A Road Trip to Remember

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Harry Johansing's road trip took him into beautiful forests, far older than any living human. Photo: Harry Johansing

Harry Johansing’s road trip took him into beautiful forests, far older than any living human. Photo: Harry Johansing

Harry Johansing is one of my personal heroes. As the founder of EcoPaper, Harry is easily identified as an environmentalist and a passionate protector of trees. But he’s also a wise businessman, who knows that the way to build a sustainable business is ultimately to live in a sustainable society on a sustainable planet. Harry wrote the following letter to his friends and supporters of EcoPaper. I asked his permission to reprint it here, as it bears a message too few of us are aware of. I invite you to read and ponder Harry’s message. ~Julia Wasson, Publisher

Recently, I took a road trip up to Oregon with my family to enjoy the outdoors and visit some of the oldest and biggest trees of the western coast. I enjoyed visiting with my family and sharing knowledge about the trees, such as the type of tree, its age, and the breathtaking feelings that come to me when I am amongst these giant ancient forests. Many of these trees are over a thousand years old and have managed to survive thoughtless deforestation!

Along with all of the spectacular rivers, mountains, wildlife, and scenery, I saw a few telltale signs of man’s greed impacting our Earth.

A freighter sits in a US port, loading lumber to haul to China. Photo: Harry Johansing

A freighter sits in a US port, loading lumber to haul to China. Photo: Harry Johansing

One thing I noticed on my recent trip was a decreased number of lumber mills from similar trips that started in 1990. We are led to believe that lumber mills are closing down due to environmental concerns. If that were true, then we could logically assume that we are not continuing the destruction of forests in our country and are managing our natural resources better. However, this is not the case!

There’s another reason lumber mills are closing, but it’s probably not what you think. What I saw — and have photographed — is large ocean freighters being loaded with our lumber and shipped off to China. There, the raw lumber is manufactured into goods, then shipped back to us. The most disturbing part is that we have not only increased logging, we have, at the same time, decreased the manufacturing of wood products here in the USA. This means fewer jobs domestically and more waste, increased carbons released in the atmosphere, and natural resources being used inefficiently.

I understand industry, although I wish that it were more responsible and practiced more sustainable methods. If I could have it my way, we would not cut trees at all, but I have to be realistic about using wood. If we are going to cut trees, the wood should be used for beautiful and comfortable furniture and cozy homes. There is no logical reason why paper should come from trees for any use at all.

Logging has benefits in warm homes and fine furniture, but it leaves huge scars. Photo: Harry Johansing

Logging has benefits in warm homes and fine furniture, but it leaves huge scars. Photo: Harry Johansing

Upon my return home, I was channel surfing and saw a commercial for a show called “American Loggers” and another called “Ax Men.” The entire premise of the reality shows is to follow loggers around while they cut and transport our forests to ports where the clear-cut trees are then shipped out to China and back to us. This part, you do not see in the TV series.

It’s no surprise that a good amount of what’s on television is garbage trying to sell something truly unsustainable, polluting our minds with subliminal messages about inconsequential consumerism. Just as violence has been integrated into entertainment and has desensitized viewers, these shows are creating a detachment from our emotions and natural connections to our Earth.

The shows accomplish this by putting a personality behind a chainsaw. Instead, why not put a personality behind the unique trees, which should be recognized as heroes? My point is that we should be re-enforcing positive ideas and beliefs about taking care of our planet, not about destroying it to make profit.

Harry Johansing sits in the hollow of a massive tree, bearing a sign that says, "Will Work for Sustainability." Photo: Courtesy Harry Johansing

Harry Johansing sits in the hollow of a massive tree, bearing a sign that says, “Will Work for Sustainability.” Photo: Courtesy Harry Johansing

Yes, people have to work to survive, but there are jobs and careers that don’t involve harming Earth’s natural resources. There are even jobs that help the environment.

I ask you to honestly think about the message that these types of shows are sending to not only our youth but also to the rest of the world. In some places, trees are sacred and are celebrated as unique living beings that only enhance human interaction with the natural world.

