1st: There’s a roo in the room
Unless you’ve spent the past months in a cave, you’ve probably heard of the wildfires that have ravaged parts of Australia. Here’s how ‘Free from harm’ described the situation with regards to the non-human victims and the human response to it:
“As Australia’s unprecedented bushfires continue to rage, heartbreaking images of scorched koalas and charred kangaroos have devastated viewers around the globe. An estimated 1 billion or more animals have died in the fires, but it’s the pitiful photos of flame-chewed koalas being carried from the blaze like bewildered, beat-up babies that have perhaps most captured our collective sympathy and despair; along with images of beleaguered kangaroos, their normally genial silhouettes frozen in panic against a backdrop of roaring orange.”
1 billion. That number is so high that it’s hard or impossible to grasp. And here comes the cruel twist to this story, the ‘roo in the room’: ‘Free from Harm’ continues by writing that
“the World Wildlife Fund reports an estimated 45 million animals are killed each year in the Australian state of Queensland alone just from bulldozing of their habitat, a crisis they note is ‘driven primarily by the livestock industry. ‘In just 4 years, between 2012 and 2016, bulldozing of trees killed at least 5,183 koalas in the state… Queensland had the largest koala population on the continent in 1990, with an estimated 295,000; but in just 20 years that number decreased by more than 40%, while on the Koala Coast, 80% of these animals have been lost. Thousands of koalas continue to be killed each year as more forests are cleared for cattle grazing in response to consumer demand for beef. But it’s not just Queensland. In Australia as a whole, “beef cattle production is the major driver of tree-clearing.”
Now, the real shocker comes when we assume that not only the suffering of cute furry animals like Koalas matters but also include other sentient animals in our sphere of compassion, such as livestock animals.
- The livestock industry kills – with few exceptions – sentient animals (animals with the ability to feel, perceive and experience subjectively, for example, pleasure and pain) while a lot of the animals burnt in the wildfires don’t have that capacity
- Most livestock animals are born into an existence which denies them all or most natural behaviour, while the animals in Australia, for the most part, lived a free and wildlife before they were killed in the fires (obviously they’re subject to habitat loss etc. as well)
- That number – 1bn lives in 5 days – does not include marine life! If you added that, the number of days would drop significantly.
I don’t have the answer to that, but you can be assured that at Oceaneers we’re doing our best to establish that connection!
Please do help us if you can, by raising awareness in your circles!
A new generation of backpackers
On a more optimistic note, it was a great pleasure to experience the backpackers roaming Western Australia for work. Most of them are in their early twenties, and often on a work holiday visa. They don’t have a penny to their name and try to find work on farms (wineries, avocado farms, etc.). At the hostel I spent the last 10 days in (the wonderful YHA in Margaret River), 95% of guests fell into that category.
A tour through the kitchen and a look into the individual compartments revealed that the majority of them eat very often plant-based and they’re extremely aware of the impact their food choices have on the planet. I hope that they’re representative of this generation as a whole – the rise of plant-based products definitely seems to point in that direction.
If you ever stop in the YHA backpackers in Margs, you will encounter Iggy (our marine iguana) on sticker form in a few places.
Not all locals are created equal
I had one of my worst and of my best experiences of the trip at the hands of locals. Let’s start with the bad one: Margaret River main break was firing, with set-waves well double-overhead. Lots of locals were in the water with their guns. Because I only had my fish with me (and my surfing skills are still work-in-progress), I stayed about 50m from the main take-off point (and crowd), on the shoulder, and went for the crumbs (they were still big enough for me). My friend who doesn’t surf captured the entire scene with a drone and followed me when I caught a wave. The next thing I know is one of the locals is paddling up to me after riding an absolute bomb, boiling from anger. For the next 3 minutes, he threw an estimated 30 ‘fuck-yous’ and a similar number of threats (“we’re going to fuck you up”) at me. I tried to do my best to smooth things over, but without much success. Soon afterwards, another surfer also shouted at me, and that was enough for me.
While I could actually empathize with their attitude towards drones (I’m not a big fan either), I was completely gobsmacked that somebody who had just ridden a wave that would catapult me straight into heaven could feel so much boiling hot anger…
Luckily, this wasn’t my last exchange with locals: The next one was a kiteboarder who was a local environmental activist fighting for the protection of the Margaret River. He ended up inviting me to his self-built home near the river and took me on a river cruise by Kayak.
That encounter almost made me forget the one with the surfer.
Sometimes I feel that surfing – as beautiful as the sport is – tends to bring out the worst in human beings because most of the time there’s a scarcity of good waves and too many surfers who want in. And that puts us into a scarcity mindset where it’s either you or me. By contrast, kiteboarding allows more for an abundance-mindset, as there’s so much more space and room for sharing.
Coastline from heaven
A few words about the world wonder that is WA’s coastline – not only, but especially if you’re an Oceaneer. The Margaret River area is mind-blowing – there are well over 70 surf spots along a relatively short coastline, and even in the off-season (summer), you’ll find a relatively uncrowded wave somewhere if you put some effort into the search. If you’re lucky enough to be surfing and kiteboarding, you’ll be even more enthusiastic about this part of the world. The days usually start with a slight offshore wind which makes for good surfing, and then increases in strength and turns onshore towards the afternoon, which means you can pump up your kites and head back into the big blue.
The bliss of rain
From WA I flew to Byron Bay to meet up with 2 old friends. After 3 days of sunshine, the rain started – and didn’t end until… well, as far as I know, it’s still raining there. What an experience to witness the collective relief when it became clear that this rain would mark the end of the wildfires and the draught.
The only other time I experienced this was in Cape Town, in May and June 2018. After 3 years of the worst drought in its history, the rain came back. When the raindrops started falling again, Cape Townians in restaurants would cheer and celebrate, and honk their horns on the streets.
Luckily the drought in Cape Town and the wildfires in Australia are a thing of the past now – but it does seem like we’ll see a lot more of these events due to climate change.
What’s mindblowing to me is that by collectively going Vegan, we wouldn’t just save billions of animals from suffering and death, but also pretty much solve the climate crisis!
As with so many sensitive issues the world over, our food choices and the planet’s well-being included, an approach with awareness and kindness at its heart probably makes softer but longer-lasting impressions for change in the long run.
Oceaneers is a community-driven initiative created by two ocean lovers who wanted to inspire others to see that the biggest positive impact they could make to ocean sustainability was to change their food choices.
© 2018 Oceaneers.For.Life