Julia Butterfly Hill has much to teach on the practices of action and inaction. The environmentalist and activist, most famous for her tree-sit in an old growth redwood in the late 90s, has since been pushing at the boundaries of the media persona she became following her non-violent act of resistance against the Pacific Lumber Company. As an author and tireless public speaker she has continued to inspire new generations of warriors fighting on behalf of the earth.
One of your mantras is that our own inactions are as much a part of shaping the world as the actions of others. How are you guided by this maxim every day?
It is important that we all do the work of knowing when non-action is right action and when non-action is contributing to the problems in the world. For me, I have to pay deep attention and intention to my inner landscape as I do the work of making the difference in the world I am committed to making. There are some days where I am out of balance or depleted. On those days, non-action is the right choice as I work instead on the inner landscape and healing and restoring myself so that I bring my best possible self to the work in the world. There are other days where I have to be mindful of fear, frustration, cynicism, and anger that holds me back from taking action. If I allow these feelings to hold me back, my non-actions are contributing to the problems in the world. Because no choice happens in a vacuum, every single choice has an impact. Whether we are choosing to act or do nothing, we are impacting the world. For me, it is a mindfulness practice of constantly looking within myself to see where I need to learn, grow, and shift my awareness, behaviors, and choices.
How do you encourage other people to look thoughtfully at their own inactions on behalf of their beliefs?
The best way I, and every one of us, have of encouraging others to look thoughtfully at their choices is by modeling the behaviors and solutions we want to see in the world. It is easy to point out the problems; it does not take genius, creativity, courage, or commitment to notice all that is wrong, but it does take these to model what it is we want to see in the world. Every one of us has had experiences of people saying one thing and doing another. It is disheartening and frustrating. We have also had people who come across as preachy and judgmental. This does not inspire or motivate us either. The very best way for all of us to encourage others is by modeling our beliefs in every thought, word, and action to the best of our ability. People not only notice this, they can feel it. And my experience tells me that it is going to take all of us feeling in order to create the healing our world needs.
You’ve noted before that the average American consumes fourteen generations’ worth, in a single generation, of the earth’s resources. What’s your definition of ‘disposable’, what’s your definition of ‘sustainable’?
“Disposable” is anything we are throwing away. This includes trash, to-go-food items, species that are going extinct, and even some communities of people are treated as “disposable” like the people in India and China who deal with most of our “recycling”, who are paid almost nothing and much of what they deal with is toxic. For me, even recycling is still not good enough. It is FIRST: REDUCE, then Reuse, then Recycle. Recycle is last on the list, not first.
I very rarely use the word “sustainable” because I feel it does not go far enough to explain what we need to do to heal our planetary family. If you look to Nature for its wisdom, it does not show us sustainability; it shows us regeneration. Anywhere it is healthy, it is a closed loop system. In nature, where it is healthy, there is zero waste. It is called the “Circle of Life” for a reason. “Sustainability” implies sustaining our way of life. Regeneration demands that we look out how to weave ourselves back into the web of life–how to manage ourselves within the natural systems and be a part of having everything we do and create be “food” for something else.
How can we shift the way we look at direct action? At not just front-line defense, but at the timely prevention of ecological degradation?
We need to realize that the greatest changes in history (and herstory) have only come when people put their bodies on the line–when they put their bodies where their beliefs are. In America and much of the Industrialized World, we are addicted to comfort. We are afraid of taking any great risks for fear of losing our comfort. We think that signing petitions and maybe showing up for one day of protest is really going to change things. All over the world, we live with the benefits of those who came before us, who risked so much for us to have the rights that many of us take for granted today. We are all ancestors of the future. And we have the opportunity to start living like it.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘green’?
When I hear the word “green,” I think about the fact that without a healthy and thriving planet, there are no healthy and thriving people. What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. Living “green” is about celebrating the Sacred Interconnection of All Life.
Julia Butterfly Hill is an activist, a writer and a poet. She is the author ofthe national best seller The Legacy of Luna and the co-author of One MakesThe Difference, both published by Harper Collins. The audio release, Spiritual Activation, captures Julia’s vital message as it is given at standing-room-only appearances across the country. All of Julia’s books (and thepackaging for the CD) have been published with 100% post-consumerrecycled paper with soy-based inks and chlorine-free processing, pushing thepublishing industry to a higher standard of ecological sustainability.
The recipient of numerous prestigious awards and distinctive honors, Julia Butterfly Hill is one of the most internationally recognizable figures inenvironmental activism. In 1999, she founded the non-profit organization,Circle of Life, to promote the sustainability, restoration and preservation ofall life. She has also helped launch and continues to support The Engage Network www.engagenet.org, What’s Your Tree www.whatsyourtree.org and the Women’s Earth Alliance www.womensearthalliance.org.
Julia’s life story, and her book, The Legacy of Luna, based on her personalaccount of the Luna tree-sit action, is currently being developed as adramatic feature film. As would be expected, the project is committed toestablishing a “green set” standard for the film industry. Julia speaks regularly on university campuses, has addressed the United Nations, lobbied congress, and has continued to stand on thefront lines of environmental and social justice issues all over the world.