Edited Recording of the Presentation: Click here.
Welcome and Introduction (Reed Price)
Discussion and Slideshow (Marc Barasch)
Questions (Facilitated by Reed Price)
About the Speakers
This information, as well as information about the other speakers during the Earth Week Speaker Series, is provided in the announcement on the Charter for Compassion International website: http://www.charterforcompassion.org/index.php/environment-reports-and-documents/earth-day-speaker-series-and-presentations-2016.
Welcome and Introduction
Reed: Good morning (or good afternoon, depending on where you are in the world) and thank you very much for joining us for this call. Today is the third in a series of calls for Earth Week for the Charter for Compassion. Today we’ll be talking about practicing green compassion. Can we Regreen the World in one generation? My name is Reed Price and I’m facilitating today’s call on behalf of the CCI. Marc Barasch will be joining us in a moment, but first I wanted to give you a little bit of information. Marc will be speaking from slides. You should have had in your invitation today a link for the social webinar. It looks like most of you are watching along the social webinar so you can see the slides that Marc has put together. If you want to ask a clarifying question or comment during the course of the call, feel free to raise your hand by pressing one on your keypad and I will recognize you and hand you the mic to talk directly to Marc at any point in the conversation. We will open up the call for questions after the call.
Marc Barasch is the author of the acclaimed bestseller, The Compassionate Life which was the inspiration for the film “I Am,” in which he co-starred with Nobel Prize-winner
We are very happy to have you here today Marc.
Discussion and Slides
Marc: Thanks Reed, and thanks to Marilyn and the team for inviting me. I’m thrilled to be here. This is sort of full circle for me. You know, when I was on book tour for this book in 2005 in Seattle I was asked to give a lecture to a group of civic leaders that were put together by our friend Jon Ramer and I had never really thought about this, these ideas in a civic context. I said: “well, what if compassion were the central organizing principal of civic institutional life?” That we looked at the justice system and we looked at restorative justice and, you know, did a thought experiment, to make compassion and empathy more in the foreground than the background of our service, in a civic sense. Jon is a great organizer and began to create the Compassionate Action Network, which, through a long chain of circumstances, became the Compassionate Cities Movement. I had in the interim gone off in effect into the woods and decided that I wanted to do something tangible to affect people and the planet in a way that I could see beyond the kind of media work that I’d been doing up until then.
I was inspired by Goethe’s famous proclamation: Enough words have been spoken, now let us see some deeds! And I began this work very arbitrarily, going directly out of the principles of the book and thinking, how can these be applied in the world. And I just sort of stumbled on it, it was a very open question. And I happened to meet a man who had been planting trees around the world using something called agroforestry and I thought: this is a perfect iteration of the ideas that I had distilled out of the book. This is kind of what it came down to for me.
As most of you know, as you’ve thought deeply about it, compassion is more than just a sentiment or emotion; it’s really a way of being and experiencing and cognizing the world. It’s really the way the world is. We are connected, everyone and everything. The challenge is to live it, and see what happens if we do it.
So that was really the experiment, in the spirit of say, Buckminster Fuller’s Guinea Pig B. Fuller decided at some point in his life he was going to make himself a guinea pig and see what would happen if he just decided to maximize his life to do as much good as possible. And I’m sure many people on this call have made this decision and seen what results, which is quite amazing, the stream of incidents and coincidences and meetings that stream from that and gradually become a life.
So that’s what happened to me, as somebody who’d spent a lot of my time working on ideas to get out into the world. I decided to go to Ethiopia (quite by chance) because I had met this fellow that I mentioned who had been doing agroforesty, combining trees and agriculture – a very ancient form of cultivation. I wanted to see this; it rang a bell for me as something that could help people and planet both. I realized that the environmental movement was kind of siloed. In the one place social benefit and the social welfare movement in another. Until very recently you didn’t’ hear them spoken about in the same way. The environmentalists often felt that the small farmers for example are the enemies of the rainforests, because indeed they would go in and cut down trees for charcoal, growing strawberries for multinationals or raising cattle. But of course these things are all of one piece; everything is connected. And if small farmers go into the rain forest and have a destructive impact, it’s because they’re poor. So we have to deal with the issues of poverty and I think that this is what I was seeking - some way to bring it all together.
At the time, I knew nothing. I had resolved to do most of this based on synchronicity and openness and see what would emerge based on the intention to do as much good as I could and this led to essentially a free ticket to the back country of Ethiopia where I began to learn from and work with a progressive sheikh. And what I learned was that poor people were participating in the degradation of their own land but it was out of dire necessity for things like firewood which they would use their own but also sell for income. This is Ethiopia maybe six years ago. It’s lost most of its tree cover. I think it has 2% tree cover now. And a lot of these areas, like the one depicted here, were actually forests. It grieves these people enormously that they grew up in these lush forests and now they’re these parched anthropogenic savannas that are caused by human activity.
