Wangari Muta Maathai (1940–2011): Nobel Peace Laureate; environmentalist; scientist; parliamentarian; founder of the Green Belt Movement; advocate for social justice, human rights, and democracy; elder; and peacemaker. She lived and worked in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.”
“You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them.”
Wangari Maathai was born in the village of Ihithe, near Nyeri, in the Central Highlands of Kenya on April 1, 1940. At a time when most Kenyan girls were not educated, she went to school at the instigation of her elder brother, Nderitu. Principally taught by Catholic missionary nuns, she graduated from Loreto Girls’ High School in 1959. The following year she was part of the “Kennedy airlift,” a scholarship program of the U.S. government and the Kennedy family that took her to Mount St. Scholastica (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, Kansas, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences.
In 1966 she earned a master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh. That year she returned to a newly independent Kenya, and soon after joined the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Nairobi. In 1971 she received a Ph.D., the first woman in east and central Africa to do so. She became the first woman to chair a department at the University and the first to be appointed a professor. In the 1970s Professor Maathai became active in a number of environmental and humanitarian organizations in Nairobi, including the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK). Through her work representing women academics in the NCWK, she spoke to rural women and learned from them about the deteriorating environmental and social conditions affecting poor, rural Kenyans—especially women. The women told her that they lacked firewood for cooking and heating, that clean water was scarce, and nutritious food was limited. Professor Maathai suggested to them that planting trees might be an answer. The trees would provide wood for cooking, fodder for livestock, and material for fencing; they would protect watersheds and stabilize the soil, improving agriculture. This was the beginning of the Green Belt Movement (GBM), which was formally established in 1977. GBM has since mobilized hundreds of thousands of women and men to plant more than 47 million trees, restoring degraded environments and improving the quality of life for people in poverty.
As GBM’s work expanded, Professor Maathai realized that behind poverty and environmental destruction were deeper issues of disempowerment, bad governance, and a loss of the values that had enabled communities to sustain their land and livelihoods, and what was best in their cultures. The planting of trees became an entry-point for a larger social, economic, and environmental agenda. In the 1980s and 1990s the Green Belt Movement joined with other pro-democracy advocates to press for an end to the abuses of the dictatorial regime of then Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi. Professor Maathai initiated campaigns that halted the construction of a skyscraper in Uhuru (“Freedom”) Park in downtown Nairobi, and stopped the grabbing of public land in Karura Forest, just north of the city center. She also helped lead a yearlong vigil with the mothers of political prisoners that resulted in freedom for 51 men held by the government.
As a consequence of these and other advocacy efforts, Professor Maathai and GBM staff and colleagues were repeatedly beaten, jailed, harassed, and publicly vilified by the Moi regime. Professor Maathai’s fearlessness and persistence resulted in her becoming one of the best-known and most respected women in Kenya. Internationally, she also gained recognition for her courageous stand for the rights of people and the environment. Professor Maathai’s commitment to a democratic Kenya never faltered. In December 2002, in the first free-and-fair elections in her country for a generation, she was elected as Member of Parliament for Tetu, a constituency close to where she grew up. In 2003 President Mwai Kibaki appointed her Deputy Minister for the Environment in the new government.
Professor Maathai brought GBM’s strategy of grassroots empowerment and commitment to participatory, transparent governance to the Ministry of Environment and the management of Tetu’s constituency development fund (CDF). As an MP, she emphasized: reforestation, forest protection, and the restoration of degraded land; education initiatives, including scholarships for those orphaned by HIV/AIDS; and expanded access to voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) as well as improved nutrition for those living with HIV/AIDS. In the violence that followed the contested 2007 Kenyan elections, Professor Maathai served as a mediator and a critical voice for peace, accountability, and justice. In addition, she and GBM were instrumental in ensuring that the new Kenyan constitution, ratified by a public vote in 2010, included the right of all citizens to a clean and healthy environment, and that the constitution’s drafting was truly consultative.
In 2004 Professor Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work for sustainable development, democracy, and peace—the first African woman and the first environmentalist to receive this honor. In announcing the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said that Professor Maathai “stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa.” It praised the “holistic approach” of her work and called her “a strong voice speaking for the best forces in Africa to promote peace and good living conditions on that continent.”
In 2006 Professor Maathai co-founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative with five of her fellow female peace laureates to advocate for justice, equality, and peace worldwide.
