The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
What Kind of World
The turning of the year often prompts introspection. What did I do with my life in 2012? What do I want to do differently in 2013? When we take such reflection seriously, these can be deeply spiritual and ethical questions.
The ponderings around New Years are often personal, but this also can be a worthwhile time to think about parallel social and cultural questions. How are we doing as a community, as a nation, as a planet? What changes would we like to see, and how might those come about?
In my conversations with scores of church groups, this larger question often gets expressed in the form of "What sort of world do we want to leave to our children and grandchildren?" (I often turn the question around to "What sort of world do our children and grandchildren have a right to expect from us?" That shifts the focus from our charity to their rights.)
Still, "what sort of world" is so big and potentially so vague as to be meaningless. How can we get more specific, and maybe more visceral?
A means for doing that comes in the January, 2013 issue of Scientific American magazine. In a special feature, they have seven short articles that look at some potential expression of where science and technology will take us in 50, 100 or 150 years. (That timing echoes their monthly column highlighting stories from the long-running magazine at similar periods in the past.)
The seven different ideas about what the world could be like hit me hard. None of them made me comfortable. I did see two clear philosophical camps, though, two perspectives that represent sharp contrasts. (Unfortunately, the SciAm website only has shortened versions of 6 of the columns. This might be a good reason to make a trip to your local library!)
I invite and encourage you to give some serious thought to the magazine's question. What might our world be like in 2063, 2113 or 2163? I'll share some brief thoughts on what the articles outlined, but these certainly are not the only possible answers. Where do you think we're headed, is that "the right direction", and what can we do to change course?
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Four of the seven pieces were full-bore celebrations of technology and human inventiveness. These authors are convinced that we'll keep inventing our way into an ever-more marvelous future.
I find it absolutely astounding that four of the seven articles make no mention of changes in energy supplies, or where we're going to find the juice to fly those car-planes, power the computers, or propel the spaceships. These four predictions make no mention of climate change. They share a worldview where humans are separate from the rest of creation, where we succeed by finding new ways to use resources and shape nature to our own ends. The presume essentially unlimited resources and infinite creativity to accomplish whatever we set out to do. Several of them are explicit, too, in looking to profit and market dynamics as the ultimate driver of what we would try to do.
This worldview is absolutely frightening to me, because it so closely reflects the cultural mindset that is disrupting and depleting our biosphere.
The other three articles are more diverse, but they do share some sense of our existence within the web of life -- not apart from it.
The three articles that understand ecology, and that place humans within nature, fit more comfortably with my view of the world, but they offer little in the way of a hopeful vision. Among the possibilities developed in all seven of the articles, the only one that seems even moderately attractive for our children and grandchildren is the geoengineered garden planet. Even that does not strike me as the sort of world that future generations have a right to expect, because it is still depleted by extinction, and it still sees the world primarily in terms of human use.
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What sort of world do our children and grandchildren have a right to expect from us? That's a painful question to consider, because there may be no evident path that gets us to what they deserve.
The short articles in Scientific American give us one set of images to consider. For me, they provide a powerful gut reaction that our current way of life -- domineering, exploitative and self-centered -- is not an acceptable way forward. That means that we must work urgently and vigorously to change those deeply rooted beliefs and institutions. We must draw on all of our creativity and political will to turn our culture in new directions.
Churches will be important in that cause, not by inventing new technologies, but in clarifying our visions and values. Powerful emotional stories about who we are, and who we hope to be in relationship with Earth community will help turn us toward different ways of living. May our congregations and communities take a hard and honest look at where we might be headed, and help us ponder -- rationally, spiritually and emotionally -- how to achieve our deepest hopes and goals.
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