It begins with you. Honor your ‘body temple.’ Protect your health by eating only healthy safe nutritious foods. Eat less meat and dairy and less processed foods. There are so many websites with delicious plant-based recipes and recipes that include meat but in reduced portions, it is easier than ever to make that shift. Try to advise your family members about this so everyone can avoid or recover from the effects of an unhealthy diet.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Erickson.
Stephen is the author of The Great Healing: Five Compassions That Can Save Our World. A dedicated environmental and animal activist for 30 years, he is also a screenwriter and award-winning feature filmmaker. As a former Home Entertainment executive he originated and established one Home Entertainment label and then ran another, overseeing the licensing, development, marketing and worldwide release of nearly 400 programs onto broadcast, DVD and digital delivery platforms. Stephen holds a Master of Fine Art degree in Theater, Film, and Television from the graduate film school at UCLA as well as Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of California San Diego in both Visual Arts and Economics, along with a minor in Psychology to help him figure out why he did both. He lives in Los Angeles and has 3 children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Iwas raised in North Hollywood, California. From my earliest memories as a child I was always fascinated with the beauty of nature and its mysteries, the endless variety of plants and animals. My mother was an avid gardener. Helping her tend to the gardens around our home had something to do with that. I could spend hours fascinated with the diversity of the plants, their scents, the structure of a geranium leaf or a fern, enthralled by insects, and the fertile soil with its denizens and its mysteries. Growing up I enjoyed hiking the trails in the nearby hills as well as trips into the Sierras and the deserts. I loved bodysurfing and being one with the pulse of the ocean. Our family had dogs whom I cared deeply for and shared adventures with.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
When I was a grad student studying screenwriting and filmmaking at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television I became aware of the horrors of vivisection. Vivisection is a vast array of cruel experimentation conducted nationwide on animals in the name of scientific or consumer product research. I could not accept that innocent sensitive animals — dogs, rabbits, mice, monkeys, and other species — could be treated that way. Or that it was going on at my university. I got involved with animal rights and environmental organizations and have been a compassionate activist for 30 years.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
Whatever career you choose, if you can find an opportunity that engages what you are most interested in and excited about, and reflects what you believe in, that will be your most fulfilling path. You will be most inspired, happiest, and will perform at your best when the work you do involves something you really care about.
My career path is in the entertainment industry. If I’m telling a story, or writing a screenplay, directing a feature film, or creating a series of DVDs, why can’t the projects I am creatively involved with reflect my values and what I stand for? Once I realized this, I no longer accepted projects or worked for companies where I couldn’t express my values. My creative work ever since has centered on human interaction involving animals and our environment.
If you want to become an environmental leader, spend time every day out in nature and its beauty — even if it is just in your neighborhood. Our planet is in an environmental crisis right now — and things are going to get worse. We will need compassionate environmental stewards, activists and leaders like never before. You can be one. There is a role for you if you choose that path. Know that and trust that. Find your voice. Rise.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
There is another pandemic we are facing that too few people are paying attention to. While the COVID-19 pandemic will kill over a hundred thousand people, we will survive it. The global warming climate crisis now threatens human extinction this century.
There is an Arch Villain in our climate emergency and we only have one solution. While many technologies are being implemented to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions — there exists only one way to significantly drawdown atmospheric carbon — only one way to save the human race. Most people do not yet realize the dire severity of our climate emergency. Most don’t know who our Arch Villain is or what our solution is.
So I just wrote a book, The Great Healing — Five Compassions That Can Save Our World.
Big Ag — industrial agriculture and factory farming — is the Arch Villain of our climate emergency. It is by far the most polluting industry on our planet. It is responsible for 57% of global greenhouse gas emissions, dwarfing any other industry. Our solution is regenerative agriculture at scale. Regenerative agriculture, which is essentially farming naturally, organically, the old fashion way, draws down, ‘sequesters,’ huge amounts of atmospheric carbon.
In addition to being the main contributor to global warming, industrial agriculture is especially ominous because its suite of synthetic fertilizers, GMO seeds, and pesticide poisons kill the living creatures of the soil, its microbiome, turning soil into lifeless dirt, thereby eliminating our one solution for the climate crisis, healthy soil’s natural ability to sequester carbon.
Not enough of us are aware of this. So I wrote this book. Given my skillset as a screenwriter, filmmaker, and storyteller my goal was to write entertaining stories in the book centered on ‘exquisite creatures’ to best engage and reach a broad audience. And like another author whom I admire immensely, Neil deGrasse Tyson, I believe I have made the science understandable, even interesting. Widespread awareness right now is essential.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
1 . It begins with you. Honor your ‘body temple.’ Protect your health by eating only healthy safe nutritious foods. Eat less meat and dairy and less processed foods. There are so many websites with delicious plant-based recipes and recipes that include meat but in reduced portions, it is easier than ever to make that shift. Try to advise your family members about this so everyone can avoid or recover from the effects of an unhealthy diet.
Today over 181 million Americans including 33% of children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese. Obesity is the pathway to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and a myriad of other life-threatening conditions. This stems from the nutrition-barren, toxin-laden foods which comprise the majority of food Americans consume. The path to health begins with your next bite. In my book the second chapter, Compassion For Self, is all about this and tells you how to identify and source safe healthy food wherever you live. Optimized health and vitality will best enable you on your journey to heal our planet.
By eating an organic nutritious diet, you are attacking our Arch Villain because industrial agriculture and factory farming only produce toxic unhealthy food. You are no longer being their customer — or their victim.
2. If you are of voting age or getting close, realize your power as a citizen in our Democracy. Vote. Advocate for environmentally friendly and animal empathetic government policies. Vote for candidates who endorse programs like the Green New Deal and a New Farm Bill. At their core these are fundamentally nonpartisan. They are not Democratic or Republican issues. Protecting Mother Earth is a human issue. And a human imperative.
3. Get engaged. Find your voice. Stand up for what you stand for. Enlist your compassionate activism.
The beginning of our planet’s sixth great extinction has already begun. One million plant and animal species TODAY are facing extinction due to human activities. Our Earth has undergone a 60% decline in the number of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians over the last 40 years. Global warming — our climate crisis — now, during our lifetime, threatens to bring about the end of our Anthropocene Epoch — and us along with it. I wrote this book for all of us, but particularly for my children, for millennials, and for Generation Z — because you need to mobilize in a big way immediately, to protect what remains of your opportunity to one day raise your families in a stable society and an environment fairly similar to the one we now enjoy, as opposed to being trapped in a sweltering, ugly, calamity — humanity’s increasingly chaotic, stricken, and panicked exit from the global stage.
You have the power to change things. More than you realize. You’ll see.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
1 . Parents need to be fully aware of the severity and dire consequences of our climate emergency and the role each of us is being called upon to play to address it. Lacking that understanding you can’t adequately inform or inspire your children and others. We are entering the fight of our lives — a fight for our lives. And we may not prevail. Our planet’s sixth great extinction has already begun. There is no threat to humanity with higher stakes, including thermonuclear war, than this one.
2 . Convey an understanding of our climate crisis to your children and young people in a way that makes them feel what’s at stake while inspiring hope. Let them know there is a solution — and they can be a part of it. Young people all can have an important role to play.
3 . Eat healthy nutritious food. The foods we eat are connected to the climate crisis.
In my book I write about Brady Kluge, who grew up in South Carolina and battled obesity throughout middle school and high school. When he was diagnosed in his teens as pre-diabetic, his mother realized that his problem was the poor quality of the food he ate and resolved to learn more about and change that. Brady by age 20 weighed 338 pounds and was categorized as ‘morbidly obese.’ Brady fixed that. He now weighs under 190 pounds and all of his health issues have vanished like a bad dream. Today in Med School, he realizes that over 80% of disease in America is a result of unhealthy food — and that his classmates are taught how to address the symptoms of disease — but not the cause. Brady’s aspiration as a doctor will be one who prescribes eating healthy and safe food as an essential part of the cure for his patients.
