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The End of Nature? – some quotes

Roger’s print-out of quotes for his program – The End of Nature?


E. O. Wilson’s “The Creation:  An Appeal to Save the Life of the Planet” —

 Dear Pastor:

    I write to you for your counsel and help.  Of course, in doing so, I see no way to avoid the fundamental differences in our respective world views.  .  .You believe that each person’s soul is immortal, making this planet a way station to a second, eternal life.  Salvation is assured to those who are redeemed in Christ.

    I am a secular humanist.  I think existence is what we make it as individuals.  There is no guarantee of life after death, and heaven  and hell are what we create on this planet.  .  .Ethics is the code of behavior we share on the basis of reason, law, honor, and an inborn sense of decency.  .  .  .

    Does this difference in worldview separate us in all things?  It does not.  You and I and every other human being strive for some imperatives of security, freedom of choice, personal dignity, and a cause to believe in that is larger than ourselves.

    I suggest we wet aside our differences to save the Creation.  The defense of living Nature is a universal value.  It doesn’t rise from, nor does it promote, any religious or ideological dogma.  Rather, it serves without discrimination the interests of all of humanity.

    Pastor, we need you help.  The Creation–living Nature—is in deep trouble.  Scientists estimate that if habitat conversion and other destructive human activities continue at their present rates, half the species of plants and animals on Earth could be either gone or at least fated for early extinction by the end of the century.  A full quarter will drop to this level during the next half century as a result of climate change alone.  The ongoing extinction rate is calculated to in the most conservative estimates to be about a hundred times above the prevailing rate before humans appeared on Earth, and is expected to rise to at least a thousand time greater or more in the next few decades.  If this rise continues unabated, the cost to humanity, in wealth, environmental security, and quality of life will be catastrophic./i>

   Surely we can agree that each species, however inconspicuous and humble it may seem to us at this moment, is a masterpiece of biology and well worth saving.  Each species possesses a unique combination of genetic traits that fits it more or less precisely to a particular part of the environment.  Prudence alone dictates that we act quickly to prevent the extinction of species and, with it, the pauperization of the Earth’s ecosystems—hence of the Creation.

    You may ask at this point, Why me?  Because religion and science are the two most powerful forces in the world today, including especially the United States.  If religion and science could be united on common ground of biological conservation, the problem would soon be solved.  If there is any moral precept shared by people of all beliefs, it is that we owe ourselves and future generations a beautiful, rich and healthful environment.

    You are well prepared to present the theological and moral arguments for saving the Creation.  I am heartened by the movement growing within Christian denominations for support of global conservation.  The stream of thought has arisen from many sources, from evangelical to Unitarian.  Today it is a rivulet.  Tomorrow it will be a flood. 

–E.O. Wilson, 2006.  pp. 3-8.

Nature is Imperiled:  Are We Ending Nature?

 What is Nature?

.  .  .The simplest answer is also the best.  Nature is that part of the original environment and its life forms that remain after impact.  Nature as all on planet Earth that has no need of us and can stand alone.  [Wilson.  18]

Overall, humanity altered the planet as profoundly as our considerable powers allow.  Yet a great deal of Nature does remain.  In purest state it exists in what are legitimately called wildernesses.  .  .Domains of this magnitude include the great tropical forests of the Amazon Basin, the Congolian Basin, and most of the island of New Guinea.  They also include the tiaga, the belt of mostly coniferous forests that stretches across North America and on through Siberia to Finnoscandia.  Wildernesses of a different sort are the Earth’s largest deserts, the polar regions, the high seas, and the abyssal floors of the oceans (in contrast,  very few deltas and coastal waters remain unchanged).

