Environmental Studies – PHS 100A
Warner Pacific College
November 7, 2011
The future of our environment is in the hands of humanity. It is not a bullet point on a list of concerns, it is fully dependent on whether or not we survive as a species and keep from destroying the planet. Without recognizing the interdisciplinary nature of environmental science we will never create the change our planet so deeply needs. (Withgott Brennan, p.8, 2011) It won’t be the adoption of “green programs” and sustainability that is going to save the world. What will save the world is a complete change in our minds from economy to politics and as far as religion. Henry David Thoreau is known for the modest philosophy of “simplify, simplify.” (Thoreau, p.69, 2004) If we are to survive this is the only choice we have.
It is a paradox to say that we must recognize all facets of life and yet simplify how we live. To suggest that one become an advocate of every environmental cause is not only exhausting but it is impossible. If we change the way we think, however, environmental sustainability isn’t such a difficult proposition. This can be exemplified in Gandhi, who “did not recognize separate rules for separate spheres of human life, but saw all spheres in an integrated manner, which exemplifies best the human ecological perspective.” (Moolakkattu, p. 152, 2010) Ecology isn’t a matter of activism. It is a matter of lifestyle. Thoreau says, “Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.” (Thoreau, p.69, 2004) We must fight our selfish desire to consume our resources. Just because we can consume doesn’t mean we have to, and yet our society is built on consumption and the accumulation of wealth.
Perhaps this comes from the dominance of Christianity in Western culture and the perversion that has been made of Christian theology. “Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen.” (White, p.4, 1967) Christian theology teaches that man is made in “God’s own image” and that he is to “fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28, New International Version) This creates a sense of duality between man and nature. God gives man dominion over all forms of fish and animals, even plants and trees. This mentality has given Christians the ability to justify all kinds of environmental exploitation under the guise of biblical command and permission.
Granted, compared to other religions, Christianity takes on the strongest stance of anthropocentrism, but I don’t think the religion is to blame. Mosaic law makes exception for environmental stewardship. In Leviticus God commands, “But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.” (Leviticus 25:4) If this law was observed today perhaps we wouldn’t need to apply the tremendous amount of pesticides that we cover our crops in every year.
The problem is greed. The belief that we have license to dominate the world for our own gain flies in the face of what Jesus taught. His teaching about economic and environmental stewardship implores us to not “store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19) This forces us to reflect upon our consumerism. Jesus continues his teaching by actually comparing us to nature saying that we shouldn’t worry about our food or clothing because God feeds and covers his creation. Clearly our greed stems from our mistrust in God.
Over the course of the last fifty years our average national income has more than doubled; yet our level of happiness is essentially the same. (Withgott Brennan, p.683, 2011) One might draw that economic growth and affluenza are the greatest epidemics that humanity and the world face. As a society we have decided that it is important to protect our economic interests. We have built a culture around an American dream of home ownership and access to automobiles and other comforts. Our public school system is designed to prepare students more to join the workforce than to think on their own. Our value is money, and yet Jesus would say that we “cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24) As long as our temporary national interests trump long term spiritual and transcendental philosophy we are doomed. “The issue is whether a democratized world can survive its own implications. Presumably we cannot unless we rethink our axioms.” (White, p.2, 1967)
Our entire society has become so obsessed with the accumulation of wealth and the security that comes from work that we have ravaged our environment. And yet Thoreau would say, “Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow. As for work, we haven't any of any consequence.” (Thoreau, p.70, 2004) Yet it is the very idea of work that continues to drive us. Our insatiable desire to continue to consume has given us tremendous advancement at terrible cost. Until we decide that we can no longer give in to our own material desires we will never achieve the personal, ecological, societal, and spiritual peace we so deeply desire. As Gandhi would say, “a man who multiplies his daily wants cannot achieve the goal of plain living and high thinking.” (Moolakkattu, p. 153, 2010) The emphasis Gandhi placed on contentment allowed him to dismantle the British hold on India by not participating in their economy. We could do the same.
The beginning of creating a change in the world is to end our greedy addiction to material wealth. “More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecologic crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one.” (White, p.4, 1967) The answers are simple. “Simplicity, simplicity.” We have to decide we don’t need as much. We need to figure out how to eliminate our need for finite resources. We need to simplify our diet and eliminate processed food. We need to live our lives healthily so we are not beholden to doctors, pharmaceuticals, and insurance companies. We need to change our minds. Christians need to trust God to provide and then spread the excess of God’s bounty on the unbelieving world. The result would be a revolution of thought and revitalization for man, nature, and God. This revitalization is something the world has never experienced.
Moolakkattu, J (2010) Gandhi as a Human Ecologist, pp. 152-153 retrieved from http://www.krepublishers.com/02-Journals/JHE/JHE-29-0-000-10-Web/JHE-29-3-000-10-Abst-PDF/JHE-29-3-151-10-2065-Moolakkattu-J-S/JHE-29-3-151-10-2065-Moolakkattu-J-S-Tt.pdf November 4, 2011
Thoreau, H (2004) Walden, pp. 69-70 Houghtin-Mifflin, Boston
White, L (1967) The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis pp. 2, 4 retrieved from http://www.uvm.edu/~gflomenh/ENV-NGO-PA395/articles/Lynn-White.pdf, November 5, 2011
Withcott, J Brennan, S (2011) Environment, The Science Behind the Stories pp. 8, 683 Benjamin Cummings, Boston
(1995) The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan