Nature exists for our use and enjoyment, but certainly not for our exploitation. We, as human beings, as members of the animal kingdom, are connected to all living things and are thus a part of nature ourselves. This concept may seem obvious to most, but many seem to have become completely disconnected from their knowledge of this reality. Simply because we have the ability to extract, hoard, and profit from exploiting the earth’s resources is no good reason to do it. In fact, it is counter productive for us to do so. Our own survival is bound up in the continuation and survival of all other species. The more we damage their habitats and exponentially reduce their populations, the closer we come to bringing about our own demise.
We are obligated to use our resources wisely, if for no other reason but to ensure our own sustenance and longevity. There are plenty of other reasons to do so, but for egocentric creatures such as ourselves, these should be the most compelling. As an ethical dilemma, this obligation is an intrinsic part of our being. Other animals do not have the reasoning capacity that we do to see the effects of globalization, urban sprawl, factory farming and industrial agriculture. Our intelligence has set us above the limits of nature, but we are not beyond its control. If we don’t collectively come to the realization that we are obliged to protect and ensure the survival of all life on this planet, then our Mother Earth will certainly show us who’s really in charge of things. And it seems as though she’s sending us some warning signs already.
It is no coincidence that carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere are increasing, many of the coldest parts of the planet are losing ice, sea levels are rising, oceans are warming, and weather all over just continues to get more and more extreme. Despite these undeniable signs that climate change is a real threat to the stability of life on earth, there are many who simply want to deny it, of which a good portion have political or ideological reasonings to justify their ignorance. Some have financial interests involved, such as the polluting corporate citizens who are concerned about their bottom lines, and others hold religious or faith-based skepticisms about climate change science that really seem quite illogical.
However, people of faith, specifically, are ethically obligated to protect the good gifts we have been given from the earth. The God of both the Old Testament and the New, obviously felt that creation was good and worthy of our stewardship. There’s a thread of environmental ethics that runs through the holy books of Islam as well. Christ himself said we should “do unto the least of these,” the smallest and seemingly most insignificant, that which we would do for him. The Buddha teaches that everything is one, and that all life is interconnected. And most, if not all indigenous people groups hold a sense of reverence for the natural world and hold many aspects of it as sacred, some even worthy of human worship.
There is, however, a limit to the protection we can give to the natural world. Obviously, some of the damage that has been done will last a very long time, and some may not be reversible. We’ll have to just wait and see what happens in regard to some of these iniquities against mother nature. Nuclear waste will be around for quite some time and all the species we’ve already driven into extinction will never come back. But that is not to say that we shouldn’t try, because we certainly don’t have any other place to call home.
Instinctively, it seems as though we have an ethical duty to do whatever we can to preserve human life, even if it means we must do things that may compromise our efforts to protect and conserve certain place in the short term. Anything that violates human rights, or would call for the murder of humans anywhere, is certainly a limit that we must put on the protection of nature. However, there are many ways that we can both provide for our own needs, without damaging or degrading natural habitats, while also working toward equality and equanimity among humans.
Perhaps, even as we turn our hearts and minds toward healing the earth, she will respond in kind and help the process along, healing us in turn as well. Just as the human body responds to efforts made to comfort and heal, so will our collective body on the macrocosmic scale respond as well. As we are all interconnected with every form of life, even turning our thoughts and impulses toward loving, nurturing, and curative intentions will begin the process of reconciliation.
Some of the keys to getting ourselves to a more equitable and sustainable way of living for the entire planet is the elimination of mental and physical poverty and the expansion of education and understanding. If more people had a better quality of life, and a better knowledge of what we all need to do in order to save our earth and ourselves from destruction, we would probably all be more willing and able to participate and engage in this common endeavor. Let us hope that we get to this place of commonality before it really is too late.