 Microwildernesses:  A suburban is woodlots obviously no longer a wilderness for mammals, birds, and trees.  But it might be a ‘microwilderness’ for small organisms.  Many kinds of insects, mites, and other arthropods, mostly under ten millimeters in size, range freely there, their local domains untroubled by human hands, feet, or tools.  Luckily, microwildernesses are not a trivial part of wild Nature.  Quite the opposite:  each cubic meter of soil and humus within it is a world swarming with hundreds of thousands of such creatures, representing hundreds of species.  [Wilson.  17-18]

    The idea in this case is ‘nature,’ the separate and wild province, the world apart from man to which he adapted, under whose rules he was born and died.  In the past we .    .inflicted environmental ‘damage.’  But that was like stabbing a man with toothpicks.  .  .We never wrecked nature.  Deep down, we never thought that we could:  it was too big and too old; its forces—the wind, the rain , the sun—were too strong, too elemental.  [McKibben, 48]

 The Biosphere:  Living Nature and Human Existence

   Earth provides us a self-sustaining bubble that sustains us indefinitely without any thought or contrivance on our own.  The protective shield is the biosphere, the totality of life, creator of all air, cleanser of all water, manager of all soil, but itself a fragile membrane that barely clings to the face of the planet.  [Wilson, 13]


   Because wild natural ecosystems are in plain sight, it is also easy to take for granted the environmental services they provide humanity.  Wild species enrich the soil, cleanse the water, pollinate most of the flowering plants.  They create the air we breathe.  Without these amenities, the remainder of human history would be vast and brief.  The sustaining matrix of our existence is green plants, along with the legions of microorganisms and tiny invertebrates  These organisms support the world because they are so genetically diverse, allowing them to divide roles in the ecosystem in a fine degree of resolution and so abundant that at least a few occupy virtually every square meter of the Earth’s surface.  Their functions are redundant:  if one species is eliminated, there is often another able to expand and at least partially take its place.  All together the other species mostly bugs and weeds, run the world exactly as we should want it to run, because during prehistory humanity evolved to depend upon their combined actions and the insurance that biodiversity provides  world stability.  [Wilson, 32]

    Living nature is nothing more than the community of organisms in the wild state and the physical and chemical  equilibrium their species generate through interaction with one another.  But it is also nothing less than the commonality and equilibrium.  The power of living nature lies in sustainability through complexity.  Destabilize it by degrading it to a simpler state, as we seem bent on doing and the result could be catastrophic.  The organisms most affected are likely to be the largest and most complex, including human beings. [Wilson, 32]

 Gaia:  The Living Planet and Human Existence

 [Gaia] is ‘A view of the Earth that sees it as a self-regulating system made up from the totality of organisms, the surface rocks, the ocean and the atmosphere tightly coupled as an evolving system.  The theory sees this system as having a goal—the regulation of surface conditions so as always to be as favourable as possible to contemporary life.  [James Lovelock.  The Revenge of Gaia.  2006.  p. 162]

   Lovelock had to think about life itself, what it is and what distinguishes it from nonlife.  He realized that Maers and Venus have atmospheres composed almost totally of carbon dioxide, with no free oxygen.  In contrast, Earth’s atmosphere has small amounts of carbon dioxide and is 21 per cent oxygen.  Although oxygen is a highly reactive element and tends to be removed from the atmosphere, plants [primarily algae in the oceans]  continually release more oxygen to compensate for this loss.

    What is remarkable is that the level of oxygen has remained relatively constant over a long period of time.  A small increase to perhaps 25 or 30 per cent oxygen could cause the atmosphere to burst into flames, while a decrease to 10 per cent would probably be lethal to most life forms.  Something kept the amount of oxygen at just the right concentration for millions of years.

    Lovelock reasoned that the oceans became salty by the leaching of minute quantities of salt from rock and soil into rivers and streams that flow to the sea.  Why, then, haven’t rising levels of carbon dioxide increased the temperature of the Earth?  On Venus, the carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere has turned the planet into  an oven.  In contrast, the thin atmosphere of Mars, which is low in carbon dioxide, cannot retain heat, and so the planet is frigid.  Yet here on Earth the oceans haven’t boiled away, even though the sun’s intensity has increased by 25 per cent since the sun formed.  Something has kept the temperature of Earth and the salt concentration in the oceans relatively constant.

