RELIGION, SCIENCE AND THE ENVIRONMENT SYMPOSIUM II

THE BLACK SEA IN CRISIS

by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon

 

under the auspices of
His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
His Excellency Mr. Jacques Santer,
President of the European Commission
20-28 SEPTEMBER 1997

 

SPEECH BY THE MOST REVEREND METROPOLITAN JOHN OF PERGAMON
University of Thessaloniki, 28 September 1997

 

The title of our Symposium has been Religion, Science and the Environment and its subtitle The Black Sea in Crisis.

 

The first question we reviewed is in what ways Religion and Science can cooperate for the protection of the natural environment. For a long time Religion and Science remained indifferent and at times hostile to each other. This has in itself contributed to the ecological crisis. It is customary to think of Religion as indifferent to material things and as preoccupied only or basically with "spiritual" matters and with life after death as if the material world were not God's creation blessed with His love and with eternal divine meaning. Science on the other hand, in the minds of many people, is becoming a kind of Religion which claims to have access to the truth and promises solutions to all problems, including that of the environment. Science alone cannot solve these problems and there is a need for society to decide what science can and cannot do.

Our Symposium has noted that such a dichotomy between Religion and Science is no longer supportable and that this dichotomy cannot serve the cause of the protection of the environment. Neither Science without Religion nor Religion without Science can solve the ecological problem. What is needed is a close cooperation between the two, not simply by way of complementarily but through a deep inter-penetration of the one into the other.

In an attempt to define ways of such an inter-penetration between Religion and Science for the sake of protecting the natural environment our symposium has pointed out as possible areas of cooperation the following:

a) The way of ethics.

This is probably the most obvious way of co-operation that comes immediately to one's mind. Even during the time of total separation of Science from Religion it was generally admitted that theology had an important contribution to make to the life of society in terms of ethics. Religion is known as a moral force in culture and it is normally expected that it has something to say about the way people should behave. Especially with regard to science, it is becoming customary to seek the view of the religious leaders on how the scientific advances of our time could be controlled so that humanity may be protected from the terrifying consequences that many of the achievements of science may have for the human being.We believe the discipline of environmental ethics must be rapidly developed and deepened, bringing together the contributions of religion, science and philosophy. We support the establishment of an international institute of environmental ethics that would bring together representatives of religion, science and the humanities charged with the responsibility of advising international and national leaders on questions of environmental ethics, which would eventually be invested with the power of national and international law. Here is a challenge of historic magnitude before the religious and intellectual leaders of the world. We hew left it to the politicians to deal with the ecological crisis. We must realize that politics can not be effective without moral support. And moral support cannot come from science alone or from religion alone; it can only be the result of the cooperation of these two.

b) The way of motivation — or the 'inspirational way'.

Environmental awareness and behavior are not simply a matter of ethics. Motivation is always needed in order to behave in a certain way. Religion can undoubtedly provide motivation for ethical behavior but Science is not necessarily a source of ethical conduct. A thoughtful scientist recognizes the tentative, fragmentary and incomplete state of current knowledge and the consequent hazards of a premature rush to apply it. The motivation of the scientist and that of the religious person meet at the point of understanding the world as an unbreakable organic unity whose integrity has to be assumed and respected in order for any particular aspect or fragment of its knowledge to be true. The known depends on its relation with the unknown for its truthfulness.

Thus, with regard to the environment both Religion and Science, if they wish to be true to themselves, accept that every revelation of reality whether religious or scientific can only make sense if the world is respected in its mysterious wholeness. If a certain fragmented knowledge advances the welfare of a part of creation, human beings, at the expense of other parts of the world, this in terms of religion offends God the Creator. Religious motivation and scientific motivation both lead to respect for the integrity of creation.

c) The conceptual way.

The environmental crisis may make it possible for Religion and Science to speak the same language. In fact there was a time in history when they did speak the same language, but this time is gone. For centuries the scientists and the theologians have been using their separate esoteric languages that only specialists can understand. This makes it difficult for an environmental language to develop that would involve theologians, philosophers and scientists at the same time. Technical language may have to remain for internal use on both sides, but when it comes to the environment language must be common.

Let me now outline the issues as our Symposium saw them.

