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'Nature gives us free service'

Mar 04, 2010

Australian environmentalist John Seed who has successfully campaigned to save the sub-tropical rainforests of New South Wales and is the co-creator of the Council of All Beings was recently in Pune to deliver a lecture on ‘Deep Ecology, Gandhi And Ecological Crisis’

Excerpts from an informal conversation

As far as campaigning to save the earth’s environment is concerned, John Seed’s name figures high on the list. A prominent figure in the domain of re-earthing processes, he is the founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia and since 1979 he has been involved in direct actions which have resulted in the protection of the Australian rainforests.

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In 1984 he helped initiate the US Rainforest Action Network which grew out of the first of his many US roadshows. In 1987 he co-produced a television documentary for Australian national television about the struggle for the rainforests. A front page story about Seed’s work in the Christian Science Monitor at this time referred to him as “the town crier for the global village”.

Seed has written and lectured extensively on deep ecology and has been conducting Councils of All Beings and other re-earthing workshops around the world for 25 years. With Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming and Professor Arne Naess, he wrote ‘Thinking Like A Mountain - Towards A Council of All Beings’ (New Society Publishers) which has now been translated into 10 languages. He is an accomplished bard, songwriter and filmmaker and has produced five albums of environmental songs and numerous films. In 1995 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) by the Australian government for services to conservation and the environment.

Huned: What gave birth to your passion for rainforests?

John Seed: It can be traced back to Australia’s Terania Creek protests in 1979 when the so-called ‘new settlers’ in the area clashed with police, loggers and the Forestry Commission in what became a pivotal moment for the environment movement in Australia and the world.

I was living on Bodhi Farm at The Channon and thought I was going to spend the rest of my life organising meditation retreats and growing organic food when somehow I found myself involved in direct action at Terania Creek. It turned out to be the first direct action in defence of rainforest anywhere in the world, though we didn’t realise that until many years later. I knew nothing about rainforests at the time but in the process of protecting Terania Creek we learned a lot, including the basic fact that rainforests are the very womb of life, home to more than half of the species of plants and animals in the world.

Huned: What did this lead to?

John Seed: After several years of direct action and training others in non-violent tactics such as digging themselves into the ground in the path of oncoming machinery, I realised that the whole idea that we only have to protect representative areas is based on a complete misunderstanding of the nature of ecology and life. Vast areas of wild nature need to remain in order that the so-called free ecosystem services can maintain the balance of gasses in the atmosphere, the maintenance of the water cycle, the maintenance of soils and so on. These things are created by wild nature and it is not possible to save the earth by having small pieces of land reserved as national parks or sanctuaries.

Huned:What is Deep Ecology?

John Seed: According to Deep Ecology, the fundamental problem is the illusion of separation between human beings and the living earth and this is a result of anthropocentrism, or human-centredness.

It is basically this idea that humans are the centre of everything, that we are the crown of creation, the measure of all being. This notion that the Earth is a pyramid with humans at the top is contrasted with the wisdom of indigenous peoples who have always understood that the world is a web and we are just one strand in that web and if we destroy the other strands we destroy ourselves.

Huned:What are the Deep Ecology workshops about?

John Seed: Activists are notorious for burning out but by doing the Deep Ecology workshops and continually reaffirming our connection with the Earth, we are able to keep on fighting the good fight on behalf of the rainforests and supporting environmental projects around the world. As the facilitator, I introduce the process but then I melt back into the circle and become a participant.

Huned:Is that why you believe in rituals that bind humans with nature?

John Seed: Every indigenous society is connected to its roots. The ceremonies and rituals are a part of the culture and these should be revived and kept alive. Going by the tradition and belief, many worship moon and trees. There should be an acknowledgement of all these ceremonies and rituals and some of us environmentalists are working towards it.

Huned:How do you perceive the world’s environmental problems?

John Seed: They are different for different regions. These include soil erosion, tree-felling, deforestation, water and air pollution etc.

Huned:What is the primary solution to save environmental degradation?

John Seed: Plant more trees. Unfortunately, in our rush to create metro cities we are cutting down trees. Little do we realise that nature gives us free service. Trees gives us oxygen, clean water, food, wood, home for birds and animals. They are like machines created by nature to provide all this and more.

Huned:Are you working on any project in India?

John Seed: The elephants in the Nilgiris are under threat and I am working towards protecting them. We are also defending the Katkaris, an oppressed tribal community in Maharashtra. The Katkari tribal group is teetering on the brink of extinction. It is a primitive forest community based mostly in Raigad and Thane districts that lives in abject poverty. Their exploitation by non-tribals is total and absolute. They have been converted into a cheap and bonded labour force by their fellow human beings. The police department harasses them at will and treats them like a criminal tribe. While the Indian government denies the presence of slavery, the Katkaris are slaves and much more.

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