    Lovelock’s daring conclusion was that the total o all living things on Earth has somehow kept the concentration of carbon dioxide and oxygen, the amount of salt in the ocean and the surface temperature constant—not consciously or deliberately, but as part of an automatic process, just as our bodies increase our heart rate when we exercise or repair wounds when we hurt.  But now, technology has allowed us to generate massive quantities of greenhouse gasses far faster than Gaia’s capacity to remove them.  Eventually, compensatory changes may reduce carbon dioxide levels, but not before tremendous ecological changes occur, Gaia’s persistence plays no favourites on which species survive or disappear.  [David Suzuki, The Sacred Balance.  2006.  pp.  144-145]

The Human Threat to the Biosphere and Gaia

Biologists, using several indirect methods of analysis generally agree that at leas on the land and in freshwater ecosystems, ongoing extinctions are very roughly 100 times higher than before the arrival of modern Homo sapiens about 150,000 years ago.  .  .The rate is all but certain  to rise in order of magnitude 1,000 or even 10,000, as species now rated endangered die off and the last remnants of some ecosystems are destroyed, sweeping away the species limited to them.[Wilson, 81]

Pauperization of the Earth: Decline of Biodiversity Due to Unintended Multiple Consequences of Human Activity (descending order0

H       Habitat loss, including that caused by human-induced climate change

I         Invasive species (harmful aliens, including predators, disease organisms, dominant competitors that displace natives

P        Pollution

P        Population

O       Overharvesting (hunting, fishing, gathering)

When a species declines toward extinction, not one but two or more factors are usually responsible [e.g., bird habitat destruction = more susceptibility to pesticides, predators and overharvesting]  [Wilson.  55]

The greatest biodiversity exists in the tropics (more than ½ the known species of Earths’s plants/animals

in rainforests alone; during the first 2 millennia deforestation became most severe in the temperate countries

(temperate forests have begun modest regeneration; 20th century=destruction of tropical forests0

Freshwater ecosystems are being pressed even more that forests and grasslands;  humans take up ¼ of the accessible water released into the atmosphere (e.g., irrigation) and depleting aquifers; by 2025, some 40% of the world’s population could be living in countries with water shortages.  Freshwater makes up only 2.5% of Earth’s water (most locked up in polar caps); the highest rate of species endangerment per unit occurs in freshwater ecosystems.

The shallow tropical water coral reefs, the biologically ‘rich rainforests of the sea’ are being bleached by

Global warming, polluted and dynamited to harvest fish, split artificial channels, and excavated for building materials.  15% of world’s coral reefs are gone/beyond repair; another 1/3rd could be lost in the next 30 yrs. If the present downward trend continues.

Many fisheries are on the decline (e.g., cod, tuna) due to overfishing.

 The End of Nature:  Climate Change—Man-Made Nature

But now the basis for that faith [in the permanence of wild nature] is lost.  The idea of nature will not survive the new global pollution—the carbon dioxide.  .  .and the like.  The rupture with nature is different not only in scope but also in kind from the salmon tins in an English stream.  We have changed the atmosphere, and thus are changing the weather.  By changing the weather, we make every spot on earth man-made and artificial.  We have deprived nature of its independence, and that is fatal to its meaning; without it there is but us.  [McKibben, 58]

   When I say that we have ended nature, I don’t mean obviously, that natural processes have ceased—there is still sunshine and still wind, still growth, still decay.  Photosynthesis continues as does respiration.  But we have ended the thing that has at least in modern times, defined nature for us—its separation from human society.

