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The Orangutan Project With Leif Cocks

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Because of the rampant deforestation of rainforests, many animals find themselves struggling to find new habitats and food sources. Among those that call such forests home are orangutans. Small population biologist Leit Cocks dedicates himself to the study of these great apes, with the goal of saving their endangered species. He joins Corinna Bellizzi to share how supporting the preservation of eight different rainforests allows Leit and his team to contribute to the noble effort of rehabilitating suffering orangutans. He also emphasizes the need for collective action against climate change and carbon production, especially in this most critical decade in the history of mankind.

 

About Leif Cocks

CMBB 145 | OrangutansFor over three decades, world-renowned orangutan expert Leif Cocks has worked to secure the survival of Critically Endangered orangutans. He’s an outspoken campaigner on their behalf and a key player in developing plans for their protection, including leading the first-ever successful reintroduction of a zoo-born orangutan into the wild.

A small population biologist, Leif has a Master of Science studying orangutans. He’s been awarded Curtin University’s highest award for achievement, has published several academic papers and books on orangutans, and is the author of the Amazon Best Seller Orangutans My Cousins, My Friends and Finding Our Humanity. In 2020 Leif was awarded the Order of Australia for his outstanding work in the field of wildlife conservation.

 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/theorangutanproject

Website: https://www.theorangutanproject.org

Guest Social: https://www.instagram.com/theorangutanproject/, https://www.youtube.com/theorangutanproject, https://www.facebook.com/theorangutanproject, https://twitter.com/OrangutanTOP

 

Show Notes: – Edited Audio

00:00 – Introduction

05:51 – The Orangutan Project

07:51 – Palm oil problem

10:38 – Orangutan habitat degradation

12:12 – Restoring rainforests for orangutans

19:18 – The need for a collective effort

23:30 – Looking after eight rainforests

31:54 – Empowering yourself

34:15 – Calling for accountability from huge corporations

46:40 – Identifying responsible charities

49:22 – Closing Words

 

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The Orangutan Project With Leif Cocks

I want to start this episode by asking you a favor. Reviews, star ratings, and thumb-ups all affect how well a podcast does. If you like this discussion and have been tuning in for a while, I encourage you to go to Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen and write that rating. Give us five stars, thumbs up, and a written review wherever that’s possible. It will do worlds for helping us. Thank you so very much.

I want to invite you, as we are commencing this discussion, to think about what inspires you, what gets under your skin, and what propels you into action. When I ask myself that question, I am brought back to my youth when I was a little girl who learned that my grandmother had been diagnosed with skin cancer, a disease to which she would later succumb. I sought to understand what was happening to her. I started to read research and pick up medical journals and articles that were not intended for the lay public at nine years old.

I learned what an LD 50 level was. That is the rate at which 50% of animals in a study would die. I learned that monkeys and apes that I revered were often used in research studies for radiation therapy against cancers and things like that. I was nine years old. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t want to live in a world where we took animals for granted. I decided to do something about it. There was a lab in my home state of Oregon that was doing research at the time on rhesus macaque. I went out and collected thousands of signatures, going door to door at my school, even sitting in front of the grocery store and collecting signatures that way.

You know the drill. It’s that, “Do you want to get something on the ballot?” I want to get something on the ballot so we can vote on it. I was successful in getting something on the ballot. That effort didn’t end animal testing. It did become part of a larger movement that would ultimately shift us away from doing many research studies on primates.

It also led to my study of anthropology, primatology, evolution, and archeology. I spent quite a bit of time studying primates. I learned to identify species from their bones. I have dissected their bodies and prepared skeletons of chimpanzees for use in primatology labs, seeking to understand man’s closest relatives on this planet. One of those chimpanzees was even a chimpanzee that Jane Goodall had studied in the wild.

Why am I talking about this origin story? It is important that we consider what inspires us to act, what gets under our skin, what makes us happy, and what makes us ultimately have that spring in our step, and align our purpose with our passion. That is what this show is about. It is inviting you to care more about specific issues so that we can all create a better world together and do this collectively. It also touches on the subject we are going to dive into with our guest, Leif Cocks.

He is the Organizer and Founder of The Orangutan Project, a primate. It’s getting me thinking about all of my history. He has an interesting history and interesting story. When we come together in this discussion, we talk about many things that connect to orangutans. Moreover, it is what connects us to collective action, happiness, creating a better future, and preserving these rainforests that the orangutans will live within, but also what it is like to live with one another, protect and preserve the future for all species, and shifting away from extractive processes and capitalism.

