Why We Need a New—and Old—Relationship With Our Living Earth

More and more people have come to understand that behaving as if they hold all rights to Earth’s bounty amounts to an eighth deadly sin.

Robertson Stream. Photo by Billy Wilson / Flickr.

Last summer, when we learned David Korten’s new book was scheduled for publication in the same month this issue of YES! would be printed, we started looking more closely at reasons our culture came to be so at odds with nature. We thought it would be useful to highlight ways people are working to undo some of the damage civilization has inflicted on Earth, and we hoped it would help start valuable conversations if we could discuss emerging new ideas for changing the way people conceive of their relationship with the planet.

As is often the case when we’re developing an issue, we’ve been surprised by how many people are already working on making that change. We think the stories we’ve chosen challenge us to think deeply, radically—and personally—about the best ways to help Earth and keep its millions of species alive.

For most of the existence of the human species, we lived in balance with nature, using resources lightly, and acknowledging our kinship with Earth and with other living beings. With the advent of agriculture and organized religion, we began to lose touch with that ancient way of life, and to believe that we lived in opposition to nature; that we could bring Earth under our control.

It was a perfect storm of science, religion, and capitalism.

This process accelerated as the Scientific Revolution unfolded. René Descartes’ ideas are an example of the thinking that led us away from our relationship to Earth. Early in the 17th century, he declared that nature is inert, lifeless, devoid of soul or consciousness and animals have no emotions, feel no pain, and are, essentially, machines. Such ideas helped redefine the natural world as a collection of mere resources ready to be exploited.

It was an ideal foundation for the 19th century’s Industrial Revolution, which fueled exponential growth by extracting increasing amounts of Earth’s resources, denuding landscapes, and laying waste to the planet at a scale never before imagined.

Western religious authorities quoted scripture to prove their God had given humans dominion over nature. It was a perfect storm of science, religion, and capitalism.

In the last few decades, more and more people have come to understand why behaving as if they hold all rights to Earth’s bounty amounts to an eighth deadly sin. Our goal now should be to continue moving toward critical mass—picture billions of people proclaiming their relationship with Earth to be mutual, where humans are a part of nature, not apart from nature and working with Earth to preserve life, not extinguish it.

Behaving as if they hold all rights to Earth’s bounty amounts to an eighth deadly sin.

Earth has always had its champions: whole cultures of indigenous peoples, along with visionary environmentalists (think Ansel Adams, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey). Yet it wasn’t until isolated concern for the environment became a mass movement that an alternative to our market-based model of exponentially exploiting Earth became conceivable. For along with the Clean Water Act, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Clamshell Alliance—and a profusion of related laws, organizations, and grassroots resisters—there emerged the beginnings of a new consciousness, one that blends indigenous intelligence with an awareness of the 21st century’s multiple ecological crises.

We hope this issue gives a boost to this developing consciousness, and that the discussion continues evolving and growing. It might not be that long before enough of us reclaim our relationship with the living world to make “Together, with Earth” the story that all humans share.