Atossa Soltani: Amazonia Calling, the Gaia Hypothesis and an Urgent Message From the Rainforest

Jul 2024

Atossa Soltani is Founder and Board President of Amazon Watch, and the Director of Global Strategy at Amazon Sacred Headwaters, an alliance of 30 Indigenous nations to permanently protect 86 million acres of rainforests in the most biologically diverse ecosystem on Earth.

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"Life is sacred, Gaia is alive, we are part of her. We're not fighting for nature, we are nature fighting for itself."
Atossa Soltani: Amazonia Calling, Gaia Hypothesis and an Urgent Message From the Rainforest
“Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony can we achieve our true potential.”
by Dr. Jane Goodall, an English primatologist and anthropologist

About The Episode

In this episode of The Founder Spirit, the trailblazing Atossa Soltani, Founder and Board President of Amazon Watch, shares her journey of becoming a leading voice in protecting the Amazon rainforest and defending the rights of its indigenous population. 

She discusses her formative experiences witnessing the Iranian Revolution, and also talks about her aha moment when the Gaia Hypothesis really resonated with her. She highlights the Amazon rainforest, the heart of our planet, being at an irreversible tipping point, and the urgent need to reverse deforestation. 

As the Director of Global Strategy at Amazon Sacred Headwaters, an alliance of 30 Indigenous nations to permanently protect 86 million acres of rainforests in the most biologically diverse ecosystem on Earth, Atossa also underscores the outsized role that the Indigenous Peoples play in protecting Gaia as environmental defenders, and the lessons from their worldviews and traditional knowledge. 

She acknowledges that in order to realize a grander vision for the world, it requires a paradigm shift in our collective consciousness from material wealth to collective harmony and wellbeing, and a holistic perspective that recognizes the sacredness of life and our interconnectedness with nature. By mimicking nature's genius and adopting nature's principles, we can create a world that is in harmony with the web of life.

How did Atossa become a leading voice in protecting the Amazon Rainforest and defending rights of its Indigenous population? TUNE IN to this conversation & find out. 


Atossa Soltani is the Founder and Board President of Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. A native of Iran, she is currently the Director of Global Strategy at Amazon Sacred Headwaters, an alliance of 30 Indigenous nations to permanently protect 86 million acres of rainforests in the most biologically diverse ecosystem on Earth. 

For the last three decades, Atossa has been leading global campaigns that resulted in groundbreaking victories for rainforest protection, Indigenous land rights, and corporate accountability. Recipient of Hillary Institute’s Global Laureate for Climate Leadership, she has brought to light human rights abuses and environmental disasters caused by extractive industries.

A skilled strategist and storyteller, she is also the producer of a documentary called The Flow about the art of aligning with nature’s way.

Episode Transcript

[00:02] Jennifer Wu: Hi everyone, thanks for listening to The Founder Spirit podcast. I'm your host, Jennifer Wu. In this podcast series, I interview exceptional individuals from all over the world with the founder spirit, ranging from social entrepreneurs, tech founders, to philanthropists, elite athletes, and more. Together, we'll uncover not only how they manage to succeed in face of multiple challenges, but also who they are as people and their human story.

“I was really understanding myself as part of the planet, of Gaia, of life, of a web of life. for me, it was both personal and ontological to connect with Gaia and the Gaia Hypothesis. It was as if I tuned into the frequency of the radio dial of the Amazon. It had been a direct connect with my psyche, with my heart.

What we are seeing is that the Amazon is actually pumping, cycling, circulating, cooling, driving rain, so the Amazon rainforest is the heart of the hydrological climatic system of our planet. 

The Amazon is in a downward spiral, it's beginning to collapse, that we're at a tipping point of no return. We thought it might be 10 or 15 years off, but it's actually happening now. And we could lose as much as 70% of the Amazon. The point of no return is now, that's why we have to reverse the current trend. Ultimately, we have less than 5 years to do this. 

Life is sacred, Gaia is alive, we are part of her. We're not fighting for nature, we are nature fighting for itself.”

Joining us today is the trailblazing Atossa Soltani, Founder and Board President of Amazon Watch, a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. 

A native of Iran, she is currently the Director of Global Strategy at Amazon Sacred Headwaters, an alliance of 30 Indigenous nations to permanently protect 86 million acres of rainforests in the most biologically diverse ecosystem on Earth. 

For the last three decades, Atossa has been leading global campaigns that resulted in groundbreaking victories for rainforest protection, Indigenous land rights, and corporate accountability. 

Recipient of Hillary Institute’s Global Laureate for Climate Leadership, she has brought to light human rights abuses and environmental disasters caused by extractive industries. A skilled strategist and storyteller, she is also the producer of a feature-length documentary called The Flow about the art of aligning with nature’s way.

Just how did Atossa become a leading voice in protecting the Amazon Rainforest and defending rights of its Indigenous population? Well, let’s talk to her and find out.

Hello Atossa, welcome to The Founder Spirit podcast! And thank you for joining us today from the rainforest - I’m quite sure the audience will enjoy listening to the birds chirping in your background.

[03:03] Atossa Soltani: Thank you so much, Jennifer, it's great to be with you today. 

[03:06] Jennifer: Atossa, growing up in Iran, I was wondering if you could share with us some of your formative experiences? 

[03:12] Atossa: Well, as it relates to protecting the Amazon, I think one of my earliest memories was when I was eleven. And my father, he loved to travel, he loved adventure - he passed away a few years ago. But when we were kids, many weekends he would pick us up from school and we'd go straight to the Caspian Sea, over the mountains between Tehran and the Caspian Sea. 

And a few times when I was eleven, we stopped in the Cloud Forest. Basically, Iran's lost 98% of its original forests, so there were literally just little remnants on the way to the Caspian Sea that we would occasionally picnic at. And this Cloud Forest felt like something from a fairy tale. 

I remember very distinctly climbing the trees and hanging out in the mist. And even though my family was just over there, you couldn't see them because I was surrounded in the Cloud Forest in the mist, and I felt like I was in a magical realm. And that was one of my earliest connections to the magic of forests, which exists all over the planet. 

You know, our lungs breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2, and trees are the upside down lungs that are breathing in CO2 and breathing out oxygen. So, yeah, that was one of my earliest memories. 

[04:25] Jennifer: There's definitely magic in nature. 

At age 13, you left Iran and came to the US seeking political asylum - this was around the time of the Iranian Revolution that culminated in the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

And in what way did witnessing this event impact your outlook on life? 

[04:46] Atossa: When I was 13, there were basically martial law, curfew, street protests that were retaliated by the armed forces.

It was in 8th grade and we would be in the schoolyard with the older kids protesting. And then the military would come and start tear gassing us, and kids would disperse into the streets, into the mayhem, and then it was chaos. 

