Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The integrity of the planet


?If we were truly moved by the beauty of the world about us, we would honor the earth in a profound way. We would understand immediately and turn away with a certain horror from all those activities that violate the integrity of the planet.

?That we have not done so reveals that a disturbance exists at a more basic level of consciousness and on a greater order of magnitude than we dare admit to ourselves or even think about.?

--Thomas Berry

To the extent that each of us is truly moved by the beauty of the world about us, we are conscious of, involved with and concerned about the rapidly deteriorating environment of planet Earth. The ability to be moved by beauty is inherent in the species (Homo sapiens), a birth-right if you will. As Berry indicates, that we do not turn away with a certain horror from all those activities that violate the integrity of the planet reveals, in itself, a basic failure of consciousness.

It is an admirable if perhaps overly subtle politeness to say that violating the integrity of the planet, destroying the systems that maintain its environment, poisoning the home and source of all life as we know it is the result of a disturbance of consciousness. A more ungracious if colloquial term is craziness.

Is man crazy?

Or, as some say, are Berry and others who view the state of the earth?s environment as a threat to all life as we know it only alarmist Chicken Little fantasists? Is Berry just assigning moral values to the dirty if necessary practicalities of human survival on planet earth? What is the moral value of integrity, planetary or personal? What are the true costs of practicalities that violate integrity, planetary as well as personal? What is the value of the integrity of planet earth? What are the costs of its unraveling and are some of them moral costs? Where on a list of man?s priorities falls the environmental health and integrity of the planet? We have all heard arguments to the effect that many people cannot be too concerned about the environ-ment because their energies are occupied with higher priorities, among them finding a job and making a living. The underlying message in this argument is that environmentalism, turning in horror from all those activities that violate the integrity of the planet, is an effete, elitist pastime for those who do not understand and perhaps do not need to deal with the dirty physical constraints of the real economic machinery of the world.

I would argue that such a perspective towards the integrity of the planet and those who would protect it reveals a disturbance of consciousness worthy of and reminiscent of Nero. It also hovers above the current and future consequences (not all of them yet visible) of the polluted practicalities of the real economic machinery of the world being modeled on unlimited growth on a finite planet. And it avoids what is clear to basic consciousness, disturbed as well as integral: all economics, no matter what the model, are ultimately based on, completely dependant upon and sustained by a healthy environment and the integrity of planet earth. One turns in horror from that which violates the integrity of the planet, the same as one would turn in horror from an ax murderer, a poisoner of the community well, or one who would sacrifice the youth of the country on the altar of greed.

To ignore, deny or, in some perverse cases, relish the evidence of the unraveling of the earth?s environmental integrity is both a basic failure of consciousness and a violation of personal integrity.

Everything is connected to everything else, the personal with the universal, the individual man with the water he drinks, the air he breathes, the soil from which he garners the food he eats, as well as all the chemicals and compounds in that water, air and soil. At a level so basic that even the most disturbed consciousness is present, everything (and everybody) living on earth is composed of the same earth, water and air and all their disturbances, additives, pollutants, synthetic compounds, radiated cells, mutations and genetic manipulations that daily compound and unquestionably violate the integrity of the planet.

Those with an environmental consciousness need to continue to address the practical, nuts and bolts mechanical issues of which industries, practices, chemicals and land uses are destructive, and what are the better ways of living on the earth. But what of the disturbance at a more basic level of consciousness to which Berry refers? That, too, needs addressing, discussion, exploration, the light of day on a planet with integrity. And why are we unwilling to admit to ourselves or think about that disturbance?

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