30 episodes

Al Jazeera's award-winning series explores solutions to today’s environmental challenges.

earthris‪e‬ Al Jazeera English

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    • 5.0 • 3 Ratings

Al Jazeera's award-winning series explores solutions to today’s environmental challenges.

    • video
    Cameroon's Bottle Boats | earthrise

    Cameroon's Bottle Boats | earthrise

    Every year, up to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans. And this is set to triple in the next decade.

    In Cameroon's economic capital Douala, the scale of the plastic problem is clear. Some 1,300 tonnes are generated every day, and so much of it is thrown into the city's rivers that you can't see any trace of water.

    But one local man, Ishmael Essome, has made it his mission to deal with it head on.

    Together with a small team of volunteers, they collect used plastic bottles, build them into boats, and give them to local fishermen who cannot afford to buy boats themselves.

    "There is no recycling system here in Cameroon. Our politicians have other problems, other priorities," Essome says. " People are poor. No one cares about the environment."

    From a fishing community himself, Essome says "Because pollution affected the river, now you cannot catch fish... the fishing area is full of plastic."

    Essome thought up the idea of eco-boats as a way to help clean the rivers and provide cheaper fishing boats to the community. His plan shows that by reimagining waste as a resource, we can begin to redress some of the negative effects of pollution.

    "This is the most urgent problem," Essome says. "So we need to change policy and manage waste."

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    • 11 min
    • video
    Forest-free Fashion | earthrise

    Forest-free Fashion | earthrise

    "There's 150 million trees that disappear every year into the clothing that we all wear," says Nicole Rycroft, a conservationist amd founder of Canopy, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the trees that remain.

    "It's slated to double within the next decade."

    So-called fast fashion is incredibly resource-intensive and one of the key drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss across the globe.

    The destruction of forests not only devastates surrounding land but also releases tonnes of carbon back into the atmosphere.

    For the fashion industry, after forests are cleared, the wood is pulped and processed into fabrics called rayon and viscose. But as much as 70 percent of the harvested wood is dumped or incinerated, never making its way into the final garment. So the process is shockingly wasteful.

    Now there are companies like re:newcell, which work to recycle previously worn garments, breaking them down and reconstituting the fibres into brand new fabrics that can be made into clothes.

    This new sustainability focused approach is targeting the fashion industry. Canopy already works with more than 170 top global brands including H&M to transform the viscose and rayon supply chain.

    "Even though trees can grow back, ancient and endangered forests are irreplaceable," Rycroft says.

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    • 10 min
    • video
    Rewilding Patagonia: Chile's Great Conservation Leap Forward | earthrise

    Rewilding Patagonia: Chile's Great Conservation Leap Forward | earthrise

    Three-quarters of all land on Earth is now significantly affected by human activity and the few remaining pockets of wilderness are themselves at risk of becoming ecological deserts.

    Agriculture, industry, urbanisation, climate change - all these are decimating ecosystems and destroying biodiversity. Some 60 percent of the world's animals have been wiped out since the 1970s.

    In response, a worldwide movement is under way to "rewild" the countryside.

    Rewilding is the restoration of an entire ecosystem to its natural state, by removing foreign species while reintroducing and protecting native ones. It begins with the removal of livestock, allowing vegetation to flourish. This encourages insects and other animals, attracting birds and other small predators.

    Removing fences allows for the return of herbivores, which are preyed on by apex predators - those at the top of the food chain - which then also multiply. Species in critically low numbers or who are totally absent are rehabilitated. And ultimately, prey and predator populations regulate one another and the ecosystem evolves into a balanced and self-sustaining wilderness.

    One rewilding initiative - right at the tip of South America, in Chile's Patagonia - is exceeding all expectations.

    There, two philanthropists, Kris McDivitt Tompkins and her late husband Doug Tompkins, have helped create one of the largest national parks in the world. Kris, the founder and CEO of the clothing brand Patagonia, and Doug, the founder of Esprit and North Face spent $345m buying up vast tracts of land for restoration and rewilding.

    "Predators have been systematically persecuted for decades and decades, so their numbers get precariously low," says Kris. "Every ecosystem has what's called their apex species ... and if you take out the very top predator, everything cascades down from that, and comes out of order."

    "When you take the fences down you see wildlife coming back in, because for 80 years it's been excluded from the best grasses," she adds. "It's very exciting to see the grasslands and the forests begin to restore themselves, and that's the joy of taking fences down."

    In what has become recognised as the biggest land donation in history, Tompkins has handed 400,000 hectares over to the Chilean state to be run as a national park, alongside four million hectares of land contributed by the state.

