Winter Talk with Satish Kumar

posted 15 Mar 2021 3 mins

It was a great privilege to welcome Satish Kumar back to the bank on 15 March for his inspiring online talk, What can we learn from COVID-19?

Satish, editor emeritus of Resurgence and Ecologist magazine and founder of the Schumacher College, an international centre for ecological studies, is one of the world’s leading environmental activists. A former Jain monk, he believes passionately that reverence for nature should be at the heart of every social and political debate.

The pandemic, Satish pointed out, has literally given the world pause for thought. In conversation with Alexander Hoare, he warned that we have focused on economic growth at the expense of the natural world and must now reconsider our priorities:

‘In the last hundred years, we have had the idea that ‘bigger is better’. We have been expanding agriculture, which is becoming more and more like factory farming, so that food is now just a commodity, a means to make a profit. ‘Big is beautiful’ has created this ugly situation where Nature is in retreat and biodiversity is diminishing: air is polluted, water, is polluted, soil is polluted. So we need to learn that ‘big’ is not always better. The quality of our relationship with the natural world is much more important than the size of our footprint on the earth. If we want to create a more environmentally sustainable world, a more humane and imaginatively creative world, then we must embrace the idea that ‘small is beautiful’.

Our unthinking exploitation of natural resources, Satish argued, is ultimately an act of self-destruction:

‘At the moment, industry and commerce, as well as politicians, view the human species not just as separate from Nature, but somehow higher than Nature; they think we ‘own’ the natural world and can do what we like with it. My belief is that humanity is not separate from Nature. We are Nature. Human rights are important – all humans must be treated with dignity – but we also need to accept the rights of Nature. The forests have rights to survive, the rivers have rights to flow clean and beautiful. And we have no right to destroy them. As Mahatma Gandhi used to say, “The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed”. At the moment our global economy does not respond to the needs, it simply responds to the greed.’

In Satish’s view, there is no reason why economics should not march with ecology:

‘E. F. Schumacher, who wrote Small is Beautiful in 1973, was not some kind of maverick idealist, he was an Oxford economist, he worked for the government. And he said that if we maintain local, small, decent lives based in art and craft and creativity, we will enable a kind of cultural wealth creation. Similarly, my vision is not one of hair-shirt poverty for all; I want good life – good food, good houses, good communities – but not at the expense of destroying the planet that is our home.’

As always, our online audience raised many thoughtful questions and discussion ranged from the vexed principle of degrowth to Satish’s vision for a holistic education system where ‘head, heart and hands’ are equally engaged and an extended version of the Hippocratic oath:

‘Before they start their medical practice, doctors swear to ‘do no harm’. This oath should be for all professions – industrialists, bankers, police, politicians. All of us need to say “Whatever I do, I will do no harm to other people and I will do no harm to Nature”. Only then can healing begin.’

© Photography credit: Geoff Daglish