• The Gender Security Project

Big Picture Activism and Our Indigenous “Planeteers”

By Raakhee Suryaprakash



Image: Greenpeace


A picture is worth a thousand words and a moving one is priceless in inspiring change. Storytelling is as old as humanity and it can be harnessed to effect positive change and counter fake narratives peddled by Big Business. Like the multi-generational effect of enabling eco-friendliness and creating “planeteers” as a result of the media mogul Ted Turner idea of Captain Planet and Barbara Pyle, the then vice-president of environmental policy at Turner Broadcasting making it an impactful reality.


In the Emmy-nominated documentary The Story of Plastic, journalist Zoë Carpenter highlights an American story of industrial interests trumping that of nature and individuals. Following the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which lifted the ban on the export of American crude oil and riding the wave of Fracking–Shale Gas boom in the United States “Big Plastic” which is essentially “Big Oil” planned a brand new petrochemical corridor along the Upper Ohio River Valley (Ohio-Pennsylvania-West Virginia).


The incidents that follow echo the hook of the movie and trailer of SAS: Rise of the Black Swan which gives one just a glimpse of the atrocities committed in the name of progress and energy security. If you think it’s unbelievable or restricted to life in remote regions such as the Balkans and the African heartlands, the experiences of American citizens of Huntington, Pennsylvania, especially the young woman Elise Gerhart who was targeted online by a disinformation campaign that branded her an eco-terrorist will demonstrate (Source: The Story of Plastic, from the 46- to the 51-minute mark, the full documentary has been temporarily made available since September 10, 2021 with captions on the Discovery YouTube channel) once and for all both that fact is stranger than fiction and as John Donne put it centuries ago in his verse No Man Is an Island – “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”Elise was buzzed in her backyard with a low flying helicopter and endlessly harassed when she opposed a gas pipeline passing through her pristine backyard and organized her friends and neighbours to protest the construction of the pipeline along the pristine old growth ecosystem teeming with wildlife and vital native species that characterized their semi-rural backyard.




Reflect on these incidents real and reel, in the context of the recently reported news item that appeared on BBC on September 13th, on the “record number of environmental activists murdered,” many of them women and indigenous people, in just the past year (the pandemic) – “227 [activists working to protect the environment and land rights] were killed around the world in 2020” – the shocking figures collaborated by a Global Witness report! This definitely blows the “nature is healing” narrative off the water, for during the same period our planet’s gigantic carbon sink the Amazon Rain forest became a net emitter of carbon! Hell has frozen over!


In view of these incidents it is heartening to hear that indigenous women leaders are still fighting in large numbers, publically, at great personal risk to protect and preserve their lands. Some “4,000 Indigenous Women Take to Streets of Brazil Ahead of High Court Ruling on Tribal Sovereignty (Source: Democracy Now).”


Internal displacement of indigenous communities be it voluntary migration for economic reasons or forced relocation from ancestral lands as part of removal of forest dwellers, etc. has an adverse effect on social fabric, mental health and physical well-being of the uprooted/displaced indigenous community members as well as having an equally adverse effect on the natural habitat and bio-diverse ecosystem the indigenous community was removed from. The efforts of climate champions and change-makers who cultivate and harness the enthusiasm and interest of children and young people to build a sustainable community is a beacon of hope in these dark times of the climate catastrophe. Sunil Harsana is one such climate hero working to educate and enthuse the young from his Manger community to rediscover and restore their roots in the Mangerbani - the Manger Forest - “a green oasis in Delhi NCR” in order to protect this community’s sacred grove which is also an ecological and biodiversity hot-spot.


The insights from one of the online film launch events of The LOCAL: A Story of Hope, truly gave more hope. We can all do our bit for the cause of preserving our environment and natural resources by going LOCAL In the face of the gargantuan face-less and merciless global economy of “Big Oil, Big Bank, Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Tech, Big Media, Big Business,…” etc. Thus, by harnessing the power of storytelling and communicating for change we can pit “Big Picture Activism” by the simple acts of buying, investing and supporting Local against the juggernaut of Big Plastic, “Big Oil, Big Bank, Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Tech, Big Media, Big Business, …”


Climate champions Damon Gameau, Ella Noah Bancroft, Satish Kumar along with Helena Norberg-Hodge, the founder and director of Local Futures (previously called: International Society for Ecology and Culture) led this discussion about the global economy and the steps we can take to bring our economy back to the living world. Damon Gameau, the most successful Australian environmental film maker of our time – for me always associated with the film of solutions 2040 and the network for regeneration connecting people who answer the question “What’s You 2040” by envisioning a world by extrapolating current ecological wins and successful pilot projects where we’ve halted the pillaging of our planet and instead thrive in harmony with Mother Nature.


Environmental defender, Ella Noah Bancroft a “Bundjalung woman born in Australia … descendant of the Bundjalung peoples of Northern [New South Wales],” replying to my question on how to make going local affordable in the face of “cheap and convenient” products of the global economy, related our relationship with our mother and our relationship with Mother Nature. There is an echo. Regardless of the ups-and-downs of our relationship – the good, bad, or ugly – nothing is going to deter a normal person from loving and caring for one’s mother. Thus by choosing local and building ties with our community of local suppliers of necessities even as we buy and consume local produce and products we can flip the narrative promoted by the GLOBAL (read Big Business) that only mass-produced is affordable and available. Harnessing the power of gifting, sharing, repairing, reusing and bartering – choosing to go local and become self-reliant can become incredibly easy on our already pandemic strained pockets. The Gift Economy, the Sharing Economy, reviving the bartering system by building community relations and sustainable communities (SDG 11) and making “repairing, reusing and recycling” everything the norm we can drastically cut costs and our ecological footprint.


Indian-British “Former [Jain] monk, peace and environment activist,” Satish Kumar, the co-founder of Schumacher College and editor of the magazine Resurgence pointed out the need for local and choosing to go local even more succinctly by pointing out all the hidden costs of the so-called “cheap” mass market goods – the biggest price that we pay being the fact that these mass produced goods and services has left us all deskilled not to mention the huge spiritual costs to convenience.


As Damon Gameau puts it in The LOCAL: A Story of Hope, “we are blindly crowd-funding our own social and environmental demise.” In a world where social media has the population hooked to screens instead of out in nature, perhaps by harnessing the power of storytelling and communicating for change with “Big Picture Activism” we can move on from the “Industrial Age” and “Plastic Age” to an Ecological Civilization. It is by using the power of the people and grassroots movements supercharged by a shared global concern for the health of our shared home – our planet with its fragile ecosystems that we have diseased through patterns of overconsumption – can we look to a greener future…or even a future itself. It is the responsibility of each of us to be conscious of what we produce and consume, be it things, food or content, responsible production and consumption (SDG 12) is vital to our very survival. And as we grow conscious of the content we consume, let us do our bit to create and share content that envisages a future where we live in harmony with nature by showcasing and boosting the efforts of our indigenous ‘planeteers’especially!

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