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A commandment of caring for nature

For more than a century, as damage from increasing industrial use of its resources became evident, influential voices have raised warnings and admonitions of need for an ethic of caring for the natural world.
President Theodore Roosevelt spoke of a moral duty of “jealously safeguarding and preserving” the forests and waters, wild creatures and scenery, these being the birthright of future generations and the indispensable foundation of well-being for future people.
Aldo Leopold, in Sand County Almanac articulated a vision of a “land ethic,” with humans acknowledging themselves to be members of a community of interdependent parts in nature and, as individuals, holding themselves responsible for the health of the whole.
Europe’s Albert Schweitzer saw the command of this ethic to be one of love and respect for all creation, of a “reverence for life.”
It entails, he held, an obligation “to do as much good as we possibly can do to all creatures in all sorts of circumstances,” without which no religion or philosophy could truly call itself such.
Another American conservation leader urged, even more directly, a religious duty of concern for the natural environment.
Walter Lowdermilk, a high official in the Soil Conservation Service under President Franklin Roosevelt, wrote of need of adoption of an Eleventh Commandment to that effect.
“Moses was inspired,” he argued, “to deliver to the Children of Israel the Ten Commandments to regulate man’s relation to his Creator and to his fellow men.
These guides of conduct have stood the test of time for more than 3,000 years.
But Moses, leading the Israelites in the wilderness, failed to foresee the great need of the future for an Eleventh Commandment to regulate man’s relation and responsibility to Mother Earth which must nourish all generations.”
Could Moses have anticipated, he continued, such waste of land and manmade deserts as have resulted from forest clearing and bad agricultural practices in many parts of the world, including “our own United States,” he would no doubt have set forth an Eleventh Commandment.
It would “complete the trinity of man’s responsibilities: to his Creator, his fellow men, and to Mother Earth.” Under the Commandment’s “Thou shalt” terms, man’s inheritance of the earth would be conditioned upon being a faithful steward through “conserving its resources and productivity from generation to generation.”
In penalty for failure of stewardship, man would see “the fertile fields become sterile stones and gullies, and his descendants decrease and live in poverty or vanish from the face of the earth.”
Population growth makes it urgent to end inconsiderate use of the earth, Lowdermilk urged, since “fully two billions of souls” must be fed and no free land remains.
Seventy years later, our numbers have tripled and cropland per person is shrunk to one-sixth of a soccer field.
Now facing additional threats to the earth’s water and food lands through forces in a destabilized climate, we humans must adopt the Eleventh Commandment if our prospects and hope for the future are to be assured.