Tuesday, September 1, 2015

We are the Earth

"Like the First Morning"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Yesterday I listened to one of the most frightening speeches I have ever heard. Set against a background of the crystal-clear skies and pristine snow-capped mountains of Alaska, in foreboding and almost apocalyptic language, President Obama warned that the effects of climate change were now so serious that Planet Earth as we know it was in danger of being destroyed in the not too distant future. The President said:

Climate change is no longer some far-off problem;
It is happening here, it is happening now and we are not acting fast enough.

Almost every reputable scientist on earth has warned that if climate change keeps up entire countries will be submerged in the ocean, cities will be engulfed, the lakes and rivers will be poisoned, the air will become un-breathable and fields left barren (we already see some of this here in Southern California as a severe drought has reduced huge portions of farmland into a dry and barren desert).

And even though scientists have long-warned about these dire predictions, somehow we tend to ignore what they say and turn a blind eye to the serious environmental threat our planet is facing. Instead, we worry about making money and living comfortably even though we may not be able to leave behind a planet for those who come after us to inhabit with the same degree of comfort.

Interestingly enough, the Pope has declared today, September 1, to be a “Day of Environmental Awareness,” emphasizing the key role human beings play in caring for creation.

As I think about the pope’s proclamation for this day, I also think back to a time about 4 centuries ago when another pope condemned the 16th century mathematician, Nicholas Copernicus, for daring to challenge the well-established belief that the earth was the center of the universe.  Copernicus (and later Galileo) shockingly declared that it was the sun and not the earth at the center of it all, and therefore creation didn’t revolve around the welfare and comforts of the human beings who inhabited this planet - both Copernicus and Galileo were roundly condemned for their heresies.

Four hundred years later, we human beings are still condemning Copernicus and Galileo for their bold assertion that we are not at the center of it all.

Although we are supposedly more astute than the folks who lived back then, at some deep level we somehow still hold onto the belief that everything revolves around our “human race.” We think that water and land, sky, seas and forests all exist to serve our needs and benefit our welfare - nothing could be farther from the truth. We all belong together – the natural world doesn’t belong to human beings, we all belong to a world of nature. Human beings are made of stardust, we are one with the oceans and we breathe a common air- everything and everyone interconnected and interdependent.  

In a radical reversal of the position of his predecessors, in his most recent teaching Pope Francis emphasized this dynamic interdependence, declaring that we cannot love God nor can we love one another unless we love the earth because nature, humanity and divinity are all parts of the whole - whatever we do to any part we do to the whole.

As I see it, if we are killing the earth because of our human selfishness we are killing humankind; and in fact we are killing “God.”

Zen Master and Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts it this way:

We need to realize that the earth is not just our environment,
the earth is not something outside of us.
Our consciousness is also the consciousness of the earth.
We are the earth.
Look around you – what you see is not your environment,
It is you!
The future of the planet depends on this insight.

In a very real sense the future of this planet does indeed depend upon our awareness of the truth that we are the earth. It’s time to wake up to this awareness before it is too late.

We are not acting fast enough!


  1. This post brought tears to my eyes. Where does our apathy stem from? I love nature, I recycle, keep abreast of environmental issues yet drive the family car, have electronics, fly occasionally, have too many clothes. I'm using up resources and polluting up the atmosphere along with everyone else. I can only change myself. Thanks Paul xx

    1. All any of us can ever do is change ourselves...thanks for the comment.