Enduring Green Globe

Environmental Sustainablity Consulting and Blog

Earth Commandments: Honor, Preserve, and Engage with Nature

A viable human future on planet Earth demands ecological sustainability. Consequently, the first three of the Ten Commandments for Planet Earth—without deifying Nature—align with the biblical admonitions about God.

The First Commandment for Planet Earth:
I am Earth, home of biological evolution. Let no human enterprise take precedence over me.

The biblical First Commandment asserts the primacy of God and prohibits idolatry. My parallel stresses Earth’s evolved biodiversity, including humankind. It asserts the primacy of planetary health over human enterprise. The modern industrial economy, focused solely on humanity, has advanced human welfare, unevenly, at excessive ecological cost.

The biodiversity crisis—loss of species about a thousand times faster than recorded in the fossil record—threatens the foundation for ongoing biological evolution. Climate change, driven by ever more human-generated greenhouse gases, stresses human communities and alters natural habitat too rapidly for some species to adapt.

The first Earth Day in 1970 provides a convenient milestone marking awareness that the human economy is severely damaging the planet. Since then, we have debated the environment versus the economy, even as human impacts have continued to mount. Is a growing economy—the customary metric for economic heath—consistent with ecological sustainability?

In impoverished parts of the world, economic growth clearly improves human welfare—though the extent of improvements depends on allocation of benefits. In rich countries, continuing poverty and food insecurity shows that economic growth tells only part of the story. Surveys of human satisfaction indicate that life does get better as per capita income grows—but not so much after people reach economic sufficiency. This reality poses the question of who benefits. Prioritizing economic growth in already wealthy countries over the health of planet Earth violates the new First Commandment.

The Second Commandment for Planet Earth:
Preserve habitats that sustain life.

Analogous to the biblical admonition to honor one’s parents, the Second Commandment prioritizes environmental preservation, without personifying Mother Earth. We cannot continue to convert forests and rangelands to serve the needs of more and more humans, while ignoring other species that depend on those ecosystems. So, prioritizing ecological health means balancing human needs with those of other species.

Growing human populations increase every environmental challenge. Achieving ecological balance requires slowing and finally halting human population growth. Fortunately, abundant evidence shows that birthrates fall once countries reach a certain level of economic sufficiency. Global reversal of natural population growth—following trends in all but a few high- and middle-income countries—promises universal improvement in welfare, but only if we share wealth equitably.

However, economists wring their hands about declining birthrates, arguing that we need more and more people to sustain “economic growth.” Rich countries no longer need growth to improve human welfare, but rather need reduction in inequality. Prioritizing environmental preservation—which in the long term supports all of humankind—requires change in economic goals. We must prioritize human welfare on a healthy planet, not gross production.

The Third Commandment for Planet Earth:
Remember to pause from work and appreciate my bounty.

The admonition of the Third Commandment, like its biblical counterpart, is to rest from our human-focused activity and connect with a larger reality, in this case the natural world of which we are a part.

Human cultural evolution gradually shifted our sustenance from hunting and gathering to farming, always with intimate connection with Nature. As small agricultural communities grew into complex civilizations, increased trade diversified the availability of food and other goods. Industrialization enabled by fossil fuels reduced the labor required for food production, enabled mass production of goods, and fostered trade over long distances.

One result of industrialization of the economy is urbanization: more people now live in cities than on the land. Consequently, most people have lost intimate connection with the natural environment, facilitating ecologically destructive exploitation.

The Third Commandment for Planet Earth calls for people to pause their now mostly commercial work and appreciate the richness of the natural world that underpins civilization. Such awareness and understanding of Earth as the common home for life is imperative for reintegration of humanity into the natural world.  

Love Planet Earth

The biblical New Testament obviated centuries-long scholarly debates about the Old Testament commandments by posing two Great Commandments. The first of these is to Love God. The First Great Commandment for Planet Earth, then, is to Love Earth. This commandment identifies the path to ecological sustainability.

Earth Commandments: Honor, Preserve, and Engage with Nature
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