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CHANGING AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS / 809

Much the same can be said of Buddhism, which—if values, a reverence for life, group self-reliance, and an
those who also subscribe to Shinto, Taoism, and Confu- abhorrence of violence. By the mid-1970s this code had
cianism are also counted as Buddhists—has perhaps 700 become well established in a more mature and praise-
million adherents, most of them in Asia. The barriers to worthy form that might be called the independence
population control in Asia and the potential for accepting movement. People in that movement are attempting to
it both seem to be connected much more with social find simpler, more ecologically sound modes of exis-
conditions than with religion. Therefore, it seems un- tence, and to reduce their dependence on fancy, nones-
likely that changes in the religion would have any sential, and vulnerable technological gimmickry. Their
substantial effect on establishment of population policy, unofficial publications such as Mother Earth News and
although religious support for small families might CoEvolution Quarterly abound with suggestions for
encourage acceptance of family planning. disconnecting oneself from the "effluent society." If any
Similarly, it is hard to picture Hinduism, as an entity, one idea binds members of the movement together, it is
becoming a force in population control. More than 99 the belief—essentially religious—that human beings
percent of the 450 million or so Hindus live in Asia, must cooperate with nature and not attempt to subdue
mostly in India. Like Buddhism, it is a rather heterogen- nature with brute force.
eous, relatively noninstitutionalized religion. There is Many people in our society are unhappy with these
still considerable opposition to population control attitudes, which go against long-cherished and reli-
among Hindus, perhaps based more on medical beliefs, giously sanctioned political and economic beliefs. They
local superstitutions, and a sense of fatalism than on feel that turning away from a consumer orientation has
anything inherent in the religious structure. grave implications for the future of the economy. Others
For Westerners who favor population control, one a£ see in the independence movement the vanguard of a new
the best courses of action seems to lie in working with the social revolution that
_ could lead to a very different, far
already establishedQ'eligious group3)to change people's^ better society.^
attitudes toward population growth.. In the rest of the White, Jr., professor emeritus of history at t h e |
world, the relative fragmentation of religious groups, ^University of California, Los Angeles^nd past president ~"
their lack of hierarchic organization, and their psychoso- of the American Historical Association, has suggested
cial traditions would seem to limit their capacity to that the basic cause of Western society's destructive
influence population control efforts. attitude toward nature lies in the Judeo-Christian tradi-
tion. He pointed out, for instance, that before the
Christian era, people believed trees, springs, hills^
streams, and other objects of nature had guardian spirits.
Religious Attitudes and the Environment Those spirits had to be approached and placated before__
one could safely invade their territories: ^By destroying^)
In the United States, the unorthodox but constructive fpagan animismyhristianitv made it possible rn
and quasi-religious attitudes first expressed widely in the nature in a mood of indifference to the feelins of natural
1960s by members of the whole-Earth, hippie movement objects."10 Christianity fostered the basic ideas of
may well help save the environment. The initial phase of ""progress"^and of time as something linear, nonseparat-
the hippie movement was characterized by a groping and ing, and absolute, flowing from a fixed point in the past to.
testing that produced, among other things, the dangerous an end point in the future. Such ideas were foreign to the
macrobiotic diet and the horror of the Manson family. Greeks and Romans, who had a cyclical Tftprpp1' 0<r TJrr"'
Aside from such excesses, however, the hippies borrowed and did not envision the world as having a beginning.
many religious ideas from the East, particularly Zen Although a modern physicist's concept of time might be
Buddhism, combined them with the collectivist, passivist somewhat closer to that of the Greeks than to that of the
element from Christian tradition, and attempted ro fnrge
a code based on close personal relationships, spiritual '"The historical roots of our ecological crisis.
810 / THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: FINDING A WAY OUT

