September 9, 2021 - A Mindful Practice of Ecosystem Stewardship

A Dedication to the Environment

“O Lord, how mindful are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all”

A Mindful Practice of Ecosystem Stewardship***Gary Kofinas, PhD
Professor Emeritus of Resource Policy and Management
University of Alaska Fairbanks

The past several decades have revealed a level of biophysical change that is unprecedented in the history of Earth.  For the first time ever, human actions are THE dominant force shaping the dynamics of the planet’s ecosystems and affecting the well-being of humanity.  Land-use change, high levels of emission of carbon into the atmosphere, and the accelerated exploitation and consumption of resources are together having cumulative effects that are changing our climate, which in turn is altering most of the social-ecological systems that for millennia have sustained life. Recognizing that the Earth has entered into a new era in its history, scientists refer to the current time as the “Anthropocene”. And in response to this, there is also a recognition for the need of a more mindful stewardship for our environment. And while caring for Earth and the health of its ecosystems has always been important to sustaining life, the need for ecological stewardship is today critical, as human population approaches 8 billion, more people move from rural communities to urban settings, and humans increasingly disassociated from the natural world through technological change and modern lifeways.

Ecosystem stewardship during the Anthropocene demands that humanity actively retain and cultivate its close relationship with nature, and interact with the environment with respect and deference.  Realizing this goal requires a shift in many current ways of thinking and living, and more fundamentally, demands that we examine many of our underlying values and beliefs.  Consequently, making ecosystem stewardship operational will be a significant challenge, requiring that we question many of our basic assumptions. How can the actions of individuals, families, communities, nations, and the whole of society shape the Earth’s future to restore and enhance ecosystem health and human well-being?  How can our modern-day paradigm of “economic development, growth, and prosperity” be modified to embrace and prioritize the goal of ecosystem health and human well-being?  How can institutions be transformed to address the myopic and self-serving nature of politics in a way that allows for constructive long-term planning and collective action?  Our ability to adapt to the rapid changes of today will also require special attention to the growing inequities of society, as the disparities between rich and poor contribute significantly to the problems of ecosystem degradation. 

These are daunting challenges, but there are signs of hope.  Technological innovation is producing cleaner means of producing energy and transportation, with affordable products finding their way into the market. Academic inquiry is increasingly working to integrate disciplinary science and consider its applications to real-world problems. Many local communities are stepping up to the challenges of ecosystem stewardship by protecting valuable wildlife habitat and using “scenario planning” methods that allow them to adapt to climate change and prepare for the uncertainties of the future. 

Being good stewards of our precious Earth System demands that we embrace the belief that all living things have value and are interdependent.  And like our grandfathers’ grandfathers of the village, we must always remember that the health of one’s family is dependent on the health of one’s garden, fields, and their surrounding wildlands. We must never forget the God created all things “in wisdom” (Ps.103).  As mindful stewards of ecosystems, we can no longer assume we alone have dominion over Earth.  Instead, we are simply passengers, traveling with other living being on the sacred journey of life.

September 9, 2021