Toward Building an EcoMind
An interview with Frances Moore Lappé
Natural Awakenings Chicago magazine is happy to talk one-to-one with many noted authors and authorities in their respective fields of wellness and sustainable living. In this month’s interview we speak with longtime ecological pioneer Frances Moore Lappé about her views on the present state of progress on the ecology front.
Frances Moore Lappé hates nothing more than feeling powerless. She understands that our world’s ills are many and the common reaction for most of us is paralysis, rather than empowerment. Yet, Lappé holds out hope that with the right frame of mind, what she calls an "EcoMind", we can open our eyes to a world of possibilities and create the world we want.
Is her thinking utopian? Not necessarily. Lappé delivered a wakeup call in 1971 with her bestselling book, Diet for a Small Planet, critiquing grain-fed meat production and suggesting that world hunger is “not caused by lack of food, but by a lack of democracy.”
She takes that same dedicated, focused approach in her latest book, EcoMind, for which she crowdsourced to get the best ideas. The book begins with seven thought traps and dives headfirst into learning why they exist and how we can overcome them.
“The first three thought traps are things I hear often: no growth economy, we’ve hit the limits of our finite Earth, we’re a consumer society,” she rattles off, as if from a never-ending checklist. “Then I started to peel the layers and dig a little deeper. Part of the thought traps involves the market. We have an illusion of democracy, when in fact what gets reinforced in the market is what brings the highest return to existing wealth, and without incorporating the real costs.”
Peppered throughout EcoMind are stories of companies like Interface, whose founder changed the way his company manufactured carpet after grasping the negative impact his industry had on the environment. In Germany, communities are taking back their money and creating regional currency systems.
“Such stories can spur us to get over the useless growth-versus-no-growth debate,” Lappé writes in her book. But to truly succeed, she encourages us to reconsider the way we calculate our gross domestic product (GDP), which she considers a misleading measure of a society’s well-being, because it’s merely the sum of expenditures for goods, services and exports, minus imports.
A very different measure, which tracks well-being from a relational perspective, is the genuine progress indicator (GPI), the brainchild of Ted Halstead. As she notes in her book, “The GPI looks at both how much money we spend and what we gain or lose with that spending.”
Lappé uses examples like the cost of crime, as measured in money spent to replace damaged property, or on medical and legal expenses, as things that would push up the GDP. However, when examined from a GPI perspective, they are costs that are deducted from the measure of national well-being.
Her examples are critical in pushing us to think with an EcoMind. It’s not just semantics. Unless we change the way we look at how our actions and non-action impact our lives, we’ll continue to feel powerless and paralyzed.
Make no mistake; Lappé believes that guilt is a poor motivator to be part of our consumer society. “People don’t like to have a finger pointed at them,” she says. Instead, she encourages us to buddy up and share more success stories. If we want to be more courageous ourselves, we can draw those taking risks for what they believe in toward us to become more like them.
“I think most of us would agree that we all want more meaning in our lives,” says Lappé. “Buddying up with someone, even if it’s someone you don’t know, can be so powerful. We consciously decide who and what in bring into our lives which can held feed our sense of possibilities.”
Lappé wants us to become storytellers, and by partnering with others, we can share those stories with one another and those stories can have a ripple effect as they are shared with even more people. “If you’re feeling stuck, someone’s story may be what you need to help you see the possibilities,” she adds. That’s precisely the goal of EcoMind: to see the possibilities where they don’t seem to exist by supplying tools to look at problems through a different lens.
“Pledge to yourself, in this moment, right now: ‘I will read or watch a story about possibilities once a week,’” she asks. “Doing so will change your mental map. Then, share that story with someone.”
Lappé is especially energized by the younger generation’s embrace of the book’s message. Emi Puka-Beals read EcoMind while a student at Mt. Holyoke College, and has been helping the Small Planet Institute create an EcoMind workshop, which is posted on their website.
The workshop, Cultivating the EcoMind: Moving Into Action, starts off with those seven thought traps, but quickly turns those obstacles into thought leaps. Lappé nudges participants further by encouraging them to ask questions and explore them with others, recognizing that we can do more by collaborating.
For those that don’t know where to start, the workshop can be adapted to an informal gathering of friends, classrooms or a conference. Lappé tweets daily updates to share campaigns and uplifting stories (@fmlappe) and encourages people to organize their own events through MeetUp.com. In EcoMind, she provides a list of organizations and campaigns that are actively working to make the world a better place, so we don’t have to feel as if we’re going at this alone.
Lappé talks about honest hope. Rather than fearing fear, she asks us to embrace fear, noting that fear itself is part an idea. Fear doesn’t have to hold us hostage. “If stepping out, speaking out, causes our body’s fear sensations to flare, why not reinterpret them as a signal?” she asks. “Perhaps a signal telling us we are doing exactly what we should be doing for our own greatest happiness and the planet’s? That pounding heart? Why not think it as ‘inner applause?’”
For more information, visit SmallPlanet.org.
Megy Karydes is plotting ways to schedule more cycling time into her summer because summer lasts all of two weeks in Chicago. She hopes to write about her experiences on her travel site, WanderingTastes.com.
In the spirit of sharing, Natural Awakenings Chicago North and North Shore is giving away a free copy of EcoMind to a reader. Visit NAChicagonorth.com/CHI/Contests to enter.