CAN SCIENCE AND SPIRITUAL VALUES SAVE OUR ENVIRONMENT?
Paul Henry Carr
"EARTH on EDGE"
Bill Moyer's Report "Earth on Edge" documents how the world's 6 billion people are challenging the earth's ability to support nature and civilization. We have already depleted 70 per cent of the world's major marine fisheries and chopped down half of the forests. According to the "Scientific American" article "End of Cheap Oil," we have already used up half of our nonrenewable oil and gas energy sources, which took hundreds a of millions of years to form. The recent increases in the cost of oil and gasoline will continue in the next decades, because the limited supply is being depleted as the world's demand increases.
For a while, from 1973 to 1980, the tripling of oil prices, together with waiting in line to buy gasoline, got people's attention and caused them to conserve and be more energy efficient. For example, during this time we increased the average gas mileage of passenger cars from 15 to 24 miles per gallon. Federal and state tax incentives increased the use of solar hot water heaters.
Have we been "cooking" in complacency? Since 1980, oil prices have been stable. Slowly, however, the fuel economy of our vehicles has decreased from 26 miles per gallon (in 1986) to 24 mpg at present because people have been buying more and more light trucks and sport utility vehicles. Have we have responded like a frog thrown into a pot of hot water? The temperature shock makes him jump out. If the water temperature is increased slowly, he will cook. We can not sustain this decrease in energy efficiency over the next century.
The United States per capita oil consumption averages 3 gallons per day, compared to 1.4 gallons among other industrialized nations. The U.S. and Canada are the only countries that use more oil for transportation than heat or power. Apart from issues of social justice and sustainability, the large dependence on fossil fuels makes our economy most vulnerable to prices increases. "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first." Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland had modern, efficient railroads as well as substantial hydropower. As the cost of energy increases, the cost of constructing a more energy efficient, low carbon emitting infrastructure increases.
According to the story of Noah in Genesis 6, the Lord saw how wicked and evil everyone was. He was so filled with regret for having made humans that He destroyed them with a flood. Noah saw the rainbow in the sky as the seal of the covenant that God would never flood the earth again. There were so few humans then that it was impossible for them to break such a covenant. Now with the world's 6 billion people polluting our atmosphere with 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, we have the potential to create our own flood. Carbon dioxide traps the sun's heat at the Earth's surface like the glass in a greenhouse. In February 2001, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change concluded: "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is due to human activities." The burning of fossil fuels produces the 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Every automobile driver is involved. For every 10,000 miles driven, the automobile emits a ton of carbon dioxide.
In the past two decades, average temperatures have climbed as much as 7 deg. F in the arctic. "The Big Meltdown" article in the 4 September 2000 issue of TIME Magazine reported that sea ice is 40% thinner and covers 6% less area than in 1980. Permafrost is becoming less permanent. The glaciers are retreating as we turn up the heat. If this and the melting of the polar icecaps continue, the sea level will rise and flood low lying islands and peninsulas, such as Cape Cod, MA and Florida. When this happens, the loss of valuable shoreline real estate will cause us to take drastic measures. Unfortunately, it will take a century for these measures to reverse the present trends. Climate models show that the increased energy of global warming is causing weather extremes, like excessive flooding, draughts, crop failures, and hurricanes.
The United States, with only 5% of the world's population, produces 23% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. The United States emission of 6.6 tons of greenhouse gases per person per year is the largest in the world: twice that of Japan, and three times that of Sweden and Switzerland. How can we meet the requirements of the Kyoto Accord that the US decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 7% before 2010?
One solution would be to support the United Nations Environmental Program,
whose director, Adnan Z. Amin, states:
"The UN Environmental Program aims at transforming our fundamental relationship with the earth from one of destruction to redemption by combining our
Science, whose technology has unintentionally caused the environmental crisis, must nevertheless cooperate with the forces of spiritual values to save our planet. Science can give us the know-how, and the forces of spiritual values, formalized in religion, can contribute the wisdom, motivation, and global ethic for rectification. The John Templeton Foundation is committed to advancing our moral and spiritual understanding.
Science tells us that we can reduce the emission greenhouse gases in the future by using passive and active solar energy for heating, and by generating electricity with windmills, semiconducting solar cells, and hydropower. Nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases, although the disposal of nuclear waste, which is radioactive for centuries, remains a challenge. Fusion power, the combining hydrogen nuclei to form helium and higher elements like in our sun, has no nuclear waste. The problem being researched is finding a container that does not melt at solar temperatures. New hybrid electric automobiles are more fuel-efficient than our present internal combustion engines, but batteries are expensive. The ideal way to generate energy without carbon dioxide to combining hydrogen with oxygen. The only byproduct is fresh water. Technology for the economical storing and distribution of hydrogen must be developed. Fuel cells based on this same reaction can store electrical energy in a smaller space than conventional lead-acid batteries.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made a study and concluded that a sense of urgency resulting in
can enable us to stabilize our increasing carbon emissions.
