Yann Arthus-Bertrand A committed humanist who puts the living at the heart of everyday life

- through Sophie Solere

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Photographer, director, president of the GoodPlanet Foundation, since the Rio conference in 1996 which had a profound effect on him, Yann Arthus-Bertrand acts to raise public awareness and “place ecology at the heart of conscience”. Covid-19, Greta Thunberg, eco-gestures, education and collective intelligence against the religion of growth, he takes a sharp and enlightened look at the battles to be fought.

About zoonoses such as Covid-19, which are transmitted from animals to humans, anthropologist Jane Goodall (1) asserts that “we have reached a turning point in our relationship with the natural world. What is your feeling on this subject?

I believe that this pandemic is above all born from the madness of men to destroy the planet and to consume wild animals. I confess to being angry with the Chinese: they do not respect the international treaties on the non-exploitation of protected species that they have nevertheless signed. They organize big conferences on this subject, they protect the pandas, etc., but in fact, they do the opposite. We see this with the ivory trade, of which China and Vietnam are two of the biggest buyers. The same is true with rhino horn, shark fins, etc. We have the impression that everything that is prohibited for consumption ends up in the pot of the Chinese! Animal exploitation is sometimes justified by the weight of traditions, notably in Chinese medicine, but this is a false argument. Some traditions are good, others bad, but nothing justifies exploiting animals in this way. See the dog markets in Asia, it's a rare violence ! We are not doing better in the West with our factory farms of pigs and other vertebrates. They are virus nests!

I am reading Should-he eats animals ?, Jonathan Safran Foer's formidable vegetarian plea (2), which reminds us that industrial farming generates 50% of greenhouse gases! The positive point is that we can all limit our meat consumption, it's a simple and quick thing to do. Before wanting to act to save the planet, we must already think of ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and this means stopping consuming industrial meat.

Despite calls for the transformation of society, the economic recovery seems to be starting again on the same bases as before Covid-19 to "save the furniture". What do you think ?

I am worried, the next six months will be decisive: will we be able to talk about benevolence, empathy, despite the economic crisis that is looming and the fact that our societies are addicted to growth ?

Today, not being pessimistic with the figures concerning the planet is being blind! We have lost 60% of life on Earth in the space of forty years! In terms of CO2, we are walking backwards: according to the Paris agreement (3), we should reach the threshold of two tonnes emitted per inhabitant in 2050, whereas we are at twelve! We live in an unconscious world, but I remain optimistic about the mobilization of new generations. I admire Greta Thunberg; I even stopped flying six months ago thanks to her!

What does this 17-year-old girl, who marked a real turning point in the environmental cause, inspire in you?

We must not ask the young people to take charge of what we did not want to do. It's up to us to change things now. Greta has a very interesting and necessary radical side to move the lines. She suffers from Asperger's Syndrome; for children with this form of autism, nothing is grey, it's black or white. She managed to create a movement never seen before. There is a form of anger in Greta, she really suffers from this situation, which makes her touching, even if she is sometimes clumsy. How not to understand this revolt, shared by thousands of young people? Let's not forget that scientists talk about the 6e extinction ! Contrary to what some say, Greta is neither fanatical nor extremist, she is simply right: given the situation of the planète, you have to fight, take risks, get out of your comfort zone, as Gandhi or Mandela did in other times and on other fronts.

Like the Dalai Lama, some secular sages advocate simplicity, responsibility and the notion of interdependence to deal with the pandemic. Do you share this track?

The Dalai Lama has a kind of super intelligence, like Pope Francis and some great leaders who, unfortunately, are not always listened to, because their level is too high for the average person. I like this notion of benevolence, dear to Buddhism, as well as the messages of the Dalai Lama, who is right about everything, but who unfortunately has no decision-making power. I had met him during the exhibition The Earth from Above ; I remember his strange way of taking your pulse when he shakes your hand. He really liked the photo of the Heart of Voh in New Caledonia. He told me it was a message of love sent to us by the planet.

“The next six months are going to be decisive: will we be able to talk about benevolence, empathy, despite the looming economic crisis and the fact that our societies are addicted to growth? »

There are many thinkers, Edgar Morin, Gaël Giraud, these "futurologists" who develop great ideas, but who are a little out of step with reality. Today, we need concrete examples: stop eating meat, buy farmers' products at the right price... For example, we pay 30 cents per liter of milk, when it costs them 45 cents! Herders and farmers work seventy hours a week, seven days a week, losing money every day… It's scandalous!

What are the priority measures to be taken to preserve the environment?

In general, and we see it through eco-gestures, I think that we live in the banality of evil, to quote Hannah Arendt. We eat meat, it doesn't matter; we take the car, it doesn't matter; we buy a cheap product, by not trying to find out who made it or, as in the case of the peasants, by paying prices that do not allow them to live on it, and we again act as if it is not It didn't matter... We are not bad, but we accept this banality of evil to save money, to have more comfort... We should teach children, in schools and in families, to work around the banality of good: ethics, morality, honesty… This banality of goodness is also about eco-gestures. It's not just about turning off your tap when brushing your teeth, sorting your waste or buying organic – yes, it's good to eat organic, because today, in France, we have lost 80% of flying insects and 30% of the birds because of pesticides - it's much more complicated than that. Educating young people about sustainable development is fundamental. This is what we are doing, for example, with the GoodPlanet "Sustainable Development Goals" posters, launched by the foundation and the Ministry of National Education and Youth with the support of MAIF, the Canopé network, Geodis and photographers. (4)

Let's stop declaring our intentions and expecting everything from politicians. We come up against a lack of political courage and the absence of a sacred union. Ideally, we should be run by beautiful people, like the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, or Mandela, whom we could confidently follow. But everyone in their area of ​​influence can change the world: the politician, the filmmaker-director through his work, the journalist, the baker... The solution is there: do not always depend on the State; do not expect too much from others to act.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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