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Earth community: Can knowledge of the universe make better environmentalists?

August 11, 2012

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By Claire Thompson
Grist Magazine
August 11, 2012      

We now know more than ever before about how the universe works and how our planet came to be. Could that knowledge inspire us to be better global citizens and work more effectively toward a sustainable future?

Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker think so. That’s why they’ve launched their Journey of the Universe project — a book, documentary, and series of educational videos that tell the history of the universe and life on Earth, in the hopes that understanding our origins and our place as humans in this story will inspire us to “bring forth a vibrant Earth community.”

If this sounds a little abstract, that’s the idea. Tucker, a lecturer and scholar of religion and environmental studies at Yale, explained that their project operates on the “principles level,” as opposed to the strategic or tactical level, of a movement. She and her colleagues want to provide a larger unifying context for progressive work happening on the ground, she said: “How do these principles of living within a universe story actually make a difference for how we grow food, how we do education and economics?”

Journey of the Universe draws on concepts that religious scholar Thomas Berry wrote about in The Universe Story (coauthored with Swimme) and The Great Work, in which he proposes that the “great work” of an era is creating “overarching movements that give shape and meaning to life by relating the human venture to the larger destinies of the universe.” There are people doing great work at a grassroots level — people like anti-coal activists, urban gardeners, cleantech entrepreneurs, occupiers — but what they lack, according to Tucker, is a sense of their work’s place in the larger story of the universe. That’s what Swimme and Tucker hope to provide.

“The universe has found a way to continue to create … through the extinction of species, glacial periods — all these obstructions to life itself emerging,” Tucker said. “Deepening our appreciation for this complexity and intricacy of ecosystems will give us a way of ethical action.”

Watch a trailer for the Journey of the Universe documentary.

And watch snippets of Tucker’s interviews with green-leaning scholars from a wide range of disciplines.

Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.

Earth community: Can knowledge of the universe make better environmentalists?

August 11, 2012

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