We recently talked with Susan Meeker-Lowry, the founder and editor of a six-year-old newsletter entitled Gaian Voices – Earth Spirit, Earth Action, Earth Stories. Susan is also the author of Economics as if the Earth Really Mattered and Invested in the Common Good. Both books are about ecologically sustainable community based economics. Gaian Voices presents articles, stories and information from an earth-centered perspective, offering us a way of looking at our world in which we are all en-spirited beings participating in the dance of life in relationship with each other. To date Gaian Voices has not addressed economics, but with the next issue, this will change.
Meeker-Lowry speaks for the earth, for Gaia, and for a future that could be. supportive of all life with a passionate voice. We live in challenging times; soon, many of us believe, to become more challenging. We who love the earth sometimes feel torn between despair for the future and excitement for what our future could be if we were to wake up and take actions for change soon enough to make a difference.
We asked Meeker-Lowry to share some of her thoughts on Gaian and economic issues close to her heart.
Economics as if the Earth really mattered
Susan: It was obvious to me that the economy as we know it, business as usual, was killing the earth and the solution was to look at the earth for answers. This was years ago before there was a body of knowledge called ecological economics that you could study in school. At that point it was really far out stuff. We had an institute for Gaian economics. We tried to put into practice the values we believed would be part of creating a Gaian economy, an economy that believed the earth really mattered.
I have been publishing Gaian Voices for six years and for six years I have avoided the subject of economics. Now it seems time to address it again. Economics is really coming to the forefront for the general public because of gas prices. Money is tight and people are concerned. It’s the economy again. And it seems to me that people are just trying to solve our problems by doing the old way harder.
One of the reasons I started Gaian Voices was because I wanted to put a different perspective out there for people to look at; what the human relationship with nature is, so that people could get a sense there is another way of doing things. It’s not just doing things, it’s a perspective. It’s how we wake up in the morning and we see the earth, and we see our relationship with the earth.
Thomas Berry says we need to reinvent the humans at the species level. To me that means we are one species here. We are not the penultimate thing, we are not the lowest thing, we are part of the circle. Life’s a circle, it’s not a hierarchy.
Now, how do we put that into practice? How do we use that in our daily lives? Not just in our households, how do we take that out into our communities? How do we take it to the state and whatever levels we need to take it to in order to transform the structures that we live under and do business under?
One of the things I would like to move through, for my own self, but also because I think we need to as a culture, is how can we take those small things that we do, in our homes, in our communities like recycling on a small scale, land trusts, workroom businesses, green businesses, how can we take those things and make them the mainstay as opposed to the Exxons of the world? Because that’s what needs to happen.
For the upcoming issue of the newsletter I’m going to talk to Hazel Henderson, whom I’ve known for many years. She is a futurist and also an economist. She is a very interesting woman. What I want to talk to her about is the interface between the global economy and the local economy. She talks about that in her latest book Ethical Markets. What I’m interested in hearing her talk about is how small local, regional things can ultimately change the global picture that is so oppressive. Henderson believes this can happen. How can this be done?
IT: Do you have any ideas?
Susan: I used to. When I first started doing this work I was very optimistic. I traveled around the country, I gave workshops, I spoke at conferences, I would hand out information on community currencies, community land trusts. I could see the seeds we planted sprouting and growing because there was connection between those of us who were doing these things. We physically kept in touch through conferences. We kept in touch through phone calls.
Logically you’d think now, because there are more people aware than there were, because the whole idea of community banking and women owned banks, and worker- owned businesses and cooperatives has grown since then, things would be improved. But now there seems to be less connection between projects. It didn’t used to be that way. There was communication and information sharing, networking that happened.
IT: And you’re not thinking that e-mail is in some way filling this gap?
Susan: I don’t think so because in order for things to happen in the real world, people have to meet in the real world. You have to meet face to face.