This is the pandemic throughout that country, throughout Africa, and throughout large parts of the world. But it is possible to renew these areas as well. Here is a group, for example, that has reforested this hillside. It was largely kids in this one village that had to walk for miles just to get fresh water because the well had gone bad and was filled with parasites. They always brought back enough to water the seedlings. People really care about this idea of reforestation, and returning the land to what is only now a memory.
I really saw that there was a commitment, if you would go into an area as I began to do and just provide a little bit of money (that was coming out of my own pocket, initially) to help to mobilize the people that wanted to do something.
The elders would gather and the kids would get together. Before we knew it, we would find that there were indeed willing hands. So I started something called the Green World Campaign (just a very arbitrary and generic term) all in the spirit of experiment. I put the flag up on the flagpole proverbially to see what would happen. I chose as a slogan: “Plant a seed. Be a seed. See what happens. It’s amazing what one seed can grow” because I realized that one seed that grew a tree wasn’t just growing a tree, but a community. A tree is a great symbol of interdependence. Nothing exists in isolation. Everything is, in Buddhist terms, coemergent. So when you think of tree planting, often people do think of it this way and sometimes do it this way. They’ll just plop a tree down in the middle of nowhere and say “that’s a ton of carbon that has been absorbed by the tree” or some such, but really you can’t do that; the trees just die because no one will take care of them. You have to have the communities involved - it takes a village, indeed. So this was really an experiment in, if you will, metaphysical and actual seed planting.
The kinds of projects we developed were very much along the lines of holism and green compassion. For example, this one was called Bees and Trees. I was trying to apply the principles that so many of us believe and particularly our whole systems theory, holistic healing of land and communities. In this system, this beautiful red flower is something bees like. It’s a calliandra flower. When you plant calliandra trees, the bees will gather pollen from that tree and that will increase the honey hives. And that would give the farmers the incentive to plant these trees and to do reforestation and eco agriculture, because it was increasing their economic viability. They were getting more honey and it was also pollinating the coffee plants and that increased the coffee harvest so this was all sort of a win-win paradigm. I began to see how these ideas can be applied to the real world even though they often aren’t because we are stuck in a paradigm of isolation and things in their own little segmented corner.
I began to apply this elsewhere in the world. So this was a small farm in India.
And this was the San Juan Atzingo Forest in Pueblo, Mexico, where the where the bad guys, abetted by the local officials, had come in and literally decimated the sacred pine forests. We came in and started to help to replant them, working with this community that was under stress.
This was in the Philippines. You can see the map of how agroforestry works. You have seed beds, herbal plants, ornamental plants, fruit trees, wild trees, forest trees.
This is really replicating a very ancient form of agriculture, probably the most ancient form we know. It’s not just about agriculture; it’s about how man can live in harmony with nature. You know we talk about the Amazon Rainforest as something that we must protect at all costs from human incursion. But in fact, humans have been living there as we know for a long time. And in fact 20% estimated of the Amazon Rainforest was actually an agroforestry project of the original indigenous people. So this way of living with nature in ways that benefit both humanity and the ecosystem goes back to a time before memory. It was in fact the Philippines that began to reinaugurate this method after a group of researchers re-discovered it in the Mayan Highlands of Mexico.
So finally I wound up in Kenya, again basically through coincidence, and quite arbitrarily met this fellow on the left whose name is Will Ruddick who had been a particle physicist for the Stanford accelerator and then joined the Peace Corps and had been working for another organization. I met him and I said, “how would you like to run a new organization in Kenya?” which really of course didn’t exist. And he took it in hand and began to recruit other people and this little office opened.
We began to work with locals to do agroforesty and plant trees. This was something that perhaps hadn’t been done that much in that region, but I was kind of obsessed with it and I said: let’s try this. And it turned out that people wanted to participate and we began to introduce other things into the communities, like these clean cook stoves which are low polluting and low use of charcoal. So again, in terms of synergy and holism, if you use these clean cook stoves, people don’t need to cut as much firewood, and they don’t get lung disease from smoking fires in their huts.
So we were always looking for what we can add, what is a whole systems solution, what can we do as Wendell Berry discussed or characterized as “solving for pattern.” And so we also made strategic alliances we could work with, for example, the local Red Cross. And they brought us into areas where we had never previously been and we discovered that we could really get an almost limitless scope which we hadn’t yet achieved given the [lack of] funding. But it’s an anything is possible kind of situation. We discovered that really at every turn.
These are the Green World Schools. We now have 94 in Kenya. This grew out of happenstance. One of the people in the small office from the previous picture I showed you had been a teacher. He brought a small planting program into schools. The kids, teachers, and local churches and mosques really loved this program. It became a major project of these schools. Up to 2,000 trees are grown in seed bed nurseries by these kids. These kids are the future global citizens and eco-citizens of the world. They feel part of something much larger, it becomes a scouting movement. And of course we want to empower women and girls so we encourage them to come forth in a way that they might not normally do in their culture, and even a national peace movement (I’ll speak more about that in a minute).
