Earth Economics

by Thomas Berry

The director of the Riverdale Center in New York City, Thomas Berry was a strong influence on environmental activist/priest Matthew Fox and is the inspiration and principle subject of physicist Brian Swimme’s popular book The Universe Is A Green Dragon. In his prologue to "Green Dragons" Dr. Swimme said: "I want to honor Thomas Berry and the cosmological tradition he celebrates, stretching back from Erich Jantsch and Teilhard de Chardin through Thomas Aquinas and Plato".
I first met Father Berry in 1984 through our mutual involvement with the Temple of Understanding, an International Inner-Faith Organization based in New York City. We met again at the First Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival, held in 1988 at Christ Church of Oxford University, Oxford, England and Father Berry agreed to allow me to publish his work in my now-defunct quarterly newspaper. Hoka Hey! originally published Earth Economics in a two-part series in the Spring and Summer issues 1989. Hoka Hey! also published Thomas Berry’s The Indian Future in the Spring, 1992 issue.
Sadly, not much has changed since Father Berry detailed these warnings fifteen years ago. If anything, environmental matters have worsened dramatically. As part of the team teaching the course, Manifest Destiny and Environment: Fur Trade to Globalization, at the University of Texas in the Fall of 2002, I decided to present Father Berry’s Earth Economics again at the Hoka Hey! "Classics" section of
Bobby Bridger

Economics as a religious issue can be dealt with in different ways. One way is to begin with the religious quest for justice. In this context we have a special concern that the well-being of the society be shared by all, that the basic necessities be available to the less privileged. Such and approach emphasizes our social and political responsibilities to see that the weak and less gifted are not exploited by the strong and competent.

This moral-religious critique generally concerns itself with the issue of a capitalist market economy that neglects its social responsibilities. The remedy offered, in accord with biblical and moral principles, is to incorporate everyone into the functioning and benefits of the economy. Admirable as this approach may be, it brings about only temporary improvement since the more basic difficulty may not be the social issue but the industrial economy itself, which is not a sustainable economy.

Another way of dealing with economics as a religious issue is to begin with the present economy and inquire into its deeper implication from within its own functioning. This is the manner of procedure we will be using here. We will begin with a few observations concerning the reality of the present economy and its capacity to sustain itself. We will also look at its consequences for the well-being of the human community and for the life systems of the earth upon which a sustainable economy depends in a very direct manner.

The reality of our present economy is that it does not bode well for either the human community or even the planet itself and its most basic life systems. Economic dysfunction is generally expressed in terms of deficit expenditure. Income does not balance outflow. In the natural world there exists an amazing richness of life expressions in the ever-renewing cycle of the seasons. There is a minimum of entropy. The inflow of energy and the outflow are such that the process is sustainable over an indefinite period of time. So long as the human process is integral to these processes of nature, so long is the human economy sustainable into the future.

The difficulty comes when the industrial mode of our economy disrupts the natural processes, when human technologies are destructive of earth technologies. In such a situation the productivity of the natural world and its life systems is diminished. When nature goes into deficit, then we to into deficit. When this occurs to a limited extent on a regional basis it can often enough be remedied. The difficulty is when the entire planet system is affected. The earth system is most threatened when the human economy goes out of balance and frantic efforts towards a remedy lead to a reckless plundering of the land, spending our capital as our interest diminishes.

If we look at the specific data available in the United States economy we find there is now a GNP of over 3 trillion dollars. There is a national debt of 1,800 billion dollars, and annual budgetary deficit of some 200 billion, an infrastructure disintegration requiring repairs of 750 billion, and annual trade deficit of over 100 billion, 200 billion in Third World financial loans unlikely to be repaid, and an annual military expenditure of 300 billion.* All of these can be considered financial deficits. [Editor’s note: Father Berry wrote this essay in 1987 and these figures are based on statistics from that era.]