Christians, the Christian view is nevertheless the preva- have been in response to destruction that had already
lent one in the Western world: God designed and started taken place. The fact that China was a complex civiliza-
the universe for the benefit of mankind; the world is our_ tion complete with a bureaucracy and a large population
oyster, made for human society to dominate and exploit. doubtless militated against fulfillment of those ideals. By
Western science and technology thus can be seen to have the twentieth century, China's once-plentiful forests had
their historical roots in the Christian dogma of human-_ been nearly destroyed to build cities and clear land for
ity's separation from and rightful mastery over nature^ agriculture. All that remained in most areas were small
Europeans held and developed those attitudes long patches preserved around temples. Ironically, the present
before the nppominirv to exploit the Western hemi- government, which explicitly rejects the traditional reli-
sphere arrived. The frontier or cowboy economy that has gions, has attempted to restore the forests on a large
characterized the United States seems to be a naturaL scale.12
extension of that Christian world view/Therefore, White Lewis W. Moncrief of North Carolina State Univer-
claimed, it may be in vain that so many look to science sitv^who might be described as an environmental
and technology to solve our present ecological crisis: anthropologist, feels that the religious tradition of the.
West is only one of several factors that have contributed,,
Both our present science and our present technology
to the environmental crisis.13 Along with some other
are so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance
toward nature that no solution for our ecologic crises anthropologists, he has suggested that an urge to improve
can be expected from them alone. Since the roots of one's status in society is probably a universal human
our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must characteristic and that expressing this urge through
also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or material acquisitiveness and consumption of resources is,
not. if not universal, at least common to a great variety of
cultures. Perhaps what is unique about Western culture
A number of anthropologists and others have taken_
in this regard is the degree of its success.
issue with White's thesis, pointing out that environmen-
Moncrief postulated several factors that he felt were
tal abuse is by no means unique to Western culture, and
just as influential as the Judeo-Christian outlook in
that animism had disappeared, at least in western
determining European and North American behavior
Europe, before Christianity was introduced. As examples
toward the environment. The first were the development
they cite evidence of ancient and prehistoric environ-
of democracy and the Industrial Revolution, which
mental destruction, such as the human-induced extinc-
together provided individual control over resources (if
tion of Pleistocene mammals and the destruction of the
only a family farm) for a far greater proportion of the
fertility of the Near East by early agricultural activity, as
population than before and simultaneously provided the
well as the behavior of non-Western cultures today.
means to exploit those resources more efficiently. The
Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan of the University of Minne-
existence of a vast frontier fostered the belief in North
sota observed that there is often a large gap between
America that resources were infinite; all of our wasteful
attitudes toward the environment expressed in a religion
habits derive from that. Moncrief thinks it is no accident
or philosophy and the actual practices of the people who
that the first conservation movement appeared just as the
profess those attitudes.11 While Chinese religions, for
frontier was closing; Americans suddenly and for the
example, stressed the view that man was a part of nature
first time began to realize that their resources were, after
(rather than lord of it) and should live in harmony with it,
all, finite.
the Chinese did not always live by that belief. Concern
In 1893, moved by a remark from the 1890 census
for the environment, especially preserving forests and
protecting soils, were expressed throughout Chinese 12
For an overview of present Chinese attitudes, see L. A. Orleans and
history, but Yi-Fu Tuan suggests that this may often R. P. Suttmeier, the mass ethic and environmental quality, Science, vol.
170, pp. 1173-1176 (December 11,1970); a related account of Japanese
attitudes toward the environment is Masao Watanabe, The conception of
nature in Japanese culture.
I3
'Our treatment of the environment in ideal and actuality. The cultural basis for our environmental crisis.

^
CHANGING AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS

about the disappearance of public land and the con- change in reproductive habits in the United States
sequent disappearance of the frontier, Frederick Jackson testifies to that, as does the great increase in environ-
Turner, then at the University of Wisconsin and sub- mental consciousness. Unfortunately, the ppvirnnmpntal
sequently at Harvard, observed: problem may prove more difficult because it requires
changing more than the altitudes and behavior of indi-
American social development has been continually
beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial viduals: those of firmly established, powerful institu-
rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion tions—primaril business and governmental organiza-
westward with its new opportunities . . . furnish the tionS—
forces dominating American character.14 How large a role organized religion may play in
guiding the needed changes in individual attitudes
A generation earlier, E. L. Godkin, editor of the toward the environment or in influencing the behavior of._
Nation, had written that the American frontier popula-
other institutions is still uncertain. Many religious
tion had "spread itself thinly over a vast area of soil, of
groups have already shown leadership, including some
such extraordinary fertility that a very slight amount of
already mentioned in connection with population-
toil expended on it affords returns that might have
related issues. A particularly hopeful sign was [the
''tisfied even the dreams of Spanish avarice."I5
concern expressed in dfjnuarv 19f6^jby the
Traditional North American (and, to some extent,
OCouncil of Churches) about the ethics of using
European) attitudes toward the environment thus are not sprparHnp; rhp tprhnnlngv of nuclear power, and the
exclusively products of our religious heritage, although
discussion promoted by thai World Council of Churches,
that doubtless played an important part. These attitudes nrrthe mic]ea.r issue and on foe relation of energy policy
may just spring from ordinary human nature, which in
to the prospects for adjust and sustainablej,world.16
Western culture was provided with extraordinary social,
political, technical, and physical opportunities, particu- Ecological Ethics
larly connected with the nineteenth-century American
frontier. Such opportunities were bound to engender Many persons believe that an entirely new philosophy
optimism, confidence in the future, and faith in the must now be developed—one based on ecological reali-
abundance of resources and the bounty of nature. That ties. Such a philosophy—and the ethics based upon
they also produced habits of wastefulness and profligacy it—would be antihumanist and against Judeo-Christian
was not noticed. Past^ institutions in the United States, tradition in the sense that it would not focus on an
rarely dealt with environmental problems; if they were anthropocentric universe.17 Instead, it would focus on
recognized at all, they were usually considered to be human beings as an integral part of nature, as just one
someone else's responsibility. part of a much more comprehensive system.
In the twentieth century, as the growing population This is not really a new perspective. In one sense,
became increasingly urban and industrialized, the en-_ Western philosophy has been a continuous attempt to
virqnmental effects multiplied, and the nation was rather establish the position of Homo sapiens in the universe,
suddenly confronted with a crisis. How today's Ameri- and the extreme anthropocentrism of thinkers like Karl
cans ultimately resolve the environmental crisis will Marx and John Dewey has been strongly attacked by,
depend on much more than changes in philosophical among others, Bertrand Russell.18 Russell, for example.
outlook, but such changes unquestionably must precede i6
See The plutonium economy: A statement of concern, Bulletin of the
or at least accompany whatever measures are taken. Atomic Scientists, January 1976, pp. 48-49; P. M. Boffey, Plutonium: its
morality questioned by National Council of Churches, Science, vol. 192,
^Individual conduct is clearly capable of being modified pp. 356-359 (April 23, 1976); Paul Abrecht, ed., Facing up to nuclear
id directed by an appropriate social environment—the power, Anticipation, no. 21, October 1975, pp. 1—47.
1
'See Frank E. Egler, The icay of science: A philosophy of ecology for the
layman; and George S. Sessions, Anthropocentrism and the environmen-
u
The significance of the frontier in American history, in The early tal crisis. The latter is a good, brief summary with a useful bibliography.
tB
writings of Frederick Jackson Turner, ed. F. J. Turner. A history of Western philosophy; the debate is summarized in Sessions,
15
Aristocratic opinions of democracy. Anthropocentrism.
CHANGING AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS / 813

