The Nature-Wisdom of Western Elders [Scientists]


By David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson

Over the years, a host of prominent life scientists have taken passionate public stands that seem in some way heretical to the “conventional wisdom” of the mainstream scientific community. Their views suggest humans ought to treat the natural world as sacred, or as worthy of profound veneration, for the well-being of all life on earth. Some openly concede that scientific thought has its limits and that certain aspects of the universe may forever remain mysterious to scientists. Some of them publicly grieve for the ecological destruction they have witnessed during their lifetimes and question whether we possess the will and stamina to alter the environmental deterioration that the march Industrial Civilization has wrought.

Other scientific elders speak out on what they suspect may be inherently sacred, or spiritual, dimensions of nature. One remarkable public statement, titled “Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science and Religion”, was issued at a recent international conference on the environment and economic development in Moscow, attended by religious, political, and scientific leaders from eighty-three nations. Importantly, it was signed by a number of the most respected and articulate Western scientists of our times, including astronomers Carl Sagan and Freeman Dyson, physicist Hans Bethe, atmospheric scientist Stephen Schneider, and biologists Peter Raven, Roger Revelle, and Stephen Jay Gould. One of its most scientifically daring passages states:

"As scientists, many of us have profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred”

These and other contemporary scientists and science observers are implicitly expressing a yearning for the same sort of integration of knowledge and human values that takes place in the undivided Native Mind. Where will we find the wisdom to make our way through the maze of global overpopulation, industrial toxins, loss of biodiversity, ozone depletion, global warming and countless other unfolding environmental crises that cast a long, uncertain shadow over the earth’s fate?

In his recent book “In defense of the Land Ethic”, environmental philosopher J.Baird Callicott suggests that traditional Native American nature-wisdom might become living, cultural “role models” for the entire world to witness and emulate. The idea that Native worldviews are steeped in genuine environmental wisdom is not, he insists, some sort of “necromantic invention” or a return to guilt ridden, Western notions of “noble savages”. On the contrary, it arises from a clear-eyed recognition of indigenous societies’ sense of relationship with the natural world.

Clearly it is time for a global science-compatible Native ecological consciousness to emerge and inspire “non-natives” to adopt environmental values. We demand a host of calm, compassionate, and far sighted voices of society’s wisest elders- Native and scientific- to be heard clearly above the din of economic rationalists.

There will be no jobs on a dead planet!