A Call for the Ecozoic
by Herman Greene and friends
EarthLight Magazine #28, Winter 1997-8, pp 12-13
We all have our particular work. We have a variety of occupations. But beside the particular work we do and the lives we lead, we have a Great Work that everyone is involved in and no one is exempt from. That is the work of moving on from a terminal Cenozoic to an emerging Ecozoic Era in the story of the planet Earth. This is the Great Work. — Thomas Berry
The Challenge. We need to bring into being an Ecozoic Society!
The future of Earth’s community rests in significant ways upon the decision to be made by the humans who have inserted themselves so deeply even into the genetic codes of Earth’s process. The future will be worked out in the tension between those committed to the Technozoic, a future of increased exploitation of the Earth as resource, all for the benefit of humans, and those committed to the Ecozoic, a new mode of human-Earth relations, one where the well-being of the entire Earth community is the primary concern.
This is the jumping-off point, the razor’s edge, the great divide, the call to action and commitment. Will we be about the Technozoic, or will we be about the Ecozoic? Our response will reverberate through every future epoch.
Yet, we find ourselves in a situation where there seems to be no truly meaningful way to extricate ourselves from the technological enterprise around us. This essay was typed on a computer brought into being by thousands of industrial processes, the computer drew power from vast electric grids that coursed through forest and field. When we depart for work, we will join hands with men and women around the world in the contemporary venture we have named “Technozoic.” What then are we to do?
The Three Building Blocks.
While there are many answers to this question, and many associations currently engaged in bringing into being the Ecozoic Era, we would like to present three organizational foci which may shed light on current activity in this area, and around which some people may choose to organize in new associations. These areas are the New Story, Bioregionalism, and Ecological Spirituality.
1. The New Story.
The narrative of the creative development of the universe from the primordial flaring forth to the emergence of the Ecozoic Era is at once a scientific account and an epic myth of origins. This story relates how things came to be and what significance and role humans have in the ongoing drama of the cosmos. The dual nature of the story, its blending of the scientific and the meaning-giving mythological, is what makes it the “New Story.” A primary source for learning about this story is Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry’s The Universe Story.
The New Story needs to be told in myriad ways. It needs to be taught. It needs to be read in bedtime stories and told at the hearth and campfire. It needs to be sung, danced, and expressed in liturgy and art. It needs to be beaten on drums. Orchestral works, operas, and oratorios need to resound in celebration of the evolutionary adventure taking place throughout the universe.
But, you might ask, as fascinating as this New Story is, why is it so important? There are three reasons. First, the New Story awakens a sense of the awe and mystery of existence and of our participation in the cosmological order of the universe. Second, the New Story reconnects the self (and so restores the self) with that which is more primordial than family, tribe, clan, or nation-the natural world from which it came and of which it is a part. Third, the New Story provides a unifying mythology for all human cultures and a basis for common action in the realization of the Ecozoic Era. If we take all these together, we might think of the New Story as the “knowing” dimension of an Ecozoic Society.
The second building block of an Ecozoic Society is Bioregionalism. A “bioregion” is a naturally occurring geographic division of the Earth that functions as a distinctive, relatively self-supporting geo/biological unit.
To think bioregionally means to understand humans as being integrally related with the natural order of their local communities, not as dominant over it. The role of the human in the bioregion is to appreciate and celebrate its diversity and to nurture and preserve its vitality.
Bioregionalism offers a new vision for the ordering of society. In the bioregional sense, “society” means the entire animate and inanimate community, all of which are recognized as necessary for the successful functioning of the whole. The current social order, dominated by the rise of the nation-state and the multinational corporation, has been driven by the goals of providing identity, freedom, and economic well-being to the various peoples of Earth. Nationalism, together with progress, democracy, human rights, the market economy, private property rights, and unlimited rights to material gain, have captivated and guided the human imagination in the modern era.
The benefits of these movements, focused on the plight of the human, have had an entrancing effect. We are now only beginning to see, when taken out of the context of a vision for the Earth community as a whole, how fragile and temporary the benefits they offer may be.
