The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Fragile or Robust?
The phrase, "like a bull in a china shop" evokes vivid images of widespread destruction. The first encounter of El Torro with a display shelf is enough to make the shopkeeper cringe, but it gets worse. The crash of breaking dishes startles the constrained creature, and its nervous response triggers even more toppling of tea cups -- a self-reinforcing effect that techie-types call "a feedback loop." Utter devastation ensues.
A flurry of rambunctious bovine activity doesn't have the same effect if it happens in an open pasture. A shake of the head and a kick of the hooves may toss a clod of dirt and startle a few chipmunks, but things settle down pretty quickly, and no harm is done.
It is the setting that makes all the difference. One place is fragile, and the other holds up just fine in the face of the bull's behavior.
OK -- that's pretty self-evident. So take the metaphor, and put humanity in place of the bull. Then the question becomes, what sort of setting are we living in? Is the Earth fragile like the china shop, or durable like the pasture?
That question was a recurring theme at an environmental conference last weekend sponsored by the Wyoming Association of Churches. In my presentation, I had named the polarity of a fragile or robust Earth as one of the core assumptions that shape our environmental actions. My passing reference to that topic stuck in people's minds, and stirred up a surprising amount of conversation in the next day's workshops.
What I heard -- and what I didn't hear -- last weekend shows that there is a fascinating range of perspectives that people bring to this ecological question. The conversations that took place show me that it is informative, fruitful, and perhaps even essential to explore this grounding assumption in ourselves and our communities.
I did not hear anyone last weekend express the "have no fear" option, the one that suggests that we can't do any real harm. I have encountered that stance in other debates, though -- especially from people who are not concerned about climate change -- when they assert that the Earth is so big that humans could never have any real impacts on it. Like the bull in an open pasture, or a 2-year-old kicking at an adult, they say that the hurt that humanity can inflict is pretty trivial compared to the strength of the robust Earth.
I think everybody at last week's gathering acknowledged the power of human impacts, both locally and globally, but there was no unanimity in the group about what that means.
We don't often stop to consider our own core assumptions, or those of the folk that we're talking to. I encourage you to reflect on your own beliefs about the Earth as fragile or robust. Join in conversation with your family, neighbors, colleagues and church family. Delving into this question can help us understand the motivations and decisions of others, and can help us communicate our own views more accurately and persuasively.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org