped and melted into wood like planks). Asides from making money out of the rubbish it also prevents the deforestation of ecologically important and valuable hardwood trees, desired commercially as they don’t rot so quickly.
I also assisted the Municipality with the human effluent which was flowing straight into the rivers. With experts on bacterial filtration we built a system to simply clean the waste water before it enters the river.
So all in all I deal with problems. I have seen the worst of it and cannot stand aside and say ‘oh dear, somebody needs to do something’. Maybe I am that person and I can do something. Anything. Something is better than nothing.
So this brings me full circle to where I started, my new job title. Solutionologist. We know the problems, we are great at complex thinking but sometimes the answers are so simple. Einstein once said “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”
So why? Why do I want to do something?
A desire for justice, not just for people but all life. My realisation is that we all have a tunnel vision regarding our focus in life. I am one of the few who have concentrated my focus on our planet and our effects on it.
I have been truly blessed to see the beauty of the world (and regrettably burnt a lot of fossil fuels in the flying between these places). I have seen the majesty of this planet, the noise and intense greenness and incredible diversity of a tropical forest, the surreal and luminous neon colours of an underwater coral reef, the snow capped mountains and disappearing glaciers. I have witnessed this breathtaking beauty with my own eyes and what we love we wish to protect.
I have witnessed the intelligence of this planet and deeply grieved for the injury human kind has caused. We are not separate and just a part of nature, we are nature. We are an evolving system. We are now ready for a paradigm shift. A new way of thinking.
Once upon a time we believed the world was created just for human use. Will we continue this way of thinking until we have dug all of the minerals out of the Earth and cleared all of the forest and dammed all the rivers? I hope we can come to our senses before this point. Many believe this industrial age in which we live is a sign of progress. To live in a so called civilized world where your greatest aim is to buy whatever your heart desires. However maybe this way of thinking is also becoming outdated.
We are moving into the ecological age, away from our polluting industrial past and into a new paradigm of working with the Earth rather than against it. Turning crisis into opportunity, envisioning a new future where people have purpose and feel deeply fulfilled as a human being, contributing their unique gift whatever that may be.
It is an exciting time to be on cusp of this new wave. To have a vision of the world which we wish to leave for our children. A world where we can once again drink from the rivers, take a long deep breath of fresh air and marvel at the intelligence of human kind and the sheer beauty of Nature. For where there is a problem a solution is just waiting to replace it. Human minds are eager to solve the greatest issues facing both humanity and all life on this planet we share.
So rather than dealing with plastic rubbish made from petroleum and causing great environmental problems let’s start talking about the solutions. Edible packaging, refill stations and zero waste. Can a company agree to be responsible for a product from its creation to its death? Can we move ahead from the current obsolete world where everything is designed for a short life to be used, dumped and replaced by the latest model? Can we look to the end of a products life and design backwards? Are we ready to move on from this ‘mine it, make it, dump it’ paradigm?
Do we need to create a new box to be ticked? Ethics and the Environment. Like Health and Safety. Can a company incorporate this principal at its foundation? Do no harm.
This leads us to looking at every part of the whole. The ingredients, the manufacturing process, the packaging, distribution, personal. Are the ingredients harmful to people and planet? We need to work with Nature rather than against it. The greatest Research and Development department in the world is the Earth itself. Billions of years of evolution. Chemical glue, no, how does a limpet then stick to a rock? How can liquid be encapsulated? An egg, not hard enough, then a coconut. Only by becoming aware of and then copying nature can we be lead out of the mess we are in.
How much energy do you use? Can everyone, big business included create all the energy it needs (and maybe a little bit extra just because) . One wind turbine in Denmark (with a 75 metre wingspan, as big as an airbus) can power 6000 homes. There is enough energy in the sun in one hour to power the entire earth for a year. The question is not when do we move over to renewables it is why are we not moving faster?
All of us can demand this change. Big business can start by creating their own power. Calculating annual usage and building necessary infrastructure. Taking into consideration the mining of the rare earth minerals needed for the solar cells, wind turbine motors, electric cars and smart phones and designing with their end in mind and how they will be returned to the cycle of life, to be turned into something else.
So much can be done. What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for someone else to fix the problem or can we take on the challenge ourselves?