November 19, 2017

Edward Goldsmith: the Green Revolutionary – Part Two (transcript)

This is a transcript of Part Two of Edward Goldsmith: the Green Revolutionary: “The Solution: People and Planet”, in Channel 4’s Fragile Earth series. Goldsmith argues that the planetary crisis facing us today cannot be solved by further economic progress and technological innovation but only through the cooperative efforts of ordinary people guided by their faith in traditional wisdom.

The film is written and presented by Edward Goldsmith. The Producer And Director is Nicholas Claxton, who also composed the original music. The Associate Producer is Nicola Ebenduall and the Assistant Producer is Jack Pizzey. The film is a Goldhawk Production for Channel 4 in association with Turner Broadcasting System Incorporated. It was broadcast on Channel 4 in January and August 1990.

Part 2: The Solution—People and Planet

The experience of the past 25 years has taught me that it’s only people who can save our planet. People taking responsibility for their own lives. Recently I came to the Himalayas, to find one of my main sources of inspiration. Suderlal Bahuguna is a leading light in the Chipko Movement, famous for its success in protecting the remaining forests of the Himalayas.

Picture: long line of children walking through the woods in India, all chanting

“What do the forests bear?”, these children are asking. For the loggers, it is timber, resin and foreign exchange. But for these children, trees have a different value. “What do the forests bare? Soil, water, and pure air.” Soil, water and pure air are the basis of life.

Chipko children singing: “Save them! Save the trees! From the fatal axe! The flowing canals, the running streams. Smiling flowers and gurgling springs. Save them! From the roots of the trees comes fresh water. Towering pines, rhododendrons and oaks, Trees have milk in their leaves, Cool and fresh water in their roots.”

The Chipko women have successfully fought to stop commercial logging. Chipko means ‘to hug’ and by literally hugging trees, the women save them from the fatal axe. These slopes which once grew pines, for pulp, will now grow trees for soil, water and pure air. Also, for fodder and fuel, for which the women must now walk miles. Together with Indian environmentalist Mitu Takali, I followed Bahuguna to his ashram, where the teachings of Mohatma Ghandi are put into practice. I asked him how Ghandi can help us to live in harmony with our environment.

Picture: Sunderlal Bahuguna: Chipko Movement, India.

Bahuguna: “Ghandi was the exponent of swadeshi. Swadeshi means that you have to satisfy your needs from your surroundings. And he said, that nature has enough to fulfil the needs of all, but nothing to satisfy the greed of a single person. And today, what we are doing, our behaviour with nature is that of the butcher of the animal.”

Goldsmith: “Sunderlalji, what is the principle lesson we must all learn from the experience of the Chipko Movement?”

Bahuguna: “The lesson is very simple. That wisdom shall, will decide our destinies, not the knowledge. Knowledges destroy us. And then again, people should realise their power. The people are powerfully, not the centralized governments and the big corporations, and people should organise themselves in small communities, and they should decide their own things, themselves. And then again, this Earth is our mother, and our behaviour with the Earth, should be that of a child with a mother.

Then again, all over the world, now, we should oppose such activities which in the name of ‘development’ are taking us towards destruction. And it is why the Chipko movement says, “Yes to life. No to death.” that means all activities must take us towards life, towards creation, towards creativity. We should take them for (instead of) oil, and other activities, which take us towards destruction. We should fight against all those activities.”

Picture: Smitu Kothari, Lokayan Social Action Group, India.

Kothari: “Everything is getting centralized. Everything is decided by people, thousands and hundreds of miles away from here. And I think the importance here is really, for the recovery and the regeneration of the access and control over ones lives. And I think that’s central to the message.”

Goldsmith: “It’s central. Unfortunately, development moves, economic development moves, in precisely the opposite direction. The more you develop economically, the more control shifts from people, from control over their lives, over their resources . . . shifts from people and the communities to these central bodies in the cities, to the state and the corporations. That is a problem.”

Kothari: “And this is why we say, that people should revolt against this religion of economics. Today, the religion . . . economics has become the religion, and when economics becomes the religion, the behaviour of man becomes most un-economic. And the dollar becomes your God.”

A thousand miles away, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, 60,000 people have converged on the town of Hadsud. This town will soon be submerged by one of several huge dams, that the World Bank, insists on funding – even though it will drive a million people from their lands, to a fate unknown. This is the first mass demonstration against all forms of destructive development.

Kothari: “We pledge to fight for just development. Equal opportunity for all. And for the right for people to participate, fully, in the decisions that affect their life. We further pledge, to use all means at our disposal – to form a human wall of resistance – and stop the subversion of our life-supporting systems: land, rivers, forests and air. We pledge to join hands with all others who think and act as we do, and create a new tomorrow for ourselves.

Picture: Goldsmith with mass protest in background.

