To coincide with World Environment Day, Echo Books consultant Jen Curcio interviewed Paul Maguire, author of Vegan Ninja, about the environment and his suggestions for reconnecting with nature.
Paul, in 'Vegan Ninja' you discuss a number of serious environmental concerns. Which are the most serious ones facing Australians today, and why?
That’s the main one. Some people may point to climate change, expansion of another open-cut coal mine, destruction of our Great Barrier Reef and other ecological calamities, but I see these as consequences of an underlying problem.
We are a lucky people, comfortable in our affluence and self-satisfied by the trappings of materialistic wealth.
The answer to solving environmental problems begins with basics and ripples out from our daily actions. If we cultivate a thoughtful existence, we Australians will realise we actually have enough to enjoy an incredible life.
If we’re conscious of, and try to reduce our personal impacts, such as wasteful consumerism, then this will flow on to big picture issues, such as land clearing, animal cruelty, water and air pollution.
It may also lead to direct action lobbying for animal welfare, protesting against mines or a multitude of other concerns because our thinking is more in tune with these kind of matters.
It takes effort to slow, halt and reverse our own poor habits and to address mankind’s environmental degradation also requires effort, though one step begins every epic journey. And it’s worth it.
What can we do as individuals to reduce our environmental impact?
Well, if that sounds too hard to accomplish today, at least start by cutting back on an unnecessary reliance on meat, animal products and dairy foods.
Try meatless Mondays or falafel Fridays for instance.
The livestock industry ranks beside coal-fired electricity generation and petroleum-propelled transport pollution as the three most significant factors behind the earth’s worst environmental problems.
Small things matter though and every time we recycle something, reduce our waste, walk or ride a bike, turn off an air-conditioner, light or some other electrical gadget we’re making a difference reducing fossil fuel use and a variety of pollutants. If you can’t install solar power at home, buy green power from your electricity retailer.
Before you buy anything, consider whether it’s really needed or something less environmentally costly would do. This questioning of habits can become an automatic, and painless, assessment of how we live that helps simplify things and increase our gratitude and life’s pleasure.
Paul, in your opinion, what are the reasons we have become so disconnected from nature?
The relentless onslaught of urbanisation, industrialisation and technological dependence has trampled nature. Ecological habitat does not have a comparable value if it’s in the path of expanding towns, cities or any of their associated infrastructure.
Nature, and all its little creatures, have become an expendable resource that have been pushed to the margins of extinction by mankind’s insatiable economic growth imperative.
We have become conditioned by increasing consumer demands to keep pace with a fast, modern world that the likes of trees, wildlife, streams and even the air we breathe have literally faded from view.
While we may be aware of this to a degree, I find it’s often not until I reconnect by walking into a forest, or diving into a wave at the beach, that I truly feel the depth of detachment. There, in cool quiet, can I see that we have been blinded by the light of “progress”, in both a physical and spiritual sense.
How do you connect with nature?
This ancient, slow-moving exercise is how I love to begin each day. I don’t manage it every single morning. I try to do it as often as I can though.
I’m fortunate to live on a few rural acres in a home with north-facing windows. In all weathers I can do tai chi as dawn silently trickles through trees in the paddocks and at the edge of our backyard.
There are several aspects to nature, the physical outside world, forces of the universe, forests and waterways. There is also our inner nature, our inherent character, individual qualities and instincts that combine to direct our disposition.
My personal nature and that of the outside world can strongly connect when doing tai chi in such pleasing and familiar circumstances. Riding a bike, walking through forests, body surfing at a beach also reawaken my connection with nature, but they do not occur as often as I wish.
Regular connection is really that early morning reverence when it seems as though there’s just me, my small breath, in a moment with the world.
For people who are time poor, or live in cities, what are some simple ways you would suggest for them to reconnect with nature?
Get up early. Walk, run or ride a bike somewhere. There are beautiful parks, trails, cycleways, green corridors, beaches and even native bushland in cities. Put down your “must-dos”, turn television, computer, mobile phones and other devices off at night and get to bed. A good night’s rest is essential. Organise yourself.
If you can, ride to work. If you rode just one day a week you’d reduce your transport fuel costs by 20% and the fresh air and simple experience of riding is enlivening.
Thinking we’re time poor is actually a misnomer. Time is constant, our use of it, the priorities we choose, is the crucial issue.
And planning is what makes the difference. Set yourself a realistic target of a ride, jog or walk of a morning or evening. Also, get out of the city occasionally. Actually set a date, such as next Saturday, and go to a national park, state forest or just somewhere in the country. Then breathe the air, hug a tree or whatever puts a smile on your face.
Is there such a thing as an environmentally friendly recipe, and if so, could you explain how and share one with our readers?
There sure is.Here’s some amazing, and probably useless, information. An organic vegan diet produces 94% less greenhouse gases than an average meat and dairy diet, according to the Foodwatch report, Germany 2009.
Japanese Soba Stir-fry2 1/2cm of fresh ginger, finely grated
Heat the sesame oil in a large pan or wok. Add ginger and stir-fry for one minute, taking care not to burn it. Add all the prepared vegetables and stir-fry for three or four minutes then take off heat. You want vegetables still crisp.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles in rapid boiling water for three minutes then drain, rinse well in cold water and drain again. Combine the soy sauce and mirin in a bowl.
Add the noodles to the vegetables and resume stir-frying. Sprinkle on the seeds and nuts. Make sure the vegetables and noodles are reheated. Just before you are ready to take it off the heat, drizzle on soy and mirin, stir it through then serve while everything is hot.
For readers interested in being more environmentally conscious what resources would you recommend?
Engage in a passion.People are amazing resources. So, join a community group and talk face to face with some. Books, movies, websites are good resources too, but my primary suggestion would be – join a community group and be in touch with the real world and diverse people.