Our discussion lends in many different directions, but it all comes back to that one thing. How do we live as a community? How do we remain inspired? How do we connect with and commune with nature? How do we create that future that we want to live in where all people and the planet can thrive and prosper the beautiful story?

Let me tell you for a moment about The Orangutan Project. For over three decades, world-renowned orangutan expert, Leif Cocks, has worked to secure the survival of critically endangered orangutans. He is an outspoken campaigner on their behalf. He is a key player in developing plans for their protection, including leading the first-ever successful reintroduction of a zoo-born orangutan into the wild. I’m going to be interviewing one of his collaborators in the future to talk about that reintroduction to tell you the story of what it took.

He is a small population biologist. Leif has a master’s degree studying orangutans. He has been awarded Curtin University’s highest award for achievement, has published several academic papers and books on orangutans, and is the author of the Amazon bestseller Orangutans. My Cousins, My Friends. In 2020, Leif was awarded The Order of Australia for his outstanding work in the field of wildlife conservation. I’m thrilled that I get to share this conversation with you to introduce you to Leif Cocks, to the Orangutan Project, and how we can all commune together, create stronger change, and live a happier life. With that, here is that conversation. I hope you enjoy it.

Welcome to the show, Leif.

It is great to be here. Thank you.

As I alluded to in my intro, I got a bit of experience there, nowhere near what you have experienced, but I did spend some time studying populations of orangutans in local zoos and being inside the cage with them. Sadly, that is their life within a cage. I love to start with the story of what inspired you in the first place to venture into this study of orangutans and other primates.

I had the opportunity many years ago to work with fifteen orangutans. I had the absolutely beautiful opportunity of having no training at all. I have given the diet sheet and told how to move the slides, and that was it. I got to learn them from an objective opinion without any pre-learning about who and what they are. It wasn’t until later that people told me that orangutans were dangerous and they could hurt you. I would go in, have my lunch with them, and be their friend. I would be there when they had their babies, nursed their babies, and looked after them. I developed a close personal friendship with these orangutans.

I discovered that they are self-aware and they don’t belong in captivity. I discovered that, as a species, they had been driven to extinction in the most horrible ways that we can imagine. They are being macheted to death, burnt alive, and in various other ways, unfortunately. That started my lifelong journey, not only to help the welfare of orangutans but to preserve their species in the wild. That leads to the journey of getting many of these orangutans back into the wild where it is the only place they can thrive and live meaningful lives.

CMBB 145 | Orangutans
Orangutans: Orangutans are driven too extinction in the most horrible ways. They are being hit with machete to death and burnt alive.

 

The orangutans have met their end a number of ways, and none of them are pretty. If people have spent some time watching some feature films like that about Dian Fossey studying gorillas or Jane Goodall’s work with chimpanzees. They get to know that there are issues of poaching and deforestation through burning simply because they want to plant more palm.

Palm kernel oil is used in our food production. It is used in the creation of vitamin A and every peanut butter you see on the shelf. While some are marketed as orangutans safe, I felt like supporting the problem of that palm kernel oil in the first place is supporting the problem of orangutan habitat degradation. What are your feelings about that?

There are two aspects to it. Palm oil has grown as a monoculture, which has always destroyed rainforests for its production. Sustainable palm oil is a myth and doesn’t hold up to science because all monoculture will eventually destroy the environment in which they are grown. That is not only true for palm oil but for all monoculture. It is never sustainable and it is never a good idea. It is about the exploitation of the rich against the environment, local community, and future generations.

As individuals, we should avoid participating in those as much as possible as consumers. However, the flip side to it is running palm oil campaigns and advocating for certified or sustainable palm oil, which doesn’t exist, doesn’t help the problem at all because it does not understand the true driver of deforestation and the killing of orangutans. The forest is destroyed primarily for the value of the trees. We then finance the most economically viable short-term way of using that land. That can be palm oil, but many times it is pulp paper, rubber plantations, or coal mines as examples.

[bctt tweet=”One of the most ideal ways to push reforestation forward and save orangutans is to advocate for sustainable palm oil.” username=””]

By addressing a particular commodity that replaces the rainforest, we will not stop trees from being destroyed and orangutans from being killed. As individuals, we may choose not to support the companies destroying the rainforest through palm oil consumption. In order to save the rainforest, it will take a far more focused application of intelligent compassion to achieve the aim.