And school would shut down, there was curfew where you had to be in your house by 7PM or risk being arrested or shot. There were street protests that were defying those, and there was gunfire - you could hear it from my house. 

And so there was all of that mayhem, and it was basically stepping into adulthood from 13 into 30 - I’m trying to understand what's happening. I think that woke me up to the politics, to world affairs. 

And the other was when my parents actually put me on a plane, where my uncle and aunt were flight attendants, and I was shipped off by myself to New York. And then they left me in New York, and I had to actually get to Ohio by myself. 

And I remember that journey being a journey of adventure. I wasn't afraid, I was more like excited about what was next. The idea that I would leave that situation and find a better fortune for my life, I was very grateful and excited. 

And that was the other moment that I think was important that I made that journey into the unknown. It's been a pattern in my life, the journey into the unknown, where you invite the uncertainty and not knowing what's going to happen, but you have a sense of positive excitement - that's kind of my upbringing. 

Politically, I realized people power mattered, that people could organize in this very short time, topple a monarchy that had been around for more than 50 years. The idea that we can collectively organize and have power was something that really influenced me from that age. 

And of course, we don't always get the best outcome when we do topple those monarchs, and that was the other lesson. Just because we are rebelling against something we don't want doesn't necessarily mean we invite what we do want. 

And I do believe that there was a lot of division at the time. It was a moment where a lot of people wanted democracy, a lot of people wanted human rights. What ended up happening is (that) they toppled the monarchy and got a fundamental Islamic regime that was just as bad on human rights and worse on women's rights. 

And although it stood up to the west and tried to do things in a bold, different way, you'd miss the mark on the aspirations to have a free, democratic, safe existence in peace. And so those are the lessons, I would say, from the Iranian revolution of a 13-year old. 

And then coming into the United States, it's just a different way of seeing and being. Trying to put myself in the eyes and shoes and in the mindset of the people here and really having to seek to understand, and that skill has also helped me in the work I do in the Amazon.

[07:50] Jennifer: Well, I think that's very similar to my own experience. When I was twelve years old, I immigrated to the United States from Communist China. 

So I found myself having to adapt to a very vastly different environment. So this was some 30 years ago, there was a huge gap between the US and China. So I've had to find myself also adapting to different situations and people. 

Atossa, in an earlier interview, you talk about having this aha moment when you first learned about the Gaia Hypothesis by James Lovelock. Can you tell us what it is and why it really resonated with you? 

[08:13] Atossa: Sure. You know, being an immigrant from Iran in high school in Akron, Ohio, which was not very tolerant of outsiders community, I ended up feeling like I didn't belong. I didn't have my identity, 

It was not convenient during the hostage crisis to be from Iran in a white, Midwest town where you are the only foreigner in the school. And when I started college, I went to the international students club and met the people who became my best friends. 

And I received the Gaia Hypothesis booklet - so James Lovelock put forward a theory that the earth is a living entity, almost like a super organism, that is maintaining very narrow band of conditions that are important for life and able to react to the changes in order to keep those conditions conducive to life. 

And so this idea of Gaia, that Greek Goddess of the Earth, as a living being, a super organism of which I am a cell in her body, I really had an aha moment that my identity of where I grew up, the countries, the nation states, those entities were all invented. 

And that really, ultimately, what mattered is that we were cells in the body of a living earth, that we have a host. She supports us, we support her - we are embedded in this other identity. 

Not only was it an aha moment from understanding my ontology, of the way I see the world, but it was really a more convenient identity for who I really wanted to be. And not feeling like I'm an immigrant from Iran living in America - who am I? 

All of a sudden, those things fell away, and I was really understanding myself as part of the planet, of Gaia, of life, of a web of life. For me, it was both personal and ontological, to connect with Gaia and the Gaia Hypothesis. 

Pretty soon after that, I met one of my best friends who's half Peruvian and was studying conservation biology in the Amazon. A whole other world opened up to me, I learned about the Amazon, I'd never heard about the rainforest. 

And that later became an obsession. I couldn't stop thinking about the rainforest, talking about it, feeling like we had to do something. Like, people even know what the rainforest is and what's happening to Gaia, what's happening to the Amazon?

And so that quest began to infiltrate my dreams. I literally had recurring dreams for seven or eight years before I could go travel to the Amazon and connect with the place and realize that this was my destiny. 

But for those many years, I felt like I was going crazy. I was having these dreams, these obsessions, I couldn't find enough information, I couldn't get people to care or listen to what I was realizing that we're one body, one Earth, one Gaia. 

It was as if I tuned into the frequency of the radio dial of the Amazon, and I was receiving her distress call, and I couldn't turn it off anymore. It's been a direct connect with my psyche, with my heart. 

And so that began a journey of, like, what do I do? What do I do? What can I do? What can one person do? And it was an inquiry for many years, until 1990, when a really good friend and mentor introduced me to the director of the Rainforest Action Network. And that was another key moment where I stepped into a gateway to my destiny, my career. 

[11:21] Jennifer: Right, so speaking of the Rainforest Action Network, prior to that, you had served as a conservation director for the city of Santa Monica in California, but you left the security of that job for a temporary contract and a nominal salary at the Rainforest Action Network. I know you were literally following your dreams, but can you tell us, did it feel like a huge leap of faith nonetheless? 

[11:47] Atossa: Anytime you leave security for the unknown, you are taking a leap into the void. My affirmation has been that when I've done that, it's worked out luckily. But it took courage, my parents didn't understand quite what I was doing. 

I had this great job for the city of Santa Monica and then later city of Anaheim, where I was doing award-winning conservation programs for water and energy, which I also cared a lot about. And I had been right out of college, it was the perfect job and a very important role. At the moment, there was a drought in California, I was learning all about the hydrological cycle. 

And to leave for a 3-month contract for 20 hours a week, to leave my city job and all the benefits and all that, yeah, my parents thought I was a little crazy. But it was one of those crossroads in your life where you're like, do I choose security or do I choose what I love? 

And I think I had such a strong sense that I didn't have any doubts. The doubts were from the people around me, from my family, my friends, but not from me. From inside me, I was very clear. 

I was like, I'm gonna find a way to align my work with Gaia and with the protection of the Amazon, because otherwise, I may go mad, because I was definitely connected. 

[13:02] Jennifer: That's amazing. Well, at the Rainforest Action Network, you directed campaigns, among other achievements, that led to ending clear cut logging practices in Canada. So, Atossa, I know you're a very creative storyteller and a strategist, can you give us an idea how you went about building some of these successful campaigns? 

[13:23] Atossa: Well, I wouldn't say stop clear cut logging in all of Canada, just this one rainforest that where we fought and we won, and the next watersheds also. But really, it was one of the training grounds where I learned how to organize, how to campaign. 