   .  .  .if in July there’s a heat wave in London, it won’t be a natural phenomenon.  It will be a man-made phenomenon, an amplification of what nature intended or a total invention.  .  .The storm that might have snapped the hot spell may never form or may veer off in some other direction, not by the laws of nature as they have been rewritten, blindly, crudely, but effectively, by man.  If the sun is beating down on the back of your neck, that’s fine, but it isn’t nature.  A child born now will never know a natural summer, a natural autumn, winter, or spring.  Summer is going extinct, replaced by something else called ‘summer.’  The new summer will retain some of its relative characteristics—it will be hotter than the rest of the year, for instance, and the time of year when crops grow—but it will not be summer, just as even the best prosthesis is not a leg.”

   And, of course, climate determines an enormous amount of the rest of nature—where the forests stop and the prairies or the tundra begins, where the rain falls and where the arid deserts squat, where the wind blows strong and stead, where the glaciers form, how fast the lakes evaporate, where the seas rise..  [McKibben, 59]

This new ‘nature’ may not be predictably violent.  It won’t be preductaly anything..  .  .The salient character of this new nature is its unpredictability, just as the salient feature of the old nature was its utter dependability.  [McKibben, 96]

   Of course, there has always been change, and the future has always been a collection of possibilities.  But we have speeded up that change so much it is really a difference in kind, not quantity.  The typical projections of global warming over the next century—an increase between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius in average temperature—amounts to saying the  world’s climate will be changing at ten to sixty times it natural speed.  .  .  .[McKibben, 133]

It is the awesome power of Mother Nature as altered by the awesome power of man, who has overpowered in a century the processes that have been slowly evolving and changing of their own accord, since the earth was born.  [McKibben, 59]

   ‘Gaia is not doting mother, not fainting damsel.  She is a tough virgin, 3.5 billion years old.  If a species screws up, she eliminates it with all the feeling of the microbrain in an iCBM.’  If the world is made unfit by our actions, Gaia will not just find some way to reduce the temperature so we can keep driving Cadillacs;  more likely a new steady state will quickly evolve and ‘it is a near certainty that the new state will be less favorable for humans than the one we enjoy now.’

[McKibben, 159—quoting Lovelock]

The End of Nature:  Losing the Source of Our Being—a “Motherless Child”

   Nature has always provided the ‘deep, constant rhythms,’ even if, in our turbocharged and jet-propelled arrogance, we have come to think we are independent of the earth’s basic pulses. .  .’The recurring cycles of the year are not simply entertaining phenomenon, to be noted at our convenience and for our enjoyment, but signs that the cosmos is still intact, that we remain in something larger and more reliable than our short-lived enthusiasms. It is for this we need to know that the insects will hibernate, that the turtles and warblers will migrate and return, that the tide will retreat, the ice will let go, the earth tilt back toward the sun, and the grass rewaken.’  Despite the dozens of new ways to look at the world, the genetic, the microscopic, the chemical—we are still very much the same people who built Stonehenge so that each year we could make sure the sun really did begin its retreat, the same people who trembled at eclipses.  [McKibben, 102]

   The chief lesson is that the world displays a lovely order, an order comforting in its intricacy.  And the most appealing part of this harmony, perhaps, is its permanence—the sense that we are part of something with roots stretching back nearly forever, and branches reaching forward just as far.  Purely human life provides only a partial fulfillment of this desire for a kind of immortality.  As individuals, we can feel desperately alone.  .  .But earth and all its processes—the sun growing plants, flesh feeding on these plants, flesh decaying to nourish more plants, to name just one cycle—gives us a sense of a more enduring role.  [McKibben, 73]

   There is change.  .  .but it is change at the slow pace of inorganic life.  .  .and the seasons never ‘come and go too violently.’  This is ‘natures’ promise—a guarantee that has not been broken in four billion years that the queer kind of rationality and expectedness about it.’  [McKibben, quoting Lonern Eisley, p. 99]

   ‘Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and sent pulsing onward we know not where.  Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars.  This is true freedom, a good sort of immortality.  .  .  .We are now in the mountains and they are in us, making every nerve quiet, filling every pore and cell of us.  Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty around us, as if truly an inseparable  part of it, thrilling with air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun—a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.’  [McKibben—quotation from John Muir, 74]

