Cultural historian and ecotheologian Thomas Berry distinguished between “shallow” and “deep” ecology. He said the former is based on the belief that big ecological problems can be resolved within an industrial, capitalist society by fighting pollution and resource depletion in order to preserve human health and affluence—basically the aim of the “environmental movement.” Deep ecology, however, “operates out of respect for all forms of life and accords them equal right to live and blossom.” (My italics).
In The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Fritjof Capra elaborates this distinction: “Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, and as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or “use,” value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans—or anything else—from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.” He goes on to say that ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence, a “mode of consciousness” where the individual feels a sense of belonging and connectedness to the cosmos as a whole.
Charles Eisenstein summarizes our situation succinctly in Climate: A New Story. “Earth is not a machine; it is alive, and it will remain hospitable to life only if we treat it as such… “so far we have been destroying its tissues and organs.”
Why? Because worldwide, economies were designed to promote the acquisition of wealth with little to no regard for ethics or environmental degradation. The perception of the earth as a perpetual growth machine encourages a posture of maintenance and repair when something bad happens. “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” And really serious problems? With enough money, human ingenuity and technology will fix them. Build a dam, raise the height of flood walls, purchase more equipment, enlist more volunteers and provide better training for first responders, declare states of emergency, enact legislation to bolster emergency response budgets, call out the National Guard, invest in more sophisticated technology in order to detect future crises. These are good and necessary fixes after a crisis, but these are band-aids. They don’t address the whole system. Attributing causes to “nature” just renders us helpless. But we’re not. Economies were structured by people, and they can be restructured. We’ll look at some of the possibilities in future postings. For now, I’ll stick to the topic at hand.
The band-aid fixes cited above amount to enforced caring. We act because we have to. Lives are at stake. In business, we refer to this as “crisis management.” Once the breakdown is healed, the system returns to normal functioning—except for those who lived through a tragedy, as we’re seeing in Puerto Rico.
The goal of virtually all national economies is to achieve unlimited growth, even though the absurdity of such an enterprise on a finite planet should be obvious to all… Undifferentiated economic growth is the root cause of our mountains of solid waste, our polluted cities, the depletion of natural resources, and the energy crisis; and because the continuing expansion of production is driven mainly by fossil fuels, it is also the root cause of the multiple disasters arising from peak oil and climate change.
Fritzof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi
“Why should I care? Nobody else does?” Our national discourse seems to indicate that is true. What is being talked about in the nightly news? Murder, active shooters, polarization, race relations, domestic abuse, corruption, drugs, celebrity gossip, natural and man-made disasters. A while back, a friend of mine politely asked his neighbor why he threw a half-eaten sandwich and french fries on the front lawn of their apartment. To paraphrase, the man replied, “Nobody cares about me, why should I care about anybody else?” If we all felt that way, the earth would already be a gigantic garbage dump with toxic air and water.
Why should I care about my home, property, the streets in my community, the food we eat, the parks we visit, security, health, education, the earth and life itself? There’s only one answer capable of sustaining us, and that’s love—caring enough about the quality of life for all living beings, love of the whole system, sufficient to redesign what isn’t working for humanity and the planet. With that, we can amend our lifestyles, economies and politics in ways that sustain and enhance the earth and her life-giving processes.
Hollywood, the mass media, mass marketing, and the advertising industry, in the interest of generating ever-higher profits, have inadvertently convinced us that “the good life” and the “American Dream” are had through the acquisition and consumption of material goods. In the race to win an ever-increasing share of prosperity, greed, competition and corruption have become business as usual. And if you’re rich enough, you won’t get caught doing something illegal—or you can buy yourself out of it if you do. With some exceptions, corporations and governments are continuing to treat the earth like a money-making machine, a resource to be exploited. Trouble is, the earth is a finite living being and we’re sucking the life out of it. Climate change and global warming deniers, backed by corporations and governments—especially ours—act as if this machine can continue to churn out wealth for the few at the expense of the many. I believe a day will come when the corporate powers and fossil fuel lobbyists will wake up and find that, worldwide, a groundswell of people who care deeply about their health and well-being and the flourishing of the planet, will be enacting a new, sustainable, whole systems design. From what I read, those people are connecting and the design is on the drawing board. Stay tuned.
Here’s just a sample: Underlined names are active links.
- CERES: CERES promotes sustainable business practices and solutions by working with more than 80 companies. Their Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), includes 100 leading investors collectively managing more than $11 trillion in assets.
- Conservation International (CI): CI works with scientists, local communities and practitioners in the field to protect nature, global biodiversity and human communities. It has supported the creation, expansion and improved management of nearly 50 million acres of marine and terrestrial protected areas, and its data collection has led to the discovery of more than 1,400 species new to science.
- Doctors Without Borders: Provides emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care. Since 1971, the organization has treated tens of millions of people in over 80 countries. In 1999, it received the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Food and Water Watch: Works to make food, fish and water safe, accessible and sustainable. They’ve raised consumer awareness of the environmental and economic costs of bottled water, and have helped dozens of communities — from Stockton, California to Trenton, New Jersey — fight the privatization of public water supplies.
- Greenpeace: The largest nonviolent, direct-action environmental organization in the world with 2.8 million members. Greenpeace’s work focuses on climate change, oceans, forests, toxins, nuclear energy and sustainable agriculture.
- Heifer International: Has provided over 20.7 million families—that’s 105.1 million men, women and children—with animals and training in sustainable agriculture so that they can feed and care for themselves. Founded over 70 years ago by a U.S. farmer, the organization focuses on ending hunger and poverty.
Source: The 14 Most Influential Sustainability NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organizations). When you’re thinking about charitable contributions, this is a great place to see who’s doing good in and for the world.
The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves… These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
Arne Naess and George Sessions
NOTE: In future postings on the ecological theme, I’ll provide contemplations on what can be done, including examples of what is being done more specifically to move in the direction of sustainability and earth & life-enhancing initiatives.
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