I’m not saying that people should start flying all over the world. One of the things that David Haenke said, David was one of the main movers and shakers in the bioregional movement back in the 80’s, was that a bioregionalist was a person who traveled all over telling people to stay home. And he’s right! Now we’re all staying home and that’s great, but in the context of that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of generation of new ideas and visions of things happening. I don’t know if I’m not a part of it or that’s the way it really is, but it seems to me that in part that’s the way it is. There’s lack of connection.
In order for people to pay attention, information needs to come from a “credible” source. Then they begin to pay attention and think “Hmm, maybe something is going on, maybe we do need to change.”
There is a bright side to rising fuel costs. It’s getting people to drive less (and thereby pollute less) and to pay attention to energy efficiency, to really look at what’s happening. Except there are people out there who say we have to drill, drill, drill and we have to build more refineries so we can keep on pumping the oil out of the ground. To my mind that’s not the solution. That’s just putting off the inevitable, plus fossil fuels are contributing in a major way to the climate change. It only makes sense to find solutions to the problem that aren’t going to make that problem worse.
IT: What are you doing in your individual life about the issue of living in a way that is sustainable?
Susan: There are times when I think what we each do is really important, gardening, recycling... I think the importance of those things is that when we engage in gardening and some kind of relationship with the plant kingdom for example, that changes us. Then we are changed people talking to everybody we come in contact with.
One of the things I really want Gaian Voices to do is to help people open their eyes to the earth, to see the earth as alive. That’s why it’s called Gaian Voices, after the Gaia Theory that the earth is alive and that we can and must as human beings participate actively in the life on the earth.
It is our responsibility on the soul/ spirit level to participate with the birds and the trees and the bears and the soils and oceans in a way that is reciprocal, (not the whole power over-cutting down the tree thing) by having a relationship with the tree. Then if you cut the tree, because you have a relationship with the tree, you respect that wood.
When we have that kind of respect and reciprocity, our lives change. That is the kind of change we need. Once that happens inside of people, we treat things differently. It’s a very subtle thing. I think it’s that subtlety that can then impact the systems and processes that control the larger worlds of finance and politics.
When I used to say that 25 years ago, I felt there was plenty of time and I was a lot more optimistic. But now, although I feel there are more people open to it in some shape or form, the system itself has also grown and gotten bigger and more entrenched. Now there are more people living on the earth. So the issues are even bigger than they were.
I believe there is more to life than we can see. I believe the earth is alive, we are alive, we are conscious, the earth is conscious, the tree has consciousness, the river has consciousness. It is a different consciousness than human consciousness, but it is consciousness. And it’s real.
So what does that mean? To me it means we are not the only ones that are in this situation. It is not humans against the world, or against each other. It is all of us, including all of the other non-human species in this together. And we can work together. How you are living at Earthrest is one of the ways that we work together with the different consciousnesses of the earth. I believe that once there are enough of us doing these things, there will be change.
I believe that as we wake up and start having this kind of relationship and perspective, things can change amazingly fast. There is more to us than a physical body, there is spirit. And spirit can heal just as much as a medicine we take. Miracles can happen. They don’t happen willy-nilly. They happen because we work hard, and because we are dogged, and because we believe, and because we have love in our hearts. That’s when the miracles happen.
We need to work with the earth, we need to come to the earth with love in our hearts. The earth will give that love back and we will feel it. When we feel it, it changes us. I do believe if enough people do this, that’s what is going to change the world; opening ourselves up to those kinds of relationships and then taking the way we feel and that knowledge and using it will make some kind of a difference in other areas.
That’s what I try to do in the newsletter by putting out different stories and interviews. I’m trying to give people a sense of what’s possible when we look at things differently, and how those feelings influence the way we do things and what becomes important to us.
IT: Thank you, Susan.
Gaian Voices, published twice a year, is available in Bridgton at Morning Dew and Bridgton Books, in Cornish at Earthrest, in North Conway at White Birch Books and by subscription at Gaian Voices, 132 Fish St., Fryeburg, ME 04037.
Copyright Pat Foley, 2008