And one of the things you realize is that British Columbia had these ancient rainforests. They're not tropical, they're temperate, but nonetheless, they have 2,000-year old trees and mycorrhiza network that is ancient and supports this idea that the forest is alive and communicating. 

We didn't know all that back then, but what we did know is that this forest was very special. It was being cut down, clear cut log for lumber that you could buy at Home Depot or for pulp and paper. Basically the phone books, remember the old Yellow Page phone books? Those were made from these ancient trees. 

Lots of organizations in British Columbia, thousands of people had gotten arrested blockading the logging of this ancient, revered place in Clackwood Sound in British Columbia. And at the time, I was working with the Rainforest Action Network, we received caravan of activists with a big, thousand-year old cedar tree stump on the back of a semi truck pulled through Los Angeles. 

And we started having protests in front of the phone company that was making the phone books. And we started campaign calling, “don't let your fingers do the chopping” - we went after those contracts. Greenpeace got involved, other organizations, activists in Clackwood Sound, scientists - all of these groups came together. 

We basically went after the phone companies. I remember the late Tom Hayden, senator from California, calling me to a meeting with GTE, with one of the phone companies, where we really grilled them on their paper purchasing contracts. Eventually, we canceled those contracts. 

After getting many peaceful, non-violent, direct action, creative protests, like showing up to their shareholder meetings, all of those things ended up leading to a series of contracts being canceled. We even went after National Geographic and New York Times because their paper was coming from these ancient forests. 

And once we canceled those contracts, the logging companies and the government was ready to meet with the First Nations, to meet with the environmentalists in Canada and to meet with international campaigners who were cutting off their money supply for these contracts. So we used market pressure and public pressure to get change, and eventually the government agreed to stop giving the permit. 

And the company actually had to shut down its mill and leave that logging operation and leave the forest intact and reach an agreement. And that became the basis for the next campaign in British Columbia, which ended up creating the Great Bear Rainforest, which is one of the massive areas protecting intact watersheds. And it took about 20 years to protect this area. 

Basically, if you can think about a campaign that has local, national, international presence and strategies and looks at the money, both who's investing, who's buying, and building a campaign across the supply chain to put economic and political pressure on the decision makers, and it worked. 

The lessons are that we have the power to organize all along the supply chain in order to influence the way the industry responds. Because a lot of companies like Pac Bell and New York Times saying we want recycled, we want pulp and paper that comes from selective logging and sustainable forestry, but it took organizing in the forest as well as across the supply chain to shift the market to catalyze what was already seen on the horizon. 

And those were, I would say, the lessons which I then took to the Amazon. 

[16:57] Jennifer: We're going to talk more now about your home, which is the Amazon forest. It is the most biodiverse region on Earth providing shelters to millions of species of plants and animals. 

And as you said, people often say that Amazon is the lung of the world because it absorbs 25% of carbon dioxide and it produces 20% of the world's oxygen. But Indigenous wisdom says that it's also the heart of our planet. Can you tell us why it is also called the heart of our planet? 

[17:30] Atossa: Sure, I love telling this story. I mean stepping back, looking at the planet from space, we see the tropical rainforests covered in area that's about 3,000 miles wide all around the equator, like a green belt around the equator. And these rainforests are low pressure zones where moisture flows into these low pressure zones. 

The Amazon being the largest rainforest on the planet is basically a green ocean. It's pulling in the low pressure zone created in the forest, pull in the moisture from the atmosphere. Now the aerosol particles from trees then nucleate those clouds, basically give them something for the raindrops to form around. 

Clouds rain on the Amazon, then the trees, through their evapotranspiration, open their pores and sweat out a lot of water vapor, on average about 1,000 liters of water vapor per tree per day into the air. 

These geysers of water vapor form atmospheric rivers circulating moisture deeper and deeper into the rainforest of South America, bringing rain all the way to Argentina, southern Brazil, Uruguay. That whole region of southern Brazil gets 95% of its rain from those atmospheric rivers cycling out of the forest. And some of those rivers also hit the Andes and bring rain to the north, all the way to Mexico, California, the Sierra Nevada. 

For example, we know through modeling that if the Amazon forest collapses, if this hydrological system, this conveyor of moisture, this rain machine of the planet, ceases to function, we will see a 50% drop in the water cycle in California, which is the breadbasket of the world and also the 5th largest economy on the planet, depends entirely on atmospheric rivers from the Amazon for its agricultural productivity. 70% of the GDP of the continent of South America depends on Amazon rain. So the Amazon is literally the lifeline of South America, but also the rain machine for the whole planet. 

The largest river in the world is the Amazon River, it's about 20% of the world's fresh water. And that system also is lifting up a river, 20% larger than the Amazon River, into the sky every day. That's the size of the atmospheric river that the Amazon rainforest literally lifts into the sky. 

So what we are seeing is that the Amazon is actually pumping, cycling, circulating, cooling, driving rain. And the science panel for the Amazon, of which I'm a member, calls the Amazon the heart of the biosphere. So the Amazon rainforest is the heart of the hydrological climatic system of our planet, of Gaia. 

And there's been a lot of scientific research now that says the Amazon is in a downward spiral, it's beginning to collapse, that we're at a tipping point of no return. We thought it might be 10 or 15 years off, but it's actually happening now. 

We have evidence of that because last year the drought in the Brazilian Amazon, actually all over the Amazon but really felt in Brazil, was the worst ever in 120+ years of recorded history. And that drought allowed for parts of the Amazon River to be interrupted. The temperatures of the river rose, millions of fish died, many pink river dolphins that are endangered also died. 

So the Amazon is experiencing this hydrological collapse, and we are literally at another important crossroad, where if we don't get to zero deforestation really soon and begin a massive process of reforesting what we estimate around 6% of the forest that's been already lost, we're talking about millions of acres of reforestation. 

The Amazon could tip to an irreversible tipping point, where we see a dieback of the forest and a reduction of the atmospheric rivers. And that's a positive feedback loop, it means it gets worse and worse until we could lose as much as 70% of the Amazon. That might take many decades losing 70% of the Amazon, but the point of no return is now. 

That's why we have to reverse the current trend - We have to get to zero deforestation and reforest 6% of the areas that are degraded in order for the tree to continue to cycle, and be that biotic pump that's basically the heart of the planet. Because what we can do now, we won't have a chance to do in a decade.

So I'm very passionate about this, the importance of the Amazon with maintaining our hydrological system and climate stability. And if you look at Paris climate goals, it's one of those tipping points that we must avoid. 

Otherwise, all the other planetary tipping points will be exacerbated. And there's no way of meeting the Paris targets if we don't protect the Amazon. The Amazon is also one of the largest land-based carbon sinks, it’s sequestering all that carbon. We lose the Amazon, it’s really kind of game over for the planet. 

