Sunday, April 27, 2008

Earth Day Sermon

I'm sorry there haven't been more posts this month. April is one of the two busiest months of the year for me, together with August. Between working four part-time jobs, finishing the semester, getting the garden in and being sick I haven't had a lot of time for blogging.

This year the social justice committee at my church did the Earth Day service. The sermon was split between two of us on the committee. My half is posted below. Let me know what people think. I had a lot of people tell me they liked it, and I know I made at least two people angry.

For our topic today we picked reverence for the web of life. When we speak of environmentalism, of preserving nature, this is what we are really speaking of. But what does this mean, exactly? My dictionary defines reverence as a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe, and also the outward manifestation of such a feeling. It is not enough to feel this respect; one must also show it in action. This is a crucial point.

From a Pagan and Native American point of view, we are nature and nature is us. Whatever we do to the web of life we also do to ourselves, because we are part of the web. In these traditions, to revere the web of life is only natural, because to do so is to revere ourselves. Likewise, to rip or rend or disrespect the web of life is to do the same to ourselves.

Somewhere along the way there has been a fundamental disconnect between modern people and the natural world. Collectively, and often individually, we have set ourselves apart from nature and forgotten that we are a part of the web. We have forgotten that everything we do has an impact, and that it will eventually impact us. This disconnect has led us to where we are today, in a world facing multiple ecological and environmental crises: climate change, rising sea levels, dying oceans, overpopulation, declining water tables, food shortages, and the list goes on and on. We live in a world that is seriously ill and getting worse. There is a garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of the continental United States. Mothers in many parts of the world can no longer breast feed their babies because their milk has enough PCBs in it to be labeled toxic waste. Some of the ingredients in baby bottles may later render the adult infertile, or even cause cancer. Australia lost ninety percent of its harvest this year to a drought almost certainly induced by climate change. Sea level is rising at the rate of an inch a year. Even if this rate does not increase, by the time my generation retires New Orleans will be underwater. As will large portions of Florida and parts of the eastern seaboard. Every day now two hundred species go extinct. That’s two hundred species gone forever. Every single day.

I could go on, but that is enough to prove the point. This is what happens when we do not revere the web of life. This is what happens when we forget that we are in separately intertwined with the natural world, that what happens to it happens to us as well. But what does it mean to truly revere the web of life? And what can any one person truly do in the face of all this horror?
The natural reaction for many is to throw up their hands and say there is nothing I can do. Anything I do won’t make a difference. The problem is bigger than I am and will take laws and government. And lots and lots of money. Yet this is the wrong reaction. Yes, it will take some laws. But at its heart, as Michael Pollan pointed out recently, this is a crisis of lifestyle and of character. This crisis is the sum total of every one of our choices, and those choices made in our name. Everything we do, every choice we make, makes a difference –good, bad, or neutral. And when we throw up our hands and say nothing I do matters, I can’t make a difference, not only are we not helping to solve the problem, but we are also contributing to it.

So what does it mean to truly revere the web of life? First, we have to respect the natural world. We also must work to really understand that we are part of this web, and permanently intertwined with it. This is harder than it appears. For instance, many of us have no idea where our food comes from or what it takes to grow it. When I first started growing some of my own vegetables I thought I knew what it took to grow food. And intellectually I did. But I had no real idea that it takes a month to grow a radish! This little thing that is gone in two seconds takes a month to grow. You plant the seeds, you water, you weed, and you wait. A month later you pull it and in one bit its gone. That’s the kind of understanding I’m talking about.

What happens to the web of life will happen to us, and to our children. We have to make choices that will not do any more harm and will help to repair the harm that has all ready been done. We have to rethink our lifestyles, to make the changes that will allow us to stop contributing to this problem. Recycling and changing our lightbulbs is not enough. We also have to reduce the amount we consume, and change the sources of the things we use in our daily lives. These changes, these choices, while they may not be the most convenient or the most comfortable for each of us, are also the only way not to shift the price for our comfort and convenience onto our children and grandchildren. For it is they who will pay the highest price for how we treat the earth. As the ancient Native American proverb says, the earth does not belong to us; we merely borrow it from our children. And only when we have learned to walk more lightly on the earth will we truly come to revere the web of life. And ourselves.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Pete Murphy said...

