For Gillian Tett, “the paradox of the modern age … is that we live in a world that is closely connected in some ways, but fragmented in others. Shocks are increasingly contagious. But we continue to behave and think in tiny silos”. I think this “silo” mentality is at the root of our unwillingness, or even our inability to tackle the climate crisis. Think about the fires raging in the Amazon. Across the EU, political leaders have expressed their concern about this ecological catastrophe – an “international crisis” dixit President Macron. Yet how many of them have addressed the fact that we Europeans “import deforestation” by importing soya feed for our cattle? How many have acknowledged that we share responsibility for this tragedy?
This is why I urge each and everyone of us to read Kawsak Sacha. Not merely because it was written by an indigenous people living at the heart of the Amazon rainforest, but because it offers an invaluable alternative to our capitalist conception of the planet; one that I believe could remedy our harmful silo mentality and hopefully lead humanity out of this crisis.
What is Kawsak Sacha?
Kawsak Sacha is a universal declaration made by the Kichwa people of Sarayaku in 2008 to propose the creation of a new legal category of protected area: “Kawsak Sacha” or “the Living Forest”. Concretely, this entails protecting the forest from destructive extractive activities such as drilling for oil. More than a category, Kawsak Sacha is a manifesto for living in harmony with the natural world, the Pachamama (Mother Earth). The Kichwa even presented Kawsak Sacha as “A Native Proposal for Confronting Climate Change” at the COP21 in Paris in 2015.
Kawsak Sacha offers a radical alternative to Western, capitalist conceptions of nature as merely a source of raw materials to be exploited. The Kichwa perceive the forest as entirely composed of “living selves” and their communicative interrelations. Ranging from the tiniest plants to “the supreme beings who protect the forest,” these selves live together in community. For the Kichwa, the natural world is thus primarily a social world.
Kawsak Sacha is integral to the Kichwa’s philosophy of Sumak Kawsay (Good Living) which relies on three pillars: fertile land, living in community and forest wisdom. According to the Kichwa, the Living Forest is physically and emotionally regenerating. In fact, it is “the most exalted expression of life itself”. The Kichwa thus stress the importance of their continuous coexistence with the forest to attain a “global ethical orientation,” with Sumak Kawsay becoming a “planetary reality”.
Why you should read it
Everyone would benefit from reading Kawsak Sacha. While I don’t personally believe in the spiritual relations it describes, I think the idea of a “cosmic conversation” between us and the beings of the Living Forest is an insightful way of re-conceptualising how we relate to nature. Internalising the initial meaning of Pachamama as a “shared home” is definitely crucial at a time where many feel disconnected or even alienated from nature.
I am convinced that we can bring change and perhaps even the “metamorphosis” advocated in Kawsak Sacha. Revolutionising our way of thinking about our place within nature is an indispensable step towards such change. I also believe in the power of our generation in driving the struggle for climate justice against unresponsive governments and irresponsible corporations, as evidenced by the #FridaysForFuture movement initiated by Greta Thunberg. We are privileged in being able to conduct environmental activism without being persecuted, unlike many indigenous people and mainly indigenous women. This is one privilege we can abuse. So read Kawsak Sacha. Now*.
*Also, it is only three pages long.