So I'm very passionate about the need to organize now, because every tree is basically taking us over the cliff. We got to rise into the action at the last minute, and I know we can get to zero deforestation and to mount massive reforestation between now and 2030. Ultimately, we have less than 5 years to do this. 

[22:50] Jennifer: And that relates a lot to the work that you're doing now at Amazon Sacred Headwaters Alliance, which we'll get to at a later point. But I want to ask you, when you finally made it to the Amazon some years later, after being obsessed about it for seven or eight years, what did you find there? Was it everything that you had dreamed about? 

[23:08] Atossa: You know, there were two trips within the first year. The first trip was amazing, it was just like drinking out of a fire hose. I was in the forest receiving all this knowledge, feeling all of these emotions and experiencing the beauty and viscerally experiencing it. 

And then on the second trip, we decided to go deeper into a deep forest excursion where we spend about ten days in a very remote area in Manu National Park, and that was a dream. On that trip, I found myself in one of the landscapes I'd dreamt about, actually, I drew diagrams of. I had been to this landscape many times in my dream and there I was on the deep forest excursion, finding myself that landscape before me. 

The other thing that happened is we spent several days across the Andes and then down into the jungle. And we were driving down this really windy one-lane road, we pulled over and there above me, above this tree, I saw a harpy eagle. I saw its claws and it was huge. 

And basically I literally had to leave the tree walking backwards back up to the truck because I didn't want to turn my back to this giant animal with huge claws. As soon as the truck turned on, the harp eagle flew. And they're amazing - they're like the fastest, most ferocious animal of the Amazon. 

And literally the year before, I had two pictures, one was a harpy eagle and the other was a jaguar. And I had pinned the photos next to my computer monitor. And so the harpy eagle flies down the road and lands in a tree about a kilometer down the road. We pass that point, (it) takes off again, goes another kilometer or so down the road, and sits on a tree. The entire way of winding down the mountain into the jungle, the harpy eagle led us - we were guided by this beautiful, magnificent animal.

We eventually got into a river canoe and went downstream many hours to get to the wildlife refuge in Manu National park. We were pulling out our tents to set up our camp, and a jaguar runs out of the river, through the beach, right through the middle of our two rows of tents, and he goes into the forest and stops and looks back at us and then runs into the forest. 

And I was like, oh, my gosh, there is the harpy eagle and the jaguar, both on the same day, on my entry into the deep forest. I think it was my 27th birthday, and it was just an aha moment again, like, okay, I am in the right place. And it was a very rare sighting, too, that our guide said, I do this trip every two weeks, I've never seen that. 

[25:40] Jennifer: So you were guided by both the eagle and the jaguar.

[25:44] Atossa: They were more like symbols or signs - you know, you've arrived. I had all this desire to be there and connect, and I organized a fundraiser for Rainforest Action Network where I dressed up as a harpy eagle a few months before - we called it the All Species Ball.

That whole journey showed me many signs that I should surrender to my path, not have doubts, not look back, and to know that there is this direct connection to the source - we're being guided, trust this path and not look back. 

[26:16] Jennifer: It's a lovely story. So one thing I wanted to mention is there are between 350 to 400 Indigenous tribes living in the Amazon forest across nine countries. And I know you've been working almost all of your professional life with the Indigenous community. And for those of us who are stuck living in the modern world, can you share with us their way of life, the challenges that they face from our extractive industries and their perspective on the world around them? 

[26:49] Atossa: Yeah, it's been a huge honor for me, a huge privilege. Every day I give thanks of my life's ability to be in service to Indigenous peoples, the protection of their territories and cultures and way of life. And, what I've received from those teachings has been enormous in my own understanding of the world. 

Indigenous Peoples are about 4-5% of the world's population. If you look at indigenous territories, the lands that Indigenous Peoples are either stewarding or have title to or are claiming, those areas represent about 80% of all biodiversity that still exists on the planet. So 5% of the population is stewarding about a fifth of all the land, but representing 80% of all life on the planet. So they play an outsized role in caring for Gaia.

If we're talking about protecting the Amazon, about a third of the Amazon Basin is land that Indigenous Peoples are either have title to or are in the process of getting title. And of course, all of the Amazon was once Indigenous land, but those areas actually show lower deforestation rates than even national parks. 

In the Amazon and many tropical countries, Indigenous territories are a best chance we have to protect forests and best chance we have to stop the encroachment of activities that are destructive to forests. 

And you say, well, why is that? Why is indigenous land so well preserved? I've come to understand that the ontological, the worldview of Indigenous Peoples, the way they see the world, is probably why. 

If you see the world as alive, if the forest is your kin, if all of the creatures in the forest are family and that ultimately you are in service to this family of life, then of course you're going to be taking care of it. 

One of the things that I hear often from Indigenous Peoples I work with is that we're here to be good ancestors to the next many generations of all life, not just human life. So we're here to be good ancestors - that's a mantra that I haven't heard in the modern world. 

But maybe we need that mantra in the modern world. How are we being good ancestors to future generations, and how are we related to all life forms? The plant species, the bees, all of life is sacred, and that is a worldview that we lost. 

We all once were indigenous, we all came from these cultures that were in reverence and reciprocity to their landscapes. We've lost that - Indigenous Peoples are still maintaining that and are teaching us to remember that we were once in service to the web of life. And we've lost touch with that.

Indigenous Peoples see the Earth, it's not just an intellectual thing “the Earth is my mother”, it’s I feel the earth as my mother - I am in reverence to Earth as my mother. The mountain is alive, I'm in reverence to this mountain, or to the river, which I see as the house of God. Those cosmological worldviews are poetic, but they're also essential principles of living systems. 

Scientists are looking at how life forms, how it works, what is life, how does life flourish, how does it exist? And (they) are basically giving us a lot of principles Indigenous Peoples have always articulated in their stories and cosmology that life happens in communities, in ecosystems. 

Ecosystems are communities of life, a plant community, a coral reef, these are communities of life that are mostly cooperative, although they have some competition, but they're mostly synergistic. And they cooperate to create conditions for more life.

Life cooperates to create more life, that is the principle of living systems. And I think Indigenous Peoples just live in that system, in that worldview without having a scientific lens. They had a cultural, cosmological lens. So that's why it's been amazing. 

And also what I see is Indigenous Peoples are taking huge risks, life and death battles, giving everything, sacrificing their own lives to defend their territory, defend what they consider sacred, defend the future generations of life. So I do think that they're playing an outsized role in our planet and maintaining life on this planet and teaching us wisdom. 

So I'm very excited about being a bridge to bring and amplify the voices of those wisdom keepers who are reminding us we are all in this web. My colleague, Uyunkar, whom you met, Domingo, he always says we're all in the same boat. 

