Millions of people around the world are engaged in actions for change. For the want of a better name I call it the holistic environmental movement. I include the adjective ‘holistic’ to indicate that this global movement is and needs to be committed to enhancing the natural environment, the social environment and the spiritual environment.

I bring these three environments together because if the ecosystem is not in good health there can be no social wellbeing, as it is not possible to have healthy people on a sick planet. Similarly, without social justice there can be no ecological justice, because if large numbers of people are oppressed and struggling for survival they will not have the capacity, the energy or the opportunity to be mindful of planetary wellbeing. And without spiritual values underpinning and informing our worldview, ecological sustainability and social solidarity will remain superficial and skin-deep.

We, the activists in this holistic environmental movement, act at three levels simultaneously: we protest, we protect and we build.

First of all we protest. We stand up against the unjust order and against the forces that destroy the fragile ecological network and benign social systems.

All great movements of the past and present have used the way of protest to highlight the unsustainable exploitation of the natural world and the unjust subjugation of vulnerable people, which has been and still is practised in the guise of class, caste, race, religion, economic growth and other labels. The actions of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes of Greta Thunberg and thousands of other young people around the world are two of the recent examples of eco-activism using the way of protest. Similarly, worldwide demonstrations organised by Black Lives Matter are examples of protest as social activism.

Of course protest movements, in order to be inclusive of all ordinary citizens, must be carried out nonviolently and peacefully. History shows that through nonviolent activism and passive resistance great changes have been and can be accomplished. The movements led by Mahatma Gandhi for India’s independence and by Martin Luther King for racial harmony in the US are two of the many shining stories of nonviolent resistance that applied the method of protest against unjust social orders.

But protest alone is not enough. We also need to protect existing cultures and systems that are good, decentralised, regenerative and sustainable, such as local economies, Indigenous cultures and human-scale organic farms. We need to protect biodiversity and cultural diversity. Tried and tested social traditions and practices are constantly being destroyed in the name of progress and development. Indigenous communities are treated as backward and are forced to adopt the ways of so-called civilisation. In this speedy urbanisation large numbers of thriving villages and rural communities are being devastated. In the process of rapid industrialisation and mechanisation, arts, crafts and cottage industries are being eliminated. Self-sustaining small farmers, who still produce at least 60% of the world’s food, are increasingly marginalised and their livelihoods are threatened. In pursuit of rapid globalisation local economies are rendered ineffectual. Of course we protest against these trends and against energy-intensive production, wasteful consumption and limitless carbon emissions, which are causing global warming. But we do more than protest: we also work to ensure that these coherent communities and ancient cultures are respected, cherished and protected.

Yet this stride towards the protection of existing, durable cultures is still not enough. We also need to build alternatives. We need to build decentralised local economies, sustainable, small-scale businesses, and regenerative farming projects based on systems such as agro-ecology and permaculture. We also need to create new educational institutions and programmes to teach both young and older people how to live well without damaging the integrity of our precious Earth and without undermining the wellbeing of all life, human and other-than-human. We need to build community-owned energy systems utilising wind, water and sun. We need to build new and resilient communities of people who are committed to a way of life rooted in solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid. Such successful alternative examples can and will inspire and persuade others to engage in constructive activities leading to a more resilient and regenerative future.

The trinity of protest, protect and build is not limited to external transformation only. To complement external transformation we need internal transformation that nourishes the spiritual environment.

In order to protest successfully against materialism, consumerism, greed and lust for power and money, we need to embrace non-materialistic values. And in order to protect community cohesion and social harmony, we need to cultivate altruism and go beyond the egotistical chase for name, fame, recognition, status and position. For such inner transformation we need a change of heart, a change of attitude, a change of values and philosophy, a change of our worldview and ultimately a change of consciousness. External transformation has to go hand in hand with internal transformation.

Our actions of protest and protect need to be rooted in a deep recognition of the unity and dignity of life and in a profound conviction that all life is sacred. By embracing a sense of the sacred we cultivate compassion and reverence for all life. We cultivate frugality, simplicity, moderation and restraint. We become the embodiment of change while demanding that external systems change. Personal transformation and political transformation become a simultaneous process, like walking on two legs.

The global holistic environmental movement goes beyond the dualistic trap of capitalism vs. socialism. Both these ‘isms’ are anthropocentric, whereas the holistic environmental movement is biocentric.

Capitalism puts financial capital and the profit motive at the centre of all human activity. In capitalism people become instruments of profit, and Nature becomes a resource for the economy, whereas in the holistic environmental movement money and the economy are merely means to an end, and the end is to create wellbeing for people and for the Earth. Nature is not a resource for the economy, to be exploited for financial gain: it is the source of life itself.

Socialism, as the word implies, puts social interest above the interest of the natural environment. Historically socialism has turned out to involve large-scale, centralised and industrialised state capitalism. Democratic socialism is of course better than capitalism, but the word ‘socialism’ is anthropocentric. Holistic environmentalists advocate social solidarity and social justice, but they do not adhere to any one particular political philosophy. Moreover, social justice and Earth jurisprudence are integral parts of each other.

The holistic environmental movement promotes local, decentralised, human-scale, pluralist and bottom-up economics and politics through participatory democracy. Holistic environmentalists put quality of life above quantity of production and consumption. They focus on the growth of the wellbeing of people and the Earth rather than on economic growth. In the view of deep ecology, economics and politics should serve the interest of Mother Earth as much as the interest of people. The rights of Mother Earth are as fundamental as human rights. There is no contradiction between the two.

We may never accomplish a perfect state of natural harmony or social solidarity or personal enlightenment, but we keep striving towards such a balanced way of being. Transformation is a lifelong journey, not a destination. Transformation is a process, not a product. Transformation is continuous evolution, not a static state.

Satish Kumar is Editor Emeritus at The Resurgence Trust and author of many books including Elegant Simplicity, available from