“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”
Edward Davey has led an interesting life so far. He has traveled the world in support of causes he believes in. He once marched “through the monsoon-drenched streets” of Mumbai, India with several hundred tribal villagers from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh protesting the erection of (the Sardar Sarovar) dam that would eventually submerge their lands on the banks of the Narmada River, “disrupting a way of life which had existed for millennia.”
Another time he traveled with his “friend and mentor Martin von Hildrebrand, the Colombian anthropologist,” and “the celebrated Colombian writer Hector Abad Faciolince,” into the heart of the indigenous territories of the Amazon Rainforest “on a small four-seater plane, its dappled shadow memorably etched…on the verdant green canopy of the forest.” After traveling “by boat and on foot for the rest of the way,” they “ate with the communities and spent long hours talking with them in the maloca, the community hall, late into the night, seeking to understand their vision of the world and of their environment.”
In 2006, Davey spent several weeks in Yemen with Baroness Emma Nicholson, “then a Member of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee as well as director of the humanitarian organization AMAR Foundation,” for which he worked at the time to lead the EU’s Election Observation Mission. They traveled across the country, “meeting with politicians from the steely President Ali Abdullah Saleh (killed by Houthi rebels in December 2017) to the democratic opposition, sitting on the floor during long meetings of Yemen’s parliamentarians chewing the narcotic drug, khat, inspecting polling booths and election stations, and talking to electoral officials.”
He met his wife, Davina, when they both worked for the AMAR Foundation, created to assist the Marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq, who were brutally attacked in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Saddam Hussein.
And this barely scratches the surface of Davey’s many adventures traveling the world and learning from its diverse and fascinating communities. After obtaining an “Undergraduate Degree in Modern Languages from the University of Oxford,” and “a Master’s with Distinction in Environment and Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science,” Davey “began his career as a Researcher at Oxfam and for the UN Human Development Report,” before hiring on with AMAR.
Following this, he served as “Lead Adviser on Environment for the Colombian Presidency” where he focused on conservation of the Amazon before becoming Senior Program Manager at The Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit on global environmental issues, leading that group’s work on forests and climate change.
Davey is now “Director of the Geographic Deep Dives of The Food and Land Use Coalition, a global initiative to transform the world’s food and land use systems,” co-led by the World Resources Institute.
That’s a lot for any human to accomplish in a long life but Davey is still young and is just getting started. And if you ask him which, of all his many experiences, he cherishes the most, I think I know how he’d answer. He will likely tell you it is when Davina gave birth to their son, Oliver Laszlo Davey in April of 2017. They call him Oli.
Life looks, sounds and feels different when we’re someone’s parent. When a small, helpless child looks at us with pure wonder and trust, we change. We are permanently and irrevocably altered. Deep down we get it: we are now responsible. There is no one else to carry this for us. Suddenly, everything we ever thought about the world and its frightening future includes someone we love more deeply than we ever imagined possible. And we just want to protect them and we become filled with an unsettling fear that we might fail. They might get hurt. Regardless of what we do, something bad might happen to them. But that thought is intolerable so we get busy doing something or anything that distracts us from feeling helpless and hopeless and instead feels real, true, meaningful and significant.
And so, fortunately for us, Davey wrote a book. A good book. An important book for all of us who are parents or feel called to care for the innocents among us. This very special book has a bold, brave title: Given Half a Chance: Ten Ways to Save the World. His preface begins: “This is a book about the world in which my son Oli will grow up.” He continues, “My purpose is a simple one. I want to describe ten paths by which we can safeguard and protect this precious planet into which Oli has been born.”
Like all parents, Davey has a dream for Oli, a dream that he will grow up in “a world in which we have found a way to live in harmony with the natural environment on which we depend.” In order to accomplish that objective, Davey explains how we need to transform our cities, shift away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, waste less, heal more, restore our soil, forests and oceans, preserve and protect plant and animal species, and address population growth, our abysmal diets and over-consumption while “pursuing global action to address these issues at a scale we have never seen before.”