This was a water catchment system as a result of a grant from Lush cosmetics. This is a way to catch rainwater for watering the seedbed nurseries, often a superior method to wells. I think 20 or 30% of the wells’ equipment breaks and they can’t replace it, so we thought this was the most sustainable method.
I mentioned a minute ago a peace movement. This was a youth-led peace movement that we inaugurated and then brought in other stakeholders in the country such as the wildlife clubs and the Kenyan scouting movement. There were marches in the street with this banner that was designed in 20 minutes by a friend of mine who is in the ad business. And the slogan in Swahili means “plant a tree, harvest peace.” The youth themselves came up with this slogan. This is something we would love to spread further.
And that in turn began to spread to other schools. This is a nascent program, so we haven’t gotten very far yet. This is the Punahou in Hawaii, Obama’s alma mater. They became pen pals with one of these Green World Schools that was also part of this peace movement.
People began to further spread this movement. You can see all over coastal Kenya people are painting it on the walls. This particular community sent us this picture. What we’re seeing in this photo is what used to be, according to these kids (and what they were told by their parents or grandparents), a great forest. And that little bit of water you can see behind them was a great river. They wrote us and said, “can you help us restore this to what it once was?” Because now it is essentially a sand pit. It’s really quite sad and emblematic of what’s happening in a lot of these countries and regions.
In synchronicity with this project, I happened to be put in touch with the VP in charge of environmental development at Disney. Usually you have to go through quite a bit of bureaucracy and applications to get grants and support. It can take years but she motioned that there was a small fund that they were giving out the last amounts of and it seemed like it could fit. So I mentioned this project and within a few months we had $25,000.
Out of that we were able to establish more Green World Schools. We were able to start growing a tree called moringa (which is a super food) and to introduce these water catchment systems and clean cook stoves and bring together a dozen different stakeholder groups that planted 250,00 trees. In one instance a community got together 12,000 people for a day and planted 20,000 trees.
We found that in this system that we created, the kids will teach their parents. We will introduce a new tree species, some of which were species that the communities used to know and forgot. So a lot of what we’re doing is restoring forgotten knowledge to these communities. And the kids will bring saplings back to their parents and say “this is a useful tree” And often they’ll find that they tree already exists in the community, as in this moringa tree, but the community doesn’t know what it is used for anymore. So in one community the kids told their parents “this is a great tree.” And the parents said, “no it’s not. It’s just a fence tree; it doesn’t have any value besides demarcating areas. It will survive a drought so we use it as a signpost.” And the kids said, “no- the leaves are 30% protein!” It’s truly a super food. Which is one reason that we wanted to begin to introduce this into the schools as an educational tool, but also in the hopes that it would spread to the communities – well it did. Once the kids told their parents about it, the community starting growing it in profusion. We began to find communities growing ten thousand, twenty thousand of these trees.
This is an example of a moringa garden which is also biodiverse; you see that they are a lot of other crops growing with it.
Then we bought small presses and encouraged the people to make moringa oil, because it’s a very high quality oil that can be made from the seeds of these trees. We found out (because we learn as we go) that families were spending 20% of their income on oil for cooking and for body care in a hot climate. So this was saving them a lot of money. And now we’ve started a small community social venture. We also introduced it to our friend in London who had started a slightly more sophisticated social venture based on moringa oil. It’s opening up the possibility of social enterprise and we’d get a very small amount from each sale of this very high end oil as we had helped to create this project.
Now we do this because we do run on a shoestring and I’m not particularly happy about that but I will say that that this is an ongoing demonstration that it isn’t just about the money. We’re essentially working pro-bono. And again, we’d like to change that. And one of the ways that we hope to change it is through Green World Ventures, which has just been founded in the past year. Green World Ventures will specifically grow moringa trees. We’re calling it a regenerative industry. This has begun to potentially take off in a very big way, based again on a chance meeting with a man who used to be in charge of operations for Kraft food.
As I left my career ten years ago to try to help the world more directly, he did the same. This is a man named Jon Gregg (second from the right in the front row of the photo). He spent ten years in Nigeria helping small holder famers. And now we have gotten the commitment of the local coops and the chiefs to begin to grow more moringa trees on their land. And it turns out that these people have maintained biodiverse agroforestry or eco agriculture for hundreds of years if not millennia. We are going to be able to create a supply chain and a value chain that encourages and helps to finance these useful methods of growing food and trees.
This leads us to champion what I’m calling regenerative enterprise. We have a lot of businesses, especially in the natural products industry, but in general and more and more businesses have a very laudable practice of corporate and social responsibility. And personally I think that in this era we need to look beyond sustainability and companies operate in a way that is actually regenerative in the daily activity of the company, not just as an afterthought. I think we’re pioneering that. And we’re also trying to pioneer the idea of a global village - how do we really reach out to our neighbors?
