June 19, 2009 / 2:39 PM / 10 years ago

Eco-activist rock musician thinks local, acts global

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It’s a long way from rock and roll to eco-activist but Chuck Leavell, most recently keyboardist for The Rolling Stones, believes the two are anything but mutually exclusive.

Chuck Leavell is pictured in April 2009 on his farm about 100 miles southeast of Atlanta, Georgia. REUTERS/Fernando Decillis/Handout

Leavell, 57, said while the 60’s are best known for the music and sexual revolutions, in a smaller but equally important way there was greater recognition that people had to start taking care of the environment.

His most recent incarnation is as a co-founder of The Mother Nature Network, an environmental news and information website that launched in January 2009.

As well as director of environmental affairs and a board member, he hosts two video series on mnn.com: “Love of the Land,” in which he discusses sustainability and conservation issues, and “The Green Room,” a series in which he interviews fellow celebrities about the environment and their philanthropic work.

“For a long time, Americans were apathetic to these issues, but people are waking up and there is a sincerity to making changes,” Leavell said.

Leavell has long lived the environmental creed, with much of his personal commitment stemming from 1981 when his wife, Rose Lane, inherited family land in aptly named Twiggs County, about 100 miles southeast of Atlanta, Georgia.

“I realized I had the responsibility to be a good steward of this land,” Leavell said.


Studying what would be best for the property while continuing his career as a musician he settled on tree farming, doubling the property to 2500 acres over time with a focus on southern yellow pine, a pine native to the southeast United States.

His commitment has been such that Leavell and his wife were named Outstanding Tree Farmers in 1999 by the American Forest Foundation’s Center for Family Forests.

“Trees are the most important resource we have,” Leavell said. “We learn how to take care of then, they can take care of us.”

Counting the benefits of trees, from use as building material through to natural filtration of air and water, he said experience with his own land led to the current advocacy work.

As an economic realist, Leavell emphasizes that environmental policy must be just one of many competing goals.

“It seems to me there has to be a balance between natural land and land we develop,” he said. “a sensitivity in the way we run our municipalities and urban areas.”

Though concerned that recession may put environmental issues on the back burner as happened in the 70s, Leavell suggested that this time there is a strong commitment from the nation’s leaders to smart, strong and sustainable economic growth.

“People want to make changes and we have been talking about these issues for so long,” Leavell said.

Rolling Stones piano player Chuck Leavell performs at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 8, 2003. REUTERS/Ethan Miller

A member of The Allman Brothers Band in the 70s, Leavell shuns the rock star lifestyle at the personal level.

The farm house on the Georgia property dates to 1865 and at just 3,000 square feet, was renovated using dead trees from the farm in line with the act locally, think globally philosophy.

“America is all about being wealthy but isn’t it nice to live comfortably and use half the energy,” Leavell said.

Reporting by Nick Olivari; editing by Patricia Reaney

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