Planet Under Stress: Religious Communities and the Ecological Crisis

Speaker: Categories: Jul 10, 2010


[1hr, 0min, 58sec / 33min, 37sec]


Dr. Greer notes that ours is a time of ecological crisis and even collapse. Of this, the massive oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is the most recent reminder. On several fronts the life support systems of our planet are facing unprecedented insult. Habitat destruction is accelerating. Deforestation continues at breakneck speed to make place for monoculture, ranching, and other economic ventures. It may be that the sixth major extinction event is underway. The irreplaceable biodiversity in numerous forests and oceanic reef systems is being squandered by short-sighted pursuit of gain.

The climate continues to change faster than many models predicted even two to three years ago. The Arctic ecosystems are deteriorating the most rapidly. The oceans are warming and acidifying with increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Large dying and dead zones are appearing in certain regions the of the oceans, where primary phytuplankton production is down. Seasonal storm intensities, droughts, and water shortages are on the increase. The current ecological crisis should be set in the context of data sets on ecological changes in the recent geological past, during and since the Pleistocene.

What is being played out is the"tragedy of the commons"- the exploitation and non-replenishment of resources of clean air, fresh water, soil, forests, and oceans, which are the common heritage of the entire planet. These consequences of the pursuit of private and corporate gain are aided and abetted by lax and / or non-existent regulation enforcement. In order to satisfy insatiable and carefully-fostered consumerism, multinational corporations and their enablers in government are concentrating power.

Too often this power combination is as damaging, unaccountable, unresponsive, and as ideologically obsolete as the power structures of the old Soviet Eastern bloc. A result is the growing addiction to non-renewable fuels, a culture of disposability, pollution, and a further incitement of wars with the exploitation of human rights and habitat integrity.

Fortunately, there is also an increase in the environmental consciousness of people all over the world. Indigenous peoples, communities, more enlightened consumers, agricultural cooperatives, conscientious entrepreneurs, thought leaders, religious groups, and local governments around the world are responding to the need and growing demand for sustainable development. Everywhere there are voices fighting for a sustainable future for our children and our children's children, and against the privatization and pillage of our planetary home. Particularly at the municipality level, civic and economic models are emerging which are a pragmatic blend of public stewardship, local free enterprise, and cultural interchange resulting in practical measures leading to freer, healthier lives and communities.

Aside from other religious heritages, traditions within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have at times been beneficial through viewing humankind as stewards or caretakers of the creation. They have also been detrimental in portraying the creation as made for the benefit and dominion of man, or as a mere temporary or evil prelude to a better world. This raises several questions:

1. How does the view (as conceived in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions) that the earth is placed by God under man's charge differ philosophically and practically from the view of many indigenous peoples that humans belong to the earth and not vice versa? What are the ecological effects?

2. How does the traditional dualism of the monotheistic religions affect views of the world of matter as completely distinct from spirit? What are the ecological effects?

3. What are the ecological effects of traditional apocalypticism in Christianity in general and in Adventist Christianity in particular?

4. What are the elements of a new sustainable planetary ethics?

5. What can a religious community do to foster and participate in the new emerging ethics of sustainability?


Lee Greer is an assistant professor of Biology at La Sierra University in Riverside, CA, where he lives with his wife Linda, and children, Bethanie and Justin. Lee's research includes molecular systematics of SE Asian amphibians and reptiles, phylogenetics, and comparative genomics. He teaches general biology, developmental biology, as well as bioinformatics and genomics. He is the faculty advisor to the student-directed non-profit, Project Pueblo, which is involved with community development in the Navajo Nation.

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