Thinking about the environment

That’s the trouble with this topic – all people ever do is think about the environment.
essentially based on a biblical idea. It is always useful to know that the idea of Adam naming the animals in Genesis 2 implies that he has power over them. In the ancient world if one knew the name of something or somebody, this implied that one have power over it. Equally important though is the teaching of Aquinas – undoubtedly influenced by the biblical tradition and Aristotle. Aquinas saw humans as the only morally important beings.
Remember ideas such as anthropocentric view of the world (man based)
Creation has intrinsic value – creation can respond to God
Passages from Psalms and prophetic literature which calls on nature to praise God (eg Psalm 148:3-10)
Even Genesis 1:26 “Let us make man in our own image, according to our likeness and let them have dominion over…”
St Francis of Assisi 1182-1226 – despite all the sentimental pictures – his view was that nature was a sign of God’s goodness and its purpose was to inspire human respect and love of God.
STEWARDSHIP -alongside dominion. While philosophically we may point to a distinct difference here. It is unlikely that the biblical writers shared our analysis. While Adam names the animals, showing his superiority, he is also in the garden of Eden as a steward. His task was to care for the garden.
This idea leads well in to the next aspect of religion and the environment which sees man’s failure to look after the world as an aspect of sin. The idea is pre-figured in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are banished on account of their disobedience but also on account of their failure as stewards of the garden.
Christians tie in the idea of exploitation of the earth’s resources with sin – man’s failure as a steward.
RAPTURE – this movement is said to exist among some Christians in America. They claim that man is superior to nature and that in order to further the coming of the kingdom of God, destruction of the environment is to be welcomed.
Only when the earth fails will christ return in glory. It is said that these groups interpret some parts of the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic sections of the New Testament to show that the return of Christ and the end of the age could be encouraged by the failure of the earth and its resources.
The name Pastor John Hagee of Texas is cited by the text-book as a supporter of this view.

Conclusion on these approaches. The religious approaches all tend to be analytical and theoretical rather than practical. There are som splendid Christian websites linked to this idea “Christian Ecology” “Green christian” and “Christian Ecology Link”. This last group support and sponsor practical ideas, but they are all a bit churchyard based. There is also advice on how to run a green church. Readers are urged to contact their MP etc etc. It is all tinkering (well-meaning tinkering, but nonetheless tinkering on the fringes of much larger problems. Have a look at these sites and judge for yourself.


It is a good idea to be familiar with the history of environmental ethics. Know about Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring.

DEEP ECOLOGY    This approach depends to a large extent on the 1949 book by Aldo Leopold Sand County Almanac. A more accessible resource is the work of Aarne Naess. His work and his ideas are well documented in film available on YouTube. he was a stern advocate of the inherent worth of the environment. Humans, animals and vegetables have equal rights to life and to flourish. He called this ecosophy, which amounts to ecological harmony or equilibrium.
Species have a right to live for their own sake. Naess himself lived what many would regard as a primitive way of life – at one with, and not greater than the nature which surrounded him.  He considered even the Christian view of stewardship as arrogant.
Naess and George Sessions listed an 8 fold deep ecology charter.
Naess himself proposed humans should
Radically reduce the earth’s population.
Abandon all goals of economic growth.
Conserve diversity of species.
Live in small self-reliant communities.
“touch the earth lightly.

Essentially this is the work of James Lovelock (1919- ) and his Gaia hypothesis.
There is a certain charm about this quietly spoken unassuming man. Again he is easy to resource. BBC Radio 4 “The Life Scientific” did a programme about him which can be accessed at
Know the origin of the name Gaia from William Golding’s book “Lord of the flies”
Gaia, Lovelock believed was the ability of the planet to self regulate itself. The earth acts like a living organism which can maintain its own existence despite catastrophes which may happen to it. The world is not the result of chance but of self engineering.
Work out the challenge this poses to evolutionary biologists such as Dawkins.
Lovelock would say that in the event of a world shattering catastrophe during which human life may be wiped out. Gaia would not only survive but would do so without our presence. In time new life-forms may develop. The human race has no particular significance, but we are part of Gaia along with other living organisms.
This holistic view of the universe reads rather like an offshoot of an Intelligent Design theory.
Recently though Lovelock has grown increasingly pessimistic about man’s ability to survive and is beginning to entertain the possibility that humans have inflicted so much damage to the planet that its total existence may be in jeopardy.

This view differs from the other two secular theories. It believes that animals and plants are only valuable for their extrinsic instrumental value for humans. Plants and animals are a means to an end.
Conservation is a means to an end
Question Why do we put thing in green bins when we have finished with them?
Answer so that they can be recycled into more things that we can use!
It is fair to say that conservationists take seriously the damage that is being done to the planet and the seek international solutions and international agreement on what should be done.
ConferencesRio 1992, Kyoto 1997. The latter brought about the Kyoto Protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty that sets binding obligations on industrialised countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Check which countries are in or out of this agreement.
Apart from that have fun talking about Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Friends of the Earth etc.
Environmentalism is sometimes referred to as shallow ecology.
Know all about Biodiversity.
The whole approach is governed by what is right in order to preserve human life. So, for example, environmental damage may be allowed to occur if humans will benefit from the change that is brought about.
Read up on Michael La Bossiere and his views on allowing species of animals toi die out.
Remember too Peter Singer and his views on sentience. Singer, who is a preference utilitarian, will be at odds with Deep Ecology and also Shallow Ecology.

Conclusion   It is a bit like the devil and the deep blue sea. Clearly the man with the solution is Arne Naess. Deep Ecology is the answer to all the earth’s problem. The painful nature of the solution though make the medicine unpalatable and impractical. While individuals may wish to go and live half way up a mountain, reject the world and all its technology, thee will be no mass following. James Lovelock has a wonderful track record of being right about many things. There are, or course, questions about his theory and no shortage of those scientists and scholars who would denounce him. Even Lovelock though admits that we may have gone too far in our misuse of the planet, so it would seem that he is not offering a solution. Shallow Ecology. This is what we would all feel comfortable with. As we trundle our wheely bins in the direction of the dustcart there is a sense of pride that we are “doing our bit.” The trouble is that it is only a bit and probably not enough. There is a lack of international agreement on climate change and over matters of conservation thee are as many defaulters as there are those who would comply.

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