Active hope: Gaia’s solstice reflections

The Gaia Team reflects on the achievements, actions and ideas that have given them hope in 2020.

2020 has severely tested our resilience and capacity for hope. But despite the struggle to stay connected, secure funding and respond to the needs of our allies, at Gaia we are ending this year reassured that we are placing our energies in the right place. 

The origins of COVID-19 in the destruction of Nature and worsening climate instability have thrown the need for transformational, Earth-centred alternatives into sharp focus. In 2021 we will continue to play our part, alongside our partners and frontline communities, in bringing about the systemic changes we urgently need.

Our great friend and mentor, Joanna Macy, calls this transformation ‘The Great Turning’. She advocates approaching the challenges we face with ‘active hope’. Hope as a verb, not a noun- an action, not an abstract thing.

In this blog members of our team give an insight into the highlights of their work for The Great Turning this year and what continues to make them hopeful that another world is coming into being.

We are grateful to all those who have journeyed through this year with us, in various ways. Friendship and solidarity are ever more precious in these uncertain times!

Gaia as a whole

Liz Hosken, Director:

This year has been a huge wake up call, for those willing to heed it. Younger generations, in particular, have said ‘Enough! Our lives and those of others in the web of life are at stake’. Some of us are rallying with them and now it’s tipping point time.

As the pandemic rippled across our planet, we saw the best and worst of human behaviour. More people have awoken to what really matters in life, and the people and communities already dedicated to nurturing life have stepped up to show the way, welcome others, provide leadership and support. Amongst our partners from the Amazon to Africa, communities that had already begun restoring their ecological and spiritual knowledge and practices had enough seeds and food, were healthy and organised and could provide support and direction to others. 

Here at Gaia, our response to the pandemic has been to deepen our practice of ‘Active Hope’, inspired by our elder Joanna Macy. Although it has been overwhelming at times this year, together we have grasped at a deeper level, just how important it is to continue to nurture affectionate alliances with our wider ‘communion of subjects’, Mother Nature, and with our partners, communities and allies, as we navigate ever more uncertain times. The more deeply we align our lives with life-enhancing ways, the more chance Gaia, Mother Earth has of restoring some kind of equilibrium.

Read: Ashaninka People win historic victory (Brazil)

Seed, Food and Climate Change Resilience

Sinead Fortune, Seed Sovereignty:

This year felt like we were in suspended animation: waiting for things to change, hoping for the situation to improve. But while the world as we know it has turned upside down, steady constants have emerged. The days keep passing, the seasons keep changing, and the plants keep growing. Growers and farmers continue to cultivate the food that feeds us. And the seeds that we grow, harvest, and safeguard this year will sure enough become our nourishment next year.

This has been a phenomenal year for the seed community in the UK, Ireland and beyond. The initial lockdown in spring brought a huge surge in seed sales- as much as a 600% increase for some UK seed suppliers- as people sought to be grounded in the soil and the powerfully rejuvenating act of growing food. Growers in our network sprang into action to help people reconnect with their local regenerative food movements and community groups came together to plan seed swaps and seed libraries. The sustained interest and demand for seed throughout the year shows that this isn’t just another toilet-paper-hoarding-fad; people are still interested, still growing, ready to take what they’ve learned this year into next year. Beyond the UK and Ireland, our African partners have been spotting similar patterns. Communities are increasingly re-valuing traditional seed varieties well suited to local soils and resilient to a changing climate.

For me, this is hope pure and simple. It allows me to dare to hope that there are rumblings of transformation deep within, hope that – perhaps for the first time in many years – the circumstances are right for a profound change. The last year has made many people question what is truly important, what brings true contentment, true security. People have turned to their communities, to the soil, and to the seeds for support and strength and have found the quiet but profound power in them. As we go into the next year, whatever it brings, I only hope that people will still listen to these soft messages when the noise of life swells again.

Read more: Celebrating seed for another three years!

