Reflections from St. Cyprien

After leaving Chichilianne we drove west and then south to the village of St. Cyprien to stay with Janet Hulse, the elder sister of my good friend Julia. Along the way we stopped for a night in another small village in the Puy de Dome region, south of Clermont-Ferrand. We’re now at Janet’s place near St. Cyprien, in the south central area of France. Tomorrow I am meeting with a local farmer who I met at the market this morning. This may well be my last interview on this journey.

We have done a lot of travelling but I have managed some interactions with people as well as continued to reflect on lessons from this journey. I have talked increasingly about the importance of finding ways of working harmoniously with our earth, with the natural world. This concern is shared by the well know British scientist, James Lovelock, who developed the so-called Gaia hypothesis. However our views differ on how we might work harmoniously. In his recent book “The revenge of Gaia” he expressed his concerns about the state of the earth and suggested a planned retreat of humans from nature as part of the solution, with a focus away from agriculture and towards synthetic food production. I disagreed with this view before and disagree even more strongly now. The many people we have met in different places and their very positive actions support a different approach that is focused on an intelligent and heart-felt re-engagement with nature. Everything we have, all of the wonderful and undesirable results of the industrial revolution and our modern technological revolution, have been derived from the earth in some form or another. We cannot so easily retreat as Lovelock thinks. At the same time I totally agree that we need to do something. Fortunately there are people who are acting, and we need to pay attention to them. I look to the leader of the Karen village in northern Thailand and his very smart 16 year old daughter, to the Buddhist monk north of Bangkok, to the work of Ajarn Yak in Thailand, to a wise 78 year old man in northern Viet Nam, to wise local leaders in Nepal, to the work of Sekem in Egypt, and more recently to the inherent understanding of our place in landscape, in nature, that is still visible in parts of Europe and in the work of the best farmers here.

In the parts of Italy we visited, Switzerland, and now in France we see landscapes where there is a history of understanding the importance of forest and water management. In all the places we’ve been in these countries I have seen hills covered with trees that in New Zealand and many parts of Asia have been stripped bare. In Switzerland, water catchment areas are forested. In New Zealand, when I gave a talk to a Regional Council a couple of years ago I was considered naïve to suggest that planting trees was the most important thing we could be doing as a response (adaptation and mitigation) to climate change. Everywhere I’ve been, every place I’ve seen, every person I have spoken to over the last four months has reinforced this view. In Europe I see the legacy of centuries of understanding the importance of managing whole landscapes. We don’t have this legacy in New Zealand. What we do have is a freedom of choice that many other countries and people do not have any more. But for how much longer?

It is very clear to me now that there is a great, unrealised, opportunity to develop truly effective responses to climate and other global changes by simply opening our eyes and ears to the very good things that people are already doing all over the world. In fact I believe we must do this. Things are now moving too fast for the politicians and scientists to keep up. People are already acting, some are already well ahead in their work and thinking.

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