TED Talk: Wade Davis, Anthropologist

Anthropologist Wade Davis muses on the worldwide web of belief and ritual that makes us human. He shares breathtaking photos and stories of the Elder Brothers, a group of Sierra Nevada indians whose spiritual practice holds the world in balance.

A National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.”

Ed Begley, Jr.’s Opening Letter

My name is Ed Begley, Jr., and I have been striving to lead an energy efficient life since 1970, with a fair amount of success. One thing that I’ve learned in the 43 years since that first Earth Day in 1970 is that there are basically two lies that are regularly told about our environment.

1) There is no problem. It’s all a ruse by the green groups to take away our freedom and our property rights.
2) There is a HUGE problem. But it’s so far along that there’s nothing that can be done about it.

In the coming installments at THELIFESITE.com, I will demonstrate how BOTH of those theories are incorrect, and how we can make a difference and HAVE made a difference.

Theory number one is baffling to me, but I do have sympathy for those that embrace theory number two, the notion that things are too far gone. It’s looking pretty bad in the final quarter, with just a few minutes on the clock. There is certainly much bad news that we could focus on. And, I promise I will not shy away from our many daunting challenges. But I will attempt to get you motivated to make a positive change, and to start you off with things that anyone can do on a modest budget. And, I do this for good reason….it is exactly the way that I started back in the 70s, with the first Earth Day!

There was certainly good reason to act in 1970. We had killer smog in L.A., and many other cities, that had been searing our lungs for decades. We had toxic chemicals in our waterways that gotten so bad that the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland caught fire. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a bad sign when rivers catch fire.

But, let’s not forget the good news.

Even though there are 4 times the people and millions more people in Los Angeles since 1970, we only have a fraction of the air pollution that we did back then, and we did it in ways that did not harm the economy. Neither the Cuyahoga River, nor any river in America is at risk of catching fire, as the Clean Water Act has made great progress in cleaning up our many waterways. Acid rain is much less that it was decades ago, and the ozone hole has begun to shrink and repair itself, because of our decision to make a change.

So, let’s get started. There’s much to do, and very little time to waste.

The only question is…..are you ready?

Davos Sustainability Drive – Back to Plan B

In Davos The B Team Asks Business To Drive Sustainable Inclusive Prosperity

They lack neither influence, nor the ability to use it. But there is one asset that business leaders at the World Economic Forum this week could usefully exploit further: the power to advance the wider interests of people and planet. With UN climate change negotiations under way and as the UN designs its flagship Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, business needs to engage.

Indeed, broadening its agenda could help secure its status in the long term. Faced with the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, widespread degradation of the natural world and runaway climate change, business has played a dual role, as chief instigator and seemingly disinterested observer. But some businesses have already shown that, despite scepticism among some governments, they can be a driving force in development, helping to achieve social and environmental ends that governments and community groups are unable to deliver alone.

When the UN decided on its Millennium Development Goals, aiming to reduce poverty and improve quality of life in developing countries, businesses were not at the table. Today their contribution to some of the initiative’s successes is widely recognised.

As foreign direct investment in developing countries leapt from 25% to 60% of the global total, millions of new jobs were created, lifting many more out of poverty and helping finance new government programmes. With growing interests in these economies, some companies adopted policies specifically designed to support the UN goals and worked with governments and community organisations to deliver them, in particular in energy, healthcare, infrastructure and water.

Business not only offers its technical expertise, but capital and armies of skilled people to such initiatives, as well as capacity to scale through its global financial, logistical and communications networks. The expansion of mobile and internet networks into new territories, for example, could not have taken place so quickly without the private sector.

Today, there are nearly as many mobile phones as there are people, and 39% of the world’s population already uses the internet, dispersing knowledge and economic opportunity, driving collaboration and helping to respond to the needs of the 1.4 billion people still in extreme poverty.

Some of the results of the Millennium Development Goals have been dramatic. Clean drinking water is available to two billion more people than in 1990, for instance, and the mortality rate from tuberculosis and malaria has been substantially reduced. Today we are faced with a planetary emergency, and this means the successor initiative, the Sustainable Development Goals, must be more ambitious yet. Realising these will call into question the very purpose of business in the 21st century.

Traditional business practices have brought new services, jobs and wellbeing to many communities in recent decades, while sustainable business practices have often helped a company’s image and bottom line. But with increasing inequality, volatility and resource scarcity, there is a real chance the gains in prosperity of the past fifty years will be lost to future generations– with the greatest burden falling on the world’s poor, those least responsible for causing the problems. Business must go further, redefining its responsibilities and terms of success, embracing the need for equitable opportunities, fair returns to work and respect for the environment alongside profit and growth.

Our peers in Davos can start at home. A growing number of companies already pay a living wage, involve poor people as employees and are looking to serve low-income consumers. Others are delivering sustainable farming, aquaculture, forestry or ecotourism, and invest in new biochemical, low-carbon concrete and steel, and clean energy and transport technologies. Many have found new ways to work with governments and NGOs in pursuit of social and environmental ends, partnerships that can be boosted by new financial instruments, such as social impact bonds or investments in social businesses.

Both innovation and concerted action are needed to accelerate business practices that promote true transformation. Many managers may be unaware of the side effects of their decisions, or lack incentives to address them. Education in new management practices can help, as well as the measurement of environmental and social impacts, improved governance and increased transparency. Organizations such as the UN Global Compact and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development have also launched important initiatives that businesses can join and learn from.

Our hopes for a new era of peace, shared opportunity and ever-increasing interdependence may be at risk, but realizing them is not beyond human capability. The strengths of business – enterprise, innovation, and technological progress – could be instrumental.

