We call this electronic journal “Minding Nature” because its pages, and the work of the Center for Humans and Nature as a whole, exemplify the multiple dimensions of the enterprise that the phrase suggests. I like to think of these dimensions in a simple, old-fashioned (indeed classically antique) sense. They are the true, the good, and the beautiful.
CHN BOOKSHELF – In this issue, Minding Nature begins a regular feature calling attention to important books and articles that CHN staff, board, and collaborating scholars are reading and recommend.
What disciplines or frameworks of thought are most relevant to our current humans and nature sustainability crises? Perhaps scientific knowledge alone, without any emotional wrappings, enables us to take a more objective, longer-term view of issues such as climate change, landscape degradation, and waves of species extinctions. If we do turn to disciplines such as ethics and philosophy, will they be reliable guides or will they lead us to exaggerated, emotional reactions?
An increasing number of citizens are becoming centrally concerned with long-term moral and civic responsibilities to both human communities and natural ecosystems and landscapes. Among several practitioners of this new and emerging ethics, a consensus is emerging. Determining and articulating the complex of new responsibilities to humans and nature will depend on a new fundamental worldview or worldviews that give us an overall understanding of who we are, the world we live in, and the significance of both.
“Bearing witness” is the Quaker term for living life in a way that reflects fundamental truths. Bearing witness is about getting relationships right. The group of Quakers in the eighteenth century who built a movement to end slavery were bearing witness to the truth that slavery was wrong. Yet bearing witness to right relationships is not limited to Quakers. It is something done by inspired people of all faiths and cultures when they live life according to cherished values built on caring for other people and being stewards of the earth’s gifts.
The motto on the seal of the city of Chicago is Urbs in Horto (“City in a garden”). However, Civitas in Horto is the motto the city fathers should have chosen. It is of no small significance that they chose ‘‘urbs’’ over ‘‘civitas’’ for their ideal of the city in 1837, four years after they forced the Pottawatomie to concede their land around Lake Michigan. Urbs is Latin for the built environment of a city, its assemblage of walls, traffic arteries, and physical infrastructure. Urbs is a good choice if one intends to build a great industrial and commercial civilization.
One of the central concerns of the Center for Humans and Nature is the concept of “ecological democratic citizenship.” In our work we attempt to define, clarify, and critically assess this notion, both by examining its philosophical underpinnings in ethics and political theory and by exploring its practical and political implications in America and the world today.
Human history and natural history are inextricably and inescapably intertwined. “Nature alive” is the context and precondition for culture, society, humanity. And healthy, diverse nature, which supports life well and abundantly, is the basis for justice and the human good. It is no less true that culture is also a precondition for nature, since the health and function of natural systems are so powerfully shaped by human activity, for better or worse.
In the shadow of economic collapse and the recent collection of more austere climate change scenarios, many are anxious for the markets to rebound, and some are worried about the lack of political will needed to effectively confront climate change, but only a few are trumpeting the call to rethink in a fundamental way the nexus of economy, society, and ecology at the crux of these manifold challenges.
Until his death in August 2006, Father Francis Kline, the third Abbot of Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist Monastery near Moncks Corner, South Carolina, illuminated the lives of the brothers he led in the ancient tradition of work and prayer, Ora et labora, set forth in the Rule of St. Benedict. Francis’s pastoral crozier, however, reached far beyond Mepkin’s grounds through his concern for the spiritual, social, and environmental well-being of the Lowcountry’s citizens; his insightful talks to ecclesial and secular audiences; his renown as an artist at an organ’s console; and his capacity for understanding, guidance, compassion, and laughter that defined his relationships.