Davey writes, “Each of the paths I describe is aimed first and foremost at addressing climate change and ecological decline.” He correctly understands that Oli’s future depends on this above all. Just as money is useless without health, the politically-based, economically-driven world – human civilization – will inevitably collapse if we fail to protect and preserve the fragile, intricate, interconnected ecosystems that comprise the complex web of life out of which we evolved. Unless we get that right, everything goes wrong. There is no role for humans in a world of continuous, climatic instability and chaos. It is a daunting task but Davey is optimistic and practical. He recognizes that we really don’t have a choice. When we think of Oli and the children of the world, failure is simply not an option.
He writes, “Despite the scale of the environmental challenges before us, and the sheer speed with which we need to act to bring about the transformations described here, I am deeply hopeful that it is within humanity’s power and intellect to bring into being the kind of world that I would wish to leave Oli.”
In the first path, Renewables, Davey tells us that humanity will be spending $90 trillion in the next fifteen to twenty years on infrastructure. The only question is whether this will be visionary, future-oriented and renewably-based or whether we will continue to stick our heads in the sand and invest in yesterday’s carbon-based, life-destroying technologies. One road gives us a fighting chance. The other seals our doom.
While we find it difficult to imagine a world without fossil energy, the lives of our children and future generations requires that we do. This means completely ending our reliance on coal as rapidly as possible. And ending oil exploration. And eliminating the worldwide subsidies – $5.2 trillion a year – we give to the fossil fuel corporations every year. Why not subsidize renewable energy with that money instead? And adopt the Carbon Law, a twist on Moore’s Law, where we seek to halve our use of carbon energy every decade until we reach zero (“carbon neutrality”) in 2050.
As I type these words, the Amazon Rainforest is burning, after being deliberately set aflame by farmers following the lead of their right-wing, climate-denying President Jair Bolsonaro who makes no effort to hide his contempt for one of our planet’s most important “air conditioners.” Regarding the Forests, Davey’s second path, he writes, “It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the world hangs on how Brazil behaves towards its Amazon Rainforest.” But it’s not just Brazil’s fault. They wouldn’t be burning the rainforest if we didn’t love our beef so much. Dr. Shahir Masri, a previous guest on my Wake-Up Call radio program, connects the dots for us between our diets and the Amazonian fires.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia, one of the poorest nations on Earth with a microscopic, carbon footprint, just planted over 350 million trees in a single day. The average American emits about 20 tons of carbon each year while the average Ethiopian’s annual emission total is 140 pounds. Every year the average American emits as much carbon as 283 Ethiopians. If humans were prosecuted for their climate crimes, not a single Ethiopian would be found guilty. And yet look what they accomplished in a single day. Imagine what we could do in a day, week, month, year or lifetime, if we made up our minds to truly care for our children’s future instead of destroying it.
Healthy forests depend on Davey’s third path, healthy Soil but we have not been kind to the dirt of the Earth. According to a recent UN report, “A third of the planet’s land is severely degraded and fertile soil is being lost at the rate of 24 billion tons a year.” The report “calls for a shift away from destructively intensive agriculture.” Davey writes, “The protection and restoration of the world’s vital soils is our third pressing path to a hopeful future.” Fortunately, it is possible to restore abused, degraded land and Davey provides several examples.
And he writes, “Today, as a result of fertilizer use and run-off, soil erosion, creeping desertification and tropical forests being cleared, global agriculture and land use contributes more emissions to the atmosphere than all of the world’s industry or transport – approximately a third of the world’s total greenhouse emissions.”
This must change. We can no longer practice unsustainable farming and expect to survive. Davey tells us, “As much as a quarter of global emissions could be mitigated” by following France’s bold “initiative to push for greater global investment and action to improve soil health.” The plan is “to increase the quotient of carbon (or soil organic matter) contained in its soils by a factor of 4 parts per 1,000.”
