If you’re like me, you’ve probably been thinking about environmental issues for a long time. Thirty years ago, I remember reading about the impact that individual and corporate activity was having on the Earth, and feeling very challenged by the magnitude and complexity of the problems. One of my antidotes to feeling powerless in the face of huge problems is to focus on my personal response to the concern. While none of us has the ability to solve social ills alone, I feel that significant change cannot be accomplished without individual changes, undertaken consistently, seasoned in light of their effectiveness and emerging information. Margaret Mead was wise when she commented that all social change begins with individual actions. This is an enormously empowering reality. When our actions are undertaken in response to leadings of the Spirit, our ability to contribute significantly to positive outcomes is magnified beyond our ability to imagine.
During these past 30 years, it’s been discouraging to see our society become more materialistic than ever. Housing developments with oversized homes are springing up everywhere, destroying natural habitat and farmland, and using an inordinate share of precious fossil fuels to light and heat, and in the West, fossil waters to keep their lawns and gardens green in desert climates. U.S. citizens increasingly drive oversized, fuel-inefficient vehicles. Chain stores that merchandize items manufactured abroad, often under inhumane conditions and without regard to environmental impact, flourish in our strip malls and shopping centers. Our nation’s present leadership has refused to sign the Kyoto protocols, and many deny that global warming or other environmental issues are a significant concern. It still remains the case that North Americans consume a disproportionately high amount of the Earth’s resources and contribute more significantly to the despoiling of the Earth than people elsewhere do.
Given these realities, it is not surprising that the concern among Friends to become effectively involved, both personally and politically, in environmental issues has been gaining momentum. In this issue, you will find many articles that address these concerns. "A Quaker Consultation on Economics and Ecology" by Keith Helmuth (p.24), "Friends and the Earth Charter" by Ruah Swennerfelt (p.22), and "The Flowering of Quaker Earthcare Witness" by Louis Cox (p.17) all give some details on growing involvement among Friends. We have tried to strike a balance in this issue between corporate activities among Friends and personal practices individual Friends have undertaken.
I particularly want to mention "Plan B: The Rescue of a Planet and a Civilization" by Lester Brown (p.6). This article is adapted from the address Lester Brown delivered in July at the Friends General Conference Gathering. As I sat in the auditorium in Amherst, Mass., listening to him deliver this speech, for the first time in 30 years I began to see a coherent and achievable way out of the mess we humans have created. I left that talk feeling truly encouraged for the first time in many years about our environmental prospects. This is not to say that the road ahead will be easy or straightforward, but Lester Brown made clear that the technology currently exists to solve many of our environmental problems. I encourage you to read this and give some thought to our own part in making the world habitable for our descendants.