But seldom does anyone speak of the earth deficit, the deficit involved in the closing down of the basic life system of the planet through abuse of the air, the soil, the water, and the vegetation. As we have indicated, the earth deficit is the real deficit, the ultimate deficit, the deficit with some consequences so absolute as to be beyond adjustment from any source in heaven or earth. Since the earth system is the ultimate guarantee of all deficits, a failure here is a failure of the last resort. Neither economic viability nor improvement in life conditions for the poor can be realized in such circumstances. These can only worsen, especially when we consider the rising population levels throughout the developing world.

This deficit in its extreme expression is not only a resource deficit but the death of a living process, not simply the death of a living process, but of THE living process (a living process exists, so far as we know, only on the planet earth). This is what makes our problems definitively different from those of any other generation of whatever ethnic, cultural, political, or religious tradition, or any other historical period. For the first time we are determining the destinies of the earth in a comprehensive and irreversible manner. The immediate danger is not possible nuclear war but actual industrial plundering.

Economics in this scale is not simply economics of the human community; it is economics of the earth community in its comprehensive dimensions. Nor is this a question of profit or loss in terms of personal or community well-being in a functioning earth system. Economics has invaded the earth system itself. Our industrial economy is closing down the planet in the most basic mode of its functioning. The air, the water, the soil are already in degraded condition. Forests are dying on this very continent. The seas are endangered. Aquatic life-forms in lakes and streams and the seas are contaminated. The rain is acid rain.

So the litany goes on. The United States lose over four billion tons of topsoil each year. The great aquifers of the Plains region are diminished beyond their capacity for refilling. Our industrial agriculture is no longer participating in the productive cycles of the natural world; it is the extinction of the very conditions on which these productive cycles depend.

While it is unlikely that we could ever extinguish life in any absolute manner, we are eliminating species at a rate never before known in historic time and in a manner never known in biological time. Destruction of the tropical rain forests of the planet will involve destroying the habitat of perhaps half the living species of earth. Although its strictly economic implications have still not been worked out, it should be clear. An exhausted planet is an exhausted economy.

The earth deficit in its resources and in its functioning has been documented in a long series of specialized studies and in more general evaluations in ever-increasing volume over the past 20 years. The first thorough scientific study of the situation was that of Rachel Carson who described the chemical poisoning of the land and the killing of its life systems in her 1962 book, Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). In 1970 Paul Ehrlich edited a comprehensive study entitled Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman) Then in 1972 came the comprehensive survey of the planet earth as a complex of life systems, The Limits To Growth (New York: Universe Books), edited by Donella Meadows with several others, a work based on the earlier World Dynamics by W. Forrester (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2cd. Edition, 1972). In 1976, an unappreciated work originally published in 1952 was republished, a work by Edward Hyams entitled Soil and Civilization (New York: Harper and Row). This is an extraordinary study of the difficulties encountered in establishing sustainable human relations with the land in various civilizations, even suggesting that the destruction’s of the natural environment in the Mediterranean world by the classical civilization contributed significantly to their decline.

In 1980 came a second comprehensive survey of the planet earth entitled, Global 2000: A Report to the President, edited under the direction of Gerald Barney (Washington, D.C.: Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of State). Then in 1981 a valuable survey of this report and four other global reports was given by Magda Cordell in her book Ominous Trends and Valid Hopes (Minneapolis: Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, 1981).

One of the most helpful of these general studies was published by Norman Myers in 1984, Gaia: An Atlas of Planet Management (New York: Doubleday). In that same year, Lester Brown, with the resources of Worldwatch Institute, started an annual publication entitled State of the World. So far two issues are available, 1984 and 1985. The listing of specialized studies would be endless. There are in depth inquiries into why this assault on the earth is taking place, such as Carolyn Merchant’s study, The Death of Nature (New York: Harper and Row, 1980) There are special studies in different fields such as the studies of agriculture by Rodale Press. All of these indicate that the planet cannot long endure present modes of human exploitation.

