Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Being an Advocate For the Earth by Changing the First Principle

Guest Author:  Rev. Sam Trumbore

Past President St. Lawrence Chapter of the Unitarian Universalist Minister's Association
Past President Unitarian Universalist Buddhist Fellowship
Minister First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany

On Being an Advocate For the Earth

Since the dawn of civilization, humanity has been looking backward to the good old days. In Genesis, we see the prototype for this human sentiment in the Garden of Eden. Everything was wonderful and perfect until human beings follow their curiosity, enabled by the serpent who puts doubt in their minds, and eat from the forbidden tree. It all starts unraveling from there and we've been trying to get back to that garden ever since.

From the natural selection perspective of evolutionary theory, humanity has been a supremely successful species. Big brains are a very powerful adaptive resource to increase our ability to survive. Our ability to remember opportunities and threats and then anticipate them has helped us, reproduce and not get killed or eaten. And we've also evolved ways to communicate that learning through language and retain that learning beyond our own deaths. We're still talking about scientific, religious and philosophic learning that happened thousands of years ago.

Sadly our success hasn't been very good for most other life forms on this planet, except for rats, ticks, deer and cockroaches. At the rate things are going, our dominance of the biosphere will likely drive 90% of species to extinction. Chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, cows and pigs along with wheat, corn and rice, however, have had their genes do very well. (A version of humanities love of the 1%)

The threat we pose to the planet by driving extinction rates through the roof is the way we disturb ecosystems. Human intervention in a particular place hunting a species till it disappears or selecting one species we'd like to encourage to multiply can create an imbalance with the other species of plants and animals. Remove predators and the deer population explodes. Introduce a new species like fast growing Brazilian Pepper to Florida and it takes over, soaking up all the light and creating barren ground under it. Understory plants can't survive with this bush that has no enemies to contain it.

Systems theory has helped us understand and appreciate the delicate balance that supports a wide diversity of species to survive. Removing just one species or introducing one new one can completely unbalance that system. Scientists think it takes a long time for that balance to reestablish itself since evolutionary change requires many generations of offspring to incorporate genetic changes to adapt. This could take hundreds or thousands of years.

Human activity happens much, much faster than that.

This imbalance between the rapid speed of human activity and the slow rate that nature can adapt to our changes has created significant discouragement by those interested in preserving the biodiversity that currently exists. And that has led to an anti-humanism that can be sensed in the new philosophy of Deep Ecology. This philosophy puts a higher value on planetary welfare than on human welfare.

And there is logic to this. If we destroy the planet's ability to support life, it will be rather negative for humanity as we'll face mass extinction too. The dilemma of our age is figuring out how to balance human wants and needs verses the needs of planetary diversity of species to survive and flourish.

Or, in other words, to survive, humanity must learn self-regulation.

Humanity does have this capacity to self-regulate ... but to make a commitment to this capacity
 as a planetary organism will require an evolution of consciousness. Every species puts its needs before all other species in the struggle to survive. It is eat or be eaten and grab as much territory as you can. The balance is created by the diversity of species not by any one species self-regulating. Humanity so far has operated outside this mechanism - to our peril.

Humanity is the first species that can consciously value diversity and actually take an active hand in helping it along. We are able to restore ecosystems after disrupting them. We have the power to stop polluting the air, land and water. We can recognize that increasing carbon dioxide will be a threat.

Commitment to interdependence is one of the highest priorities of our species and potentially one of the greatest gifts we can give our planet. We have the capacity to recreate the Garden of Eden through a commitment to the planet before our self-interest.

One way to make that commitment is to change our first principle from "The inherent worth and dignity of all people" to "every being."

Rev. Sam