I share my voice

Many things about the relationship between people and the land have inspired me to speak. I have chosen to use my voice and the art of photography to speak up about our human relatiionship to land, about what is true wealth, and what it means to work together to create healthy, whole communities.  I’ve given over 100 keynote addresses at major national and regional events in 25 states including at Fire and Grit, Bioneers, Etown, The National Land Conservation Rally, River Rally, and the Quivira Coalition. I’ve shared the stage with some of the people who have inspired me the most: Wendell Berry, Sarah James, Dana Meadows, John Francis, Barry Lopez, Michael Pollan, Scott Russell Sanders, and Peter Matthiessen.

I’m grateful to have been called at important moments to give voice to a situation.  I gave a eulogy for Buzzards Bay after the oil spill, I spoke to 1,800 conservationists about the role of land in a civil society ten days after the twin towers came down, I’ve closed conferences with impromptu spoken word poems, and I was asked by a community in Washington to help them think together about generosity and gratitude during their worst economic moment.  I’ve shared what matters most to me with hundreds of loggers in Tennessee, with classes of third graders in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and with thousands of Gandhi activists in the cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. I’ve been called upon to honor the lives of my teachers: Dana Meadows, Helen and Scott Nearing, Bill Coperthwaite, and Rachel Carson.

Come Stand in Our River

By the Russian River Descent at the Closing Ceremony.  As told to Peter Forbes on October 9, 2016

This is a song about my love of the river.

At this confluence of river, ocean, land and community, let this place speak for all of us.  We will build a community connected to this river.  We’ve been here before but we’ve not been here together before.  For so long our communities have looked down on the river but what a joy it’s been to look up together at the ridgelines. Look out at this confluence and what else can be said? I want to thank our families, to express gratitude.  Thank you for pulling me way from the din and giving me something real and meaningful.  Our choice: the heath or illness of this river.  When a family member is in trouble, we show up.  Read More...

Can We Have a Conversation?  

Collected from participants and spoken by Peter Forbes at the closing of Colby College’s Community, Culture, Conservation conference April 7-9, 2016

May I have permission to speak honestly with you? Satellite shows the lights across the world and one sees this unique darkness, 12 million acres of wildness, surrounded by people.The last refuge. The last stronghold.

May I have permission to speak honestly with you?  2015 obliterated 2014. February was the warmest month on record.  The scale and pace of the problem pulled me from the life I was living.  I can’t forget the toll this takes on real people.  This is the new watermark, the new reality.

Meters of sea rise not feet. 4 killed in Alstead.  Change is coming so much faster than we ever thought. Rocks rolling down the river like thunder. The most incredible amount of water. It moved our house.


Vermont As Refuge, Earth Day 2016 Speech for Vermont Department of Natural Resources

What most defines our home here in Vermont is that we have nurtured many different kinds of relationships to place- for some it’s about food and fiber, for others it’s about biodiversity, or about energy production, and for others it’s about recreation- and these different ways of connecting to the land, in turn, have nurtured and protected our relationships to one another, which –in equal turn- makes more possible our ability to talk with one another in difficult times, to keep our democracy going.

I want to live in a Vermont where each generation is encouraged to name and solve its problems.  Sustaining our relationships to this place confronts our generation’s most profound challenges:  disconnection, destruction, loss of self-determination, global systems that don’t respect small places, how to neighbor really well.  Read more …

Obligations and Opportunities for the Next Generation, 2015

Colby College, Waterville, Maine

This year, violence on our planet created 60 million refugees: highest point since WWII. Global climate change is affecting our physical home as well all the cultures that live here. In 2015, artic sea ice reached its minimum extent. Whether you agree or not with the impacts of climate change, this is indisputable: that all of these very serious problems affect some people far more than others.

How do we meet our responsibility to manage this place together? In these times of strife, what transcends and connects? How do we stay in relationship so that there’s a hope for us to make the most important decisions of our generation with wisdom and care?

Today, our nation is having a conversation about the challenge of living together with our differences in skin color and the size of our wallets. This is the moment we’re in. What is the promise of conservation to these times?

My generation has worked very hard and successfully at conservation 1.0 to create the 110,000 protected areas across the globe. It is your generation’s obligation to employ those places to foster new relationships, new ethics, and new culture.

Like Muir, we often saw things narrowly. We created that 4 quadrant map. You will need to think and act holistically, relationally and you will need to destroy that map.

How to do that? I have several ideas for you…

Read more here

Innovation and Evolution of Conservation in New Hampshire, 2014

Concord, New Hampshire

"The best way to protect something for 1,000 years is to help people to feel connected to it, to belong to it, to love it."

"I don’t think I’m being niave.  I know what the problems are: we humans have transformed between 1/3 and ½ of the earth’s surface.  Most of the world’s major rivers have been dammed, ¼ of all mammals are headed to extinction, climate change is driving tree species north at the rate of 8 feet per hour."

"So, how do we make this profound work of conservation last? "

"Do you believe that laws will make it last 1000 years or even 200 years?" 

"I do not.  Our laws, alone, aren’t sufficient.   I believe the primary force that will protect into the distant future what I value today is our efforts to help future generations to connect to what we love in their own way."

"What will get us to perpetuity is not laws alone, but relationships."

And here’s the really hard part:  future generations won’t look like us or think like us.  And that’s OK; it’s the only way it could be.  I want to involve them, welcome them, trust them, not simply try to write a damn tight conservation easement that they can’t get out of."

Read more here

Whole People, Whole Leaders, 2013

Portland, Maine

"Leadership today is about softening the hard borders between people and nations, making them more permeable. Being a leader is being an edge walker between worlds.One of my teachers in life, who happens to be Mainer, once said to me “Peter nothing you could ever say or write or accomplish is as important as how you lead your life. Put leadership aside, Peter, and ask yourself how will you be a whole person?

A whole person has a range of interests that make it more possible for them to see the patterns of life and to respond with actions that get at the root of problems and not treat symptoms the way a specialist might.

By being empathetic and open to claims of others, a whole person is more able to work in different worlds and therefore makes different decision than someone with less perspective.

No matter their work, a whole person tends to be more focused on doing the work itself then on achieving outcomes; they are more resilient and less prone to burn-out especially when the work is inevitably hard with few results."

Read more here

Thinking Like a Foodshed, 2013

Slocan Valley, British Columbia

"Some in this room need to feed their souls through wilderness, and all of us need to feed our bodies through farmland. So, first thing about thinking like a food shed is that this can’t come at the expense of wilderness.  Give up on the either/or arguments, and start trusting that you must have both. 

Decide who you want to be as a community. The most fundamental and difficult question is this: do you want to be organized for consumption or do you want to be organized for production.  Innovation and change happens through the influx of new ideas, and sometimes those new ideas come into a community in a way that ruffles feathers and creates more divisions than heals.

The key is to stay in communication, stay in touch, stay in relationship."

Read more here