Until recently both textbook economics and corporation practice have ignored the implications of such data or have given it minimal attention. Such deficits were simply external or unreal costs of doing business, costs that were not entered into the bookkeeping statements, limits on pollution of the environment, clean-up of waste sites, and liability for personal damage resulting from toxic disruption of the basic systems. Even the existence of such clean-up needs should tell us something: The industrial system itself in its present form is a failing system. Yet we can be sure that whatever fictions exist in Wall Street bookkeeping, the earth is a faithful scribe, a faultless calculator, a superb bookkeeper, we will be held responsible for every bit of our economic folly.

Only now do we begin to consider that there is an economics of the human as a species as well as an economics of the earth as a functional community. We have just begun to realize that the primary objective of economic science, of the engineering profession, of technological invention, of industrial processing, of financial investment, and of corporate management, must be the integration of human well-being within the context of the well-being of the natural world. This is the primary purpose of economics. Only within the ever-renewing process of the natural world is there any future for the human community. Not to recognize this is to make economics a deadly affair.

The Myth of Economics

The exploitation of the earth was and still is experienced by economists not as a deterioration of the planet or as a new mode of exhaustion of the planet but as an extension of the emergent creative process leading to a kind of wonderworld of existence. This is "progress", a belief so entrancing for the modern world that doubt about its validity is not permitted. Even though this belief has long since been severely critiqued and its limitation indicated, it remains the functional basis of our economy. The GNP must increase each year. Everything must be done on a larger scale with little awareness of the in-built catastrophe involved in the exponential rate of increase. However rational modern economics might be, the dynamic of economics is visionary commitment supported by myth and a sense of having the magic powers of science to overcome any difficulty encountered when human processes reach their limits.

This visionary approach can be seen in the new surge of the industrial economy, the rising level of stockmarket quotations, the formation of the the great conglomerates, the giant corporation mergers, the new mystique of the entrepreneur. This last item is described in the recent best-seller In Search of Excellence (New York: Harper and Row, 1982) by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, Jr., and given its archetypal model in the autobiography of Lee Iacocca.

Herman Kahn and Julian Simon have argued in defense of this myth of process with severe criticism of forebodings concerning the national or world economy such as those presented here. Herman Kahn resented especially the rejection of the idea of limitless progress and the danger of exponential rates of increase presented in Limits to Growth and Global 2000: A Report to the President. He encouraged us to continue our established way into the future, confident that our scientific insight, technological competence, and economic discernment would lead us on into an even better life situation. The best summaries of this position of ever-continuing process can be found in the book by Julian Simon entitled, The Ultimate Resource (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982) and the one edited, The Resourceful Earth (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984). These works argue that every generation in modern times has lived better than the prior generation, that there is no serious problem, we must not lose our nerve, science will resolve our difficulties. Presently, there is a glut of food in America, an increase in land brought under cultivation throughout the world, so why worry about the loss of topsoil? Thus the mythic drive continues to control our world even though so much is known about the earth: its limitless resources, the interdependence of life systems, the delicate balance of its ecosystems, the consequences of disturbing the atmospheric conditions, of contaminating the air, the soil, the waterways and the seas, the limited quantity of fossil fuels in the earth, the inherent danger of chemicals discharged into natural surroundings.

Although all of this has been known for generations, neither the study nor the commercial-industrial practice of economics has shown any capacity to break free from the mythic commitment to progress, or any awareness that we are in reality creating wasteworld rather than wonderworld. This mythic commitment to continuing economic growth is such that none of our major newspapers or magazines considers having an ecological section in each issue -equivalent to the sports section, or the financial section, or the comic section, or the entertainment section- although the ecological issues are more important than the daily national and international political news. The real history that is being made is inter-species and human-earth history, not inter-national history. Our real threat is from the retaliatory powers of the abused earth, not from other nations. If this assault on the earth were done by evil persons with destructive intentions it would be understandable. The tragedy is that our economy is being run by persons with good intentions under the illusion that they are only bringing great benefits to the world and even fulfilling a sacred task on the part of the human community. "We bring good things to life". "Progress is our most important product". "Fly the friendly skies". These are millennial dreams for moving on into our new frontiers of economic accomplishment for the fulfillment of the high purposes of the universe itself.