Let’s talk for a moment about the relatively small habitat that they have left to them. Share with our audience, where in the world do orangutan lives in the wild?

In prehistory, orangutans existed in Southern China and all the way down to the island of Java. It only now lives on two islands. The island of Sumatra and Borneo. Borneo is owned by two nations, Malaysia and Indonesia. Sumatra is a purely Indonesian island. The vast majority of the rainforest had been destroyed and pulp paved. We are fighting over the last remaining scraps of rainforest on these two islands and only have the next decade to ensure that we can conserve enough ecosystems in the right type of shape and size of rainforest to allow the rainforest to survive. You need a certain shape, type, and size of rainforest for the rainforest to be sustainable. Also, critically endangered species such as orangutans can’t survive in viable populations.

Our mission is to save up to eight ecosystems, the right type and shape, inside the rainforest in the next decade before it is too late. Otherwise, there will be rainforests in fragmented patches or orangutan populations in small fragmented areas that are unsustainable. However, both the rainforest and orangutan populations will expire to extinction over time unless we can act in this decade.

Let’s talk about the orangutan and what is unique and special about them. I always marveled at the fact that they are quite large and yet able to remain almost purely arboreal, separating their weight between four limbs perfectly within the canopy of the forest. I also understand that their life cycle is such that it takes a while to get to sexual maturity. They don’t tend to have offspring every year. How can we help their populations rebound, assuming we’re able to protect enough of the rainforest for their habitat?

As you are indicating, they are a slow-reproducing species in the world. There are three species. It is hard to talk about all of them in one episode. As an example, the Sumatran orangutan has its babies first at fifteen, and there are nine years between individual infants. Why is this the case? Why do they reproduce so slowly?

It’s because they adapt to the environment primarily through culture, not natural selection, as lower animals primarily do. They are born like us with vacant brains and instincts. Over a long training period, the mother programs a culture about what food, medicines, and dangers exist in the rainforest. It allows them to uniquely adapt to the ever-changing environment quicker than natural selection alone can do. This is a fantastic system for intelligent beings to adapt to the environment.

CMBB 145 | Orangutans
Orangutans: Orangutans reproduce slowly because they need to adapt to the environment first though culture and not natural selection, as lower animals primarily do.

 

This is one of the reasons humans are successful. However, it can only occur when there is no natural predator. If you kill only 1% of the females of orangutans in a viable population a year, that population will quickly spiral to extinction. After their evolution, orangutans have been introduced to these beautiful species and super predators, humans. This initially led to their population decline through low-level hunting. The period resistance of species destruction, the absolute wholesale destruction of 80% of the habitat in the last twenty years, and the industrial-scale destruction of rainforests have driven them to the point of being critically endangered and one step away from extinction.

As we learned a bit about the orangutan and why it would be challenging for their populations to rebound, I would love for you to tell us more about what we can do to help, and what the Orangutan Project is doing to both raise awareness and ensure that these populations are protected.

I will answer first the second part of that question. What are we doing? We are saving up to eight ecosystems, depending on how much money we can get from our donor base. Eight ecosystems of the right type, shape, and size rainforest. The vast majority of areas that become conservation forests are national parks which are fairly useless for wildlife. The hills and the mountain areas are good for water catchment and not useful for converting to palm oil plantations. Orangutans, tigers, elephants, and indigenous communities need the lowland riverine forest to survive. Getting the right forest of the right size and shape is important. Unfortunately, after this decade, we won’t have the opportunity. There won’t be enough viable ecosystems to piece together. That is our main game.

A lot of these areas do not have viable populations of orangutans anymore because of hunting. What we are doing is we are rescuing orangutans, rehabilitating them, and reintroducing them into these ecosystems so a viable population can occur again. There are two things happening. One is we need the area for orangutans to survive, but we also need the genetic diversity. When you have a critically endangered species such as an orangutan, every individual becomes an important genetic resource that supports a survival species.

It is no longer a welfare or a conservation issue. Welfare and conservation are the same things. If we can support the welfare of individuals and allow them to survive, breathe, and go back to the wild, we also support species. What can we do as individuals? By ourselves, not much. I believe the only way human beings can ever achieve anything is through collectivization.

