An Earth Centric Theological Framing for Planetary Solidarity (@theTable: Planetary Solidarity)
By Heather Eaton.
Planetary solidarity in the context of climate change is a desirable, albeit daunting image. It is desirable because climate change is a planetary phenomenon requiring a commensurate response. It is daunting because there is little functioning solidarity among the varied human communities, cultures, and nation states of the planet. My chapter for Planetary Solidarity in part looks at several meanings to the terms planetary and solidarity in order to articulate an Earth-centric framing for theology.
The first and primary meaning of planetary is the biosphere. It is important to perceive this sphere of life as differentiated and dynamic, yet deeply integrated. Earth sciences support the concept that the Earth’s processes are entangled, intermingled and mutually dependent: a self-regulating organism, as it is suggested by the Gaia Hypothesis.[i] Earth’s organic and inorganic matter reciprocally regulate the biosphere and the conditions of life. The planet, including the biosphere, lithosphere (rock), hydrosphere, and atmosphere are interacting dynamically, continuously, and cannot be understood as discrete processes. Climate change affects atmospheric patterns, ocean currents, fresh water quality and quantity, soil fertility, food stability, and of course the living ecosystems that are at the basis of all living communities.
Another facet of planetary is that of an Earth community. Of course it is popular to claim that the Earth is our home, and that we belong here, often accompanied with the iconic image of the Earth from space. It can, however, be based in a superficial understanding of planetary, in two ways. First, to consider the planet as home is insufficiently accurate and comprehensive. The notion of the planet as home can simply mean as a house, a dwelling place: it is “where we live” and does not address the dynamics of life. It often maintains a partition between ourselves and planetary processes. Second, it ignores the larger communities of life with whom we cohabitate. It is important, therefore, to integrate evolution into the notion of planetary. Evolution is a planetary process.
The last meaning of planetary to be explored is the plethora of connections between humans and other animals. The insistence on human distinction from, and superiority to, other animals has obstructed seeing the similarities and kinship. Claims of humans’ distinctiveness due to emotional sensitivities, empathy, decision making processes, intelligent thought, moral capacity, communication and language do not hold up in the face of animal research in cognitive ethnology, social neurosciences, and evolutionary biology.[ii] Studies on virtually all animals are revealing unexpected capacities and consciousness. The term planetary must therefore include the animals with whom we live, and an acute concern for their welfare and right to thrive.
Euro-western worldviews have developed without a consideration of an evolutionary framework, and with an emphasis on demarcations between humans and other animals. We begin to see how limited our horizon has been in understanding ourselves, other planetary life, and our place within the scheme of things. Planetary cannot mean simply international, worldwide, new cosmopolitanism, or global citizen. It cannot be an understanding of “humans and the Earth”, or a superficial notion of Earth as home. To take seriously planetary is to integrate an evolutionary framework, to be ecologically literate, to see humans as one species among many, and to appreciate the other life forms of the Earth community.
Planetary also means to be aware that all this is deteriorating. A way forward must expand into a deep solidarity. Much has been researched and written about solidarity as a vision, an ideal, an objective, and political engagement. Solidarity with respect to climate justice must include a comprehensive approach integrating scientific analysis with political, economic, and ethical considerations. Most often climate justice resides in the discourses of and efforts for human rights, noting that climate change affects those with the least political and economic power to mitigate the effects. Thus, climate justice is concerned with efforts to reduce climate changes, or adapt to them, tethered to human rights (e.g., the Mary Robinson Foundation.)
While fully supportive of this focus for climate justice, I find it limited from the planetary perspectives mentioned above. Climate justice is virtually always anthropocentric. Often there will be mention of “the environment”, but one is hard pressed to find anything on climate justice that is not anthropocentric. When there is mention of the efforts to have water considered as a right, it is always a human right: plants and other animals are not privy to such rights. Considerable work is occurring in environmental rights. Yet the image of ecological rights is both potent and problematic. Rights are constructed on dissimilar platforms. Anthropocentric and bio- or eco-centric rights differ.
Solidarity, in the planetary sense I am proposing, is more than an expansion of justice and rights. It includes the community of other animals and life forms who participate in stabilizing Earth-life. In effect, all planetary activities could be included in such solidarity, since the whole is required for the parts to thrive. It is crucial to grasp that the biosphere functions in intimately entangled ways, thus planetary solidarity needs to be commensurate with these. Such solidarity opposes the segregation of humans from the planet, other animals, ecosystems and the biosphere. This invented, yet believed, human/Earth apartheid is manifestly one cause of the decline of ecological health and the ideological and political impasse in responding. The counterpoint is the blend of meanings of planetary and solidarity explored above, that could become the foundation for an Earth-centric theological framing.
[i] The Gaia Hypothesis is a well-established scientific proposal that affirms the Earth is best understood as a holistic dynamic, even living planet. See Lovelock, James (1995). The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth. New York: Norton.
Heather Eaton: interdisciplinary doctorate in theology, feminism and ecology, University of Toronto. Current position in Conflict Studies at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. Main publications: Advancing Nonviolence and Social Transformation: New Perspectives on Nonviolent Theories, Heather Eaton and Lauren Levesque, eds. (Equinox, 2016). The Intellectual Journey of Thomas Berry: Imagining the Earth Community, ed. (2014); Ecological Awareness: Exploring Religion, Ethics and Aesthetics, (with Sigurd Bergmann, 2011); Introducing Ecofeminist Theologies (2005); Ecofeminism and Globalization: Exploring Religion, Culture, Context, (with Lois Ann Lorentzen, 2003); editor of Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion. Special Issue: “Evolution,” (2007); Ecotheology, “Gender, Religion and Ecology,” (2006); Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion, Special Issue: Thomas Berry (2001). Heather works as a socially engaged academic with various national and international groups on religion, ecology, social issues, gender, animal rights, nonviolence and peace.
Next: Jea Sophia Oh, “Seeds, Cross, and a Paradox of Life from Death: A Postcolonial Eco-Christology” (Part 3)