I've Changed on Climate Change

Posted by Brent.Barry on February 6, 2014

It's not that I don't think it's important to talk about, it's just that I made the decision in an ethics class about 25 years ago that there was a distinction to be made between caring for human beings and the environment. The care of suffering human beings has seemed to me a more urgent task. Recently, however, my thinking is changing on the subject.

I am coming to believe that my reluctance to focus on environmental degradation goes much deeper than discussions of carbon foot prints. I am thinking differently these days about my own relationship to the earth.

That in turn is causing me to think about how I might sacrifice for the future of the earth, not out of guilt or duty, but out of a new understanding of creation.

In my old way of thinking I tended to see humans as objects placed in the cosmos by God, rather than emanations coming from it. While this still allows me to talk the game of "being a good steward of the earth," it is anthropocentric at best and can be just a wee bit narcissistic. 

Eventually this type of thinking can lead a person to see matter as inert material – only good for building something else. However, if we emerge out of the earth like a flower from the soil, then nature is more than our raw lumber. It is the place from which we emerge into consciousness. It is the guide that whispers to us throughout life. And it is the home to which our earthly bodies return at death.

In other words, humankind is not a tree house built onto the tree of life, we are a branch of that tree.

Psalm 19 is a song of the earth that says much the same thing. It says that the stars make manifest their sacred source and that we ourselves feel that same law written within us.

The great 17th century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, echoed that thought when he asserted that the two things that eternally fill the human mind with wonder are "the starred heavens above, and the moral law within." We emerge from the earth and bear its fingerprint in every part of our being.

I read recently that leading economic and social theorist, Jeremy Rifkin, said such basic physical laws must be felt as well as understood. Perhaps the Psalmist is saying the way to awaken our species is to sing these songs of the Earth.

Perhaps we need to think of environmentalism not merely as an issue of survival, but also as dancing to the pulse of life beating in our blood – and in the blood of a whale, and in the heart of a humming bird.

As a friend of mine said, "perhaps we need to look at the periodic chart not as a chemical formula, but as the sheet music of a cosmic hymn."

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