   Wild nature, then, has been a way to recognize God and to talk about who he is—even, as in Job, a way for God to talk about who he is.  How could it be otherwise?  What else is, or was, beyond human reach?  In what other sphere could a deity operate freely?  It is not chance that every second hymn in the hymn book rings with the imagery of the untouched outdoors.  ‘All thy work with job surround thee, Earth and Heaven reflect thy rays,’ we sing to Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy.’  Sheep and harvests and other common motifs of the Bible are not just metaphors; they are also the old reality of the earth, a place where people depended for life and meaning on the nature they found around them.  ‘We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land.  But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.  He sends the snow in the winter, The warmth to swell the grain, The breezes and the sunshine , and soft refreshing rain.  All good gifts around are sent from heaven above.’ 

   .  .  .the modern technoscientific revolution. Including especially the great leap forward of computer-based information technology, has betrayed Nature a second time by fostering the belief that the cocoons of urban and suburban material life are sufficient for human fulfillment.  That is an especially serious mistake.

   Human nature is deeper and broader than the artificial contrivance of existing culture.  The spiritual roots of Homo sapiens extend deep into the natural world through mostly hidden channels of mental development.  We will not reach our full potential without understanding the origin and hence meaning of the aesthetic and religious qualities that make us ineffably human.

    Only in what remains of Eden, teeming with life forms independent of us, is it possible to experience the kind of wonder that shaped the human psyche at its birth.  [E.O. Wilson, 12]

 Two Minds:  Rational and Sympathetic

Human orders—scientific, artistic, social, economic, and political—are fictions.  They are untrue, not because they necessarily are false, but because they are incomplete.  All of our human orders, however inclusive we try to make them, turn our to be to some degree exclusive.  Ad so we are always being surprised by something we find, too late, that we have excluded.  Think of almost any political revolution or freedom movement or the ozone hole or mad cow disease or the events of September 11, 2001.  [Berry, 87]

      It is often proposed, nowadays, that if we would only get rid of religion and other leftovers from our primitive past and become enlightened by scientific rationalism, we could invent new values and ethics that are needed to preserve the natural world.  This proposal is perfectly reasonable, and perfectly doubtful.  It supposes that we can empirically know and rationally understand everything involved, which is exactly the supposition that has underwritten our transgressions against the natural world.  [Wendell Berry, Citizenship Papers, 2003, p. 87]

 Obviously we need to use our intelligence.  But how much intelligence have we got?  And what sort of intelligence is it that we have?  And how, at best, does human intelligence work?  In order to try to answer these questions I am going to suppose for a while that there are two different kinds of human mind:  the Rational Mind and another, which for want of a better term, I will call the Sympathetic Mind.  [Berry, 87]

Rational Mind:  official mind of science, industry, government—which the powerful think they have.  Our schools educate, propagate, authorize.  Objective truth is obtained through the analytical, empiricism (facts), experimentation.  It excludes  everything that can’t be proven empirically or experimentally,  It’s motivated by fear of being misled, wrong.

It excludes all preconception, received authority, religious beliefs, feelings—everything that can’t be proved as a fact.  Though practices it aids and abets—knowledge=power=money=damage—and the institutions it empowers (corporate economy/state’ a centralized corporate state and state science} goes unacknowledged.  Living plants and creatures are viewed as machines that can be taken apart and reassembled in pursuit of a more rational (efficient) being.   Problems of the “environment” can be solved “rationally”—more knowledge=macromanaging & or engineering (genetically) living things to fit into the despoiled environment.

Sympathetic Mind:  Not “unreasonable” but it refuses to limit knowledge  or reality to the scope of reason or factuality or experimentation and making reason the servant of things it considers precedent and higher.  It’s motivated by a fear of committing the error of carelessness, of being unloving; it’s considerate of whatever is present, to leave nothing out.  It’s under the influence of certain inborn or at least fundamental likes/dislikes.  It’s moved by affection for its home place, the local topography, the local memories, the local creatures—it looks at creatures as whole beings. Its impulse is toward wholeness. So-called ‘environmental problems’ are viewed as partly political in need of political solutiuons—by correcting the way people use their home places and local landscapes.

