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Cylvia Hayes on Sacred Eco-nomics

About a month ago I was introduced to the work of Cylvia Hayes, the former First Lady of Oregon, through a friend of mine who posted her blog on Facebook. I immediately felt a connection. Cylvia has extensive background in sustainable living and Sacred Eco-nomics, and has founded organizations to help create a positive shift in the way we live, in order to revive our planet and create new, saner norms.

Sylvia: Cylvia, please share with us your work concerning Sacred Eco-nomics.

Cylvia: I landed on my passion for the preservation of Nature in my early twenties when I realized that we were hemorrhaging species due to human activity. I expected to become a famous wildlife biologist or some-such, but, as a first-gen college student I was fortunate enough to attend The Evergreen State College, which has a multi-disciplinary approach to education. I came to realize that most of the gnarly environmental issues (and social issues) – climate change, species loss, plastic pollution, entrenched poverty – are actually symptoms of a flawed economic model. I have been working to raise awareness about the need for economic system change ever since.

Straight out of college I founded a small non-profit working on issues like sustainable living, voluntary simplicity, and climate change. After many years I converted the organization into a sustainable economics consulting firm. I even worked aggressively on economic system redesign while serving as First Lady of Oregon. When COVID hit, I was actually excited, because I knew we needed to push pause on the rapacious, global, consumption-based economy. At that time, I quickly set up a new non-profit called The ReThink with the goal of helping shift the narrative away from the cry to “get back normal” toward an emphasis on creating new, saner norms. In addition, for the past five years I have been studying to become a minister with Unity Worldwide Ministries and I have been serving on the Unity Worldwide EarthCare team. I am delighted that I now frequently speak and teach on Sacred Eco-nomics to Unity audiences. The faith and environment/ faith and climate movement is quite robust and I believe will play an increasingly important role as we move further into the systems collapse before us.

I find it important to describe what I mean by Sacred Eco-nomics. The current predominant global Capitalist economic system is one of separation, based on the myth that humans are apart from, rather than a part of the rest of nature. And our cultural story is that the economy is the be-all-and-end-all and environmental concerns are just a small subset within the economic system. That, to be blunt, is ass-backwards. The environment, our global life support system, is the be-all-and-end-all and the human-economy is 100 percent dependent upon the natural environment. Sacred Eco-nomics recognizes this interdependency and interconnection. It recognizes the intrinsic value of all Nature, and works to create ways for humans to live and work that are restorative rather than extractive.

I would love to have your audience check out my TRANSCEND publication on Substack. Finally, I want to note that the term Sacred Economics is actually the title of a book by Charles Eisenstein that is well worth reading – just want to make sure to give credit as due!

Sylvia: Your newsletter commentary on the report made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has me bewildered as to why there aren’t more serious discussions on climate change in our daily lives? In the hundreds of feature films I’ve watched, the issue of climate change never even comes up as a side note to the story. What is the most urgent message regarding climate change that you would like to get across?

Cylvia: The biggest challenge is that we have created a fundamentally destructive economic system and we are all immersed in and addicted to it. Fossil fuels provided tremendous benefits and for the first many decades no one could have predicted the tremendous harm they would cause nor the scale they would allow human activity to reach. Now we absolutely do know but many people are unwilling to make lifestyle changes, and the corporatocracy (Big Oil, Big Plastic, Big Ag, Big Pharma) is heavily invested in preventing system change.

The most urgent message is that we must start seriously asking the right questions:

• Does it really make sense to be pushing an economy based on limitless growth of consumption on a planet of finite resources?

• What are we really after – growth of what, and for what?

• Why are we continuing to allow governments to subsidize fossil fuel industries?

• How much is enough?

Sylvia: CMM was established to encourage filmmakers of ALL genres, to use the power of story to raise global consciousness. You recently posted that a big issue is that we are consuming too much stuff and shipping it great distances. How could we as filmmakers make a difference by integrating these insights into our film’s narrative, even if it isn’t the main storyline? What other conversations would you like to see film characters having?

Cylvia: I love this question as I hadn’t really thought of it before. First, I think the movie Don’t Look Up is brilliant for the mirroring it does of our current predicament and approach. And, Avatar is one of my favorite movies of all time for the powerful message it sends. I’m also on a bit of a personal mission to get people to watch the documentary The Year Earth Changed, which so powerfully captures the need to curb and redesign global human economic activity, as well as how fast Nature can heal when given a chance.

I would love to see film characters, asking the questions I note above. I would love to see them challenging the current paradigm of growth, shopping, consumption, waste. I’d love to see characters doing environmentally sound actions as if it were just normal daily life – think NOT shopping as entertainment, checking their solar panels, eating vegetarian, etc.

Sylvia: Or perhaps showing how circular agriculture could work, where manure becomes part of the circle . What is your call to action for us as individuals?

Cylvia: This is always a hard question because we are clearly at a point where we need far more than individual actions; we need massive collective action to drive deep systems change. However, I think the greatest risk right now is that too many people will just give up due to the enormity of the issue, or general apocalypse fatigue. Our individual consumption, travel, recycling choices, etc. matter and I think one of the biggest positive steps we can take is to buy less stuff in general and avoid single-use, non-recyclable plastic at every turn. Getting things repaired and buying second-hand are noble actions.

That said, given the scale of the problem, I think the message our actions send are more important than the individual actions themselves. So, I always recommend the following:

• Decolonize your mind. We need fewer who identify as “consumers” and more who realize we are “citizens of Earth.” Live from “enough” despite what the marketing machine bombards you with.

• Question the paradigm. Question assumptions. Have uncomfortable conversations. We are all stuck in this fundamentally unhealthy set of systems but that doesn’t mean we should just accept this normal.

• Finally, be love. Defend, protect and restore Nature everywhere you can. Save a bug. Hug a tree. Feel it hugging you back.

When Buddhist teacher, Tich Nhat Hanh, was asked what can we do to help the planet heal, he replied that what we need is to open our hearts to be able to hear the sound of the Earth crying, and allow ourselves to feel the grief of what we have lost and weep with her. Because if we can allow ourselves to feel that pain, we will be able to act authentically from our hearts, and be able to communicate a new story.



The views and opinions expressed by the interviewees do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Conscious Media Movement.

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