Nor has the real situation been appreciated by social reformers or by those concerned with the needs of the poor and dispossessed. These, whether socialist or capitalist in orientation, wish mainly to enable the poor to find their place in the industrial process itself is generally accepted.

Nor have our moral theologians been able to deal with our abuse of the natural world. After dealing with suicide, homicide, and genocide, our western Christian moral code collapses completely: It cannot deal with biocide or geocide. Nor have church authorities made any sustained protest made any sustained protest against the violence being done to the planet. [Editors note: As I re-introduce Father Berry’s essay here in late 2002, there is a rapidly-growing movement from religious fundamentalists asking the question: What would Jesus drive?, a insipid attempt to curb America’s appetite for gas-guzzling SUV’s.]

A Slowly Emerging Sense

The new sense of what economics is all about has emerged from the naturalist Aldo Leopold in his essay, "A Land Ethic", from an independent biologist, Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring, and from the economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen in The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971). Georgescu-Roegen, in particular, had a profound sense of the economic implications of the second law of thermodynamics. Before his time, no modern economic system yet had any realization of the earth system itself as the primary functional context of life in all its aspects. Every modern economic system from the mercantile and physiocrat theories of the 17th and 18th centuries of Keynes is homcentric and exploitive. The natural world is considered as a resource for human utility, not as a functioning community of mutually supporting life systems within which the human must discover its proper role.

The basic critique of Georgescu-Roegen is that economists were caught in a mechanistic world that could be understood simply from within its own economic data. So with this model, derived from Newtonian cosmology, the economist in their theories and the corporations with their practice sought to manage the economic world from within such a limited context. Economics was a closed process of commercial transactions with reference only to the production and exchange of goods. As Georgescu-Roegen indicates, "Economist do speak occasionally of natural resources. Yet the fact remains that, search as one may, in none of the economic models in existence is there a variable standing for nature’s perennial contribution." (The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, p. 2) He also notes, "The fact that biological and economic factors may overlap and interact in some surprising ways, though well established, is little known among economists". (p. 317).

Even now corporations feel imposed upon when they are required to make environmental impacts statements concerning their intrusion into the natural world., when they are required to refrain from scattering industrial waste over the land, to indicate to their workers the toxic nature of the materials they are working with, or when they are required to list the chemical contents of their products.

There is a certain pathos in social reform movements and in the efforts made to improve the living conditions of the impoverished within the context of such a dysfunctional and non-sustainable economy. This is understandable however since life necessities, air and water, food, clothing and shelter are demanded presently. Whatever the existing economy, human needs must be supplied, even though food today for the few man be starvation tomorrow for the many. This means jobs within the existing context. No immediate alternative seems available.

Even so, an awareness should exist that the present system is too devastating to the natural fruitfulness of the earth to long supply human needs. Alternative programs are being elaborated and becoming functional. If the moral norm of economics is what is happening to the millions of persons in need, then these more functional economic developments are required not only by those excluded from the present system but by the entire nation community, by the entire human community, and by the entire earth community.

The Diversity of Creatures

This is not socialism on the national scale, nor is it inter-nation socialism. It is planetary socialism. It is socialism based on the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, (Part I Question 47, article1, where he deals with the diversity of creatures.) Beyond planetary socialism he proposes an ultimate universe socialism where he says that because the divine goodness:

"could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, He produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided; and hence the whole universe together participates the divine goodness more perfectly, and represents it better than any single creature whatever".

From this we could argue that the community of all the components of the planet earth is primary in the divine intention. Even biologically it is evident that the well-being of the various components of the earth. The trees of the Appalachian mountains will not be healthy if the rain is acid rain. Nor will the soil be fertile, nor will humans have their proper nourishment. Nor will the human imagination be activated to its grand poetic visions, nor will our sense of the divine be so exalted if the earth is diminished in its glory. It is all quite clear. If we pull the threads, the fabric falls apart, the human fabric in particular, in both its religious and its economic aspects. We come to the essential problem of economics as a religious issue when we consider that the present threat to both economics and religion is from a single source, the disruption of the natural world. If the water is polluted it can neither be drunk nor used for baptism, for it no longer symbolized life; it is a symbol of death.