As I finished this letter, I thought of a quote, which is my favorite poster in my office. It reads:

When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, we will realize that money cannot be eaten.
— Saying of the Cree Indians

Harry Johansing

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living

Ecopreneur Harry Johansing is the founder and CEO of EcoPaper, Inc./ a.k.a. Costa Rica Natural Paper Co. Harry’s passion for trees and the environment led him to develop a way to use discarded banana stalks and other agricultural waste to make paper. Find out more at www.ecopaper.com Related Posts Ecopreneur Makes Paper in Paradise My 5: Harry Johansing, Costa Rica Natural and EcoPaper

Search the Web and Plant a Tree with Swagbucks.com

Seed the Future site in Zambia. Photo courtesy: Seed the Future

Seed the Future site in Zambia. Photo courtesy: Seed the Future

How often do you use Google to search on line? If you’re a regular Web user, you might go there several times a day — maybe even a dozen or more. It’s convenient. It’s easy. But it’s an opportunity missed.

Swagbucks.com is a rewards-based search destination that provides users with the very same results you can get from Google and Ask. Give it a try. Go ahead, right now, if you like. Click on this link to Swagbucks.com and enter a search word or term, such as “Blue Planet Green Living.” (But don’t sign up till you read this full article; there’s a special offer below.) Then come back here to find out why you’ll want to use Swagbucks.com as your everyday search engine.

Did you try it? If so, I’ll bet you found Swagbucks.com is easy to use and has a friendly interface. That’s fine. But the same can be said of old, familiar Google. Why, then, should you use Swagbucks.com? You might want to do it because you can score some nifty swag (hence the name) — like movie posters, t-shirts, and key chains — with the virtual dollars (“Swag Bucks”) you earn on the site. But that’s hardly worth mentioning on an environmental website. After all, we’re about reducing our carbon footprints, not increasing them.

The reason you, an environmentalist (you are, aren’t you?), may want to use Swagbucks.com has to do with trees.

Yeah, trees. Instead of buying all that enticing stuff, such as (most of which you really don’t need, after all), you can use your Swag Bucks to plant trees in deforested areas around the globe. For only 15 Swag Bucks (users get 3 just for signing up — but you can get 5 for linking from this article), you can “purchase” a tree that will be planted in your name through Swagbucks.com’s nonprofit partnership with the Seed the Future program.

Seed the Future’s tree-planting projects assist nations that have been deforested by logging. Deforestation takes a huge toll on local ecosystems and further endangers our planet by reducing a critical means by which to control greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

Trees absorb about 2,400 pounds of CO2 in their lifetimes. We produce CO2 just by living, breathing, and pretty much everything we do, even surfing the Web. Yet, each year, people cut down 6 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) trees around the world. I’m no mathematician, but my trusty calculator tells me that’s about 14,400 billion pounds of present and future CO2 that’s not being absorbed from the missing trees. Compound that with another 6 billion trees cut down, year after year after year. Now that’s scary.

Seed the Future site in Ethiopia. Photo courtesy: Seed the Future

Seed the Future site in Ethiopia. Photo courtesy: Seed the Future

So it just makes sense to try to counteract some of the carbon we produce by planting trees. If each of the nearly seven billion people on this planet would plant a tree each year, we could replace all the trees we’re losing. But that won’t happen; some of us still think global warming is a fairytale written by Al Gore, and others are just struggling to survive each day. So those of us who can do more, must do more. With Swagbucks.com and Seed the Future, all we have to do to plant some trees is to change our search engine. And it doesn’t cost a thing.

“All Seed The Future projects support a 501.c.3 nonprofit organization that supports agro-forestry resource centers around the globe. The resource centers are helping rural people in developing countries improve their livelihoods through the introduction of environmentally sustainable land management projects focused on beneficial tree planting,” according to Seed the Future.

Swagbucks’ Chief Operating Officer, Scott Dudelson, says, “Seed the Future is an exciting opportunity for Swagbucks.com users to make a real difference in reforestation projects around the world. We wanted to offer a green incentive in addition to our current rewards to encourage people to make an impact.  Hopefully, as more people learn about the program, Seed the Future will see more tree donations through our partnership.”

