Earth from space

The sacredness of Creation

Thus spoke Chief Seattle

In 1854, the native American Chief Seattle gave a speech when the United States government wanted to buy the land of his tribe. You can read it by clicking on the above link.

Different versions of Seattle’s speech circulate. In 1971, a screenwriter wrote a text that became a religious creed within the environmentalist movement. It aims to make Creation sacred. This text differs from the first published text compiled from the memories and notes of an attendant of Seattle’s oration. In other words, this is not what Seattle said, but it makes a good story. And I added a few minor changes to make it more modern. After all, the message is more important than historical accuracy. And that message strikes at the heart of the matter. Nothing is sacred anymore. The pursuit of money destroys the balance of our planet and our human values. The white man may think he owns the land, while he does not. He may think he controls his destiny, but he does not. We share a common future, and whatever befalls Earth befalls the children of the Earth.

Perhaps, you care for our planet, but what do you mean by saving it? If a species disappears, the Earth is still there. Humans survived the extinction of the dodo. We will probably survive the demise of the rainforests. Humans have finished off other species for thousands of years, so why stop now? And maybe, things correct themselves. The active male sperm count goes down because of the poisons we leave behind in our environment, which is something men do worry about rather than overpopulation. Mr Lind, a professor at the University of Texas, so he probably knows something, wrote an article, Why I Am Against Saving the Planet. I will use it because he puts things so aptly, for instance, ‘Saving the planet has become the de facto religion of politicians, business elites, and intellectuals in the West, replacing Christianity’s earlier mission of saving individual souls.’1 He claims that environmentalism is rooted in German 19th-century Romanticism, typified by a bias against society and civilisation and a pantheistic awe before an idealised Nature.

In doing so, Mr Lind inadvertently tapped into another 19th-century German tradition, that of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche aimed at leaving all metaphysics and morality behind. He said, ‘God is dead.’ He meant to say that religion was a ruse to enslave us with a false sense of right and wrong under precepts imposed by a priestly caste. The higher humans can do without that. You end up with slaves and so-called superior people, his romantic heroes. And so, Nietzsche’s views could be an outgrowth of the same Romantic tradition. His thinking might do well with psychopaths, so Nietzsche’s opponents saw him as a nihilist, and his ideas inspired the Nazis but also Ayn Rand with her Atlas Shrugged, where she paints a world where the superior entrepreneurial capitalist heroes face oppressive governments and lazy workers stealing their property. There is no fundamental difference between caring for animals, plants, entrepreneurial heroes, indigenous peoples or Jews. It all comes down to caring or not caring. You might argue that Adolf Hitler cared about the human race and wanted to improve it. Indeed, you can get carried away by your emotions.

Mr Lind thus argues for doing away with false sentiments, ‘There are costs to mitigating climate change as well as benefits, and rational people can prefer a richer but warmer world to a poorer but slightly less warm one. All of these individual policies benefit humanity, so there is no need to justify them on the basis of a romantic creed that defines the planet or the environment.’ That may appear all nice and dandy from behind the desk of Mr Lind, but if you live below sea level or in an area under threat by climate-change-related natural disasters, you might hold a different view, and get the impression that Mr Lind stands in the way. Ten million Dutch live at or below sea level, and hundreds of millions more are at risk of facing a climate-related disaster. And other species will probably survive, perhaps even thrive, if the likes of Mr Lind go extinct, so let that be a warning. And then there is that issue of God turning out not to be so dead after all.

God created this world so we might consider being less presumptuous and stop claiming it is ours. So yes, the sacredness of Creation is a religion and, therefore, we should heed Mr Lind’s warnings. It will be hard to care for the planet or other people on an empty stomach. Meanwhile, many have followed the path of the white man, who is not white but pink by the way, so it isn’t only his problem anymore. Today, the red man exploits casinos, well, red, not really. The yellow man, who might be a bit too pale to be called yellow, is working even harder than the white man. And the black man, who is often brown, is about to follow suit. That is progress for us, more cities, more roads, more people, and more money. The latter seems to be the point of everything we are doing, our ultimate goal in life. But as our production and consumption increase, new problems emerge faster than we existing solve old ones with laws, technology, targets and other solutions.

Most of us think fundamental changes are impossible, but acknowledging the problem is the beginning of the solution. Our belief that nothing will help can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need a new starting point, a new foundation for our culture, our beliefs and thinking and our place in the universe. Small steps cannot save us anymore. We need to change the way we live. God gave us this planet on loan. As long as we do not change our ways, our societies will not become more humane and respectful of Creation. God owns the Earth and it is not ours to destroy. And everything is interconnected. Other species survive if we kill off the rhinos, but actions do have consequences, even though we usually cannot know them. Western thinking, for instance, reflected in the scientific method, deconstructs reality to analyse the parts. In doing so, you can make more accurate predictions on details, but the whole can get lost. In the 1990s, the environmentalist group Strohalm issued a booklet named Towards a Philosophy of Connectedness.2 It lays out Strohalm’s vision for a sustainable and humane society. The principal founder of Strohalm is Henk van Arkel, a dedicated individual who remained its driving force for decades. Van Arkel is a moderate man who does not blame anyone in particular for our predicament.

Latest revision: 18 February 2023

Featured image: Earth from space. Public Domain.

1. Why I Am Against Saving the Planet. Michael Lind (2023).
2. Naar een filosofie van verbondenheid. Guus Peterse, Henk van Arkel, Hans Radder, Seattle, Pieter Schroever and Margrit Kennedy (1990). Aktie Strohalm.

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