COMMENTARY: Behind the Greens:

10 Questions for activist Julia Butterfly Hill

At age 33, activist Julia Butterfly Hill is already an icon of the environmental movement. Following a car crash in 1996, Hill found herself in Northern California, seeking direction. There she became enamored of the towering, ancient redwood trees living there, and was stirred to action when she found that they were about to be felled by the Pacific Lumber Company. So Julia climbed a 180-foot tall, 600-year-old redwood and lived there for 738 days in a four-by-six foot shelter built with the help of the Earth First! volunteers who drew her into their fold. She called the tree Luna. After her years in the tree, the lumber company relented, and Luna, and a three-acre buffer zone, were preserved. The tree was attacked by a chainsaw-wielding lunatic in 2001, but it seems to be recovering. Hill’s environmental dedication is legendary, and she continues to inspire and motivate through her own organization, Circle of Life, committed to supporting the interconnectedness of all living things. Luna, a movie by Participant Productions, based on Hill’s book, The Legacy of Luna, is in the works.

Julia Butterfly Hill became enamored of California"s towering redwoods.© Circle of Life

E Magazine: What is the most pressing environmental issue in 2007?

Julia Butterfly Hill: The most pressing environmental issue in 2007 is actually our disconnected consciousness. All the incredibly devastating issues facing our world today are actually symptoms of a disease. I call this disease "Separation Syndrome." When you rip a plant from its roots of connection it begins to die. As we have ripped out the roots of our consciousness of connection, so too are we beginning to die. The environmental crisis is the outward manifestation of what is inside of us. The outer landscape is the reflection of our inner landscape. A simple way to see that none of us are immune or free from this disease is to look at a prevalent statement like when we say we are "going to throw something away." Where is "away?" There is no such thing. We are all culpable in this disease. Therefore, we all can become the healers our society so desperately needs by looking at every single thought, word, and action, and asking ourselves, "Is this healing or hurting, restoring or destroying?" and shifting our choices to be more connected to this phenomenal, interconnected, sacred web of life of which we are a part.

What is your greatest environmental fear and why?

I do not choose to waste one precious moment of my life dying in fear. Fear kills off the life of the moment. Therefore fear is a death to the sacred gift and miracle of each breath. This does not mean that I do not have moments where I am afraid. Rather, it is to say that I choose to live my life from the courage of my heart. Fear makes us hide, become apathetic, judge, and point fingers. There is no vision in fear. There is no possibility in fear. There is no responsibility in fear. There is no power in fear.

My first winter while living in Luna, I experienced the worst storms in the recorded history of California. At its most intense, winds were gusting 90 miles an hour, my tarp roof and walls had been completely torn apart, I was getting pummeled by rain and sleet, and getting thrown around by the wind. I was more frightened than I have ever been in my life. In this moment, I found the most profound state of grace when I embraced life to its fullest by embracing death. In that moment, I found a power and joy that is beyond words. My heart grieves deeply at the devastation we have wrought on our planetary family. I choose to address this with love in action.

Who is the most significant environmental figure of our time?

I have so many people whom I admire and appreciate their work for the planet that I could fill pages with names. Some of them include Wangari Maathai, Dr.Vandana Shiva, Arundhati Roy, Billy Parish, Evon Peters, Dune Lankard, Janine Benyus, Joan Baez, John Quigley, Daryl Hannah and the late David Brower.

The iconic activist lived in "Luna" for 738 days.

Are you a vegetarian? Why or why not?

I am a JOYOUS Vegan! I never say I am Vegan without adding the word "Joyous" to it because when some people hear "vegan," they think things like rigid, boring, bland, angry, and judgmental. I LOVE life. I love celebrating my connection with Creation through the mindfulness of what I eat. Ultimately, I want people to eat with awareness and mindfulness, which means that first and foremost, eat local, local, local. People who say they are vegetarian because of animal rights but then have their food shipped from hundreds to thousands of miles away are not recognizing the enormous impact on animals (including human animals) from energy consumption.

I have walked in lands destroyed by oil extraction and I am clear that animals are being killed, maimed, and suffering terribly because of this process. I support indigenous people’s rights to live as one with the land and to eat animals for food. After living with a tree for two years, I am clear that plants and all life communicate. I recognize that the vegetables I eat deserve my humble gratitude and respect for my taking their life for food. I do not see any aspect of life as more sacred than any other. To say that I am more sacred or important than a plant is to be a part of the disease of disconnect that is at the heart of the destruction of the beauty and health of our world. I am clear that our forks and plates are weapons of mass destruction or tools of mass compassion based on the choices we make.

As an eco-advocate you undoubtedly try to walk the talk. But what do you have the most trouble changing about yourself or your lifestyle?

I recognize that my biggest challenge is to remain awake and in integrity in my daily life. So much in our society is geared towards making unconscious and harmful choices. I have to remain vigilant and mindful every moment of every day. I am committed to always looking for how I can live in more alignment and integrity with the vision of the world I wish to live. I am committed to always looking for how to ever reduce my footprint on this beautiful planet. These commitments are challenged every day as societal structures work to numb me and make these commitments difficult to live.

Who could be the environmental movement’s most unlikely allies?

The environmental movement needs to take a really hard and deep look at race, class and gender. Until it is ready to deal with its inherited racism, privilege and gender-biased power structures, it will never be the ally it needs to be. We are always looking at how to get "others" to join us. We need to look at what it truly takes for us to be the embodiment of healing disconnected consciousness. The more we embody this healing and integrity, the more we will be, and thus manifest, the allies we all need.

Which environmental group do you most admire and why?

I admire the grassroots, local groups across the country and around the world. While I appreciate the work of larger organizations, I find them to be resource intensive and very difficult for people to actively engage and be empowered in making a difference in their own communities.

Which green trend do you most distrust?

I am not a fan of huge corporations (i.e.: Shell, McDonald’s and Wal-Mart) who have "green" campaig

ns. Ultimately these are corporations that are designed to make a huge profit from exploitation of the planet and all its life, including humans.

I also challenge the idea that we can somehow buy our way to sustainability. The path to planetary health is in walking away from consumption and towards reducing our ecological footprint. This does include being mindful of what we buy, but first and foremost REDUCING what we are taking from the Earth. The average American consumes approximately14 generations worth of resources in one single generation. We are a society of addicts, and we are going to have to heal our addiction to consumption if we are to heal the wounds we have and continue to inflict on our planetary home.

What’s your favorite Earth-friendly mode of transportation?

My favorite Earth-friendly mode of transportation is my bicycle! I am so joyfully car free! I ride my bicycle just about everywhere. If my destination is a bit too far for me to ride, I take public transportation which is my second favorite Earth-friendly mode of transportation.

How could the environmental movement reinvent itself?

I do not feel that the environmental movement needs to reinvent itself. Rather, I feel what it needs is to take the time to be with nature’s rhythms and wisdom. Everything we need to know and do is already and always present in the natural world of which we have forgotten we are profoundly intertwined. We have forgotten the "nature" in our "human nature." Our disconnection is all over our lives, language and actions. I do not see separate movements (i.e.: environmental, human rights, animal rights and spiritual.) I see that we are all facets of the same movement towards a world that works for all. It is not "our" Earth; it is "us" Earth. It is WE THE PLANET. When we truly get this and begin to act accordingly, the planetary crisis will heal as we heal the human crisis of our hearts and spirits, and shift our lives to BE the world we wish to see.

CONTACTS: Circle of Life

BRITA BELLI is Managing Editor of E.