In recent years Professor Maathai played an increasingly important role in global efforts to address climate change, specifically by advocating for the protection of indigenous forests and the inclusion of civil society in policy decisions. In 2005 ten Central African governments appointed her the goodwill ambassador for the Congo Basin rainforest and that same year she accepted the position of presiding officer of the African Union’s Economic, Social, and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC).
In 2006 Professor Maathai joined with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to launch a campaign to plant a billion trees around the world. That goal was met in less than a year; the target now stands at 14 billion. In 2007 Professor Maathai became co-chair (with former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin) of the Congo Basin Forest Fund, an initiative of the British and Norwegian governments, and in 2009 she was designated a United Nations messenger of peace by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In 2010, Professor Maathai became a trustee of the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust. That same year, in partnership with the University of Nairobi, she established the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI). The WMI will bring together academic research—e.g. in land use, forestry, agriculture, resource-based conflicts, and peace studies—with the Green Belt Movement approach and members of the organization. Through sharing their experiences, academics and those working at the grassroots will learn from and educate each other on the linkages between livelihoods and ecosystems.
Professor Maathai received a number of honors. Those bestowed on her by governments include: the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan, 2009), the Legion D’Honneur (France, 2006), and Elder of the Golden Heart and Elder of the Burning Spear (Kenya, 2004, 2003). Professor Maathai also received awards from many organizations and institutions throughout the world, including: the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights (2007), the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award (2006), the Sophie Prize (2004), the Goldman Prize (1991), the Right Livelihood Award (1984); and honorary doctorates from Yale University and Morehouse College in the U.S., Ochanomizu University in Japan, and the University of Norway, among others.
Professor Maathai documented her life, work, and perspectives in four books: The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience (2003), which charts the organization’s development and methods; Unbowed (2006), her autobiography; The Challenge for Africa (2008), which examines the social, economic, and political bottlenecks that have held back the continent’s development, and provides a manifesto for change; and Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World (2010), which explores the values that underpin the Green Belt Movement and suggests how they can be applied. Professor Maathai is survived by her three children—Waweru, Wanjira, and Muta, and her granddaughter, Ruth Wangari.
“I have always believed that, no matter how dark the cloud, there is always a thin, silver lining, and that is what we must look for.” “We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”
To read more about the Green Belt Movement, please visit http://www.marioninstitute.org/serendipity/green-belt-movement
In a time when fewer and fewer people are feeling financially secure, working less seems counterintuitive. But according to Juliet Schor, sociology professor and author of the new book "Plentitude: The New Economics of True Wealth," in her new article in "Yes Magazine" (yesmagazine.org), the trend towards fewer hours of paid work could have some real benefits.
Schor, who will be speaking at the Thirty-First Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures on Saturday, November 5th in New York City, points out that despite all the talk about economic growth, "for much of the industrial age, falling hours have been roughly as important a contributor to employment as market growth." In the past three decades, a centuries-long trend towards shorter work weeks has reversed, with Americans working 180 hours per year more in 2006 that in 1979. But in the past few years, "driven by both necessity and the deliberate choice to live more simply, more Americans are shifting towards fewer work hours."
Whether this trend towards less paid work is perceived and experienced as a threat or as an opportunity is up to all of us, the pioneers of the new economy. Some of the benefits of a shorter work week come easily – for example, less commuting means less polluting. Studies suggest that "when households spend more time earning money, they compensate in part by purchasing more goods and services, and buying them at later stages of processing, e.g. more prepared foods." And of course, if people cut back on their hours, more work is available for those currently without jobs.
But to truly reap the restorative potential of shorter hours requires not just "less work" but also conscious efforts to enjoy "more living." In large part, this means re-learning how to do for ourselves tasks that we may have become accustomed to purchasing. Schor writes that "people are returning to lost arts practiced by earlier generations – woodworking, quilting, brewing beer, and canning and preserving… People engage in these activities because they enjoy them and because they yield better-quality products or products that are not easily available."
Can this lifestyle shift actually make peoples' lives better? Not surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes. Schor cites research by the Center for the New American Dream (newdream.org) showing that four out of five Americans who have chosen to work less are happier for it. Recent studies have shown a connection between long work hours and physical and mental health problems. And, as Anna Coute of the new economics foundation (neweconomics.org) points out, working shorter hours over the course of one's career makes later working years easier by reducing the chances of burn-out and smoothing the transition from work to retirement.
At the New Economics Institute we have undertaken to re-imagine the very structure of economic institutions – institutions that have shaped patterns of growth and ownership that are at the root of a global environmental crisis and egregious social inequalities. But while working to shape new economic institutions, we cannot fail to consider our own consumption patterns and their effect. Juliet Schor's work points us to that responsibility.
Please join us November 5th for the Thirty-First Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, celebrating the Centennial of Fritz Schumacher's birth.
Jing Cao, Hannah Friedman, Scott Grimm-Lyon, Nick Kacher, and Susan Witt Staff of New Economics Institute Berkshire Office,
140 Jug End Road Great Barrington, MA 01230 (413) 528 1737
New York Office, 437 Madison Ave, 37th floor New York, NY 10022 (212) 308 2700
EPA Releases Strategy to Protect People's Health and the Environment in Communities Overburdened by Pollution
WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the release of Plan EJ 2014, a three-year, comprehensive plan to advance environmental justice efforts in nine areas, including rulemaking, permitting, enforcement, and science. Plan EJ 2014 aims to protect people’s health in communities overburdened by pollution, to empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment, and to establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal governments and organizations to promote sustainable communities where a clean environment and healthy economy can thrive.
“Far too often, and for far too long, low-income, minority and tribal communities have lived in the shadows of some of the worst pollution, holding back progress in the places where they raise their families and grow their businesses,” said Lisa F. Garcia, senior advisor to the EPA Administrator for Environmental Justice. “Today’s release of Plan EJ 2014 underscores Administrator Jackson's ongoing commitment to ensuring that all communities have access to clean air, water and land, and that all Americans have a voice in this environmental conversation.”
Plan EJ 2014 is EPA’s strategy to meet the mandate of Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” which states that each federal agency, with the law as its guide, should make environmental justice part of its mission.
EPA released the draft plan for public comment in fall 2010 and spring 2011 and held forums and listening sessions in communities across the country.
EPA, along with its federal partners, will continue to conduct outreach, education, stakeholder forums and listening sessions as it moves forward to implement EO 12898 and Plan EJ 2014. EPA will issue annual reports documenting the progress toward meeting the commitments outlined in Plan EJ 2014. The annual reports will be made available to the public through EPA’s website.
More information on environmental justice: http://epa.gov/environmentaljustice/
Pearls are an excellent example of a luxury product which originally could only be afforded by the very wealthiest. Later on, the over-exploitation and cultivation of pearl oysters endangered the oceans and their fauna. Finally the pearls could be produced at industrial scale for the masses.
A new luxury item could be gems made of silicon carbide. This material can be used in industry as well as in jewelry. Up to now, the raw material was obtained by expensive and energy intensive mining. However the easier and cheaper method is the production of SiC from rice husks, an agricultural by-product considered as waste and available in huge amounts.
Similar to the case of pearls, the business strategy is meant to be the production of small amounts of highly priced jewelry within a small area. This jewelry industry is now being combined with broader programmes to economically support rice farmers in Bhutan and will be presented next year to the public worldwide.
Please visit blueeconomy.de for more information.
We, who were so fortunate to know Ray Anderson, were in awe. He was many people, a father, executive, colleague, brother, speaker, writer, leader, pioneer, but I am not sure any of us quite figured him out. On the outside, Ray was deceptively traditional, very quiet sometimes, an everyman, all-American, down-home. He was so normal that he could say just about anything and get away with it because people didn’t quite believe what they heard. He could walk into an audience and leave listeners transfixed by a tenderness and introspection they never expected or met. Business audiences in particular had no defenses because they had no framework for Ray. Was he really a businessman? Yes. Was he a conservative southern gentleman with that very refined Georgia drawl. Yes. Was he successful? For sure. Well, then where did these radical statements come from? Ironically, because people could not connect the dots, he was extraordinarily credible. He was also courageous. He stood up again and again in front of big audiences and told them that pretty much everything they knew, learned, and were doing was destroying the earth. He meant every word he spoke and those words landed deeply in the hearts and minds of the hundreds of thousands of people he addressed. There was no one remotely like him, nor will there ever be.