This is a project I did in Times Square in 2011. And again, just an example of how thought mysteriously leads to actions. This came about because as an ex New Yorker I go to New York once or twice a year. And I found myself often standing in Times Square and thinking, what if these blinking lights that are doing nothing but selling junk and consumer goods that are destroying the planet ultimately, what if they could show a beautiful forest and give these people a moment of respite. And what would be even cooler is if they could tap on their cell phones and actually plant trees directly, so that there could be a direct relationship between us here and the people that we read about in the paper over there.
And indeed one day I was having lunch with someone in New York, a friend and then somebody that I hadn’t met before. And he said, “why don’t you tell this person your idea, your crazy idea?” So I said “my idea is that you could be in Times Square and all of the screens would be showing a forest, and you could tap on your phone and plant trees somewhere in Africa.” And the woman who was at the table, who turned out to be the director of Earth Day New York said, “well this is just an idea right? You don’t have the technology or the funding.” And I said, “right, that’s all it is.” Well she called me months later and said, “you know that idea that you had? Could you actually do it? Because we’ve just been given two screens form Toshiba.” And of course I said “yes I can do it” (I had no idea how I would).
Through a series of similar synchronicities, I was given $10,000 and was able to create this event eventually, working with a volunteer team from Stockholm to Bangalore in seven time zones, sometimes sitting in a bar or a park because the place where I was couch surfing didn’t have wifi. And somehow we managed to pull off this amazing event. They got all these volunteers and indeed we were able to reach out as a group of people in the United States, through the magic of technology and the growing global brain and nervous system that is the internet to help a group of fellow local citizens half a world away.
This is a group of women farmers.
I started to think about principles. How do we power ourselves collectively and individually to actually help the world because, let’s face it: we’re caught in a system that for most people means going to work every day, getting a pay check, trying to do our best, within a system that is destroying the world. It’s as if we’ve designed a system meant to somewhat devour the planet. A very effective system to drive humanity and nature off a cliff together.
So how do we get out of that trap? This is from Vaclav Havel; people from a certain age will particularly remember him as one of the architects of the Velvet Revolution, a peaceful revolution in Czechoslovakia where to the world’s amazement, the entire regime just disappeared one day, dissolved.
Havel very strikingly said something: “live as if the regime does not exist.” He said that is how it happens. A certain number of people – a small number of people – decided to live as if the regime did not exist and that is what made the Velvet Revolution happen. We all live in a regime, whether it’s the regime of ego, of our own mind, the idea that the ego is a poor master but a good servant. And for most people it’s a master of all too much of our lives. I consider that to be the regime. And the system.
And what Havel said is, “it’s utterly unimportant how large a space the alternative occupies: its power does not consist in its physical attributes but in the light it casts.” I think we all need to remember this. You can start where you are. I’m trying to not boast about the Green World Campaign. It’s been a tough slog for 10 years. But I’m using myself as an example. Start where you are. Start with what you have. Start with what you know. Because as the 18th century poetic philosopher Novalis said, “every individual is the center of a system of emanation.” The more we realize that, each of us, that we have not yet begun to tap our collective social potential, we begin to see some rays of light in what sometimes seems like a dark world that is moving backwards.
So “imagine, one day, the hateful world around you collapses. And it is your attitude, words and actions that put an end to it. Will you be excited?” These are the words of the great Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei who has braved impossible odds to bring illumination and democratic spirit to modern china. I think he is one of the great lights of our time.
Another great light, Joseph Beuys, was a conceptual artist from Germany who believed that everyone was an artist and that the job of the artist was to create social structure. Art needed to escape the walls and confines of the academies and museums. Society could be changed through the sensibility of art and spirituality. Beuys greatest art project was starting the green party from an artist’s sensibility and that turned out to be something that changed the world as we know it, it became the trim tab and the highly leveraged actor within the German and European political system.
Beuys philosophy was that the law supply and demand as we understand it is upside down. Because in fact, the primary demand is from the soul. The soul craves the goods of the soul. It craves meaning and spirituality and conviviality and connection and relationships. When you supply the soul with those goods, the need for material goods decreases because material goods are almost inevitably substitutions for those real needs and that’s why of course when you look at the average ad lit shows family and friendship and joy and all the things that we want and its filtering them through the supposed needs we have for their product in order to obtain what are primarily spiritual and social and soulful goods. So I think this philosophy is one we could live by and if we do it could begin to change the world like Beuys did as someone who’s working form the center of consciousness and creativity and freedom of art.
Overall it is my belief that we are in an era where the old models of environmentalism, politics, art, and reality are playing catch-up with new paradigms from physics, neuroscience, emergent social phenomena, cosmology itself. We are just beginning to leverage global digital empowerment and the need for participating, meaning, transcendence that could really begin to change the world in a fundamental way.