 [Note the parable of the lost sheep—the rational vs. the sympathetic (compassionate) response.

[the story of the industrial hog farm]

The Ethnosphere and Cultural Diversity  [Wade Davis]

   .   .  .just as there is a biosphere, a biological web of life, so too there is a cultural fabric that envelopes the Earth, a cultural web of life.  You might thing of the ethnosphere, a cultural web of life.  You might think of the ethnosphere as being the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, intuitions and inspirations brought into being by human imagination since the dawn of consciousness.  The ethnosphere is humanity’s great legacy.  It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, the symbol of all that we are and all that we have created as a wildly inquisitive and astonishingly adaptive species.

    It’s haunting to realize that half the languages [out of 6000] of the world are teetering on the brink of extinction.  What could be more lonely than to be enveloped in silence, to be the last of your people to speak your native tongue, to have no way to pass on the wisdom of the elders, to anticipate the promise of children.  This tragic fate is indeed the plight of someone somewhere roughly every two weeks.  For on average every fortnight a leader dies and carries with him or her into the grave the last syllables of an ancient tongue.

    The ultimate tragedy, in fact, is not that archaic societies are disappearing but rather that vibrant, dynamic, living cultures and languages are being forced out of existence.  Now these threats have many faces [e.g., industrial where egregious forest practices have disrupted rainforests = loss of subsistence or toxic effluents; epidemic disease; ideology; etc.].

   We too are ethnocentric and we often forget that we represent not the absolute wave of history but merely a worldview, and that modernity—whether you identify it by the monikers of Westernization, globalization, or free trade—is but an expression of our cultural values.  It is not some objective force removed from the constraints of culture.  And it is certainly not the true and only wave of history.  It is merely a constellation of beliefs, convictions, economic paradigms that represent one way of doing things, of going about the complex process of organizing human activities.

    When we project modernity as the inevitable destiny of all human species I think we are being disingenuous in the extreme.  Indeed the Western model of development has failed in so many places in good measure because it has been based on the false promise that people who follow its prescriptive dictates will in time achieve the material prosperity enjoyed by a handful of nations in the West.  Even were this possible, it is not at all clear that it would be desirable.  To raise consumption of energy and materials throughout the world to Western levels, given current population projections, would require the resources of four planet Earths by 2100.  To do so with the one world we have would imply so severely compromising the biosphere that the Earth would be unrecognizable.  Given the values that drive most decision in the international community, this is not about to happen.  In reality, development for the vast majority of the peoples of the world has been a process in which the individual is torn from his past, propelled into an uncertain future, only to secure a place on the bottom rung of an economic ladder that goes nowhere.

    Culture is not decoration or artifice.  It is a blanket of comfort that gives meaning to lives.  It is a body of knowledge that allows the individual to avoid madness, to make sense out of the infinite sensations of consciousness, to find meaning and order in a universe that ultimately has neither.  Culture is a body of laws and traditions, a moral and ethical code that   all human beings.  Culture alone allows us to reach as Lincoln said for the better angels of our nature.

    Think of it this way.  .  .Modern industrial society is but 300 years old.  This shallow history does not suggest to me that our way of life has all the answers for all of the challenges that will confront our species in the coming millennia.

    The myriad cultures of the world are not failed attempts as modernity, they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.  With their dreams and prayers, their myths and memories, they teach us that there are indeed other ways of being, alternative visions of life, birth, death and creation itself.  When asked the meaning of a human being they respond with ten thousand different voices.  It is within this diversity of knowledge and practice, of intuition and interpretation, of promise and hope, that we will all rediscover the enchantment of being what we are, a conscious species aware of our place on the planet and fully capable of ensuring that all people in every garden find a way to flourish.

