Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Belonging to the Earth

"Joshua Trees"
-In the High Desert-

Today scientists, ecologists, politicians and world leaders are meeting at the United Nations in New York to address what is now being called the "crisis" of global warming and climate change. Over the past few days the streets of that city, along with many other major cities around the globe, have been filled with hundreds and thousands of protesters demanding that governments and industry engage in an an "all-out" effort to join in the fight to preserve the life of a "dying planet."

Yesterday I watched a TV reporter interview one of the "climate crisis" protestors in New York City who declared, "Unless we act now, "Mother Nature is going to stop serving us."  While I am sure that this man was well-meaning, his statement about "Mother Nature serving us" lies at the heart of the "climate crisis" problem. In our self-centered hubris, human beings actually believe that the world of nature exists to serve us. 

Many if not most people think that the earth belongs to human beings. The world of nature exists to meet our needs- oceans supply us with fish, rivers and lakes provide us with water, the earth provides us fuel for driving our cars and heating our homes, the creatures of the earth provide us food to eat, and beautiful mountains provide us with scenic views to help make our vacations more enjoyable. 

But I think we have it all wrong - the earth doesn't belong to us, we belong to the earth. 

For decades now scientists, biologists and ecologists have argued that the entire planet is in fact one enormous organism, one gigantic "ecosystem."  The earth, wind, air, rivers, oceans and mountains, animals, birds that fly and fish that swim, and all of us human beings on this planet are in fact "one body" that lives and breathes and is dynamically connected and interdependent. 

The world of nature doesn't exist separately, out there and apart from human beings - with humanity at the center of it all. We all "are" the world of nature. And so when oceans are polluted, we are all polluted; and when the air is poisoned, everything is poisoned. 

A story in our local paper reported that due to climate change and global warming, the temperature of the desert is rising, and so those beautiful and exotic Joshua Tress in the High Desert (not far from where I live) are dying off and becoming extinct. As I read that story I realized that as those trees are being killed, I am being killed, each and every one of us is being diminished and destroyed.

Climate change, global warming, the pollution of our air and oceans goes well beyond being a "cause" on the agenda of "tree-hugging" liberals. The climate crisis lies at the very core of our common humanity and is central to a spiritual journey regardless of what path any of us may be on.

Way before the age of science, well before words like "ecology" and "ecosystem" were used, the Buddha taught a wisdom of enlightenment - awake and mindful we become aware that everything and everyone is "one body," one living and breathing interdependent web of relationship, no person, no creature, no thing ever isolated, and nothing or no one more central or more important than anything else. 

Jesus taught the same thing.

The climate crisis is a spiritual crisis. 

As I sit in my garden at the rising of the sun, I think about something the ecologist, John Muir, once wrote:

The sun doesn't shine on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us,
tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies 


  1. Absolutely. 7 million people a year die prematurely from the effects of air pollution. I have not seen statistics on those who die from polluted water or soil. We know the effects of agricultural products dumped into the nations river by the size of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

    This apparent disconnect between cause and effect is the proof of a horrible spiritual disease. Our way of life however is bearing fruit as I see it. We've sown to the wind and are about to reap the whirlwind. The fact that we do not recognize our responsibility is baffling.

    Whatever the spiritual mystery turns out to be it will be clear that disrespect for creation is identical albeit parallel to disrespect for the Creator.

    1. Yes,

      I am very fond of what one theologian has had to say about the "ecosystem," calling it, "The body of God"…every pollution of the natural world is a crucifixion.

    2. One of my favorite illustrations is by Alan Watts. Did we come into the world at birth, or did we come out of the world at birth?

      There's quite a difference in the way one ultimately perceives things depending on which answer one chooses.

      Into the world? or Out of the world?

      The new pope has spoken out strongly on the moral / ethical / spiritual aspects of respect for the environment. Having had a middleman between the environment and the dinner table has made us forget there is an origin of the food. We think of the middlemen first because their the ones we see. Bottom line is if it's good for Wall Street it's all you can hope for.

      We forget due to a preponderance of information overflow and became spiritually more and more decadent so now the idea of 'protecting' the environment seems as quaint as finding a peaceful solution to a conflict.

  2. The response to climate change is one indication that humanity has not totally lost its own self=esteem. Maybe through our struggle to regain our balance with nature, Humanity will learn that violence is not the way to resolve problems/

  3. Interesting isn't that human beings are the only one with egos. Carolyn Wheeler

    1. Theologians would call the human ego, "original sin"

    2. I think that definition of 'original sin' is probably the best one I've heard.