I’ve been slowly reading through the ‘back catalog’ of environmental writing—those classics that everyone should make time for. It’s an illuminating process, but usually not for its novelty. All too often, authors writing decades (let alone centuries) ago could be speaking of our present ecological moment as much as their own. Over and over again they advocate for whole, diverse, and dynamic communities.
There really is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Most recently I’ve been reading Bill McKibben’s seminal work The End of Nature. Near the end, McKibben offers a ‘radical’ view of creation—he calls it ‘biocentric’. This biocentrism (if it will tolerate being turned into an –ism) doesn’t put humans at the top or in the center of our planet, but knits us into a complex web. Is that so radical? In our earliest forms biocentrism was surely innate by virtue of survival and genetics. There are examples through history, perhaps not countless but numerous, of societies that grasped this essential truth: that we are in creation and not above it.
Some of us hold this radical view. As contributor Chandra Taylor Smith from the National Audubon Society puts it, we have a “spiritual sense of interdependence with nature.” But what was once innate we now only sense. It’s heard as a faint whisper against the winds of our ‘developed’ society. Reclaiming more than just a sense of our biocentric reality is something Smith and many others explore in this issue.
But the more frequent strain, and the current I find myself writing against does not place itself in creation but above it. Above the rivers. Above the oil deposits. Above the fisheries and forests. Above the natives, of this land or another. And suddenly, above one another. The treasure of land and people are to be used, which we’ve struggled to separate from abused. Our interdependence, one to another and to the world, is a deep truth. The evils we perpetrate flow from ignorance of this fact.
But then again, there are some things new under this sun.
Of late, our interactions with the land have changed in rate and kind, with ever more destructive results. Writing back in 1989 Bill McKibben noted that “we live in a radical, unrealistic moment. We live at the end of nature, the moment when the essential character of the world we’ve known since we stopped swinging from our tails is suddenly changing.” How much more unrealistic is this moment, our moment? The world as we know it has changed, we are in a new and vital moment. The question, and the problem, is do we have eyes to see and ears to hear (Matthew 13:16)?
I keep looking and listening as I read through this ‘back catalog.’ But, as Arthur Power notes, you can “try to catch/ the words/ as she said them/ until you recognize/ there is no way”—no way to fully capture the beauty and terror of this world. Words are useful, important, filled with truth a beauty, but alone they offer only a partial vision of what is and what is possible. As Mary Mattingly declares, it is art that “is integral to envisioning new worlds.” In this ecological moment we need all the vision we can muster. So we at EcoTheo Review have collected the art and literature here as a prophetic witness, trumpeting against the kind of destructive voices Karl Helvig speaks of—the voices that threaten to cloud our vision.
Do you have the vision? Come, let’s look, listen, and act.