Helena Norberg-Hodge


Recorded: January 2, 2012

Why do we need each other to save the Earth? Helena shares her thoughts on how being connected to each other allows us to tap into a deep ecological wisdom.

Helena Norberg-Hodge is one of the world’s best known environmentalists. Without knowing the future impact it would have on her life and work, Ms. Norberg-Hodge traveled with a film crew to the remote countryside in the northernmost area of the Tibetan plateau in 1975. In the village of Ladakh she found her inspiration. Ladakh is a remote but traditional rural community with a local economy and sustainable way of life. Despite its harsh mountain environment and poverty, it is now known worldwide for its contented way of life that remains undisturbed by adversity. Ms. Norberg-Hodge observed why and how the people of Ladakh were so happy, determining that it was their connection with the earth and each other that made the difference.

Ms. Norberg-Hodge’s book, ‘Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh,’ has been translated into 42 languages and made into a film. Her new film is ‘The Economics of Happiness,’ which looks at the damage globalization is doing, and what can be done to counter it. She is also founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture, and co-founder of the International Forum on Globalization and the Global Eco-Village Network. Ms. Norberg-Hodge received an Alternate Nobel Prize for her work in Ladakh.

Huey Johnson: I would like to introduce Helena Norberg-Hodge, a wonderful person I’ve know for probably 30 years and who has had a major impact, increasingly even greater impact on the world, and advancing principles she cares a great deal about but she will describe. Helena, I have never known the origins of what got you interested you in environment. Would you touch on that as you start out?

Helena Norberg-Hodge: Yeah, it was a very clear thing that happened that made me totally activist. And that was before – that I was a linguist, I loved languages, I loved different cultures, I had traveled a lot and studied a lot. I was living in Paris and relatively normal life, not full time activist at all. I was asked to go out to make a film – a documentary film – to help make a documentary film – in this remote part of the world that I had never heard of, called Ladakh, and Ladakh was the westernmost part of Tibet and that area had been completely sealed off from the world and was high up on the Tibetan plateau and during the Colonial era there was barely any impact and in the modern era it was sealed off for political reasons. There was no unemployment; there wasn’t poverty as we know it. I then saw how the development plans of the Indian government who was then starting to develop the area were bringing in fossil fuels and the dependence on that, pollution, unemployment and I realized that the deep ecological wisdom that the local people had didn’t in any way prepare them for understanding these new materials. So there is such a great need for a deeper dialog between the more industrialized parts of the world and the less industrialized particularly now between America and China and India, where this type of development that is taking off in a major way.

Huey Johnson: Recently you have finished a film and it is very impressive. Would you describe it so that viewers might seek it out?

Helena Norberg-Hodge: Yes, thank you. It is called the Economics of Happiness and has come out of many years of work. I wanted to say that all around the world there is a longing for people to reconnect with nature, to reconnect with community – rebuilding the real lived interdependence which is how we evolved. That is how we are hard wired to experience and to live by. I also believe that this is so important because I have become absolutely convinced that we cannot act intelligently if we do not get the feedback loops that help us to rely on experiential knowledge. When you start shortening the distances and bringing the economy back home especially for basic needs you create systems where people can act intelligently.

Huey Johnson: Remember when we met when I was in high political office in the State Capital in Sacramento and somebody came in and says this person is here and desperately wants to talk to you and I was very busy that day and I said there is no way I can take time to talk to somebody without an appointment and I don’t know who they are or anything. You may have even just walked in. You were a really good advocate and it has been such a wonderful thing to have you as a friend. And to watch and read about you and know that you are pouring it on and not backing off one inch.

Helena Norberg-Hodge: And I also would say that it is incredibly important to start by reconnecting to other like-minded people and to nature. That is what has given me the strength to carry on. A sense of belonging and a sense of, particularly that deeper connection to nature is definitely something that . I know in my own life is a way of getting rid of depression or a sense of meaninglessness. And also feeling connected to likeminded people so I have tried to do that. That’s why you are such a dear friend and I always see you. I think it is very important to do that because you can feel marginalized and lonely if you don’t do that. And I think to make it a conscious decision and be sure that you have that support to help you then to take a path that will be more meaningful than academia or a conventional career path.