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To save the world we must address the elephant in the room, literally

By Ignite Investments Partner, Yariv Cohen. Published on The New Times

The year 2020 has taught humanity many new lessons. We learned to re-evaluate the fields of technology, education, the public health sector, our political structure and governments, the cornerstones of the modern economy, and much more. But above all, a particularly significant lesson stands out: in our hyper-connected globe, even a small-scale local problem can affect the entire world.

The uniqueness of the Covid-19 pandemic is in its immediacy: it only took a couple of months from the time the reports of the mysterious virus began until it began spreading across continents.

Thus, just as a mysterious virus in China causes almost total paralysis of the entire world’s economy in only a few weeks, local problems can no longer be separated from their global impact. If we want to lead the world to a better future, we must address problems that may seem esoteric, unimportant, and local, even in the most remote places on Earth.

The elephant in the room

One of the most painful examples of a local problem with a devastating global impact can be found today in the African steppe, within the population of wild elephants.

Less than a century ago, an estimated 10 million wild elephants roamed throughout the African continent. Unfortunately, a continuous reduction in their living areas due to deforestation and unsupervised hunting (by ivory traders) led to a continuous dilution. It is estimated that over 95% of the elephant population in Africa is already extinct.

But, as mentioned, even the most local problems can have a worldwide impact. Elephants, for example, play a much more important role than creating ivory for humans to trade in. When free in the wild, elephants (a vegetarian animal that has difficulty reaching high treetops) feed mainly on low shrubs that grow, more often than not, around trees. A shrub that grows around a tree feeds on the same energy sources as its tree neighbor, which is “forced” to make it with less available energy that is needed to grow and thrive.

When an elephant eats the shrub leaves, it not only satisfies its own appetite: it also helps the tree, allowing it to grow to greater heights and produce more leaves. According to studies, in areas where there is still a large population of wild elephants, the trees grow to a greater height compared to other, elephant-less areas.

The significance of a higher tree and a greater number of leaves is enormous, given the global role of trees as the “atmospheric filters,” which absorb enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and clean it constantly. The equation is simple: when there are fewer elephants, there are more shrubs, and the trees do not grow as high, produce fewer leaves, and finally, absorb less carbon dioxide from the air. The result can already be seen today in temperature uniforms around the world, which indicate continuing and dangerous global warming.

According to the researchers, the impact of each elephant is tremendous. Each individual increases the annexation capacity of the forest in which he lives by over 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (per square kilometer).

If humanity was an investment fund, it would surely make the required calculation: the cost of annexing 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide is estimated at more than $ 1.7 million (per elephant!). The profit on the sale of ivory from one elephant hunt is estimated at $30,000-50,000 on average. The fund manager who would approve such a move would be long gone.

As mentioned, this is not just a local problem. Apart from the unjustified damage to animals to the point of near-extinction and the damage to local tourism, the continued damage to the elephant population in Africa is also contributing significantly to global warming and is expected to affect each and every one of us, anywhere in the world. If we want to leave a better and greener world to the next generations, we must also address problems in the most remote places. Thus, the road to a more sustainable future also passes through saving elephants in Africa.

A lesson to be learned

Covid-19 has also taught us about the importance of quick action and early detection of danger. If the world leaders had been given the opportunity to go back in time, do you think they would be willing to invest much more resources and efforts in stopping the spread of the virus in its early days?

Today, a few months later and after unprecedented damage to the global economy, there is no doubt that the answer is yes. Many countries around the world have failed to assess the severity of the situation in real-time, and the entire world population is now dealing with the result.

We all need to apply this lesson, immediately. No one could expect this pandemic, and even the little knowledge we already have about the virus has been accumulated in just a few months. This is not the case with global warming, which is known and researched by the world’s leading scientists for decades, with many studies in a variety of fields shedding light on its dangers, and possible ways to redemption (from renewable energy to elephant rescue). The year 2020 also taught us about the importance of preliminary planning, determined and immediate action, the importance of global cooperation, and more. Will we learn the lesson?

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