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Protecting the Earth’s Integrity

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

To create a sustainable future, we had better learn how to protect the Earth’s integrity. We could start by knowing what violating its integrity looks like.

When I was a boy in Western Nebraska, I heard farmers talking about “turning over” pastures for planting wheat the following season. This earth had been prairie forever (or at least a long time), and now a plow would “turn over” the Earth so the grass would be under dirt, and the dirt would be “topsoil” for farming. Was this a violation of the Earth’s integrity?

The famous naturalist, John Muir fought to expel all Indigenous communities from what he perceived as “wilderness.” Did he protect or violate the Earth’s integrity?

Years ago, cities in the East Bay filled in the marshes around the Bay for urban growth and expansion.

When the early settlers treated the Earth as real-estate, as a commodity that you could buy and sell, and as an investment, did they violate the Earth’s integrity?

These are not frivolous questions. How we deal with them may well determine the life our grandchildren will inherit. So, let’s think about it a bit more.

Something has integrity when its parts fit together to benefit the whole. Contrary to Muir’s notion of wilderness, humans are part of the whole. Even our integrity, if I got this right, depends on our protection of the Earth’s integrity.

You don’t have to agree with the Gaia hypothesis that the Earth is a self-regulating system to agree that the Earth’s integrity depends on the balancing of its parts. Photosynthesis is a good example. Plants and animals restore for the other the air they need to flourish. Human animals have now ruined this balance to our detriment.

As I see it, even though we may own private property, such as a house, I think that the private ownership of the Earth violates the Earth’s integrity because the Earth should be shared with others. Given our current urban settings, Taxes on land and estate taxes may help to restore the Earth’s integrity, but we have not witnessed that yet.

Owning land—"This is my land”—should be a metaphor for being a steward of the Earth. If the term loses its metaphorical status and is used literally, then the integrity of the Earth is violated.

The fact is that we live today in violation of the Earth’s integrity. It is part and parcel of our climate of injustice. In the final analysis, the Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth’s living systems.

I acknowledge the Christian rebellion against the Earth. “We do not belong to ‘it,” “We belong to God.” It’s true, the Christian god is not a fertility god, but a nomadic god. He is above the Earth, not part of it. At the same time, this God, at best, cares for the vulnerable, and no one is more vulnerable today than the Earth. I think it’s folly to think that any god (worth the name) would save their people and let the Earth go to hell. Even the gods, in other words, would not violate the Earth’s integrity.

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1 Comment

Sharon G. Thornton
Sharon G. Thornton
Nov 01, 2022

Thoughtful reflection. Your questions are prayers. I am reminded of feminist theologian Sally McFague who talks of the earth as God’s body. From that perspective what does it mean that there are dead zones in the ocean. Oh God dying?

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