This version of the future – not that of a blighted planet – is fundamentally in the interests of business. Executives must rise above narrow sectoral and short-term interests, and work with governments to create a new framework of incentives and sanctions, rewarding investment in people and planet. It is time that they take the initiative at their own companies, and together with politicians of courage and conviction, drive towards a global goal of sustainable, inclusive prosperity – at the UN general assembly, in Paris next year, and beyond.

Source: Back to Plan B

This Trippy Plant May Heal You

The Life-Altering, Psychedelic Ayahuasca Plant

Author: Rak Razam

Ayahuasca is a plant medicine that has been used by the indigenous people of South America for millennia to heal physical ailments—and, they claim, to cleanse and purify the spirit. It was discovered

by the West in 1851 when the legendary British botanist Richard Spruce explored the Rio Negro Basin and was introduced to the vine by the Tokanoan Indians. Spruce gave the vine its scientific name, Banisteriopsis caapi; in different areas of South America it is also known as yagé or hoasca. For a while in the mid-twentieth-century chemists who isolated the active properties of the vine called their compound “telepathine.”

Research showed it contained various harmala alkaloids, which are boiled up in a brew (also called ayahuasca) with a multitude of other plants, one being the leafy Psychotria viridis, which contains the powerful hallucinogenic chemical Dimethyltryptamine, also known as DMT. On its own the vine is only orally active at very high doses, but it also contains potent MAO (mono-amine oxidase) inhibitors that overpower the body’s own enzymes and allow the DMT to potentiate.

Science has made cautious forays into the jungle to study the vine in its native setting or, as with the “Hoasca Project” in the 1990s, to study church members of groups like União doVegetal (UDV) who drink ayahuasca as part of their syncretic Christian-jungle religion. What they found was that regular ayahuasca use flushed the brain clean and improved receptor sites, suggesting the vine could be a medicinal goldmine.

But what science cannot explain is the psychic effect of this “mother of all plants,” the sense of the numinous and the spiritual world it reportedly opens up. Those who drink say that each ayahuasca journey is unique. They say that the spirit of the vine comes alive, it guides and teaches, and on the other side nothing is ever the same. Or so they say.

The native men and women who safeguard the knowledge of the vine and of the spirits it is said to reveal are the curanderos and curanderas—or, as the West would call them, shamans. Their role has been that of healer, priest, and traveler between worlds, acting as intermediaries between the spiritual dimension and this world on behalf of their patients.

Yet the demands of the work and the rise of Western materialism throughout South America have seen a fall in prestige—and customers— for the curanderos. The profession, usually hereditary, was in danger of extinction before an unprecedented wave of Western gringos started coming in search of ayahuasca and the healing it can provide.

Over the last twenty years or so a new gringo trail—this one a journey of the soul—has been blossoming in the jungles of South America. Seekers and thrillseekers alike have been coming from theWest for a reconnection to the deeper reality shamanism connects one to—and bringing back amazing stories of hallucinogenic trips, healing, and enlightenment.

FlowerIndigenous shamanism has quickly become the most profitable business in town and numerous jungle lodges and retreats have sprung up across South America to cater to the influx of rich tourists. This has spilled over onto the internet as hundreds of ayahuasca websites, chat rooms, and forums have emerged to crystallize a global subculture engaging with an indigenous spiritual practice and seeding it back into theWestern world.

As well as being used by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of indigenous peoples throughout South America, ayahuasca has also become one of the world’s fastest growing religions, with branches of Brazilian churches like Santo Daime and União doVegetal springing up in Europe, Britain, Australasia, America, Japan, and elsewhere. In January 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a New Mexico branch of the UDV, saying they had a constitutional right to be allowed to legally practice their ayahuasca ceremonies under the freedom of religion law. The U.S. government immediately appealed, but the genie was out of the bottle.

The mystery of ayahuasca had left the jungle and entered the cities, via religion, media, and the web. And what did it say about the growing Western need for an authentic reconnection to the planet?

Author: Rak Razam
Permissions: The following is an excerpt from Aya Awakenings: A Shamanic Odyssey by Rak Razam (North Atlantic Books, 2013)

Video: The Map of Deforestation

Deforestation – the loss or destruction of naturally occurring forests primarily due to human activity – is a growing problem throughout the globe with tremendous environmental and economic consequences.  Deforestation is primarily created by logging, cutting down trees for fuel, slash-and-burn agriculture, clearing land for livestock grazing, mining operations, oil extraction, dam building and urban sprawl. Logging alone, which in many cases is illegal, accounts for the loss of more than 32 million acres of natural forest every year according to The Nature Conservancy.

To imagine deforestation is quite tricky and to nail its patterns down is quite tricky. We know forests are shrinking, but knowing exactly where and by how much often means compiling locally reported data that can be shoddy, incomplete, or outdated according to University of Maryland geographer Matthew Hansen. Better data would be an invaluable tool for resource managers looking to preserve trees, and for climate scientists who want to crunch how much carbon they can store, Hansen realized. So he set about to create the most high-resolution map of global forests ever made, partnering with Google Earth to process some 650,000 images taken by NASA satellites over the last decade.

In the exclusive video above, Hansen takes us on a tour of his new maps and the startling situation they reveal. “It’s a big leap forward in terms of a set of facts, a set of observations on what this dynamic is,” Hansen said.

One of the next steps, Hansen said, is to use the data to gauge exactly what this deforestation means for climate change. Trees are one of the largest “sinks” for carbon dioxide; previous studies suggest forests absorb a third of the carbon released by burning fossil fuels.