These villagers are defying governments, corporations and institutions like the World Bank – refusing to let their lives be devastated by so-called ‘economic progress’. I travelled to Dehradun, in the foothills of the Himalayas, to meet a brilliant scientist turned philosopher and ecologist, Vandana Shiva. We discussed modern man’s devotion to economic and scientific progress.

Picture: Journey through glorious mountain valleys with streams, forests, glaciers ending with Vandana Shiva, Director, Research Foundation for Science and Ecology, India.

Goldsmith: “. . . and one of our Nobel lawyers actually went so far as to say, that if man cannot adapt to the world that science is creating for him, then man must be changed. Don’t you fear that this attitude has become mainstream now?”

Shiva: “There really seem to be two kinds of mainstreams involved. One mainstream is the dominating and dominant mainstream – where scientific thought has created it’s own kind of religion. A religion based on butchering up the Earth. Fragmenting it. A reductionist religion based on controlling people, as well as nature. A religion based on the power of experts, and de-empowering of all others.

There is a second kind of belief, a second kind of worldview. Which seems to be the mainstream for most people in most cultures which have survived over centuries. It’s a belief system in which life processes are considered sacred and inviolable, and have to be protected. The sacred in science, is science itself, and its products. The scientists have become the new high priests. The arrogance is best conveyed to me in the vision of the future that our technology adviser in India has for the 21st century. He sees India as being based, basically, on bio-technology, and according to him, and I’ll quote:

“We’re going to create new life-forms. We are going to re-engineer man. Because the food we eat today, the waste we produce, is based on a highly inefficient machinery. Why should we go to the toilet twice a day?” he asks, “Because it’s all based on an imbalance in the input-output. We are going to have to re-engineer man.” The assumption is, we started with imperfection, we are imperfect, the plants are imperfect, the animals that have sustained our life are imperfect.

Goldsmith: “Vandana, what is the way forward?”

Shiva: “They are the steps which have been taken by Chipko. They are the steps that have now been taken by tribes across the world – in Amazonia, in Hersu, and those are the steps in which people are saying, “No. We will not allow the destruction of life-processes, because this is sacred. The Earth and her life-support systems are inviolable.” And, an understanding of that, creates its own kind of knowledge. It creates a knowledge, that, has to be participatory. It creates a knowledge, which has to be based on the respect of the Earth, not on the control and subjugation and rape of it.

Picture: scenes of traditional village life – farming, threshing, children.

Chipko children singing: “Where the slopes are bare, let us plant forests, Then the springs will flow again and we’ll drink fresh water. I climbed these steep hills to protect the forests from the loggers. To save these trees, I went to jail. Today sisters, we have won the war against the loggers. Brother Bahuguna has given us the confidence we needed.”

Picture: Goldsmith with large village gathering in background.

Goldsmith: I’m in the Himalayan village of Nagini. A Chipko meeting has been going on for 3 days. At the moment, a lady called, Sudesha, is singing a song she composed herself – Sudesha spent 14 days in jail, a few years ago, for defending the forests against the loggers, but she is as determined as ever to continue doing so. Everybody here, just like her, fully realizes that their real wealth is their natural environment, and in particular, the forests, and that their welfare, indeed their survival, depends entirely on protecting them from further destruction.

Like her too, everybody here, fully realizes that they can’t count on the government, or on international agencies, or on corporations. They can only count on themselves. And to be effective, they’ve got to join together. They’ve got to organize themselves, they’ve got to co-operate, and by doing so, their movement can only spread, as indeed it is doing throughout this country. For me, this is the model. This is exactly what we should be doing throughout the world. It’s our only chance. We must all become Chipko activists.

Picture: dramatic music followed by American TV news footage at the UN General Assembly with Edward Goldsmith and the UN Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar.

US TV News Presenter: “Representatives of forest people from Brazil, the Philippines, and other countries, staged a sit-in today, in the United Nations lobby in New York. They were armed with wheelbarrows carrying the signatures of 3 million people demanding that the United Nations’ General Assembly call an Emergency Session to halt the destruction of tropical and temperate rainforests.”

Goldsmith: “Secretary-General. Many thanks for receiving us.”

Perez de Cuellar: Secretary-General, United Nations – walks toward campaign representatives with global media all around him.

Goldsmith: “I came here . . . on behalf of people from the rainforests . . .”

Perez de Cuellar: “Yes. Nice to meet you.”

After a 2 hour sit-in, the Secretary-General, agreed to meet us.

Goldsmith: “. . . and some of them are here with me today, and we are coming here to ask for an extraordinary general meeting, of the General Assembly of the United Nations, to discuss what must be the most important, the most serious crisis facing us today.”

Perez de Cuellar: “Ahuh. Ahum. I see. Yeah. Uhum. I am . . .” (Cuellar sounding and looking very, very disinterested)

Since then we have heard nothing.

Goldsmith: “. . . climatic degradation . . .”

Governments have effectively turned their backs on us.

Goldsmith: “. . . this runaway destruction . . .”

How much longer can we allow governments to sanction the destruction of the natural world in our name?

Goldsmith: “. . . an extraordinary meeting of the General Assembly, but this must be the greatest security crisis that man has ever faced.”

Perez de Cuellar: “Uhum. Yes.”

Nearly 20 years after the original, my colleagues and I on The Ecologist, are writing a new Blueprint. The success of Chipko, and other Third World environmental movements, is a great inspiration. There are also signs of hope at home.

Picture: editors meeting at the offices of The Ecologist magazine.

Peter Bunyard: “We’ve got the Green Party, which really arose out of the Blueprint For Survival. And it seems to me that at least we have got a groundswell of opinion which will support the notions that we might produce in Blueprint, you know, in the second Blueprint. I would say that actually, people are now prepared to listen to the messenger, rather than necessarily kill him.”

Nicholas Hildyard: “If we are going to be taken seriously with the Blueprint, we’re not only going to have to put the analysis of what’s wrong, and how badly wrong it is, and tell it, as it is – that we’re in really deep crisis, but we’re going to have to put some very practical measures forward. Now, within the context that this is a 50 year strategy, you know, we’re not going to be able to change things overnight . . .”

Patrick McCully: “The Pearce (David Pearce, CSERGE) Report commissioned by the British Government, which is talking about, we have to put a ‘cost’ on all environmental benefits. . . but it’s a very limited approach, because how do you put a ‘cost’ on a stable climate and what is our climate worth to us, what is an ice-cap worth, what is a species of polar bears worth? You know, we just can’t ‘cost’ these things.”

Goldsmith: “The whole of our society is hooked on this destructive development, which is rapidly transforming our environment into a desert. And that’s why we do need, very, very massive changes. People, I mean, are not willing to face, the actual extent of the changes that are required.”

Nicholas Hildyard: “It comes back to what we were saying about what being ‘hooked’. Green consumerism is fine, but it doesn’t give the message that, it’s going to be tough. These solutions are not going to be easy.”

Patrick McCully: “Yes”

Nicholas Hildyard: “You know, it’s, it’s, we’ve really made a mess of things, and this piecemeal approach is just, you know, of buying a green product here, or buying a green product there, isn’t gonna do it. It’s going to have to be major, fundamental changes.”

Goldsmith: “I mean, if we consider one thing. It’s, at the moment, absolutely legal, to cut down our forests, pour chemical wastes into our groundwater, it’s totally legal to do all the things that are destroying our environment, and also, worse still, it’s politically expedient to do so! So much so, that much of this destruction is actually subsidized by the state. They do very much what they like. And so does the bureaucracy.

Think of the . . . I mean, the wonderful example is that of the French nuclearocrat, who decided to put up a nuclear power station near some small community, and when it was suggested that he might consult the local people, he answered with that classical rhetorical question: “Do you consult the frogs, when you drain the marshes?” (laughter).

Well that is really what, how politicians feel about the public. We are the frogs whose marshes are being drained. And that’s got to come to an end. I think that governments have been . . . are out of control. They’ve got to be brought back under social control again – just in the same way as industry, industrialists have to be brought back under social control.”

Nicholas Hildyard: “But how do we do it? I mean, decentralization is . . .”

For many years, I’ve asked myself, can we achieve a more fulfilling, less destructive, way of life? Today I’m convinced we can – by organizing ourselves, and bringing governments back under our control. My answer will see drastic, but I believe, it’s the only way forward.

Picture: Goldsmith standing at the top of a hill, looking out on a quiet English village.

Many people dream of living in a village like this one. But, the industrial system forces them to live in large cities. However, if we are to reconstitute our families and communities, and minimise our impact on our natural environment, we have to return to living in small towns and villages. What is more, small towns and villages that are largely self-sufficient, and self-governing, and that are committed to an ecological way of life.

That was very much the vision of St. Barbe-Baker, the celebrated ‘man of the trees': “I picture village communities of the future,” he wrote, “living in valleys, protected by sheltering trees on the high ground. They will have fruit and nut orchards, and enjoy, leisure, liberty, and justice for all, living with a sense of one-ness with the Earth, and with all living things.”

Picture: a rural landscape, mountains, streams, waterfall . . .

Edward Goldsmith: This doesn’t mean we must all, literally, go back to the land. It means a simpler, decentralized way of life, where we don’t depend on cars, and big corporations. Many would say that the vision of a society at one with nature is Utopian. But not for me. For me, the vision of unlimited economic and technological progress, with all the environmental destruction it will surely bring, is far more unrealistic. In any case, do we really need it? After all, has God done such a bad job?”

Picture: a dazzling waterfall.

Picture: a man hugging a tree and praying.

Picture: Credits – Written and Presented by Edward Goldsmith.

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