The Environment = Spotted Owls & Trees: our lack of real understanding

Forgive them, Father, for killing people through environmental harms, for they know not the full meaning of “environment.”  Forgive them, Father, for calling me a “tree hugger” (what’s wrong with trees?) and accusing me of being more concerned about baby seals/rabbits/polar bears/trees than about human babies, for they know not what environmentalism and environmentalist mean.

It occurred to me that a big problem regarding people not adequately addressing environmental problems is that people in general don’t really know what “environment” means, at least not the whole of it.  And part of the problem lies in our hyper-inflated concept of “the economy” as the mother that feeds us.  Well, it is the environment, not the economy, that feeds us.  Animals don’t have economic systems, yet they do fine.  Or, more rightly it is God, who provided the environment/creation, who feeds us.  As Jesus said, “Consider the lilies….and the sparrows….”

CULTURAL ECOLOGY:  In the introductory anthropology text, after initial chapters, we get a chapter on “Subsistence Patterns” or “Food Getting,” which is about how people eke a living out of the environment.   It covers such topics as hunting & gathering of wild foods, pastoralism or domestic animal herding, and agriculture.  At the end there is usually something about our form of industrial agriculture, and how the industrial, gluttonous, profligate lifestyles of the first-worlders are turning the environment from a life-sustaining to a life-hostile place, though not in those exact words.

ECONOMIC SYSTEMS:  The chapter after that is about “Economic Systems,” which only narrowly have to do with resources once they are out of “the environment,” production, division of labor, exchange of goods and services, and property ownership and tenure.   Neo-classical economics (re our industrial economy) is incapable of dealing adequately with the environment or our harms to it.

As ecological anthropologist, Roy Rappaport, wrote on page 299 of “The Anthropology of Trouble,” the environment (the biological-ecological system) is fundamental, the economy contingent, and about our modern economic system:

The world upon which the monetary metric is imposed is not as simple as the metric itself. Plants, animals, and societies are complex beyond full human comprehension. To remain healthy, each requires a great variety of distinct materials, generally derived from a variety of sources…Monetization, however, forces the great range of unique and distinct materials and processes that together sustain or even constitute life into an arbitrary and specious equivalence. Phenomena that relate to each other essentially in terms of their qualitative distinctiveness are represented and understood in terms of a logic that reduces all qualitative distinctions to mere quantitative differences, a logic that, as it were, attempts to “bottom line” the world.

When one understands the importance of “environment” (God’s creation) and that it is not just that ever-shrinking wilderness fringe outside our human societies,  but the very heart of our material being, then it becomes imperative that we stop turning it into a life-hostile place.

Where does our food come from?  Many don’t think past “the grocery store,” with perhaps the more educated and thoughtful persons among us wrongly thinking “from our economy.”

I’m thinking if we are incapable of really understanding the full meaning of “environment” and its fundamental importance to our material lives and well-being, then how can we even remotely approach any understanding of God, beyond some limited anthropomorphic caricature.

It’s no wonder many people think environmentalism = pantheism or neopaganism.  They have no idea what “environment” really means, and I’m guessing they may also have a very limited conception of God, as well — not that any of us could ever conceptualize what is beyond human conception.

Bottom line:  God gave us life and the good earth to sustain it, and redeemed us from certain Hell and gave us hope of Heaven.  What do we have to fear, except our arrogant selves?  God gave us everything and more.  God gave us brains and hearts, so let’s use them to turn away from environmentally (and in other ways) harming others and self.  Let us not be like that guy who buried his talent.


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