Moral Ground– Environmental Degradation is not Just That

I rediscovered a paper that I had to write for my Senior Capstone class for Sustainable Development the other day and remembered how much I loved writing this assignment. It was based off of a book called “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril” (here’s the website:, in which all different kinds of people wrote an essay on why we have a moral imperative to protect the land. There are all different approaches to this topic from religious, to ethical, to relational, and so on, and some of the authors include Desmond Tutu, Barbara Kingsolver, Barack Obama, and Ursula Le Guin. For me, this was the first time I had the chance to write something explaining why I truly felt so strongly about my major and what my unique approach to it was. I still feel very passionate about protecting the land and in so doing protecting people and our future children, and I was encouraged and reminded when I read over my essay. So, here it is:

Environmental Degradation is not Just That

I want to cry for the overwhelming realization of the interconnectivity of everything; it
is so easy to forget. In a world where individualism is praised, where the land is a commodity, where we are immune to the deep, raw beauty of nature, we have lost the knowledge of our connection to the earth and its creatures. We have forgotten that we are under the laws of nature, not creating it. This is why we have a moral imperative to protect the earth: because we are a part of it.

The world we have created for ourselves that is full of entertainment, cars, and money is not the world for which we were intended. We were intended for the world that the trees inhabit constantly, in which the birds rest their wings and from which the flowers receive life. A lot can be learned from nature, the way of things is inherent there. Nature lives in the truth for which humans are forever seeking. Sit in a field, breathe in the energy, feel the breath of the spirit of life, and cling to this experience. Never let it go, never forget that moment when the song of life filled your body and you truly were in harmony with holiness; for this world, which we have been given, is dying. Environmental degradation is not just that, it is the degradation of philosophy, of art, of music, of the deep way where our souls find harmony. Try to imagine a world without the songs of birds or grasshoppers, without kayaking on pristine mountain rivers or surfing in the unpolluted ocean, without beautiful sunsets and starry nights. Where would we find our inspiration? Certainly not from humans, for we have become destructive and careless. This is not to be praised. These traits paired with the power we have harnessed from exploiting the earth, should be feared. We have come away from ourselves in this pursuit of exploitation, because now it has become just that. Our relationship with the land has become one of dominance, of forcing the natural world into “submission”. We are no longer in need of the resources we exploit, we use them far past the point of need and even beyond excess. Living this way has turned us from humans into machines. This is why we have a moral imperative to protect the earth: because we need it to be fully human.

Going on with our normal lives, enjoying the excess that has become the norm, is supporting destruction, spurring it on, in fact. We live as though we are the only ones on this earth that matter, as though we are the gods that created this magnificent and mysterious place. Wendell Berry states this poignantly: “We did not make either the world or ourselves; we live by using life, not by creating it”. We have created nothing. We are no more than participants in this vast and curious community. To act otherwise is arrogance. If we lived in the knowledge that we are using life, I think we would live more cautiously.

This, I believe, is where the problems began: when we became so greedy that we became willing to sacrifice that which gives us life for short- term “comfort”. Once we made that first step it spurred a downward spiral that has caused a community of people who are unaware that food comes from the ground and not a grocery store, who don’t know how to survive away from running water and electricity. We don’t know the way the natural world works anymore, and this

is why we are losing it, and at the same time losing ourselves. We need to change our pattern of thinking, we need to revalue the things that matter and let go of the things that are causing harm.

But it is not enough to merely realize that we have a moral imperative, we must move. We can’t just wear a t-shirt from our favorite environmental organization and expect that to cause a change. We must be willing to step out of our comfort zone and actually make a change in our lives, we must live what we believe and encourage others to do the same. We are lucky enough to be in an age where people fighting for what they believe in are not hard to come by. While our country is still ruled by oil and other large corporations, people are beginning to fight back. We don’t have to do this alone. We are all interconnected; so if we live in this truth and form community with those who want to fight for the same things, greatness will follow. This is where change will happen. It will not be large-scale instantly, it will be from the ground up. It will be from passionate people working with other passionate people coming from all different angles and approaches. We are in the unique place where we can truly make a change, and we must. For the sake of the beautiful places, of the not-yet-discovered animals, of our children, of our souls, we must act. From here true fulfillment will follow.

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