Good Work and the Environment

By Joe Mancini, Good Work News, December 1997

Canadians have started an earnest debate on global warming. The Federal government has looked deeply at the issue, put all the options in a hat and plucked out an almost laughable policy. Canada, the Federal government assures the world, will reduce the emissions of global warming gases to the level of 1990 by the year 2012.

It is reported that the Canadian government’s tepid response is the result of all the provinces except Quebec insisting that resource extraction and job growth are more important than environmental concerns. It is clear that as a country we are wedded to job creation tied to economic growth. Beyond this tired slogan our imagination is limited. We are quite blind to the economy’s unending need to devour the earth’s resources for the maximization of economic advantage.

As David Suzuki explains, a 100 year old tree has no apparent economic value while it majestically stands in a forest. However, the forest industry can rationally calculate the number of jobs created in processing, transporting, and selling that tree. Our economic system cannot calculate the awe engendered by that tree’s beauty, the oxygen it produces, the soil erosion it prevents, the habitat and insects that it fosters.

When it comes to burning hydrocarbons it is hard to refer to elegance or beauty. Paul Hawkins, in his book The Ecology of Commerce, puts the issue bluntly: “We are in the middle of a once-in-a-billion year blow out sale of hydrocarbons. They are being combusted into the atmosphere at a rate that will effectively double-glaze the plant within the next fifty years, with unknown climatic results. The cornucopia of resources that are being extracted, mined, and harvested are so poorly distributed that 20 percent of the earth’s people are chronically hungry or starving, while the rest of the population, largely in the North, control and consume 80 percent of the world’s wealth.”

The billion year process of converting the earth’s flora and fauna into hydrocarbons is in fact beautiful and elegant, but our wasteful and casual use of these resources is scandalous. Policies that tinker with programmed growth will fall short unless we can recover a lost reverence for the natural earth.

The Working Centre finds hope in learning from those who can clearly see a different way forward. Fr. Thomas Berry’s essay is truly ground-breaking in western culture in its synthesis of our modern understanding of the universe, while also capturing the reverence of St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun. As well, Wendell Berry, a farmer, environmentalist and poet (not related to Thomas Berry), reminds us of the sacredness of our daily work:

“By denying spirit and truth to the nonhuman Creation, modern proponents of religion have legitimized a form of blasphemy without which the nature and culture-destroying machinery of the industrial economy could not have been built - that is, they have legitimized bad work. Good human work honours God’s work.
“Good work uses no thing without respect, both for what it is in itself and for its origin. It uses neither tool nor material that it does not respect and that it does not love. It honours nature as a great mystery and power, as an indispensable teacher, and as the inescapable judge of all work of human hands.
“It does not dissociate life and work, or pleasure and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty. To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonour God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for. This is blasphemy: to make shoddy work of the work of God. But such blasphemy is not possible when the entire Creation is understood as holy and when the works of God are understood as embodying and thus revealing His spirit.”

Global warming is not about statistics and what-ifs. It is a warning to recover a reverence for the earth.

Subscribe to Job Postings Feed Subscribe to For Job Searchers Feed Subscribe to The Working Centre Feed Subscribe to Commons Studio Feed