Tag Archives: ecology

Thomas Merton on Man’s Dominion over “Every Creeping Thing”

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As more of the world’s population begins to question the damaging use of non-renewable resources such as oil and coal, a new ecological consciousness has developed in our society. This mindset, however, begs the question, what is our true motivation for preserving our environment? Money, business, and international power undoubtedly play large roles in the burgeoning “green movement,” while at the same time push us to maintain our modern ways of life.

Trappist monk Thomas Merton, however, placed respect and responsibility at the forefront of his argument for a stronger connection to nature. For him, it was unjust to view the natural world merely as an object for manipulation according to our own purposes. Instead, he believed that people must see their surroundings on a deep and spiritual level to understand their place in the world.

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton by Monica Weis, SSJ, explores the powerful influence of nature on Merton’s spiritual development and ecological consciousness. She specifically illuminates his journey from mere delight in nature to a committed responsibility for its welfare—a movement that placed him ahead of his time on environmental issues and unique in his approach to our relationship with nature.

Merton’s commitment to increasing environmental awareness grew exponentially during his twenty-seven years at the Abbey of Our Lady Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. His personal commitment to ecological preservation began after reading conservationist Rachel Carson’s seminal work, Silent Spring, which moved him to write to her. In his letter, he recognized and praised her commitment to the natural world. Already a prolific writer himself, Merton dedicated his talents to conveying a love and respect for nature to all of his readers, becoming a prophet of both revelation and revolution.

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton explores Merton’s acute sense of place, showing his spiritual development and increasing reverence for the natural world from his early life in Prades, France, to his entrance into the monastery in 1949. Weis delves into his writings, studying his letter to Rachel Carson and examining passages from his personal journals to offer evidence of the multiple ways in which nature and ordinary experiences influenced his writing, thinking, and praying. She examines how his years of solitude and reflection at the monastery led to a deeper understanding of his “inner and outer landscapes,” a process that was fostered by his detailed observation of his surroundings as well as his love of photography. Weis utilizes an assortment of letters, journals, reading notebooks, and published book reviews to give readers a comprehensive understanding of the causes of and influences on Merton’s passion for the world around him.

Much has been written on Merton’s spirituality, mysticism, advocacy of social justice, and promotion of interfaith understanding. The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton, however, shows how he became one of America’s most respected advocates for ecological consciousness. We are only given one world, and stewardship demands our responsibility to ensure its safety for generations to come.

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton is a volume in the University Press of Kentucky’s Culture of the Land series, edited by Norman Wirzba. Enjoy other titles from this series:

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It’s Earth Day Eve!

In a world filled with technology and innovation, it is so easy to get swept up in the motion of life. Fortunately for the world, Earth Day comes around every April to remind us where we came from and the primitive nature that this world once began with. One woman has kept her roots (pun intended) in tact over the years, becoming one of the most successful and influential activists in the field of agriculture. Of course I’m talking about Vandana Shiva, whose groundbreaking research has exposed the destructive effects of monocultures and commercial agriculture and revealed the interrelationships among ecology, gender, and poverty.

To celebrate Earth Day this year and the importance of agriculture in our lives, we have prepared an excerpt from The Vandana Shiva Reader, which how Shiva’s profound understanding of both the perils and potential of our interconnected world calls upon citizens of all nations to renew their commitment to love and care for soil, seeds, and people:

In 1984, a number of tragic events took place in India. In June, the Golden Temple was attacked because it was harboring extremists. In October, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. And in December, a terrible industrial disaster took place in Bhopal when Union Carbine’s pesticide plant leaked a toxic gas. Thirty thousand people died in the terrorism in Punjab, and thirty thousand people have died in the “industrial terrorism” of Bhopal. This is equivalent to twelve 9/11s. I was forced to sit up and ask why agriculture had become like war. Why did the “Green Revolution,” which had received the Nobel Peace Prize, breed extremism and terrorism in Punjab? This questioning led to my books The Violence of the Green Revolution and Monocultures of the Mind. Blindness to diversity and self-organization in nature and society was clearly a basic problem in the mechanistic, Cartesian industrial paradigm. And this blindness led to false claims that industrial monocultures in forestry, farming, fisheries, and animal husbandry produced more food and were necessary to alleviate hunger and poverty. On the contrary, monocultures produce less and use more inputs, thus destroying the environment and impoverishing people.

