Thomas Berry and the Earth Community


Of all the issues we are concerned with at present, the most basic issue, in my estimation, is that of human-earth relations.

The Dream of the Earth - p. 50

“ We are at the terminal phase of the Cenozoic – the last 65 million years

We are not just passing into another historical period or another cultural modification

We are changing the chemistry of the planet

We are changing the bio-systems

We are changing the geo-systems of the planet on a scale of millions of years

But more specifically we are terminating the last 65 million years of life development

Now a person would say – Well where do we go from here?

To my mind we go from the terminal phase – if we survive it – into a really sustainable world

We will be passing from the terminal Cenozoic into what I call the Ecozoic

And the primary principle of the Ecozoic is that the Universe - and in particular planet Earth – is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects

If we don’t learn that – nothing is going to work

Whereas all this beauty of the universe that we see about us came into being without human consultation

From here on the universe will never function that way again.”

Edited Interview clip from video recording by writer and teacher Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) in 1991

The present urgency is to begin thinking within the context of the whole planet, the integral earth community with all its human and other-than-human components

The Great Work p. 105

Of one thing we can be sure: our own future is inseparable from the larger community that brought us into being and which sustains us in every expression of our human quality of life, in our aesthetic and emotional sensitivities, our intellectual perceptions, our sense of the divine, as well as in our physical nourishment and bodily healing.

The Great Work - p. 162

We see quite clearly that what happens to the nonhuman, happens to the human. What happens to the outer world, happens to the inner world

The Great Work - p. 200

Without the soaring birds, without the great forests, the free-flowing streams, the sight of the clouds by day, and the stars by night, we become impoverished in all that makes us human

The Great Work - p. 200

Transcription of Video shot by Caroline Webb with Thomas Berry in February 2006.


Well, the first thing to recognize in human-earth relationships is the Earth is primary and humans are derivative.

Humans are for the perfection of the Earth rather than the Earth is here for the perfection of humans

Because the Earth project, reading people like Aristotle, some of the great classics, and particularly Aquinas at an earlier period in human history, mentions that the planet Earth or the universe is the ultimate and noblest perfection in things and everything in the universe is ultimately for the perfection of the universe. So humans give to the universe a consciousness of itself.

In fact, in a certain sense, humans are the way in which the universe creates itself, because the human can be defined as that being in whom the universe reflects on and celebrates itself in a special mode of conscious self-awareness.

So in this manner, the first thing to recognize is that humans must become integral with the Earth

This is a very new approach, to the Western world, who have been so transfixed with the glory of the human and with the rights of humans that they have missed the point as regards humans and their relationship with the Earth.


We might summarize our present human situation by the simple statement: that in the 20th century, the glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth and now the desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human.

From here on, the primary judgment of all human institutions, professions, programs and activities will be determined by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually-enhancing human – Earth relationship.

When we inquire just how this will work out with the various aspects of our human existence, we might select four major areas that have authority over the human project: the political-social order, the educational order, the economic order and the religious order.

Now these four projects are all directly involved in this determination of the future.

Religion has an awful lot to do with it – if they would simply begin to be more aware of the revelatory significance of the natural world.

The education is such that children need to have contact with the natural life systems. Someone has written a book about the children and their need - just simply for their emotional and mental development - to have contact with the mountains, the air, the sea, the dawn, the sunset, trees, the birds, the song of the birds. Children that don’t have these experiences have no real idea of the world they live in. They live in a house, in a school, in a city that’s all manufactured. And they began to be progressively isolated from the basic dynamics of what human life is all about.

So that is a very clear situation. It has been suggested that this lack of contact leads to ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ for children.

So in this manner, the future of the children depends very directly on some more functional balance between the human presence and the functioning of the natural world.

Economics: We need to return to some sense of the natural life systems and realize that our disturbance of the Earth and our pollution processes are having a profound contact on the economy of our world.

Then we have also the political order. The political order: the most absurd thing in modern times is the idea that only humans have rights. That’s the most absurd and self-destructive thing imaginable – because every being has rights.

Rights come from existence. Rights is simply the giving to every being its due. That’s a brief definition of rights. And every being – to exist – has rights, has three rights: the right to be, the right to habitat and the right to fulfill its role in the great community of existence.

So in this manner a person has a very direct and immediate way of thinking about the 21st century. Because if we don’t respond to this by a better adjustment of human-Earth presence to each other then we are in difficulty.


To a large extent our difficulties are a difficulty of language. People fail to realize that language is multivalent and also, particularly, that when a person uses a word like ‘rights’, for the non-human world, they think ‘rights’ is a single continuum…

‘Rights’ is an analogous term. It is an analogous term. It is alike and different. Like a person says – “A tree has rights” – the tree doesn’t have human rights because human rights would be no good for a tree. A tree needs tree rights. Birds need bird rights. Plants need plant rights.

This whole question of law and rights needs to recognize what we call the diversity within the continuity.

It is a difference of quality, not of quantity.

So, it is not that the humans have more or less. Humans don’t have more rights than birds do. They have different rights.

So that it’s this capacity to recognize difference that pervades just an enormous amount of human affairs.


The impoverishment of nature is the impoverishment of imagination

© Caroline Webb 2007. Website design and production, photography, multimedia, video and some audio by Caroline Webb.
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