Obviously, then, economics and religion are two aspects of a single earth process. If the economy is more immediately the cause for disruption of the natural world, the ultimate sources for this mode of economic activity may be found in the religious-cultural context within which our present economy emerged.

This may well be the reason why at this time when threatened in the very source of our sacramental forms there is no sustained religious protest or moral judgement concerned with the industrial assault on the earth, the degradation of its life systems, or the threatened extinction of its most elaborate modes of life expression. Even more important: Why did this process develop in a civilization that emerged out of biblical-Christian matrix?

This most urgent theological issue, so far as I know, has never been dealt with in any effective manner although the accusation has been made by Lynn White, Jr. that Christianity bears "an immense burden of guilt" for the present ecological crisis. A long list of answers have been written, by a few theologians, but most brief articles not entirely convincing because of the inadequate consideration of those dark or limited aspects of Christianity that made our western society liable to act so harshly toward the natural world.

Exaggerated Religious Orientation

Any thorough study of our biblical-Christian traditions in their historical realization reveals immediately a number of religious orientations that have taken possession of western consciousness to an exaggerated degree. The more intensely the religious dedication the greater the imbalance tends to be.

The first of these religious orientations is the biblical commitment to a transcendent personal monotheistic concept of deity with severe prohibition against any worship of divinity resident in nature. By absorbing the original pervasive presence of the divine throughout the natural world and constellating the divine in a strictly transcendent mode, the natural world was to come extent despiritualized and desecralized. The very purpose of Genesis was to withdraw Israel for the Near Eastern orientation. Whatever the benefits of such diminishment of the divine of the natural world, it rendered the world less personal, less subject; it became something seductive, more lible to be treated as object.

Secondly, the redemption experience became the dominant mode of Christian consciousness to the diminishment of attention to creation experience. A general sensitivity to the natural world and to the medieval period. But then during the 14th century, after the Black Death, an overwhelming commitment to redemption controlled the Christian experience. The Apostle’s Creed as well as the Nicene Creed both glide lightly over the creation reference. The Council of Trent was so caught up in redemption issues that it had nothing at all to say about creation. Until our times, creation has never been the basic issue. It was simply there; it was beyond discussion. Nature gradually disappeared from Christian consciousness.

A third aspect of the Christian life orientation that brought about our present alienation from the natural world is the Christian emphasis on the spiritual nature of the human against the physical nature of the other creatures. This attitude was strengthened by the influence of Platonic philosophy from the Hellenic world. Human perfection was thought of in terms of detachment from the phenomenal world in favor of the divine eternal world presented as our true destiny. As the emphasis has developed since the 16h century, we have more and more thought of the natural world as object to be exploited to our rational satisfaction, to our aesthetic enjoyment, or to our utilization as natural resource. In any case the natural world is ultimately considered as object, as not possessing rights or subjectively or legal status, certainly not constituting with the human as single earth community as a segment of the comprehensive universe community.

A fourth aspect of Christian tradition that made possible such devastation of the natural world as we presently witness it is the expectation of an infra-historical millennial period in which the human condition would overcome; peace and justice would pervade the land under the spiritual reign of the saints and by the infallible efficacy of divine power. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this belief in western tradition and now in the world tradition, since it has, in a transformed version been turned into the secular doctrine of unfailing progress in human affairs. This mythic belief has evoked the enormous energies required for creating the industrial world such as we know it.

Because the human condition was not overcome by spiritual power or divine intervention, humans have since the time of Francis Bacon been determined to bring this better world into being through the scientific, technological, industrial, and corporative enterprise. If this requires the total despoiling of the earth to achieve such transformation, then so be it.

While none of these Christian beliefs individually is adequate as an explanation of the alienation we experience in our natural setting, they become convincing in their totality in providing a basis for understanding how so much planetary destruction has been possible in our western tradition. We are radically oriented away from the natural world. It has no rights; it exists for human utility, even for spiritual utility.

