How can activism transcend beyond consumerism? Why do we need to be wary of philanthrocapitalism? And how can we self-heal through burnout? Big questions that we are deep diving into with Kamea Chayne—writer, author and host of the Green Dreamer Podcast (and Green Warrior). Green Dreamer is exploring holistic healing, ecological regeneration, and true abundance and wellness for all.
Kamea Chayne is a creative, writer, the author of Thrive, an environmentally conscious lifestyle guide to better health and true wealth. She is also the host of one of the most successful sustainability podcasts, Green Dreamer. Known for her perceptive commentary and nuanced questioning, she’s interviewed over 300 sustainability, social justice, and public health thought leaders, including Dr. Vandana Shiva, Charles Eisenstein, Adrian Grenier, NYT bestselling authors, and many more.
For inspiring us to change how we see wellness, and for platforming voices towards just and regenerative futures, Kamea is one of our Green Warriors this year. (The Green Warriors list is our annual list of changemakers, this year from around the world and not just in Asia, who are shaking things up on sustainability and modelling the way in their communities, or even on an international level.)
In this interview, we discuss how to have healthy scepticism, maintaining a critical eye in the sustainability movement, self-healing as part of collective healing, activism beyond conscious consumerism, and earth as the most advanced technology. You can listen to the whole conversation on the Live Wide Awake podcast here or read the highlights below.
On how Kamea’s activism approach evolved beyond conscious consumerism…
When I was in college, I learned about the iron triangle. Basically, it’s really difficult to change policy. Because you have corporate interests, legislators and bureaucracy. These lock the system into place because these people have mutualistic relationships. When I learned that, I was like, “we need change now, and we can’t wait for policy change”. Which led me to conscious consumerism, because I realised, “We all make choices every single day, so we have the power to shift our behaviours and consumer choices.”
But as I got deeper into it, I started to see how systemic a lot of our injustices are. So for example, a lot of the choices that we have are often predetermined by our access or economic privilege. The saying “vote with your dollar” definitely has merit to it. People who can afford to should definitely spend their dollars wisely. But, by putting this forward as the way of engaging with activism? It really differentiates who can actually engage with “activism”. Not everyone has access to even supermarkets if they live in a place that deals with food apartheid or food deserts. And if they do have access, they might not have the economic privilege to buy the more expensive choice.
So lower-income folks often have to buy mass-produced food made from these big industries that are driving destruction. Which are able to make their products so cheap because they’re exploiting labour and resources. It’s injustice feeding into injustice. And this is all systemic, so we really can’t buy our way out of this mess. This complexity really showed me that there’s so much more I need to learn in terms of how all this works. And how is it that we can make the biggest difference as individuals in this space.
On what people can do in the face of systems problems…
When it comes to driving systemic change, people often pose a false dichotomy. You know, asking if individual change or systemic change is more important. And a lot of people think that systemic change has to come through politics. That individual change is about what you buy, and your lifestyle. But individuals can engage with systemic change through organised and collective efforts. So for example, direct action, or getting involved in organised campaigns to pressure large corporations.
And if we’re thinking about social justice and sustainability, we need to decentralise power and economic resources. There are two ways to go about it. One is confronting power, and another is building power from the ground up. So direct action and organised campaigns are part of the first approach. If you look at history, key pivotal moments of social change have happened through people’s movements that address power. So that’s the first part. And in terms of ground-up efforts, we’re looking at community-building efforts. Things like supporting food sovereignty, localising food systems, etc. These are regenerative and restorative efforts happening from the ground up.
On how environmentalism can actually create injustice…
We’re kind of locked into a system of injustice. It’s what the system incentivises, and even if we’re talking about solutions coming out of the current system… Research funding, for example, disproportionately goes into solutions that are scalable, patentable, with potential ROIs for companies. And then of course, whatever they end up innovating through this R&D, the corporations backing these developments grow money to build relationships with the press, which skews the media landscape in favour of stories they push through. Eventually, people have a skewed understanding of where our solutions lie. There’s a disproportionate hype for things like carbon capture, lab-grown meats… a lot of these techno-fixes to our problems.
What this ends up overlooking are Indigenous and place-based solutions. For example, we know that Indigenous peoples make up 6% of our global population yet steward 80% of Earth’s biodiversity. That to me says everything because biodiversity is integral to addressing our sixth mass extinction. But also biodiverse and healthy ecosystems are integral for natural cycles that regulate the climate. We overlook all of these solutions. (Not to say that these should be investment opportunities…) All of this is to say that even the best solutions, because they come out of our current extractive system, are still looking for ways to extract. And in the process, all of this sidelines proven solutions like Indigenous land stewardship.