So how do we get beyond sustainability to regeneration? Regeneration is the more encompassing term. Sustainability is kind of circling the wagons and holding the line and hoping that entropy doesn’t have its way. But it’s not enough. Things are in too serious a condition now to settle for keeping things status quot. We need sustainability to be sure. But regeneration implies growth and implies creativity. It means that we need to have a regenerative civilization if we’re going to survive. Otherwise our children will grow up in a world we wouldn’t recognize from our own childhoods.
So our job is to re-green the world in one generation. That’s at least what I’ve set out to say as perhaps a grandiose aspiration but we are facing ludicrously grandiose problems in the world. We need to step up and look at big solutions. Cosmetic solutions are not enough. And even the private virtues that we all cherish and that probably most of us on this call think about - probably everyone on this call watches what they eat and recycles and that’s all good but we need more. We need to come together for a much bigger solution because if sustainability were enough, we would be doing a lot better as a civilization and a planet both socially and environmentally.
The UN says that there are 5 billion acres of land that can be restored. This is not desert; this is land with people living on it. By dealing with the environment, and by dealing with hunger and poverty, these are mutually reinforcing activities and this is something that we’ve been calling green compassion for the last 10 years. We are rapidly and collectively waking up to what the potential is. And never doubt that potential. When you think of re-greening land, most people think: well you plant a couple trees and not much will be accomplished. That’s a misconception that you’ll see in the coming slides
Here is an area for example, that was barren before replanting took place.
And here’s the next slide, and if you just kind of zip through these you can see that they’re a purely visible example of what is actually possible.
(slides of re-greening and re-forestation)
Even individuals can do a lot more than they might think. Here’s a fellow. A little story behind this: this guy was a bureaucrat in Bihar He wanted to break the Guinness Book of World Records of most trees planted in a day. He was able to mobilize thousands of villages. He knew there was a lot of unemployment in that state, and he said I’m going to give you employment money but I want you to plant trees. So he got 300,000 villagers to do a mass tree planting ceremony on August 30, 2009. So from 6am to 6 pm a billion trees were planted. All at the instigation of one guy who had a bit of an ego, I’m sure, wanting to break the record, but also wanted to help out and be of service.
This is a strategy that could affect global warming if sufficiently scaled up. A quote from Professor John Holdren, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology: “The best means currently known for removing CO2 from the atmosphere is planting trees and restoring degraded land.”
This is what Green World Campaign is doing, and we want to do it at massive scale. Here’s a statement from Professor Eric Toensmeier from the Yale School of Forestry. He says, “terraforming the planet into a perennial food-producing paradise may be the only way to avert climate disaster.” What he means is essentially what we’ve been talking about here - regenerating degraded land and restoring communities in tandem.
This, by the way, has implications for geopolitics. I accidentally sat next to the ex secretary of state, Madeline Albright, at a conference in Aspen. We got to talking about this and when I described our project, she said, “well this is geostrategic.” And it is in many ways, because climate change itself is geostrategic. But also because this kind of work increases income for small holder famers, it gives them a food security. It prevents terrorist organizations from being able to recruit young men who are desperate to support their families. It prevents things like resource wars which is one of the causes of the Rwandan genocide and the Syrian war. This is often a hidden dimension in what look like ethnic and political wars but there is often an environmental component.
This is another statement by Havel that I think is extremely important. We talk about activism as something that is extremely pragmatic. It needs to be or else we’re just talking. But without what he calls the “transcendental anchor,” I don’t think that our activism turns out to be holistic and very often we’re doing what Einstein warned against; we’re using the same mindset that created the problem to solve it.
This is another statement by Havel: “politicians may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respect for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from respect for the miracle of Being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence. Transcendence is the only real alternative to extinction.”
It’s a really wonderful statement of how intertwined all aspects of our being (social, spiritual, physical) and all aspects of the environment in which we are situated and completely interdependent – which also exists at many levels: social and even spiritual connections to the environment. We need to be thinking constantly on these multiple levels and in multiple domains if we’re going to hope to have any success. Green World Campaign has had remarkable success because of the way that we work. Approaching things in this holistic and compassionate way (compassion including everybody and everything) yields much better results on the ground.
One morning I woke up and had a passage of words that sounded something like a prayer in my mind. It popped into my head at 5 in the morning and I wrote it down. I ran into a friend a couple of days later. He had become the director of the Parliament of World Religions. I mentioned this thing to him he said, “that sounds interesting - why don’t you send it to me?” One thing led to another and we made the Green World Charter, which I had the privilege of presenting to the Parliament of World Religions’ last conference in Salt Lake City in October to 10,000 people from 80 countries and 50 religions.
It’s just a way of illustrating that little seed of thought or idea that we might disregard has potentially incredible power and I think sometimes these things are given to us by the All to turn into something that can be of service. Just as we don’t to throw our garbage everywhere, we shouldn’t throw our ideas everywhere. If we plant them they might grow something beautiful and impactful.
