Caring for planet part of responsibility
For centuries, many people took this selection from Genesis as a mandate to extract as many resources from the earth as they desired. Unfortunately, the passage about replenishing the earth was sorely neglected.
Consider, perhaps, the most important resource that has been plundered and not replenished - the forests. In this country, fewer than 5 percent of the original forests remain. On an international scale, in the last 30 years, 40 percent of the world's rain forests have been destroyed. Just 22 percent of the earth's original forest remains in large, relatively natural ecosystems. About 27 million acres of tropical rain forests disappear each year. If they continue to be destroyed at this rate, there may not be any rain forests left 50 years from now.
It has been determined that rain forests are far more valuable if kept intact and if renewable resources are collected and used rather than destroyed. For example, tropical rain forests provide between 25 percent and 40 percent of all pharmaceutical products. Three thousand plants have anti-cancer properties; of these, 70 percent inhabit the rain forests.
One of the biggest factors behind the staggering losses of natural resources is our soaring population. It took millions of years, from pre-history up through 1850, before the world's population reached 1 billion. A mere 80 years later, it was 2 billion. Thirty years later, it was 3 billion. Fifteen years later, it was 4 billion. And, 12 years later, it was 5 billion.
One consequence of that trend has been a shortage of water. Since 1999, when the world's population passed the 6 billion mark, water tables have been falling on every continent, major rivers are drained dry before they reach the sea, and millions of people lack enough water to satisfy basic needs.
A small, but vocal and influential group finds it hard to digest those statistics. They either have no grasp of the magnitude of the problem or have become immune to the gradual changes of urban sprawl and air and water pollution. Some breezily dismiss the numbers as highly exaggerated or misleading.
It is with interest and dismay that I have followed some comments in the letters to the editor section about environmentalists; comments that seem to imply environmentalists are at best alarmists and busybodies and at worst sinister political extremists and "ecoterrorists" bent on eliminating private property and redistributing wealth.
To ignore the serious implications of large-scale environmental degradation and concurrent increases in population - two trends that are undeniable - is either blind ignorance or an act of self- deception.
To blithely suggest that we should be alarmed because science can't know precisely the consequences of greenhouse gasses or the loss of rain forests, while adding a billion people to the planet every 10 years, is sheer folly. It is the ultimate game of Russian roulette. If we lose, it will jeopardize the very existence of things that make life worth living - forever.
So, is this discourse only meant to awaken our instinct for self-preservation? What spiritual or ethical principles are at stake.
In the Baha'i writings, it says "Let your vision be world embracing" and states that, "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." Indeed, we are one human family. A wise family with limited means will not squander its resources and multiply without limits. We must develop an awareness of the impact of our lifestyles on the other people on the planet.
The United States, with less than 5 percent of global population, accounts for about a quarter of global consumption. Many resources are extracted from countries other than those in which they are consumed, often causing environmental damage far out of proportion to local wealth and consumption. In effect, much of the impact of over-consumption is borne by peoples who do not share in the benefits and, in many cases, lack the basic necessities of life.
Within our own country, there are great disparities in consumption. Usually, the most voracious consumers generate the most waste or create the most detrimental impact on our environment. Thus, our responsibility to reduce consumption arises from principles of social as well as ecological fairness.
The combination of rampant consumerism and corporate profiteering has almost become a national ethic (and/or epidemic). It is time to replace it with ideals that put the stewardship of the earth and the welfare of the entire human family first.
Phil Smith is vice-chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly, Baha'is of Bloomington.
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