The natural world is subject as well as object. The natural world is the material source whence we emerge into being as earthlings. The natural world is the life-giving nourishment of our physical, emotional, aesthetic, moral, and religious existence. The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.

If this sense of the sacred character of the natural world as our primary revelation of the divine is our first need, our second need is to diminish our emphasis on redemption experienced in favor of a greater emphasis on creation process. Creation, however, must now be experienced as a material-physical reality from the beginning. We need to know the great story of the universe in its four phases of emergence: the galactic story, the earth story, the life story, the human story.

Conscious Self-Awareness

We need to see ourselves as integral with this emergent process, as that being in whom the universe reflects on and celebrates itself in conscious and self-awareness. Once we begin to experience ourselves in this manner, we immediately perceive how adverse to our own well-being as well as economically is any degradation of the planet.

A third need is to provide a way of thinking about "progress" that would include the entire earth community. If there is to be real and sustainable progress it must be a continuing enhancement of life for the planetary community. It must be shared by all the living from the plankton in the sea to the birds above the land. It must include the grasses, the trees and the living creatures of the earth. True progress must sustain the purity and life-giving qualities of both the air and the water. The integrity of these life systems must be normative for any progress worthy of the name.

Already these three commitments -to the natural world as revelatory, to the earth community as our primary loyalty in a biocentric orientation, and to the progress of the community in its integrity- these three commitments constitute the new religious-spiritual context for carrying out a change in direction in human-earth development. For indeed this is the order of the magnitude of the task that is before us. If the industrial economy -in its full effects which has well nigh done us in, along with a major part of the entire living community, then the termination of this industrial devastation and the inauguration of a more sustainable lifestyle must be of a proportionate order of magnitude.

The industrial age itself, as we have known it, can be described as a period of technological entrancement, an altered state of consciousness, a mental fixation that alone can explain how we came to ruin our air and water and soil and to severely damage all our basic life systems under the illusion of "progress".

But now that the trance is passing, we have before us the task of structuring a human mode of life within the earth complex of communities. This task is now on the scale of "reinventing the human", since none of the prior cultures or concepts of the human can deal with these issues on the scale required.

A New Life Program

Fortunately, a number of creative persons have, over the past 20 years, identified the main features of the new life program. Among the first persons to be mentioned as authentic guides to the future is Edward Schumacher whose little book, Small is Beautiful (New York: Harper and Row, 1979) constitutes a first principle of absolute importance that technologies should be appropriate to the function to be carried out. This simple principle pointed out one of the most obvious mistakes of western engineering enterprises: the lack of proper relation of the technological and the human need to be fulfilled. This exaggerated scale of our present energy of our present energy systems was later pointed out in Soft Energy Paths (New York: Harper and Row, 1979). The vast corporate structures seem determined to build ever bigger energy-consuming constructions when much simpler, more efficient, and less expansive methods and materials are available and infinitely more benign to the earth.

The question of human-scale was later developed by Kirkpatrick Sale. So too the Solar Energy Research Institute developed its program. A New Prosperity, based on energy systems less polluting, less costly. Another contribution along these lines is found in Progress as if Survival Mattered, by Friends of the Earth (Ellenwood, Georgia: Alternatives, 1981), a book of extensive practical value.

One of the main directions into the future must also be concerned with human habitation. Here much important work has been done by architects in association with others concerned with establishing more intimate, more functional and more viable communities. Gary Coates is among the most outstanding in the general area, especially with the information he has presented of community efforts recently underway in various parts of the country. His study, Resettling America (Andover, Mass: Brick House Publishing Co., 1981)

presents a number of community projects. There we find such titles as Rural Towns for America; An Ecological Village; The Rise of New City States: Urban Agriculture; Goals for Regional Development. These are all presently in progress.

Out of their own experience with the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod and in alliance with others interested in the subject, John and Nancy Todd have presented us with a vision and the drawings for The Village of Solar Ecology (East Falmouth, Mass: New Alchemy Institute, 1980). In agriculture there are a multitude of new developments. The experience and writings of Wendell Berry on this subject come from a person who is a farmer, writer, thinker, and teacher. His critique of industrial agriculture, the absurdities that have emerged from it, its destructive impact on human life, are among the most effective studies available. But even more important is his presentation of the mystical bond between humans and the earth in his work, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (San Francisco: Sierra, 1977).