We live in an era where the power over nature delivered by modern science has given the scientific way of knowing a unique prestige. In response, many religious thinkers have evacuated the world of nature and confined themselves to questions about the divine in relation to the realm of persons. As a result, peaceful co-existence has sometimes been achieved as the price of mutual irrelevance. The ecological challenge facing humanity as the close of the century raises a question about this dichotomy and makes it urgent to explore afresh ways in which the knowledge available through science and religion can be related and used in a service of a common goal.

We live in an atomized world, in which knowledge and communities are increasingly fragmented. The interconnections that held our lives together have gone or been weakened. Even our education system has become fragmented. Those who live in cities are so disconnected from nature it may not occur to them that Mother Earth pays a price.

And we live in a time when the world is being changed faster than ever before in human history. Between one third and one half of the land surface of the planet has been transformed by human action. More than half of all accessible, surface fresh water is used for human needs. Perhaps most significant for this symposium, two thirds of all marine fisheries are fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted. Yet the population of the world is increasing by 80 million people a year. In truth we are living on our ecological capital, especially of biodiversity, fossil water, forests and soils, corals and estuaries, and will leave a deeply damaged planet to our descendants.

The gravity of the environmental situation in a context of the extreme economical hardships, such as those of societies in transition, obliges us to question whether conventional approaches are adequate. The intellectual effort to find a new synthesis between science and religion is an expression of a new state of mind motivated by human concern and a profound sense of incompleteness of either language. In this atmosphere, in which current human barriers between science and religion disappear, one is drawn to enlarge the scope of the discussion and to raise the menacing possibility that the mono-cultural approach to socioeconomic questions may be incompatible with an equitable and humane future. This spectra becomes doubly disturbing in absence of convincing alternatives to economic dynamism and accumulation of wealth. We are convinced that the powerful dialogue developing out of this symposium is the proper context for monitoring eventualities of profound significance and for considering alternatives where method and ethics are finding their common language.

In truth, environmental problems such as pollution are reflections of more general global issues affecting humanity as a whole. Revolutionary changes in world affairs, spurred on by the globalization of markets, demonstrate that ecological, developmental and societal problems cannot be solved by fragmented and sectoral initiatives alone. Their solution requires well-defined, multidisciplinary, inter linked and comprehensive approaches, with intellectual dentin, vision and long-term commitments. Peace, economy, environment, social justice and democracy are integral parts of the whole. Without economic growth, there can be no sustained and broad-based improvements in environmental quality or material well-being. Without protection of the environment, the basis of human survival is eroded. Without economic justice, mounting inequalities threaten social cohesion. And, without freedom in political participation, sustainable human development remains fragile and perpetually at risk.

These ideas are now enshrined in the texts agreed by virtually all governments of the world at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), notably Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration. We, however, want to go further: the Rio documents give little reference to spirituality and religion. This Symposium series is one of the first events to add this vital ingredient. As this document explains, the ultimate problems reside in the human heart and mind. The changes needed will only happen if human attitudes change. And what more powerful force for changing attitudes can there be than spirituality and religion?

Let me now say a few words on the region through which we traveled. The Black Sea is a unique environment sadly degraded by the impact of humankind. Similar in size to the North Sea or Baltic, it is virtually landlocked, connected to the rest of the world's oceans through the Bosphorus Straits, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardenelles. The Bosphorus, in places only seven hundred metres wide and seventy metres deep, carries in its deep waters, a stream of sea-water which gradually replenishes the salty bottom waters of the Black Sea with water from the Mediterranean. This replenishment is insufficient to cope with the demands of bacteria breaking down organic material falling from the fertile surface of the Black Sea and, below about one hundred and fifty metres, the Black Sea is unable to support higher life forms. The surface waters of the Black Sea are replenished from numerous rivers which drain an area covering major parts of seventeen countries spanning over one third of the area of the European continent. These rivers, including the mighty Danube, Dnieper and Don rivers, bring the nitrogen, phosphorus and other minerals necessary to fertilize the Sea and the water which maintains its saltiness at levels far below those of the neighbouring Mediterranean.

The Black Sea has long been a crossroads of civilization. Its contemporary coasts are the territories of six countries, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Its physical beauty has long attracted visitors from much further afield: millions of tourists, especially from the length and breadth of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. These coasts have also had to house cities, industries, major ports and the human presence has often impinged itself on the fragile coastal ecosystems through unplanned development and competition for space. The recent end of totalitarian regimes and the transition to a market economy has also resulted in grave difficulties for coastal economies as people struggle to grasp the new realities and try to protect their welfare. It is hardly surprising that the coastal environment has suffered badly. Sewage treatment, for example, is absent or deficient in most coastal cities and human health has suffered. Cholera outbreaks have occurred in some places. These problems have negatively impacted the tourist industry upon which many coastal economies depend. Spiritual health has also suffered however as people lose confidence or become more selfish in their struggle for survival. Despite these challenges, many people have not lost their sense of responsibility and question and challenge each development project, new ports, industries and oil terminals, concerned about the eventual impact on their lives and the lives of new generations and exercising their democratic freedom.

