The Gnat Is Older Than Man: Global Environment and Human Agenda

By Christopher D. Stone | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
The Spiritual and Moral Dimensions
of the Environmental Crisis:
Of Humankind and Gnats

THE SPIRITUAL ROOTS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS

WHAT HAS brought us to this pass? Most of the book has been spent examining issues of institutional reform, on the theory that however we got here, the question now is what can we do about it. Some will say that this gets our priorities reversed, that to know how to cure something, we first have to identify and root out the cause. But like so much other wisdom, this is not as true as it sounds. We successfully treat lots of conditions without understanding, at any especially deep level, what caused them. Doctors could spend considerable time seminaring over a patient, his life imperiled by clogged arteries, whether the cause was lack of exercise, diet, genetic predisposition, or tension on the job. But so far as the patient's life is concerned, the exact cause may be quite irrelevant to the treatment. If he needs a bypass, he needs a bypass, and probably wishes they would stop talking and just get on with it.

I feel that way about many of the “deep,” soul-scrutinizing discussions of our environmental problems. I don't know how to explain why so many canisters of wastes and weapons lie corroding on ocean floors. Fear? Distrust? Aggressiveness? Surplus capital? One only wishes we would recognize the threat and take care of it.

It is true that large-scale efforts to eliminate many problems benefit from an expanded appreciation of cause. But it is not always so. It depends whether the cause is anything we can do something about. Suppose someone could produce good evidence that the “cause” of the environmental condition was (in some historically satisfactory

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