Beyond Extractivism

Hal Rhoades, Beyond Extractivism:

This year has been a reminder about the futility of planning in a complex, changing world! In the world of mining (and resistance to it), COVID changed everything this year. Since the very start of the pandemic, the mining industry has been working to take advantage of the crisis. Companies have lobbied to stay open despite risks to workers and communities. They have pressured governments to reduce regulation and oversight of their destructive operations.

The response to the industry’s disaster capitalism has been truly global. Communities and organisations, including Gaia, have led efforts to systematically track and challenge the mining industry at every turn. We have brought resistance online, produced new research debunking industry myths and taken action in solidarity with communities from Namibia to Myanmar. 

These communities, who are Nature’s best custodians in the places they live, give me hope. Their resistance to mining is not a negative thing. It contains all the alternatives – existing and potential- to the destruction mining inevitably brings. Others are coming round to this perspective, and in late 2020, one of our friends, Paul Sein Twa, was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environment Prize for his work in defence of Kawthoolei- the traditional territory of the Karen People in Myanmar. Paul and countless others like him remind me that resistance keeps the door open to a future that is fairer, greener and wiser.

Read/watch: A Place for All Living Things – Salween Peace Park, Myanmar.


Earth Jurisprudence

Carlotta Byrne, Earth Jurisprudence:

This has been a challenging and enriching year. Much of it has been spent facilitating Earth Jurisprudence Trainings with a growing community of African Earth Jurisprudence practitioners and trainees from across the continent. In light of restrictions, we have adapted the course and delivered it entirely online. This has posed challenges, but also opened up new possibilities. For instance, we have been able to bring course participants together in conversation with writers, thinkers and activists whose work has deep resonance with the holistic vision of Earth Jurisprudence that we explore on the course – including Ashish Kothari, Joanna Macy, Nnimmo Bassey and Stephan Harding.

We have heard amazing stories from across the world of how communities have found strength and self-reliance by delinking from the dominant system and asserting food and seed sovereignty and self-governance during the pandemic. I have been heartened by diverse examples of grassroots systemic alternatives shared by the Global Tapestry of Alternatives network, the ICCA Consortium and from the traditional land-based communities accompanied by African Earth Jurisprudence practitioners. These community-rooted alternatives to the destructive dominant paradigm present a kaleidoscope of possibilities through which to dream into a vibrant, life-sustaining future for all members of the Earth Community.

Read/Watch: Coming back to Life in Tharaka, Kenya.

Sacred Lands and Waters

Fiona Wilton, Sacred Lands and Waters:

‘Plenty more fish in the sea’? Not any more! The health of the oceans and coastal waters in the southwestern Atlantic, as elsewhere on our beautiful blue planet, has been silently suffering for decades from overfishing and illegal practices such as shark-finning, pollution from plastics and agrochemicals. That’s why Uruguay’s second Oceans Conference, organised by Gaia’s partner OCC (Org. para la Conservación de Cetáceos) in November this year felt so important. It brought together some of the region’s top oceanographers, marine biologists, Antarctic scientists, advocates for the high seas, and activists challenging illegal fishing. Rather than lament humanity’s rapacious use and neglect of the oceans, the full-day session was used to share practical actions, learning and recommendations. Check out @OceanosSanos to find out more. My top pick – Uruguay’s new Environment Minister announced that seismic testing and offshore oil exploration have no place in Uruguay’s future!  

Re-imagining an Earth-loving, low-carbon future is so important. And the diverse ways that Gaia’s global network of partners are providing that spark for our imaginations – from the glorious ‘My Octopus Teacher’ film by SeaChange to Usiko South Africa’s wilderness healing for youth – have given me hope during this year of pandemic, divisiveness and climate calamitiesSo too the flourishing work to safeguard the sacred forest groves and wetlands, and the wisdom of the indigenous elders and communities who care for themFor a reminder on how ecological, cultural and spiritual wellbeing are interwoven, watch our 2020 film Reviving Culture and Nature in Uganda. 

Read more: Uruguay’s Ocean Conference