    Areas decimated by overgrazing are now being restored to their original wild state and vulnerable wildlife populations are being revived.

    "Even though it's early here in the park in terms of rebalancing, we can see some big changes: where there are water systems, the grasslands are definitely coming back; the numbers of pumas in the park; the numbers of guanacos in the park; foxes," Kris says. "But the success comes when all of those species are truly back in a system that's functioning without human intervention."

    earthrise heads to Patagonia in Chile, where a 4.5-million-hectare national park is being brought back to life.


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    • 25 min
    • video
    Reimagining Plastic: Turning Waste into Products | earthrise

    Reimagining Plastic: Turning Waste into Products | earthrise

    The explosion of plastic waste across the globe is threatening the very survival of life on the planet.

    Every year, up to 12 million metric tonnes of plastic enter our oceans, and plastic waste in the environment is set to triple in the next decade - poisoning marine life, littering landscapes and clogging waterways.

    "The scale of the plastic problem is huge ... If you look at our current economy it's predominantly linear. We take a material out of the ground, we make something out of it and then the majority of that material gets thrown away," says Dame Ellen MacArthur, the founder of Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

    "We need to shift that economy to be one that uses materials rather than uses them up ... To build a circular economy for plastic ... we need to redesign the way we think about plastics, the way we design plastics, and the way we use plastics. So we need to eliminate the plastic that we don't need. We need to innovate for different forms of plastic, which are 100 percent recyclable, and we need to look at how we circulate plastics - designing a system whereby that material is collected, has value and feeds back into the system ... There is a massive opportunity to redesign our global economy."

    Awareness is on the rise and experts report that surveys reveal a sense of true determination throughout the world to solve the plastic issue.

    earthrise went to Cameroon and the UK to look at solutions to ridding the world of our most pressing waste.

    Cameroon's Bottle Boats

    Ismael Essoume is a young businessman in Cameroon, who is cleaning up the country from plastic waste by picking up bottles that litter the natural environment and turning them into eco-boats.

    He says it can help the environment as well as local fishermen.

    "The pollution affected the river and now you cannot catch fish because the fishing area is full of plastic," he says.

    "So I thought to help not only clean the rivers but also to provide boats because it's not easy in the villages for someone to buy a simple boat, so now we build cheaper eco-boats that could be useful."

    To date, he has built 37 boats which have removed over 24,000 bottles from Douala's rivers.

    Essoume has also created Cameroon's first recycling scheme by establishing eco-bins - made from 255 bottles - where locals can discard their plastic bottles.

    His initiative is not only raising awareness, it is changing the way Cameroonians approach waste.

    "We want our city to be the example in Africa," he says. "We aim to supply eco-bins in the areas of Douala, all the corners in front of all the shops, the supermarket, the school, so it will be easy to come and pick up the waste and recycle it. That is the vision."

    All Chewed Up

    In England, we look at one of the world's stickiest problems - chewing gum.

    The UK has a particularly bad problem with this plastic pollutant. But now a new invention could spell the end of the scourge.

    Enviro-entrepreneur Anna Bullus has put in place a network of pink gum bins, which are themselves made of recycled gum.

    As consumers discard their gum, the bins and their contents are sent off to be processed and recycled into a range of stylish products from shoes to coffee cups.

    "All the solutions out there at the moment all address gum litter once it's already been dropped. There is nothing out there that's actually addressing it from the front end," she says.

    "So I saw a gap in the market for a product like this and also a way of tackling behavioural change when it comes to gum litter and giving people a positive way to dispose of their chewing gum."

    The invention is keeping streets gum free and paving the way for a new type of recycling.

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    • 24 min
    • video
    Feeding the Billions: A New Frontier for Sustainable Eating | earthrise

    Feeding the Billions: A New Frontier for Sustainable Eating | earthrise

    With global demand for food set to increase by nearly 70 percent by 2050, sustainable food production is one of the biggest challenges for the future.

    The food industry is one of the most ecologically damaging industries and we will need to completely rethink its approach if we are to keep meals on the table for generations to come.

    "Food is the single biggest impact that humans have on nature. We are deforesting the earth to grow more food. It's by far the biggest user of fresh water, the single biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions, and the biggest reason why we're in the middle of the mass species extinction event, the sixth that planet Earth has faced. At least a third of the world's food is currently being wasted," says Tristram Stuart, food waste campaigner and author.