Seed the Future tree nursery in Honduras. Photo courtesy: Seed the Future

Seed the Future tree nursery in Honduras. Photo courtesy: Seed the Future

That’s all good. And it’s an easy change to make: Just register on Swagbucks.com (in a minute; you’re almost there), then bookmark the site, and use it whenever you want to search on the Web. Save your free Swag Bucks e-currency, then use it to purchase trees for planting through Seed the Future. You won’t get the actual tree; Seed the Future will take care of that for you, and plant it in your name. But you can choose which of the dozen or so countries you’d like your tree to be planted in.

It’s easy. It’s noble (you’re saving the planet, not wasting resources). It’s a practical solution to a pressing problem. And it helps us re-create a sustainable world. At least that’s the goal. We have a long way to go. It’s going to take a lot of trees to make much progress, but we must start now.

Oh. It’s also fun. Swagbucks has made a game of using their search engine by hiding Swag Codes in various places on the Web, including Facebook, Twitter, and their own blog site. Check out their tips page to find out more. And when you find a Swag Code, claim it right away. Each code is only available for a limited time and a limited number of users. (I hesitated in claiming one on my first search, and it disappeared.)

Swagbucks.com Sign-Up Incentive

Drum roll, please… Dudelson is offering an incentive exclusively for Blue Planet Green Living readers. You’ll get five free Swagbucks credits (two more than you would get by signing up on your own) for all new signups. Simply enter the code SEEDTHEFUTURE as your Swag Code when you register through this link. But hurry! There’s no telling how long it will last.

Please let us know when you “plant” your first Swag Bucks tree. I’m looking forward to “planting” mine.

Julia Wasson
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Notes from Nepal: Cautions about Expanding Ecotourism

Ghale Gaun, Nepal

Ghale Gaun is a picturesque village in Annapurna Conservation Area, threatened by tourism. Photo: Jagdish Poudel

Blue Planet Green Living is grateful to Jagdish Poudel, a contributing writer from Nepal, whose commitment and efforts on behalf of the environment are inspirational. Here, Poudel shares his observations of a small village which is engaged in the same struggle as are found in many other developing countries: economics and development vs. sustainability and preservation of the natural world.

His recommendations are prudent and will, hopefully, result in economic progress that respects the concerns of biodiversity and sustainability in the village. This small village mirrors for us the challenges we face globally, in every country. As Jared Diamond warns in Collapse: Why Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, societies engage in deforestation at their peril. — Miriam Kashia, International Editor

Ghale Gaun is an inviting village of about 200-300 people. The village sits 2,075 meters above sea level in the remote mountains of Nepal inside the Annapurna Conservation Area. It is becoming an increasingly popular ecotourism and village-tourism destination, attracting many national and international visitors. Previously, the major source of income of the village people was from international sources, as most of the young boys were involved in the armies of the United Kingdom and India. Because it is a very poor village, the prospect of creating a new income source is highly appealing to the residents.

Six months ago, I read an article about the village. Because I would be traveling to Annapurna Conservation Area to give a presentation to the local people about climate change, I decided to go to Ghale Gaun to see the village for myself. Ghale Gaun is the perfect spot to view the range of the Annapurna Himal [mountain] and Lamjung Himal, both of which can be seen beautifully early in the morning. Because of its spectacular landscape and the hospitality of the local people, the Conservation Area Management Committee and the local residents decided to actively encourage tourism in Ghale Gaun.

In the planning process, the team decided to allow only two guests in each house in the village, which contains around 50-60 households. The major source of energy in the village is wood for fuel, which is obtained from the nearby forest areas. So far, there have been no obvious signs of major loss of forest cover, since the supply of fuel wood meets the current demand. But that threatens to change.

Following the decisions of some travel agencies and local residents, the tourism committee is now planning to attract at least 50 tourist guests per day in the village. This raises a serious concern about the use of fuel wood, and will certainly increase the demand for forest products at the village. A radical increase in wood consumption can be dangerous for creating deforestation, which directly impacts the habitat destruction of wildlife.

