Ruth Rosenhek '81 in the rainforest.


By Ruth Rosenhek '81

After growing up in Montreal, Canada, I graduated from Bryn Mawr College intending to become a psychotherapist. Instead, I ended up working in the computer field for a decade, albeit in the nonprofit sector with those who are economically disadvantaged. But for me, these were all "job-jobs"; I was making a living rather than pursuing a meaningful life path.

At age 30, I underwent what might be called a spiritual transformation as I opened myself to the mystical elements of life, discovered the local Zen Buddhist center and delved into the spiritual psychology known as psychosynthesis.

I subsequently visited Buddhist monasteries while trekking in Nepal for several months, then returned to the United States to work with an AIDS service organization in New Hampshire, inspired to action by the death of a close friend. When a consultant was hired to help employees iron out some difficulties we were having, I recognized my own passion to work therapeutically with groups and went on to earn a master's degree in organization and management.

Throughout the '90s I worked in grassroots social justice movements championing human rights and freedom of expression. But over time, I came to realize that all good social change is underscored by the fact that people around the globe are destroying vast ecosystems, the biological fabric of our existence. It seemed to me that the good work we did wouldn't mean as much if our living support system-clean air, water, and habitat-crumbled all around us. I became increasingly aware of the rapid loss of rainforests, the womb of life, home to over half of all the living species.

In 1997 I sold my car, requested deferments from my graduate school loans and hit the road to join international rainforest activist John Seed. Since then I've been a full-time volunteer, raising consciousness and funds for environmental efforts worldwide. For much of the past three years, I've been on an ongoing Rainforest Benefit tour in which I offer deep ecology workshops and Rainforest Roadshows with slides and eco-music.

Deep Ecology is a philosophy of nature that critiques anthropocentrism, or human centeredness, the belief that mankind is the crown of all creation, the measure of all being. In our workshops we share re-Earthing rituals and ceremonies to feel our intimate connection with the Earth and all beings.

Our intention is to find renewed vision and inspiration in our lives as we dispel the illusion of separation that keeps us from reaching towards self actualization. To cover travel expenses, I consult with environmental organizations and assist leading edge environmental activists to work better with each other.

While on the road I stay in other people's houses—an amazing network of earth-friendly people take great pleasure in supporting folks like me. As for possessions, I carry a musical keyboard, a laptop computer, a book, and clothes in a small backpack. In between tours, I work on forest protection projects with the Rainforest Information Centre where I live in Australia.

One of the initiatives that I am spearheading is the GoldBusters Campaign, an international effort to halt environmentally destructive hard rock gold mining practices. I became involved in this campaign when I learned how cyanide is now being used to extract miniscule amounts of gold from ore (as little as one part per 3 million), both at the Timbarra gold mine, a couple of hours from where I live as well as at gold mines across the world.

I learned that gold mining, like most mineral extraction, severely damages land and water. For example, in 1995, a waste water dam at the Omai gold mine in Guyana broke and spilt 3.2 billion liters of cyanide-laced waste into the Esquibo river. The environmental destruction is often coupled with human rights abuses, too, in which governments commonly give concessions to large-scale mining companies without consulting indigenous peoples.

To top it all off, when I found out that 75-85 percent of newly mined gold ends up as jewelry, I realized that we had the makings of a great consumer awareness campaign, in which consumers might choose to boycott the purchase of gold. But we have struggled with giving up our bewitching gold ornaments for thousands of years.

In biblical times, Moses commanded the Israelites to grind up their golden calf and pour the powder back into the waters. Ovid told the story of Midas, who sorely regretted the wish Bacchus granted him that made all he touched turn to gold. In the end, hungry and thirsty, Midas prayed: "Save me from this loss that looks so much like gain!" Small wonder then, that many people purchase gold without realizing the ecological and social impacts of its production.

So far, we've developed campaign literature, a website and a GoldBusters coalition of over 40 groups worldwide. GoldBusters' objective is to raise awareness about the true cost of gold jewelry and coins. While functionally gold is used in cell phones, cars, cameras and dental work, there is already a huge supply of above-ground gold stored in banks and reserves, about one quarter of all the gold in existence-more than enough for the whole planet to use for about 80 years-and because gold can be recycled, GoldBusters focuses on stopping new and unecological gold from being mined.

The fur campaign was able to raise awareness through flashy tactics such as spray painting furs. However, stopping the mining of gold needs to be psycho-spiritual in nature. What we're looking for is a shift from a paradigm that equates gold jewelry with status to one in which we recognize that our power lies not in our wardrobe or in our jewels, but in our hearts.

Making this major change will not be easy. Gold mining is a significant source of revenue for many families in the United States as well as in developing countries. GoldBusters is seeking ways to support job transition programs; we are also exploring ecologically benign mining methods through an offshoot of GoldBusters called the Coalition for Green Gold. One project we're exploring proposes to clean a mercury-laden river while extracting the gold which is bonded to the mercury.

At the time of this writing, the GoldBusters campaign moves ahead as do various forest protection projects in Ecuador, our luscious organic gardens here in Australia and occasional rainforest benefit tours. The choice I made to work for the protection of this magnificent Earth continues to bring me a deep sense of satisfaction.

Author's note: For more information about GoldBusters or the Rainforest Information Centre, contact 61-2-66-213294 or Please visit our website.

cover icon Return to Summer 2000 highlights