of theprimeval forests,yrilling for oil on the northern) In Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, the environ-
C slope of Alaska} and so on. It is a tribute to the mental movement has established its own political par-
conservationists, past and present, that any of our primi- ties, known in Britain as the Ecology Party, in France as
tive areas remain relatively unspoiled.^ Political and Ecologie et Survie, in New Zealand as the Values Party,
financial power tend to be arrayed against conservation, etc. These parties have succeeded in winning seats in
and, as people increase and resources dwindle, the Britain's Parliament and gaining significant percentages
situation seems bound to deteriorate further. In many of the vote in several countries.22b In March 1977, the
parts of the world the situation is worse than in the ecology party in France won a nationwide average of 10
United States; in a few it is better. percent of the vote in municipal elections. In some towns
There are encouraging signs that a new thrust is in Alsace (where the party originated) they won 60
appearing in the conservation movement. Growing percent.221'
numbers of people have realized that conservation is a It seems likely that conservationist and environmentaL
global problem, that in the lon^ run it is not enough to organizations will become still more militant and more
surh isnlarpH treasures as a Prove of redwood united—especially in their global concerns. While im-
trees. If global pollution causes a rapid climatic change, portant local battles must continue to be fought, more
the grove cannot long survive. Many conservationists general programs of public education and political action
now recognize thaiLif the growth of the human popula^ should become predominant. Obviously, it is no longer
tion is not stopped, and the deterioration of the planetary necessary to plead for conservation only on aesthetic or
environment is not arrested, nothing of value will he compassionate grounds, since the preservation of the
conserved. diversity of life and the integrity of the ecological
This understanding and the growing general public systems of Earth is absolutely essential for the survival
awareness of the problems of the environment have given of civilization.
rise to a number of new organizations. Some of them, like
Friends of the Earth (FOE1. are more militant offshoots
of older conservation groups. Others, including. En- (SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY;
vironmental Action (which grew from the organization
that sponsored the first Earth Day in 1970) and F.coiogy; For many people, science and technology have taken on ___
Action, are new. Zero Population Growth (ZPG) is the aspect of{a religidfl) How often one hears statements
primarily concerned with the population problem but is beginning, "any society that can send a man to the moon_
also interested in the environmental consequences of it. can^. . ." and ending with some problem—usually
ZPG, one branch of the Sierra Club. Environmental, immensely more complex and difficult than space
Action, and FOE have foregone the tax advantages of an travel—that science and technology are expected to
apolitical posture in order to campaign and lobby for solve!23 The population-food imbalance is a common
their goals, frequently combining their efforts on issues candidate; others are various types of pollution or other.
of common concern.y'hev also cooperate in environ-) ecological problems.
Cmentalist lawsuits) (see "The Legal System," below) Three things are generally wrong with these state-
through organizations such as The Environmental De-^ ments of faith. First, science and technology have not yet
fense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense__ reached the point relative to those problems that they had
Council (NRDC). Such organizations generally differ reached relative to the man-on-the-moon project by
from many of the older conservation groups in being
more oriented to humanity as an endangered species than "''Edward Goldsmith, Ecology—the new political force.
to preserving wilderness and wildlife only for their "''Ecologists emerge as a potent force in French election, New York
Times, March 20, 1977.
23
aesthetic and recreational values^ Sister organizations of 0ne book on the human predicament written from this point of view
FOE, as well as ZPG, have been established in other (but in which the science is often very weak) is John Maddox's The
doomsday syndrome. See the retrospective review written three years later
countries. by John Woodcock, Doomsday revisited.