DEAR READERS: The U.S. presidential election highlighted how divided states have become as they confront a global pandemic, along with an unsustainable global economy based on polluting, climate-changing fossil fuels and petrochemicals. These conflicts -- jobs versus closedowns, capitalism versus socialism, nationalism versus internationalism -- are microcosms of our collective harming of person and planet from greed, ignorance and science denial.
There can be no return to “business as usual.” The entire economic basis of our existence must be radically and quickly transformed. This must be incentivized by the climate, environmental and public health benefits of carbon-sequestering industries, especially in the energy, agricultural and transportation sectors. Collectively reducing pollution and restoring natural biodiversity are ethical imperatives for society since we, along with other endangered species and the planet, are in crisis.
As Robin Chazdon, professor of biology at the University of Connecticut, asserts, “The world is invested in destruction.” Chazdon is a contributor to the Campaign for Nature report, which calculates 55% of farmland, globally, could -- and should -- be returned to nature without reducing current food production levels. The report offers new evidence that nature conservation drives economic growth, delivers key non-monetary benefits and is a net contributor to a resilient global economy and the reduction of climate change.
Several other reports offering solutions for governments and the public to embrace revolve around food production methods, consumer choices, and the cessation of government subsidies to unsustainable farming practices and inhumane animal factories. Major changes in how food is produced are needed if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
We do not all have to turn vegan overnight, but we can contribute to the greater good by consuming with conscience. We can choose certified organic and humanely produced foods, and support local farmers markets and community agriculture initiatives. Indeed, becoming “locavores” means less food transportation, which means less fuel use, pollution and waste.
But above all, we must redefine what it means to be human and accept our responsibilities for planet Earth and for all our relations, plant and animal, whose well-being is ultimately inseparable from our own. Healing this great divide must take precedence over the short-term interests of the global industrial biotechnocracy and its harmful consequences, as I documented in my book “Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society.”
Science without ethics is potentially dangerous, and ethics without science is limited. Bioethics is the healing bridge, as first proposed by Dr. Van Rensselaer Potter in his seminal 1971 book, “Bioethics: Bridge to the Future.” It enables a cognitive shift from the egocentric to the ecocentric -- supported by the creation-centered spirituality and Golden Rule principles in the teachings of all the world’s major religions.
DEAR DR. FOX: Your recent column was spot-on: The causes of the crises we face today are spiritual in nature. The answer is love for the environment, wildlife and our fellow man. Only then will we attain progress. Keep up your good work. -- B.C., Nassau, Bahamas
DEAR B.C.: Thanks for emphasizing the spiritual nature of true love. N. Scott Momaday makes this very clear in his new book, “Earth Keeper,” stating, “We humans must revere the earth, for it is our well-being. ... If we treat the earth with kindness, it will treat us kindly.”
In our evolution, such love -- including familial bonds, philopatry (our native attachment to place) and biophilia (our tendency to connect with other living creatures) -- was essential to our survival. In realizing our biological and ecological affinities and relationships with other species, we discover the roots of our spiritual and ethical connections of interdependence. And in the universal links of empathy, we experience the power of love that some call God. Awe and wonder, joy and grief arise from that deep heart’s core of our humanity.
Nature heals. Researchers have recently reported the mental health benefits for the elderly of experiencing a sense of awe through focused attention in natural surroundings. For the young, brain development is harmed by frequent use of computers, smartphones and tablets. Rather than more time with electronics, I would advocate an hour a day at least in the great outdoors -- best of all with a rescued dog! More time on Zoom will spell our doom, as we substitute virtual reality from the existential “now.”
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