Utne Reader Visionary: Kenny Ausubel

We need both reverence and anxiety

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When New York City-bred Kenny Ausubel discovered that his surname is related to the Hebrew word for marjoram, and that his ancestors had been herbalists, he felt a sense of rightness and recognition. After all, the documentary filmmaker had moved to New Mexico in 1974, and through a film project documenting the use of native herbs in New Mexico he had become more and more fascinated with traditional ways of relating to the green world. Eventually he founded Seeds of Change, a seed company whose goal was to restore the earth’s fading biodiversity, one plant at a time. Since January 1995 he has been on the board of directors at Odwalla, an eco-aware juice company, where he continues to promote values-based business and to speak and write for the beauty and necessity of repopulating the earth with its rare and endangered plant species.

I don’t think that the world will be saved by a sense of threat. Each of us has a spark of life inside us and our highest endeavor ought to be to set off that spark in one another. Of course we have pushed the limits of the environment, and we’re learning that lesson the hard way; but on the other hand, life is very beautiful. Most environmentalists have come to the movement out of reverence, not fear. Actually, what we have to learn is to hold both the reverence and the sense of threat in our minds at the same time.

“The other very large issue is economic. It’s ironic that government is being made the culprit for everything these days. I’m not a big fan of government in general, but it seems to me that the real culprit in the imbalancing of wealth and destruction of the environment is the corporate model. Corporations have been taking and taking, and there is no concern about giving back anything. I see the struggle for reciprocity as the other really critical battle today.”