Sustainability is the new buzzword. This morning was Harvard University’s Commencement and you could find recycling bins everywhere on campus. Harvard is the size of a small city with 26 million square feet. It has self-imposed a whopping 30 percent cut of its greenhouse gas emission from 2006 levels by 2016. The University is aiming for a goal of zero waste by 2020.
The word “sustainability” became prominent as a result of the 1987 report of World Commission on Environment and Development of the United Nations, entitled Our Common Future. The report defines sustainable development as “development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
I was invited to give a plenary lecture on “The Theology and Philosophy of Sustainability” at a conference of the Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion, held this week at the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. I talked about the need for recycling of Christianity: changing our perspective from anthropocentrism to biocentrism.
Anne Primavesi, an Irish theologian, wrote about the “tight coupling” between humans and nature in her book Sacred Gaia. For her the separation of nature and culture does not reflect reality. We need to remember that the Christian mystics have long spoken about their union with God and with nature. Hildegard of Bingen in the twelfth century described the world as a “cosmic egg” and wrote:
I awaken everything to life. The air lives by turning green and being in bloom. The waters flow as if they were alive. The sun lives in its light, and the moon is enkindled, after its disappearance, once again by the light of the sun so that the moon is again revived. The stars, too, give a clear light with their beaming.