Sustainability: A Spiritual Problem

Personally, I know I don’t live sustainably. I took a quiz online. Try it yourself:


It asks such questions as:
  • How often do you eat meat or diary?
  • How much clothing, footwear, sporting goods purchases do you make in a year?
  • How often do you buy new appliances?
  • How much paper and plastic waste do you recycle?
  • How many people live in your household?
  • What’s the size of your home?
  • How far do you travel each week by car, motorcycle, bus, train, airplane?
My results? LoraKim and I are doing better than the average US resident. Being vegetarian counted for most of that: the meat industry generates tremendous pollution and greenhouse gases. In fact, a vegetarian driving a hummer is contributing less to climate change than a meat-eater driving a prius. And I am lucky enough to be able to walk to work. So LoraKim and I are doing better than the average US residents – but even so, just barely. The average US resident lives in a way which, if everyone lived that way, would take 5 earths. If everyone in the world lived like LoraKim and I do, we’d need 4.5 planet earths to provide enough resources.

If everyone lived like the average Canadian, we’d need 4.3 earths. Canadians do a little bit better than we do, eh? Fortunately, a lot of countries do a lot better than we do and many are living within the planet’s resource means -- the average US resident consumes over four times the resources consumed by the average of everybody else. US consumption rates are awfully high. Still, the US population is only 1/20 of the world population. If the US average were reduced to what the average of the other 19/20ths is now, then we'd need 1.2 earths.

Biocapacity Debtor Nations in red. Biocapacity Creditor Nations in green.

As it is right now, in total, we need 1.4 earths. In other words: every year humans use up 40% more resources than the earth created that year. Eventually, at this rate, we will use it all up. And that’s a problem.

It’s an economic problem. I’m not an economist.

It’s a political problem. I’m not a politician. I do have, as you do, political opinions, but I don’t have the kind of political connections to begin bringing world governments to the kinds of agreements we need.

It's a technological problem because modern technology burns huge quantities of resources. At the same time, some technological advances help other technological advances use less. It’s a technological problem. I’m not an engineer.

It’s a spiritual problem. Ah. Now we can talk. Can we talk? A spiritual problem? Oh, yes, indeed.
“Our environmental problems will not be fully addressed,” says Steven Rockefeller, “until we come to terms with the moral and spiritual dimensions of these problems, and we will not find ourselves religiously until we fully address our environmental problems.”
Connecting to the sacredness of the earth is what saves us – and it’s also what will save the Earth, if it will be saved. Ecospirituality -- which “means that our experience of the divine comes through the natural world.” (Jeanne Mackey) – is the path of salvation.

Ecospiritual literature began to take off about 25 years ago. One of its most prominent voices was that of Thomas Berry, Catholic priest, cultural historian and ecotheologian. Wrote Thomas Berry:
“The universe is the primary revelation of the divine, the primary scripture, the primary locus of divine-human communion.”
For Berry,
“a deep understanding of the history and functioning of the evolving universe is a necessary inspiration and guide for our own effective functioning as individuals and as a species.”
As a recent campaign from the Sierra Club put it:
“This is not about getting back to nature.
It is about understanding we've never left.”

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This is part 2 of 5 of "The Ecospiritual Imperative"
Next: Part 3: "Green Religion and Dark Green Religion"
Previous: Part 1: "Soteriology and Ecology"

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