As individuals, we don’t hold much knowledge and power. However, we have been successful and continue to be successful if we are willing to collectivize. There are two ways we can collectivize. One is we collectivize our capital. As any smart person knows, they can earn a decent living by getting a job. If they don’t earn a lot of money, they collectivize capital into what we call a company, and they can make lots of money.

Similarly, any person can know that they could try to have better working conditions and wages by asking a boss for them. Good luck with that but if they collectivized in the union, they can make large meaningful changes. It’s only through collectivization through either our labor, in this case volunteering or supporting with your skills to survive orangutan or your capital. You have some affluence and are able to return some of your affluence back to causes that are going to make meaningful changes that you want in the world. Through those two ways, we can make meaningful changes.

There are two other aspects I want to highlight. This is the most important decade in human history. I’m not being flippant with that. The human species has been rounded in its current form, but at least 200,000 years. If you lived in any decade at any time before now, you would have less influence on the outcome of the planet and future generations. This is the most important decade.

Secondly, the vast majority of people on this planet are either too poor or living in totalitarian regimes, and have no ability to collectivize capital and labor to make meaningful changes. We are representing a privileged few in the most important time in history that can do so much good. It is not only a life challenge. It is also an incredible privilege for us to be able to make meaningful changes at this time in history.

You bring up some important points. We are in a critical decade. We are approaching in a way that two-degree threshold where the climate simply gets too warm. We have these vast weather changes that come through the entire ecosystems around the planet that affects our oceans and everything. At times like this, it can start to feel like it is too much. It is overwhelming, and there is so much work to be done. It’s even getting to a point where we can preserve enough of that rainforest for the rainforest to exist for a decade can feel like it is unlikely. What hope would you have to share with our audience?

There are two aspects to that question. One is we have a huge challenge. In this next decade, we can turn this around, and we can make it happen. It is not impossible. It is just extremely challenging. Therefore, it is beholden to us as the privileged few in this decade to make this meaningful change. The second aspect of it is I’m not a big advocate for hope. Hope comes with despair. It is not a good way of acting in life. What I am for is finding joy and happiness within ourselves. That will naturally have to express itself.

The change is not reliant on external factors of success and failure, especially in conservation. I describe it with the marathon, hurdles, or professional boxer punching you in the face every hundred meters. If you are living on hope, you’re going to be quivering in a corner very quickly. However, if you are filled with love and compassion that needs to express itself in an intelligent way, you will keep going. Therefore, you will have the energy and the stamina to see this project through over the next decade.

The wonderful thing about this is it’s not about wildlife versus people or environment versus the economy. All along the way, you are achieving meaningful outcomes for sentient beings. Those around you or the people you work with, you are enriching their lives by empowering them to give and care. We bring joy, love, and happiness to ourselves. Every individual orangutan, elephant, and indigenous community child that we feed, educate, and give opportunity is a wonderful outcome in itself.

[bctt tweet=”Conservation is not about wildlife versus people or environment versus economy. You are achieving meaningful outcomes for sentient beings around you, enriching their lives and empowering them to care.” username=””]

To bring that all together to make a better future for not only orangutans, elephants, tigers, and indigenous communities working with them, but through protecting the rainforest. We are doing the most cost-effective thing we can do to mitigate climate change and make a better world for everybody on this planet. In some sense, it is wondrous and joyful that we can bring so much happiness, joy, security, safety, and opportunity to many living beings.

I have spent some time in rainforests in Australia and even Redwood Forests, which are essentially rainforest ecosystems themselves. It looks slightly different than more of these tropical environment rainforests. The moisture in the air keeps the area cooler and keeps water in the soil. You have microbes and fungi that help to break it down, protect that water that’s there, and ensure that we are sequestering more carbon.

These forests are havens for clean air and water resources and ensure that we have a healthier planet and healthier ecosystems all around. They house a myriad of species that are interconnected in a way that we can’t fully understand. If we spend some time in that space and nature, we can come to appreciate even with a lack of understanding that we might have.

It is my belief that if we can educate ourselves on that one piece and get into nature in our own backyards, we can gain an appreciation for that and move ourselves into action. We can support these sorts of initiatives in spaces around the globe that we might not be able to personally touch, but we have a greater understanding of. As a plug on what you are doing, I would like to know what specifically you are looking to do with the Orangutans Project when it comes to these eight forests. Are you securing land? Are you collaborating with would-be farmers to move them into different spaces? What is it specifically that you are undertaking?

