Let’s all vote for the planet, including our children

Stargazers. 12x12 inches Acrylic on canvas. Borneo

On Thursday the UK goes to the polls to elect a new prime minister and government. Arguably this is one of the most important general elections for decades.

We might end up paying more or less tax, services might be taken into state control or privatised, we may or may not leave the EU, borrowing might increase, arbitrary amounts of trees may or may not be planted, maybe we will all get free broadband etc etc.

Is any of this really that important? Of course it is and it is vital we all vote for the government we want to lead the UK forward, but we also know we are in the midst of a climate crisis and mass extinction event which is arguably far more pressing.

I began to highlight and campaign for awareness about the loss of rainforests in 1989 when I was a student. I spent 3 weeks exploring the Amazon rainforest and created an exhibition on its remaining natural beauty. This expedition recreated me as a painter and I have painted ever since. Sadly many of the areas I explored in 1989 are now just farmland for beef. There is no natural beauty left to paint or photograph in those areas, just cattle, waste and destruction.

We are trapped in and benefit personally from an industrialised way of life. This isn’t going to change unless life expectancy, population numbers and the economy totally change or collapse which is something none of us could possibly imagine or wish for. We need to be very careful what we do from this point on and vote not just at the ballot box, but more importantly with our £,$,€ money.

We all know that the oceans are full of plastic, but how many of us know that it is estimated that over 70% of that plastic is created by the fishing industry? The remaining plastic is created by us ‘recycling’, which actually means we just ship it abroad and it gets dumped or burnt in many instances.

So if we want to reduce plastic in the oceans we should perhaps move away from eating fish and possibly refuse to recycle until our governments guarantee our plastic waste is being processed responsibly. It is probably better to burn plastic waste to create power than it is to ship it halfway around the world to then be burnt in the open or to go to landfill and the into rivers and oceans.

If we replace plastic with paper or card we create a new problem and we must be aware of that. Paper bags have a carbon footprint that is around 3x more than a plastic bag and cotton bags are much worse and this shows that some ‘solutions’ simply create new problems or even increase the rate of global warming.

There are some simple ways you can help though and your children can vote for their futures by looking carefully at where their money is spent in terms of food.

In June 2019 I was honoured to be allowed to live and paint with the Yawanawá tribe in the Amazon rainforest and many of you will have ‘met’ the tribe with me and my team through chapter 1 ‘Spirit of the Rainforest 2’. The Yawanawá and all other tribes in the Amazon, and the rainforest itself, are in the middle of an extinction event caused by our consumption of beef. The Amazon has suffered extreme burning to clear more land for beef farming and for soya which is used as an animal feed around the world.

We can all vote to stop this by taking meat off our menus, or by at least drastically reducing it. Much of the meat consumed in fast-food is directly connected to this deforestation. It breaks my heart everyday when I see in my local town families in SUV vehicles (very polluting) queuing up at the drive through fast food restaurant. They are literally eating the rainforest and the homes of the tribal people. Do they know what they are doing I wonder?

This is a vote your children can cast today and it will make a huge difference to their future. I have two children and before either of them were born my family dropped meat from the menu. It’s easy, healthy and if we could all do this it would be like removing all transport, cars, planes, trains etc from planet earth in terms of emissions. We save the Amazon and our climate. Amazing.

In September 2019 I was privileged to be able to spend time with the Penan Tribe and orangutans in Borneo. The Penan are under enormous pressure to sell their land (effectively being bribed) for palm oil plantations and the orangutans are on the edge of extinction.

In the last 20 years 80% of the rainforest has been lost in Borneo, mainly due to palm oil production. In 10 years all the rainforest will potentially be gone and orangutans will be extinct in the wild. It is a disaster. Having spent time in Borneo with the Penan children and orphaned orangutans, who have been the victims of the rainforest clearance, I have started to very carefully check all of the ingredients in all the food and other products we buy.

Palm oil is 10 times more productive than any other oil, it’s an amazing crop but that also makes it 10 times cheaper. The demand for palm oil globally reached a new peak last year in 2018, so when I was in Borneo in September 2019, the dry season, huge areas of the island were burning to clear rainforest for more plantations.

The smoke was so think we couldn’t see the sun on some occasions. The orangutans, humans and other species are literally choking with the smoke with nearly one million people admitted to hospital in Indonesia and Malaysia in Septmber/October 2019 with severe respiratory problems. The orangutan foundation team wore face masks, dosed the orangutans up with vitamins to boost their immune systems and fought fires around the reserves. Schools had to close, children were kept inside. It is dangerous and apocalyptic.

None of this needs to happen if we ‘vote’ in our supermarkets, check the ingredients and leave all the products with palm oil in on the shelves. It breaks the feedback loop of demand to burn.

Every other product now has palm oil in. You will be shocked. Please encourage your children to vote in this ongoing election for our planet by removing or drastically reducing the meat they eat and to try and avoid palm oil.

These two ‘votes’ will have a hugely positive effect for all our futures.