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article imageOp-Ed: Amazon explorer — We must rewild ourselves to save species Special

By Megan Hamilton     Nov 29, 2015 in Environment
Cape Town - Human activity has sparked a mass extinction of species that may rival, and even surpass the death of the dinosaurs. With that in mind, a mother-and-son team is set to pedal across the Southern Atlantic on a customized boat powered only by foot pedals.
Adventurer Davey du Plessis, 27, is an environmentalist, author, and speaker. He and his pretty mother, Robyn Wolff, 50, plan to embark on the 6,450 km (4,008 mile) journey at the end of this month if the weather permits, gizmag reports.
The purpose?
To bring attention to addressing the most devastating environmental disaster of our time, the mass extinction of species; something for which we humans have only ourselves to blame.
"We are living in a time where we are seeing the extinction of species so great that it rivals the extinction of the dinosaurs, but unlike the dinosaurs being wiped out by a meteor, humans have now taken the reigns and are driving extinction through our industrial development, agriculture, over-population, consumption, hunting and destruction of natural ecosystems," du Plessis, who is from Cape Town, South Africa, notes in an email to Digital Journal. "It's a sobering reality of human neglect, exploitation and destruction of the natural world."
Meet the Herbivore  the pedal boat du Plessis and Wolff will use on their journey.
Meet the Herbivore, the pedal boat du Plessis and Wolff will use on their journey.
Photo courtesy of David du Plessis
Du Plessis knows the natural world well. This will be his third expedition, having cycled from Cairo to Ballito, South Africa during his first expedition, Inhabitat notes.
His second expedition was to be a trip along the Amazon, from its source in the Peruvian Andes to the coastline of Brazil. He was working in tandem with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation in an effort to help people assess their own lifestyles and see what changes could be made that would benefit the natural world and climatic environment.
Environmentalist Davey du Plessis.
Environmentalist Davey du Plessis.
Photo courtesy of David du Plessis
The trip was supposed to last 145 days, but it was cut drastically short. Just two months into the five month trip, he was very nearly killed after being shot four times by two men while he was paddling Ucayali River, which is part of the Amazon, in Peru.
The reason he is still here today is due to the kindness of the people living in the jungle, he notes.
"There are several factors I attribute to my survival, but the central point of why I am alive is due to the compassion of the remote jungle inhabitants who transported me tirelessly through the jungle until I reached a hospital. Despite looking after my body and having a relatively good understanding of my mind, I attribute my survival to others, namely the jungle inhabitants.
Authorities never found the men who shot him, and he says, they didn't bother searching for them.
"It was quite clear that they leave those parts of the jungle alone and do not enter there. There was never a clear reason why they attacked - it wasn't for material gain as they ambushed me instead of sticking a gun in my face and taking my things," he said. "My view is that their priority was my life and they were low-level drug runners who wanted to add some excitement to their lives."
His dad, Louis du Plessis told iolnews at the time that his son suffered temporary hearing loss, had to have fluid drained from one lung, and has a pellet lodged in or near his heart.
"If he had gotten shot with anything other than a shotgun he would not be here with us. He is very, very lucky."
Fortunately, it hasn't discouraged the young man from this current project he and his mom are involved in.
Dubbed the Atlantic Project, he estimates the crossing, which is unsupported, (meaning there is definitely not one iota of corporate sponsors) will last between 90 and 150 days. Du Plessis and Wolff are both vegans, and they definitely appear healthy and well-suited for the journey.
The Sixth Extinction
What drives him is the fact that we humans are driving the Sixth Extinction. However, in order to understand what's fueling this mass extinction, one must also learn about background extinctions. First, background extinction is the opposite of mass extinctions. It's generally thought that "natural" extinctions occur all the time, but at low or "background" rates. They usually occur in a random, or uncorrelated fashion. A high estimate for the recent background extinction rate suggests that one species extinction occurs every 400 years. That means that in this type of extinction, two bird species would have gone extinct in the past 800 years.
How many bird species have we really lost?
Scientists estimate that we have lost between 200 and 2,000 species of birds. The fact that today's extinction rate vastly supercedes any estimation of the background extinction rate is what leads scientists to conclude that we are at the beginning of the Sixth Extinction.
On his website, Extinction Six, du Plessis confronts us with the uncomfortable truths:
• Estimates report that human impact is causing species to disappear at rates that are 100 to 1,000 times the normal background rate. Every day, it’s estimated that 35 — 100 species vanish. There’s a question mark here, because many extinct, endangered, and threatened species aren’t known to science, and this presents a challenge in estimating actual extinction numbers accurately.
