Edited by Sam Mickey, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim. OpenBook Publishers, 2020. 286 pages. $40.95/hardcover; $27.95/paperback; $7.33/eBook; free PDF download at openbookpublishers.com.
Driven by mounting concerns about climate change, mass extinction, collapsing ecosystems, and other environmental disorders, humans are rethinking how we should understand and relate to all of life on Earth. The rethinking process involves questioning long-held beliefs about economic growth being the prime measure of well-being, and natural resource extraction as the means to economic growth. Those beliefs require humans to dominate nature and separate ourselves—in notion but not in fact—from the web of life.
Quakers who “recognize that the Light pervades creation: shines not just in humans, but in all other beings, and the spaces around us all” (Quaker Earthcare Witness minute) are involved in the rethinking movement. Living Earth Community: Multiple Ways of Being and Knowing provides an excellent resource for Friends and others seeking to advance that movement.
Editors Sam Mickey, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim provide an anthology of essays by 20 authors who represent widely varied perspectives from the fields of anthropology, biology, Indigenous science, the history of religion, environmental philosophy, and other sources of wisdom. The purpose of the book (the editors write) is to provide readers with a range of perspectives from which they can draw to enhance their personal understanding of and participation in dialogues about protecting the living Earth.
This reviewer was particularly drawn to four essays that illustrate the diversity of perspectives in this book: “Humilities, Animalities, and Self-Actualizations in a Living Earth Community” by Paul Waldau; “The Obligations of a Biologist and Eden No More” by Thomas E. Lovejoy; “Confucian Cosmology and Ecological Ethics: Qi, Li, and the Role of the Human” by Mary Evelyn Tucker; and “The Human Quest to Live in a Cosmos” by Heather Eaton.
Waldau considers how human self-actualization can be achieved through humility and an understanding of our relationships with other species. Lovejoy argues for biologists to responsibly address the ethical and political concerns of our day. Tucker reveals contributions by Confucianism to environmental ethics. And Eaton asserts that religious and scientific engagement with Earth and the universe can help change humanity’s vision from seeing these as—to use Thomas Berry’s words—“a collection of objects” to “a communion of subjects.” Readers, no doubt, will find other personal favorites among this collection of insightful and provocative essays.
Living Earth Community is available to view and download as a PDF file free of charge at openbookpublishers.com. Since the book was published early in 2020, interviews about it have been posted on YouTube. By using the book title to search youtube.com, you can watch an interview with all the editors. That same search will also lead to a series of videos in which Mary Evelyn Tucker interviews her co-editors and authors of the essays. The videos provide additional insights about the ideas and passions of the authors and editors, and explanations for how and why the book came to be.
A movement is underway to rethink our relationship with the Earth. Living Earth Community aids this process. The movement should lead to more responsible relationships with our fellow species, and over time reduce our destructive behavior. Questions remain: Given that ecological threats are imminent, what actions should Friends be taking now to change our individual lifestyles? What collective actions will protect our planetary home and fellow inhabitants?
Philip Favero is an economist living on Bainbridge Island, Wash. He is a member of Agate Passage Meeting in Kingston, Wash., and co-clerk of a working group on climate change and immigration.