By Stephen Bede Scharper and Simon Apolloni. Toronto: Novalis, 2013
Stephen Scharper is a gifted writer. His writing reveals the beauty around us and changes the way we view the world and each other. He shows us that acting “for earth’s sake” is really acting for our own sake, and the sake of all of life around us. Our lives are about relationality; we are part of the earth, not apart. When we pollute the water it is as if we don’t realize that this water is what we later will drink; it’s as if we don’t recognize our reliance on the air and the soil for our own health and wellbeing.
The book is organized in three parts, revealing, reflecting, and redeeming, which in sequence consider the state of this relationship. Starting first with the pain of loss and the delight in wonder, Scharper next invites us to reflect on the damage we are causing: “what on Earth are we doing?”—and then to consider action that would redeem our connection to all our relations. He speaks of the evolution of ethics toward one that is “anthropo-harmonic” rather than anthropocentric.
I too grew up in a natural world. As an adult I experienced the pain of loss he is speaking of when a tree was cut down in a shared backyard to make room for a fence in our co-op. I remember how sick I felt when I saw that lovely lilac come down, an act for which as a board member I had consented, and then the experience of delight when a co-op member took pieces of the fallen lilac and planted them where they grew again in another yard. This member understood, as I did not, the possibility of redemption. The practical decision I had taken as a board member haunted me for some time. How could we believe it was okay to cut down a beautiful tree to put up a fence? It is this mindset of arrogance and privilege that Scharper’s book helps us to reconsider.
Scharper addresses the difference between an indigenous framework for understanding the natural world and that of the conquering invaders who seem to feel their identity only in the domination model: “I conquer, therefore I am” rather than “I think, therefore I am” or “I am connected to the earth and all other creatures around me.” He writes of eco-feminism, liberation theology, and the Gaia concept as theoretical frameworks for a shift in understanding our relationship to the world.
Scharper addresses the challenge facing young people today, most of whom are growing up in an urbanized environment detached from the wild environments others had the opportunity to experience in childhood. I trace my own keen sense of connection to the earth to my experiences as a child growing up in a rural environment, feeling the grace and beauty of the earth, air, and water around us—the breezes, the ravine, the critters, and the garden, even the compost pile.
Humans now live primarily in an urban environment and our sense of connection to the natural world is more distant than ever. We are at risk of “Nature Deficit Disorder.” Yet the vision of garden cities is one that could inspire us.
Scharper covers many practical ways we can share our reverence and respect for the Earth in the ways we plan our weddings and funerals. He also calls us to be aware of environmental racism, and the impact on the poor of living in disharmony with the earth. He critiques our models of development. Each section includes questions for reflection, lending the book to group study as well as individual reflection.
Scharper call us to be in love with the world and thus to be its protectors. His personal story of the Singing Sands, an area on the Bruce Peninsula, protected from development by the care and commitment of neighboring citizens, is a story of how we as awakened citizens, with a renewed consciousness, could care compassionately for the world around us.
Reviewed by Lyn Adamson, a Toronto-based activist and trainer in nonviolent action and conflict resolution.