The Path to Progress: Part Five

The last two articles in this series have been blunt about the threat of a sixth mass extinction looming on the horizon caused by human exploitation of nature, greed, ignorance (some of it intentional), and lethal egotism. There have been five mass extinctions in the history of our planet. The last one was the result of an asteroid striking the earth and wiping out most of the earth’s species, including all non-avian dinosaurs. (The birds of today are the descendants of the dinosaurs which survived.) Dinosaurs did not cause this mass extinction. There were innocent victims of the impact of an asteroid which was 7.5 miles in diameter and as powerful as 10 billion of the type of atomic bombs used in World War II. That impact formed a crater 120 miles in diameter and 12 miles in depth.  Seventy-five percent of species of plant and animal life on earth was destroyed. Scientists estimate that it took ten million years for biodiversity to recover after this last extinction. 

We humans, if we do not radically change the ways we live on this earth, will be the cause of the sixth mass extinction of our beautiful planet. Most of the damage we have done to the earth has occurred in the last few centuries beginning with the industrial revolution. However, that destruction has increased exponentially since World War II. We can never pay back what we have borrowed/stolen from the earth and future generations. For a short-term extravaganza of narcissistic and foolish good times, we have created an apocalyptic future for those who will come after us, not to mention the other parts of God’s good creation. We have already squandered any chance of avoiding a collapse of our civilization and the earth AS WE AND OUR ANCESTORS HAVE EXPERIENCED IT. At best, our descendants will inherit a much harsher environment and living conditions than most of us did. The earth will no doubt survive as will some species of flora and fauna. However, the exquisite planet we have enjoyed will be no more. If humans are to survive, they must find radically different ways of living on this earth. (The flora and fauna species living on earth today are only 1% of all the species which have existed on this planet. Ninety-nine percent of all organisms that have ever lived on earth are now extinct!)

The most we can hope for is to begin this new way of living on the earth in our time and to do all we can to lessen the impact of the coming collapse. As I said in the previous article, that will require sacrifice, simpler living, cooperation among peoples and nations, a dedication to the common good for everyone, sharing, an allocation of resources for the health of the planet instead of the obscene spending on weapons of mass destruction, and a recovery of the ancient dream of shalom. Such goals cannot be achieved without a massive change in mind, heart, and spirit among humans. 

It remains to be seen whether we can mature enough to save our habitable planet and descendants. The patterns we have followed for the past 5000 years have been, for the most part, some form of a survival of the fittest, most powerful, and wealthiest. When resources become scarce (which they will, given our destruction of the very soil, air, and water needed to provide life and nourishment), those who have wealth will do all they can to preserve or increase their advantages. We already see that pattern in the world today where 1-2% of the population possesses almost 40% of the world’s wealth and 100 individuals and corporations own more than half of the world’s eight billion human beings. One would be foolishly naïve to assume that when survival is at risk, those with power and wealth will not take any measures possible to keep what they see as theirs. 

So, what do we need to do as we face this coming crisis? We could recycle; reverse our use of fossil fuels; become vegetarians, vegans,  or at least limit our consumption of meat; make sure that all humans have enough to eat and to enjoy adequate health care and housing; reform our economic system in a way in which people and nature matter and not the profits of an increasingly smaller minority in our world; clean up our rivers and oceans; replenish our soil; plant trees; abandon the use of harmful pesticides,  along with hundreds of other actions. All these attempts are necessary and laudable. However, the one change we need even to begin the pursuit of these heroic measures is spiritual in nature. We need to fall in love with the earth. Only a deep spiritual grounding flowing from a profound and abiding love for our planet and each other can inspire and fuel the radical transformation we need to undergo for the survival of humankind and much of the species of our earth. 

We need the wisdom of the past, especially that of indigenous peoples. The dinosaurs managed to “rule the world” for over 150 million years without destroying it. The indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere lived on these continents for over 20,000 years without turning their “paradise into asphalt and concreate” and polluting the land, air, and rivers. We (primarily white Europeans) have managed in a little over 500 years to pollute and destroy much of God’s good earth (along with the genocide of one race and the enslavement and disenfranchisement of another race). We have lost any sense of the sacred when it comes to nature. To recover that awareness, we need wisdom. We need to listen to ancient and contemporary voices from those who know a better way. Some of those voices will come from science (most scientists understand the severity of the coming crisis and that radical actions must be taken if we are to survive as a civil people on a habitable earth). However, the voices we need most to hear are those who have lived and borne witness to alternative ways of living in this world.

For Christians, I suggest we will find much of that necessary wisdom and motivation in the Source of our faith—Jesus Christ. Brian McLaren, a contemporary theologian I greatly admire, maintains that Jesus offered indigenous wisdom because he came from an indigenous culture which had suffered exploitation and oppression for over 600 years. Jesus and other wise men and women may not be able to provide a list of all the specific things we need to do to prepare and survive the coming collapse, but they can supply the wisdom we need to be who we must become if we are to survive and possibly even thrive in ways that are quite different from those we have recklessly “enjoyed” in the past.  

In the final article in this series, we will look at some of that timely but forgotten or intentionally ignored wisdom. 

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