A collection of stories from the book.


Are we really saving the environment by buying bio diesel?

In many countries, service stations sell diesel with up to 10% produced from non-fossil materials, mostly palm oil. Malaysia and Indonesia are the biggest palm oil producers in the world and log vast tracts of rain forest to create palm oil plantations. As this is a monoculture, little else grows around or in it and the rain forest never returns. 

When the price of palm oil dropped a few years ago, the Indonesian government decreed that all local diesel should have a higher bio-diesel component, to increase the consumption of palm oil. And this in an oil producing country!

As a result of massive logging and planting of oil palms, Borneo’s rainforest has declined by more than 50% since the mid-20th century.

There is, nevertheless, an alternative. Neste, a Finnish Refining Company, has produced renewable diesel that is a full substitute to conventional fossil diesel without using palm oil. 


Plastic Tides

Julian Rodriguez is the founding member of Plastic Tides, an NGO focused on combining adventure and science to fight plastic pollution.

Just recently, our team at Plastic Tides Philippines teamed up with the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission to bring in volunteers to help clean up the 47 tributaries of the Pasig River. In just half a day, we were able to collect about 1,500 kilograms of trash! The PRRC only has about 45 people assigned to help clean up the Pasig River.”


Royal Dutch Shell court summons

The Hague, April 5, 2019 – Today Friends of the Earth Netherlands will deliver a court summons to Shell to legally compel the company to cease its destruction of the climate, on behalf of more than 30,000 people from 70 countries. A 236 page complaint will be delivered to Shell’s International Headquarters in the Hague this afternoon by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, ActionAid NL, Both ENDS, Fossielvrij NL, Greenpeace NL,Young Friends of the Earth NL, Waddenvereniging and a group of around 400 co-plaintiffs.

Roger Cox, leading Friends of the Earth’s case against Shell said “If successful, the uniqueness of the case would be that Shell, as one of the largest multinational corporations in the world would be legally obligated to change its business operations. We also expect that this would have an effect on other fossil fuel companies, raising the pressure on them to change.”

In May 2021 the court ruled in a landmark case that the oil giant Shell must reduce its emissions. By 2030, Shell must cut its CO2 emissions by 45% compared to 2019 levels.


‘Ken’ Saro-Wiwa

Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority in Nigeria whose homeland in the Niger Delta is where crude oil has been extracted since the 1950s, causing extreme environmental damage.

Initially as spokesperson, and then as president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a non violent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland by the International Oil Companies (IOCs), including Shell. He was also an outspoken critic of the military dictatorship of Sani Abachi, who he considered derelict in enforcing environmental regulations on foreign petroleum companies.

At the peak of his non-violent campaign, he was tried by a military tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of Ogoni chiefs. He was convicted and hanged in 1995. His execution provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years.

Shell executives were accused of collaboration over the hanging of Saro Wiwa and subsequently paid $15.5 million to one group of activists’ families, including the Saro-Wiwa estate. Shell denied any responsibility or wrongdoing.


Money Logging

Money Logging investigates what former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called ‘probably the biggest environmental crime of our times’—the massive destruction of the Borneo rainforest by Malaysian loggers. Historian and campaigner Lukas Straumann goes in search not only of the lost forests and the people who used to call them home, but also the network of criminals who have earned billions through illegal timber sales and corruption.

Straumann singles out Abdul Taib Mahmud, current governor of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, as the kingpin of this Asian timber mafia, while he shows that Taib’s family—with the complicity of global financial institutions—have profited to the tune of 15 billion US dollars. Money Logging is a story of a people who have lost their ancient paradise to a wasteland of oil palm plantations, pollution, and corruption—and how they hope to take it back.

If there were a list of the world’s leading environmental criminals, Sarawak’s government head Taib Mahmud would surely be in the top ten. No other person bears a larger individual responsibility for the destruction of the tropical rain forests on Borneo, one of the Earth‘s most prolific lebensräume. 

During Taibs 30 years in office as Chief Minister of the Malaysian state Sarawak, bulldozers belonging to the timber and plantation conglomerates have reduced the former primeval forests to an area of about 5% of their original size. 


Flint water contamination

The city of Flint announced that a new pipeline would be built to deliver water from Lake Huron so as to reduce the water shortfall. In 2014, while the pipeline was under construction, the city turned to the Flint River as a water source. Soon after the switch, residents reported changes to the water’s color, smell and taste.

Tests in 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Virginia Tech indicated dangerous levels of lead in the water at residents’ homes.

More than a dozen lawsuits were filed against Michigan and the City of Flint, various state and city officials, employees involved in the decision to switch the source of the drinking water and those responsible for monitoring water quality. The range of remedies sought included monetary compensation for lead poisoning and refunds for water bills.


Minamata disease

For years, residents of Minamata, a town located on Kyushu (Japan’s most southwesterly island), had observed odd behavior among animals. People referred to the behavior as “cat dancing disease.”

In 1956, the first human patient was identified. Symptoms included convulsions, slurred speech, loss of motor functions and uncontrollable limb movements. Three years later, an investigation concluded that the affliction was a result of industrial poisoning of Minamata Bay by the Chisso Corporation. As a result of waste water pollution by the plastic manufacturer, large amounts of mercury and other heavy metals found their way into the fish and shellfish that comprised a large part of the local diet. Thousands of residents have slowly suffered over the decades and died from the disease.


Baardskeerdersbos Trout Farm

Water is a controlled resource in South Africa, where a permit has to be obtained from the government to dam rivers or dig boreholes.

A vineyard owner wanted to establish a dam on a river flowing through his farm. However, to obtain a permit to do so, he had to agree to support the local municipality and community by supplying water to the municipality and allowing trout farming in the dam.  

