Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

I'm just back from Islington, north London, where a community exhibition was being staged on the Green. Bypassing the organic chutney stalls and eco-chuggers keen to raise my awareness (after seeing the excellent Al Gore film, if my awareness is raised any more I'll implode), I headed straight for an environmental exhibition put on my members of my local Buddhist group.

The exhibition is the collaborative inspiration of the Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International (a worldwide Buddhist organisation of which I'm been a member for 16 years), together with Unesco and the Earth Charter - a declaration of environmental and ethical aims endorsed by more than 6,000 organisations around the world.

The constant focus on environmental disaster can be disempowering, leaving one feeling that if it's so bad then what's the point of trying to do anything? But in the spirit that it's best to light a candle than curse the darkness, the exhibition highlighted the work of ordinary individuals who have turned their communities around through sheer bloody-minded determination.

In a compelling video, A Quiet Revolution, narrated by Meryl Streep, we learnt about Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan biologist who became so concerned about deforestation in her native Kenya that she began to plant trees and encouraged other women to do the same. This has now developed into the huge grassroots Green Belt Movement. Through her vision and energy 20 million trees have now been planted.

In India, many villages and their inhabitants in drought-afflicted Rajasthan were dying. Charity worker Rajendra Singh galvanised the villagers to build small earthen dams, called johads. Soon villagers' wells began to fill up with water, and word of this new but ancient technology spread quickly.

Wangari writes: "Every one of us can make a contribution. Quite often we are looking for the big things and forget that, wherever we are, we can make a contribution.... Sometimes I tell myself, I may only be planting a tree here, but just imagine what's happening if there are billions of people out there doing something. Just imagine the power of what we can do."

www.earthcharter.org; www.sgi-uk.org; the video 'The Quiet Revolution' is available from classixcom@earthlink.net