The phenomenon of spiritual ecology is a revolution in the sense of a movement with growing momentum leading toward a profound transformation with far reaching consequences. Joanna Macy and others refer to this as “The Great Turning” (see Chapter 14). Two tables in this book itemize the specific transformations that are needed to restore ecosanity in the world, if the multitude of diverse environmental problems is to be reduced significantly, and if a global environmental catastrophe is to be averted (see Table 14.1 on pp.109-110, and Table 18.1 on p. 141). Either at least a substantial portion of humankind changes voluntarily for the better in the ways that it relates to nature, or change will be forced on it at a far higher cost and with vastly more suffering. Ultimately, there are only two choices: either continued ecocide, or restoring ecosanity. The fictional movie Avatar disturbingly illustrates such matters, as does in the real world the case of Tibet since the horrors of the military invasion and belligerent occupation and colonization by the Chinese (see Chapters 18 and 21, respectively).
While some individuals may question whether the movement here called spiritual ecology is large enough to be accurately characterized as a revolution, this book samples its substantial scale, diversity, momentum, and effectiveness in a variety of particular cases. One case discussed, for example, is the Green Belt Movement initiated by Wangari Maathai (Chapter 16). However, only in coming decades will history demonstrate the extent of this transformation, its ramifications, and its effectiveness.
The Spiritual Ecology Revolution is diffuse; it has no single center or leader. It is also quiet because it is not widely recognized and it does not involve violence. However, it challenges the very foundation of industrialism, and especially the rampant and rapacious variety of capitalism, with their pivotal fallacy that unlimited growth is possible on a limited base. That base includes not only land and natural resources, most of the latter non-renewable such as fossil fuels, but also the ability of ecosystems and the planet as a whole to absorb pollution and other anthropogenic stresses such as greenhouse gasses. Continuing to operate on the basis of this fallacy would inevitably prove suicidal for the human species as a whole and terribly destructive for its home planet.
This revolution is neither new nor rapid, it has deep roots extending back many centuries to the radical thoughts and actions of the Buddha and Saint Francis of Assisi, among many others (see Chapters 5 and 6, respectively). The Spiritual Ecology Revolution is not happening overnight, just as the Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution did not emerge suddenly. Yet with the obvious reality of global climate change, as proven by the recent unprecedented increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, melting of ice sheets and mountain glaciers, and so on, within decades the Spiritual Ecology Revolution may accelerate markedly in response. Quick fixes through technological applications, government regulations, and other secular initiatives are only treating the superficial symptoms of ecocide, not really facing, let alone effectively dealing with, the root causes. Decades of secular approaches have proven insufficient, even though necessary and with some significant successes.
The above is not idiosyncratic by any means, but reflects a growing convergence of thought from a multitude of diverse sources.* The present book documents this revolution and many of the revolutionaries who have contributed to it in the past as well as those who are doing so today (see Appendix, pp. 205-206). Many of these individuals have experienced their own personal revolution, a radical transformation as a result of one or more extraordinary experiences in nature. Indeed, much of the hope for the restoration of ecosanity lies in nature’s absolute necessity, overwhelming power, awesome inspiration, and remarkable resilience. Intimate experience in nature has the potential to generate the fundamental re-thinking, re-feeling, and re-visioning of our place in nature that is needed for ecosanity.
*For some of these sources, among others, see the following entries in the bibliography of the present book: Best and Nocella 2006, Bourne 2008, Foster, et al., 2010, Hawken 2007, Korten 2006, Leslie 1996, Macy and Johnstone 2012, McKibben 2010, Robinson 1994, Speth 2008, and Wilson 2003. Also, see “New” under “Supplemental Information” in this website.
Because this Revolution is also spiritual, as in Spiritual Ecology, some notes on the subject of Spirituality are relevant here too.
Spirituality means different things to different people. Lloyd Burton’s (2002, 21) conception is especially useful: “… spirituality refers to that realm of human experience characterized by various mixtures of three qualities. First, spiritual experience is either non-rational or extra-rational in nature; it is a way of knowing that is not accessible exclusively through calculative thought— although the rational process may well bring one to its doorway. Second, such experience is transcendent: it involves a sense of moving beyond the rationally constructed boundaries of the self. Third, such experience is unitive, involving a sense of unity with existence and forces underlying its continuing creation.” (For an especially useful discussion of the distinction between religion and spirituality see Taylor 1991a, 175-178).
Spirituality is undeniably an elemental and often pivotal manifestation of human nature; even atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists may be spiritual (Sponsel 2012, 149-154). Spirituality is far more inclusive than religion, encompassing individual as well as organizational ideas and actions. A survey of 14,527 new students in 136 colleges and universities in the United States of America (USA) during 2003-2010, revealed that the majority were spiritual, but not necessarily religious (UCLA Higher Education Research Institute 2010). Another extensive survey by the Pew Research Center on “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” concludes that since the last project of its kind in 2007, the number of religiously unaffiliated adults has increased by about 19 million. By now there are around 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the United States, a group more numerous than either Catholics or mainline Protestants (Smith 2015). These two surveys highlight one reason why it is important to consider not only religion, but also spirituality (cf., Chang and Boyd 2011, Gottlieb 2012, Speck and Hoppe 2007).