And, as I alluded to earlier, if the Earth is to have a human future, it is clear we need to eat less meat. Davey interviewed Dr. Tara Garnett, one of Britain’s foremost experts on the food system. Davey relates that we will all need “to eat very little meat, dairy and fish, and…ensure that the meat one does eat always comes from an ethical and environmentally undamaging source.”
He writes, “The simple truth is that one of the most profound (as well as the most straight-forward) steps humanity could take to reduce pressure on the soil and on biodiversity would be to cut down dramatically on eating red meat.”
In the fourth path, Water, Davey shows how reducing greenhouse gases, protecting our forests and replenishing our soils are all directly related to ensuring that “the world’s precious and finite freshwater supplies are more likely to withstand the pressures of the centuries to come.” It is clear that human-caused climate change is having a profound affect on the continued availability of clean, fresh water. How long can we live without it? Not long.
The city of Cape Town, South Africa last year became “the first major city in the world to potentially run out of water,” due in large part to an extreme drought “linked to broader changes in the atmospheric and oceanic circulations.”
According to a recent report, “About 100 million people across India are on the front lines of a nationwide water crisis. A total of 21 major cities are poised to run out of groundwater next year.”
Meanwhile, in my neighborhood, as in neighborhoods across the U.S., rivers of water gush into the gutters every single day and night from poorly managed sprinklers in pursuit of ever-greener lawns.
According to the EPA, “Outdoor water use accounts for more than 30 percent of total household water use, on average, but can be as much as 60 percent of total household water use in arid regions. If the average sized lawn in the United States is watered for 20 minutes every day for 7 days, it’s like running the shower constantly for 4 days or taking more than 800 showers. That’s equivalent to the amount of water needed for the average family to take 1 year’s worth of showers.
“As much as 50 percent of the water we use outdoors is lost due to wind, evaporation, and runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods and systems. A household with an automatic landscape irrigation system that isn’t properly maintained and operated can waste up to 25,000 gallons of water annually.”
Nearly a billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water and over two billion lack access to basic sanitation. Davey writes, “Ultimately, governments, companies, communities and individuals must take seriously their role as custodians of available fresh water, allocating and enforcing fair shares among different users. There also needs to be a heightened sense of responsibility for proper, long-term custodianship at the level of entire river basins.”
“Our fourth way to save the world,” he writes, “is to manage freshwater as if our lives depend on it, which they categorically do.”
Path five is Biodiversity, a critically vital challenge as we struggle to cope with the Sixth Great (or Anthropocene) Extinction. There have been five previous extinction events in our Earth’s long history but this one is the first that is entirely human-caused. The current extinction rate is 1,000 times higher than before we arrived. Our species is considered to be a “global superpredator,” the greatest killer the Earth has known since an asteroid slammed into the planet 66 million years ago. One out of eight species on Earth – one million plants and animals – are now threatened with extinction, thanks to us.
Davey writes, “The year 2020 is critical for biodiversity, as world leaders will meet in China to assess global progress towards meeting its biodiversity goals.” It is a precious opportunity, Davey tells us, “for societies to adopt a long-term goal for nature, just as we did for climate. Biodiversity must not be the forgotten environmental issue of our time; instead it must be at the forefront of the global effort from here on.”
The final five paths in Davey’s book are: Ocean, Cities, Waste, People and Action. I urge everyone to read this book and join with others in our community to take action to literally save the world for all the awesome Oli’s, our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren.
Davey finishes his treatise on a hopeful note: “There are many encouraging signs that we are on the cusp of the most astonishing transition towards a more sustainable and harmonious way of living within the natural environment. The future rests in our hands, and we must do all that we can. Given half a chance, the planet and the natural world have a remarkable capacity to recover. If we could go to scale on the approaches I have described in this book, we would make the most remarkable difference. And so we must.”
And so we must. My interview with Edward Davey, author of Given Half a Chance: Ten Ways to Save the World will be broadcast on Tuesday, September 3 at 4:00 p.m. PDT on my Wake-Up Call radio show on KKRN, 88.5 FM in Northern California or worldwide on kkrn.org. After September 3, you can find this show along with previous programs in the KKRN archives.