This was the reading for worship at First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh on June 30, 2013.
Berry's Speech at GA 2013 Plenary Session 3
Berry begins @ 39:20)
Like probably everybody here, I'm concerned
about mountaintop removal and climate change. But when we delay our
concern until dangers have become sensational, we're late! Whether
or not we're too late is a question which should not interest us.
Even if we are too late, we still must accept responsibility, and try
to make things better.
In fact, mountaintop removal and climate
change are not the sort of simple problems that can be solved by
what we call “problem-solving.” They're summary evils –
gathered up from innumerable causes in the bad economy that we all
depend upon and serve. It is not as though we have not been warned.
The advice against waste, extravagance, selfishness, hubris,
falsehood, and willful ignorance is old.
But people of religion have generally entrusted questions about
economy – about how we live
– to economists, and industrialists. Environmentalists seem to
think that problems caused by technology can be solved – or
controlled – by more technology or alternative technology. People
of both kinds seem to think that big problems have big solutions.
Both are mistaken.
Fifty years ago, Harry Caudill published
“Night Comes to the Cumberlands,” causing a flurry of public
attention and a spate of federal interest in solving the problem of
poverty in the Appalachian coal fields. But that book described the
fundamental problem, which was – and is
– the industrial plunder
of the land and the people. And that problem -- already long-ignored
by 1963 -- has continued to be ignored officially and conventionally
for 50 more years. As Harry knew, and the politicians have not
known, improving the health and economy of a region is not a
one-issue project. It is not a one-solution problem. The long-term
or permanent damage inflicted upon all life by the extraction,
transportation, and use of fossil fuels is the most urgent public
issue of our time, and of course it must be addressed politically.
responsibility for the better economy – the better life –
belongs to us individually and to our communities. The necessary
changes cannot be made on the terms prescribed to us by the
industrial economy and its so-called “free market.” They can be
made only on the terms imposed upon us by the nature and the limits
of local ecosystems. If we're serious about these big
problems, we've got to see that the solutions begin and end with
ourselves. Thus, we put an end to our habit of oversimplification.
If we want to stop the impoverishment of land and people, we
ourselves must be prepared to become poorer. If we're to continue to
respect ourselves as human beings, we've got to do all we can to slow
– and then stop – the fossil fuel economy. But we must do this
fully realizing that our success – if it happens – will change
our world and our lives more radically than we can now imagine.
Without that realization, we cannot hope to succeed. To succeed, we
will have to give up the mechanical ways of thought that have
dominated the world increasingly for the last two hundred years. And
we must begin now to make that change in ourselves. For the
necessary political changes will be made only in response to changed
people. We must understand that fossil fuel energy must be replaced
not just by clean energy, but also by less energy.
unlimited use of any energy would be as destructive as unlimited
economic growth, or any other unlimited force. If we had a limitless
supply of free non-polluting energy, we would use the world up even
faster than we're using it up now. If we're not in favor of limiting
the use of energy – starting with our own use of it – we're not
serious. If we're not in favor of rationing energy – starting with
the fossil fuels – we're not serious. If we have the money, and
we're not willing to pay $2 to keep the polluting industries from
getting $1, we're not serious. If, on the contrary, we become
determined to keep the industries of poison, explosion, and fire from
determining our lives and the world's fate, then we will steadfastly
reduce our dependence on them, and our payments of money to them. We
will cease to invest our health, our lives, and our money, in them.
Then, finally, we will be serious enough – our effort complex and
practical enough – by so improving our lives, we will improve the
possibility of life.