Environmental Ethics

May. 25, 2017

From: the forward in Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim

For many people the environmental crisis of this scope and complexity is not only the result of economic, political and social factors. It is also a moral and spiritual crisis which will require broader philosophical and spiritual understandings of ourselves as creatures of nature, embedded in life cycles and dependent on ecosystems. These understandings frame the ethical orientation of society. In trying to reorient ourselves in relation to the earth, it has become apparent that we have lost our appreciation for the intricate nature of matter and materiality. In technologically sophisticated urban societies, we have become removed from the recognition of our dependence on nature. We no longer know who we are as earthlings, we no longer see the earth as sacred. Our alienation is rooted in our own ecocentric perspectives and shortsighted needs. The unintended consequences of unlimited growth and resource development have led us to an impasse regarding the survival of many life-forms and appropriate management of varied ecosystems. The magnitude of destructive industrial processes is so great that we must initiate a radical rethinking of the myth of progress and of humanities role in the evolutionary process. The reexamination of other worldviews created by spiritual beliefs and ancient wisdom traditions may be critical to our recovery of sufficiently comprehensive cosmologies, broad conceptual frameworks and effective environmental ethics for the 21st century.

It is becoming increasingly evident that abundant scientific knowledge of the crisis is available and numerous political and economic statements have been formulated. Yet, we seem to lack the political, economic and scientific leadership to make necessary changes. What is still lacking is spiritual commitment, moral imagination and ethical engagement to transform the environmental crisis to one of effective policy from rhetoric in print to realism in action. More than 30 years after Carson’s Silent Spring, why are we still debating the issue instead of taking action? A spiritual reverence for nature may provide the transformational energies needed for ethical practices to protect endangered ecosystems, threatened species and diminishing resources. The aim is a creative revisioning of mutually enhancing human-earth relations. Spiritual traditions may help to supply both creative resources of symbols, rituals, and texts as well as inspiring visions for reimagining ourselves as part of, not apart from, the natural world.

The aim is to celebrate plurality by raising to conscious awareness multiple perspectives regarding nature and human-earth relations as articulated in the religions for the world. The spectrum of cosmologies, myths, symbols, and rituals within the religious traditions will be instructive in resituating us within the rhythms and limits of nature. If humans are to continue as a viable species on an increasingly degraded planet, this will require not just economic and political changes, it will require examining worldviews and ethics among the world’s religions that differ from those that have captured the imagination of contemporary industrialized societies which regard nature primarily as a commodity to be utilized. As the pope stated in his first encyclical “The ecological crisis is a summons to profound interior conversion.”

“Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment.” Pope Francis