write in response to the author of the pessimistic letters on population control and climate change. I must say that there are days when I share his unsanguine view of the potential of the human race to right itself. And yet….
Let’s try to create an historical analogy to the mess in which we find ourselves at present. I liken our predicament to a passenger on HMS Titanic, which passenger has knowledge that the ship is hurtling full speed towards an iceberg laced area. As he is not a uniformed member of the crew, our passenger has no official duty to share his knowledge with those who can make a difference in the ship’s course. He has then, two alternatives as I see it. One, the passenger can sit back, remain silent, curse the idiots on the bridge for their willful blindness, and hope that the ship miraculously avoids the icebergs known to be in her path. Alternatively, the passenger can recognize and assume an unwritten duty for the preservation of life, and because the fate of each life on the ship is interwoven, choose to raise the alarm, again and again and again, using every means possible to convey the urgency and direness of the ship’s position. Will the alarm be heeded? I don’t know, but it seems to me far more worthwhile to endeavor to turn things around, no matter how much effort it takes, rather than naively hope that despite evidence to the contrary, all may yet be well. So I urge the author of those letters, and all who believe that SS Earth is on a collision course with an undesirable future, to keep raising the alarm and never give up. The only alternative option appears to be the likelihood of a devastating shipwreck.
Well, we want to raise the alarm, but where to begin? First, we humans must alter radically our view of our place in nature. For too long we have seen ourselves as lords of the manor with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto, free to consume, pollute and squander with no thought for the deleterious effect of such selfishness on all other life on this planet, not to mention the deleterious effect on our own lives. We must come to see, understand, and act upon the now obvious truth: we are but one of innumerable species all sharing the fragility and wonder of life on this tiny spec of a rock in our vast (beyond all conception) universe. All life is intertwined, and all that we do, or fail to do, affects all other life on this planet. We must eschew outworn creeds that encourage humans to treat the earth as our oyster, and we must seek an ethos that compels us to examine our actions with a view towards protection and enhancement of the biosphere.
OK, what is that ethos? What replaces the anthropocentric dogmas that have driven human life for centuries? There are many candidates, but I always return to Albert Schweitzer’s “Reverence for Life” as our ideal driving force. As Schweitzer said: “A man is ethical, only where life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help. “ Is it a perfect credo? No, but it gets us started and points us in the right direction. Humans must examine each proposed action, program, process, and plan with a reverence for life in mind. We must ask of each proposal in front of us: is the current model with its attendant destruction of life, of animal life, plants, trees, wetlands, habitats, absolutely necessary? Is there no other less intrusive way? Can we not find a way to seek our ends and simultaneously enhance the biosphere for as much life as possible?
Armed with that ethos, what are the steps to implement it in our behavior. How does it become embedded in human life? The answer is easy (not so implementation, of course): our institutions must adopt this ethos as their own and factor it into their decision making processes. Which institutions? Government first of all. Elected officials must exercise their authority in a way that preserves and enhances the biosphere for all life, not just for those humans with wealth (and thereby influence) who wish to destroy wildlife habitats in the name of large agricultural enterprises, sprawling housing developments or endless strip malls with their attendant macadamed parking lots. Next comes organized religion. For millenia religions have placed man as the center of the universe, and with such placement religions have given man Carte Blanche to fell forests, slaughter animals and wildlife, pollute rivers, the atmosphere and the oceans, and yes, over populate, all with thoughtless impunity. This must change. Humans are wreaking havoc on our planet at an alarming rate. Our excesses must be curbed, and this means that religion must, frankly, put us in our proper place: as stewards of the environment, not gluttonous consumers. Finally comes education. Our school systems must inculcate in us at an early age, and continue through all grades, a sense of responsibility to all life on this planet, an awareness that as the most intelligent and organized species on the earth, we hold our planet’s well being in trust for all other life. As trustees we are obligated to do our level best to protect and preserve that life, and our education system must teach this knowledge and reinforce it with actual involvement by students in Eco-friendly projects.
Now the hard part already alluded to—how do we do this? How do we make this happen? If Tip O’Neill was right that all politics is local, then perhaps we can extrapolate from that adage that all useful change is local as well, or at least it begins locally. Locally what we can we do? We can demand that our public officials listen to us regarding the protection of the biosphere, wildlife and their habitats, wetlands, springs and all life and nature. Let us work against those who see Ocala’s future as nothing more than the hideous sprawl mentioned earlier, and let us find and support those candidates who cherish all life, will work to promote renewable energy and other green programs, and who see Ocala as an Eco-tourism mecca.
For religion, for those profess faith work with your churches, synagogues and so forth to advocate for a change in how humans are viewed as outlined earlier. Work for sermons that adopt this view, and take organizational action as a religious institution that reinforces the concept of a reverence for life, of man as steward of his surroundings, not master. And of course, change your own views—realize that man is not the be all and end all of life, but merely one player in this world with an unparalleled capacity to destroy everything.
In the realm of education work with teachers, principals and school boards to ensure that the human duty of ecological stewardship is understood and taught to all students, reinforced by field trips and volunteer efforts. In fact, in Florida you can help bring about the statutorily mandated teaching of humane education, and, to cite a Florida statute:
(b) When recommending instructional materials for use in the schools, each committee shall include only materials which
accurately portray, whenever appropriate, humankind’s place in ecological systems, including the necessity for the protection of our environment and conservation of our natural resources.
So, when you advocate for protecting the biosphere, for enhancing life, you have the law on your side in Florida. All we need do is convince school systems that here is a law worthy of their time and attention.
There you have it—a blueprint for change advocacy. You may well be rebuffed many times. In each such instance just dust yourself off and politely resume the discussion. Will you change things? I don’t know. But I do know that a failure to make this attempt will lead inexorably to a calamitous outcome. This may be our last opportunity to set a proper and safe course before irreversible damage takes place, so keep those letters coming.
Ad astra per ardua!
For Our Friends the Animals Foundation