Elizabeth Breitmeyer / Gavel Media

Dr. Kinari Webb Presents Guardians of the Trees

On October 5, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences hosted a virtual talk with PRX Living on Earth and Dr. Kinari Webb.

The hosts of PRX Living on Earth interviewed Dr. Kinari Webb on her recent book, Guardians of the Trees: A Journey of Hope Through Healing the Planet: A Memoir. 

Webb graduated from Yale University’s School of Medicine with honors and completed her residency in family medicine at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez, California. She founded Health In Harmony, an international nonprofit dedicated to reversing global warming, in 2005 to support combined human and environmental work. 

In addition to supporting Health In Harmony, Webb speaks regularly on topics ranging from the future of the forest, healthcare in the global south, community involvement and social relations, and the link between human and environmental health.

Webb spoke on her time working with Health In Harmony in Borneo, Indonesia. 

She explained how the rainforests in Borneo are critical not only to rare species, but that they also “suck down a third of the global carbon emissions per year and store carbon in the soil.”

Water cycling and biodiversity are also important in rainforests, as 50% of the world’s species occur in the rainforests of the planet. Webb explained the interconnectedness of the health of our planet to human health. 

During her time studying orangutans in Borneo, Webb encountered and formed relationships with the locals. At first, she was angry that so many indigenous peoples were cutting down the trees, but then she got to know them. Indigenous people were often forced to log to pay for health care. 

Webb then proclaimed, “and why did these communities have so little resources? Because of many years of colonialism.”

What Webb tried to explain to people living in the U.S. is that “your wellbeing is actually dependent on the wellbeing of people living around rainforests...and when they are also forced to invade into forests, you have a higher chance of spillover for pandemics.” 

Webb described one encounter with a woman in Borneo who said, “we know that when the forest gets cut down, then less water flows down from the hills and then we tend to get sick more often.” 

The people of Borneo understand how the health of our planet is related to their own health, and they have the solutions to these issues.

Webb recalled how a village leader in Borneo said, “we are the pathfinders for where the world needs to go.”

Webb believes we must engage in “radical listening,” which is “to let go of your own control of what the answer is” and to trust local knowledge. Webb described this as a constant process of working with communities.

Webb reinforced the urgency of the matter by stating, “we don’t have time, we must realize that we are all interrelated and we will not survive without each other.”

Steve Curwood of PRX then posed the question of how we can bring radical listening home to America, a country “that is so broken right now.” 

Webb described the social justice issues and intersectional environmentalism present in America, explaining that the worst pollution is in industries located in communities of color. 

“Those who are closest to the problems are going to know the solutions the best,” Webb replied. 

She believes access to healthcare plays a huge role in one of the key focuses of change: “if we had universal healthcare many people would change their jobs, choose livelihoods that are about thriving,” she said. 

One Boston College student asked what the younger generation can do to contribute to spreading knowledge about climate and social injustices within America, to which Webb replied, “rainforest communities know the solutions. What one individual does in this country of course is important, but it is nothing compared to what these rainforest communities can do…if we want to make it, we need to partner with them.” 

Webb also described a declaration of interbeing at the end of her book. The declaration can be found at www.guardiansofthetrees.org, where you can sign and share the declaration, as well as partner with rainforest communities.

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