Taking Charge, For The Love Of The Earth

By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent

For the last 30 years, local resident and global community activist Anne Macksoud, along with co-worker, filmmaker and Shambhala teacher John Ankele, has devoted her time and energy to crafting new solutions to old but significant problems involving planet earth and its inhabitants.

Describing themselves as wise Tibetan llamas or “old dogs,” the business duo have become some of the leading voices of ecological wisdom in Western society in recent years, according to several national sources.

“We are … saddened by the suffering we see all around us and moved to take action,” the pair states on their website, www.olddogdocumentaries.org. “Our political leaders cannot solve the problems of our time. They themselves are too beholden to privileged, powerful constituencies motivated to preserve the status quo. Change must start with ordinary people who understand the interrelatedness of our global community.”

Macksoud spent seventeen years as a teacher of English literature and creative writing, photography, and music appreciation before realizing her personal mission of promoting sociopolitical, economic and environmental change some time in the mid-1980s.

With the exception of last fall when she, along with 63 others, was arrested inside Gov. Peter Shumlin’s Montpelier office for peacefully protesting the expansion of the pipeline of Vermont Gas into Addison County, Macksoud found the perfect vehicle to lend her political voice through the documentary.

Indeed, as Macksoud has argued, film is a means to an end, “a useful tool for opening minds and hearts”. Nowhere is this more evident than in her new film, “The Wisdom to Survive: Climate Change, Capitalism and Community (2014),” in which she contends that capitalist consumerism has a devastating effect on the survival of most creatures on the planet.

“It is our present economic system, based on profit and growth, that seems to be trumping the well being of life on earth,” said Macksoud in a recent interview. “And since the world’s politicians will not oppose the corporations to create the strong legislation that is required, ‘we the people’ are left to fend for ourselves – on suicide watch, you could say.”

We cannot continue to consider economic growth as the be all and end all that it has become, Macksoud argues, supporting the remarks of Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, that “the idea that economic growth can go on and on is an absurdity – nothing grows forever on a finite planet.”

Indeed, to Macksoud, there seems to be no question that man is fast approaching some tipping points in the climate that will bring abrupt, catastrophic and irreversible change, making the earth less and less habitable for him.

“I think it’s clear by now to everyone that the fossil fuel industry has no intention of foregoing the enormous profits these energy reserves will bring,” said Macksoud. “In fact, in addition to the reserves that they already know about, these companies spent $670 billion last year searching for and developing new fossil fuel resources.”

Yet it isn’t just specific individual practices or shortsighted corporations that contribute to this destruction but the socioeconomic system of capitalism itself that interferes with earth’s natural systems, putting them at risk and, for many, inevitable annihilation.

The solution, Macksoud claims, is not to continue to destroy but to build a “living economy” from the ground up. Spurred by the kind of suffering viewers witness at the beginning of her documentary, she and Ankele plead for individuals to be motivated enough to act.

“How to turn this very scary (and heartbreaking) situation around is not a mystery,” said Macksoud. “The scientific consensus is that a third of the world’s oil, half its gas, and 80 percent of its coal must stay in the ground if we are to stand a chance of avoiding runaway climate change. Then what is keeping the world community from insisting that these fuels be left alone while we transition as quickly as possible to renewable energy?” The philosophical springboard from which social/environmental change is to occur is based on 85-year-old scientist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy’s declaration that “we are born into this, we’re here to love it and to see that it goes on.” “This is our charge,” Macksoud said. “To love this earth and see that it goes on. The thing that gives me hope as I go from community to community to participate in discussions about our film is that so many folks are moved by Joanna’s words — not so much because she is telling them something new (I think at heart we all know that ‘this is our charge’), but her words give us the courage to join with our neighbors and do whatever we can to stop the destruction. Navaho climate educator Nikki Cooley puts it boldly in our film when she says, Mother Earth is crying out for help. We are killing her so that people can make a profit.”

An early founder and board member of Sustainable Woodstock, Macksoud lives and works in Woodstock. Her and the Old Dog Documentaries team’s inspiration to make the film, The Wisdom to Survive, stemmed from their reading of the book, Eaarth, by Bill McKibben, published by Henry Holt & Co. in 2010. The title of the film was inspired by Wendell Berry’s A Poem (2008).

Among 25 films, ODD.org has also produced two PBS specials, Grow Old Along with Me; The Poetry of Aging (1999) and Life Stories (2001). ABC-TV also ran is film Search for Spirituality, a documentary directed by Macksoud and Ankele, uncovering the mystical roots beneath the surface of traditional beliefs and practices, in 1995.

This article first appeared in the Green Living section of the April 9, 2015 edition of the Vermont Standard.

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