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Reverence For Our Wild World: Religion and the Environment

May 22, 2014

I felt I simply had to share this Op-ed written by author and advocate Carl Safina This Planet Comes With Limits. This is without a doubt one of the most important opinion pieces I’ve read of late about population, growth mania, and our planet in peril. Some estimates project that 200 species a day are going extinct. According to Mr. Safina, the extinction rate is 1,000 times what it would naturally be without our insatiable appetite for economic growth and no limits approach to population. Carl Safina speaks from the heart, to the heart of the issue that represents the greatest threat to our planet: unchecked population growth and a lack of empathy for the plight of other species. He notes that a growing population erases the benefits of technological advancement.

Ultimately, this poetic, poignant and rational essay is a call to action forcing us to question our destructive obsession with having more of everything. Bigger isn’t better. Far from it. Quantity doesn’t equal quality. As a former ranger naturalist, fly fishing guide, wildlife guide and lover of our wild world, I can assure you that the quality of experience dwindles in proportion to the number of people at a bear jam, on a river, in a slot canyon, or bombing down a ski hill. In any natural setting where intimacy and connection determine the quality of our experience, the greater the number of people, the less potential for a visceral and meaningful relationship to our natural world, and therefore to our higher self.

I recently had the opportunity to give the closing address (a ten minute sermon, preaching the importance of a new language of love, sacredness and reverence for the future of our wild world) on the front steps of the Colorado State Capitol for a rally protesting the Keystone Pipeline put on by the Sierra Club. I found it both alarming and disconcerting that there weren’t 20,000 people in attendance, a clear reflection of how apathetic our society has become regarding issues that threaten the integrity of our natural world. Perhaps what was the most concerning was the number of people marching in a “Jesus Saves Us” rally. Why were these people not joining us for a protest to protect our environment? I’m not sure, but this much I know: when a rally protesting a massive pipeline that will undoubtedly have a destructive (and potentially disastrous) impact on the land and waters that feed and nurture us, while bottle-necking travel pathways at the same time as it destroys habitat for thousands of plant and animal species that call the planned route of devastation home, is outnumbered by a loud mob of drum playing fanatics rallying in defense of their right to religious freedom, a right that appears far from under assault, I would say the future of our planet and civilization is in trouble.

Whether it’s a self-righteous belief in a cherry picked segment of a religious doctrine that blinds people from recognizing the unsustainable path that we are on regarding our population trend, a compulsive greed fueling a desire for economic growth, or simply a lack of reverence for the one and only planet we will ever call home, I’m not sure. But I believe Carl Safina puts it best when he says, “Whatever their impulse, compulsive craving for ‘no limits’ to economic growth and human numbers is irrational. A finite planet comes with limits.”

It appears that people are willing to passionately speak, march and fight for their religious freedoms, but not for the future of our Earth and other species that call this planet home. Since the election of a black president with an unfamiliar name here in the United States, there has been an eruption (fueled by the partisan likes of Fox News) of religious activists zealously fighting what appears to be a mirage of a battle, for as far as I can see here in rural Montana with the current boom in construction of evangelical churches, their religious freedoms are alive, well and prospering. All the while, we are in the midst of the Antropocene, otherwise known as the Sixth Extinction, on the verge of accepting a pipeline with the delusional hopes of lower gas prices and energy independence, all the while on the brink of allowing Yellowstone’s celebrated grizzlies to be hunted in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Is nothing sacred outside of the realm and dogma of religious institutions?

It was abundantly clear that the participants of the “Jesus Saves Us” rally were passionate about their spiritual beliefs and willing to fight for those rights. At what point will our society become passionate about the fight that matters most? The future of our planet. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I know that the apathy surrounding environmental issues will remain the norm until we as guardians rediscover the power of sacred language that has been hijacked by the religious right. I’ve often said that people want to believe in something and they want to believe in something profoundly. What better to believe in than the land and waters that sustain us all, that sustain life on this big, rugged, watery planet we call home?

I hope I live to see the day when an impassioned population of guardians from all walks of life, beliefs (religious and otherwise) and political parties walks hand in hand, with drums pounding, trumpets blaring and voices singing in defense of our wild planet and all of its species. Now is the time for us to Be Audacious in defense of our planet in peril. Perhaps there will come a day when our reverence for our bountiful and life giving planet will be compatible with a book written 3,500 years ago. Perhaps not. Regardless, the future of our planet and our moral responsibility as guardians of our wild world rests in our hands. May we rise to the challenge and foster a loving, nurturing and spirited world worthy of the next 200 generations.

With nothin’ but love, Michael W. Leach

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