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Science, with its theories of natural selection and natural history finds natural selection operating over incre-

equilibrium, and religion, with its biblical descrip- mental variations across enormous time spans, with the
tipns of land forever flowing with {{milk and honey," fittest selected to survive. This drives perennial change as
have viewed nature as ever-renewing. Both have pri- species acquire new skills, exploit new niches, and migrate
oritized growth and its resulting abundance. As our toward shifting environments.
twenty-first-century environmental crises challenge these The theory of punctuated equilibrium, in some contrast,
concepts, scientists can teach us to sustain the envir- interprets the fossil record as evidence for periods of millions
onment while the motivations of biblical stewardship of years of relative stasis, punctuated by relatively brief peri-
remind us to treasure Earth's biodiversity and celebrate ods of rapid change. Biologists also speak of evolutionary-
creation. stable strategies. Natural selection drives changes, but
natural selection fails without enough stability in ecosys-
ife perpetually renewed in the midst ofits perpetualperish-
L ing: the theme is a common one in both evolutionary
natural history and Christian faith. Natural systems have
tems to make the mutations selected for dependably reli-
able for survival over the immediately forthcoming years.
Natural systems were often "sustained" in the past for long
evolved historically and ecosystems have been tested over periods of time. Critics reject such balance of nature in
thousands of years for their dynamic resilience, sometimes favor of episodic events, open ecological systems, dyna-
remaining stable and at other times undergoing change. mism and change. Disturbances in the orderly succession
As human life evolved, classical monotheism arose with of ecosystems produce a patchwork landscape. Ecosystems
a sense of dwelling in a promised land forever, although have various kinds of resilience, but if the disturbances
biblical writers acknowledged the transience of life. Con- become amplified enough, the stability gets swamped by
cern for ecosystem health and integrity have evolved disorder. Equilibrium and non-equilibrium do represent
as well. Humans may now stand at a rupture point in two ends of a spectrum with real ecosystems somewhere
history-facing, as some believe, the end of nature. Eco- in between, and seeing one or the other can depend on the
logical management, with its scientific focus on preserving level and scale of analysis. At the levels of population and
nature's resources and developing technologies, continues species diversity, or community composition, ecosystems
the concept of biblical stewardship. A critical question is can show predictable patterns, approaching steady states on
whether to seek sustainable development or a sustainable restricted ranges. When unusual disturbances come, they
biosphere. can be displaced beyond recovery of their former patterns.
Then they settle into new equilibriums.
A Dynamic, Enduring Earth The processes and products originally in place will, with
high probability, have been those for which organisms are
Both science and religion, in principle and in practice, face naturally selected for their adaptive fits; misfits go extinct
concerns about environmental sustainability. Both world- and easily disrupted ecosystems collapse and are replaced
views encounter an historical dynamism (i.e., forces of by more stable ones. Ecosystems get tested over thousands
change) superimposed on recurring stability. Evolutionary of years for their resilience. As a result, they have both

Used with permission. Originally published in ed. Willis Jenkins, ed., Encyclopedia or Sustainability © Berk-
shire Publishing Group, 2010. Pages 353-358. For individual library patrons use and not for redistribution. 353
354 • BERKSHIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUSTAINABILlTY: THE SPIRIT OF SUSTAINABILITY

