“Voluntary simplicity”, “Earth remedy”, “Manifesto for Earth and Humanism” – the titles of these books express Pierre Rabhi’s philosophy. Farmer, writer and thinker, he is one of the pioneers of sustainable agriculture. A man of the earth, he discovered Tara for the first time on the occasion of this interview. His approach is global, and his wisdom universal.
What do you think of the environmental situation in the world?
I often recommend a book by Fairfield Osborn entitled “A Planet to Plunder.” What does Osborn say? When human beings first appeared on the planet, they behaved wisely for a while, then became extremely destructive to their environment. One might wonder why humankind didn’t have the lucidity and intelligence to understand that we are privileged to live on this planet – an oasis lost in a vast astral space. Why, instead of seeing the planet as an oasis, did we see it as a pool of resources to be exploited down the last fish and the last tree. We began with a basic misunderstanding in our vision of nature and man. It just so happens that we are part of nature! A few days ago a person came to ask me questions for an investigation about water. I said, “but I’m made of water!” Why on earth is there this separation between nature and us, separating us somehow, considering us like the cherry on the cake. Why haven’t we understood, as did the native peoples who used direct intelligence, not cerebral intelligence, that we are integrally connected to this reality, to nature?
I recently wrote a paper on agro-ecology, and the question is this: Does nature need us? The answer is no. From this vision comes all our transgressions. For example, what characterizes today’s world is our dependency on oil. Plastic is oil, and of course today there’s so much plastic that in some oceans it forms a “continent*” just as everywhere today there are nitrates in the soil. Modern agriculture pollutes the soil but it’s not visible. Different kinds of pollution exist throughout the world. Pollution is widespread, and of course plastics are part of this serious nuisance.
Do you think attitudes are changing? Is a new awareness developing?
Yes, there is a new awareness. I’d say that current policy is totally out of touch with reality. I don’t want to talk about politicians – they have their consciences, they have their skills and non-skills. I think there’s a serious lack of competence, and I see that civil society is becoming a kind of laboratory where a lot of experiments are taking place. When I started (and my commitment is not recent) we were rather unique. We started in 1961 by going back to the land. At the time, our unusual choice was part of the “The Glorious 30”. Until today, I’ve always had the same message: respect for life, respect the land, respect human beings. We must put people and nature at the heart of our concerns, and organize the world on this basis. Today, it’s not pretentious to say that I attract huge audiences, my writings are successful, and I’m constantly solicited by the media. Mentalities are beginning to wake up to something different. But here’s the question: Is this a real and profound awakening, or is it simply provoked by the insecurity produced by today’s society? Many people don’t know if they will have work tomorrow. The economic model that promised us everything is no longer promising anything. So this insecurity about the future, confirming somehow the phrase “we don’t know where we’re going, but we’re going there,” means that great uncertainty prevails. This uncertainty probably contributes to raising awareness of the failures of our model of society. Our model can’t hold up; politicians persevere with this model, but they can’t keep up.
You advocate “voluntary simplicity.” What does this mean?
I’m not among the theorists. We organized our existence on Earth according to these values. When we decided to leave Paris to live in the countryside, to get back to nature through agriculture, we refused so-called “modern” agriculture, with all of its excesses and destruction, in favor of organic farming. We wanted to follow this fundamental organizing principle of life. When I say “voluntary simplicity,” it’s not just a simple phrase: we adopted it as a way of life. And it’s true that we are happy in this simplicity. We get a kind of satisfaction in having just what’s necessary and indispensable. We have very few superfluous things; we opt for a life that answers by “having” only what is necessary to live, but also with “being” – that which drives us internally. This is an inner food which the modern world hungers for, but which it can’t access, because people are finding less and less joy in abundance. When I say “simplicity” it’s not a theory among others; it’s part of the choices we made, at the same time that we chose not to destroy the earth, but to take care of it, increase its potential, and transmit it – alive and well – to future generations. It’s an attitude, an ethical relation to nature, our common, irreplaceable good, especially with respect to the land that sustains us.
Superfluous products of consumer society, such as plastic, are being dumped into our oceans…
First we must stop the problem at the source. If factories continue to make plastic, it’s sure that plastic will continue to invade the planet. Isn’t there a way to replace this plastic? It ‘s now a ubiquitous material, and I can see it in black Africa, where the thorn trees are completely decorated with it. Why isn’t there an international decree to say “stop” to all this?
States must play their roles. Everyone thinks only in terms of his own interests; there is no common or collective reality. I think it’s a matter of collective consciousness. Humanity must decide its fate. Ecology concerns absolutely everyone, no one is exempt. It’s life that gives us life, but we kill it in a thousand ways, by the proliferation of plastic, by the destruction of fertile soil, by the loss of biodiversity essential to our survival. We can make a list of atrocities that we commit against ourselves, because everything we do against nature, we do to ourselves.
Interview by Noëlie Pansiot
Hummingbird legend told by Pierre Rabhi:
One day, says the legend, there was a huge forest fire. All the animals were terrified, aghast, helplessly watching the disaster. Only the little hummingbird was busy, fetching a few drops of water with its beak to throw on the fire. After a while, the armadillo, annoyed by this ridiculous agitation, said, “Colibri! Are you crazy? It’s not with a few drops of water that you’ll put out the fire!”
And the hummingbird replied, “I know, but I’m doing my part.”
* A huge area in the northern Pacific Ocean, where currents carry floating debris that accumulates in patches.
Photo credit: Hervé Arnaud