As planet Earth stumbles to the brink of ecological collapse, from irreversible climate change impact caused by man, survival of species, including Homo sapiens, is a vital issue. How can flora and fauna, thousands of species of which are now either threatened or endangered, be sustained?
How can economic growth like food production be sustained in a world now exceeding its carrying capacity without sacrificing remaining biodiversity habitats? How can we tame our energy-intensive appetite for luxury without effecting negative trade-offs in our ecosystems? How can we rein-in an economy based on greed totally detached from the web of life? Are we doing enough of our inter-generational responsibility to ensure that those yet unborn, may be able to benefit from today’s biodiversity?
The time of Descartes and Newton in the 17th and 18th centuries ushered in a “modern devotion”, a movement that went full steam ahead towards domination of nature and exploitation of its apparent unlimited riches.
But all of a sudden, at the turn of the 20th century, we are facing the grave ecological consequences of this domineering and disenchanting approach to the physical and natural world.
Development for What and For Whom?
All through 500 years until the dawn of this 21st century humans toiled, scarcely slowing down, bogged by the consciousness of progress and development. Yet, the dusk of the last century also brought in a reenchantment of reality– awareness of the limits of growth, the dwindling natural resources and the place of nature in man’s search for sustainability.
The economic models of growth were based on industries that although brought high standard of living for the Western nations, has entailed treating the world as an object of endless manipulation, alienating humans from their surroundings.
Today, the global cost for a high standard of living is enormous and hard to sustain. Worse, we have trespassed, raped and looted the resources meant for the unborn generations.
With thousands of floral and faunal species entering the Red Handbook of endangered, threatened and extinct species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are signs that the historical stage of carefree over-development is coming to an end.
Man’s march to progress, now spells more doom than boom. Adverse climate change impacts mean environmental bills are coming. We are paying the price.
As our economic and environmental limits become more obvious, we are obliged to shift into a new framework and approach of thought in development.
Making Room for God
We need a to live not only in a new paradigm, view and live our world as a cosmos of organic system whose parts, both human and non-human, form an intricate network of interdependent components but more importantly put eco-spirituality in our approach to development wrote Charles Cummings, a monk of Holy Trinity Abbey, in Huntsville, Utah, USA.
Cummings, who holds a degree in formative spirituality from Duquesne University says in his book “Eco-Spirituality” there must be a spiritual dimension to our ecological approach because the universe is a deliberate result of a Creator with creative capacity and inexhaustible imagination.
The indigenous and tribal peoples of the world understood the relationship with the Earth much better, because of spirituality which allowed them to physically sustain it. This is often manifested in their ways of life, and expressed through their rituals and prayers.
The spirituality can be sensed in the way they respect their surroundings as they live in peace and wonder at the natural world around them, something rarely valued by modern man’s economic images of progress.
“God created heaven and earth”, Cummings quoted Genesis 1:1 of the Bible. But we misread our mandate, he says, misunderstanding the Genesis when it said “subdue and master Earth. We believed we have dominion, can control and exert power, and to dominate. Dominance led to devastation, he wrote.
We must reflect a divine image, to mirror God’s own way, as faithful caretakers of God’s garden which is this world, he said.
Caretakers Not Stewards
“Humanity does possess the unchallenged right to use the goods of the Earth but use has become abuse. The proper role of humans on earth is that of caretaker. The caretaker model incorporates the best features of stewardship model and adds the quality of faithful, respecting loving care,” Cummings explained.
The stewardship model defines that humans are agents or trustees of God charged with the safekeeeping of the Earth’s resources for the benefit of all. In Luke 12:42, Jesus praised the trustworthy steward who gave their allowance of food at the proper time but pointed out the danger of a steward growing careless or being concerned only for his own welfare, a likely reference of today’s reality.
Stewards are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the earth and will have to give an account to God of how we have used or abused our position. “Draw me up an account of your stewardship” says the master in a parable of Jesus in Luke 16:2.
Cummings says to give a spiritual dimension to stewardship, we need to include the soul in caring for planet Earth. The stewardship model does no go far enough and it is ambivalent as there are honest and dishonest stewards.
“The caretaker model never exploits, never acts like a tyrant, he is not the owner but then guardian, God is the owner, maker.”To him belongs the sea and the land,” Cummings quoted Psalms 95:4.
“The caretaker’s task is to nurture, heal and restore fostering the life and harmony everywhere, “ Cummings wrote.
A State of Disconnection
It is not difficult to analyze that the root cause of our ecological crisis is the absence of our connection to conscious awareness to life and all that gives life. Reverence is the foundational principle behind eco-spirituality. Everything that gives life must be treated as sacred.
This of course moves against the current irreverence of today’s society. A society that allows trees to be massacred to put up malls and parking spaces, dumping of garbage in the seas and rivers and tolerates animals to be slain for their tusks, fins or bileducts.
These societies have lost their reverence toward life, are irreverent toward the Earth. The hectic pace most people maintain in our post industrial culture is inimical to the spirit of reverence. Hasty living has no time to pause, no time to ponder the beautiful, haste is blind to everything except the deadline it is rushing to meet. Whatever gets in its way is likely to be run over with no regret. Haste is intrinsically irreverent.
The challenge now is to bring in spirituality in our relation with Earth, develop a values-based development structure, that is not concerned solely with our material well-being, but embraces reverence and love for the rich biodiversity of the Earth.
The human race must explore and work out ways that humanity can be served in its deepest sense, where Earth’s resources we use are not just commodities to be consumed, but part of the living fabric of a sacred Earth.
This may seem idealistic and impractical to most, but only a few decades ago organic farming, a practice of our ancestors, which respects the well-being of the soil, insects, microorganisms, cleanliness of water, diversity of heirloom, was considered uneconomic and idealistic. Now it is recognized and accepted as the only environmentally approach to sustainable farming.
Humans must reconnect with a way of life that respects and includes the soul as well as the land, water, landscape and every living and non living thing like the air, sun, moon and the forces of nature. Through spiritual values that respect both the individual and the environment, we will be able to comprehend God’s gifts and how central they are to the world we will leave to our children and grandchildren.
We are left with no choice, eco-spirituality will eventually usher new ways that support the idea that the best business environment is the environment.
But ours is the first move, to love, care and treat nature with reverence.
*Michael A. Bengwayan has a Masters Degree and Ph.D. in Development Studies and Environmental Resource Management from University College Dublin, Ireland as a European Union Fellow. He writes for the British Gemini News Service, New York’s Earth Times and the Environmental News Service. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation, New York