This week’s Prophet in Focus is James Murray-White, a composting environmentalist with the eye of a filmmaker and the soul of a poet.
James grew up in a green village outside Cambridge, UK, and has donned the roles of both actor and anthropologist in addition to his filmmaking pursuits.
James tells of childhood in a green village, adventures in the UK, his green passions–and of course, composting–after the jump.
How would you define yourself environmentally?
Educator, activist, thinker… (a people/nature centred liberal.)
How you get around?
By foot, car, bus, and train, sometimes plane.
I keep a foot in the UK (and Eire and Scotia, where my roots lie) so I do fly, and fastidiously pay for the carbon produced during these journeys.
Can you tell us about your biggest green passion? What fires you up?
Negligence – lack of care for the earth and our habitat, and ignorance: they both annoy me and make me want to become a better educator and more skilful persuader and communicator.
On a positive practical side, recycling and composting fire me up. I love creatively thinking how to reuse things, or just that these plastic bottles or glass or paper will be re-made, rather than just landfill. A plant decaying and becoming soil fertiliser fills me with awe: the process absolutely amazes me. I’m a compost evangelist in the Holy land! Growing things – food, beautiful plants, trees, and composting growing things (including each of us eventually) is such an absorbing cycle to engage with, and learn from.
After a recent trip to the UK I see that being green is now treated like a new kind of religion, or spiritual experience. Not growing up in a religious environment (my parents are loosely Quaker; I became heavily influenced by Buddhism in my early 20’s) I’m wary of care for the planet being yet another religion – it should be instilled in all of us, regardless of faith or persuasion. Being out on the land, walking, cycling, sailing, swimming, caving, etc. – all these activities can foster love.
What prompted you to start caring about the environment?
Growing up in a village – with lots of wild areas for play and discovery, trees to climb, streams to wade and fish in, meadows to hike through. And then travelling across UK (walking the Pennine Way with friends when 16 showed me the high and low of land use in UK) and Scotland and Eire (I have lived in both places and appreciate differing national attitudes to land care and conservation).
(The Pennine Way is a 250-mile walk in the centre of Britain, from north to south, across the ‘backbone of Britain’.)
What do you think is the most important issue the world faces today?
Environmentally speaking, destruction and rapid use of resources – deforestation, mining, and water pollution. All this boils down to human greed and arrogance.
What is the most important issue in the Middle East?
What’s the saddest thing you’ve ever seen (enviro related)?
The Hill of Tara in Southern Ireland (Eire) is one of the most sacred sites in the world. It is where mythical battles have taken place and the ancient high kings of Ireland were crowned. It is nowadays a place of reflection, with a strong still spiritual energy – a high green hill in a green land.
Last year, the short-sighted Irish govt declared it wished to route a motorway through the hill, due to increased traffic travelling from Dublin across the centre of the country to the west coast. Crazy! After a year and unprecedented protest, the government were forced to reconsider and abort its plan – but this is an example of idiotic forces at work, the world over.
Closer to home, any litter on the road or in a park or in any wild spaces particularly fills me with annoyance and sadness.
Damage to trees particularly hurts my soul.
What’s the most hopeful project/company/event you’ve seen?
Solar power – with a bigger push, we could have all the energy we as a species need from this abundant natural resource.
I’m also really glad to see the growth of the Fairtrade movement. If small-scale farmers are treated well and fairly, and paid for their hard work, those of us in the wealthy south can be justified in our desire for better, healthier products, like organic, and ‘shade-grown’ coffee, for instance, that we import in huge quantities from so-called ‘developing’ Countries. I’m watching the development of fairtrade coffee from places like Uganda and Rwanda. I want to see more fairtrade products sold in Israel.
What do you do to play your part in greening the earth?
Talk, write, plant things (I have 3 gardens in Jerusalem) and compost profusely to nurture the soil and all that grows in it.
Recycle (including all the cardboard that comes into our house going into the compost bin), read and debate; protest when moved to, and above all, walk upon the earth.
Over the last few months I’ve been developing a project offering personal Carbon Audits of peoples lives and homes. While still in the early stages, I have been inspired by the proliferation of carbon auditing in the UK (where many people offer this service, and some enlightened local Councils offer this to homes and businesses), and am drawing up a business model for this service to English-speaking interested folk here. Contact me for more information.
What are you reading now (green related)?
I love reading and reviewing books, so am loving reviewing green books (and coordinating other reviewers) for Green Prophet. I have a desk full of review copies, so I’ll will be kept busy for many months – this feeds my desire for knowledge on he subject; gives me ammunition for debate and informed action. It also broadens my vision for what ‘green’ and ‘eco’ really means.
Next up on this list is ‘Wild’ by Jay Griffith – her story of a journey around the world’s remaining wild places; review coming soon.
My partner Tania runs a site devoted to short stories, so we live in a house of books and breathe literature!
I just got a copy of ‘The Sea The Sea’; Iris Murdoch’s booker-prize winning novel about creativity, the soul, and the effect that the sea has on people. I re-read this wonderful novel every 5 years or so, and its time again – hoping to bathe in it again through greener eyes this summer.
Websites that I read include:
www.resurgence.org – wonderful eco/spiritual Journal, based UK
www.sky-larking.com – My website! A depository of my stuff!
www.greenmetropolis.com – Great green cheap books: they plant lots of trees to compensate for all the books bought & sold (UK only)
What’s your favourite post/topic on Green Prophet, and why?
I love the book and film reviews as they push the cultural boundaries of the site. Also hearing about food issues and organic agriculture is important to me and my stomach! Food grown without pesticides and harmful additives to the soil has to be the way forward.
But any new initiatives and ideas about water use and sharing always grab my attention – I really believe that a few enlightened individuals in every country across the Middle East (and the rest of the world) can foster peace through careful sharing of water and water technology.
Who are your environmental heroes?
Al Gore has become an amazing and vocal advocate for the earth. It was great to hear him speak this year in Tel Aviv. He shows me that while the environment and climate change is certainly a political agenda, it needs to be taken out of that sphere and communicated (and acted upon on the personal level) by everyone on the planet – the politicians will only take action if we the people take charge.
Another of my heroes is John Muir (d.1914). This great Scottish walker, conservationist and writer has always been an inspiration. Without him, many of the great National Parks in the U.S. wouldn’t exist (and if Bush had his way, would now be mines, or dumps, or just despoiled wasteland). He was the inspiration for the founding of the Sierra Club. I would love to go back in time and join him on one of his legendary hikes across the Sierra Nevada or Yosemite.
Other living heroes in the worlds of environment/culture/education include Helena Norberg-Hodge (founder of ISEC), Hugh Brody (anthropologist, works with Inuit peoples), Satish Kumar (peace pilgrim), Stephan Harding (writer & ecologist), The Dalai Lama, amongst many others. I’ve been fortunate to meet them and learnt from them, on an ongoing basis.
What has been the biggest influence in your life?
Growing up in the University City of Cambridge – access to books, theatre, ideas and people of all kinds. The city (and the countryside surrounding it) and many of its inhabitants while I grew up showed me that knowledge is power, and armed with the right skills, resources and aspirations, we can go anywhere and do anything, and that once we understand altruism and motivation, we should.
If you could make one green wish (or have one of your prophecies come true) what would it be?
That water (and solar energy) in the Middle East could be efficiently shared and used well as a precious resource for all of humanity and the planet itself. If water is given due reverence (and not idly polluted, i.e by ships in the Mediterranean) and all the human research and knowledge into using it and preserving it could be shared, it could be a conduit for talking and working together.