Bioregionalism does not stand in opposition to the quest for greater well-being for the human community. Rather it offers a viable basis for this quest grounded in the understanding that the health of living beings in all of their diverse forms depends on the health of Earth. In its recognition that Earth is a functional unity-that air, water, other elements, the various forms of life, and energy ceaselessly flow and are interchanged throughout Earth-it is global in its orientation. In its recognition that Earth is a differentiated entity and must be sustained in the integrity of its many bioregional modes, it is local in its orientation.
Intuitively we sense that the constitution of the bioregional polity would preserve not only the rights of the human, but the rights of the entire geo/biological community. In economics, the primary law would become that the human economy must be sustainable in, and preserve the functioning of, Earth’s economy. The wealth of nations would be recognized as the splendor and health of their diverse and vital bioregions and of human cultures within the bioregions.
Aroused by the new sensitivities of bioregionalism, humans would reinhabit their own dwelling places. They would come home, as though for the first time. Scales would fall from their eyes, exposing at once the grandeur and intricate beauty of their natural settings, and the alarming injury being visited upon them. They would come to know their places as much by trees, plants, animals, rocks, and streams as by streets and buildings and other human features. Their eating and living would observe the gentle ordering of seasonal cycles. They would come to know a communion with a larger family. They would, also, come to know, understand and observe the guiding principles of the natural order, how we depend on and sustain each other, and how we exchange and recycle each other’s energy and waste.
Bioregionalism provides the context for meaningful human endeavor, and thus it can be thought about as the “doing” dimension of an Ecozoic Society. Work in support of the bioregion might include planting neighborhood vegetable gardens; learning about and teaching others how to compost; getting to know local plants, animals, and geology; leading groups on nature walks; learning and teaching about permaculture and environmental conservation; changing personal and family patterns of consumption; working with developers, town councils, and zoning boards on developing communities in a way that natural habitats are preserved; learning and teaching about bioregionalism and its implications for government and economics; and sharing ideas on bioregional efforts that work.
3. Ecological Spirituality.
The third and final building block of an Ecozoic Society is Ecological Spirituality. For the most part, we have lost our sense of the spirituality of the Earth and our ultimate connection with its natural processes. The understanding that has dominated the sense of reality and value in the classical civilizations has been based on a sense of the pathos of the human condition and of the transient and tragic nature of the temporal order. As observed by Swimme and Berry in The Universe Story, the phenomenal world in this understanding has been viewed as oppressive to the more exalted aspects of the human. The spiritual world and the natural world have been viewed as two different orders of being. The conviction that the natural world is a lower, temporal reality, as distinguished from the higher, eternal reality, combined with the apparent benefits of the immense technologies of our time, have lent acceptability to the belief that exploitation of Earth’s resource without regard to effect on the ecosystem is good.
Ecological spirituality is grounded in the sense that, from the beginning, the universe has had a psychic/spiritual dimension and that this dimension is manifest in every element of the universe and in the universe as a whole. As Thomas Berry said in his paper on “The Spirituality of the Earth,” when we speak of the spirituality of the Earth we are not speaking of the Earth as having an objectively spiritual quality, as when we observe the beauty of the Earth, but of the spirituality of the Earth as subject, the interior numinous reality that gives form to the Earth and in which we participate. Ecological spirituality might be thought of as the “being” dimension of an Ecozoic Society.
In the simplest meaning of ecological spirituality, its practice would involve reconnection with the natural world and its numinous quality. This could involve attention to the singing of the birds, presence to wind and sea, absorption in a starry night, or nearness to earth and seed.
For some, ecological spirituality would involve a communal dimension and, for others, the practice of an established religion. In the communal context, ecological spirituality would involve the renewal of traditions or the birthing of new traditions that awaken sensitivities to the natural world and to the continuing creativity of the cosmos. The primary referent of these ecological spiritualities in their various forms would not be the written text of any religion, but rather the non-verbal or primal awareness of the revelation of the divine in nature. Ecological spirituality would not replace traditional teachings of spirituality and ethics, rather it would broaden the context of these teachings and expand the awareness of the divine-human encounter.
This is the foundational essay for support groups for an Ecozoic Society, developed by Herman Greene in consultation with Thomas and Jim Berry, Brian Swimme, and others. Herman Greene is a lawyer and Baptist minister living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.