I love this quote from Margaret Mead, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Really almost a statement of prophecy in this era of super-empowerment of digital means and knitting together of the global community.
So really, in conclusion, I’m suggesting that we just do it. Working together, we can change the world. My own experience of a few of us working diligently and doing whatever it
Reed: Thank you very much. It’s an absolutely fascinating story and an inspiring opportunity to look at how maybe some of the ways that we’ve thought that change might happen are not the ways that you’re seeing it on the ground. I want to invite anyone with a comment or question to feel free to raise your hand by pressing one on your touch tone, your keypad, or whatever you are using to dial in to this call. You’ll be recognized and I will be happy to have you as part of the conversation
I also thought that I might mention our invitation for a global read. We are in the process of beginning a quarterly discussion. Marc’s book, The Compassionate Life, is the first book we are going to read. You can find this on our website if you don’t see if on your screen now in the social webinar pop-up. I invite you to consider reading the book along with us, and as readers we can talk a little later on in the process.
Marc: I will be doing a reprint of the book and it will be widely available on Amazon and other outlets.
Reed: Marc, I wonder if you might talk a little more about some of the great development efforts. You mention talking with former Secretary of State Albright about the challenges of trying to change the world. The methods of changing the world that we’ve tried in the past have not been very successful and the culture we have created seems to be designed specifically for destroying the planet on which we live. Where do you see hope that we could flip a bit on this?
Marc: I think, first of all, the idea of emergence. I went into this with what the zen people would call “don’t know mind.” I think it’s very valuable to contact your own heart. What if you were to live like a true human being, in Rumi’s sense. What would you do every day?
It’s like when Buckminster Fuller is asked, “how do you begin to solve a problem?” And he said, “well of course you start with the universe.” So I think this process, this transcendental anchor that Havel talks about is really key, to say that we don’t have the answers but what if we start from the place of compassion and wisdom, and look at our own lives and what our own truest and deepest aspirations are. For ourselves, our families, our children, our communities, and our world...and for the future of humanity. It’s not too grandiose for any of us to think about the future of humanity because that’s what each of us is holding in our hands, knowingly or unknowingly. And I think that out of that begin to grow different ways of doing things that are indeed more holistic. I don’t see as much of that as I would like in the development space.
I would say that having being invited to Paris during the COP21 Conference, specifically the landscapes forum which was discussing a lot of this, I have felt like when I talk about regenerative agriculture, regenerative society, regeneration at all, I’ve been a bit of voice in the wilderness – literally and figuratively. But all of a sudden it’s a thing. There was a lot of talk about it, for one reason because it is a way to sequester carbon, because soil will absorb a lot of carbon and keep it sequestered as long as that soil is cared for. So I’m discovering that suddenly there’s a trend line toward regeneration and along with that, too my great surprise, potentially billions of dollars that various development agencies and groups want to put into this idea of regeneration, particularly regenerative agriculture. But to talk about the regenerative economy, regenerative society, which is really where I see Green World Campaign as an umbrella group to begin to aggregate some of those efforts and spread that idea further. Sometimes I think, when you ask how can we do this differently, it’s about staring with a different meme, a different conceptual grid, a different paradigm that has to do with this sort of negative entropy effect that has to do with regenerativity and creativity and trust in the resources at hand, resources of a community for example. That doesn’t necessarily need a top-down philanthropy that tells it what they should be doing. But more of a group that comes in and says: what do you know? And how can we augment what you already know. For example, we have a very successful program in Kenya restoring the sacred forests.
Now, I didn’t know anything about this going into Kenya, that there are these Kaya forests that are in fact the revenants of the great coastal forests in Kenya that were destroyed over time by development. But because of spiritual traditions, the elders have kept these places, these sacred growths that are biodiversity hot spots. So by strengthening the religious and spiritual culture, and maintaining and growing out of these places of peace making and sacred activity, you’re actually affecting the environment. Similarly if you look at the connection between agriculture and culture, we’re seeing that particularly in Southeast Nigeria where the Edo culture and Edo religion are very strong, there are a lot of cultural norms that have to do with how you do agriculture. And how you do biodiverse agriculture that might have 20 or 25 species on a single two acre smallholder plot. And certain types of trees that are companion planting with other types of trees and vegetables. This has been going on for probably millennia. And the Edo slogan in their religion is: “life to all life”. It’s a very biophilia oriented spiritual tradition.
If you start with a set of first principles like “life for all life” and then from those principles you drive your practices and culture and religion and spirituality, then you have the interaction of a virtuous circle of culture and religion and spirituality and the way people live, and you begin to get something like the kind of society where we are changing our value system to the goods of the soul and that would change our patterns of consumption and activity.
