The Path to a Greener World
Traveling is arguably the best way to learn about a place's culture, history, past and current struggles. While books are obviously a great learning tool, they are "only" the opening door to a world of discoveries. With travel - and by traveling I do not mean luxurious experiences in expensive resorts - we have the opportunity to truly immerse ourselves in another culture, experiencing it with all our senses, feelings and emotions.
Over the past decade I have been fortunate to travel all over the world as a travel and documentary photographer. From South Africa to Portugal, from Cambodia to the Philippines, from India to China, and literally from Colombia to Peru on a bicycle, my work has taken me to a lot of wonderful places around this beautiful planet we are lucky to call home.
Traveling, however, can do more than "just" exposing ourselves to fascinating cultures and breathtaking sceneries. It can also teach us and give us first-hand access to social, humanitarian, political, economic and environmental issues being faced by communities all over the globe.
As an environmentalist with background in Environmental Law and a Master's degree in Human Ecology, I have been researching the environmental crisis for over twelve years. On personal projects or while on assignments for magazines, development agencies and nonprofits, I have documented a variety of issues such as climate change, corruption, human rights violations and sex trafficking.
No matter where in the world we are, every problem is rather complex and therefore needs to be tackled with an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach that recognizes that all systems - natural, cultural, social, political and economic - are inherently intertwined.
In other words, we cannot and will never solve the environmental crisis if we don't embrace the holistic principle and understand that environmental problems are also cultural, social, political and economic problems. As a result, when proposing solutions to the (many) challenges we are currently facing, it is extremely important to take into consideration all their aspects, including the local geographic features, the cultural perception - and use - of that specific environment, and the social and economic systems that have been built in the area.
It is also vital to consider social justice as one of the fundamental principles of the environmental agenda. There is no environmental justice without social justice. According to the United Nations:
"...multidimensional inequalities lead to increased exposure and vulnerability of the disadvantaged groups to climate hazards. As a result, the disadvantaged groups suffer disproportionate loss of income and assets (physical, financial, human and social) when these hazards actually hit them. Consequently, inequality worsens, and the cycle perpetuates with greater force".
Climate Change not only creates new forms of inequalities; it also exacerbates the already existing ones, paving the way to an even more unequal world, both within and among countries.
Unless we also address the increasing problem of inequality, we will not be able to develop truly sustainable, effective and long-term solutions and alternatives to the many and diverse challenges brought by a warming planet.
During my travels I have been able to witness and document a variety of issues affecting communities across the world. One of the most pressing ones may very well be the plastic crisis.
According to the World Economic Forum, on the current track, oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050.
OCEANS WILL HAVE MORE PLASTIC THAN FISH BY 2050.
Most plastic packaging is shockingly used only once. Recent reports indicate that 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth between $80 to $120 billion annually, is lost to the economy - no to mention the impact its production and disposal have on the environment.
While recently in Brazil on assignment for an international nonprofit located in the surfing town of Itacaré, in the state of Bahia, I had the chance to visit the local dumpsite - where trash is disposed without any sort of treatment.
Covering an area of approximately 200,000 square meters, Itacaré's dump site occupies a vast portion of the Atlantic Rainforest that still surrounds the city, threatening an already fragile ecosystem and the livelihoods of the communities who rely on the nearby Jeribucaçu river.
According to the World Bank:
“[…] Poorly managed waste is contaminating the world’s oceans, clogging drains and causing flooding, transmitting diseases, increasing respiratory problems from burning, harming animals that consume waste unknowingly, and affecting economic development, such as through tourism”.
Living amongst waste - and dogs, cats and hundreds of pigs -, families try to make a living by picking up plastic and selling it by kilos to recycling companies in the region. "What they pay is really nothing, but we've got no other choice so we must keep working.", a young man told me.
Scrubbing his head while looking at the piles of plastic in front of him, the man in charge of the dumpsite seemed to know not what to do with so much trash and plastic. "How do you think we could/we should solve this?", I asked him. "Well, first off we should drastically reduce both production and consumption of plastic.", he answered me in a way that indicated he didn't believe that would happen anytime soon.
In fact, a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021. More than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from about 300 billion a decade ago. If placed end to end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun.
A MILLION PLASTIC BOTTLES ARE BOUGHT AROUND THE WORLD EVERY MINUTE.
According to the WWF, one in two sea turtles have ingested plastic; 90% of the world's seabirds have plastic fragments in their stomachs; and around 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year.
Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. The vast majority of plastic bottles produced end up in landfill or in the ocean. Only 9% of the plastic ever created has been recycled.
ONLY 9% OF THE PLASTIC EVER CREATED HAS BEEN RECYCLED.
The magnitude of the plastic crisis is something that just now we are beginning to fully comprehend. Omnipresent, more toxic than previously thought and ever increasing, plastic pollution is such a global and complex phenomenon that, just as with global warming, it can leave us paralyzed, without knowing what to do and where to start.
It is crucial, however, that we all begin - collectively and collaboratively - to create innovative answers that consider the problem in all its complexity, involving its environmental, cultural, social and economic aspects both within and among countries.
Solutions can and must go from stricter regulations, economic incentives, comprehensive environmental policies, education campaigns and also pioneering business initiatives such as PathWater.
I am not sure yet where my work will take me next, but I am positive I would very much prefer to live in a world that has not been destroyed by plastic. Oceans filled with abundant and colorful fish, not empty bottles. Mountains filled with flowers and wildlife, not of plastic bags.
We have been blessed with a wonderful planet. Our home. The only one. It's about time we take better care of it.