stability and dynamic novelty. Many general characteristics a post-evolutionary phase, a post- ecological phase. The
are repeated; many local details vary. Patterns of growth next millennium is the epoch of the "end of nature." The
and development are orderly and predictable enough to new epoch is the Anthropocene. That puts us indeed at
make ecological science possible. This ecosystemic nature, a hinge point of history. What ought we to do to ensure
once flourishing independently and for millennia continu- sustainability?
ing along with humans, has in the last one hundred years
come under increasing jeopardy-variously described as a Stewardship and Management
threat to ecosystem health, integrity, stability, or quality.
Classical monotheism arose with a more fixed account Scientists turning to environmental policy often appeal for
of earth structures and processes, set in place at an ini- ecosystem management. This is attractive to scientists, who
tial "start-up" creation, and thereafter ongoing with little see the need for understanding ecosystems objectively and
change. Facing death, as Jacob is "gathered to my people" for developing applied technologies, and also to human-
he blesses Israel: "The blessings of your father are mighty ists, who desire benefits for people. The combined eco-
.beyond the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties system and/or management policy promises to operate at
of the everlasting hills" (Genesis 49:26, RSV). Life is an system-wide levels, presumably to manage for indefinite
ongoing struggle, and therefore hopes arise for the advent sustainability of ecosystems and their outputs alike.
of redemption when the Messiah comes, or, for Christians, "Sound scientific management" connects with the idea of
comes again. But in the course of Earth history, if Israel nature as "natural resources" and at least permits a "respect
keeps the commandments, God says, "then I will let you nature" dimension, although the question of "manage for
dwell in this place in the land that I gave of old to your what" is often presumed as human benefits. Christian ethi-
fathers for ever" (Jeremiah 7:7). cists note that the secular word "manage" is a stand-in for
The sages and prophets knew the transience oflife. Con- the earlier theological word "steward." Adam was placed
sider "a flower of the field": "the wind passes over it, and it in the garden "to till and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). They rr:ay
is gone, and its place knows it no more" (Psalm 103:15-16). add that "trustee" is a better model than "stewardship,"
But they also knew a sustainability and saw, under God, a since stewards are managing in the interests of owners,
promised land in which "it might go well with them and whereas "trustees" are charged with caring for what is put
with their children for ever" (Deuteronomy 5:29). That cer- into their trust.
tainly sounds like sustainability. Environmental science can inform the evaluation
The perpetual cycle of life, which involves of nature in subtle ways. Scientists describe the order,
renewal in the midst of perishing, is a common ""'''-' dynamic stability, and diversity in biotic
theme in both natural evolutionary history and communities. They describe interde-
in Christian faith. Both science and reli- pendence, or speak of health or integ-
gion agree that Earth has long sus- rity, perhaps of these communities'
tained and renewed life, although the resilience or ejficiency. Scientists describe
classical regeneration of new life out the adaptedfit that organisms have in their
of old on the scale of millennia has niches. They describe an ecosystem as
expanded to that of billions of years in flourishing, as self-organizing. Strictly inter-
contemporary science. preted, these are only descriptive terms; and
Many scientists believe, even in a sustain ability yet often they are already quasi-evaluative terms. Ecology
crisis, that nature carinot be abolished but nature's ability is rather like medical science, with therapeutic purpose,
to sustain life can be irreparably damaged. Nature has not seeking such flourishing health. Theologians may remark
ended and never will. Humans depend on nature for their that such terms sound like a secular celebration of the good
life support. Humans use nature resourcefully; they may earth described in the Genesis parable of creation, or the
upset and degrade natural systems. But the natural forces promised land of Israel.
can and will return ifhumans are taken out of the equation. Religion and science have to be carefully delineated,
There is always, once, and future nature. each in its own domain. Asking about technical ecology
Other more pessimistic scientists believe that humans in the Bible is a mistake (e.g., the Lotka-Volterra equations
on Earth are at a rupture point in history. European- dealing with population size and carrying capacity). But
Western civilization is self-destructing, spreading and ecology is a science at native range. Residents on landscapes
triggering disruptions-climate change and decreasing live immersed in their local ecology. Within the pragmatic
biodiversity-around the globe. Until now, the techno- ranges of the sower who sows, waits for the seed to grow,
sphere was contained within the biosphere. Hereafter the and reaps the harvest, the Hebrews knew their landscape.
technosphere will explode these limits. Earth is now in Abraham and Lot, and later Jacob and Esau, dispersed
SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND ECOLOGY • 355

their flocks and herds because "the land could not sup- The four main concerns on the world agenda for the
port both of them dwelling together" (Genesis 13:2-13, new millennium are these: escalating population, escalat-
36:6-8). These nomads were exceeding the carrying cap- ing consumption, the increasingly horrific consequences of
acity, ecologists now say. They knew enough to let land lie war, and deteriorating environment. Escalating population
fallow in the seventh year for its regeneration. and consumption are enabled by science, as is the technol-
For sustainability, one needs human ecology, humane ogy for war, and the spillover is a degraded environment.
ecology, and this requires insight into human nature more Religions have fostered population growth, or are ambiva-
so than into wild nature. True, humans cannot know the lent about it; they have enabled human(e) development
right way to act if they are ignorant of the causal out- with increased consumption; they are often ambivalent
comes in the natural systems they modify. But there must about environmental conservation. As a result, population,
be more. "Hear therefore, 0 Israel, and be careful to do consumption, and environment are not sustainable on our
[these commandments] that it may go well with you, and present course. A World Council of Churches theme, "jus-
that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your tice, peace, and the integrity of creation," has focused more
fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and attention on conserving population growth and consump-
honey" (Deuteronomy 6:3). It is not the land husbandry tion than on saving the environment.
or the science, but rather the ethics into which the bib-
lical seers have insight. The deeper claim is that there can Sustainable Development?
be no intelligent human ecology except as people learn to Sustainable Biosphere?
use land justly and charitably. Lands do not flow with milk
and honey for all unless and until "justice rolls down like The prime model is sustainability, but if one asks what is
waters" (Amos 5:24). to be sustained, there are two foci. The favored answer is
this: sustainable development. When humans face limits,
Limits to Growth they need to find growth patterns that can be sustained.
Such a duty seems plain and urgent; scientists, developers,
Western religion and Western science have for centur- social gospel activists, and missionaries can be unanimous
ies both joined in pushing back limits. Humans have about it. Sustainable development is useful just because it
more genius at this than any other species. We have lived is a wide-angle lens, an orienting concept that is at once
with a deep-seated belief that one should hope directed and encompassing, a coalition-level policy
for abundance and work toward obtaining it. that sets aspirations, thresholds, and allows plu-
Christian faith brought "the abundant life"; ralist strategies for their accomplishment. One
the DuPont corporation championed "bet- needs the best that science can contribute (e.g.,
ter things for better living though chemis- genetically modified foods, carbon dioxide
try." One accentuates the spiritual; the other monitors, and scientific models and data)
accentuates the material side of life. Still, sci- and the best that religion can contribute
ence and religion joined to get people fed and (e.g., agricultural missions, sermons mod-
sheltered, to keep them healthy, and to raise erating escalating consumerism, etc.).
standards of living. The underlying conviction is that the tra-
We have built the right to self-development jectory of development is generally right-
and the right to self-realization into our concept of but the developers in their enthusiasm have
human rights. Religious activists and missionar- hitherto failed to recognize environmental
ies have fought for that as much as economists and constraints. Scientists can teach us how to
development scientists. But now we have begun to sustain the environment, but we will need
realize that such an egalitarian ethic scales every- the motivations of stewardship (and, bet-
body up and drives an unsustainable world. When ter yet, trusteeship) to succeed. Economists,
everybody seeks their own good, aided by applied who also like to think of themselves as sci-
sciences, there is escalating consumption. When entists, may remark that a "growth econ-
everybody seeks everybody else's good, urged by omy" is the only economy theoretically or
gospel compassion, there is, again, escalating con- practically desirable, or even possible. They
sumption. This brings the worry whether either such dislike "no-growth economies," but now
development science or such compassionate religion accentuate "green economics."
is well equipped to deal with the sorts of global level A massive Millennium Ecosystem Assessment,
problems we now face. Global threats require that growth sponsored by the United Nations, involving over
be limited in the name of sustainability. thirteen hundred experts from almost one hundred
356 • BERKSHIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUSTAINABILlTY: THE SPIRIT OF SUSTAINABILITY