If humanity, if climate, if disasters arrive here, if life goes extinct, we're all in the same boat. In a way, he is always reminding us that we need to chart a new path. And that's the work Indigenous Peoples are offering the modern world - they're helping give us tools, but also traditional knowledge and the way we adapt to climate change. And also, through their stories and their teachings, it's almost a beacon of light guiding us out of the current poly-crisis we're facing as humanity. 

[31:55] Jennifer: Atossa, I've yet to visit the Amazon, and I'm looking forward to taking that journey later this year, and hopefully I'll see my own jaguar and eagle. 

I just also want to share my own personal experience with the Indigenous Peoples earlier this year. When the Indigenous people spoke and when they sang, I just cried. I can't explain it, but tears just kept rolling down my face and I couldn't stop for half an hour. 

I think I was feeling their suffering deeply, and it's part of what I came to understand that we're all connected. What we do to others, we also actually do unto ourselves. So that was one of the takeaways that I had from meeting you and the people that you work with at Amazon Sacred Headwaters. 

But I do want to go back and ask you that in 1996, you founded Amazon Watch, which is a nonprofit organization focused on protecting the rainforest and advancing the rights of the Indigenous population. I wanted to know what inspired you to found Amazon Watch or you might say it found you?

[33:01] Atossa: Yes, well, first, I want to acknowledge what you said - that was a very powerful day, I remember that day.

Being connected to this moment in history and we’re coming together in a place like Davos, which is mostly focused on money and financial, economic issues, and really bringing this deep message of life and reverence for life was very powerful. 

It was a very cosmic moment, so I also felt how important that moment was for us as a human race and can't wait for you to come to the jungle and sit with the forest and connect, get downloads from the forest. 

For me, I would say, the other thing to say is the sadness, the grief that we all feel because the loss of life is what's happening to the dismemberment of the planet is painful. And we're going through a mass extinction crisis right now, we're going through a climate crisis.

If the Earth is hurting, the organism's hurting, we as cells in the body are going to feel it, and so I just want to say that it's important to feel those feelings. 

I was in that one of those moments when I decided to start Amazon Watch, or maybe it found me. I was at the Rainforest Action Network and I was receiving information about secret plan for the Amazon to build highways and roads and dams and power lines, which is this idea of regional corridors for exports, creating arteries for global trade across the Amazon, connecting Brazil with all the other 11 countries in South America that Brazil borders to ship resources to the global market. That was the vision for the Amazon. 

And it was in the mid-90s, I started receiving information from Friends of the Earth, Sweden and European colleagues saying, we've uncovered this plan and this is happening, it’s not just some distant plan. They're having conferences to raise the money for this plan. 

And I remember thinking, oh my gosh, this can't happen, we have to address this, this will be the end of the Amazon. And I was going around to many organizations that I worked with, including my own, and saying, we need to scale up a campaign targeting these export corridors and these visions for infrastructure and investments for the continent. We need to shift that vision, we need to think of a different vision. 

And a lot of organizations looked at me saying, this is scary, this is horrible, but there's nothing we can do. We have full plates already as most NGOs do, they've got five-year plans and they've got budgets years ahead of time. So there was no room for expanding this work. So I decided I was going to do something, but I didn't know exactly what and or how or what I was going to call it. 

And basically, I went to protest the Brazilian President, who was speaking at Stanford. He was rolling back land rights, and was getting an award at Stanford for being the honorary chair of the humanities department. 

And I just felt like we needed to do something at that moment. But I didn't have all the people on board with my organization. And as I was leaving, people were not ready to do an action at that day, and so I decided I was going to do the action myself. 

And during the protest, I took out my bullhorn and I confronted the president of Brazil face-to-face as he was leaving the auditorium. And it was election year, so he had his jet full of reporters lined up as he's waving, walking out of the auditorium to his limousine. 

I confronted him with a bullhorn and then he basically stopped to hear me and left. He left me with all (those) journalists, and so I ended up having a press conference about the plan for the Amazon, which I only had an article from Time Magazine at the time.  

I gave that out and people said, oh, and what's your name and what's your organization? And I realized that I didn't have the authorization of using the Rainforest Action Network. So I just made it up, I said, I'm Atossa Soltani with Amazon Watch. 

I blurted it out, and the next day was all over the media and I was getting calls from reporters saying, tell me about Amazon Watch. And I'm like, well, it's a new organization founded yesterday. 

Anyway, and then I had to basically do what I had said, which is work on this massive plan for changing the vision for the future of the Amazon, to target these infrastructure projects and investments, change the developments plan for the Amazon and also create Amazon Watch. 

That's how Amazon Watch started. In a spontaneous moment, where, really again, feeling called - I was responding to a deeper call from the forest. 

[37:18] Jennifer: A higher calling, because you were connected to Gaia. 

Now, I can only imagine, Atossa, as a female Iranian-American leading an NGO, working in a predominantly male patriarchal society in South America, the types of obstacles that you might have faced and overcome. Which begs the question, as a non-native and as a woman, how did you manage to earn the trust from the community over the years? 

[37:51] Atossa: That's a great question. I mean, a lot of people show up in indigenous organizations, communities, etc., getting very excited like I did, and making commitments and promises. And some follow through and some don't. 

I think Indigenous Peoples have a really openness, a willingness to give you the benefit of the doubt. But often what ends up happening is people come, promise, and then eventually disappear. And it's very transient. So one of the commitments I made is I was here for the long haul, that we weren't just going to be flavor of the month. 

I think that the thing that I learned is consistency matters - showing up day after day, year after year matters, and you build relationships. Building relationships are something that women are especially talented in doing. I think building trust, listening, deeply listening, not coming with my own ideas of what we need to do, but more like what's happening, how can I support what your vision?

Being humble in that we don't know what's gonna work. We think we might know, but we don't always know. And so, and that this is as much about building trust and building relationships for the long haul as it is a short-term gain or transaction or campaign. 

So I’ve just been patient, patient and consistent and grateful that when you show up year after year, eventually there is trust. And you always have to work on keeping those trust, relationships active. 

I think that's true for any career, any profession, any industry, that trust is our biggest currency, our biggest asset, and that comes with time and with consistent commitment. The Amazonian cultures are also very male, so it's taken a while, but it has helped. 

Indigenous women have it harder. Indigenous women have to work super hard and they're super effective. And I'm really committed to the movement of Indigenous women all over the Amazon Basin. (It) makes me cry even thinking about it - they are taking huge risks, they are not compromising, they are being collaborative and not competitive. 

They're working well together and they're building movements of women, of elders, of young women. I'm putting a lot of faith and a lot of enthusiasm in the movement of Indigenous women for protecting the Amazon. And I'm inspired everyday by what they achieve. 

