If you read Lynn Townsend White Jr. you realize that Christianity lies at “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis.” No item in God’s physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes. White says “Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects…it’s the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen…what we do about ecology depends on our ideas of the man-nature relationship. More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink the old one.” I rather doubt that the old one can be rehabilitated.
There was a book written in the early eighties by John Livingston called “The Myth of Wildlife Preservation”. Livingston argued that environmentalists were losing the war to save wildlife habitat because they were fighting the battle with the men in suits on their terms—that is, the terms of facts and figures and dollars and cents. But you can’t always quantify the priceless bounty of wildlife and pristine lakes and streams. The power-brokers only want to know about hard numbers, “tourist dollars” vs. the opportunity cost of no development. The only way to save wildlife is to win a constituency for it and to do that you’ve got to get people out of their shopping malls and fitness clubs and into marshes and lakes and actually “experience” wildlife. The battle to fight climate change or save the environment cannot be won by producing hard data or scientific papers and presentations. That’s been done. Ad nauseam. People aren’t listening because they have lost their connection to the land. To nature. They live in cities. Artificial bubbles that insulate them from an appreciation of the wonderment of this country. For native Americans, for aboriginal Canadians, religion issued from the land itself. And as White said, in Antiquity, “ every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit.” When we re-establish that kind of connection, which I think involves a kind of mystical understanding that Capra spoke of, as opposed to the purely rational, scientific mind-set that is presently favoured, then we might have some hope of saving something of this planet.
We need a spiritual awakening, much more than a scientific understanding. And a spiritual awakening definitely not of the Christian kind. “God” did not grant us dominion over everything that lives on earth. “We are one among millions of species, stewards of nothing…Nature does not exist for us, had no idea we were coming, and doesn’t give a damn about us.” (Stephen Jay Gould) “Humans need to move from stewardship to studentship, and better learn the ways of the Earth and ourselves, for it is not the planet or its ecosystems that need stewarding, it is us.” (N. K. Dawe)