4. Set an example with your compassionate activism. Be a role model by participating in our democracy. Here’s an abbreviated story from my book, an example of what can happen when just a few people get together and share their concerns. Here’s how one group of parents improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children…
What kinds of lunches are served to your children in their school cafeteria? In most schools, the meals, snacks and beverages provided will be consistently sugar rich, calorie laden, prepared with unhealthy oils, and nutritionally barren. Most school cafeterias primarily offer the processed foods and sweetened beverages delivered by the fast food national chain suppliers their school district has contracted with. Studies show that this food places our children — these young students with their developing brains and bodies — at risk of obesity, pre-diabetes and a range of related health problems; that eating this food makes them more aggressive, causes them to have more difficulty concentrating, and they don’t perform as well academically.
A few parents in Los Angeles shared their concerns about the nutritional quality of their children’s school lunches with the city council and presented a Meatless Mondays Resolution. Councilmember Ed P. Reyes, who became an advocate and co-author of the resolution, said, “When dealing with issues as big as global warming, or even as personal as battling diabetes or obesity, it’s easy to feel helpless, like there’s little we can do to make a difference. But the small changes we make every day can have a tremendous impact. That’s why this Meatless Monday resolution is important. Together we can better our health, the animals and the environment, one plate at a time.” The city council passed their resolution. Mondays are now meatless in all cafeterias throughout the second largest school district in the country, which serves 700,000 lunches each school day.
The story gets better. The Humane Society then became involved to make sure the meatless meals were ones the students would find tasty, enjoyable and fun. Students embraced the menu changes. Soon, throughout the week healthier menu selections emphasizing fruits, vegetables and vegetarian options were added. Student academic performance measurably improved. This single program in Los Angeles spares 4.6 million animals each year from enduring lifelong cruelty on factory farms. And the story is only beginning…
On April 18, 2017, the LAUSD Board of Education, now attuned to this issue, passed a resolution ending McDonald’s McTeacher’s Nights. In 2018, the California Federation of Teachers, representing over 120,000 education professionals, passed a resolution to “oppose and reject” McTeacher’s Nights. On February 7, 2019, the American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution directing more than 1.7 million educators nationwide to reject junk food fundraisers including McTeacher’s Nights. 50 teachers unions representing 3 million teachers have now taken a stand against McTeacher’s nights.
This story gets better still. Mercy For Animals then developed a food policy program, working with schools and other institutions, which is succeeding in switching 26 million meals a year to plant based.
The Los Angeles Unified School District now provides healthy lunch options every day to 700,000 children — meals that improve their health and their academic performance. A few parents got together and became the catalyst. They made this happen.
I can’t think of a better example of how to inspire your children than setting this kind of example.
5. Realize, deep inside yourself, the power of compassionate activism. Inspire that in your children and youth. Build their confidence, their conviction that they can become insightful and powerful environmental leaders.
Some of you may know parts of this story, but it is my favorite example.
She was 15 years old, a student attending school in her native Sweden. The more she learned about the threat of global warming, the increasingly alarmed she became. The issue haunted her for several years.
Greta Thunberg decided the inaction of her government’s leaders as well as those of other countries in the face of this dire threat was intolerable. So, in September 2018, by herself, she went on strike — she ditched school and demonstrated outside Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. Her sign read School Strike for Climate. And she was active on social media. She was out there alone for several weeks. No friends or classmates joined her. Then her protest caught on. The #ClimateStrike movement grew out of that direct action — and spread with lightning speed.
On October 20, she spoke before 10,000 people in Helsinki. It became Finland’s largest ever climate demonstration. She urged marchers to fight for major systemic change: ‘The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe — it doesn’t exist today. We need to change the system.’”
In December, Greta Thunberg, this 15-year-old student who just three months earlier decided to stop going to school and begin a protest against her government, was invited to address COP24, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. In January, she spoke to the world’s most powerful and wealthy political and business leaders convening at Davos, Switzerland, “harshly criticizing them for amassing huge wealth with the help of pollution-causing industries, to the detriment of future generations.” In February, Greta was in Brussels joining a 7th week of protests by Belgian children skipping school. While there, she spoke before the European Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Union, standing beside her, then announced for the budget period of 2021–2027, 25% of the European Union budget — over $250 billion — will be allocated to mitigating global warming.
