by Stephen Lampe
In an essay entitled “Great Summits, Modest Agreements and Insignificant Actions”, I noted the poor record with respect to concrete achievements of international and regional summits, such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002 and the Earth Summit (known formally as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) held a decade earlier in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I stated that one of the saddest stories of our times is that of great and costly summits which, after long and harrowing negotiations, come to rather modest agreements that are never implemented or acted upon only to an insignificant extent. I am convinced that only those plans and initiatives which are rooted in true love and justice and that arise from the genuine volition, conviction, and commitment of the human spirits concerned can be successfully implemented. All conventions, protocols, plans, blueprints, resolutions, etc. are in vain, if they are the result of hypocrisy, political or economic expediency or hatched for mere material advantage, without the foundation of a genuine volition to do that which is pleasing to God. Reports from Johannesburg confirmed that some powerful countries seemed to be primarily interested in promoting the commercial interests of companies owned by their nationals. Thus, they argued for proposals whose contribution to sustainable development would be minimal and rather incidental to their main aim of creating business opportunities for their own people. Unfortunately, such pursuit of narrow self-interest has always characterized international relations and development aid.
The foundation for sustainable development has to be built on love and justice in the context of the Laws of Creation, which may also be called the Laws of Life. In the following paragraphs, I indicate how one of these natural Laws, the Law of Balance, points the way to solving the global environmental crisis and building a solid foundation for sustainable development. At the dawn of the third millennium of the Christian Era, we are confronted with a strong pointer to the fact that human civilization has not developed in the right direction. One indicator is the horrible state of the global environment with consequent catastrophic weather events. The environmental crisis and the widespread chaos and confusion in the socioeconomic and political order attest to the fact that most of us human beings remain spiritual midgets even though significant segments of humanity have become technological and intellectual giants. Wisdom for our times dictates unconditional adaptation to the Laws of Creation, which embody the Will of God, the Creator. The Laws of Nature as observed on earth are the material forms of the all-embracing Laws that govern the entire Creation, including the so-called Beyond and the Spiritual Creation. Therefore, on earth, to do the Will of God we must do as nature does; that is, adapt our ways to the Laws of Creation.
To find a durable solution to the environmental crisis and to formulate a strategy for future environmental management, let us turn to nature and observe at work the Law of Balance between Giving and Taking. Every natural process and relationship is characterized by the principle of give and take. There is never any one-sidedness. In the complex web of natural relationships among living things, this principle is forever at work, unless disturbed by man's ill-considered interventions. We intuitively sense that whatever is out-of-balance is unsatisfactory or wrong. There is a problem whenever accounts (financial and otherwise) cannot be balanced. A company which routinely fiddles with its accounts so that its accounts are not genuinely balanced eventually comes to grief, as has happened to Enron and WorldCom. For every action, there is a counterbalancing reaction. Food intake is balanced by waste elimination; we have constipation and feel sick when food waste is not eliminated owing to poor digestion. Endless work without rest is harmful; complete retirement from work, that is, endless rest, is equally harmful. Exhaling is balanced with inhaling --- try breathing in without breathing out!
In conscious or unconscious recognition of this principle, scientists speak of “ecological balance”. Some scientists have come to know that balance is the normal state of natural ecosystems, and that a state of imbalance is unsustainable in the long run; long-term imbalance always spells danger. To solve our environmental problems, we must acquire a deeper understanding of the Law of Balance, and consciously apply it in our industrial and other economic activities. We should make genuine efforts to understand the conditions that make for the right balance in every situation, in every process, and in every system whether small or large. And on the basis of our understanding, we should always act to maintain or restore balance. We should seek to restore balance between the needs of human beings and those of other creatures; ensure balance between the needs of our generation and those of future generations; and ensure balance between the needs of the different peoples of the world. There should be balance between the resources we generate and what we consume, and between what we import and what we export. And above all, we should seek balance between the needs of the body and the needs of the spirit.
Take the case of soil erosion and degradation, which is a major problem in the tropics. Tropical soils tend to be fragile and are easily washed away by rain; therefore, they become rapidly eroded and degraded soon after the forests are cleared.. On account of the normally heavy rainfall, whatever is left of the topsoil soon becomes infertile because the nutrients they contain get pushed down (leached) into deep layers that cannot be reached by the roots of plants. Thus, careless clearing of tropical forests lead to soil degradation and, in the process, an irreplaceable natural resource is lost. This is a major element of the global environmental crisis. We can avoid much of this loss if we would observe the Law of Balance in the manner that nature does.