It is a complex answer. That is not often satisfying to us because we love simple solutions. I always say, “For every complex problem in the world, there is a simple solution that is wrong. That is not how you solve things in the world.” What we do is we look at the ecosystem and diagnose the disease. We supply the medicine in the right dosage and medicine. If you go to your doctor and he gives you the same medicine and dosage for every disease you present to him, you should realize he is a crack.

Conservation is the same thing. It is a big mixture. It is about land leasing. We are leasing vast tracks of land for 100-year leases. We are strategically purchasing some land. We have an MOU with local officials to genuinely protect land, which is already legally protected. We are piecing together intelligently the ecosystem’s right option.

CMBB 145 | Orangutans
Orangutans: Conservation is a big mixture of different things. It’s about leasing and releasing vast tracts of lands for a hundred years.

 

Can we stop there for a minute? You said, “Genuinely protect.” That means that there is a problem there. This is a space where there is supposedly protection in place, but it is either not enforced or there are poaching issues or something else. Can you talk more about that issue?

There is one organization that comes to mind who got awards for creating a national park in Indonesia, which is now two-thirds palm oil plantation. They create a national park, tick, and move on.

We come right back to that palm oil issue. This is why I tell people, “Look at your peanut butter. Start there. Don’t buy the stuff that has palm kernel oil in it.”

You have organizations who never committed to changing the status of rainforests from unprotected to protected. They tick and move on. You are only addressing one part of the mosaic of action. It depends on the particular area. We have rangers to employ to go in and protect the areas and ensure that they are genuinely protected.

The other aspect of it is the other victims are the indigenous communities whose land rights haven’t been recognized. The big multinationals have taken all the land for pulp paper and palm oil. Their way of life such as hunter and gathering or agriculture has been sustainable over the centuries because they have been operating over large enough areas to make that sustainable. Now, those two ways of life are unsustainable not due to fault of their own. We are working with them to develop new agricultural systems under the rainforest canopy so they can prosper.

In the areas we started working with, we come in, and they don’t name the children at birth. They name them at six because they are unlikely to survive. The children are malnourished and uneducated. Their brains are not developing due to a lack of nutrition. When we educate them, give them two meals a day, provide a midwife, and help them transition respectively over to new agricultural systems, we are allowing them to then become sustainable in their remaining environment.

The ultimate aim is to hand over in continuous time as the empowered custodians of this land because if there is no land, people have no power. They think indigenous rights might be the way to go and hand it over to them. Their way of life is no longer sustainable because it is no fault of their own, or they have no power to protect the area.

These simple one-size-fits-all solutions don’t ever work. You have to provide the whole framework of the mosaic. This is what we are trying to achieve with all our wonderful underground partners who work day in and day out in the rainforest to piece together these ecosystems. Each species and subspecies of orangutans have the opportunity to live in their own culture in sustainable populations in the world. Hopefully, those ecosystems are large enough, as you suggested, that they produce their own rain. They produce their own humidity and biodiversity. The rainforest and the population within it will be sustainable.

That is not going to be enough to save the planet. We have to be rewilding at least 25% to 30% of the planet to stabilize and support the environment and economy for future generations. However, at least these ecosystems will provide the basic fundamental resource to allow that remodeling to occur, rather than leaving small islands of biodiversity which are collapsing before future generations can stabilize this planet for all living means.

For the audience here, rewilding is a big topic. I interviewed Paul Hawken in his book, Regeneration Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation. There is an entire section in that book on rewilding. I did cover in about a twenty-minute episode some keys to rewilding an area. We need to understand that it is not just setting aside unproductive land. You need to set aside land that can be productive to ensure that we are giving ourselves and our planet the resources it needs to thrive.

That could be rewilding grassland and forests. That could be taking land and using a more regenerative approach to your agriculture so that you are sequestering carbon. If you are producing any fruits of your labor, that is productive. It is a challenging question, and it’s something that we should continue to talk about. We say 30% to 50% of productive areas. That includes the sea as well because the sea is the largest carbon sink that we have. We need to think about that too, from the kelp that grows in it, to the action of the waves absorbing carbon into the ocean. It is not just carbon either.

Yes, from the desire to slaughter and eat the flesh of our fellow beings on our planet. We are all connected with love and compassion for all living beings, including things like pigs and cows. It is a lack of love and compassion for them which is destroying the destruction of ourselves and the planet. It’s love and compassion for other living beings, from America to orangutans in Indonesia. All that is going to benefit us.

