Ask the Expert: International Activist

From her home state of California to the Middle East, this expert has been taking on environmental and social issues since the 1960s. We have a lot to learn from Linda Sartor, author of the book Turning Fear Into Power, which documents her work as an international activist for peace in war-torn countries. Linda’s expertise has been developed through a decades-long commitment to changing the systems that facilitate environmental degradation and standing up for human rights abuses. Through teaching and working with international organizations, Linda has shared her experiences with others and continues to do so. In the interview below, I asked Linda a few questions to capture her perspective on sustainability, the connection between environmental and social issues, as well as how she has integrated her concern for these issues into everyday life.

How have you seen environmentalism and/or what it means to be an environmentalist change over the years?

I’ve seen environmentalism change from fringe to a central issue in the social/political culture of the USA. Two of my first memories of my awareness of environmental issues are: 1) when I was in fifth grade and we read about the balance of nature in our science book; and 2) I had a stamp collection at about the same time and I came across a stamp with a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt that said CONSERVATION on it. I asked my mother what that meant and decided that, yes, that’s really important. I remember when gasoline was 21 cents a gallon and I also remember an early gas shortage when I said, “Maybe when the cost of gas is up to $1 a gallon, people will start paying attention to how much driving they need to be doing. Later in life, I was a bit relieved when (I think it was) Reagan who called himself the environmental president because then I realized that environmentalism had become more mainstream and would be getting more attention.

When did you first hear the word “sustainability” and what it means to you?

I have no memory of first hearing the word, but the concept has always made sense to me. In my senior year of high school, my contemporary problems teacher decided that our curriculum for that course was going to be all about capitalism. It was funny because he showed us a film that was total propaganda against communism and the Soviet Union and one of the things I remember the film saying was that in Russia they brainwashed their students against capitalism. Since I already had an environmental awareness, I remember thinking that having gross national product (GNP) be the measure of success was a mistake in terms of sustainability.

Can you describe the interconnection between environmental and social issues, as you have observed in your experience abroad?

I think that all the issues of today (poverty, the increasing gap between the haves and have nots, homelessness, human rights abuses, climate change, wars, racism and other isms, dwindling resources, violence, etc.) are interconnected. And to me, the source of the connected problems is globalized capitalism. Directly related to that is the idea of private property–the idea that land and other natural resources can be owned by individuals or corporations or banks. Also related to that is the idea that human beings are naturally competitive. I believe that idea is a cultural conditioning that supports capitalism, and that true human nature is to love and contribute. Wars, violence, and conflicts are often over who gets to control the land and the people who live on the land. Many people don’t have enough resources to meet their simple needs for survival because other people have way too much. What I see going on in the world today is obscene and atrocious, and people get by with it because of a mistaken worldview that it is our nature to compete and the more resources we have is portrayed as the high value no matter how we treat others (human and non-human) along the way.

What are a few things that you have integrated into your lifestyle to help address environmental and social issues?

People in my life say I walk my talk and I believe that is true, so I would say that everything about my lifestyle addresses environmental and social issues. I live simply. I have never been a consumer because I don’t want to contribute to the economic system. I don’t look at the cost in dollars when I make a decision about what I need, instead I look at the cost to the planet and the people. I live in an intentional community in which we have taken on responsibility for stewarding our 440 acres of land. It is held in a sort of trust in that our agreement is that no one would ever make a profit off the sale of our land. My daily activities are focused now on social justice issues and principles of non-violence.

Do you have any tips or general guidance for others looking for ways to reduce their footprint?

My intention for sharing my stories has been to inspire people to follow their hearts and to learn to be with fear in a different way so fear doesn’t stop us from doing what our hearts are calling us to do. So besides simplifying lifestyles to have as minimal an impact on our natural systems as possible, I encourage everyone to get in touch with your own heart’s callings–no matter what they are, no matter how big or small, no matter whether it is personal or global or anything in between. I believe that the more each of us is able to hear the calls of our own heart and follow them, the better off the whole world will be. And furthermore, I believe that the powers of domination that seem to have control over us and our world are able to stay in power by developing and maintaining a culture of fear in order to keep us in our places, so the more each of us learns to be with our fear in a different way, the more power we will have to create the world we want. It’s not about getting rid of fear, it’s about embracing it and benefitting from that relationship.

Interview by L.DeMates
For more about Linda and her experiences see


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