Monday, December 15, 2008

Improving the quality of the environment

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh had a convention last weekend to get themselves reorganized after their former Diocesan Bishop decamped to South America (it's complicated). One of the many Anglican blogs I read posted the State of the Diocese Report/sermon, given by the head of their standing committee, the Rev. Dr. James Simons.

The whole thing is lovely and worth a read, but one paragraph in particular has stuck with me:

My undergraduate degree is in stream and lake ecology. My thesis was developing a baseline study establishing the water quality of a large stream in Allegheny County. There is an inherent problem with assessing the water quality of a stream: the water is always moving. If someone is emitting an effluent at intervals, that substance may or not be present when chemical testing is done. What environmentalists have discovered is that the quality of the water can be established by assessing the diversity of the biological life forms found in it. In other words, the better the water quality, the more diverse the community. The healthier the environment, the more diverse the community is. One does not improve the quality of the water by introducing diversity; one increases the diversity of the community by improving the quality of the environment.
[emphasis mine]
I want to think about this some more, but I'm wondering if this is a fairly general principle. Perhaps this relates to the issue of why both foreign aid and military intervention seem to have minimal effect on what we think are intractable issues of poverty and tribal warfare. I know this is just a rough draft of a thought, but I think there's a very important truth in this.

Certainly I feel the U.S. has done more to export democracy to the world by demonstrating a (relatively) free, (relatively) fair democratic election than we have with billions of dollars of military might. I suspect that "improving the quality of the environment," focusing on being healthy churches or communities or families, will create the changes that we so often wish to impose externally.

I dunno. I'll have to think about this one some more.

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