It is not the environment versus the economy. We have exploitative economies now. We pass the true cost of production onto the powerless and non-recognized species such as orangutans, indigenous communities, and powerless people, as an example. More importantly, in this context, we are passing the true cost of production to future generations.

If not saying we want a great economy. We want to be prosperous, but we want to do it in a way that doesn’t exploit other living beings. It becomes a genuinely sustainable economy that benefits all. The future I’m envisaging is not a future of becoming impoverished to save the planet or sacrificing. The future is one of affluence, beauty, and leading fantastic meaningful lives. We got to rejig our economy from this obsession with short-term exploitation.

We talk about simple things like the true cost of a t-shirt. You shouldn’t pay $5 for a t-shirt at Ross Dress For Less. If you are doing that, you are borrowing from the future. You should understand that it was built for $5 that you are buying at a store because somebody else sacrificed their livelihood or the forest behind their home to create land for farming. We need to think in a more regenerative way. At times that can seem overwhelming.

As we have prepared a wrap this show, what I like to do is talk about what people can do and how they can empower themselves, whether it be through donation or action in their local communities, and to help them understand how they can be of help to the orangutan, the elephants, and the other beings on this planet.

Everyone’s first duty in life is to be cheerful. Find that joy and love within yourself. You can’t find it externally because if you are cheerful and joy and love are within you, you have two things. You want to help others. If you are in pain, you naturally spread the pain. You can’t help it. If you have joy and happiness within yourself, you naturally have to spread that. It is not going to be limited by external circumstances. You have the resilience to move on. I put it another way. We can’t reform the world unless we reform ourselves. That is the first duty in our lives.

The only thing is the two wings of the bird. Most charity is wasted and causes more problems than it solves. We not only have to have the love and compassion of other living beings to make a meaningful change. We have to have the second wing of intellect, and intelligently apply that love and compassion. Otherwise, the bird will fly around in circles.

[bctt tweet=”We need to have not only love and compassion for other living things to make a meaningful change. We also need to have the intellect to apply those values.” username=””]

We need the two wings. You got to at least do some research and intelligently apply your love and compassion for other living beings to ensure that it makes the meaningful change that you want in the world. As I touched on before, if at all possible, please collectivize. As orangutans do, they adapt to the environments of culture. The wonderful thing about culture is you gain all the knowledge in this assessment. All the orangutans that live in your community will learn and you will learn.

Far more importantly, if an orangutan, thousands of years ago, discovered that this plant helped treat malaria, you know it. It is the same with human beings. You would be surprised how little we know, and what we think we know, we don’t know. There are other people in our culture that know that. We have the privilege of owning that bit of knowledge.

By collectivizing, we can accelerate our power. My big example of this is carbon footprints. Everyone talks about carbon footprints. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that, but that was created by British Petroleum, 1 of 100 companies that have caused 90% of climate change. Why have they done that? It is for two reasons. They say, “It is not our fault. It is your fault. You better get your act together.” As an individual, we have no power.

Can we laugh at it for a minute? It is the most ridiculous thing.

By concentrating on your carbon footprint, you are no longer in the mindset to collectivize to make sure that those billionaires who are destroying the planet are held to account. We are sold as pups to think globally and act locally. It is fine, but the trouble is impoverished people and the destruction of goods and services that we support our economies with are coming from developing nations. If we don’t understand and act there, the planet will be destroyed, and eventually, our economy and environment in the developed world.

We have been sold these lies in a sense of individual efficacy. It has allowed them to delay meaningful action on climate change and conservation so that their assets like oil or gas and the animal industry aren’t stranded. We can’t be fooled because we only got the next decade to make meaningful changes. We can’t allow them to get away with this misdirection.

The type of misdirection and in the spirit of that misdirection, I have been contacted by several oil and gas executives over the course of the last couple of years, asking to come on this show and talk about how oil companies and natural gas companies need to be part of the transition and solution of climate change. I’m like, “No, you can’t come on and leave your spin in my audience. It is not going to happen.”

They do that everywhere. The idea is from their point of view, they know that the writing is on the wall. Everyone now realizes that they are destroying the planet. The idea is let’s delay change. One of the tactics is to say, “We have to transition. We have to be part of the solution,” rather than saying, “You have been too selfish to lead the transition. You could have done that instead of climate denial, and 30 years ago, started transitioning to renewables. You could have been leaders of it.”

