Guest Writer Siria Solorio explores how mankind’s vain quest for meaning and symbolism has significantly neglected our planet and left her in critical condition. If we are to ensure life remains on this planet, then we must learn to rekindle our reverence for nature and engage with our universe through scientific literacy.

Humanity’s relationship with Earth has long been rooted in an anthropocentric attitude, and this persuasive approach may have helped define our relationship with nature today. Despite the climate crisis we now face, we continue to contribute to the dangers of climate change in exchange for the continued use of natural resources, agricultural modernization, urbanization, modern transportation, and anything that stimulates economic growth in modern society. Any aggressive actions to combat the catastrophic effects of climate change are dwarfed by the deep-seated influences in public policy by billion-dollar corporations that rely heavily on fossil fuels. And it is those who contribute the least to the climate crisis who are often exposed to its adverse effects at disproportionally high levels.

But how can much of mankind be so flippant towards our planet’s—our home in which we’ve evolved—peril? 

Karen Armstrong is a bestselling author and scholar of religious affairs who seeks to answer these questions in conversation with Brian Greene, a world-renowned physicist for his works in superstring theory, bestselling author, and Columbia Physics professor. This Friday evening, the New York Historical Society hosted Armstrong and Greene to discuss Armstrong’s book Sacred Nature: Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World and explore mankind’s relationship with nature.

Our connection to our planet, and its sanctity, has long been in strife for more self-fulfilling and egotistical principles. Karen Armstrong drew on her expert knowledge in religious affairs and made the strong case that we must reignite our connection with nature if we are to survive as a species. 

Armstrong began her case by eloquently defining both logos (reason and unchanging truth) and mythos (the human condition), as well as educating the audience on the reverence they once held in early societies where both methods of thought were treated as equals. However, as civilizations underwent modernization, logos quickly advanced as the more dominant method of thought for many societies, chiefly, the Western front. Meanwhile, the doctrines which framed mythos came to evolve into religions that sought to explain and give meaning to our own existence, Armstrong reasoned. As a result, much of our spirituality, to this day, is centered around the ego—the powerful notion of the “me”. Upon a closer look, however, many religions instill the importance of setting our egos aside and transcending the “self” by reaching out to others.

“What religions, at their best, are trying to do, is to help you do that. Too often there may be a sort of ego trip where you polish your own self and your own soul and you’re looking for a nice comfortable role in heaven…any kind of myth that ends up in some sort of ego is a bad myth.” 

Much like science, Armstrong reasoned, religion is a process in which we leave the self behind. While Greene agreed that one may often feel insignificant when faced with the great challenges and daunting truths of our universe, many still define themselves by their work, their ego deeply ingrained into the fruits of their labor.

“You know, Ludwig Boltzmann, who committed suicide, on his tombstone had carved S=klogW—his equation for entropy!” 

Nonetheless, Armstrong stressed the importance of cultivating our sacrality—not only for people, but for nature as well. In our quest to find meaning, most humans have come to center themselves, defining human life as sacred through religious and spiritual doctrines. However, Armstrong believes we’ve come to overlook the sacrality of nature and fail to acknowledge that it is still life—a different type of life and one we depend on. Of course, Armstrong wasn’t shy to voice her opinions on the existence of a God, expressing she doesn’t believe in a God or heaven, nor is she an advocate for the concept of heaven. What’s more, she was accepting of the fact she does not know what may come after death. 

“We’ve developed such awful habits of just ill-treating nature but still we keep hearing about how terrible our planet is and what danger we’re in…in the UK temperatures have reached unprecedented heights.”

Armstrong believes protests about our climate crisis have failed and do little to help. If we are to make a change and heal the Earth, we must reconnect with nature. She emphasized the practice known “quiet sitting” for ten minutes as a means of meditation, a practice native to China and ancient Buddhist and Daoist. This, she believes, is a suitable start to reconnect with our planet. 

Naturally, Greene made clear the urgency concerning our climate crisis, citing the works of Roy Scranton and his book Learning to Die.

“This author is also saying we’ve got a dire situation from climate change and the only way we can deal with it is, not just have ego dissolution at the level of the individual, we have to have dissolution at the level of civilization…The way we live has got to change.” 

Scranton’s book, as Greene pointed out, expresses the imperative practice to reconnect with reverence but as a concluding act in our objective to confront climate change. Instead, the dismantling and retcon of our current civilizations is of utmost importance if we wish to safeguard mankind’s survival.

However, Armstrong, while understanding, disagreed with the sentiment. She feels the same urgency but maintained that one cannot expect humanity to crumble civilizations and transform overnight. For her, it’s a process that takes time, step by step. Will this be enough, however, to combat the looming dangers of our climate crisis? 

It’s a multifaceted relationship mankind has with nature, and the depth and nuances of our own understanding of it is greatly limited. Academic discussions on navigating the complex sphere of socioeconomics, energy, and sustainability, while crucial, may not be enough. It’s a conversation that must move beyond the ivory tower and reach a broad spectrum of people on a massive scale. Perhaps, if more people are exposed to the intricate workings of our universe through the foundations of science, we, as a society, may find a shift in attitudes toward our planet’s wellbeing. After all, engaging in the sciences is engaging with nature. Still, individual responsibility cannot be enough without the implementation of comprehensive climate policy and restrictions. As we continue to focus our attention on the self and the now, climate change will remain but an imminent threat that we, as a species, will confront in due time–by then, it may be too late. 

Earth via Bwarchive