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Environmental concerns

The impairment of the ecosphere:
The current status and outlook

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The current status and outlook:

We were given a healthy natural world with clean air and water, fertile soil and abundance of life. This world was the basic source of all the benefits we receive and of all the wealth we have. The decisions taken now will determine in what condition we will pass on this precious heritage to our children, to what extent will they receive the life-support systems of nature undamaged. Extensive environmental degradation began long before the biblical era. Almost every civilization, Chinese, Greek, Roman, Aztec, Hindu and Buddhist, abused the environment by deforestation and extensive agriculture, but only we have wounded the life systems of our planet extensively, on several occasions mortally. This happened since the emergence of an industrial civilization in Western Europe and its subsequent spread to almost every part of the world. What is happening in our times is a change unparalleled in the four and a half billion years of earth's history. 1

The environmental crisis is documented elsewhere in this section. Among the topics of concern are manifestations of industrial pollution (the greenhouse effect, the threat to the ozone layer from CFCs, acid rain), general pollution (of streams, rivers and seas, of the air we breathe), source depletion (soil erosion, desertification, draining of wetlands, grubbing up of coral reefs, loss of species), habitat destruction, population explosion (population pressures), and the development problems. Evidently, we are destroying the objective conditions that make life possible, and it is we who must find a way to correct the problems. 2 We must stop countries and corporations that are involved in plundering the sea, raping forest, polluting the atmosphere, or creating the chemicals that are poisoning the planet, and take all other necessary actions.

Already in 1947, Henry Fairfield Osborne proposed in his book Our Plundered Planet 3 that, through human deeds, the world was undergoing grave ecological devastation. There is little doubt that humans themselves and all other life forms are going through an ecological crisis. The world needs to be saved because it is moving in an eco-logically unsustainable path, and there is no such thing as a sustainable growth any more. Population, food production, and consumption of nonrenewable natural resources have been increasing exponentially in the last two centuries. Increasingly in recent decades, human demands have outstripped the ability of biological systems to renew themselves. 4 We are rapidly destroying the ecological conditions apart from which much of life could not exist. 2 Fossil fuels, minerals, and water, together with four biological systems (croplands, forests, grasslands, and fisheries) provide all the necessary resources for economy.

The 'human ecological footprint' defines the land area required to provide the resources and absorb the emissions for the global society. This measure was exceeded by 20% in 1990. 5 Few realize (or have the courage to say) just how dire our situation really is, how radical the change must be. 6

We seek to create a man-made technological world, not knowing whether we are capable of adapting to it, or whether the ecosphere is capable of sustaining it for a sufficiently long time. 7 We are altering people's aspirations without providing means for them to be satisfied. This leads to disillusionment, rise in anti-social practices, rising unemployment, and violent expression of discontent. Individual motorization and unlimited air travel are two of the most important examples of non-sustainable developments.

Global car ownership and air travel cannot reach North American or Western European levels without depleting Earth's natural resources and catastrophically disrupting its climate and life-supporting systems. 6 The difference between the developed and the underdeveloped parts of the world in the use of energy and raw materials is too large to allow the latter to be brought to the level of the former without completely depleting all the available resources. This is the reason why the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WRO) cannot succeed in their vigorous promotion of neo-liberal economic policies. There are many examples of the quoted inequality:

bullet According to the State of the World's 2004 Report, the US and Western European consumers, who constitute only about 12% of the world population, are responsible for about 60% of consumption of private consumer goods. By contrast, the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, whose share in the world population is just 9%, spend only 7% on non-essential household goods. 9

bullet The world's poorest countries - the 49 least developed ones - have not shared the growth of world trade. The 646 million people in the top exporting countries (USA, Germany, Japan, France, UK) have 100 times more trade than their poor counterparts.

bullet The United States, because of its size, wealth, power, and consumption habits, is the most destabilizing unit of the vast ecosystem we call Earth. 10

Today, a zone of land which teems with wildlife, diverse plant populations, and intricate ecological systems is deemed 'undeveloped', the plundering of the planet by humans is termed 'progress', and the current destructive discipline of economics is considered 'normal'. Under the entrancement of the comfort made available, this is an indication of our tendency to regard the only world we know as normal, to consider the idea of the unlimited production of goods as means for achieving happiness, and to avoid seeing the dark side of things. It is the beginning of the deadening of our capacity to respond to a situation that is becoming economically and socially frightening.

