An Ethical and Moral Response to the Destruction of the Environment
Mark Johnson, Director of FOR USA, the United States Fellowship of Reconciliation, recently mentioned to me that they are thinking of initiating a Campaign around the moral and ethical issues related to destroying the environment. At the time, I said nothing. The thought took me to the source of the painfully fragmented, deeply interconnected peace and justice movement. If I were a more socially responsive individual, I would have asked how they planned to frame the campaign. In fact, I wished after I got off the phone, that I had asked. But I was overwhelmed by my own reaction, and thoughts on the subject continue to disrupt my peace.
An Anecdote: I was talking one day with an associate who is deeply involved with the Catholic Church and the Interfaith movement to the extent that he as written books on topics in that area. We were at a weekly antiwar vigil that has been ongoing here for at least 10 years thanks to a few diehard individuals who persist through all circumstances. I asked him what he thought was going to do us in first (war or economic failure) and, to my surprise, he replied ‘global warming’.
I guess I really shouldn’t have been surprised as his answer reflects the perception that nature (god) will draw the line rather than any inter-human fabrication. Really, that is the point. environmental destruction is a place where it all meets. All the horrific implements of human destruction, also destroy most other life forms. I myself think there is a high risk of a global famine that might be triggered by Monsanto products. I think we can expect some interesting (if not pretty) evolutionary side trips due to the unrestrained use of chemical weapons and depleted uranium by our own military, though even the psychopaths who run the world are not likely to start a full scale nuclear war. And then, of course, there is carbon dioxide and global warming. Although, I honestly think China is going to save us from that one. The Chinese are heavy users of coal, but because they having trouble getting enough gas and oil to maintain growth, so they are also the biggest sponsors of research in solar power.
I wonder how one would constructively approach the idea of ethical and moral care of the environment. More demonstrations. Protest the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. More lobbying. Fight fracking. People want to do those things anyway. But I often feel a wave of grief wash over me when I am washing a metal can or plastic bottle for recycling, because I know that it is mostly a nice gesture. Five different garbage companies drive through my suburban neighborhood each week. Four of the five have 2 big heavy trucks going by, 1 for garbage, 1 for recyclables, spewing carbon dioxide and wearing out the pavement. It’s crazy. But, its true in all the local suburbs. Only the city provides garbage collection as a service. In the city, they don’t even pick up recyclables in poorer areas of the city. They don’t figure drug addicts and ghetto queens have the bandwidth for recycling.
There are many folks around who eat only organic foods. I prefer them, but they are expensive and not always easy to obtain or verify. Purchasing only organic foods at the super market is very much a pursuit of the middle class. There are others who try to grow all of their own food (organically, of course). I’m a gardener, so I can resonate with that solution. It’s an admirable practice, but I really believe that, like it or not, we are going to have to solve societies problems with social solutions. It would be great if we could just quit, and then all that nastiness would just implode and leave us in peace. It’s kind of like focusing on the Church, and waiting to be ‘Raptured’. I believe that it is too late for dropping out. We created this mess together and we are going to have to solve it together.
Everything comes down to the environment. The environment is everything that is not me. Or maybe, it is everything that is alive but not human. But then, what is it that poisons you and not me? What can be the outcome of sacrificing the earth for you and me? We can’t survive the loss of our mother earth. And any toxin or war that kills one human can surely do the same to another. Ultimately there is no way to separate oneself from the environment. We are part of it. At least we are part of someone’s environment. We belong to a fractal ecosystem of overlapping environments. There is no escape and nowhere to hide.
Some dictator is ‘killing his own people’. A town is poisoning it’s own ground water. A corporation is impoverishing and undermining the very society it depends on to do business. The CEO makes 300 x the income of his workers. What can he hope to spend it on? A parasite that kills it’s host is out of business. We are all immersed in a society composed of humanity and our creations. If our creations consume us, our fellow humans, our environment, then I propose that we have lost our way. Water is never truly isolated. It fills oceans and lakes, flows under the ground and permeates the air. There is no killing one’s own people. There is only killing people. Every individual killed in war is a human like me and like you. Every well poisoned, every forest razed, every genetic chimera is a blow to life and to our own survival, just as every civilian killed in war, by a gun or a bomb or poisoned water or untreated disease is one of our own. Every animal starved into extinction and driven from it’s habitat represents the curtailment of a unique design in the fabric of life.
When the environment, the earth is violated, the poor are the first humans to suffer. When society is out of balance such that aggression and violence become the preferred methods of communication, of operation, then the environment will surely be debased. Then more people will suffer. When intellectual constructs like capitalism, communism, socialism; like Catholicism, Protestantism, Islamism, Judaism become more important than life, more important than any individual life, more important than the welfare of a single individual, is that ‘freedom’? Intellectual constructs of this kind do not provide a basis for society. Society provides a basis for these thought forms, and perhaps a context for experimentation with ideologies of this kind. However, it is no more appropriate to give these ideologies life and death power over society than to give robots the power of life and death over men.
I belong to numerous organizations opposing the use of drones for targeted assassinations, for killing ‘terrorists’ without risk to the pilot, for killing human beings without anyone holding a clear and immediate responsibility for the consequences of these actions. There is talk about the development of drones that will choose a target and kill a human being without even a remote pilot. We cringe at the thought. But, corporations are the social drones that treat humans as pawns in their gigantic struggles for power. No one is responsible for the violence and destruction they cause. ‘Isms’ are intellectual drones that feed societies, and when their governance is strong enough, feed wars. All sides become blinded by righteousness. No one is wrong.
Somehow, we have to chose life as a society, not just as individuals. Somehow, we have to come to terms with the fact that are own designs may be inferior to those of nature. Artificial intelligence cannot, at least at this point, measure up to the multiple intelligences of life. Science is about observation. Technology is about imitation and ultimately, about control. Will we hand over our humanity to the tools? If we stop sensing, observing, will the tools continue to function on our behalf ? Do they have a purpose of their own that transcends life? Process is a tool. Law, social services, religion, all processes, process bound. Or not. Where can we intervene with our humanity in the great social, economic and political forces that we have created, and allow life to restore balance. Is it already too late?
I don’t have a detailed solution, but I think I see the problem. What I see is that we have to stop striving to implement social political and religious paradigms and we have to give up blind reliance on them to provide the infrastructure of our lives. Revolution does bring about a change of infrastructure, often at great cost. But, swapping out one paradigm for another is a costly, and at best a temporary solution. Instead we have to build a new society one relationship at a time, by learning to see ourselves in every other human being, and treating every living thing with compassion and respect, understanding that all life is interwoven into a single entity. Until we can do that, the wars and the famines and the destruction of the environment will continue. As long as our goals and the processes that govern our actions are solely the creations of our own minds, we will not be able to uphold our responsibilities to one another and to the earth.