I chose to read Ecology and Human Need by Thomas Sieger Derr
I found it quite interesting that this book was published twice. The first time it was published under the title Ecology and the Human Liberation in 1973 and then under the new title in 1975. To perhaps account for this change, I found this little tidbit online, “In 1972, the United Nations held the first international Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, prepared by Rene Dubos and other experts. This conference was the origin of the phrase "Think Globally, Act Locally".” It is funny isn’t it? Even our perceptions of a book’s title will determine if we actually want to pick up the thing and read it. The American populace (that was actually interested in this book) went from a want of liberation to need in the course of two years.
I honestly felt like I was reliving the entire course of our class as I progressed through this novel. Thomas Derr is a Christian, though he never specifies a denomination. Derr begins by setting his novel in the present (remember we’re talking 1973 here) uncertain religious, political, and ecological times. He talks continues to discuss in great depth the three leading solutions to the economic crisis, which are: a new biblical theory, process theology, and the remystification of nature.
What he does next surprised me. He gives a long critical assessment of each of these options. He doesn’t believe in reworking Christianity through a new biblical theory. He believes that the Bible as it currently stands holds all the truth and doctrine to be ecologically minded- if not in word, the in the spirit of the word. In responding to process theology he is upset with those people that would like to have God be subject to natural laws in such a way that He is not omnipotent. Derr believes, and I agree, that one does not have to compromise God’s transcendence and omnipotence to have an ecologically friendly Creator. In response to those that would have us return to the mystification of nature i.e. give up technology and live in the dark ages etc. Derr almost seems to laugh, as this is highly unlikely and not even truly desirable. Derr supports this argument with the central idea that it is in human nature to be free of what he calls “natural tyranny.” Meaning, that part of man’s nature and divine responsibility is to have dominion over the earth and subdue it- now this doesn’t mean to abuse it. He essentially believes that to try to revert back to the Dark Ages would be denying our own nature- one of progression, and I agree.
The second half of the book is devoted towards a possible solution. Derr analyzes ownership, resources, and politics in turn through the lens of a Christian ecologist. Ownership is a divine Christian right (as it was in the Garden of Eden that Adam was given dominion over the whole earth). Ownership is not a bad thing, but abuse is. Derr argues that it is good for people to have stewardship over land and the earth because these things teach us responsibility and spiritual truth. He cautions however that dominion is not domination and that ownership means ethical and moral responsibility to the future generations. Our responsibility to the future is viewed in units of resources in this book. We cannot predict the temperament of the future, but we can insure that they have access to the same things that we have. Derr argues that this responsibility to others alone should be reason enough to be ecologically minded as the Bible states that we have a responsibility to our fellow man. This responsibility inevitably leads to politics. Derr realizes that there is a certain practicality that must be addressed in the realm of politics. He talks about poor and underdeveloped nations. These nations will not halt progress simply because we cannot effectively manage our resources. Derr offers a better solution.
Derr asks something that is a relatively simple concept, though perhaps not simple to apply on a large scale. He notes that national wellbeing is currently measured by GDP per capita. He argues that perhaps what we need to do is change our thinking to a standard or quality of life per capita idea. In this way, people are seeking a lifestyle and not merely chasing a dollar. I agree that this is a better way to view life, though it would be hard to convince Americans that a comfortable quality of life may be less than they now experience.
Up until this point in the book I felt really good about Derr’s ideas. It is on the next point that I disagree. Derr puts forth ideas on how to manage population growth- stating that it is our responsibility to curb human populations. He puts forth relatively Christian approaches to the problem, and thinks that we should look at the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth as completed. As a Latter-day Saint, I cannot condone this opinion though I agree that family size is a matter to be determined between husband, wife, and the Lord.
All in all, the book was great. The only thing I would have liked would be some input form other religious stances- but the book was meant to be a Christian perspective alone. I also think that the data could be updated, but that is what I get for reading a 1970’s novel. The truth that really struck me was this: if these things were of dire importance 36 years ago, how much more imperative that we take up the cause today because we haven’t done much better, if any, since 1973.
(I read this book all the way through)