Interview with Satish Kumar: Brazil can show the world a new path

Satish was recently interviewed by Maria Auxiliadora Moraes Amiden for the Brazilian newspaper “O Estado de São Paulo. The interview can be read in Portuguese on her blog “Transition Happiness“.

One of the most influential thinkers in ecology, economics and sustainability, and one of the founders of the deep ecology movement – Satish Kumar, comes to Brazil next week to speak to executives and public and private sector leaders at the Strategy and Execution Summit 2011 in São Paulo. Maria Auxiliadora Moraes Amiden, Director of Education in Symnetics and organiser of the event spoke with Satish about his philosophy of life based on ethics, reverence for nature and spiritual values, and the future of business and their challenges here in Brazil:

A much loved book of yours is called “Earth Pilgrim”. Why do you describe yourself as an Earth Pilgrim?
We can live upon this earth either as tourists seeking gratification, comfort and pleasure for ourselves or, we can live as pilgrims respecting, sharing and celebrating the beauty and abundance of the earth by taking only to meet our vital needs and not for accumulation and waste. A pilgrim lives lightly and a tourist makes a heavy footprint so I believe that all human beings need to develop a new attitude towards the earth and establish a new relationship with the earth and that new relationship is the relationship of being a pilgrim rather than a tourist.

As a leader of the Deep Ecology movement, can you explain a little about what this is?
Deep ecology recognises the intrinsic value of all life whereas shallow ecology looks after the natural resources only for the benefit of humankind. Like racism, sexism or nationalism there is specie-ism where we consider the human species superior to other species. In deep ecology we consider human species one among billions and trillions of other species – we are all related, we are all connected. This total inter-dependence, inter-relatedness and inter-connectedness is the fundamental principle of deep ecology.

What are the key messages that you tell to world leaders, both politicians and business executives?
I want to tell the world leaders that economy is more than money or financial capital. The word ‘economy’ is made from two Greek words ‘ecos’ and ‘nomos’. ‘Ecos’ means the earth household and ‘nomos’ means the management of it, so I want to ask the world leaders, are you managing the earth household or are you managing only the financial capital? True wealth is not money, money is only a measure of wealth, true wealth is land, animals, forests, clean water, human communities and human intelligence. If we have lots of money but the natural capital is diminished then what good is that economy so please understand the true meaning of economy and manage it properly for all people now and future generations and create a system which is harmonious for all living beings.

You are coming to Brazil in August. What is the main message that you wish to give to the leaders in Brazil?
Brazil is one of the rising economies and a great nation. Rather than repeating the mistakes of industrialised societies such as the United States and Europe, Brazil can show the world a new way, a sustainable way, a way of harmony and balance. Brazil is blessed with great natural wealth such as rain forests and good land. Taking care of your citizens and taking care of your natural wealth are two sides of the same coin. So do not destroy your natural capital in search of financial capital.

Schumacher College, of which you are a founder, is known for its unique learning processes. Can you tell us a little about what makes the college so special?
Schumacher College is a centre of transformative learning. Much of education in the world is based on information whereas Schumacher College focuses on information accompanied by transformation. This means that the students at Schumacher College study ecology as well as practice it through simple living, gardening and participating in domestic activities such as cooking and cleaning. Every week students spend time in nature as we believe that nature is our greatest teacher and only by being in nature can we learn to love nature and respect nature. Schumacher College is a trans-disciplinary learning centre where we see all subjects are connected so we take a holistic approach rather than a fragmentary approach.

What are the challenges facing corporations today?
Corporations are faced with the problem of peak oil. Most of our production, transportation and distribution are dependent on fossil fuel and that is running out and prices are increasing. In any case the use of fossil fuel is contributing towards global warming and climate change so one of the biggest challenges to corporations is to find alternative sources of energy. In my view nuclear energy of not the answer, the raw material for nuclear energy is uranium which will also be in short supply. We don’t know the unintended consequences of nuclear waste. So those who are wise leaders of corporations have to think through and develop technologies which run on natural energy.

What are the new competences that people in corporations need to develop for our changing world?
In the last 50 years corporations have had a belief in globalisation and getting bigger and bigger to maximise profit. In the next 50 years the pendulum has to swing back and find a place somewhere in the middle. E F Schumacher wrote ‘Small is Beautiful’ and many other wise economists have spoken about local economy so the corporations need to develop competence in transformation themselves into smaller units of local operations deriving their resources locally and finance can move globally without moving the goods and services.

What is the role of education in a changing and complex world?
The present educational system is training young people to find jobs. In the age of technology and mass production jobs are fast disappearing. Most countries, rich or poor, are suffering from huge unemployment. Education is spreading widely and if educated people are seeking jobs but all the jobs are done by machinery then where are the jobs going to come from? Soon the challenge for education is to shift the paradigm from jobs to right livelihood which means that young people should be able to be creative and find a way of earning their living with their own ingenuity and their own resources.

As a pilgrim in this world, what is the most important lesson that you have learnt for yourself?
As a pilgrim I have learnt to let go of my ego and develop a sense of humility and gratitude. Ego leads to greed where as gratitude leads to relationship and mutuality. Ego leads to separation and gratitude leads to connectivity so I have learnt to have less ego and more gratitude.

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