Known as the ‘Barefoot Economist’, Manfred Max-Neef was an acclaimed Chilean ecological thinker and long-time Gaia advisor. Manfred devoted his life to promoting alternative forms of development that truly meet the needs of both human societies and the ecosystems upon which we all depend for life and well-being. One of the earliest critics of growth-based capitalist economics- a father of the emerging de-growth movement- Manfred held that “the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.” He received the Rights Livelihood Award in 1983, in recognition of his outstanding work. Manfred died at home in Valdivia, Chile, on Thursday 8th of August 2019. He is much missed.
In the late 1990’s Gaia was inspired by Thomas Berry, a cultural historian who warned that civilizations which grow quickly, at the expense of their ecological foundations, will also collapse quickly. He pointed out how law, controlled by corporate interests, is increasingly used to legitimize the destruction of Nature and the commons. He called for the urgent need to return to the original understanding of law as Nature’s Law. Gaia had always recognised that for most of human history, cultures across the planet had derived their customary laws from the Laws of Nature. Together with Thomas Berry, we intensified our work in promoting and recognising what Thomas called Earth Jurisprudence, as the foundation upon which human societies should reconstitute themselves, in order to realign with the planetary boundaries of life on our living planet. Thomas published a number of books, perhaps his most notable being The Great Work: Our way into the future (1999). Thomas Berry passed away in 2009. You can find more about his life and work here.
Brian Goodwin was a Canadian mathematician and biologist, and a founder of theoretical biology and biomathematics. He introduced the use of complex systems and generative models in developmental biology and suggested that a reductionist view of Nature fails to explain complex features, controversially proposing the “fringe” structuralist theory that morphogenetic fields might substitute for natural selection in driving evolution. His much celebrated book Nature’s Due: Healing Our Fragmented Culture was published in 2007. Brian was a prominent advocate for holistic science and on his retirement in 1992 he took up residence at Schumacher College, in Devon. He conducted MSc courses in holistic science and used walks in the countryside to demonstrate his conviction that living organisms are shaped by “natural forms”, as well as evolution through the survival of the fittest. He was an accomplished pianist and often played the music of Schubert, his favourite composer, to his students. He passed away in 2009.
Jose Lutzenberger, fondly known as ‘Lutz’, was an outspoken activist in defence of the Amazon rainforest. Gaia developed a close partnership with Lutz from 1986 while he was promoting ‘regenerative agriculture’ and fighting to expose the agro-chemical industry (with whom he once worked) who he said were ‘peddling poisons from the WW2 war effort to farmers’. Today, he is referred to as the ‘father of Brazil’s environmental movement’ and in 1988 was awarded the prestigious Right Livelihood Award for his contribution to environmental and social justice, which he always said were “two sides of the same coin”. In 1990 Lutz became Brazil’s secretary of Environment. Gaia supported Lutz to establish his organisation Fundaçao Gaia and Gaia Corner, a teaching centre for regenerative agriculture. Lutz passed away in 2002 but his daughter Lara continues ‘Legado Lutzenberger’ – the legacy of Lutz.
Gaia started working with Professor Wangari Maathai in 1985, when her organisation, the Green Belt Movement, was taking root in Kenya. Wangari challenged government projects which involved large scale deforestation, but her resistance attracted great opposition and in 1992 Wangari and a number of rural women were beaten and imprisoned. Gaia stood by Wangari and upon her release provided the Green Belt Movement with its first fax machine, opening up international communication. Wangari’s movement has enabled women across Kenya to plant over 30 million trees and improve their food security. Wangari was the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is celebrated internationally as one of the most influential women in Africa’s history. She passed away in 2011 and her daughter Wanjira continues her work.