Then there is the work of John and Nancy Todd in their bio-shelter projects; Wes Jackson in his work at The Land Institute and his recovery of genetic strains of grasses on the Plains region; Bill Mollison in his Permaculture program being carried out at the Permaculture Institute on North America on the Northwest coast; Robert Rodale and the Regeneration project being directed from Emmaus, Pennsylvania, The Farmland Foundation. These are only a selection out of hundreds of projects being carried out at the present time.

In alliance with these projects there are the 50-some ecologically oriented organizations in the U.S. that joined together a few years ago to defend the North American continent from government supported corporation abuse. These are all efforts outside the professional or official establishments. Objections exist not only in economics and industry, in boardrooms and research laboratories, but also in education, law, medicine, and religion. Having become part of the bureaucratic process, all these find serious difficulty thinking about, much less adapting to, change of the magnitude I am suggesting.

For the past hundred years the great technical engineering schools, the research laboratories and the massive corporations have dominated the North American continent and even an extensive portion of the earth itself. In alliance with governments, the media, universities, and the general approval of religious groups, they have been the main instruments for producing acid rain, hazardous waste, chemical agriculture, the horrendous loss of topsoil, wetlands, and forests, and a host of other evils the natural world has had to endure from human energy. The corporations should be judged by their own severe norms of exactly what they have produced, the kind of a world they have given us after a century of control.

A New Surge of Activity

Feeling threatened now by the rising movements for change, corporations are seeking to strengthen their position. The new surge of economic activity throughout the world, the rising stock market, the enormous assets accumulated that now rise toward the hundred billion level, the global extent of assets, the new ease of information gathering, analysis and communication, all this functions like a great exhilarating wave of achievement in corporate consciousness. A feeling of euphoria pervades the business world, a euphoria shared in by the investing public, although there are deep forebodings concerning the future of the industrial enterprise.

The absolute limitations indicated some years ago in the Club of Rome report and the absurdity of exponential rates of growth begin to assert themselves. Since growth is the central fact of contemporary economics, a sudden confrontation with the inherent limits of earth development is coming as a sobering experience indeed. Before this moment arrives, however, an extensive series of confrontations can be expected. Already these are occurring in every aspect of human endeavor, in all our institutions, professions, and activities.

Earlier successes in environmental legislation in the 1970s in setting up regulatory agencies and norms concerning the quality of air and water and waste disposal, were the occasion for later resentment by industry and corporative enterprise. Increasing difficulty is experienced in meeting standards. In many instances the situation is fairly clear concerning what needs to be done. The difficulty for government, for industry, and for the citizenry is accepting the consequences of the changes required, for we are involved in changes in the deep structure of our sense of reality and of value, as well as in the practical adaptation to lifestyles that make less extravagant demands on the environment.

We must be aware of how difficult our present situation is for everyone, even when there is a willingness to deal effectively with the issues before us. The scientific determination of acceptable standards in environmental purity is enormously difficult. The technologies for meeting these standards and their cost to the society, the sensitivityof the citizenry: all these are difficult. By entering into an industrial economy we may have taken on a task beyond human capabilities for both judgement and execution. The arrogance of our engineering intrusion into nature is only now being manifest, as well as our arrogance and our naivete concerning our rational skills and our inventive genius.

The difficulty is that the arrogance continues even when its deleterious consequences are so evident. The Herman Kahns and Julian Simons wish us to press on even further into the wasteworld that we are creating. President Reagan foils the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency to fulfill its official mandate. These are the attitudes that evoke such initiatives as Greenpeace Movement on the seas and the Earth First Movement on the land. There are the lawsuits initiated by the National Resources Defense Council and by some of the larger ecologically oriented organizations. Extensive lobbying is going on in some state legislatures and in congress. Along with these are the great variety of spontaneous protest movements and great volume of newsletters, reports, and periodicals that have taken a stance and are making demands on industrial and political establishments. These presently are finding a way to sustained influence on the society through Green Movements, and in Green politics. In some countries Green Parties are beginning to function.