• Predictions also say that 30 — 50 percent of all species face extinction by 2050.
• By 2014, an estimated 2,464 animals and 2104 plants were considered critically endangered, teetering on the edge of extinction, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) reports. And these numbers continue to swell.
• More than 1,000 species have been confirmed extinct within the last 500 years due to human impact.
If there's one thing all of his research points out, it's this: If we want to stop this genocide of species, we need to look within ourselves.
"We need to better understand the causes of mass extinction and start to seek viable solutions, not lesser evils," he says.
Donating money doesn't help the species that's going extinct because they don't need money, "they need to be left alone or we need to learn to live better with and among other species." I have to admit I'm one who still donates money; I'm not 100 percent on board with not donating, but du Plessis is on to something.
"I often feel that donating money is a way to appease us of our guilt and instead of changing ourselves we think that money will facilitate the changing of others," he says. "All species live in a relative equilibrium with each other and if it were not for humans, all life would be thriving, so it doesn't make much sense how money, which is human specific currency, will help other species to stop going extinct who don't use nor need money. Asking for money to solve mass extinction is like hunters justifying their killing as a form of conservation because they pay to hunt an endangered species."
This is a question that perhaps those of us who do donate should ask : "Am I doing this to make myself feel better, or is this going to help the animals that are specified?"
He continued:
"Mass extinction has no quick fixes, humans have to change from our anthropocentric view to a biocentric one. We have to rethink the entire constructs of civilization."
Renewable energy is not the solution we think it is, he said.
"We have to realize that renewable energy is not an environmental solution, it is a lesser evil avenue for generating power, which only humans use. Development of urban areas and cities separates humans from forming a relationship with nature and creates a false view that we don't need nature to survive," he said.
Other changes also have to be made, he said, including:
• Agriculture. Monocultures and animal agriculture are environmentally unsustainable and a disastrous way of producing food.
“Our consumption habits have to change — we exploit animals, plants and resources with no feedback and our consumption habits also produce waste,” he said. “There is no such thing as waste in nature as no animals produce waste, but humans do.”
• Human overpopulation is another problem, but he believes it’s secondary to the way we consume; however our consumption habits promote overpopulation which further exacerbates the problems.
On the water
Du Plessis spent time researching ocean crossing rowboats, gizmag reports, but after a while he realized this might not be the best way to cross the Atlantic, which has waves that can be pretty feisty at times.
So he found an American naval architect to design a customized boat, which his uncle Tertius du Plessis, an experienced yacht builder based in Knysna, South Africa, built over a period of two years. The boat is quite remarkable, and well-built for enduring rough conditions. It's even able to right itself should it capsize.
Making sure to stick to his environmental ideals, Davey du Plessis did painstaking research to find sustainable materials for building the boat. Through the Forest Stewardship Council he found certified marine plywood that came from France, and with the wood in hand, he found a plant-based epoxy made by EcoPoxy, so now it was time to build the boat.
Davey and Robyn try out the Herbivore.
Davey and Robyn try out the Herbivore.
Photo courtesy of David du Plessis
The mother and son crossing will be the first human-powered one to leave from South African shores, and the third pedal boat to attempt an ocean crossing, gizmag reports. This will also be the first time a team of two has crossed the Southern Atlantic east to west by using human power from one continent to the other non-stop.
To avoid corporate sponsoring and greenwashing, du Plessis is funding the expedition with his own money. He and his mom will make the trek without any support craft providing backup.
Near the end of the interview, I asked him how some of the world's poorest people could implement changes to become closer to nature.
His response?
"I would say the poorest are in a better situation because they are more resourceful and by circumstance are less intertwined with materialism and less dependent on corporations. If we are to rewild ourselves, we are to take steps that promote a more self-sustaining existence." Growing our own indigenous foods, separating ourselves from the need to use and have material goods, spending more time in nature, and eating a plant-based diet because it has the lowest environmental impact are ways that we can remove ourselves from being dependent on products and civilization. That, he notes, will bring us closer to living in nature with other species.
It's important to remember that living with nature isn't about controlling it; instead, it's about allowing every species equal footing to live and exist with little or no hindrance from humans, he added.
"We have to remember that we are animals, dependent on the same ecosystems that all animals require," he says. "Whilst phones, cars, cities, electricity and permanent houses are nice, we don't need them to survive nor thrive. Perhaps we will only realize this when the air is too polluted to breathe, the water too polluted to drink and food so contaminated that disease flourishes. My hope is that sometime in the future, humans will rewild themselves and return to nature rather than living separate and exploiting it."
Sounds good to me.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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