It’s no secret that climate change is slowly but surely changing the world as we know it. In many places, summers are becoming longer and winters are becoming colder – and that’s not to mention the visible erosion of the ice caps. They are disappearing so quickly that 12,500 tons of water are running into the sea every second. To put this into context, that’s enough to fill FIVE Olympic sized swimming pools – and it’s submerging land around the world.
Naturally, islands are being hit first, and it’s been estimated that Venice could be underwater within a century. Now, I don’t know about you, but having been lucky enough to take a stroll around the gorgeous city a few years ago, I think that the world would be a lot less romantic without gondolas in it. But romance aside, us humans have a duty to do everything in our power to preserve the world for future generations – otherwise, it’ll only be a matter of time before we’re wiped out too.
However, when it comes to preserving the incredible planet that we live on, there are some people who go a lot further than simply recycling the odd can of Pepsi and making sure that they don’t use more electricity than necessary. Instead, they have devoted their entire lives to conservation and the results of Jadav Payeng’s hard work are already visible.
When Payeng was just 16 years old, he realized that his home of Majuli – AKA the largest river island in the world – was in some serious danger. Because of extensive soil erosion on its banks, the majestic island is disappearing into the sea.
Over the past 70 years, the island has shrunk by half and there are fears that it will disappear even sooner than Venice – with some estimates suggesting that Majuli could be completely underwater in as little as 20 years.
But this estimate would be even shorter if it hadn’t been for Payeng’s heroic actions.
Back in 1979, he realized that drastic action had to be taken if Majuli was going to stand any chance of thriving in the future when he discovered a number of dead snakes on the island. They had died from excessive heat.
This happened after floods washed the snakes onto the island’s sandbar where there was no vegetation to keep them cool.
Payeng knew he had to act fast. Now he is known as “Forest Man”:
Realizing that something had to be done, Payeng planted some trees to prevent a similar incident happening in the future, and now, 40 years on, the once barren sand dunes where the snakes had died are completely unrecognizable.
This incredible ecological warrior has planted a whopping 550 hectares of forest.
In case you’re wondering, that’s an area larger than Central Park in New York, which is 340 hectares.
It’s often said that you should leave the world a little better than how you found it and that’s certainly been the case when it comes to Payeng’s actions. While the island might not survive indefinitely, it’s now in with a fighting chance.
As intended, Payeng’s forest is not only thriving with vegetation, but it’s become home to many animals too.
And not just any animals, either. Bengal tigers and Indian rhinoceros are thriving – the former of which is endangered.
What’s more is that the island is now visited by a 100-strong herd of elephants every year.
So why exactly is Majuli disappearing? Well, you’ll get no prizes for guessing that it’s the result of global warming, but more specifically, it’s because of the large embankments which have been set up on the Brahmaputra river.
These banks were built to protect people from the damage which the monsoon season causes – but at a cost.
While the mainland might be protected from the fury of rising waters, the embankments mean that the flow of water is now pointing directly at Majuli – so you can only imagine what it would look like without Payeng’s help.
Although Payeng began planting trees with no intention other than to help save the island, his actions have won him international praise, with many social media users around the world holding his story up as an example of how we should all live our lives.
“Give this guy a Nobel Tree Prize! He deserves it!” wrote Facebook user Tee Bwn.
“Stories like this need to be out on the news and all over to teach others about so many values,” remarked Elizabeth Caro. “There are truly people with a golden heart. This man deserves recognition and maybe for someone to write a book.”
“We should [teach] children about this man in schools,” wrote Kellan Cox. “And be inspired from his service he has done us [sic].”
“This guy is from my state Assam, India, and we are proud of him. He was honored with the fourth highest civilian award in the Republic of India, after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan,” revealed Dibyajyoti Dang.
“I hope that place should get a name on this guy so everyone can know what he achieved in life respect for u sir [sic],” added Dilpreet Singh.
“Big Salute goes for this great man…
“When many people and organization just kept talking about [environmental] threats, this guy went quietly and relentlessly fixing issues that [nobody] did even close in other parts of the world.
“What this great man did is a lesson for all of is [sic] that sometimes we need to work many many more times than we speak.
“Good luck, my Man,” remarked a thoughtful Facebook user.
And Natasha K Blackman summed up my personal thoughts by simply writing, “This is how you win at being a decent human being.”
Others were quick to point out how Payeng’s actions should inspire people in cities to do their bit too.
“If only more city folks could adopt his practice, use less plastic (straws, bottles, take aways [sic], containers… etc), say no to shark fin and ivory,” wrote Aaron Anil Dass.
In a world where sea levels are rising at their fastest rate in 2,000 years, it’s clear that the human race must work together to save our planet – if not for future generations, but ourselves. While disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow might seem far-fetched when we watch them, the reality is that they are now within the realm of possibility.
We would like to take this opportunity to salute Payeng too. Hopefully, his story will inspire others to take action before it’s too late.