I grew up in media; my family was a media family – film and television and books. I managed to finagle my girlfriend to come see Star Wars with me. She didn’t want to; she prefers foreign movies. Watching this was a big contention on her part. I enjoyed it. But when I looked at the crawl at the end, the credits, all of these talented people - I frankly don’t think they moved the needle of the world. It was an exciting boy’s adventure essentially with a girl protagonist, which was great. You could say that there were certain principals, “use the force!” and women’s empowerment and a lot of other themes that I think are very good to put out there. But I looked at those thousands of people and thought what if those billions of dollars and thousands of people went to re-greening the world. We could do it. We would be able to do it without question. With just the people that worked on Star Wars and a fraction of the funding that went to creating and a fraction of the income that it earned. We would change the world.
So we really need to begin to look at where we want to put our energy. Where we want to put our money. What are we here for individually, what is our civilization for? What’s the purpose? What’s the point of the exercise? I don’t think we’ve been asking those questions. We’re just starting. And if we do, we might get some real solutions.
Reed: The experience of a new theme, a new way of looking at the world, post manifest destiny. The idea that technology will save us or that progress is positive, is a tall order. You talked earlier in this discussion about how re-greening can happen with humans. It isn’t as though you have to banish the humans. But I wonder if our Western society is redeemable. I wonder if there are things we can do in our own backyards, if there are things we can do in addition to helping efforts to replant trees in China and Nigeria.
Marc: That’s a great question. What can we do HERE? That’s absolutely right. I have to say though, I’m making a point that we are the world. We need to remember the global village because that used to be a lot more popular concept and we, as Americans – believe me, when I’m in Africa, we don’t see much of America there. They’ve just so much as give up on it. So I’d say how can we act locally and think globally? I think that’s so very durable. People have been saying lately “think locally, act locally.” Right, but create winning local economies. Let’s look after our own backyard, I think that is incredibly important. Whether it’s in positive developments, cities deciding to switch their source of power to renewable, even taking away the contracts from the power companies and creating their own – you see this in Germany a lot by the way. Tremendous, what a society can do to make change. I’ll take Germany as an example, again, partly due to Joseph Beuy’s artistic idea that turned into the green party to have a Northern European country committing to 100% renewable economies. And that took lot of organizing, a lot of local organizing, a lot of things had to happen before a whole society could begin to make that kind of shift. To many Americans’ amazement, when you go to Germany and you talk to a “conservative,” they’re green! There’s not hardly an inch of daylight between the greens and the conservatives when it comes to the environment. It’s so different than what we have here. So that might lead into a conversation about how we bridge the gaps; how do we begin to talk to each other.
There was a famous instance and I won’t remember the specifics (who the people are or where it was) but in general terms a famous environmentalist’s daughter who was living in the Midwest said, “people don’t get the rhetoric about the environment and re-greening. They don’t like it; they think it’s bad, it’s left wing. So you have to approach someone with the practicalities, what does a practical Midwesterner want?” And this is income. There’s income if you put a wind turbine on your property. Good things will happen if you do that. Each thing that we do in our own community becomes an inspiration for more. I’m a big believer of unity of small groups.
I mentioned Havel before. One of the things that Havel did (this isn’t generally known) his group said to him: “look, we can’t really talk to each other because everyone is either being spied on by the secret police or is the secret police. And we’re not allowed to assemble. So we can’t get together; we can’t feel our own power that way. So why don’t we have dinner parties every month, and we’ll decide on a theme for those parties. All around the country, people that care about the fate of Czechoslovakia will get together and talk about that theme over dinner.” Now, people couldn’t really share what they were talking about. Tapped phones, pre-internet. But people were deciding to have important conversations around the dinner table about the future of their nation that began to change the social fabric- because the conversation leaks out. It might leak out at work and it might affect your family. So practical change, no matter how small.
This idea that it doesn’t matter how big the space of change is, just how much light it sheds and begins to radiate outward. I live in Berkeley and I used to live in Boulder before that, and I’m sure there are people here who live in Eugene or Seattle, or – you know they’re all so amazing. Places around the country and around the world that have a hub for impact and investment activities and have a whole foods ecosystem that’s pretty prominent. That’s all important because these do become centers of emanation, but at the same time we can’t let them become gated communities where everything works well and we assume the rest of the world can’t be brought along because it’s just too messed up. I hear a lot of pessimism in the environmental movement. You know, that when the world is running down you make the best of what is still around and that somehow it’s baked into the system, it’s game over. Which it’s not.