People called Ray a dreamer. To be sure, he was, but he was also an engineer. He had definitely seen the mountain, but he also dreamed in balance sheets, thermodynamics, and resource flow theory. He dreamed a world yet to come because dreams of a livable future are not coming from our politicians, bankers, and the media. For Ray, reimagining the world was a responsibility, something owed to our children’s children, a gift to a future that is begging for selflessness and vision.
Proverbs reminds us that though all good people die, goodness does not perish. The metaphorical spear in his chest was not an injury but an awakening that led Ray to give talks all over the world and in so doing he became a great teacher. He used business as a means to educate and transform, but his life was not about money or carpets. Ray’s life was about the sacred. His covenant was with God; the marketplace is where he labored. He gently laid down that spear this Monday morning but his teachings are a lineage that will live for centuries to come.
To we who remain, Ray’s passing is startling, a summons, maybe even a provocation. Before we die, may we know that to be alive is astounding, inconceivably precious, a privilege beyond reckoning. When we know and cherish this existence, the rest of our life is a shimmering field of light because we have come to recognize one unalterable truth—that we are one with all living entities and beings, and that we are never alone. The consciousness of interdependence and connectedness, and its attendant responsibility to do no harm, was Ray’s epiphany. Seventeen years ago he had a realization. At that time Ray came home. He rediscovered a sacred earth with all its complexity, beauty and mystery, free from the constraints of this or that ideology, free from narrow minded thinking, and he was freed to reimagine the relationship between humanity and nature with Interface as the model. No longer were there human systems and ecosystems. They were one system and he understood that the laws of physics and biology prevailed. He believed in Emerson’s words, that there is an innate morality in the laws of nature: I have confidence in laws of morals as of botany. I have planted maize in my field every June for seventeen years and I never knew it to come up strychnine. My parsley, beet, turnip …,acorn, are as sure. I believe that justice produces justice, and injustice injustice. Ultimately, Ray’s work was not about making a sustainable business, it was about justice, ethics, and honoring creation. Zero waste was the path to 100% respect for living beings.
Like Ray, when we become literate in the sweet treasures of creation, there arises a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude for one’s very existence and the swirl of living beings around us. Do you remember the videos of the Chilean miners coming out of the elevator shaft one-by-one from the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile last October? The miners arose from a half a mile below the earth after being trapped for 69 days, and when they emerged they danced, they sang, they kissed the earth, they kissed their wives, kissed their mistresses—sometimes both—and they were ecstatic. They knew what they had nearly lost: the sun and the moon and the stars, cool air made sweet by plants and trees, the succulent foods that come from the soil, the sound of a child’s voice; they were rapturous and joyful and deeply grateful. Although it was a real event, the San Jose miners are metaphors for being reborn in this life to what we overlook and take for granted. Ray woke up and saw what we will lose unless we change.
We don’t know exactly what happened to Ray in 1994. Yes, he read a book. But something remarkable was already there within his being that came to life. What we do know is that from that point seventeen years ago, Ray could see. He saw benevolence and beauty, the tightly knit longleaf pine forests, the undulant riverine corridors, the tantalizing pure light of life reflected on bracts and fronds, the drifting silvery spider silk that takes tiny passengers to new forests. Once your eyes open to the magnificence of creation you cannot unsee. He never looked back. He did not ponder long. He went to work. He was not satisfied by being able to see, he was destined to do one thing only, and that is serve life itself, for what else is there to do once you see how we are phenomenally hitched and stitched together by the living world? He did not see nature as an abstraction to be worshiped but as the matrix of reformation, the source of goodness, the architecture of our spirit, the template of a future delineated by people who know that business has no purpose lest it serve and honor all of life, that our lives rely upon the kindness of strangers and the damp forest floor and spirited grasses and on you, his family, friends and fiercest admirers who loved this man. He loved us all. His life is a testament to that love. He passed on Monday morning but it is up to us as to whether he will die. Actually, that is not even a question. He will live. His physical presence has vanished into a mystery we will all follow but never fully understand. His dream, his yearning for commerce that regenerates life and does no harm, his intention to re-conceive what it means to be a manufacturer, to bring industry and biology together into one entity, burned in him, a flame that never seared or ceased, and it will live on in his company and thousands more. Ray has now traveled to a new forest. We who gather know that the greatest man of industrial ecology, the businessman who defined and showed us how commerce will be for centuries to come if we are to continue our life here on earth, was our friend, patron, and teacher, and we are the most blessed people in the world for having known him.