Thursday, July 11, 2013


I had an interesting conversation the other day with a gentleman who manages a business that as most do, impacts the environment.  We discussed the environmental regulations that impact his business, and I shared with him some of my thoughts on the limited effectiveness of those rules on preserving and protecting the environment and how compliance with the regulations can actually distract businesses from doing things to reduce their environmental impacts as they get bogged down by paper work and abstract calculations that the rules seem to mostly focus on. 
He shared with me some thoughts he had on how the focus on growth of profits, and population where likely the main cause of our environmental dilemma’s and would result in the same collapse phenomenon that occurs when any biological population goes through the boom and bust population growth cycle.  He also mentioned an issue he has with the common misinterpretation of the Biblical concept of God issuing orders for mankind to go out and subdue the earth, which didn't mean to go out and plunder the planet.
The conversation got me thinking about what needs to change in our world, and it lead me to a post that I originally posted on the old Servant Leadership Blog on November 12, 2009 that seems related to these concepts.  I am re-posting that here as a source of some possible answers and questions. 
In my last post, I asked the question -- what kind of sustainable world do you want to live in? I got a couple of comments in regards to that post that I thought I would expand on. The first comment was in regards to what does it mean to be sustainable. The second commenter suggested that the Bible has guidelines on how to live sustainably. Both responders raised some good questions and suggestions.

Regarding the Definition of a sustainable community, I like an explanation that can be found at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website. Some highlights from it follow:

A sustainable community can persist over generations, enjoying a healthy environment, prosperous economy and vibrant civic life. It does not undermine its social or physical systems of support. Rather, it develops in harmony with the ecological patterns it thrives in.
A sustainable community is one that:
  • Acknowledges that economic, environmental and social issues are interrelated and that these issues should be addressed "holistically."
  • Recognizes the sensitive interface between the natural and built environments.
  • Understands and begins to shift away from polluting and wasteful practices.
  • Considers the full environmental, economic and social impacts/costs of development and community operations.
  • Understands its natural, cultural, historical and human assets and resources and acts to protect and enhance them.
  • Fosters multi-stakeholder collaboration and citizen participation.
  • Promotes resource conservation and pollution prevention.
  • Focuses on improving community health and quality of life.
  • Acts to create value-added products and services in the local economy.

And regarding use of the Bible as an answer to what is sustainable, I would advise extreme caution. Many acts that are not at all in line with the concept of sustainability described above have been and are committed based on Biblical teachings.

One obvious example as quoted from the King James version of the Bible:

Genesis 1:27-28. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 

Thomas Berry has written much about the negative impact biblical teachings have had on the earth in his books. A few excerpts follow.

While none of our Christian beliefs individually is adequate as an explanation of the alienation we experience in our natural setting, they do in their totality provide 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 not rights; it exists for human utility, even if for spiritual utility. Because our sense of the divine is so extensively derived from verbal sources, mostly through the biblical scriptures, we seldom notice how extensively we have lost contact with the revelation of the divine in nature. (THE DREAM OF THE EARTH, Page 81.).

To alter this primordial sense of continuity throughout the universe seems to have been the basic purpose of biblical revelation. Within the biblical context, the continuity of divine presence with the natural world was altered by establishing the divine as a transcendent personality creating a world entirely distinct from itself. […] These discontinuities became exaggerated over the centuries, especially through emphasis on the personal redemptive experience communicated to the human , not a redemption out of our autistic status into a more abundant life of intimacy with the Earthly community, but redemption of an elect people into a trans-Earthly divine kingdom. Our true home, our true community, was not in this world. (EVENING THOUGHTS, Page 51)

So, based on the above, and assuming our future does involve spending time in this world, what would your sustainable future look like, particularly in regards to how we treat the rest of the world?

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