I can say that the only thing now known possible to reverse climate change (which is to absorb existing atmospheric carbon that is excessive) is what we’re doing. It’s restoring land and vegetation. That’s it. There’s no known technology that can do all the social and environmental good that this approach does. I would say that as we do things in our own community (and I’m sure we all know many examples of that, how we knit together as communities who are willing to act as if the regime does not exist together), that we also consider our brothers and sisters in other places. If we plant a tree in our city, let’s plants ten in Ethiopia or Kenya or Nigeria. You know, it does involve money. We need funding, absolutely. I think one thing very specifically that is local and global is the carbon divestment movement. It would be a pinprick for the oil companies. 2.6 trillion dollars have now been divested from the oil and carbon stocks. Now by rights , given that churches and synagogues and union pension funds and education institutes have been investing for years and putting carbon into the atmosphere, a very reasonable thing to do would be to take some of that divested money and put it into agroforestry and landscape restoration. Because that would be putting the carbon back into the ground, and taking it out of the atmosphere. I think if communities that were divesting would lobby for that, this would begin to change the world. So how do we do both? That’s what I’m saying. Let’s not just do one and think hey, we’ll shrink our carbon footprint and that will affect the world. It will but maybe not that much.
Reed: I’d like to turn the microphone briefly, Marc, to Marilyn Turkovich, the director of the Charter for Compassion.
Marilyn: One of the things that I think both Marc and I would be so excited about is if we could have some folks on this call join us in an effort of really seeking out how we put everything Marc has been speaking about on this call into operation here with our compassionate communities and cities and members and to really look at working locally as Reed was saying, but also use the power of our local organizations and the good that’s already happening and begin to spread that across the world. We have a small proposal that we’ve put together. It needs a lot more explanation and we need to have a lot more arms helping us to reach out like a tree, to really branch out and get this moving. So if you’re at all interested, please contact us and we will definitely get together a meeting to explore how all of this can take place locally and internationally.
Marc: Thank you. Yes, that is an extraordinary project where the Green World Campaign and compassionate communities have teamed up to try to create again and restore the regenerative system that is the essence of compassionate action.
Reed: We can re-green the world in one generation, but it takes us all waking up and taking action, together. Both locally and as you said, globally. Marc I appreciate the energy and the hopefulness that you shared with us today. It’s not too late, there are steps we can take, there are things we can do. Thanks a lot.
I want to let people know that we will be putting out a report about this so the material that Marc was describing will be available for you in your inbox. And we will also put together a series of the slides for those of you that were unable to view them on social webinar, and you can listen to the call again as well because it has been recorded.
This is the third in a series of conversations that we are having this week, Earth Week. Tomorrow Dr. David Poister will talk about the “Science of Climate Change,” at 9am PDT. You can register for that call on our website the same way you did for this call. And I invite you to share this with your family and friends, as well. Thank you all again for participating, and thank you Marc for being a partner with the Charter for Compassion.
Marc: Thank you. It’s been a real honor.
Reed: Goodbye, and if anyone would like to say anything your microphones are all open.
Callers: Thank you Marc!
Marc: If there’s any way to have further conversation, that would be great.
Reed: Certainly. I invite people to look at the book club because we will be talking with you again and we can have an informed discussion after reading some of your words as well. That’s also on the home page, if you go down to the news and events ticker.
Marc: Great. And I invite anyone on this call to contact me if they want to collaborate.
Reed: We’ll send out your contact information in the email, as well.
Marilyn: And I think that we’ll ask if we can have a body of volunteers and then we can set up a Skype meeting or a Zoom meeting or another Maestro call to get everyone involved and see the level of enthusiasm that we have.
Reed: Good day, and talk to many of you tomorrow as well! Thanks.
We were born in a primordial Garden, cradled by the Tree of Life. For untold eons, trees have patiently nurtured us and all creatures.
Their roots extend deep in the human soul, and nourish the soil from which they and we draw sustenance. They bring the rains on which all depend, and create the very air we breathe.
They stand as living monuments to the faith that shall not be moved. Their branches reach heavenward, yielding sweet fruit and fertile seed, sheltering all without prejudice and with unfailing mercy.
But today the Tree of Life is withering from our carelessness and neglect. We sorrow to behold vast areas of our world where the diversity of nature and the vitality of community are daily harder to sustain.
As people of conscience, we will not stand idly by while our hands hold the power to turn ravaged land green, and so relieve the poverty and hunger of our brothers and sisters in barren places.
There is something stirring within each of us, within the human family, as within a seed that needs only light and water and care to grow. We resolve now to renew the sacred Tree of Life.
We pledge to plant new seeds of spirit in the real soil of this world. May each burst forth as a resurgence of hope, a message to children yet unborn that we were mindful of their coming, that we stewarded for them a green and peaceful planet, and kept faith with their future.
We commit now to take steps both large and small to restore the injured landscapes that cry out for healing. We vow to join together to grow billions of trees, defend our precious natural systems, and protect our climate. We promise to renew the ecology and economy of the world’s poorest places.
For we know in our hearts the truth of the ancient proverb: compassion is planting that seedling under whose shade we may never sit. And we believe that if we start from the ground up, plant firm a great intention and care for it with diligence and love, myriad of life’s marvels will arise from the good earth to welcome the generations who will follow.