   .  .  .the central challenge of our times, at least in a [post-9/11] sense, is to find a way to live in a truly multicultural world of pluralism.  Not to freeze peoples or cultures out of the flow of history but rather to ensure that all peoples may benefit from the products of our collective genius without their participation having to imply the eradication of their cultures.

    I have long believed that while polemics are rarely persuasive, and politicians are seldom catalysts of change, stories and storytellers can change the world  [Davis tells these stories in the National Geographic].

Not that there is anything wrong with our worldview.  In deed if the measure of success is technological wizardry, we most certainly come out on top.  But imagine an anthropologist from afar coming to America for the first time.  To be sure he would see many wondrous things.  But he would also see a culture that reveres marriage, yet allows half of its marriages to end in divorce; that admires its elderly yet permits grandparents to live with grandchildren in only 6 percent of its households; that loves it children yet embraces a slogan—21/7—that implies total devotion to the workplace at the expense of the family.  By the age 18, the average American youth has spent two years watching television.  Technological wizardry is balanced by the embrace of an economic model of production and consumption that compromises the life supports of the planet.  Extreme would be one word for a culture or civilization that does little to curtail industrial processes that threaten to transform the biochemistry of the atmosphere.    In other words our way of life, brilliant and inspired in so many ways, is nevertheless not the paragon of humanity’s potential.

    .  .  .there lingers this conceit that while we have been busy inventing the Internet or placing men on the moon, these other societies have somehow been intellectually idle.  Again this is simply not true.  Anthropology has long taught that whether a people’s mental potential goes into technological wizardry or unraveling the complex memories inherent in a myth is merely a matter of cultural choice and orientation,.

    .  .  .whether a notion is ‘true’ or not is hardly the point.  What is interesting and consequential is the manner by which the conviction or belief mediates the relationship between the human society and the natural world.  In the Andes, for example, the people believe that a mountain is an Apu, a sacred being that has the power to direct the destiny of all those living within the shadow of its slopes.  A young child coming of age in such a place will have a profoundly different relationship than a kid from Montana raised to believe that a mountain is a pile of inert rock ready to be mined.  It a mountain a God or a pile of ore?  Ultimately who is to say?  The important point is the manner in which the belief itself mediates and defines the relationship between the human and the natural landmark, in this case the mountain.

    Through our loss of a worldview, our devotion to consumerism and our move into cities and away from nature, we have lost our connection to the living planet.  As Thomas Berry says, we must find a new story, a narrative that includes us in the continuum of Earth’s time and space, reminding us of the destiny we share with all the planet’s life, restoring purpose and meaning to human existence.  [David Szuzki, The Sacred Balance, 1997, p. 24]

  ‘A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the universe.  A part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest, a kind of special delusion of his consciousness.  The delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.  [Suzuki, quoting Einstein, p. 26]

The smog has become so thick in Beijing that the city’s natural

light-starved masses have begun flocking to huge digital commercial

television screens across the city to observe virtual sunrises.

 The futuristic screens installed in the Chinese capital usually advertize

tourist destinations, but as the season’s first wave of extremely dangerous

smog hit – residents donned air masks and left their homes to watch the only

place where the sun would hail over the horizon that morning.

 Commuters across Beijing found themselves cloaked in a thick, gray haze on

Thursday as air pollution monitors issued a severe air warning and ordered

the elderly and school children to stay indoors until the quality improved.

 The air took on an acrid odor, and many of the city’s commuters wore

industrial strength face masks as they hurried to work.

 ‘I couldn’t see the tall buildings across the street this morning,’ said a

traffic coordinator at a busy Beijing intersection who gave only his

surname, Zhang. ‘The smog has gotten worse in the last two to three years. I

often cough, and my nose is always irritated. But what can you do? I drink

more water to help my body discharge the toxins.’