Instead of putting new oil rigs off of the coast of the ocean, they could have been putting wind farms at sea.

As a planet, why should we pay for your bad business mistakes? The beauty of capitalism is what we should do. It’s not crony capitalism, not influencing the decisions of government policymakers, but real capitalism. Those businesses which have made bad decisions by investing in old technologies need to go away. They should go out of business. We should allow new businesses which are investing in the new economy and new technology to thrive.

What we need to do is remove crony capitalism and allow true capitalism or those who benefit from goods and services without exploitation to prosper. As you felt, I believe those people have no place in the dialogue because they are using their power and influence to misdirect not only us but democracies to make the meaningful change we need to do for the benefit of the people.

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Orangutans: New businesses investing in the new economy should aim to remove crony capitalism in favor of true capitalism. This way, those who provide good services can prosper without exploitation.

 

I don’t know if you’ve had the pleasure of listening to a couple of my guest episodes with some climate-aware individuals like Tzeporah Berman of Stand.earth and champion for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. The work is long and arduous. It is getting entire countries to sign on to an agreement that they will say, “No more oil. We are going to put this to bed. No new contracts, no new drilling, and no new anything when it comes to oil.” That is a big step.

There are countries that are signing on to that Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is nice to see, but we need to get big countries with big economies committed to those things too. It is when we do, not if it has to be. I stand behind that because you see rising changes in our climates around the globe, hotter summers and colder winters in different spots than you would see as normal, flooding and fires like never before because of how dramatically we have altered our own ecosystems around the globe already.

Because of climate lag, it is going to take time for these real changes that we have put into effect for us to see the benefit of them. If we don’t make moves now, two generations down the road, we may not have an environment that can sustain us anymore. That is the hard truth. It will have been our own doing. Change things now, get involved, find something you are passionate about, the orangutan or fossil fuel treaty, and get activated.

I also had one guest who I connected with on a periodic basis. She has become a friend, Beth Craig. She likes to say that she thinks we should be paying more for everything. If we take this mindset of, “My t-shirt needs to cost more because it needs to be made responsibly. If it doesn’t, and I happen to have dabbled in something that I got for a steal, perhaps I should put more money into a project like the Orangutan Project. I should put more resources into these things and look at them as a tax on something that I was perhaps less than responsible for.” We can make those moves if we are committed to being responsible citizens. If we have a little bit of extra as opposed to those that are living on a dime, we can make those choices. We can live a little differently.

There are two aspects to that. One is for no fault of our own, we are living a slightly higher standard from the exploitation of others because of the economic system that we are forced to live in. If we return some of that to a charity that’s making a genuine, meaningful, and measurable change, that is the moral obligation to ourselves.

The other aspect of it that I have a little difference of opinion is that we have to spend more. Since the 1970s, the middle class has been destroyed. Wage is effective after inflation hasn’t gone up. It has gone backward, but the economy is booming. Inflation is driven by increasingly large corporate profits and feeding the increased wealth of the 1% of 1%. After all, it doesn’t make sense because these billionaires can’t spend all the money they accumulated. I would argue that most of the money we are seeing spent is not going to pay for the production of goods and services but for profits.

It is going to the top. That’s right.

They are making money from exploitation, not providing meaningful goods and services. In some ways, we almost have lost control of democracies to a particular interest. The only reason I mentioned that is I believe we can have a prosperous and affluent future for all living beings. We don’t have to seem to have this trade-off. If not, the right way of looking at it in what environmentalists and conservationists are trying to achieve.

I don’t think I disagree with you at all there. Perhaps it’s a different way of stating some of the same. As it comes to the center billionaires in the world, why does this even make sense?

It doesn’t make sense at all. If you are a miserable bastard, $4 billion is not going to make you any happier. There is no value for them. It is like a cancer cell. The cancer cell keeps wanting to grow, and it is destroying the host. I’m trying to say to these cancer cells, “I love you too, but your insane growth doesn’t hold even value for yourself, let alone others. Let’s work for a better world.”

What I’m trying to emphasize is hate or belittling anybody or a person is not the right idea. I’m trying to emphasize the better world we are looking for is good for billionaires and millionaires. It’s not bad for them either, but it is eventually going to be better for them. They are stuck in a mentality of crony capitalism and exploitation. For even their benefit, we need to slow them down to make it better.

