When asked to provide the meaning of the word “nature” it is understood that there is not an objective definition. Nature is an idea that consists of a multitude of definitions. Anything that was in existence before mankind, is not man-made, and works to balance the universal system can be viewed as something of the natural world. Some claim that technology is managing to create a mind of its own, luring society in and inevitably pulling us away from the chance to fully experience the authentic meaning of truly living. Some also claim that religion and even our conscience both have a special relationship and connection to the nature that surrounds us. This is undoubtedly the vision of Al Gore. In his profound essay “Environmentalism of the Spirit,” he argues that a majority of our society claims it “ethical” to remove nature from the big picture whenever it gets in the way of accomplishing a set goal that our society has created. Interestingly, Aldo Leopold makes a comparable argument in his well-known essay, “The Land Ethic.” Leopold states that there is no land ethic with man’s affiliation to nature and that the absent ethic cannot hinder the routine use of particular resources, nor can the management of them cease. My position is that we need to focus on our technological advances and our spiritual standing of ethics to confront this global crisis that we now face today. Society needs to focus on religious ethics to address our 21st century environmental catastrophe.
In “Environmentalism of the Spirit,” Gore discusses nature in a sense that unavoidably proves that the environment threatens to retreat from its global balance due to the harsh impact of the alterations caused by our technology. He argues that “environmental degradation and social injustice go hand in hand” (Gore 247). In our society, this particular degradation is visible almost anywhere. Poisonous waste in the inner-city, destruction of our rainforests, and numerous amounts of toxic leads in the ghettos are just a few harmful concerns that Gore acknowledges. Certainly, “the environmental crisis seems completely beyond our understanding and outside of what we call common sense” (239). That is why Gore specifically wants the reader to realize that our environment is only safe from degradation and pollution when it is connected with a society that appreciates, cares, and loves it.
However, Gore states that even today we continue to be unethical towards nature and that technology is part of the underlying reason why. Technology has vastly advanced over the last few decades and as it continues to grow in its drastic importance, its potential for nearly demolishing all of nature expands. In 2014, more than 20 years since Gore’s essay, technology has grown even more into something negative for the community. I believe Gore has noticed the immense amount of trees being cut down for paper or the unethical amount of animals in our seas being killed due to pollutants and wants to put an end to it. He further explains that society has become so caught up in industrial civilization’s guarantee to provide us with comfortable living that we have permanently allowed the repetitive routines of life to lure us in and create a deceiving world of our own choice. It is completely unethical for us to sit around and look at images or watch documentaries of environmental destruction, worldwide famine, and warnings of apocalyptic scenarios and think to ourselves that there is nothing we can do.
I agree with Gore’s argument because I have experienced such situations. I have done mission work in inner-city ghettos and smelled the harmful wastes that people smell on a regular basis. It was the most repulsive, nauseating odor imaginable. This is precisely why a religious ethic is so important. Many ethical concepts are derived from the Bible, which teaches the importance and need for forgiveness, hope, love, and mercy, because of our sinful nature. Christian ethics were established upon grace, which alters the lives of many and permits them to behave and make decisions in a righteous manner. Much like Gore, I believe it is unethical for us to sit back and watch innocent people suffer through this, no matter what their social status is.
Alternatively, in “The Land Ethic,” Leopold cleverly discusses society’s lack of conservation education. His essay was written in 1949, therefore it does not directly focus on the topic of technology, but his idea of the conservation system is drastically close to society’s outlook on technology today. Leopold believes that through conservation education, there can potentially be an arising change in ethics. In our effort to make conservation a simple task, we have conclusively made it strenuous. Thus, “no important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions” (Leopold 5). This is significant because Leopold provides a solution for us. He clearly tells us that without an internal change, our environmental status will only decline.
Leopold makes an important point that the environmental mechanism is so elaborate that its components may never be comprehensible. He provides wildflowers and songbirds as two examples that he believes unconditionally belong to the biota and that both of them have the right to continuance. Regardless of any commercial profit to the community, these innocent beings are of the natural community and must continue in existence. He feels as if the community’s economic purpose has been weakened due to the absence of conservation education. Indeed, he adds that “we have no land ethic yet, but we have at least drawn nearer the point of admitting that birds should continue as a matter of biotic right” (5) because preserving these weaklings proves to be ethical in the biota. Outside of economics, religious ethics help us view life as valuable by making us appreciate the world around us. It makes us actually sit back and take in the true beauty of the rising sun over the mountains or the setting sun over the sea. Religious ethics make us feel connected to the Creator of all things through the beauty of the nature that He created.
In a different manner, Gore argues that God plays a significant role in nature. He is Baptist and argues that from a biblical perspective anything done to our earth must be done with the knowledge that it fully belongs to the Creator. Like Gore, I believe that earth belongs to God and that it’s our job to care for it. In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” God has commanded us to look after and nurture all the elements of the world, which is why he proceeds to explain that almost every religion has an ample amount to say about humans and their relationship to the earth. A large number of Native American cultures, Islamic teachers and followers, Christians, teachers of Hinduism, Indian monotheistic believers, and a multitude of other religions have an essential connection to nature through different worship rituals, prayers, baptisms, and even their scriptures. Though the many religions of the world are all very diverse, nature creates a common ground for them all. Gore states that “if we could find a way to understand our own connection to the earth- all the earth- we might recognize the danger of destroying so many living species and disrupting the climate balance” (264).
Leopold provides a similar argument in his essay. Though he never directly mentions God or a series of world religions, he does mention that there is an idea of an underlying natural conscience that exists. He explains that this ecological moral sense “reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land” (Leopold 10). Leopold claims that it is inconceivable for him that an ethical connection to the land can manage without a sense of admiration and love for it. The land should be held at such a high value in the philosophical understanding, that our society is no longer ecologically blinded by the many arising, and already present, environmental issues. Essentially, Leopold argues, and Gore will agree “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise” (12).
Gore and Leopold simultaneously suggest that without a change throughout our inner character, our environment will proceed to decline and will eventually lead to turmoil and destruction. Repairing this environmental catastrophe is an essential key element in positively shaping the biota. Society has negatively shaped technology into a destructive phenomenon that only we can work to repair. On the other hand, international religions paired with ecological morals are imperative elements that connect the community to the natural world. Ultimately, “if science and religion are one day united, we may recapture a deeper curiosity about not only the nature of existence but its meaning as well, a deeper understanding of not only the universe but of our role and purpose as part of it” (Gore 254).
Gore, Al. “Earth in the Balance.” Ecology and the Human Spirit. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
Leopold, Aldo. “The Land Ethic.” A Sand County Almanac. London: Oxford UP, 1949.