The Black Sea itself has been the victim of the changes in economy and lifestyle of the 160 million people living in its basin, some in landlocked countries thousands of kilometers from the sea. Industrialization and intensification of agriculture, coupled with the excessive or inappropriate use of agrochemicals has led to the pollution of many rivers leading to the sea. The over fertilization of the sea itself fundamentally changed the nature of its ecosystems, particularly those of the shallow North-Western shelf where a key bed of red algae, as large in area as The Netherlands, was destroyed as a consequence of an phenomenon known as eutrophication. This led to the loss of many other species including fish that depended upon this unique algal ecosystem for nursery grounds. In the past three decades, the healthy Black Sea ecosystem has become extremely sick.

Fishery resources, already suffering the impact of ecosystem changes, buckled under the stress of overfishing. Exacerbating this situation was the arrival of a new alien species of a gelatinous organism, Mnemiopsis, carried in the ballast water of ships from the Eastern American seaboard. With no natural enemies, this organism flourished until it dominated the entire Black Sea. Now, the peoples of the Black Sea are faced with a choice, to give the sickened ecosystem a chance to recover by itself or to intervene.

There is reason for hope that the Black Sea can recover. The depression of industrial and agricultural production during the current economic transition has relieved the environment of the pressure of pollution. The ecosystem has started to recover. Some improvement has been registered in fish stocks, partly due to the inability of the former Soviet fleet to put out to sea. There is good reason for hope. A little time has been granted to develop and implement new policies and laws and to improve environmental awareness and education, vital tools for transition. How long will this window of opportunity last? The Black Sea is facing new threats: continued sewage pollution, new pressure from developers of beachside residences, its use as a superhighway for oil transport from the Caspian oil fields. The vital Bosphorus winds its way through the megalopolis of Istanbul, carrying hundreds of ships every day and represents a major flash point for environmental security. The last Black Sea monk seal may have already perished. Clearly, there is no time to lose. We must act now. The sea of plenty risks becoming a sea of poverty.

The Black Sea is a symbol of our world in crisis. Unsustainable exploitation of resources, the inequity of over consumption by a few while so many cannot meet their basic needs, an expanding global population, the stresses of economies in transition, a challenging information gap, the hopelessness and despair engendered by declining opportunities, the erosion of morality in secular society, and the neglect of the spiritual dimension of humanity are leading the dominant civilization to a frightening impasse. Economic systems divorced from human values do not deliver the results they promise. The peoples and countries of the Black Sea are caught up in these uncontrolled forces.

We have come together from the religious, political, scientific and other communities, from the region and around the world, to demonstrate our concern for the peoples and environment of the Black Sea. We have enriched each other through our diverse perspectives in a search for practical actions to resolve this crisis of environment and development. We have found strength in our combination of spirit and reason in both science and religion as two wings which must be equally strong if the bird is to fly.

In application of this principle, we support the Black Sea Strategic Action Plan as a significant effort of governments and their scientists to define solutions to the problems of the region. The Danube Convention and its associated Action Plan are also essential for the Black Sea. We know the direction in which we must move, but the best plans and laws are worthless without the will and the means to put them into practice. What is needed today is the commitment of all the peoples and governments of the Black Sea countries, and beyond them of all countries contributing to the problems of the region, to implement the plans, laws and regulations so carefully prepared, with the support of the international community.

In the larger context, we recognize that we must all work to build a very different world in which material and spiritual civilization are in balance. A sustainable biosphere that is ecologically sound, economically feasible and socially equitable is incomplete and indeed impossible without a recognition of the spiritual realities which are integral to life in all its fullness. This is the challenging goal before us.

We therefore call upon all the religious communities of the Black Sea region and beyond to reassert the ethical and spiritual foundations of development and environment. We appeal to the scientific community to continue to provide the environmental knowledge necessary to define remedial and preventative action. These two great forces in society should reinforce the work of governments, joining their efforts in local, national and regional initiatives. They should work in partnership to inform and inspire people to make the fundamental changes in values and priorities necessary to evolve more sustainable forms of living.