The carbon emission tax gives an economic incentive to develop and favor nonpolluting solar, hydro, windpower, and fuel cells. It also discourages the use of coal, which emits twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas as well as the radioactive pollutants in acid rain.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the industrialized countries could achieve these goals at a cost of no more than 2 percent of the gross national product. Chet Raymo (in his Science Musing, "Bush is not looking at the big world," published in the Science Section of the April 24, 2001 issue of the Boston Globe) states that he spends about 2 percent of the value of his home in the Bahamas for hurricane insurance. He recommends that we as a nation do the same "to protect ourselves against the potentially severe economic and environmental consequences of global warming."
B. THE FORCES OF SPIRITUAL VALUES:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who earned his Doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955, once said:
"Through our scientific genius we have made the world a neighborhood; now through our moral and spiritual development, we must make of it a brotherhood. In real sense, we must learn to live together as brothers, or will perish together as fools."
This statement intended for the brotherhood between the races is equally valid for our brotherhood and sisterhood with all the species and our communion with nature and the earth. Martin Luther King's activism, as well as the sacrifice of his life for the brotherhood in which he believed, can be a model for what we must do to prevent environmental disasters. Martin Luther King, in his social activism, was influenced by Henry David Thoreau. He, after walking through his neighborhood of Concord, MA, wrote in his journal the following account of a summer evening, July 21, 1851 at 8:30 PM:
"The streets of the village are much more interesting to me at this hour of a summer evening than by day. Neighbors, and also farmers, come a-shopping after their day’s haying, are chatting in the streets, and I hear the sounds of many musical instruments, and of the singing from various houses. For a short hour or two, the inhabitants are sensibly employed. The evening is devoted to poetry, such as the villagers can appreciate."
Let us compare in our minds this pastoral and culturally rich image of what Concord was like in 1851 with what it is like now. What do we do on warm summer evenings? Many of us sit in air-conditioned homes and watch television. Has the higher energy consumption of our present lifestyle produced greater happiness?
Thoreau in "Walden," noting that our lives are frittered away by detail and are ruined by luxury and heedless expense, concluded:
He lived simply by building a hut on Walden Pond in 1845 for a cost of $28.125 (Boards cost $8.03, shingles $4.00, and nails $3.90.) He met the cost of his frugal lifestyle by working six week per year. This allowed him ample to write, meditate, and confront "the essential facts of life." Thoreau knew the difference between needs and endless wants. Duane Elgin in his book "Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich" exhorts us to reduce our mass consumptive lifestyles by "living with balance in order to find a life of greater purpose." We should be poor in things and rich in soul rather than rich in things and poor in soul.
As the world's population increases, the supply of drinking water decreases. The water used for baptism symbolizes cleansing from our sins. Process theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, defines sin as (a) the violation of relationships, (b) the absolutizing of the self and the denial of INTERDEPENDENCE, and (c) the rebellion against the creation. This environmentally responsible interpretation of sin should be incorporated into our liturgy as well as our religious education. Our environmental sin is that of omission rather than commission, of ignorance and neglect rather than bad intention. Nevertheless, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
"Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over…every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28)
Does "dominion" lead to conscience and moral responsibility for our environment?
We shall consider three answers to this question.
(3) YES. Dominion leads to consciousness and moral responsibly for our environment.
As creating creatures (or beings,) our covenant with God requires us to be responsible stewards of all nature, which is God’s creation. Modern science is increasing our knowledge and power. The scientific community is called back to a re-evaluation of its complicity in creating a system which has fostered dominion over the environment rather than cooperation with it. Technological advancements have been void of public concern and the theological precepts voiced in "Genesis. By re-establishing a connection with the original ideas of coventantal theology, the scientific community may reclaim the moral high ground.
A GLOBAL ETHIC and VISION
The challenge of global warming and environmental destruction requires a global ethic. Ursula Goodenough, Prof. of Cell Biology, Washington University, Author, THE SACRED DEPTHS OF NATURE states:
"If religious emotions can be elicited by natural reality…then the story of Nature has the potential to serve as the cosmos for the global ethos that we need to articulate….
Its must be a global project. I am convinced that the project can be undertaken only if we all experience a solemn gratitude that
A global ethic must be anchored both in an understanding of human nature and in
an understanding of the rest of Nature."
