Two seemingly random comments demonizing plants, a piece of breaking news, and a presentation on the “Multi-Tiered System of Support” (MTSS) at schools nestled themselves into my mind last week. They brought up memories of wolves correcting an ecosystem and the feel of lifeless soil in my fingers. I have put off writing about the environment for so long. I never felt knowledgeable enough, ready enough, or brave enough to go there.
I am writing from there: not knowledgeable enough, ready enough, or brave enough.
I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
As soon as I turned on my phone after a thought-provoking meeting on education, where I learned about new approaches in schools to serve students’ enrichment and support needs, I learned myself that 11,000 scientists had come together to declare a climate emergency. At that point, I was already drained from wondering how best to respond to what can only be referred to as a most successful mass dis-information self-perpetuating campaign spreading disease, ignorance, and fake news.
Two educated, highly-functioning leaders in our society, keto-drowned and conditioned, tried to convince me that bananas and carrots were unhealthy, while devouring omelettes with extra free-range sausage on the side. Another stated matter-of-factly that a whole foods, plant-based diet can only work for ultra athletes whose every action is calculated and measured by experts. According to this Ivy League fountain of wisdom, this apparently was the message behind “The Game Changers.” I think I must have missed the memo.
The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.
As I nursed my aching heart that night, I recalled the story of the wolves of Yellowstone National Park that I first heard about from the soccer legend Abby Wambach in her book Wolfpack inspired by her commencement speech to the 2018 graduating class of Barnard College. In 1995, the grey wolf was reintroduced into the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem after it was killed off in the 1930s. The wiping out of this species had catastrophic implications on the ecosystem of the park, upsetting the intricate balance of the park’s variety of plant and animal species, resulting in an explosion of elks that ended up overgrazing the river banks. The ecosystem eventually collapsed. When the wolves were reintroduced, the environment flourished. The park is now testament to the intricate balance of the planet, the power of every being that breathes its air, and the lesson we need to absorb to stop messing with nature.
Meanwhile, the rest of the planet is in crisis. 11,000 scientists from around the world released a report calling for world governments to declare a climate emergency and commit to a series of steps to address a crisis they have been warning about for the last 40 years, falling on the clogged-up, chemical-infested ears of conglomerates dumping poison into our soil, our water supply, our food, and our guts.
I love how integrative and functional medicine likens the human gut to the soil. When a plant is sick, its leaves yellow and wilting, farmers look to the soil as the source of nourishment and healing. It is insanity to bother with the leaf. Our gut is the soil. When the source of nourishment, the ecosystem of the majority of the microorganisms that run the human body, is out of balance, the body like Yellowstone National Park eventually collapses from overgrazing, leaking, and floods. It is no wonder that the rise of chronic diseases today coincides with the mass extinction of organism diversity —even wolves— from the earth’s soil. Advances in chemical interventions that work against nature, driven by the impatience, greed, and short-sightedness of powerful pharmaceutical companies emboldened by corrupt, ignorant, and often smug governments [and my plant-demonizing friends] have brought us to a point where climate becomes breaking news.
I recently learned what a depleted, lifeless soil feels like. It shocks me because it is everywhere. Most of the perfectly-manicured gardens and golf courses we admire are chemically-infested grounds. In fact, everything that seems perfect is chemically-engineered, toxic, and another nail in the planet’s coffin. The beauty of nature is its perfect imperfections. [Thank you John Legend for the inspiration.] This applies to human perfection too, but that is for another discussion.
As we doused the planet with dangerous, highly soluble chemicals like glyphosate in Roundup, we unleashed a catastrophic chain of events that has finally reached the human DNA. In a short span of 10 years, for example, the damage in the soil, water resources, and flora and fauna of the United States has lead to 1 in 2 American children being diagnosed with chronic disease by the time they reach 18 years of age. Worldwide, there are 50 million people suffering from dementia, with 10 million new cases diagnosed every year.
There is hope. It involves investing in life. And working with nature. Just like in Yellowstone Park, balance can be restored. It requires the will, commitment, and collective effort of humanity to make it happen.
It starts with you. And me.
Take the MTSS approach as an example. This comprehensive framework provides targeted support for all learners to increase the effectiveness of instruction for all students. It follows a system of 3 tiers, with Tier 1 (what I liken to a wide net) basically offering great teaching for all learners to ensure maximum growth for the majority of learners. We should be immediately implementing the Tier 1 stage with climate change. These are remedial steps that address the majority of the problem.
I hope 11,000 scientists is a respectable number to convince the majority of humanity that our food choices are the most effective, potent tool we have today to make a dent in the climate crisis question with regard to green house gas emissions, desertification, renewable energy, and other proposed measures. Those scientists suggested 6 critical steps for governments and humanity to undertake immediately to lessen and absorb the detrimental impact on the climate. Four of them are directly related to our food choices.
1. prioritise energy efficiency, and replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewable energy sources,
2. reduce emissions of short-lived pollutants like methane and soot. Methane gas accounts for 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock (sheep and cattle) is the largest contributor to methane gas emissions.
3. protect and restore the Earth’s ecosystems by curbing land clearing, by humans for raising livestock and livestock feed.
4. reduce our meat consumption,
5. move away from unsustainable ideas of ever-increasing economic and resource consumption, and
6. stabilise and, ideally, gradually reduce human populations while improving human well-being.
Incidentally, this MTSS in climate change will have a direct impact on the MTSS in education as well. When we regenerate the soil, we regenerate the planet. When we regenerate the planet, we regenerate human health. When the microorganisms in the gut come back to life, our brains clear up. Schools will see less numbers of students needing learning support.
The wolves of Yellowstone Park are a valuable lesson in natural intelligence, biodiversity, and life.
If you are still reading, I urge you to stop burying your head in the sand. Your choices matter. You need to appreciate how powerful you are. My food choice today will influence the health of my great, great grandchildren. This catastrophe ends with me. It ends with you. Join me in making a commitment to invest in life. As Wambach said, we are the wolves. Ask the elks at Yellowstone Park. There is so much to learn from this divine balance.