Note that today our laws serve above all the protection of private property, and one could destroy the living world and make our very species extinct without violating a single one of the laws that we have enacted. 11

The perception of creation is an important issue in ecological discussions. On the one hand, if nature is understood as created only to serve human beings, than exploitation of nature without any limitations may be justified. However, if nature is understood as having its own value, then it has to be respected and used properly. In the prevalent view, the human race exists only in the context of the natural ecosystem of Earth, not as a privileged super-species given the earth as its inheritance. The human community cannot survive unless everything else survives. The human being is not a supreme being but a part of the web of nature, coexisting with other denizens of the cosmos. His obligation to the natural world must be accentuated. 11 We must realize that there is a purpose behind every act of creation, and each species is having its own role to play.

The already serious problems could grow a great deal worse, and that very fast. We have been given a breathing space, possibly a few decades, to develop a sustainable way of living. If we squander this time, then we will have passed the point of no return.

We have to act quickly. Unless we do, human beings and the rest of the planet's community will be condemned to live amid the ruins of the natural world. By ruining the bio-systems of the earth we are gambling with the destiny of the next generation and all succeeding generations. Our children may be living amid the ruined infrastructures of the industrial world. Also, it is important not to deal just with physical pollution. There will be no improvement in the lives of people and the planet unless ethical concerns are given as much weight as economic, political, and technological ones. The problems are not simply economic and technological; they are moral and spiritual as well. 12
Greed, lust, and anger are the causes of mental pollution; disharmony, conflict, sickness, and degradation of nature are their results. They are the results of the desire for profit, power, and self-aggrandizement.

There can be no appreciation of our ecological predicament unless we view it in its totality. 8 If, on the way to be followed, we put our faith in scientific, technological, and industrial development or progress, it will always serve the interests of corporations and their political allies. 13 And remember: World leaders preach the message of sustainable development, but instruct their negotiators to do trade deals above all else. 90

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. McCartin Paul, "A Theology of Environment," at: http://www.columban.com/
  2. Kaufman Gordon D., "Re-conceiving God and Humanity in Light of Today's
    Ecological Consciousness: A Brief Statement
    ," at: http://www.crosscurrents.org/
  3. Osborne Henry Fairfield, "Our Plundered Planet," Little Brown, (1948).
  4. Ardrey, Robert, "African Genesis," Collins, (1963).
  5. McDonagh Sean, "The Death of Life: The Horror of Extinction," Columba Press, (2004). Overview at: http://www.christian-ecology.org.uk/
  6. Hicks Roger, "The Plundering of Planet Earth," at: http://www.spaceship-earth.org/
  7. Goldsmith Edward, "The Way," Themis Books, (1996),
  8. Ecologist Staff, "A Blueprint for Survival," Penguin, 1973.
  9. Rizvi Haider, "US Food Waste and Hunger Exist Side by Side," Inter Press Service, 2004-SEP-04.
  10.  McDonagh Sean, "The Cost of Overpopulation," 2004-SEP, at:
    http://www.npg.org/
  11. Goldsmith Edward, "The Cosmic Covenant," at: http://www.edwardgoldsmith.com/
  12. McDonagh Sean, "Care of the Earth Moves Higher on the Church Agenda," at: http://www.columban.com/
  13. Goldsmith Edward, "Towards an Economic Worldview," http://www.edwardgoldsmith.com/
  14. McDonagh Sean, "Johannesburg 2002," at: http://eapi.admu.edu.ph/

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Copyright © 2006 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-JUL-18
Latest update: 2013-JUN-10
Author: Vladimir Tomek

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