Whenever our skin is removed through a cut, nature acts promptly to provide a fresh cover through the clotting of the blood. In like manner, whenever the forest is cleared, we should provide a new cover, such as crops or tree seedlings. The immediate objective should be to ensure that the soil is not left bare for any extended period, just as we do not leave our wounds uncovered. Whenever we clear a forest, it is as if we are wounding the environment. The wound should be quickly covered through reforestation. If a wound is untreated, it festers and causes more serious problems. The massive clearing of tropical forests, without appropriate reforestation as dictated by the Law of Balance, is causing soil erosion and degradation on a massive scale. It is also causing another problem: carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing, because there are fewer and fewer trees to use it up through photosynthesis. The increased level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing a greenhouse effect leading to global warming with all its dire consequences, including the possibility of losing many island countries, coastal towns and settlements, including parts of some of the major cities of the world!
Since the remote cause of much land degradation is deforestation and removal of plant cover, it is obvious that such lands can be reclaimed through reforestation. Tree planting and afforestation projects on degraded lands should, therefore, be promoted vigorously. In tune with the Law of Balance, we should adopt a policy of planting a replacement for every tree we cut. Since not every tree we plant will survive, we would have to plant more than one tree for every one we cut! Such a policy would apply, regardless of the reason or purpose for which a tree is cut; whether for fuel, furniture, house construction, or in the course of building roads, oil pipelines, etc. Effective implementation would depend on the personal conviction of everybody about the ultimate justice and necessity of such a policy. Such conviction would only come through education and public enlightenment, including education on spiritual principles and spiritual consequences.
Let us continue our observation of nature. We note that there is really no waste in nature. Every “left-over” or “discard” from a natural process becomes the raw material for another process, or the food for some other creature. Consider: through the process of photosynthesis, plants use radiant energy, water and carbon dioxide to manufacture glucose. In the process, oxygen is released into the air. The glucose produced is the starting point for the manufacture of most of the other compounds needed by living organisms. Man and other animals cannot live without oxygen, which is a by-product of photosynthesis. And as animals use the oxygen through the process of respiration, they too give out carbon dioxide for plants to utilize in a continuous cycle of give and take. As plants grow, they shed leaves which in nature become converted into manure, enriching the soil and providing nutrients for use by the same or subsequent generation of plants. In nature's factories, there are no wastes; everything is recycled in one form or the other. Therefore, nature knows no pollution.
Here is an obvious lesson in dealing with environmental pollution. We should seek every opportunity to recycle. In planning our industries, for example, we should consider what “waste” products of other industries can become our raw materials, and also how we may use any industrial by-products. If we would seriously commit ourselves to a policy of recycling, we are sure to find that there is an immense scope for it in existing industries. Moreover, a genuine commitment to imitate nature with regard to recycling would imply that any industrial process that would result in by-products that could not possibly be utilized for something else would not be permitted. Whatever could be produced only in conjunction with an unusable waste product (a true pollutant) would not be produced; for such a process would go against the Laws of Nature.
Many industries would today fail such a recycling policy test. And, therefore, there would be considerable disruption in industrial life and in the economy generally. Despite this, our goal should be such a policy. We should see the current situation as an opportunity to do creative research to find new uses for so-called wastes as well as to develop new industrial processes that would not cause pollution. We should remember that if we do not solve our environmental problems, our industries and economies would not just be merely disrupted, they would be shattered. Even the very existence of all human beings would be threatened. It seems to me that what is lacking is the will to do things right. And this is due to ignorance of spiritual consequences. I am, for example, quite amazed that those responsible for cement factories in many developing countries, such as Nigeria, imagine that they can continue to get away with the catastrophic pollution their factories cause. I wonder how many thousands of people around the Shagamu cement factory in southwestern Nigeria, for example, have already contracted or will contract lung cancer from the pollutants being spewed out by the factory. We should always remember that there are spiritual consequences for us personally for all our official actions and decisions; before the Laws of God, we are personally accountable for what we do or decide on behalf of our companies and organizations.
A great deal of research and development would be required to build an industrial economy based on recycling. But such work would provide many new jobs that would be immensely spiritually fulfilling as well as intellectually challenging. The most developed countries of the future will be those that succeed in this necessary endeavor. Many more illustrations of how nature avoids environmental damage and prevents pollution can be cited. But I believe that the point has been made that Creation’s Law of Balance Between Giving and Taking offers a strategy for the permanent resolution of the global environmental crisis. The spiritual insights of the new era coupled with human technological know-how can and will in the end ensure environmentally sustainable development.