A Significant Movement

Among the most significant of these general social movements, the one with the most efficiency may ultimately be the Bioregional Movement. This movement, especially strong just now in North America, is based on a realization that the earth expresses itself not in some uniform life system throughout the globe but in a variety of regional integration’s, in bioregions, which can be described as identifiable geographical areas of interacting life systems that are relatively self-sustaining in the ever-renewing process of nature. As we diminish our commitment to our present industrial context of life with its non-self-renewing infrastructures, we will need to integrate our human communities with the ever-renewing bioregional communities of the place where we find ourselves.

We need to re-align human dwelling and human divisions of the earth with the biological regions. This will provide a primary biological identity rather than a primary political identity. Our cultural development within this context could have a new vigor derived from such intimate association with the dynamism and artistic creativity of nature. Much more can be said of the bioregional movement in both its confrontational and in its creative aspects. its power is in its integration of the human within the cosmological process. In this manner it achieves what a number of new age writers fail to achieve.

These writers wish to be totally realistic and yet hopeful; they even see an exciting future taking shape across the board, as it were, in the events of our times. They see new creative attitudes in the physical sciences as well as in economics, politics, social structure, and religion. such is the presentation of Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarian Conspiracy (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1981). We find a similar attitude in Megatrends by John Naisbitt (New York, Warner Books, 1983) and The Third Wave (New York, Morrow, 1980) by Alvin Toffler. The latter two present amazing amounts of information on every aspect of contemporary life. Peter Drucker with his concentration on the managerial role contributes considerably to our understanding of the controlling processes of our corporative institutions. Robert Heilbrunner gives us a more profound insight into the governing principles and ideals of our economy.

But all fail ultimately in judging the present, and in outlining a program for the future, because none of them are able to present their data consistently within a functional cosmology. Neither humans as a species, nor any of our activities, can be understood in any significant manner except in our role in the functioning of the earth and of the universe itself. We have come into existence, have our present meaning, attain our destiny within this numinous context, for the universe in its every phase is numinous in its depths, is revelatory in its functioning, and in it human expression finds its fulfillment in celebratory self-awareness. Neither the psychological, sociological, or theological approaches are adequate. The controlling context must be a functional cosmology.

The Role of Religions

As this time the question arises as regards the role of the traditional religions. My own view is that any effective response to these issues requires a religious context but that the existing religious traditions are too distant from our new sense of the universe to be adequate to the task that is before us. We cannot do without the traditional religions, but they cannot presently do what needs to be done.

We need a new type of religious orientation. This must, in my view, emerge from our new story of the universe. This constitutes, it seems, a new revelatory experience which can be understood as soon as we recognize that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process. The difficulty so far has been that this story has been told simply as a physical process. Now, however, the scientists themselves are awakening to the wonder and mystery of the universe, even to its numinous qualities. They begin to experience also the mythic aspect of their own scientific expressions. Every term used in science is laden with greater mythic meaning than rational comprehension. Thus science has overcome its earlier limitations.

Back to Hoka Hey main page





news | photos | chronologies | contact | trading post | home
about bobby | singer/songwriter | author | theatre & film | educational adventures | painter

© 2006- , All Rights Reserved.
White Coyote Music, ASCAP, POB 49301, Austin, Texas 78765

site designed and maintained by sufferinstudios


2013 HOT News

New Bridger Recording
the news is here

Bridger interviewed and performs for documentary film to be part of an exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
Find out more here.

Bobby's Calendar is Updated for 2013
show dates here

Bridger's song, 'The Horse and the Man' used in new documentary film
check out the film site

Bridger is Centenary College of Louisiana's resident "Attaway Fellow" for the fall, 2013 semester. learn more

Bridger hangs two exhibition paintings at the Dixie Theater in Ruston, Louisiana and at Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport. learn more