Why I Wake Early

by Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who make the morning

and spread it over the fields

and into the faces of the tulips

and the nodding morning glories,

and into the windows of, even, the

miserable and crotchety—


best preacher that ever was,

dear star, that just happens

to be where you are in the universe

to keep us from ever-darkness,

to ease us with warm touching,

to hold us in the great hands of light—

good morning, good morning, good morning.


Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.

“Why I Wake Early” by Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early: New Poems. © Beacon Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission.

A New Story




“Spirit is a powerful, mysterious word; in English its meaning spread like an invisible web through every level of existence.  It is in air.  .  ., it is breath, and by extension it is life and it is speech.  It is the power of divine creation, moving over the waters, and it is divinity itself—the Great Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Lord of All.  Spirits are volatile, invisible, powerful, and some are eternal.  They may intoxicate, invigorate, inhabit, haunt, or they may express the essence of something.”  (SB, 188)

 “Spirituality,” as we conceive it, is the apprehension of the sacred, the holy, the divine.  In our modern world we see matter and spirit as antithetical, but our myths reveal a different understanding.  They describe a world permeated by spirit, where matter and spirit are simply different aspects of the totality:  together they constitute ‘being.’  All cultures have believed in power beyond human power, in life beyond death, in spirit.  Many have believed in an animated, inhabited, sacred world surrounding them, the natural world that constitutes reality.  These beliefs restore our sense of belonging, of being-with, which is threatened by our dividing, conquering brain; they provide us with rules and rituals for restoring the harmony, for reentering and celebrating the world we are part of.  The mythmaking of our mind, its ability to find coherence in chaos, to create meaning, may be our species’ antidote to the risks of consciousness—a cure for death.  (SB, 188)

 [Note:  Suzuki’s video story about the NW Pacific Indians who intuitively/empirically  understood the relationship between the salmon upriver migration, of the dependence the bears on the salmon and their habit of taking the salmon in among the cedar where they left parts of the salmon which fertilized the soil around the trees causing them to prosper and the ritualized celebration of these interactions by the Native peoples.  AND, the discovery that the disruption of the salmon run by secular technological know-how (dam-building) disrupted this intricate relationship as evidenced by the narrowing of growth rings among the cedars.]

[Note:  Suziki’s video story about the peoples of Bali who, each Spring, collected mountain water that flowed down into decorated reservoirs which, at a ritualized designated time in the cycle, (with elaborate festivals), opened the gates and flooded their rice fields and planted rice.  AND, how Western agronomists convinced these peoples that they could increase their number of crops and yield through the use of fertilizers and pesticides.  AND, how the people returned to their traditional “non-scientific” practices after insects mutated requiring more and more poisonous pesticides that eventually failed to work as yields collapsed.]

Spirit worlds:  Traditional cultures live in an animated world.  Mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, winds and the sun may all have their presiding deities while each tree, stone and animal may have, or be, a spirit.  The spirits of the dead, or of the unborn, may also be eternally present, acting powerfully in the living world, part of the endless circle of time.  Such worldviews may see all death, including that of humans, as simply one stage in the continuum of birth, life, death and rebirth that we see in nature.  Human beings are included in this totality of creation, participating in various ways in the creative mind of the living Earth.  Instead of being separated from the world because of their unique consciousness, they belong to a conscious world in which everything interacts with everything else in a process of continual creation.  Contained within this worldview are the rituals that allow wrongs to be righted, spirits to be propitiated, the world to unfold as it ought.  These rituals are the responsibility of the human part of creation (perhaps because the disruptions are often caused by us).

[“Hawaiians traditionally have viewed the entire world as being alive in the same way that humans are alive.  They have thought all if nature as conscious—able to know and act—and able to interrelate with humans.  .  .  .  .Hawaiians also viewed the land, the sky, the sea, and all the other species of nature preceding them as family—as conscious ancestral beings who had evolved earlier on the evolutionary ladder, who cared for and protected humans, and who deserved similar treatment (aloha’ aina [love for the land) in return.”  (SB, 189 from Michael Koni Dudley])

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