The New New (Buddhist?) Ecology
Keywords:ecology, Buddhism, flux-of-nature paradigm, environmental philosophy, Leopold,
Simultaneous with the emergence of an ‘environmental crisis’ and attendant widespread environmental consciousness and conscience in the1960s, Eugene Odum, then dean of the field, announced the advent of the ‘New Ecology’. Odum’s new ecology was based on the ecosystem concept as its organizing idea and reiterated the classic notion of nature, unperturbed by human disturbance, as in a steady state of dynamic equilibrium. This New Ecology is now old. The classic ‘balance-of-nature’ paradigm has been replaced by the ‘flux-of-nature’ paradigm in which ecosystems are open, human influence has been ubiquitous and long-standing, and natural
disturbance is multifaceted, widespread, and frequent. If not in Buddhism, then certainly in ecology, ‘everything burns’—that is, everything is subject to periodic disturbance, of which fire is so common an instance as to be symbolic. However, most laypersons are unaware of this paradigm shift in ecology, which was consolidated over the last forty years. Any plausible and up-to-date articulation of an ‘ecotheology’ should be informed by the new New Ecology and not the old New Ecology. Among world religions, Buddhism has had the longest association with ecology, and thanks to leaders such as the Dalai Lama, it remains the religious worldview most closely associated with ecology in the environmentalist’s imaginary.
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