I think I had it a little bit easier. I'm not a total gringo and I'm not indigenous, so right in that sweet spot of working with the men. 

But I think the most important thing is the results. You know, you show up, you accompany them to the shareholder meeting of an oil company, and then you get the oil company to announce that they're leaving. And I think those all build trust and build momentum of what is possible, and I think that's helped the work we do in the Sacred Headwaters.

[40:37] Jennifer: The commitment has been over 30 years now for you, it’s really impressive. And I understand that Indigenous leaders and environmental defenders are being killed every year in the Amazon. 

I was wondering, Atossa, were you ever scared that your life would be in danger? 

[40:52] Atossa: Yeah, I mean, the Indigenous People on the Amazon are facing life and death battles. We are very aware that consequences of their resistance. 

There's been record number of people, especially during the years of Bolsonaro (former Brazilian President), that were killed, especially Indigenous and community leaders, environmental leaders in Brazil, but also in Colombia, in Peru, recently in Ecuador, we've had Indigenous leaders killed. 

And I think that it is a very serious matter. The human rights violations that Indigenous peoples face and the risks they take to stand up to illegal loggers, illegal mining companies backed by drug cartels. It is just crazy, the risks that they face. 

I've always been guided by Indigenous People when I'm in their forests, so knock on wood. I haven't felt directly threatened. I'm not there day-to-day, I'm not also going to high conflict areas. And I only go when Indigenous people tell me, you're invited, we're going to accompany you and we'll be your guides. I'm not going places on my own. 

But I will say that there's been many tragedies, including someone who I worked closely with who was kidnapped and killed. Three people were kidnapped and killed in Colombia in 1999, and that was hugely painful for our movement. We were working with the U’wa people of Colombia, who were fighting an oil company, Occidental Petroleum, from Los Angeles. 

And we were working hard to get Oxy out, the young man who was working as an interpreter and bridge, an ambassador for the U’wa, and two Indigenous women went to visit the U’wa - they were kidnapped and killed in ‘99 by the guerillas. 

And some of the reasoning that we could ascertain was that the oil project was a source of income for the violent guerrilla groups. And it was a life or death matter for the people who ended up standing in the way of that project. 

And what we learned is that it's not a rare occasion that Indigenous people and local communities are murdered for money or for making way for the industrial projects, and that ultimately we need stronger human rights protection. 

So there are now global agreements like the Escazu Agreement, which was a convention that was signed a few years ago in Escazu, Costa Rica, that basically commits governments to ensuring human rights of earth defenders, movement leaders.

And we really need to do better all over the world protecting earth defenders in making it a crime, putting funding into enforcement, putting funding into investigating and punishing those who perpetrate murder. 

Right now, they get away with it, unfortunately, and we need to have stronger sanctions on those who are funding. And those who are committing these crimes need to be brought to justice in order to reduce pressures on the local front lines. 

[43:38] Jennifer: Thank you for sharing that. I thought it was an important point to bring to light because we don't hear about it very often, or at least on my side of the world. 

I want to mention that I came across a video on the website of Amazon Sacred Headwaters Alliance - it’s called Amazonia 2041, a Vision from the Future. And I really enjoyed watching the 9-minute film because it took me on a journey set in the future 2041 and looking back at how an Indigenous-led movement succeeded in permanently protecting the headwaters bioregion. 

And I found it both daring and imaginative and a very powerful way to communicate about what is possible. Because very often, we're caught in this negative feedback loop of geopolitical uncertainty and climate and biodiversity disasters that we're facing. Watching that video gave me so much hope. 

But in order to make this grand vision possible, Atossa, in your opinion, what needs to shift? Is it our collective consciousness, do we need a new value system in place, what needs to happen? Because like you said, unlike the Indigenous people, we in the modern society, we don't understand this connection that we have to Gaia. 

So what needs to shift in order to realize this grander vision, not just in the Amazon, but in other parts of the world? 

[45:04] Atossa: Yeah, I mean, that's the real dilemma we're in. The modern world is so focused on materials accumulation and life that's based on basically financial gain. So much of our culture is focused on our consumption and our financial gain that we are at risk, we're putting everything at risk. 

So, yeah, I do think that we do need to shift our values, we need to shift our worldviews. One of my mentors was a systems thinker named Donella Meadows. She's passed on now, but she wrote a book about thinking in systems. And, she would say, there are different points of leverage in a system, we first have to see the system. 

We have to see that we're in an economic system, a governance system, a value system that's maintaining the current goals of the system. To change the system, we actually have to change the goals of the system. That's a key part of changing the system, because everything organizes to meet the system goals. 

Right now, from a global perspective, the system goal is an economic system that basically gives primacy to money. Money trumps all other values, everything's driven by the value of money. And that is what we've got right now in the world in service to that system. 

To change the system, we have to change the system goals. And that's where she would say in the part of the Amazon that we’re working on, Indigenous cosmologies are about the idea of harmony. They're not so much focused on the word development. 

The idea of development is not something that they relate to. What they have been saying to us is that ultimately wellbeing, it is a concept that's collective. Collective harmony and wellbeing should be the primary goal, not money, wealth. 

And some countries like Bhutan, are looking at happiness. Instead of the gross domestic product, their drumbeat is happiness. There are countries that are adopting wellbeing index, like New Zealand, saying we're going to prioritize our budgeting, our government's policies around wellbeing. And so we need the new system goals. 

The other thing Donella Meadows would say is the hardest thing to change is the paradigm that created the goals. That's the hardest to change, but that's the change that ultimately will lead to the greatest results, especially if we're in the predicament where we have poly-crisis. 

We need to change a paradigm. And the idea of paradigm is like oxygen - we don't see it, we don't notice it, but it's everywhere. It's what influences the way we see the world. And right now, we're seeing the world from a materials perspective.  

Indigenous People invite us to see it from more of a holistic perspective of the life is sacred, Gaia is alive, we are part of her. We're not fighting for nature, we are nature fighting for itself. 

We are the cells in the body of Gaia that is organizing, self-organizing to get us out of what we have, which is Gaia has an autoimmune disease. We have parts of the body attacking itself right now. That's what war is, that's what domination is, that's what ecological collapse and destruction come from. This idea of parts of the system not seeing the full system and destroying itself. 

So Donella Meadows would invite us to really think about the paradigm that created the system. And what does that mean for everyday? I would say it just means that we become people who see ourselves as an important part of Gaia, that we have a host, and that we're in service to that host.

And we find a way to make a living to be in service to life. We become people who put the web of life first and foremost, and being in service to the web of life is how we make our living.

If it's working for wildlife, if it's working for the forests and rivers and clean air, it's most likely working well for every other part of the organism, too, including humans. We've been trained to see it as economy or the environment - we've created these artificial dichotomies.