Jagdish Poudel (r) and friend overlook the village of Ghale Gaun.

Jagdish Poudel (r) and friend on an overlook above Ghale Gaun.

There is no doubt that village tourism is an impressive way to enhance the economic development of the local people. The problem arises because the rural village people do not have electricity, and their major source of energy is fuel wood. Increased tourism may well accelerate the loss of biodiversity as the consumption of wood increases.

Concerned groups and individuals in Ghale Gaun must take a close look at the supply and demand of the fuel wood consumption that leads to harmful impacts on biodiversity conservation. Before starting to increase the number of tourists, we must do research on the balance of supply and demand of natural resources in the area. In order to improve the economic status of rural people, we should not degrade the forest resource and wildlife habitat, as that is not sustainable development.

We must evaluate the level of sustainable use of natural resources, even if we have to reduce the number of tourist guests, because sustainable development cannot be achieved only by bringing money into the community. Sustainable development also needs to protect natural resources and biodiversity.

Jagdish Poudel

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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Harming Environment Leads to Societal Collapse

Notes from Nepal: Teaching Climate Change in the Himalayas

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Harming Environment Leads to Societal Collapse

Jared Diamond, Ph.D., lectures on the causes of societal collapse at Coe College. Photo: Joe Hennager

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond addressed a crowd of about a thousand at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on February 3. Dr. Diamond, a professor of history at UCLA, held us in rapt attention while he talked about the subject of his 2005 book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. “That doesn’t seem like the most cheerful subject to write about,” he wryly pointed out, causing a fair amount of laughter among the crowd.

“The real question,” Diamond said, “is, why do some societies collapse, having failed to solve problems that other societies succeeded in solving?” He outlined five factors that negatively impacted the survival of some of the societies he had studied for his book: the Anasazi, the Easter Islanders, the Pitcairn Islanders, the Maya, the Vikings who had once lived in Greenland, and the Haitians of today. These five factors include:

  1. climate change (caused solely by natural forces, until now)
  2. conflict with neighbors
  3. dependence on trade partners
  4. environmental problems
  5. the society’s response to those problems

“Today we’re struggling with all the same problems of forest, water, fish, topsoil, climate change,” he said. Even in Montana, “the most beautiful, pristine, underpopulated, least-stretched state of the lower 48… if you scratch the surface, you find … all the environmental problems with which the rest of the world is struggling.” These include toxic waste, climate change (“as a result of which Glacier National Park will be Glacier-less National Park by 2020″), soil erosion, air quality, and population shift.


Not all factors equally affected each society Diamond studied, but every single society that collapsed experienced environmental degradation and destruction. For me, two examples stood out because of the role of deforestation. The first was the island of Hispaniola, which Diamond called “a natural experiment in history.” On one side of the island is the Dominican Republic, a lush environment and a stable, if not wealthy, economy. On the other side of the border, over the wall, is Haiti, a nation that has been deforested to the point of barrenness. The citizens are desperately poor and their side of the island is overpopulated. While deforestation alone was not the cause of Haiti’s economic and social problems, it was a deciding factor.

Another society whose fate was determined largely by deforestation was the “statue-building society” that once inhabited Easter Island. This remote island, some 2,300 miles west of Chile, in the south Pacific Ocean, is the home of “gigantic stone statues, up to 30 feet tall and weighing up to 9 tons, that were somehow transported up to 12 miles, hitched into a vertical position, and erected by people without draft animals….”  According to Diamond, the first European explorer, who arrived on the island in 1722, described Easter Island as “the most barren island in the Pacific.”

When Easter Island was first settled by Polynesians, “roughly 1,000 years ago, the island was not the treeless wasteland that we see today, but it was covered with a lush, sub-tropical forest of dozens of species of trees, including the world’s biggest palm tree. The settlers of Easter Island proceeded to chop down trees for the same reason that we and all other people chop down trees: They chopped them for fuel for cooking. Chopped them for firewood to warm themselves. Chopped them down for construction… Chopped them down to make levers to transport and erect the giant statues. They chopped them down to make dugout canoes with which to go out to sea and fish for … tunas and dolphins….