nations, begins this way: "At the heart of this assessment resources. Decisions about this quality environment will
is a stark warning. Human activity is putting such strain on need input from society at large, including its scientists
the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the plan- and its peoples of faith. Development is desired, and soci-
et's ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer ety must learn to live within the carrying capacity of its
be taken for granted" (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment landscapes. Even more humans need to treasure Earth's
2005,5). biodiversity, to celebrate creation. Here science and reli-
But there is another possible focus: "sustainable bio- gion complement each other in teaching us how to sus-
sphere." Ecologists want to insist that "sustainable" is not tain the home planet, the Earth with promise, the global
so much an economic as an environmental term. The Eco- promised land.
logical Society of America claims the following: "Achiev-
Holmes ROLSTON III
ing a sustainable biosphere is the single most important
Colorado State University
task facing humankind today" (Risser, Lubchenco, and
Levin 1991). The fundamental flaw in "sustainable devel-
opment" is that it sees the Earth as a resource only. FURTHER READING
The underlying conviction in the sustainable biosphere Attfield, Robin. (2003). Environmental ethics: An overview for the
model is that the current" development" trajectory is gen- twenty-first century. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press.
erally wrong because it will inevitably overshoot, fed by the Burkhardt,Jeffrey. (1989). The morality behind sustainability.]ournalof
Agricultural Ethics, 2, 113-128.
aspirations of those who always seek to push back limits.
Daly, Herman E., & Cobb, John B., Jr. (1999). For the common good:
The environment is not some undesirable, unavoidable set Redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sus-
of constraints to be subdued and conquered with clever tainable future. (2nd ed.). Boston: Beacon Press.
technological fixes. Rather, nature is the matrix of mul- Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2005). Living beyond our means:
Natural assets and human well-being: Statement from the board.
tiple values; many, even most of them are not counted in
Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
economic transactions. Nature provides numerous other Risser, Paul G.; Lubchenco, Jane; & Levin, Simon A. (1991). Bio-
values (e.g., life support, biodiversity, sense of place) that logical research priorities-a sustainable biosphere. B ioScience, 41,
we wish to sustain. The test of a good Earth is not how 625-627.
National Commission on the Environment. (1993). Choosing a sustain-
much milk and honey can be squeezed out of it to drip
able future: 1he report ofthe National Commission on the Environment.
into human mouths. Washington, DC: Island Press.
A "sustainable biosphere" model demands that the econ- Norton, Bryan G. (2005). Sustainability: A philosophy ofadaptive ecosystem
omy be worked out "within" a quality of life in a quality management. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. .
Rolston, Holmes, III. (1996). The Bible and ecology. Interpretation:J our-
environment-clean air, water, stable agricultural soils,
nal ofBible and 1heology, 50, 16-26.
attractive residential landscapes, forests, mountains, riv- Rolston, Holmes, III. (2003). Justifying sustainable development: A con-
ers, rural lands, parks, wild lands, wildlife, renewable tinuing ethical search. Global Dialogue, 4(1), 103-113.