So becoming people who are coming from this holistic perspective and holding the vision that there is a way to have mutually beneficial, mutually enhancing, mutual flourishing between the human and the rest of the natural world, that ontological shift is what we ultimately need to change our values and to change our behavior. 

But there's many things we can do. Like I said, nature can give us a lot of clues, a lot of the answers. I'm a big fan of biomimicry and the Biomimicry Institute and the work of seeing nature as the most intelligent, creative engineer, artist, architect, designer, inventor. 

Nature, Janine Benyus would say, has 3.8 billion years of R&D. This idea that nature has figured out how to make elegant solutions without chemicals that are harmful, without high energy use, that is mostly solar. All of this productivity, nature gives us huge amounts of biological productivity with solar power, solar energy. 

In fact, remember I told you about the atmospheric rivers, science panel and Marina Silva (currently serving at the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change in Brazil) say it would take the collective output of 55,000 Itaipu dams. Itaipu Dam is the second largest dam in the world. It would take 55,000 Itaipu dams output in order to replicate the energy that the Amazon uses every day to puts up the atmospheric rivers in the sky. 

So it is possible to borrow from nature's principles, nature's ingenuity, nature's genius to design our human systems, our buildings, our products, our economic system. Our economic system is very much about (the) concentration of wealth controlled by fewer and fewer people. But the size of total capital markets collectively is exponentially growing year after year. 

And it's exponentially growing because the value is being extracted from the forests, from the oceans, from nature. That infinite growth is basically killing the planet. So every year, we're producing more, extracting more, and creating more waste. And that total throughput into the system is part of what we need to bring into balance. 

And if we are able to change the way we relate to our own wellbeing and our materials economy, and coming from a place of basically living systems, we can look to nature. And nature does it with zero waste so distributedly and so elegantly. Why don't we use some of those lessons in redesigning the human systems to be mimicking nature's genius? 

[51:43] Jennifer: So, speaking of mimicking nature's way, I know that you've been working on this documentary called The Flow about the art of aligning with nature's ways. 

Flow is a term that we was coined by an American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, back in, I think, 1990. And it's about this highly focused, heightened state of consciousness where people experience deep enjoyment and creativity. And I sometimes feel flow or feel like I'm in the flow state when I'm preparing for a podcast. 

So can you tell us a little bit about this project that you're working on and all the people that you're interviewing? 

[52:25] Atossa: It's been in the works for many years, and we're hoping to bring in the finishing funds to get it through to the final cut. But, yeah, it's been an amazing passion project led by Louis Fox, a brilliant thinker and media genius. 

And the idea is actually coming back from your lands. The Chinese philosophy of Tao being this idea that nature has a way. There's a way that water flows through the landscape, there's a way that things reveal themselves, that things unfold in nature, and that we can be learning nature's lessons and embodying them in our day-to-day lives, realizing that we are nature. 

So this ancient philosophy that was brought by people like Chungliang “Al” Huang, who is one of the key people in our film, interviewing him, doing Tai Chi and calligraphy and talking about flow, it's a poetic way of saying humans, we have just been too absorbed in the material and the thinking mind. The Macaws are in agreement… 

[53:26] Jennifer: Love that - he's in agreement I think. 

[53:33] Atossa: That ultimately, we need to step out of our thinking mind and get into this idea of nature's genius flowing through us, that all creativity is essentially a transmission of nature and us being nature. And so, yeah, and the flow state being this place where we're most creative, most turned on. 

And we interview surfers and musicians like Erica Badu and bike messengers, surfers and agriculturalists and sailors who all talk about these principles, nature's principles, and how they show up in their creativity, in their way of life. 

It's a big reframe of seeing ourselves not so much from anthropocentric worldview, but from nature's way. And it's also really to enlighten people into the ways that solutions can come from that part of the paradigm. If we can borrow elegant solutions from nature that are in alignment with nature's principles, we're going to find much more harmony.

And so this is really inviting us to lean into nature for our own creativity and for creative solutions like permaculture, like biomimicry. 

[54:41] Jennifer: So, Atossa, you seem to be someone who's very very connected to Mother Earth, and you're deeply immersed working with the Indigenous communities in South America. 

And I was wondering if you would mind telling us about some of your spiritual practices?

[54:58] Atossa: Sure. I'm immersed in a region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, that is, they call themselves dream cultures. These are Indigenous cultures that for thousands of years have had this deep reliance on their dreams and visions for how they live their lives and the decisions they make everyday. 

And I find that ironic because, as I said to you, for about eight years I was having dreams, and my dreams led me to this place. And now I'm working with the people who call themselves dream cultures. 

Every morning they awaken between 2-3AM in the morning and they have council, a dream council, where they drink tea and share their dreams, talk about collectively what those dreams mean, and make their decisions. 

Sometimes I have a dream and they're like the dream is so clear that I'm not going to go hunting today because something bad would happen if I went. And other times the dream is okay, we're going to have this really important meeting with the government, there's going to be some provocation, we should be ready for that provocation. And here's what my dream told me about how to respond to that provocation. So it's also a guidance. 

These cultures have taught me that so much of what we need to know, we're receiving from this collective intelligence field. Whether that collective field comes through your intuition or your dreams, we must take it seriously. 

And ultimately, if you look at incredible interviews like Einstein, the person who figured out how to get the Mars rover to Mars, all these people talk about they spent decades trying to problem solve with their thinking mind, and then they had a dream, and the answer came to them in a dream.

Well, that process is also something we talk about in the movie Flow. That process is something that I've found to be very true for me. I feel like I have to write down my dreams, I have to look for the answers, I have to ask the right questions. So I think that's a deeply spiritual practice, being connected to your dreams and visions. 

Of course, I've been part of spiritual ceremonies with tobacco, with ayahuasca, with psilocybin. Those have been really moments of profound connection to getting instructions from Gaia. And sometimes they're very personal for my own healing, my own wellbeing. Sometimes they're just explanation of things I'm struggling with, because we all go through moments of trauma or moments of pain. 

And I think spirituality has been about getting strength and clarity and, through ceremony, through connecting with plants, with landscapes. But the ceremonies I've done are very few and far between. The daily practice of remembering our dreams and meditating and creating a connection with nature. 

And then, of course, other things you love. Like for me, my deep spiritual practice is salsa dancing. I come alive, my mind calms down, I get into my body, I get into a flow state, and I feel truly giddy. And that's spiritual practice too, as well.

[57:46] Jennifer: Yes, it's moving meditation. Actually, I wanted to tell you I also participate in a dream circle, it’s really amazing. 

One of your favorite books, Atossa, is called The Soul of Money  by Lynne Twist, founder of the Pachamama Alliance. And the book examines our attitude towards money and offers, I think, surprising insights into our lives and also how we structured our society. 

