If you are paying attention to the mainstream news, or even many of the top environmental sites out there, the future for life on earth seems pretty gloomy at this moment. But just as the tide goes out while the ocean changes direction, some incredibly positive things are happening around the globe right now that indicate we are actually entering a new, more sustainable age. Here are five of my top picks that indicate that a brighter future is not just on its way—it’s already here:
1. Colombia Grants Human Rights to the Atrato River
Following New Zealand and India, who just granted human rights to the Whanganui and Ganges Rivers respectively last March, Colombia is now the first country in the Western Hemisphere to elevate the status of one of its most important waterways to that of a living being.
This global rise of the recognition of Biocultural Rights, which attempts to integrate indigenous worldviews into the current legal landscape and environmental movement, is a game-changer in terms of what’s considered business as usual. Of course, it’s also beyond obvious that living systems we all depend on should be recognized as living beings that need not just to be protected but also honored—the fact that Western court systems are just now waking up to this speaks volumes about our horrific history.
Colombia’s Atrato River runs through the country’s lush rainforest-carpeted Pacific Coast region, and is severely damaged due to mining and deforestation along its banks. The case was fought and won by Tierra Digna, a non-profit made up of local Afro-Colombian and indigenous activists and is a strong sign that the Biocultural Rights movement will continue to grow around the globe. Let’s hope the mighty Amazon is next.
2. County by County, California Is Banning GMO Crops
Just as the Grinch was getting elected into the oval office, Sonoma County became the sixth county in California to ban growing Genetically Modified foods within its limits. While this might seem like small potatoes to some, the Golden State is actually by far the largest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables in the nation and Sonoma is not only a key producer of California’s famous wines but also a major agricultural area for staples like onions, beets and carrots.
Other green-leaning rebel counties like Humboldt, Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Trinity and Marin have already banned GMO crops for their questionable effects on health and the environment and their central role in the global corporate monopoly game. This not only makes me proud to be a California native but also shows that local communities can take control and claim sovereign rights over their own land no matter what kind of puppet is in charge in the White House. Let the dominos keeping falling.
3. Nigerian Superhighway Blocked from Cutting Through National Park
The Ekuri Initiative, a local indigenous organization that wants to steward the Cross River National Park—a world biodiversity hotspot—for future generations spearheaded a successful effort to redirect Nigeria’s proposed six-lane superhighway around instead of through the massive rainforest preserve. Home to endangered species like the forest elephant and the Cross River Gorilla, the Park would be “be gone in no time” if the highway was allowed to cut through it according to Odey Oyama, executive director of the Rainforest Resource and Development Centre, a Cross River-based NGO, in a 2015 interview with environmental news site Mongabay.
This is an especially important development as some fake news environmental websites are still pretending that modernization and industrialization are actually going to solve the environmental crisis. The fact that even in Africa, poor people are not buying the hype anymore—the government was promising jobs—and are collectively blocking massive and harmful infrastructure projects is a sign that the capitalist Kool Aid is wearing off and that indigenous and traditional communities are taking back control of their territories. Someday we will all be thanking them.
4. The Return of the Mega Fauna
From wild bison, Europe’s largest living land animal, being reintroduced into the wild after a 100-year absence in the Netherlands to a pack of wolves being spotted in Northern California after an absence of just about as long, the Western world has been getting a bit wilder in the last year or so despite all the man-made shenanigans going on.
This “rewilding” of our environment is restoring ecosystems to a much healthier state than simple preservation techniques that seek to only conserve nature in a pristine state. Remember that many Plains Indians of North America had reciprocal relationships with large mammals like the Buffalo where humans actively encouraged population growth of these species as a mutually beneficial strategy. Sadly, the buffalo were slaughtered for no other reason than to destroy the native way of life and create poverty where none existed before.
Top-of-the-food-chain predators, like wolves, are also important for ecosystems as they keep other species from overproducing—think too many deer eating whole shrub lands to the ground. The reintroduction of key mega-fauna into highly populated areas of the Western world is a sign of things to come in terms of developing advanced and sustainable relationships with nature and ourselves. But we may have to learn to share again first.
5. Mama Marijuana is Straight Up Taking Over
The biggest green news story is, of course, the now unstoppable wave of Marijuana legalization that is sweeping not just the U.S. but also the world, despite the fact that Big Pharma, alcohol companies and the private prison industry spent millions trying to stop it. If Colorado is a barometer of things to come in newly legal states, which includes pretty much the entire west coast at this point, these companies do in deed have a lot to fear.
In the Centennial State alone, for example, the average doctor prescribes around 2,000 fewer painkiller prescriptions per year, which is not just putting big dents in corporate profits but also turning around America’s serious opioid addiction problem. Just imagine what’s going to happen now in much more populous (and OxyContin-obsessed) states like California.
Some fear that Big Pharma is now going to try to get in on the medical marijuana game, and its true that Bayer/Monsanto is pushing cannabis-based products like Sativex as part of their misguided plot to completely take over the world. But marijuana is nicknamed “weed” for a reason: it can be grown by anyone anywhere, meaning this miracle plant is also 100 percent resistant to the game known as monopoly. And just wait until we legalize hemp.
Photo by Kevin Gill, CC BY 2.0
Ocean Malandra writes the EarthRx environmental column for Paste Magazine as well as a medical marijuana column for MassRoots. He is currently researching lost hangover cures in the Amazon rainforest.