Principles of justice, truth and love, and a sense of caring for the environment, must be applied in daily actions and decisions. Only an acceptance of the essential unity of the material and spiritual dimensions of life can "rude society towards development that is within environmental limits, and thus ensure the well-being of both present and future generations around the Black Sea and in the whole world.

We commit ourselves to the individual and joint efforts necessary to give this Declaration practical application. We have bridged gaps in communication and understanding imposed by past systems, and established new and constructive relationships and partnerships of historic significance, which we expect to lead to practical results in the weeks and years to come. The first fruits of this organic reunification of basic forces in society are the specific actions identified in the Black Sea Commitment for Action adopted by the Symposium.

These efforts include:

 

  1. We have agreed to consider the appointment of a 'Champion of the Environment', supported by a group ofeminent scientific, religious and political leaders, to be both an advocate to faith and other communities onthe implementation of the many actions developed at the Symposium, and to be a strong voice on behalf of the environment, to all those — political, economic, social and religious — able to influence the &sure.
  2. We will survey the work already being done on environmental ethics with view to deepening and institutionalizing the dialogue between science and religion in this important field.
  3. We will communicate with the Global Environment Facility and with other donors such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank, and with the governments of the region, to urge continued Sanding for the Black Sea Environmental Program and for implementation of its Strategic Action Plan, both of which we consider as of great value and essential for the people of the Black Sea region, recognizing that the real difficulties some of the countries of the region have in this period of transition to committing their own resources to the Program. We note that the Sanding to the Program is not secured beyond January 1998.
  4. We will convey to Monsieur Jacques Santer, our Co-Patron and President of the European Commission, the conclusions of this symposium, in particular recognizing the important support the European Union have provided to the Program so far and asking them to continue and strength=, their capacity and commitment to the region.
  5. We greatly welcome the proposal of EU Commissioner for the Environment, Ms Ritt Bjerregaard, to call a meeting of the Environment Ministers of the Black Sea States under the auspices of the European commission but note also the great importance of drawing in the other 11 catchment States, who share responsibility for the degradation of the Black Sea, into the discussion and commitments. We realize however that solutions to environmental problems have to cross sectoral boundaries to succeed and hope that Ministers with other portfolios such as education and finance can be drawn into the process too.
  6. We will convey to the Governments of the region our concern that the Istanbul Commission be set up without delay, with commitments on Sanding from governments,, other relevant organizations and the European Union. We welcome the commitments made so far: this is a key part of the implementation of the Black Sea Environmental Program.

 

As well as communicating with States and relevant organizations over the environmental issues of the Black Sea, as participants we have developed and committed ourselves to a wide range of activities that we believe will help and catalyze the action we seek on improving the Black Sea environment from the unified perspective of Science and Religion. Many of them are focused on the local level, so as to match government action by mobilizing local initiatives. These activities cover:

 

  1. A package of measures on building environmental awareness at all levels, including within religious organizations themselves.
  2. Steps to increase dialogue. These steps include the outputs of this Symposium, which include a longer document provisionally entitled a Commitment to Action, and a volume of the excellent papers presented by leaders in Science, Religion and other fields at the Symposium.
  3. Ways of articulating and transmitting the environment in religious doctrine and practice, so that members of faith communities see environmental protection as part of their faith.
  4. Measures to find new ways of achieving practical conservation such as promoting an increased use of NGOs in the Black Sea region the role that religious bodies could play in local conservation actions and the need for demonstration projects at local level.
  5. Proposals to encourage a more integrated approach to solving environmental problems, especially through the technique of Integrated Coastal Zone Management. We would like the integration to be extended to cover not just government agencies and local community groups but also religious organizations.
  6. We have also called for an increase in research in the region, noting that the ability to continue the good work done in the countries with economies in transition has been undermined by the difficulties of funding.

 

In concluding, the participants recognized that we shall have no right to press the cause of a more spiritual approach to the environment without a personal pledge that the necessary revolution in habits and consumption will begin with us.

The activities summarized above are outlined in detail in our longer document, the Black Sea Commitment to Action, to be available soon. We repeat our commitment as participants of the second symposium on Religion, Science and the Environment to doing all we can to make these activities a reality, for the good of the peoples and environments of this historic, diverse and important region.

Thessaloniki, 28 September 1997

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