Rampant population growth threatens our economy and quality of life. I'm not talking just about the obvious problems that we see in the news - growing dependence on foreign oil, carbon emissions, soaring commodity prices, environmental degradation, etc. I'm talking about the effect upon rising unemployment and poverty in America.

I should introduce myself. I am the author of a book titled "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption of products begins to decline out of the need to conserve space. People who live in crowded conditions simply don’t have enough space to use and store many products. This declining per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

This theory has huge ramifications for U.S. policy toward population management (especially immigration policy) and trade. Our policies of encouraging high rates of immigration are rooted in the belief of economists that population growth is a good thing, fueling economic growth. Through most of human history, the interests of the common good and business (corporations) were both well-served by continuing population growth. For the common good, we needed more workers to man our factories, producing the goods needed for a high standard of living. This population growth translated into sales volume growth for corporations. Both were happy.

But, once an optimum population density is breached, their interests diverge. It is in the best interest of the common good to stabilize the population, avoiding an erosion of our quality of life through high unemployment and poverty. However, it is still in the interest of corporations to fuel population growth because, even though per capita consumption goes into decline, total consumption still increases. We now find ourselves in the position of having corporations and economists influencing public policy in a direction that is not in the best interest of the common good.

The U.N. ranks the U.S. with eight other countries - India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia and China - as accounting for fully half of the world’s population growth by 2050. The U.S. is the only developed country still experiencing third world-like population growth, most of which is due to immigration. It's absolutely imperative that our population be stabilized, and that's impossible without dramatically reining in immigration, both legal and illegal.

The implications for population policy may be obvious, but why trade? It's because these effects of an excessive population density - rising unemployment and poverty - are actually imported when we attempt to engage in free trade in manufactured goods with a nation that is much more densely populated. Our economies combine. The work of manufacturing is spread evenly across the combined labor force. But, while the more densely populated nation gets free access to a healthy market, all we get in return is access to a market emaciated by over-crowding and low per capita consumption. The result is an automatic, irreversible trade deficit and loss of jobs, tantamount to economic suicide.

One need look no further than the U.S.'s trade data for proof of this effect. Using 2006 data, an in-depth analysis reveals that, of our top twenty per capita trade deficits in manufactured goods (the trade deficit divided by the population of the country in question), eighteen are with nations much more densely populated than our own. Even more revealing, if the nations of the world are divided equally around the median population density, the U.S. had a trade surplus in manufactured goods of $17 billion with the half of nations below the median population density. With the half above the median, we had a $480 billion deficit!

Our trade deficit with China is getting all of the attention these days. But, when expressed in per capita terms, our deficit with China in manufactured goods is rather unremarkable - nineteenth on the list. Our per capita deficit with other nations such as Japan, Germany, Mexico, Korea and others (all much more densely populated than the U.S.) is worse. In fact, our largest per capita trade deficit in manufactured goods is with Ireland, a nation twice as densely populated as the U.S. Our per capita deficit with Ireland is twenty-five times worse than China's. My point is not that our deficit with China isn't a problem, but rather that it's exactly what we should have expected when we suddenly applied a trade policy that was a proven failure around the world to a country with one sixth of the world's population.

If you’re interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, I invite you to visit my web site at OpenWindowPublishingCo.com where you can read the preface for free, join in my blog discussion and, of course, purchase the book if you like. (It's also available at Amazon.com.)

Please forgive the somewhat "spammish" nature of the previous paragraph. I just don't know how else to inject this new perspective into the immigration debate without drawing attention to the book that explains the theory.

Pete Murphy
Author, Five Short Blasts

4/28/2008 8:31 AM  
Anonymous murph said...

Pete,

I gather you rely a lot on statistical correlations for your conclusions. I would presume that you are aware that statistical correlations never ever shows causality. The relationships you show are interesting, but I suspect nowhere near the whole story.

4/30/2008 7:10 PM  

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