Massive statues on Easter Island left by a collapsed society

Massive statues on Easter Island left behind after societal collapse

“Roughly around 1680, they chopped down the last tree on the island… Without trees, the landscape of Easter Island was exposed to wind and water erosion. Without trees, they couldn’t build canoes to obtain their main protein source from tuna and dolphin. And with a large population and shrinking resources, Easter Island society collapsed in an epidemic of civil war.

“Rival clans on Easter Island fought each other for pieces of this shrinking resource pie. Victorious clans would tear down and wreck the statues of rival clans. And in the absence of what had been the largest source of protein — tuna and dolphins — people turned to a protein [from] the only big animal left on the island… Easter Island society collapsed in an epidemic of cannibalism.”

Certainly deforestation wasn’t the only problem for Easter Island, but it was a pivotal factor in the society’s collapse, according to Diamond. Deforestation also plagues Haiti, leaving the residents without wood to burn for cooking their food or for warmth.

Environment vs. Economy

After describing the societies and the reasons for their collapse, Diamond took the opportunity to help his audience understand the lessons that we can draw from the collapse of other societies. His goal in doing so was not to lead us to despair, but to “guide us in becoming a success story rather than one of the failures. The most obvious lesson,” he said, “is to take environmental problems seriously. Environmental problems did destroy some of the most advanced societies of the past. They could well destroy us today. “

He warned against the objection that “we have to balance the environment against the economy.’ Just listen to that phrase, ‘Balance the environment against the economy.’ The tacit assumption is that the environmental measures impose costs that detract from the economy, and that one can afford the luxury of environmental degradation. … If you don’t deal with [environmental problems] early on, when they’re soluble, they’ll become insoluble, or prohibitively expensive to deal with later on.”

As an example, he described the refusal of local, state, and federal agencies to spend $200 million to repair the levees in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, the cost of repairs has been “several hundred billion dollars, not to mention a couple thousand dead Americans, all because we had ‘balanced the environment against the economy.’ ”

Diamond further warned, “[W]hen a collapse comes, it happens very quickly,” pointing not only to the long-ago societies that failed, but also to the sudden demise of the Soviet Union.

He also warned against the insulation of the wealthy and powerful from the problems of the masses. In his view, gated communities today are similar to the walls of the temples, behind which the powerful Mayans were shielded from the very problems that destroyed their nation and their power. “When the elite of a society insulate themselves from the consequences of their action, that is a recipe for disaster, because then the elite can make decisions that are good for themselves in the short run, but bad for the whole society, including themselves, in the long run.”

A Global Risk

The eminent historian explained that we can learn from the past, though we must acknowledge differences. “One obvious difference is, we have far more people in the world. And we have far more potent destructive technology than at any time in the past,” he said.

“When the Eastern Islanders, around 1580, were chopping down the last tree, that was roughly 10,000 islanders with stone tools, and it had taken them something like 600 years to deforest their island of 64 square miles. But today, we have 6.7 billion people with chain saws and nuclear power deforesting the whole world far more rapidly than the Easter Islanders with their stone tools deforested Easter Island. That combination of much larger population and much more potent destructive technology than at any time in the past makes our present situation far more dangerous….

“Today in a globalized world, when any society gets in trouble, it affects the rest of the world…. [I]t’s no longer possible to have local collapse. Instead, the risk we take is global collapse.”

But Jared Diamond did not end his talk with despair. He gave us a message of hope. “The situation is, I think, hopeful, because of another difference between the present and the past, which gives us a big advantage…. [W]e are the first society in world history with the opportunity to learn from societies remote from us both in space and in time.”

We have the technology to not only know about, but also to learn from, other societies’ tragic mistakes. We don’t have to go the way of the Easter Islanders or the Haitians or the Mayans. It’s our choice. Let’s choose wisely.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)