[bctt tweet=”The better world is the one good for everyone, even for billionaires and millionaires. Unfortunately, they are stuck in a mentality of crony capitalism and exploitation.” username=””]

What do they say? It is lonely at the top. If you have somebody who has so much more wealth than everybody else, it almost separates them and divorces them from the community. That is part of the reason that they might even be inspired to keep at and get more because there is dissatisfaction with life.

They are sad individuals in some senses. We have to have empathy for them. Healthy individuals would never put themselves in that position because the costs are horrific not only for the planet but for themselves as individuals.

That is a big issue that I don’t know that we’ll be able to dismantle in a decade, but I hope we can make progress. I see that we have grown into a society here in the United States where we almost incentivize monopoly at this stage. I thought we were anti-monopolistic or anti-oligarchy, but it is not proving to be the case. Amazon is replacing everything, as are the Googles of the world. What do you do?

Unfortunately, the greatest social act in history, which created the most prosperous time we have in place and time we have ever seen is a new deal in America. We created many benefits and wealth not only for America but the planet. That has been dismantled not only in America but all over the world. We’ve lost control of our democracies to the interests of a few individuals. One of the things we need to do is regain our democracy and have a fair world so we can prosper. If the rich get richer and the poor keep getting poorer, we are all just consumers who buy their goods and services. It is a zero-sum game.

[bctt tweet=”We have created so much benefits and wealth that we’ve lost control of our democracies to the interest of a few individuals.” username=””]

What if more of us become minimalists and suddenly opt out of that consumer’s lifestyle anyway? What do you do?

Poverty sucks, but what the research tells us is once we get over a certain level of income, there is no net gain in happiness from increasingly putting gold on a mule’s back. We have to look at societies and ways of living which make us happy, rather than this belief that more wealth and mature possessions will somehow in the future materialize and more happiness. The research shows that simply doesn’t happen. Our billionaire friends that we are talking about here are miserable and demonstrate that to us every day.

I appreciate the conversation. I do have an individual coming on soon. I’m going to be interviewing the CEO of Charity Navigator. I mentioned that because I have heard you talk on other shows about learning to identify responsible charities. That is something I will be discussing with him. Do you have any tips about how people can identify responsible charities if they want to nominate one to be their monthly giving cycle or annual, or some companies that they want to support with their dollars?

They focus on administration costs or putting their annual report. All of that is important, but you can do all that and achieve nothing. You are what you measure. Let’s say a charity gets $1 million. What other measurable outcomes do you achieve with that? If you are in orangutan conservation, how many orangutans have you saved? How many did you release? How many wild populations are secured with your protection? How much rainforest have you secured? Measure those things and put those in your annual report impact statements.

Don’t worry about the process in between as much. Worry about the genuine measurable outcomes. The trouble is charities and charity regulators measure these things in between. That is not how you measure impact. I believe that most charity money is wasted. This doesn’t make sense at various levels of processes.

I always say to people, “Don’t worry too much about the other stuff. Look at the annual report.” You got this much. I was measuring the outcome. That is the main thing. If you are measuring, let’s have a quick look at it and see if that’s an effective use of outcomes for the dollars that you are getting. That is the best way to measure the charities that we give to.

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Orangutans: Charities and charity regulators must measure impact by looking at their annual report. This can help them see if that’s an effective use of outcomes for the dollars they are getting.

 

Leif, I love to ask you if there is a closing thought that you like to leave our audience with or perhaps a question you wish I asked that I haven’t.

Thank you for having us on. The connection with other people and collectivizing in such ways that we can make a meaningful change together is wonderful. The Orangutan Project is not the only good charity to support, but we do offer it if you have that love and compassion as one way of making that meaningful change in the world that will leave a better planet for all living beings.

Thank you so much for joining me, Leif.

Thank you very much.

To learn more about Leif Cocks and the Orangutan Project, visit TheOrangutanProject.org. You can also connect with them on Instagram @TheOrangutanProject. When you visit CareMoreBeBetter.com, I hope that you will sign up for our newsletter. Subscribers receive a welcome gift, which is a five-step guide to help them get organized and inspire their activism and collective change. It serves as a great project management tool.

If you have feedback or want to suggest a future show topic, please send me an email or leave me a voicemail directly from the site too. You will even notice a microphone icon in the bottom right-hand corner. You can click on that and leave me a message. Thank you, everyone, as always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more. We can be better. We can even return the orangutans to their formal glory and create a better future for them and all of Earth’s inhabitants. Thank you.

 

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