An essay by Art Roscoe and Nancy Nightingale
In our April 2005 issue of the LYNX, we invited members and readers to submit a 500-1000 word essay focusing on the death, revitalization, vision, hope, hopelessness of environmentalism/ conservation. "What to do now? How? Why? If you can focus it on the Uintas, great; if not, great!' We continue to extend that invitation. Please send us your essay.
Retiring from the HUPC Board gave us time to focus on our goal of living in a more holistic sustainable manner and even some time to ponder the question, "Is environmentalism dead?" The question itself was thought provoking, but it was use of the suffix "ism" with the word environment that really captured our attention.
"Ism" is the kind of suffix found on words like Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, shamanism, etc. Adding this particular suffix seems to cause a word to morph into a religion of sorts, an originally good idea that becomes surrounded with dogma. Most "isms" have followers who are fundamentalists---literalists, protectionists. Most "isms" are divisive, separating each one from the other, making it clear who they are and who they aren't.
Last summer we knew without doubt that our vision of ourselves as activists had grown beyond the borders, interests and confines of traditional environmentalism, feminism, civil rights-ism and all the other excellent "ism" causes we have supported. We learned this about ourselves as we grew into oneness with this place we call home. We have become one with the land, including the noticeable old landslide above our backyard upon which we now grow our garden, the wildlife, the green things and the not so green things with whom we share this space, a sacred, spiritual place. We explored our physical and spiritual interdependence, our inter-beingness with all. Our identity expanded--- we became the environment.
By the time summer began to fade and the beautiful colors of fall arrived, we understood at a very deep level that, for us to grow further into ourselves and into the world, we had to grow our identity into a more expansive form of being than we had ever imagined. We let go of the idea of being a couple who care for and protect the land, who grow their own food, and heat with solar energy. We became the land, this place, an integral member of the family with whom we share and cooperate to nurture and live with our planet. We let go of our identity as good people, good environmentalists to become more whole, more interdependent, more conscious, more reverent. We became "spiritual greens."
Now we live in a larger, more connected world, thanks to the vibrant energy and messages of fluttering goldfinches splashing about in the waterfall, snakes, mice, trees, rocks, the savory fresh vegetable stir-fries. We appreciate the metaphor of the landslide---nature's lesson that when the earth shifts, we must shift with it and even delight in the opportunity to plant a garden there.
We imagined how hard it might have been to maintain balance and how frightening, even life threatening it must have felt to be on the earth as it slid. Today we enjoy the connection with and fruits of our beautiful garden that feeds us for almost the entire year. We now have a much better sense of our spiritual connection to all. It is through that connection that we reflect on the question, "Is environmentalism dead?"
As we environmentalists congratulated ourselves for the successes of the 70s, the ground was already beginning to shift under our feet. There was a deep spiritual longing within this country as society changed and our citizenry felt a loss of control. As people innately sought out ways to rebalance in these times of change, it was the extreme Right that recognized it and organized in such a way as to capitalize on it in the political arena. They defined the language and created the machinery to commandeer the Republican Party. The Reagan victory in 1980 was the first obvious evidence of success of the strategy, but environmentalists and progressives in general, neither recognized the shift nor took any counter action.
The very important issues of moral and spiritual values had become the domain of the Religious Right. Religion combined with politics can be dangerous, as the history of Abrahamian religions demonstrates. However deep spiritual values, the kinds of values that all religions hold in common, can provide a strong moral compass for politics. Our country was sensing the escalating changes that the age of technology and increased materialism precipitated, and the extreme Religious Right, which represents only a small minority of people in the U.S., provided rhetoric that appealed to people of many religious backgrounds. Combined with the moral issues surrounding the second Clinton presidency, this allowed an administration, which is very unfriendly to environmental protection, to be elected twice.
We believe that in order for the environmental movement to recapture the momentum of the 70s it must recognize and acknowledge the spiritual longings of the American people. We know that spiritual longing as individuals and as environmentalists. We know how the magnificence of a mountain, the roar of a river, the solitude of a desert and the mystery of the canyons call and meet our spiritual natures. We know the exhilaration of expansive vistas and the delight of seeing a litter of little skunks unselfconsciously frolicking in the grasses. The environment is spiritual.
Environmentalism can and should be recast in spiritual terms such that stewardship of the earth and all its creatures is a value to be revered and cherished. Nature is a place of spiritual encounters. All religious traditions recognize it as such.
So what do we have? We have a society longing for spiritual values, we have an environment that evokes images of and encounters with spirit - and yet we have not languaged the importance of a stewardship effort in spiritual terms. Possibly, the immediate task for environmentalists is to become comfortable with religion, with spirituality, and with the language of each. If the movement is to succeed in being a steward of space for spiritual exploration and discovery, it must be able to connect with those who are deeply religious and those who are deeply spiritual but not religious.
The world has changed. The ground has shifted. If the environmental movement is to succeed we cannot live as an "ism." It must expand to include related issues such as those related to labor, education and globalization as a start. It is time to expand the movement beyond protectionism and embrace other life affirming issues. After all, the achievements of the 70s were not accomplished in isolation. Environmentalists were just one member of an activist community. We were a part of giving voice to values, equality and rights and most importantly, we raised consciousness. And, instead of working shoulder to shoulder as movements did in the 70s, it is time to become intertwined, a community of mutual support. Environmentalists must be willing interweave our concerns with others because, as in any ecosystem, we cannot lose one part without affecting the whole system.
We have expanded and merged with this piece of land we revere as home. We have expanded our way of being to help others within our community. If others have issues, we help them solve those issues. Our neighbors envy the fresh vegetables we harvest from our garden - we help them start their own organic gardens. Our neighbors need secondary water - we help them create secondary water systems.
We will always live in fear of losing what we cherish and feel compelled to protect it from others until the needs of others are met. Living from a protectionist perspective is very scary. It contracts us - makes us less than the beings we are and can be.
The environmental movement is not dead. But the "ism" must be abandoned so the movement can expand and grow in a way that it can sustain and nourish a more expanded view of the world, a world that invites reverence for the environment, a Spiritually Green world.