Ecological Civilization and a Commonwealth of Life

by Herman Green, Cynthia Sampson and Rebecca Tobias

of the United Religions Initiative Environmental CC

What time is it?

On April 15, 2013, a bomb goes off in Boston, and millions, if not billions, of dollars will be spent on apprehending the perpetrator and on new security measures. Marathons will never be the same again.

Everyone considers this important.

The Economist, in a well-known article published on March 30, 2012, reports that Earth may be less sensitive to carbon emissions than was thought—still a problem but on a longer time horizon. Climate Progress, in contrast, reports that the current trajectory of CO2 emissions is at the high end of what humanity can adapt to. Should we surpass this upper limit, James Hansen, a leading climate scientist, says it would be “game over” for human life on this planet.

And yet, few Americans consider this important.

It seems that we are able to respond to immediate danger, but less capable of addressing long-term threats. There is a need for an evolutionary change in humans to adapt to this new environment.

Still, the dominant impulse, not surprisingly, is to remediate the problems of industrial society with “green solutions” that tinker at the margins by making things less bad. Achieving 20% sustainable energy by 2030 is considered an ambitious goal, even though the remaining 80% of fossil fuel-based energy at that time would exceed our usage of fossil fuels today.

If humanity continues on this course, the result will be collapse. We need a vision and pathway that will match an epic challenge of unprecedented magnitude in all of human history.

Thus the call for a new vision, which might be described as an Ecological Civilization and a Commonwealth of Life. It is a vision in which Earth is understood to be a single sacred community bound together in interdependent relationships—what the late ecological theologian Fr. Thomas Berry described as “a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”

In this vision, humans would live sustainably in their “Earth home,” in harmony with the rest of creation and grounded in local communities and bioregions.

This idea is beginning to be advanced among some in the URI North America community with a focus on initiating dialogues on the meaning and practice of—and transition to—an Ecological Civilization and Commonwealth of Life in our region. In support of this model, beginning in 2010, the first of several “BioRegional Gatherings” were held in North America with the participation of multiple CCs in Southern California.

Future dialogues coordinated with the support and leadership of Environmental CC members, many experts in their fields, could include a combination of teach-ins, webinars, and experiential learning programs, building and expanding on existing models and expertise culminating in region-wide conferences exploring the spiritual and practical aspects of building an ecological civilization.

The purpose of these activities would be to gather insight into the forms, frameworks, practices, and programs that could inspire and guide individual and social transformations. Collaborations would involve spiritual mentors and ethicists, clergy and lay members from within our URI community and beyond who have been active in building community resilience, greening homes and places of worship, protecting the commons and sacred sites, the practice of eco-spiritual principles, supporting local culture, slow food, etc. If you would like to be part of such an initiative, please contact Cynthia Sampson at cysampson @ aol dot com or Rebecca Tobias at rebecca @ raoulwallenberginstitute dot org.

For further information and concept papers on ecological civilization, including a proposal for a major conference to be held in each of the great historic civilizations around the world—identified by scholar Samuel Huntington as Sinic or Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, Islamic Orthodox, Western, Latin American, and Sub-Saharan African—contact Herman Greene at hfgreenenc @ gmail dot com.

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