Spirituality and Environment
by Steven Jeffrey
Photo by Sylvie Shaw

Spirituality and Environment
There is a need for spirituality in the environmentalist movement. Thus far many environmental groups have tried to argue their case on purely objective terms, to the detriment of their cause. Trying to persuade people to bolster biodiversity on the grounds of economic necessity is a hard argument to win when the forces working against biodiversity (such as the forestry industry) have very strong economic arguments regarding families, jobs and rural communities. As long as environmentalists continue to fight economists in purely economic terms, they are destined to lose. Thus there is a need to re-inject something of a religious faith into environmental debate and have it accepted into the debate on those terms. Biodiversity is worth fighting for not because of its economic value, but because it is the right thing to do! Without this the environmental movement is left open to incremental degradation. The victories of today swiftly become the loses of tomorrow unless there is some sustaining influence. Also without an environmental ethic present in our day to day activities we find that our impact grows incrementally. For example our rail system was more than adequate in 1950 but today it is woefully inadequate. The railway has not shrunk. The urban has sprawled and there has been no ethic in place to keep the railway expanding with the city. An ecospirituality would help provide an autpoiesic system whereby environmental action expanded to cope with the environmental problem.

Spirituality gives people the strength to sustain their action throughout their lives. During whaling’s heyday there was a race to establish colonies in the extreme North of the artic circle in order to maximise the amount of time spent processing whales. These colonies sometimes did not survive the colder winter months. The colonies that regularly survived, frequently seemed to come from countries which had a very strong religious background. This correlation has suggested that an inner strength is needed to sustain people during times of duress. Many long term environmental activists have a similar kind of spiritual basis that keeps them in touch with the causes they fight for. While this does sustain them in their struggles it will also loan a subjective bent to their arguments. Thus spirituality needs to be introduced and legitimised in the eyes of environmental debaters on both sides.

Division and Unification
The advantage of having a sacred aspect to environmental debate will be a (hopefully) unifying effect on the political left. Often a group will be so focused on their specific point of interest it will be argued to the detriment of all others. An example of this clouding of issues can be seen in the activities of the Socialist Alternative political group. Having been to a couple of meetings on campus, I have noticed a trend in the organisation to push the issue of class division. Every issue that the group discusses seems to turn around to the prospect of class warfare and a separation of the working and the capitalist classes. Apart from making for fairly monotonous meetings the forcing of the issue of class division is…well…divisive. Some groups of social reformers will view themselves as capitalists, and by demanding a class war the Socialist Alternative is isolating themselves from a portion of their supporter base. Perhaps a way to get around this separation is a spiritual common ground where each group recognises the right of the other to exist. To have a spiritual understanding of the morality underlying a cause will help it to be reconciled with other causes which share that morality. For example a common ground of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (underlying Muslim, Judeo-Christian and Buddhist philosophy) is equally applicable to refugee incarceration, habitat destruction and compulsory overtime in the workplace. We, as environmentalists, should try to integrate environmental action with social action and vice versa.

At the 2000 S11 protests outside the Crown Casino, the environmental movement and the social justice movements found unification in the face of a common enemy – global capital. All of the radical groups put aside differences of opinion on that first day and presented a united front. This intense level of energy was focused on the World Economic Forum. Groups as diverse as anti-nuclear activists, car manufacturers, anarchists and Marxists all met with a common purpose. This was not a solidarity meeting but a mass demonstration. Were it possible to harness this energy regularly against any injustice, the real "Enemies of Freedom" would be forced to abandon their exploitation of the world. This has been maintained thus far by divide and conquer tactics on the political left. Should a spiritual calling bring logging townships and anti-clearfell activists into unison for example, their combined force will stop the government’s mass destruction and exportation of our forests.

Earthworker is a caucus of unionists and environmental organisations' members which seeks to recognise the common needs of both the environmental and the union movements [www.earthworker.org.au]. Just as unionists are being called upon to recognise that environmental problems are related to the environment, environmentalists have to come to recognise the validity of social issues as environmental ones. How can we start to treat the natural environment with any kind of respect while we cannot treat our fellow humans with any respect? The socio/political treatment of rubber tappers and farmers are key elements in the deforestation of the Amazon, although our traditional viewpoint has been to treat them as separate issues. It will be next to impossible to get environmental cooperation out of people if they are tied to unfair or exploitative social practices that force those in a poverty cycle to rely on destroying the environment for personal gain. The imposition of interest on loan repayments for example, forces many people to stay in work against their will. This leads to people feeling trapped and helpless. They have no time for environmentalism or any other "soft" studies that do not appear to have a direct impact on their plight.

Evolution of Creation
(No Darwin jokes please)
One of the biggest dangers of conventional religions is that they often seek to show the world as a set creation that is subject to man’s will rather than an ongoing creation of which man is a part. Genesis 1:28 – "Replenish the Earth and subdue it" raises some nasty images, as does the granting of man’s "dominion" over all the animals of Earth. We seem to have done quite well on the subduing part but less spectacularly on the replenishing. Although there are plenty of aspects of Judeo-Christian religion that expect the humane treatment of animals, the starting point is always that of a natural world or wilderness that must be feared and tamed. This is opposed to a nurturing environment that bore us and has the ability to cradle us within it. Aboriginal spirituality, Gaia and Paganism all have the belief that we are part of our environment rather than its master. Until we accept that the creation is an ongoing act, we have little hope of accepting the environment into our world.

How can you manage others when you cannot manage yourself?

One of the recurring themes in aboriginal art is the life-spiral. When a life is represented by a spiral, each loop will be related to the loop that went before it. They will be similar although different in outlook. Decisions we make in our lives are often related to those we made earlier. An individual is as much an ongoing creation as the rest of the world, and the patterns are repeated. A few years ago there was a heated debate in Australia about private or state ownership of assets. Many felt that essential services ought to be held by the state for all citizens, others felt that the free market would operate them more efficiently. It is an interesting note that this same issue was discussed in ancient China before Christ was born. The planet has rolled on but the human arguments remain the same. The simple explanation is history repeating itself…but is that explanation so simple? We see the relation between events in a linear manner because that is the only way we have to see them. Could it be that we don’t look for a collapsed chronology because we don’t have the mental hardware to see it? In the same way a man living in a two dimensional world would have no concept of a third dimension. Time as a fourth dimension to existence may be more elastic than we allow ourselves to imagine. The birth of the dinosaurs, the fall of Rome and the extinction of the Thylacine may be events that are occurring as I type this and you read it. If this is so can a Thylacine or a Diprotodon be sung back into being?

Some religious views suggest that this is possible. The Creation can be healed and develops in God’s (gods’) will (s). The individual aspects of creation will, and have always existed as ideas. One tribe of aboriginals believe that humans have always existed. Their physical form is in a human shaped throat bone in a species of freshwater tortoise. This throat bone was the idea of humans before humans were. All ideas exist, they merely await expression. We need to bring this kind of ecological spirituality back into our lives. Without it our spiritual selves become attached to things like material possessions and artificial realities. How do we stop this rediscovered spirituality from becoming a divisive force that leads to misery and destruction of ourselves however? How will we do it to prevent Jihads, Crusades and schisms? That is the next question that we ought to be asking.