Over the last year or two in this country, there has arisen an ecological crisis to go along with the war crisis, the youth crisis, the population crisis, and several other crises. Magazine articles by the dozens have proclaimed it, have analyzed how it came about, and have pronounced doom for the country unless most strenuous efforts are made to prevent it. Supporting evidence is easy to find: the air over our cities is foul much of the time, rivers are polluted as are lakes and bays, solid waste problems have become a monumental headache for virtually every city council in the land, congestion and crowdedness is a nightmare on many highways and in certain parts of our cities, and still other forms of pollution such as DDT-type pesticides and radioactive materials have spread throughout the atmosphere and oceans of the world.
The word crisis is not too strong for the present situation and outlook. This seems to be true despite the fact that, compared with conditions in earlier times, the present-day environment in most respects is an improvement. People in this country no longer die from typhoid. Central heating is available nearly everywhere in the wintertime, and more and more people spend their summer in air-cooled homes, office buildings, and factories. The average length of life has increased rapidly in the past century or two, and medical care, despite its high cost, is widely available. A visitor from an Asian country recently remarked to me in astonishment: Why, you can drink faucet water anywhere in your country with perfect safety. It is undoubtedly true that the modern American urban slum, for all its unattractive features, is still a better place to live than most of London in Dickenss time, and that the poorest country town in the Appalachians at the present time offers more than Goldsmiths deserted village. …
Joseph L. Fisher is president, Resources for the Future, Inc.
Three Man-made Ecological Factors and Their Implications on Human Heredity and Health by Jack B. Bresler
In the past few months, a number of things have occurred to me which have contributed greatly to the conceptual framework of this presentation. I should particularly like to identify three contributing influences—the first a conversation with my youngest son, the second a David Susskind television show, and the third an article by John Platt in Science.¹
Kenneth, our twelve-year-old, asked whether ecological problems were minor in the light of all the major problems confronting the world today. I assured him that problems relating ecology to health, beauty, and tranquility were of enormous importance to us, but somehow this statement superficially condenses many hours of conversation. The David Susskind show which had such impact on me featured a number of so-called radical professors. I was particularly impressed with one comment made by Howard Zinn in which he said, and I paraphrase, that we must teach our young a sense of proportion. This Zinn comment gave me further insight into a growing personal awareness of the proportions of man-made ecological factors.
The last contributing influence which helped set this presentation was an article in Science by John Platt that appeared in November 1969. In the article, Platt assigns estimated rankings of seriousness to a number of present or potential social, physical, biological, and moral crises. …
¹ John R. Platt, What We Must Do, Science 166 (1969); 1115-21.
Jack B. Bresler is assistant provost, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts.
Ecological Planning for Metropolitan Regions by Karl H. Hertz
In this paper I will try to establish three major points. The first involves our understanding of the human species as the culture-bearing species par excellence, and the consequences which this intensely (and, in many ways, uniquely) human activity has had for the precarious equilibrium of relationships among living forms of all kinds and, therefore, for human society. Second, the contemporary metropolitan region in all its ambiguity must be recognized as the central achievement of human creativity and the primary locus of the persistent interventions, which have not only seriously disrupted the reciprocities among living forms, but which also pose the very serious threat of extensive, perhaps fatal destruction.
Third, we have available the resources, particularly in technology and in the principles and processes of regional planning, to cope effectively with existing blight and potential disaster. An ecological strategy can do the job that needs doing. The central crisis of the city is not a crisis of technology but one 6f ideology and values. It is a crisis, not only because of the lack of a sufficient sense of the urgency of preventive action, but also because of the persistence of basic mind-sets which must be changed. We need a radically new way of looking at the world of living forms, the networks of reciprocity among them, and the inherent interdependence of human life with all living forms and with its environment. …
Karl H. Hertz is professor of church and society, Hamma School of Theology, Springfield, Ohio.
Simple Concepts of Complex Ecological Problems by William E. Martin
Nobody knows for certain just how many kinds of living organisms there are because thousands of new species are discovered every year. Even if the species inventory were complete, evolution and extinction would keep it in a state of flux by adding and subtracting species. There might be as many as five hundred thousand species of plants, ranging in size and complexity from the microscopic bacteria that live in and on all of us, to the giant redwoods of California; and there might be as many as 1.5 million species of animals, ranging in size and complexity from the protozoa that live in the intestines of termites and enable them to digest wood, to the blue whales of polar waters that grow to one hundred feet in length and one hundred fifty tons in weight. About half the known species of animals are insects, and many biologists believe that these six-legged creatures will one day inherit the earth because: (1) all species are doomed to eventual extinction no matter how successful they may be temporarily, (2) extinction and evolution operate by chance, like a lottery, and (3) insects hold more of these lottery tickets than any other class of organisms. …
William E. Martin is senior ecologist, Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio.
The Theological Values of Life and Nonbeing by Wallace W. Robbins
It has been some time since I have attended one of these conferences. I can only date it as biblical dates are fixed—by a great event: I was here last when the new flagpole was erected; long enough, I think, to allow me to repeat the only story I remember telling at that conference.
Enrico Fermi, the great physicist, was a resident at the University of Chicago when I lived and worked there, and he was among those who turned up to read the great religious books in a special group President Robert Hutchins suggested that I start. Enrico Fermi never read the books that were required reading for the members, but such was the cleverness of his mind that within a few minutes of following the questions and answers and discussion of others he had developed an understanding of what the book was all about. As soon as he discovered this, he took the position of the devils advocate and with great good humor demolished everybodys favorable opinions during the rest of the evening.
I always had the feeling that this was Fermis vacation from more precise work that he was doing elsewhere; he enjoyed it thoroughly. He was a delightful man, and we all loved him most of the time, but once my esteem for him faltered for a shameful instant.
We met in homes to have coffee and cake before the meeting began, and at one of the meetings a woman brought as her guest her first cousin, a woman who immediately was overcome to meet the great physicist Enrico Fermi, the Columbus who had discovered a New World, if you remember his designation in Conants telegram. As he and I were standing together and drinking coffee, she approached with respect and addressed him as follows: Professor Fermi, will you please tell me what effect the discovery of nuclear fission will have upon religion? I thought, Of all people to ask, she asks Fermi; why didnt she ask me? I couldve told her; why did she ask him, the man who does not read through a theological book? Fermi went into a brown study, wiped his forehead, thought about this question at great length. I was waiting for his answer, silently and with hostility. Finally, he said: Madam, I dont think I know enough about nuclear fission to answer your question. …
Wallace W. Robbins is pastor of the First Unitarian Church, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Concerning the Ecological Matrix of Theology by Daniel F. Martensen
Homo sapiens greatest victory is now proving to be his greatest defeat. He has put rivets in his dreams in the perennial war against the mean and destructive forces of nature; that war now has nearly been won. However, with much of nature vanquished, the victory looks a bit anemic; man has destroyed or is destroying what he must have.
Ecology, broadly understood, has now become a grim synonym for survival. As theologians and/or scientists as plumbers or social workers, we have obviously to make some tough decisions. Should we desire not to travel down the quite comfortable and amiable pathway to destruction, we must learn to dream and think in an ecological matrix. Should we desire to go out in style, we must at least be honest. This honesty would demand that each morning after brushing our teeth we would look in our collective mirrors and chant together: To hell with posterity! What have the unborn ever done for us? …
Daniel F. Martensen is professor of historical and philosophical theology, Hamma School of Theology, Springfield, Ohio.
The Dominion of Man: The Search for Ecological Responsibility by John Black, reviewed by Joseph Sittler