In an open letter on March 1, 2019, two weeks before their “Global Day of Action,”, #ClimateStrike activists wrote, “We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future. Humanity is currently causing the sixth mass extinction of species and the global climate system is at the brink of catastrophic crisis… We will no longer accept this injustice… We finally need to treat the climate crisis as a crisis. It is the biggest threat in human history, and we will not accept the world’s decision-makers’ inaction that threatens our entire civilization. We will not accept life in fear and devastation… You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move, and we will not rest again.”
On March 15, 2019 over 1.6 million students in over 2,000 locations in 133 countries participated in Climate Strike protests. Nine days later on May 24, over 1.8 million people in 125 countries took part in a global climate strike.
Greta Thunberg had turned 16 years old, when, on March 14th she learned that she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
I cite several examples in my book of farmers who were farming using the industrial agricultural model and were spending so much money on the inputs required from global industrial agricultural corporations: the synthetic fertilizers, pesticide poisons, GMO seed, as well as the huge amounts of irrigation water, fuel, and other resources this system requires, that they were selling their crops at a loss every year. The only way they could stay in business was to be bailed out annually by government subsidies. They then are trapped, mired in debt and forced to repeat this cycle the next growing season. In converting their land to regenerative agriculture, the life of their soil improved to the point where they are now producing greater and more diversified crop yields, healthy organic food of significantly higher nutritional value, and selling it at much higher prices. In addition, the elimination of having to purchase ALL industrial agriculture inputs vastly increased their profitability. Their livelihoods and sense of purpose were reborn — the satisfaction of rekindling that intimate bond between a farmer and his or her land that traditional farming was all about. And they are now protecting their environment and taking an active role in combatting climate change.
For any business, for your business or one you are envisioning, this applies:
The survival of life one this planet mandates a shift into the New Economy. The $26 trillion New Economy. It is based on these principles: sustainable, Earth friendly, humane, and just. Align or develop your business in harmony with these principals — no matter what business you are in. Companies that do not align with these principals and are harming the planet will increasingly become recognized as global pariahs. And not many of us want to be a customer of a toxic brand. Those companies will not fare well in the New Economy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m grateful for the teachers who educated, guided and inspired me from elementary school on. Education is a lifelong process. Always be learning. If you’re in school and you’ve fallen behind in a subject, if your parents aren’t reading with you and helping with your schooling, get the extra help to catch up and excel. Especially with your reading and writing.
There is a particular person in my life who comes to mind. I was in graduate film school at UCLA, learning how to tell a story, searching for my own voice, my style, and wondering if I was any good at all. Several of my classmates would go on to become acclaimed Hollywood filmmakers and their writing and student filmmaking was already more accomplished, more skilled than mine. They had found and were developing their unique perspectives. In June, at the end of one school year, we were attending the final event where student projects were screened, and awards given out. The time came to announce the recipient of the school’s highest writing award. The Dean called out my name.
Unbeknownst to me, one of my teachers, Lew Hunter, had advocated for my scriptwriting. He never mentioned this to me, but afterwards I reflected on our class writing sessions, his perceptive critiques my work, and his ability draw out the best of me. The validation of that award gave me confidence in my craft and my journey at a pivotal time in my life.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have. The Great Healing. Our website: thegreathealing.org
The Great Healing is the healing of our planet from this climate emergency. The book details our solution — regenerative agriculture at scale — and the path to achieving that solution through these Five Compassions: Compassion the Animals, for Self, for the Land, for Community, and for Democracy. My stories of exquisite creatures illustrate and illuminate our path forward.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
These are quotes that inspire me. They’ve kept me on track in moments of indecision and despair.
“If you can dream it, you can do it.”
– Walt Disney
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
– Steve Jobs
“Leap, and the net will appear.”
– John Burroughs
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
– Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela’s life journey always serves as an inspiring example for me. For those of you who are unfamiliar, he was an activist in South Africa who struggled mightily against his government’s racist system of apartheid. As he became more influential, he became a target. The apartheid regime needed to mute his voice. At age 44 he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. While enduring the next 27 years of his life in maximum security prisons he never wavered in his beliefs or his cause. The anti-apartheid movement grew in strength drawing the world’s attention and increasing condemnation of the government. The government released Nelson Mandela from prison and, now revered as a national hero, he was elected President of South Africa. Apartheid ended in South Africa. He died in 2013, yet Nelson Mandela remains one of the world’s most influential and revered leaders.
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