As my taxi weaved through Istanbul traffic on my way to the airport I was struck by the scale of humanity. It has been a recurring thought as late; I have been lucky in my career in that I have had the opportunity to travel to places most people never get to see. But for me at least, with the travel comes an almost overwhelming sense of how huge and impactful our cites have become.
I was in Istanbul because of the shipbuilding industry located there. My company provides a product that makes shipping cleaner (and for this I am proud) but looking out the car window at a city this big was almost scary. Not scary in a personal safety sense, but scary in the question of how on earth could we make a difference that would be meaningful? With around 15 million residents, Istanbul is one of the world’s biggest cities and is the world’s fourth largest. All of these people are living their lives, doing their jobs, feeding their families, consuming products, mostly unaware of the magnitude of their small day to day choices.
The ships their country builds; the vessels that provide their economy with jobs and for that matter, the ones that provide me with my job, also bring inexpensive goods from faraway places. These products are often so cheap that they can be discarded after one single use, something almost unheard of only 30 or 40 years ago. Maybe I was just jetlagged and tired on the back end of my business trip, but it all seemed overwhelming and pointless – we all need to consume less. We know this, but actually doing it is very different than paying lip service to it.
In the case of Istanbul there are few wild places left. All the rivers I saw were lined with concrete on their rush to the sea and any green spaces I saw were manicured parks filled with people. But if you look a little closer you can see the glimmer of hope. The city is surprisingly clean and free of plastic pollution. Wild birds make a living in among the people and buildings, and in Tuzla Bay, the epicenter of the world’s shipbuilding industry, the same species of fish still come to spawn in the same waters where they have for millennia.
Thinking of the birds and the fish, I am given hope. The resilience of nature to recover and regenerate in the face of human activity is remarkable.
In the Top 5 happy Eco News stories this week, a story about recovery of nature is on the list. A story about the recovery of a once wild Western river, dammed and now again flowing free to the ocean is inspiring. Decades of public consultation and permitting culminated with the removal of 2 dams on the Elwha River in Washington State. The river is finally running free for the first time in more than 150 years.
Immediately after the dams were removed the salmon began to return. With the salmon, the bears and the iconic bald eagles came back. Birds, plants and even diminutive species like mice all regained habitat that had been unproductive for so long. In the ocean where the wild Elwha ends her journey, an estuary was created. Dungeness crab, shrimp and forage fish eaten by salmon, birds and other marine life quickly moved in to colonize the new sandy terrain.
Upriver, Elk and other ungulates have moved into to the once flooded river valley. Nutrients from the sea are again transported into the forest by the carcasses of salmon, feeding the plants and trees that line the river. Nutrients only found in sea water are beginning to show up in the plants and animals that live in the forests adjacent to the river. In the Elwha valley, nature is regenerating and healing herself.
Growing up in the Pacific North West near rivers and wild places like the Elwha is a gift that many of us take for granted. While places like Istanbul may never fully be wild again, nature persists even there. Habitat restoration projects like dam removal on rivers like the Elwha show that humans have the capacity to make positive decisions for the future and nature will respond by quickly healing and regenerating and for this I am thankful and hopeful.
In other top Happy Eco News stories, a Spanish company has developed a new carbonless fuel made from sewage, a writer suffering from eco-anxiety finds hope for the future – with a vision of how good things could be in 2040, running shoe manufacturer Reebok develops a vegan running shoe made from plants and furniture retail giant Ikea develops a compostable Styrofoam replacement made from mushrooms.
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