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Webs of Connection: Trees, Women, Activism

by Marianne Schnall


April 19. 2011

The Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist writer, often talks about the concept of "Inter-Being." He uses the example of how a piece of paper isn't just paper, it has so many non-paper elements to it. The paper comes from a tree, so the tree is in the paper, the tree is in soil, so soil is in the paper, the tree needs the sun to grow, so the sun is in the paper, as are the clouds, and the rain which all nurtures its growth. The men or women who were all part of the paper-making process are also in the paper, as well as the food that nourished the paper-makers, their families, their ancestors – they are all in the paper – and so on. The whole universe is in the paper. Everything on this planet is like that. Everything is related and connected to each other. It is a comforting and spiritual realization.

In our busy, modern world, it can be difficult to remain aware of our place within this delicate web of life. For me it took a series of personal epiphanies, when my life took some unexpected turns. In 1994, I found myself helping my husband, Tom Kay, a solar energy expert, launch the environmental web site EcoMall.com an online hub of earth-friendly companies, resources and information. But the most powerful awakening for me happened in 2001, when after living my whole life in New York City with very little natural environment around me, we moved our family to the country.

When we arrived at our new home in the Hudson Valley, I was not prepared for the metamorphosis and transformation awaiting me. I was amazed and in awe of all the wonders of nature – just even in my own back yard. The grass, the trees, the leaves, flowers, butterflies, birds, streams, mountains, deers, bears, snakes, the moon, the sun, the stars – all of it stuns me. So now, awakened by nature itself, a seed of true environmentalism has sprouted and now comes from a deeper place. I see how nature is part of us, how it sustains and nurtures us. I can now understand the concept “Mother Earth.” And everything is interrelated.

In our society many of us have lost touch with this -- the interconnectivity of all things and the necessity to live in harmony with the natural world. We humans have abused our ecosystem in so many careless and thoughtless ways. And because we are all connected, we are now paying the price for it. The chemicals and toxins we put into the environment we are now ingesting through our food, our air, our water. We are now polluted. The EPA frequently issues warnings that pregnant women and children should not eat certain types of fish since they are so contaminated with mercury. Certain serious diseases are on the rise and are increasingly attributed to environmental factors, such as lung and breast cancer, skin cancer, asthma, autism, and so on.

Unfortunately, it often seems as though many of us have grown to apathetically accept our polluted world and our related health problems as just being how it is. Maybe it is because the change that is needed can seem so daunting. It does require a new national and global mindset that puts the environment on the forefront of our national and global agenda. Yet while we obviously need much stronger safeguards and regulations to protect our environment, and our health, efforts to do so often meet with so much resistance, especially from industries that profit from polluting practices. So we continue to pollute our environment and squander our natural resources, with little thought as to the legacy this will leave our children and how this will affect future generations. And our global society has to face up to how our addiction to polluting oil plays out in so many destructive ways through its impact on global warming and human health. There are so many non-polluting and sustainable sources of energy we should be investing in and utilizing – provided to us by nature – such as solar, hydro and wind power. And the nuclear disaster that is unfolding in Japan with their reactors is a potent reminder that nuclear power is not a safe alternative.

It is easy to become a part of the solution by becoming more conscious and aware of our own individual ecological footprint. One of the ways is by using our power as consumers to support companies and products that are more natural and earth-friendly. There are many options these days for ways consumers can begin to incorporate greener choices into their lives – buying locally grown and organic food, recycling, buying recycled goods, using non-toxic household and building products, reducing the use of toxic pesticides in our homes and lawns, using energy saving products and practicing energy conservation, driving fuel efficient vehicles such as hybrid cars – the list goes on and on. There is a whole ecologically conscious marketplace and community out there and it is a vibrant, growing movement. As world-renowned primatologist, Jane Goodall, told me in an interview “If we all give up hope and do nothing, well then indeed there is no hope. The planet will be helped by all of us, every one of us, taking action of some sort.”

There was a time that I thought that the work I did at EcoMall and Feminist.com was separate and very distinct from each other. But now I can see how the movements to advocate for the environment – and for the equality of all people - are intrinsically linked. Both are about our inter-being, our interdependence - with each other and the Earth, and cultivating respect and dignity for nature and all living things. It is about holding in our hearts the vision of humanity as one family, living in harmony on our one home, Mother Earth.

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Marianne Schnall is a widely published journalist whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets such as The Huffington Post, The Women’s Media Center, Glamour Magazine, and O, The Oprah Magazine. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women’s web site and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. Her new book, based on her interviews with a variety of well-known women, is titled ”Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice”.

Also see ”Four Bags: My Mother’s Gift of Living Simply” by Sarah Flint Erdreich in the Cafe of this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See ”Moving the Silence: Rachel Carson’s Groundbreaking Work” by Theresa Noll in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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