"Reverence for Life" was Albert Scheitzer's (1875-1965) global ethic. Schweitzer was famous as an organist and a Bach musicologist. He performed on all the famous organs of Europe. His seminal book "The Quest for the Historical Jesus" established him as a well-known theologian. For most of us, this worldly recognition would have been enough, but not for Schweitzer. His desire to help people in a "hands-on" manner, prompted him to obtain a M.D. and to be come a medical missionary in Lambarene (Gibon) Africa.
He was not welcomed with "open arms" however. The conservative missionary commission was critical of his liberal theological views. The only way he could obtain their approval was to promise that he would do medicine and not theology. This led him to say: "If you want to good in the world, no not expect others to roll stones out of your path. They may do just the opposite." During the World War I, he and his wife almost died in a prisoner of war camp, because they were of German nationality in a French Colony. Having experienced two World Wars, he developed his ethic of "'the reverence for life,' which shows to all with the will-to-live the same reverence as he did to his own." His hope was that this "reverence for life" would prevent further world wars and bloodshed.
"I am life which wills to live, in the midst of life which wills to live. If I am a thinking being, I must regard life other than my own with equal reverence. Therefore, I see evil is what annihilates, hampers, or hinders life. Goodness, by the same token, is the saving or helping of life, the enabling of life so it can to attain its highest development."
Schweitzer's REVERENCE FOR LIFE" is similar to Brian Swimme's COMPREHENSIVE COMPASSION. Brian Swimme, Ph.D. is a mathematical cosmologist and co-author of The Universe Story. COMPREHENSIVE COMPASSION is the activation of concern and care beyond that of our evolutionary kin-affinity. It is like "So what if you love your friends, what about your enemies?" The challenge is to care for and love all of humanity, not only now but 10,000 years into to future.
Cosmologist Brian Swimme believes we need a new cosmic vision for wisdom to stop our destruction of the MACROSPHERE by pollution and consumerism. We focus too much on new-term MICROSPHERE issues. The difficulty is that the human species has MACROPHASE power and is attempting to organize it with the MICROSPHASE wisdom of our evolutionary past. The universe has in a real sense assembled us. We must now learn to take on the mind of the universe and to deepen our souls. This results in a deeper awe of existence. We must experience a different form of energy that is transmaterial. It doesn't decrease when you share it, like a commodity. As a matter of fact, it increases. As we develop the skill through the imagination for accessing this ocean of energy that we call awe or zest, it will multiply as we share it. As we do, it will lessen our need for commodities.
WHAT WE CAN DO
The Interreligious Sustainability Project of Metropolitan Chicago (supported by a grant from the United Church of Christ) is organizing discussion groups called Circles, which have the following goals:
About two thirds of greenhouse-gas emissions come from automobiles.
Substantial savings can be achieved by trading a SUV for a gas-electric Honda insight (61 mpg) or Toyota Prius (52 mpg.) People can move closer to work to reduce their commuting distance.
In the Boston, MA area, "Clean Air- Cool Planet" (www.cleanair-coolplanet.org), is building an alliance of institutions, business, faith-based organizations, and individuals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It includes Shaw's Supermarkets, which has also reduced its energy usage, as well as the Tufts University Climate Initiative, which is committed to "meet or beat" the targets of the Kyoto climate accord. The University has accurately determined an emissions baseline and is working to bring its emissions down and to educate students and staff about climate change and energy efficiency. We can contribute by joining with them. These projects remind us that none of us may be here except by the whisper of God's grace.
Science, whose technology has unintentionally caused the environmental crisis, must work together with the forces of spiritual values to save our planet. Science can give us the know-how, and the forces of spiritual values, formalized in religion, the wisdom, motivation, global ethic, and vision to rectify this problem. Our religious tradition reminds us of God's covenant with Noah never to flood the earth again. With the tremendous increase of human population and technological power comes obligation to uphold our responsibility to this covenant. Martin Luther King's activism, as well as the sacrifice of his life for the brotherhood in which he believed, can be a model for what we must do to prevent environmental disasters. Anthropologist Margaret Mead said:
"Never doubt that a small, committed group of people can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Scientific American, (March 1998)
(3) "The Big Meltdown," TIME Magazine, pg 53-56, (4 September 2000)
(4) "Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis," Report by UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, www.ipcc.ch, (Geneva, Feb 2001)
(6) "Earth and Faith: A Book of Reflection for Action," United Nations Environmental
Program," New York Office, DC2-803, United Nations, New York, NY 10017
http://enduse.lbl.gov/shareddata/CEF.JK.short.ppt The complete report can be downloaded from http://www.ornl.gov/ORNL/Energy_Eff/CEF.htm
(8) "God, Christ, Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology," Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, New York: Crossroad, 1982