Return to EarthLight Home Page

E S S A Y S ,   A R T I C L E S   A N D   R E V I E W S

Energy and the Practice of Spiritual Ecology

An Editorial by Lauren de Boer

EarthLight Magazine #45, Spring 2002


We abuse land because we regard it as a
commodity belonging to us. When we
see land as a community to which we belong,
we may begin to use it with love and respect.
 - Aldo Leopold  

Throughout history, it has been philosophers,
religious leaders, and revolutionaries who have
asked us to reexamine our relationships, our purposes,
and the way we live. Now we are being asked by the oceans.
  - Ross Gelbspan


Two SIGNIFICANT activities in my life over the past month have been editing this issue and digging in my garden. They've both made me think a lot about energy.

Working in my garden, getting my hands in the soil, contemplating the vivid green mating of sunlight and leaf, I become aware of interrelationships. I look up from where I sit in the dirt in my small garden plot and see the cottage I live in. It sits on Sausal creek. The creek draws a lot of birds-Bewick's wrens building a nest, towhees and robins, yellow and Townsend's warblers. Every morning a Hutton's vireo honors me with a visit outside the window of my study. These birds, their business and play in the world, their unique relationships to twig and creek and insect, each took 14 billion years of evolution to shape. I feel the awesome fact that all of this results from the fact that photosynthesis was invented in a moment of grace when Earth was in her childhood.

This awareness is the first step in a practice of spiritual ecology. It is an awareness of the larger, ancient rhythms around us, of the seasons and the story which has shaped us so deeply, and a vivid experience of our connection to everything else.

The second step in this practice is gratitude. After food and shelter, energy is our most basic need. All three of these needs have evolved from the creativity of the planet, from the demands placed on us and the gifts given us by the Earth. All three are met with abundance in my life. I think about the fact that much of the world doesn't have this privilege. My first prayer in the morning as I walk out to check on the welfare of my lettuce, peas, and tomatoes is "thank you."

Spiritual activism, informing ourselves on the issues and taking action on the side of justice and compassion, is a third step in the practice of spiritual ecology. As we go to press, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is intensifying. At the same time, we hear more in the news daily about the influence of the fossil fuel-based energy industry on the Bush-Cheney energy policy. Two energy-related bills-one to create stricter standards for mileage for SUV's, the other to set the percentage of renewable energy at 20% by 2020-went down to defeat in the Senate just three weeks ago. By a big margin. A Rhode Island size chunk of Antarctica which broke off in 1993 is breaking up much faster than scientists anticipated. And good news: just today, the proposal to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge went down to defeat. The fight to defeat it took immense effort, and it's not totally over. The House passed a bill not long ago which allows the opening up of sensitive areas like ANWAR to drilling.

All of this can feel overwhelming. But these struggles, too, are the legacy of life and energy. The history of life, including the human story, is intertwined with the story of access to the sun's gift of energy. Humans have progressively found better and cheaper sources of energy, from wood to coal to petroleum. When oil was first successfully tapped in Pennsylvania in 1859 as a major commercial fuel source, it opened up a chapter of history that would give rise to no less a historical phenomenon than our industrial culture.

The U.S. is currently the bastion of industrial culture on the planet. There are many factors entering into U.S. policies around the world. Chief among them is control over energy resources. The U.S.-Israeli alliance took shape within that context, something certainly not lost on the Bush administration. But the U.S. is a global power and what happens in Israel-Palestine is only the current arena of focus in the game of oil hegemony. Yesterday it was Afghanistan. Tomorrow it could be Iraq. Or Korea. There are those who are profoundly committed to preserving that way of life, and denial is a formidable obstacle to change. The path of spiritual activism cuts through denial by bearing witness and taking a stand for life. Based on a vision of well-being for the entire Earth community, we can be assured of its integrity as a path because it's not coming from an ideology of self-centeredness and greed.


Beyond debates about how much petroleum the Earth still holds and the geopolitical intricacies of access to energy resources, are more ultimate questions of what it means to be human on Earth. They beg our attention. Most debates and concerns about energy are still solely about the human. And this is precisely the "difficulty of the petroleum period," writes Thomas Berry (page 10), "that the well-being of the human was the final referent as regards reality and value."

The steady stream of oil spills and toxins produced from the refinement of petroleum and petro-chemical products, the threats to wildlife and destruction of coral reefs, kelp beds, and coastal wetlands worldwide, the pollution of the air from an ever-increasing armada of cars are all considerations that seem secondary to our considerations about getting enough energy to fuel the dream of an industrial Wonderworld. Our failure to perceive ourselves within the context of a planetary community continues to objectify Earth and her creatures as commodities to be exploited.

But we do have a choice, as the following authors in this issue point out:

Guy Dauncey writes that "Maybe it is a sign of planetary maturity that people learn to respect the atmosphere as a sacred part of nature, not as a commodity."

Patricia Mische writes of the Great Mall of America, what the car-and highways-have done to "carry away our communities," and relates the joys of walking, patronizing local shops, and knowing one's region intimately.

Sandra Lewis and Kim Carlyle reflect on the dark side of fossil fuels, its "unacceptable costs," and the role people of faith need to play engaging in spiritual activism against the corrupt political and business practices which support our dependence on fossil fuels and sow the seeds of war and violence.

It's encouraging that people of faith are beginning to act, as the interview with Sally Bingham on the "Green Energy Gospel" illustrates. Also encouraging are the stories of faith-based initiatives by Rabbi Dan Goldblatt and Jonna Higgins-Freese in Iowa. The title of Jonna's story -- "Living the Change We Want to Create" -- says it all. In the face of denial and inaction on the part of politicians and policymakers, it's up to us to "get the job done on our own, house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood" (Mike Tidwell).

We are not helpless, as the late Donella Meadows reminded us in her final column, pubished in this issue, on three-year-olds and polar bears.

Let's act for the entire house of life on Earth, for a new energy dream.2002.

K. Lauren de Boer is Editor of EarthLight Magazine.

Thank you for visiting the EarthLight Magazine web site. 
Your subscriptions and contributions make this web site
possible.  We invite you to subscribe to EarthLight  and
receive a wide range of these informative and inspiring
articles, reviews and interviews every three months.

EarthLight Magazine  -- Web Site Menu