On healthy scepticism…
I think it’s healthy to have some level of scepticism of everything so that we can look at everything with a critical eye and to not take anything at face value. It’s about asking more questions and not automatically trusting what people are saying. Even with a lot of these eco-certifications, there’s a lot of fraud in them. For example, with the USDA Organic, I know of organic farmers who are leading the charge to make sure that hydroponically grown foods cannot achieve the certification because it doesn’t help to restore soil health. Even though elsewhere, globally, in Europe, hydroponics aren’t allowed, in the US it is. And a lot of consumers don’t know that. They also don’t know that CAFOs, or factory-farmed meats, can still be “organic”, as long as their feed is organic.
There’s a lot of things like that, that people don’t really know about. Even those certifications that are supposed to help us navigate this world… So we have to keep asking questions. Especially with information coming out of the media, it’s really important to also be curious and critical about the sources. Who they’re getting information from, who they’re being sponsored by, who has paid them, and just also who these people are. What are their stances? Who have they worked for before? All of these questions are important to raise, so we can better calibrate the information that we’re receiving. To know whether we align with these things, or whether we have to take things with more grains of salt. Ultimately, we just have to keep sharpening our critical thinking skills.
When we’re talking about philanthropy and billionaires, it’s important to understand it through the lens of “philanthrocapitalism”. As in, they could be doing charity work that could be setting the stage for some sort of for-profit innovation, or other companies that they can invest in. Philanthropy isn’t all good. There are a lot of problems with the non-profit industrial complex, and philanthropic work in general. In terms of whether there could be good from billionaires lending their influence and publicity to environmental issues? Definitely, it is possible that they can get more people into these conversations. But at the same time, if these people are listening to billionaires because they trust and respect them, then they will listen to the sort of solutions these billionaires put out.
With Bill Gates, for example, there’s a lot of support from him for techno-fixes. And these don’t actually heal soil, lands, and communities. So what this might lead to is adding to the crowd of people who are supporting solutions like carbon capture, geoengineering technologies… and drive more money, funding and investment into these spaces. So there’s definitely a positive in terms of raising awareness and publicity. But also, there are some negatives in terms of further skewing the landscape, and driving funding away from decentralised, Indigenous-led solutions.
I’m hugely sceptical on whether or not there’s a place for things like techno-fixes. If we look into history, for example, every time there’s a techno-fix… what ends up happening is it creates a whole new set of issues that we have to deal with later on. If we’re talking about renewable energy, “clean energy”? These don’t come out of thin air. They have to manufacture them and require the mining of rare earth metals. In a process that’s hugely toxic and polluting to communities. It requires converting land, deforestation, sometimes blowing up mountain tops. So these solutions that make up the “green” energy transition pose a lot of ecological harm. They still rely on finite resources, polluting, extractive processes, polluting communities within proximity of these sites…
I don’t want to paint a broad stroke, but when we’re talking about healing our lands, we shouldn’t focus on things that would require more extraction. Or things that only suppress or address the symptoms of the climate crisis (which could be carbon emissions). We need to address the deeper root causes of ecological breakdown. The causes that are breaking our carbon cycles, and making our lands incapable of regenerating themselves. If we really want to heal our planet, it’s about restoring and regenerating ecosystems. And it’s about extracting less and not extracting more.
On self and collective healing…
In the environmental space, a lot of people still hold a worldview of separation. We want to “save the planet”, which means we need to lessen our impact. And by default, people use “human impact” to connote something negative. That comes from a place of separation because if we understand humans as an integral part of the Earth, and that we’re part of this Earth body, then we have a role to play. And we need to remember our roles, and what it means to be regenerative as a part of this Earth, as all other forms of life are. They are synergistic with each other and help regenerate life and biodiversity. So healing ourselves, if we’re thinking in that way, is critical to healing the planet.
When people are burned out, within this current system, that’s driving people to work longer hours for less pay. When people aren’t even able to meet their basic needs of putting food on the table, then they’re not going to have the capacity to think longer-term about how they can contribute to environmental or cultural issues. They literally just have to worry about surviving. So I think it’s important for people in the sustainability space to recognise how integral things like economic justice, social justice and racial justice are. We need to focus on healing communities that are the most marginalised because ultimately it’s all connected.
The degradation and harm done to the land are directly tied to how this society is treating its most marginalised peoples. And so if we’re really talking about sustainability and healing our earth, then we have to heal ourselves first. And then certainly think about how we can support the healing of communities that have been historically harmed.
Three things I’m taking away from this conversation with Kamea:
1. We need to maintain a healthy scepticism and a critical eye. We shouldn’t automatically trust the information being presented.
2. We can build power from the ground up. Collectively, we can change things. We just need to play our part and focus where it counts.
3. Each of us has a role to play as a part of the earth. We are part of the natural world and system.
FEATURED IMAGE: Green Is The New Black Green Warriors 2021 campaign | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A sepia-toned shot of Kamea lying down on a wood floor, with her head resting on her arm bent above her head, and her other arm on her stomach; she is wearing a black cropped tank top and black pants; she looks solemnly away from the camera, and her body is illuminated by the natural light coming in from the windows, with shadows of the window structure and some plants, not visible within the photograph
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