Ecological Awareness

Joseph Campbell noted that the Judeo-Christian traditions are the only world religions that create a viewpoint where man is above nature—that man is meant to dominate nature.

All Eastern traditions, in contrast, seek to find a harmonious balance with nature. In light of current environmental concerns, the Eastern viewpoint seems more enlightened.

The last decade has seen a surge of interest in ecological awareness. It’s no longer a secret that pesticides are harmful both to humans and the environment, giving rise to the organic movement. It’s now widely known that the planet is overpopulated; that we produce far too much waste; and that industry has damaged or destroyed much of the planet’s natural resources.

In the past, we simply threw things away, with little care or concern for where it might go. Now, with images of oceans of landfills fresh in mind, more people are concerned about what they consume, the packaging that is used, and how easily it can be reused or recycled.

As we become more aware of these concerns, our responsibility for the planet increases. Habits change as what’s “easy” or “convenient” is often sacrificed for what’s sustainable. After all, if we all did what was “easy,” how long would it take before the planet became unlivable?

With ecological awareness, new habits emerge like:

  • Bringing reusable bags into every store;
  • Using cloth napkins instead of paper;
  • Composting as much as possible;
  • Opting for paperless billing statements from every service provider;
  • Learning about recycling and becoming diligent about it;
  • Using reusable bottles, no longer buying plastic bottles of water;

More important than these new habits, with greater ecological awareness, many people begin to experience a greater reverence for life—what  transcendentalists like Thoreau and Emerson saw as the divine in nature.

Ecological awareness doesn’t have to have a political agenda—it doesn’t necessitate environmentalism, or any other –ism like activism. Its message doesn’t need to be proselytized through fear of what will come if we don’t change. (Although I have compassion for those who use fear to drive the message due to the masses’ ignorance and resistance to change.)

But a person needs to grow (developmentally) before ecology can become a concern. (From the perspective of Spiral Dynamics, it isn’t until the Green meme is activated that ecological awareness becomes of interest.)

Ken Wilber, a contemporary American philosopher, often cites the three stages of moral development: First, people are egocentric, focused almost exclusively on their own interests. Second, they become ethnocentric, focused mainly on a religious affiliation, ethnic identity, family, or social group. It isn’t until a person reaches the third level, worldcentricity, when we are developmentally ready to embrace a larger perspective that includes ecological awareness. From a worldcentric viewpoint, it’s natural to think in terms of global concerns and sacrifice self-interests for the greater good.

Remember that everything you do leaves a mark. When you have reverence for nature, you have reverence for all life. Ecological awareness need not be about “saving the planet,” but about living in harmony with it.