Poet Mary Oliver ends her poem “Daisies” remarking about the “suitability of the field for the daisies and the daisies for the field.”
She rightly sees, and celebrates, a kind of symbiotic relationship between the wildflowers and the fields in which they grow.
For Oliver, the capacity to see both the sheer beauty of it and the organic and connective process that brought it about, is a gift.
This is a common theme in her many stunningly beautiful and provocatively powerful poems. And its common theme among the many religious traditions that remind us that humans are born in a world to which we are essentially, even symbiotically, related to the earth on which we’re born.
We, like the daisies in the field, are suited to this earth, and the earth to us.
There are many ways to talk about this relationship. Dependency is one. Our lives are dependent on clean air, fresh food and weather that does not destroy us or our sources of food.
As I have written before, if you’re not somewhat terrified about what’s happening in the climate, then you’re not paying close enough attention.
Quite clearly the earth is warming and very evidently this is already wreaking havoc in an environment to which we have been “suitable” in the past. For the environment to be habitable in the future will require some large-scale changes.
A very important catalyst for that change was provided on Thursday, July 28, 2022, when the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a historic resolution, recognizing the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
With 161 votes in favor and eight abstentions, the General Assembly passed the motion that both recognized the human right and called for greater global efforts to ensure that the principle is supported.
The U.N. General Secretary Antonio Guterres rightly remarked: “This landmark development demonstrates that Member States can come together in our collective fight against the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. The international community has given universal recognition to this right and brought us closer to making it a reality for all.”
I watched the live coverage of member state representatives debating the resolution.
Russia’s representative argued that we should only talk about a legally recognized right after it is adopted exclusively within international treaties. The representative, however, acknowledged the climate crisis and said that Russia would not oppose, but would abstain from voting on the resolution.
There were other representatives expressing similar concerns about the ambiguous scope and undefined limits of the resolution. Yet, the vast majority recognized that the member states must codify what we know to be true: a clean, healthy, sustainable environment is essential for human flourishing. Without it, all other rights will come to mean very little.
I concur with the U.N. general secretary who said: “The resolution will help reduce environmental injustices, close protection gaps and empower people, especially those that are in vulnerable situations, including environmental human rights defenders, children, youth, women and indigenous peoples.”
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has a very active climate task force. There was a good deal of advocacy (every member state representative was written to encourage adoption) for this action on behalf of the Parliament.
In response to the positive action, the Parliament released at statement that read, in part: “This resolution is applauded by both human rights experts and advocates on climate change and sustainability as a monumental step forward in addressing the environmental crisis – affirming the indivisibility of human rights and of the well-being of humans and nature.”
I’ll confess that in my younger years I liked to think of myself as an independent individual who would prosper or fail based on my own ability to make smart choices.
As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize how much of my life has been given to me, provided to me on an environmental platter of family, culture, church and community, and an earth that – while bringing the occasional tornado (I grew up in Oklahoma.) – was largely what sustained me.
The broad recognition of a human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is another step to assist as all in ridding ourselves of excessive illusions of independence.
Like Oliver’s daisies, humans have flourished in a suitable earth. We bless ourselves and future generations by seeking to keep it so.
Stearman directs the International Advocacy Baptist Collaborative that seeks to amplify and coordinate the advocacy work of the global Baptist family at the United Nations and in WDC. He is vice chair of the board of trustees for the Parliament of World Religions and writes regularly on the intersection of religion and international/cultural affairs. For over three decades, he served as a pastor in the Christian (Baptist) tradition. His educational background includes theological degrees from Southwestern and Princeton Seminaries and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma.