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by Eamon Lahiri
Having respect for the environment and life on earth shouldn't be something we glorify -- it's one of those things we should all be doing anyway, like saving for retirement or being a good parent or not punching flash mobs. And even though, overall, mankind does a fairly crappy job at it, we sometimes are blessed with heroic individuals who step up and say, "Relax, planet. I've got this."
Man Spends 3 Years Cleaning 28 Million Pounds Of Pollution From Beach
In 2015, a guy named Afroz Shah was admiring the view from his waterfront apartment, reveling in the beauty of the sea and its pristine beach. Or at least he would have, had the beach not been littered with an unholy amount of waste. Shah described the garbage as being five feet high, and enough for a child to drown in. So picture the opening credits of DuckTales, where Scrooge McDuck is diving into a room full of gold, except replace that with trash.
But instead of doing what most of us would consider socially responsible -- taking pictures of the mess and uploading it to social media with a moralistic caption -- Shah decided to roll his sleeves up and get dirty. He, along with a neighbor, began cleaning the beach one piece of garbage at a time. They did this every weekend, non-stop for three years, while slowly amassing an ever-growing group of volunteers. By 2018, Shah had managed to lead a superhuman effort that cleared out a total of 13 million kilos (28 million pounds) of waste from the beach and had pulled the water quality index up by more than 10 points. Even more impressively, he did it all with his own money, with no help from the local government.
"Hey, a quarter! Wait, no. Just more filth."
Eventually, the UN's Environment Patron of Oceans took notice, describing the campaign as "the world's largest beach clean-up in history," and his project finally received the worldwide recognition it deserved. But Shah just put his head down and kept working, because he wasn't in it for any kind of award or glory; he just wanted to look out his window and not see giant piles of crap.
But in April 2018, Mother Nature herself gave Shah a present that reduced him to tears.
During a routine clean-up one morning, he noticed a clutch of baby turtles making a beeline for the waves. They weren't just any old turtles, either, but Olive Ridley turtles that had returned to Mumbai after 20 years, presumably noticing the lack of stench that used to emanate from there.
It's reported that their ninja training is coming along nicely.
A Man Returns To His Village To Defeat The Desert
Anyone who's ever opened a geography textbook knows that the Sahara desert in Africa is the largest desert in the world, at least outside of the frozen ones. But learning little factoids in middle school doesn't always tell the whole story.
See, unlike international borders, a desert doesn't really end at a specific line that you can straddle with your legs, bragging that you're in the desert and the forest at the same time. It fades into its surroundings and can even grow outward, expanding one dead tree at a time on its peripheries. In the African region called the Sahel, a transitional zone between the Sahara and the Savannah grasslands, they have felt this harsh reality by being subject to rapid desertification over most of the last century. And as a result, the countries in this region were running out of water, livestock, and cultivable land at an alarming rate.
A villager from the country of Burkina Faso, Yacouba Sawadogo, was one of the privileged few who didn't have to worry about eking out a living from the shriveling land, largely thanks to a steady business in the city. But forty years ago, he left it all to take up his new mission in life -- returning to his village and saving it from drought and famine.
"Desert Slayer" would be the most awesome nickname.
Despite being illiterate, Sawadogo understood the science of agriculture, although he was initially mocked for suggesting it to his villagers. The ancient farming method he planned to implement, called "Zai," was considered so bizarre that he became the object of ridicule. Until, of course, everyone realized they didn't have any better ideas, so like, go for it, dude.
Zai has two key elements: Digging numerous small holes in the ground and filling them with compost which helps retain moisture for the dry season, and working the soil extensively in the dry season as well, which replaced the previously accepted method of praying for rain to save everyone's asses. In 20 years, Sawadogo managed to convert the Sahel into a 30-acre forest with more than 60 different species of trees.
The Lady Who Saved Thousands Of Animals On Her Own Dime
You may have heard of China's infamous Yulin Dog Meat Festival, a "celebration" that glorifies the commercialized kidnapping, torture, and killing of thousands of dogs for consumption. There have been plenty of online petitions and protests to raise awareness of the practice, but none of that was actually helping the real victims: the dogs.
In 2015, retired schoolteacher Yang Xiaoyun decided that outrage alone was doing exactly squat, so she traveled 124 miles from her home to the city of Yulin, dishing out almost $1,000 to purchase 100 dogs and save them from slaughter, then took them back home with her. And if you're freaking out at the thought of a hundred dogs in a house when you're struggling to keep one feisty dachshund in check, you should know that this isn't Xiaoyun's sole endeavor to rid the world of mistreated creatures.
Man, she is going to need SO many Frisbees.
Far from being a one-off thing, Xiaoyun has actually rescued upwards of 3,000 stray animals over her lifetime, keeping a not-insignificant number of them at her own home. For those that she couldn't accommodate personally, she created an entire shelter. It's known as the Common House, which she started in 1995 following her husband's death, and it has been her life's work.
Xiaoyun continues to give everything she has to the project, having already sold two houses to sustain it, and not giving up on it despite being forced to relocate nine times because of neighbors complaining about the constant barking. Which ... yeah, that would be annoying. But still.
76-Year-Old Saves Wildlife Preserve At The Expense Of His Own House
Wildfires have become a tragic, annual reality for California. The Tubbs Fire last year was the most devastating in the state's history, and ravaged its way through the heart of the city of Santa Rosa.
But not without one hell of a fight from one determined Peter Lang.
Lang has always been very close to environmental causes, having owned a 400-acre wildlife preserve hosting over a thousand exotic animals, mostly from continental Africa. When he woke up one fateful night to a phone call informing him about a raging fire, he had precious little time to collect everything he valued and run for his life. So he sprang into action, doing exactly that.
Except what he valued the most, more than his own home and belongings, were the animals on his preserve, and he wasn't running away without them. In a tale more ridiculously heroic than a Bruce Willis movie, Lang spent the entire night stamping out the flames with his boots, and attacking the fire surrounding the preserve with nothing but a garden hose, lots of extra piping and sheer determination.
Careful. That thing looks horny.
He drove around the animal enclosures and rescued each one individually, often having to lead them through flames. All the while, he wore no more protective gear than a hoodie, constantly drenching himself in water to stay hydrated and not engulfed in flames. Although, given that he probably sweats Gatorade anyway, he clearly has to stay hydrated all the time.
Oh, right. And he was 76 years old when this went down. Think about that the next time you put off your morning jog.
Guy Flies Alongside Geese To Train Them For A New Migration Pattern
In 1995, Frenchman Christian Moullec realized that the Lesser white-fronted goose was soon to be the next species on the soon-to-be-not-be list. They had rapidly declined in numbers across Europe, and had pretty much stopped migrating altogether. To be fair, you might, too if you thought taking a bullet was a risk you'd have to endure en route to your summer getaway.
Moullec wanted to do something to help the birds, and the idea he came up with was beautifully off the charts. With love and persistence, he raised groups of geese from the time they hatched so they'd imprint on him, which basically means the first creature a newborn sees is the one they trust. Once he had established that relationship, this human goose-mother took to the air on his microlight along with his flock, training them to fly in formation along new and safer migration paths, in a much more bullet-free zone.
Do a barrel roll!
After successfully reintroducing the geese to their traditional migration spots, he extended his conservation efforts and started taking passengers onboard with him to experience what it feels like to fly alongside birds, and how much better it is to soar above valleys alongside them than to hang their taxidermied bodies over your fireplace mantle.
Like this article? Check out "5 Real Life Robin Hoods Who Made The World A Better Place" and "From Batteries To Plastic Wrap: 5 Ways Science Is Making Our Garbage Edible".