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January 21, 2016

The First Commandment of Environmentalism.

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The First Commandment of Environmentalism might be to love all life and to bring to it our care and concern.

It is a simple aspiration but difficult to fulfill. We can live sustainably without loving all life, but loving all life will guide us to sustainable living. We can treat climate change, species loss, and desertification as unrelated problems, each requiring different policies and ethical commitments. But doing so will make of environmentalism a sort of postmodern-Puritanism, burdened by the weight of too many commandments.

Loving all life needs no further end. It is beautiful in and of itself and is, therefore, unlikely to be experienced as a burden. Loving all life heightens sensitivity and frees us from petty cravings. It opens our hearts and reminds us of what is truly important. It challenges us to be aware of more and to increase our care. And in so doing we might become more human, and through our humanity better care for the Earth.

Loving all life makes us more sensitive and the sensitivity can inspire us to minimize harm, eating less meat, living in smaller spaces, burning fewer fossil-fuels, or whatnot. It leads us to notice the insects we trample, the species we annihilate. Loving all life does not eliminate the laundry list of environmental restriction—we can never forgo the act of thinking through the issues, after all. But loving all life integrates them into a single burning aspiration, whose deepest implications might be revealed through patient contemplation, over the slow course of time.

There is already too much to know and too much to which we might commit in this age of too-much-information. But love is something into which we can relax. It is a healing salve that can ease our minds and minimize stress. Love is something to which we are drawn. And it feeds on its own expression, breeding ever-more love, like an ocean from which the rain that is drawn replenishes itself.

We should be wary of the blowback of especially burdensome moral systems. The human mind tends to fetishize commitments, sexualizing its aspirations and perverting its deepest drives. Ethical commitments are all-too-often reified into things that might be pursued for their own sake, as if goodness were a thing that might be grasped. It is a danger inherent in all ethical commitments but one to which the most morally burdened are especially prone. We forget the reasons behind our commitments and pursue them as markers of our own self-worth.

Environmentalism, by its nature, places upon us multiple ethical burdens. These tend to be difficult to think through thoroughly and to prioritize. We fail to ask critical questions, like whether existing farmlands could produce enough organic food to feed the world, and what the environmental costs of opening up new lands might be; we fail to ask whether shifting to locally produced food might hurt famine-prone peoples, and whether bringing about such a shift is the most productive use of our energies. We fail to think systemically about such questions because there is simply too much about which we need to think.

Loving all life will not remind us of these things. It will not dictate that we need to give money to help the hungry or minimize our consumption of meat so as to reduce the amount of global acreage devoted to agriculture and the suffering of farm animals. But loving all life will guide our thinking. It will set our priorities. And it will sustain our commitments.

Loving all life will continually lead us back to what is most essential. And it will support the shift in values upon which the contemporary environmental movement already rests. It may not help us to win this or that piece of legislation. But it will build the commitment needed to transform the world. There is really little to lose—except the life of the planet.

This article is a modified excerpt from, Convergence: The Globalization of Mind.

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Relephant Favorites:

The Species that Die for Your Dinner.

If a Species Falls in the Forest.

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Author: Theo Horesh

Editor: Travis May

Image: Owned by Author

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