Vatican Radio

The voice of the Pope and the Church in dialogue with the World

Vatican Radio

Home / Culture & Society

Simran Sethi: faith and the environment

(Vatican Radio) I have chosen World Environment Day to give voice to one of the most spiritual and inspiring “environmentalists” I have had the privilege of speaking to.

Her name is Simran Sethi, she is an award-winning journalist, strategist and educator who teaches and reports on sustainability, environmentalism and social media for social change. Named a “top ten eco-hero of the planet” by the UK’s Guardian, Simran is dedicated to a redefinition of environmentalism that uses innovative forms of engagement. I met her here in Rome where she is doing research for a book dedicated to seeds and the loss of bioagricultural biodiversity. I strongly wanted to interview her after reading an essay she wrote for Orion’s “Thirty Year Plan” publication. The essay is entitled “Faith” – and for me it points the way to a whole new approach towards conservation and the safeguard of the planet…

Listen to Simran's interview with Linda Bordoni… RealAudioMP3

“All my interests in environmental issues stem from my interest in people and the connections between the two. We aren’t separate from our eco-system: everything we do, everything we care about, our work, our loved ones, our food, our shelter – all exist here. So the interdependence we have with our environment is something that is often overlooked” Simran says we think of the environment as something separate from us, whether we’re writing an article that goes in the news section or thinking of resources as being something outside of us and our life. I am trying – she continues “to bring it back to a central place and help people understand that the way we treat our earth, our natural resources, the way we treat our animals, plants, etc., is a reflection of how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves. And so I would like us to return to a place around all of these things of reverence…”
Simran has an undisguised passion for seeds. She says “We plant the seeds, and seeds are such a powerful metaphor for how we engage in the world – the stories that we tell – the dreams and hopes that we have. We plant the seed and then we nurture the seed. And if we don’t, then the seed doesn’t take root and it doesn’t grow”. So she invites us to think of what we are doing to our seeds, on a literal level, with food and with agriculture: increased consolidation within the seed industry, greater monopolies (fewer and fewer companies own seeds). Seeds – she says – “used to be something that we shared freely and now they are something we have to buy from companies. And increasingly with hybrid seeds and GMOs they are seeds that we only use for one planting and we have to buy them again for contractual reasons or because they don’t render in the 2nd year or the 2nd planting. So I think there is something to be said for what is happening in the world and for how we are changing 10,000 years of agriculture over the last 20 years with this new system.

Simran says she is interested in helping people to remember “this sense of connectedness, and this sense of reverence and sanctity. If you think about for example, references in all religious teachings – she points out that she is Hindu – but she says “in the Bible the analogies are with “the mustard seed” not “the golden chariot” – they are humble beginnings but they are fruitful: they multiply, they take root, and they grow when they are nourished. So I want people to understand the seed as a metaphor but also as a literal embodiment of something that is life. Something that if we don’t nurture properly and if we don’t pay attention to – will not be fertile for much longer.

Simran observes that in the US where she lives, environmental issues have become much politicized. All of sudden people seem to think that they belong to one political party, and that they belong to one socio-economic group. That it is a luxury to care. Well, she points out, the environmental justice movement tells us that these resources are for everyone, that what we strive for is justice for all, is access for all - clean water should not be a privilege, healthy soil in which we grow our food should not be a privilege. So Simran says “I feel that faith is an incredible motivator of transformation in people’s lives, and it was when I was in a place of despair, looking at how the environment all of a sudden belonged to the Democratic Party in the US that I said to myself what has happened? How could we think such a thing? And I started to look within the Church in the Midwest where I lived and looked within my own faith, Hinduism, and again return to a place of remembering the sanctity of being in nature and this awe-inspiring moment when there are no words: you simply recognize that you are a very small part of the world… in our daily lives ‘my life and my needs are very big for me in any given moment, and when I am able to step back and put myself in a smaller place in the grander scheme of things, then my perception of the world changes…’. That is also what faith does”.

Speaking of our sense of impotence before the mammoth environmental issues we face today, Simran goes back once more to the seed. “The first time I looked at these seeds- they were tomatoes seeds that are so small, although the plant grows big, the fruit is juicy – if you rewind it back to the seed you realize that one seed will beget so many plants and I felt that that’s how we bridge these issues. Yes, in isolation our acts are small and they are humble, however when we look at the aggregate of these acts – when you decide to recycle your plastic bottle, when I decide to recycle my plastic bottle, when we decide we don’t want plastic at all: please give us the tap water… that’s how the little revolution starts. It starts with deciding everyday something different, maybe for greater satisfaction than just your immediate needs, but it’s for something bigger and towards the whole. So it’s a constant fluid dynamic between getting through our own day and satisfying what we need to take care of ourselves, our family, our loved ones, and then also constantly remembering that we are part of something bigger… “