Besides the vineyard having a plentiful supply of water, the local municipality now has an additional source of water and a local trout farmer raises fingerlings in the dam for her trout enterprise.


Scenario Planning - From Apartheid to Democracy

Up until 1994, South Africa was controlled by white supremacists who were forced to make a transition to a real democracy. Fear of outright civil war and insurrection was evident. Scenario planning was used to explain the options open to South Africans. The South African scenarios: the high road and the low road How will the transition go and will the country succeed in taking off? The options focused on the choices facing the country as to whether, through consultation and negotiation, it did what was necessary to travel on the ‘high road’ to a non-racial democracy and rising prosperity, or whether it continued as a repressive, centralized society and controlled economy which would continue on the ‘low road’ of confrontation, conflict and falling incomes leading inexorably to a ‘waste land’. The scenarios were presented to some 230 audiences totaling 25 000 to 30 000 people. The audiences varied widely: the Cabinet, government departments, ‘homeland’ governments, political parties and clubs and associations across South Africa. On April 27, 1994, millions of South Africans voted in the country’s first fully democratic elections. Just two weeks later, Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president, in a ceremony that filled people with promise. He was the first black South African president, chosen in free and fair elections.


The Philippi Economic Development Initiative (PEDI)

Philippi has been an agricultural area in the suburbs of Cape Town South Africa since German settlers arrived there over a hundred years ago. They became well-known for their ability to grow vegetables in the sandy soils of the Cape Flats. Today Philippi provides at least half of Cape Town’s vegetables but is under threat from the encroachment of industrial and residential properties.

The Philippi Economic Development Initiative (PEDI) was established in 1998 as a ‘not for profit company’ by the City of Cape Town in partnership with the Western Cape Provincial Government, businesses and the community. PEDI’s role is to promote and facilitate the acceleration of economic growth. Over a billion rands worth of projects are currently in progress, which will provide opportunities to rebuild and grow this area which has become a shining example of the transformation of disadvantaged communities in South Africa into thriving economic hubs.


China’s ‘Colonization’

China’s much-touted “One Belt, One Road” initiative to develop trade infrastructure fostered autocratic mismanagement in other countries. In keeping with Beijing’s longstanding practice, Belt and Road loans come with no visible conditions, making Beijing a preferred lender for autocrats. These unscrutinised infusions of cash made it easier for corrupt officials to pad their bank accounts while saddling their people with massive debt in the service of infrastructure projects that in several cases benefit China more than the people of the indebted nation.


Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir canceled three major infrastructure projects financed by Chinese loans amid concerns that his predecessor, Najib Razak, had agreed to unfavorable terms to obtain funds to cover up a corruption scandal. However, Mahathir has had to renegotiate two of the contracts as the cancellation costs would have put Malaysia in a worse position with nothing to show for the expenditure to date.

China has, however, built and is operating a complete steel plant on the east coast at Kemaman with little involvement of Malaysians.

Sri Lanka

Unable to afford its enormous debt burden, Sri Lanka was forced to surrender control of a port to China. The port was built, with Chinese loans but without an economic rationale, in the home district of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

South Africa

The Chinese are building a self sufficient steel complex in the eastern Limpopo Province of South Africa. It will include its own 4000 MW power plant and will not involve South Africans.


Kenya came to rue a Chinese-funded railroad that offered no promise of economic viability.

Pakistan, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, and the Maldives all expressed regret at having agreed to certain Chinese-funded projects. Talk of a Chinese “debt trap” became common.


Sustainable Energy

The Danish government set a target of 50% wind energy in electricity consumption by 2020 as part of its long-term strategy to achieve a 100% renewable energy mix in all sectors by 2050.

Continuous government support has been in place since the 1980s, including support to long-term R&D, premium tariffs and the setting of ambitious national targets. All of these have helped the domestic wind industry to expand internationally.

Denmark has long been a global centre for the manufacture of wind turbines, with Bonus, LM, Siemens and Vestas, some of the world’s leading turbine manufacturing firms.


Turtles and profit

The east coast of Malaysia was a major nesting ground for turtles in the 1980s, but poaching and consumption of turtle eggs has decimated the turtle population.

The government department of fisheries stepped in by contracting out the beaches to egg collectors to bring the eggs to the government hatcheries for nesting and release.At the time, funds available for purchase of eggs were cut, and so private hatcheries, run by non-profit organizations, were permitted.

One such organization teamed up with a 5 star resort to build a hatchery on their beach where guests could sponsor a nest. Each nest owner would receive progress reports of nest checks and a video when their nest of hatchlings was released. The resort has seen increased revenue from guests (new and returning) as a direct result of having a resident hatchery on their beach.



Saving Aru

In the mid-1800s, the extraordinary biodiversity of the Aru Islands helped inspire the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Several years ago, however, a corrupt politician granted a single company permission to convert most of the islands’ rainforests into a vast sugar plantation.

The people of Aru fought back. Today, the story of their grassroots campaign resonates across the world as a growing global movement seeks to force governments to act on climate change.


‘Bowery’ the high tech vertical farm

This farm of the future uses no soil.

Key elements are:

  • Seeds are carefully selected and are not Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
  • Grown close to home indoors in vertical rows
  • Ideal conditions in a controlled indoor growing environment with no pesticides
  • Optimal light using LED lights mimicking the full spectrum of the sun.
  • Precision farming giving the crops exactly what they need and nothing more: nutrients, water and
  • Purified water is used to deliver the same nutrients as in highest quality soil. 95% less water than traditional agriculture is used
  • Crop cycles are much faster and more frequent than traditional agriculture
  • A smarter harvest using sophisticated analytics: crops are harvested at exactly the right time, ensuring flavor is at its prime
  • Once it’s picked, produce reaches stores and restaurants within a few days, unlike traditional produce which can take weeks.