Something a friend said to me recently has been slyly grating away at the back of my mind. Social media is now a volatile thing – it would be extremely rare (if not impossible) to find two people with exactly the same views on every single aspect of life, let alone having everyone on your friends or contacts list in agreement on every topic. I tire of somewhat heated online debates between people with differing opinions – sometimes the differences aren’t even that great, yet people will try and passionately disprove the other. I find it even more careless when the topic of discussion is based on the quality of life and welfare of others (including other species – either as a whole or on an individual level). Coming across a person who lacks measures of compassion just astounds me. Talking to such a person is like smashing one’s head against a concrete wall. I believe a person can develop compassion over time, but it isn’t going to happen in the space of one conversation. You might place the person in a situation where they are witnessing the extreme pain and suffering of another person or creature, and if they don’t bat an eyelid or even look away then there is nothing you can say that will suddenly trigger the part of the brain that allows us to relate to the victim and think “This is not right.”
How incredible it was at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand to be around like-minded people working towards a common goal and promoting a particular ethical view. I have come home and not had too much chance to talk to anyone face-to-face about the types of struggles I witnessed in Thailand. When I talk in burning excitement about my plans for early next year (which I will go into more detail on once things are a bit more set in stone), I am often met with blank looks on faces that seem to say, “I don’t get your point.”
I remember one of my grandparents once asking me, “Why the hell wolves?” In fact, it felt less of a question and more like a disapproving judgement. She didn’t understand why I wasn’t just content to get a job in New Zealand, make some money and have a normal western life in suburbia. How do you explain a particular issue to someone who just isn’t interested in lending a single thought to it? In her defense, Gran is from a totally different generation, and has a totally different mindset. I have long given up on bringing up my passions with a lot of people I have known for a long time – you get to the point where you realise they simply either don’t care, or don’t understand and have no desire to.
The other night i was sitting with a friend, a real smart gal who is nearing her final year at high school. She was telling me how her school is doing a petition against palm oil – and if you don’t know about the very unsustainable palm oil industry that is a huge part of deforestation and species decline, then I would recommend reading up on it – it is a topic we really pushed to get into the open back when I was working with primates at the local Zoo. Needless to say, I thought it was fantastic that a school was making this a primary extracurricular focus. My friend, however, seemed to have mixed feelings about it. I was going on about sustainable alternatives and she simply said, “Yeah, but they are trying to expand the industry.”
At first I wasn’t sure if I had taken it the right way. So I asked her if she didn’t think a viable sustainable option was a fair alternative to the mass destruction that is being wreaked because of this greed-fueled industry; wouldn’t that be better than the huge toll that is being taken on the environment? “Well we don’t really need the rainforest; it’s just for tourists now.”
I didn’t know what to say. How do you counteract that, when you are speaking to someone who obviously doesn’t see this as a real issue? I come from a country utterly built on deforestation – the natural habitat of New Zealand was absolutely destroyed once settlers came along and farming was established. Intensive farming is now our biggest industry and it has completely taken over. The remaining natural forests are a miniscule portion of what there once was – of course, this is a common theme in populated countries. I read a story recently about edible meat being successfully grown in a laboratory – this is significant in that it could lead to us potentially producing tonnes of meat without the slaughter of so many animals, and to me it is a really exciting prospect. Of course, people turn around and say that for a country like New Zealand a development like this could ruin what’s left of our economy. Money isn’t going to sustain us after the environment is gone, though, and I firmly believe this. We can destroy the whole earth if we like, but to me there won’t be a whole lot left worth living for if we have annihilated every flora and fauna species that doesn’t serve our own race some kind of important economical purpose.
So, economically the rainforest might not be worth much, but does that mean we ought to practice our well-known destruction and rip it down for the sake of more money? I really don’t think we should be so egotistical to say we have that right. Deforestation has completely changed the world already; we should be preserving what is left for the sake of the flora and fauna species we haven’t managed to exterminate yet. Also, there are intelligent animals in those rainforests – animals just as capable as us of feeling pain and distress; to be burnt alive for the sake of the palm oil industry is a disgusting waste. I feel sad when I meet people that aren’t fazed by the thought of another individual’s pain and suffering. I can’t wait to get to Borneo where I will be working for a few months in the jungle at an orang-utan rescue center. Primates are so closely related to us, if there is any way to get an effective message home about the utter grief we put others through, it will be by sharing the orang-utans’ stories and demonstrating first hand at what we as consumers condone. On that note: have a closer look at products you buy next time you are at the supermarket. In New Zealand it is not a legal requirement to label the particular oil used in a product; ‘vegetable oil’ can in fact be the unsustainable palm oil that is ripping down jungles, slaughtering animals and steadily building the rate of species decline. As an individual you may not have the power to change the whole world, but you do have the power of ethical choice and the ability to choose what industries you support.