    "We do have the power as individuals to waste less, shift away from most ecologically destructive practices. That should give us hope that we can flip this enormous problem into one of the most delicious tools to tackle environmental meltdown."

    earthrise went to Finland and Italy to explore two alternative projects that are paving the way for the food of the future.

    Zero Waste Restaurant

    A restaurant in Finland is challenging the traditional way of operating a fine dining eatery.

    Ultima, in Helsinki, is pioneering a closed economy system where they not only reduce waste and recycle nutrients but are cultivating their own food on an urban site, thereby making the whole food production and consumption system highly efficient.

    Its Michelin-starred chefs Henri Alen and Tommi Tuominen have designed a somewhat unusual menu from cricket tacos with queso fresco to mushroom pasta grown in coffee waste.

    "It all started when me and my colleague Tommi, we were taking the bins out and we were thinking how can we make this much waste, how could we do the things better for the environment, for the customer?" says Alen. "That's our biggest ambition."

    The pioneering restaurateurs set up Ultima in the belief that the old low-standard dishes of environmental eating should be a thing of the past. They hope that they can start a conversation.

    "We just need to grow things forward, make people think," says Alen.

    Jellyfish for Dinner

    In Italy, scientists are attempting to tackle the staggering number of jellyfish swarms with a new solution - by eating them.

    Exploiting this foodstuff, which has been previously unexplored in the West, could begin to restore balance to the marine ecosystem, which has been devastated by a surge in jellyfish numbers, and also offer a much-needed sustainable meat alternative in an age where the meat industry is contributing to global climate change, deforestation and water degradation.

    Research scientist Antonella Leone and her colleagues aim to show food safety authorities that jellyfish are a safe, plentiful food source.

    "In Europe, jellyfish are considered a nuisance .... this could be changed if our studies demonstrate that they are a very powerful resource of food," she says."[It] could be important, for local fishermen, local restaurants, for local economies."

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    • 24 min
    • video
    Life After Conflict: Healing the Environmental Wounds of War

    Life After Conflict: Healing the Environmental Wounds of War

    earthrise looks at ways of healing one of the silent and often forgotten casualties of war – the environment.
    In conflict, one of the silent and forgotten casualties is often the environment.

    From the chemical contamination of soils with chemicals, and the collapse of water and food supplies, to the habitat damage caused by displacement, war has devastating consequences. Not only man-made infrastructures but also natural ecosystems are destroyed and lives lost.

    But even amid the most vicious struggles, there are people fighting to protect the world we live in and recover what was lost.

    Protection of the environment is a norm. It's something which we do, where are standards in place. Yet, during conflict, it is almost as if anything goes. You can cause whatever damage you like and there is no accountability, there's no redress.

    Doug Weir, director, The Conflict and Environment Observatory

    The Rohingya and the elephants
    In August 2017, a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing began in Myanmar. The military and armed fighters claimed the lives of more than 6,000 Rohingya in just one month. Fearing death, thousands more fled the country for the forests of Bangladesh.

    The scale of the exodus was enormous, and today they are still unable to return home.

    Over 1.2 million refugees are living in the sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh. When they arrived, they were unaware that the forest in which they took shelter was already occupied - by wild elephants. Shortly after they settled, elephants began to rampage through the camp, killing 13 people in the space of five months.

    "All the camps used to be forest, they used to be elephant habitat," says Raquib Amin, an IUCN Bangladesh representative. "There is a space we call elephant corridor ... since the camp, [we are] completely blocking that corridor. Elephants cannot pass through the camp ... it is in search of its shelter, its food, its migration path."

    earthrise travelled to Kutupalong Camp in Bangladesh to find out how the Rohingya are learning to live with their elephant neighbours and how they are saving lives, both human and elephant, in the process.

    Saving Syria's Seed Bank
    In Lebanon, ICARDA seed bank, where seeds are saved from a bank in Aleppo, Syria, is helping scientists develop new pest and weather resistant crops. Crop diversity, which is so essential for food security, has declined by three quarters since the 1900s. The world's insurance policy is a network of 1,750 seed banks which safeguard plant biodiversity and can be turned to in times of crisis.

    But conflict can make even the seed banks themselves vulnerable.

    "It became impossible to access the gene bank in October 2015 because we were banned from accessing the centre by the armed group controlling the area," says Syrian seed conservationist Ali Shehadeh. "They stole the vehicles, they stole a lot of equipment ... nothing was left in the headquarters except the building and the gene bank."

    We meet a remarkable team of scientists who have fled the horrors of the Syrian war and are rebuilding the ICARDA seed bank in the heart of the fertile crescent where agriculture began.

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    • 25 min

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