And I was wondering, having had to fundraise over the years, how has your relationship with money evolved? 

[58:18] Atossa: Lynne Twist's book, the Soul of Money, really resonated with me. She sees money as energy. We are talking about flow, this idea of circulation. 

I've been thinking a lot about the parallels between the money system and the destruction of our planet, but then also the parallels between the money system and water. We even call money currency, liquidity, all of our analogies about our money system is formed around water.

You have the money system that's basically growing exponentially and pooling in bigger and bigger funds, which are basically destroying nature, converting to money, money concentrating. And then we're looking for ways for money to do good, but even that can be tricky because it can disrupt a system. 

And in the water system, what we see is water is concentrating because of climate change and because the hydrological cycle has been disconnected from all the forests and landscapes and all the places where water would have circulated. We've lost half the world's rainforest. So huge pools of water into the atmosphere that are pooling in bigger and bigger hurricanes, creating droughts and deluges, creating stagnation. Water that's stagnated becomes toxic. 

I can see the parallels between the fluidity and the damaging way the money flows and the climate and habitat destruction is causing our water system to flow. 

But we also can keep in mind what is a healthy water system? How does it flow? How does it nourish? How does it distribute? In a lot of Tao philosophy, the goal was to slow down water through your landscape, so it could do a lot of good. But when it was a deluge or fast-moving, then it could do damage. And so that's been present with me. 

In terms of my personal relationship with money. I think I came from a background of, my family left Iran and they didn't have more income. They had to live off their savings and barely make it. My mom had a lot of fear around whether we were going to have enough to live.

And my dad had a different attitude, he had kind of a philosophical attitude that if you let money flow, it keeps flowing. And so I kind of got a little bit of both I think. I think for me, I resonated more with my dad's philosophy that you be generous and others will be generous to you. 

And so I've tried to be that way. And I know there's definitely times where like, oh, my gosh, we need more funding for all of the things that are happening and the money isn't coming or it's late. 

I don't want to get in a place of fear or scarcity. I always tell my colleagues, if we are in too much scarcity mindset, we repel money, that we have to be in positive, we have to start giving thanks for the money's about to come. That's been kind of my fundraising hat on. I'm like, I'm giving thanks today for the money that's about to arrive. 

But we're working hard to raise money because we are in incredible opportunities to have huge difference, to stop a road, to stop a mine, to build a food system, to help empower women, to educate the young people, to title territory, to create livelihood fish farms, so that they’re less dependent on the contaminated fish from oil drilling, so many reforestation, food system. 

We are doing so much that deserves that rain. the rain that the Amazon gives to the world, we wanted the world to rain back to us so that we can continue to maintain the life support systems of the planet. But my feeling is to be ready and believing that it's coming. 

[01:01:48] Jennifer: I love that abundant mindset. I actually grew up with the scarcity mindset because, you know, coming as an immigrant, I had that. But it wasn't until I started reading the book that I realized that actually, money influences so many things, a lot of our behaviors, but we take it for granted. 

At the beginning of the story, she talks about this young man who’s coming from Achuar tribe. He's never had to deal with money, and then all of a sudden, he came to the United States to learn English, to study our modern ways of life. And then he's realizing, oh, okay, actually, this is what moves the society. 

So, like you said, it's a currency, it moves us around because the value of our society right now, it's built on money.

[01:02:29] Atossa: Yeah, money trumping all other values. And I think that creative thinking we're doing now is how do we harness money in service to life? Right now, nature is in service to money, our economic system is extracting nature in service to money. 

How do we get those huge pools of funds to be more distributed, to not only be driven by making more money, to be having bottom line around ecological vitality. My index of my funds are that they're not only making a financial return, but they're actually making ecological returns.

[01:03:03] Jennifer: We need to unlock that natural capital. And I wish you the best of luck with Amazon Sacred Headwaters Alliance. 

Atossa, we're now coming to the end of our interview, and as you know, we end every episode with a quote. And for this episode, we have a quote from Dr. Jane Goodall, an English primatologist and anthropologist:

“Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony can we achieve our true potential.” 

Atossa, many thanks for coming on the Founder Spirit podcast today, and sharing with us the important messages from the Amazon Rainforest, the very heart of our planet. Thank you so much!     

[01:03:42] Atossa: Thank you for having me, it was lovely to talk to you! 

[01:03:48] Jennifer: If this podcast has been beneficial or valuable to you, feel free to become a patron and support us on, that is

As always, you can find us on Apple, Amazon and Spotify, as well as social media and our website at

The Founder Spirit podcast is a partner of the Villars Institute, a nonprofit foundation focused on accelerating the transition to a net-zero economy and restoring planetary health. 

[01:04:20] END OF AUDIO

Show Notes


(03:12) Growing Up in Iran & the Iranian Revolution

(08:13) The Gaia Hypothesis and Personal Identity

(11:21) Rainforest Action Network & Campaigning to End Clear Cut Logging

(17:30) Amazon, the Heart of Our Planet

(26:49) The Vital Role of Indigenous Peoples & Indigenous Wisdom

(33:00) Founding Amazon Watch

(45:04) Paradigm Shift From Material Wealth to Collective Wellbeing

(52:25) The Flow Documentary

(54:58) Atossa’s Spiritual Practices

(58:18) The Soul of Money, a Book by Lynne Twist


  • The Gaia Hypothesis, a theory put forward by James Lovelock, posits that Earth and its biological systems behave as a huge living entity. This entity has closely controlled self-regulatory negative feedback loops that keep the conditions on the planet within boundaries that are favorable to life.
  • The Amazon rainforest is not only the lung of the world, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, but also the heart of the planet, pumping atmospheric rivers into the sky, thus playing a crucial role in maintaining our hydrological system and climate stability.
  • The Amazon rainforest is facing an irreversible tipping point due to deforestation and environmental degradation by illegal logging and mining companies, and urgent action is needed to protect and reforest the area. 
  • The Indigenous Peoples are key stewards of our planet and play an outsized role as defenders of Gaia. They have a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of all life forms, and their traditional knowledge and worldviews offer valuable lessons for the modern world.
  • Indigenous leaders and environmental defenders in the Amazon face significant risks and dangers. Stronger human rights protections and accountability for those who commit crimes against them are necessary.
  • In order to realize a grander vision for the world, it requires a paradigm shift in our collective consciousness from material wealth to collective harmony and wellbeing, and a holistic perspective that recognizes the sacredness of life and our interconnectedness with nature. By mimicking nature's genius and adopting nature's principles, we can create a world that is in harmony with the web of life.
  • Mimicking nature's genius and adopting nature's principles can help create a world that is in harmony with the web of life.


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