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We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

“Damn, did it again!  I promised myself I’d sort out my recycling and compost, but I just threw everything in the trash.  Why do I keep doing this?  I really believe in being responsible for the earth.  I really care, I do!  But I don’t seem to be able to change something even this simple! It’s so frustrating!”

It’s a common complaint.  I want to do one thing, but I find myself doing what I said I wouldn’t do. This is not new, Paul expressed the same dilemma two millennia ago:  For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”

When it comes to things like Earth Stewardship, we progressives think that because we hold the value so highly our actions will automatically conform to our aspirations.  But this is seldom the case. In part, we fall short of our most noble aspirations because we are ignoring a big part of the issue.  We forget that we are not nearly as rational as we believe, but are shaped by invisible core beliefs that thwart our genuine desire to act differently.

Yes, we are dedicated to stewarding the earth.  But we can also be our own worst enemies.  As Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Our progressive bias is reflected in our topic, “Personal and World Transformation through Earth Stewardship.” The implication is that by acting as earth stewards we can transform the world and ourselves.  This is not wrong, it’s just incomplete.  But this incomplete orientation can have dire consequences.

Take climate change as a case in point.  In our passion to save the earth, we sometimes make things worse.  At least this is the view of Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy.[i]  By being excessively apocalyptic, the environmental movement is hurting itself. “We love the horror story,” Kareiva said. “We just love it. The environmental movement has loved it. That, I think, is … [a] strategy failure. And it’s actually not supported by science…The message [has been that] humans degrade and destroy and really crucify the natural environment, and woe is me,” he said. “The reality is humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment — and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well, and 20 percent of the time it doesn’t.”

We don’t want to hear this!  It doesn’t conform to our story.  And, unfortunately, by overstating the issue, we have actually made things worse: Between 2004 and 2009, the Nature Conservancy saw a 10-point drop in self-identified environmentalists. Teenagers, when asked whom they pictured as a “conservationist,” described a blond woman who was “preachy” and “not much fun.”

Perhaps it is time for us to look deeply at the hidden, interior story we hold and how it might be undermining our most dearly held objectives.  This is the complementary side of the issue: “How can our personal transformation serve earth stewardship?” Our desire to care for the earth is genuine. But to live into that goal most fully, we must also have the courage to investigate the hidden motivations we hold that could be bushwhacking our most noble efforts.

For example, how often do I passionately enumerate the dire consequences of climate change, or tune out alternative explanations, so I can fit in with my peers? Do I take a narrow position so I can argue and feel powerful? …or to impress friends with my commitment?  How much of my personal identity is caught up in a particular story? What would I risk if I didn’t state my opinion forcefully?

Earth Stewardship requires everyone’s participation, even (perhaps most importantly) the people we disagree with.  The onus is on us to look deeply within to remove the plank from own eye, and not even worry about the speck in the other’s eye.

Rev. Tom Thresher, PhD, the Irreverent Reverend

Tom is a retired UCC minister and ordained Integral Minister.  He is the author of Reverent Irreverence: Integral Church for the 21st Century and Crazy Wisdom: Tools for Evolving Consciousness. For more information see

[i] For the whole story see

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