Interview - Judith Schwartz which ecological restoration can happen. It shows us that, given the opportunity, life will tend towards healing.”
Judith makes the link in her book between troubled landscapes and troubled people. I ask her how she sees our relationship with the land. “I think that we tend to forget that we are land creatures. We are of the land. Humans evolved in relation to our landscapes; that’s the route of all of our cultures. And when we’re disconnected from the land, I believe that we feel a loss. It goes both ways. If we’re hurting, our landscapes reflect that, and if our landscapes are hurting, our state is affected by that.”
Judith points to our economic systems, that have evolved by exploiting nature, as a major cause of the climate and ecological crisis. What we need, Judith says, is “to understand that our economic model is human created. All our human-created systems, by definition, can be redesigned to better serve us and the planet. Whereas, nature is what it is. We can’t negotiate with nature. I think we’ve looked at it the other way around, as if nature is negotiable but our systems are not.” She wants us “to understand that we are part of nature, as opposed to above it, and that what happens from here forward is a matter of our intention.”
I ask Judith what an economic system that works with nature might look like and she highlights “the role of the commons.” She says: “If we think about water as belonging to all of us, then we all take responsibility, and we care about the state of all water. I think that is where we should go, as opposed to privatisation. Our land, our water, the air, are things we should all be responsible for and benefit from. The focus on privatisation and ‘it’s mine and not yours’ – I think we can see that it’s not brought us happiness.
It’s really interesting to speak to Judith about the role of positive thinking in dealing with the climate and ecological crisis. It is easy to be overwhelmed by anger or anxiety when we think about the destruction of the planet and our limited time to save it, but Judith describes how positive thinking can work with practical action to make a difference. “A lot of times, I talk about our crisis as a failure of imagination. If we can’t imagine a positive future, how can we hope to get there? If we can’t envision our landscapes as lush and full of life, how can we take the steps to create that? It’s really important to have an understanding of what’s possible because that is something to hold onto and aspire to and then we can be practical about what it might take to get there. If we’re focused on the worst possible outcome (which is natural because we want to steel ourselves for it), we’re preparing for that, and not allowing ourselves a positive vision which we can then be practical about working towards.”
Schwartz at HAP
Jud ith w
I want to know how we start. Media focus on the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, for example, can obscure the situation closer to home. The UK is seriously nature depleted. We have lost 55% of our forest birds in 50 years, 97% of our flower-rich meadows since 1945, and we have seen massive declines in many of our insect species. I ask Judith what we can do in our own small pockets of nature to help heal the planet. “Restoration can begin anywhere,” she says. “You can generate more life and beauty by putting plants on the windowsill. You can take a tiny space and it’s incredible what can be done.” She gives the example of Brad Lancaster, an expert in rainwater harvesting from Arizona, who “got the city of Tucson to allow for cuts in the kerb so that the water can flow to the trees.” Perhaps we all need to take more responsibility in order to support the green (or could be green) spaces around us to flourish.
Ben trees, she works with children. They put mulch on and newspaper, and then they come back and see what life has emerged from the soil. For children that is so powerful. We owe it to our children to help them develop a relationship with nature – to provide experiences of nature – and to help them have the tools to do restoration. That will be the work of the future. And by helping children become comfortable with nature, we are preparing them for a rich life.”
In the spirit of positive thinking as a tool for change, I ask Judith what she imagines as the best possible outcome for the planet. “My best possible outcome,” she says, “is that, rather than the accumulation of private wealth, we turn our attention to the immense wealth around us of nature, and our intention becomes to heal the Earth. And just how much healing of ourselves will result from that is a wonderful thing to think about.” For the planet and for ourselves, I hope we can all find ways to connect with the land.
I ask Judith how we can speak about the climate and ecological crisis with our children, without burdening them with the challenges we face. She tells me about a project run by a friend of hers, Monica Ibacache. “She teaches permaculture to children in New York City. On the sidewalk, there are a lot of fabulous trees, and in the little bit of soil around the
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Photography by Tony Eprile
The Reindeer Chronicles: And Other Inspiring Stories of Working with Nature to Heal the Earth by Judith D. Schwartz is published by Chelsea Green Publishing.
Alice Ellerby is sub-editor at JUNO.