In 1987, the Dag Hammarjold Foundation organized a meeting on biotechnology in Geneva called Laws of Life. I was invited because of my book on the Green Revolution. At the conference, the biotech industry laid out its plans—to patent life; to genetically engineer seeds, crops, and life-forms; and to get full freedom to trade through the GATT negotiations, which finally led to the WTO. This led to my focus on intellectual property rights, free trade, globalization—and to a life dedicated to saving seeds and promoting organic farming as an alternative to a world dictated and controlled by corporations.

Having dedicated my life to the defense of the intrinsic worth of all species, the idea of life-forms, seeds, and biodiversity being reduced to corporate inventions and hence corporate property was abhorrent to me. Further, if seeds become “intellectual property,” saving and sharing seeds become intellectual property theft. Our highest duty, to save seeds, becomes a criminal act. The legalizing of the criminal act of owning and monopolizing life through patents on seeds and plants was morally and ethically unacceptable to me. So I started Navdanya, a movement that promotes biodiversity conservation and seed saving and seed sharing among farmers. Navdanya has created more than twenty community “seed banks” through which seeds are saved and freely exchanged among our three hundred thousand members.

Through our saving of heritage seeds, we have brought back “forgotten foods” like jhangora (barnyard millet), ragi (finger millet), marsha (amaranth), naurangi dal, and gahat dal. Not only are these crops more nutritious than the globally traded commodities, but they are also more resource prudent, requiring only two hundred to three hundred millimeters of rain compared to the twenty-five hundred millimeters needed for chemical rice farming. Millets could increase food production four hundred fold using the same amount of limited water. These forgotten foods are the foods of the future. Farmers’ seeds are the seeds of the future.
In addition to The Vandana Shiva Reader, Shiva has just recently published two new books:

Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of Global Food Supply – In this book, Shiva explores the devastating effects of commercial agriculture and genetic engineering on the food we eat, the farmers who grow it, and the soil that sustains it. This prescient critique and call to action covers some of the most pressing topics of this ongoing dialogue, from the destruction of local food cultures and the privatization of plant life, to unsustainable industrial fish farming and safety concerns about corporately engineered foods.


The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics – The Green Revolution has been heralded as a political and technological achievement—unprecedented in human history. Yet in the decades that have followed it, this supposedly nonviolent revolution has left lands ravaged by violence and ecological scarcity. A dedicated empiricist, Shiva takes a magnifying glass to the effects of the Green Revolution in India, examining the devastating effects of monoculture and commercial agriculture and revealing the nuanced relationship between ecological destruction and poverty. In this classic work, the influential activist and scholar also looks to the future as she examines new developments in gene technology.

For more information on The Vandana Shiva Reader, click here!


Stuff you Should Know: Mountaintop Removal Mining and Appalachia

It’s no secret that Mountaintop Removal Mining is a hot-button topic in Appalachia, but many people (especially those not living in the region) don’t understand the process behind it or the raging debate happening in the mountains and the courthouses. The Stuff You Should Know Podcast from How Stuff Works has put all of it together in their most recent episode: “What is Mountaintop Removal Mining?“(featuring Kentucky musician and cellist Ben Sollee!)

Listen here: What is Mountaintop Removal Mining? from the Stuff You Should Know Podcast at HowStuffWorks.com

and check out these titles from UPK that tackle the topic of Mountaintop Removal Mining:

Now in Paperback!



Something’s Rising collects oral histories from a diverse group of individuals from Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Virginia who are fighting mountaintop removal, an ecologically devastating form of coal mining. Taken together, these voices stand as a testament of what it means to be an Appalachian and demonstrate the value of preserving a culture’s history and spirit through the stories of its people. The authors have chosen twelve unique voices including Jean Ritchie, the “mother of folk,” who doesn’t let her eighty-six years slow down her fighting spirit; Judy Bonds, a tough-talking coal miner’s daughter; Kathy Mattea, the beloved country singer who believes that cooperation is the key to the battle; Larry Bush, who doesn’t back down even when speeding coal trucks are used to intimidate him; and Denise Giardina, the West Virginia writer who ran for governor to bring attention to the mountaintop removal issue. Written and edited by native sons of the mountains, these riveting, personal stories are captured in an original and highly readable book.

Silas House is a bestselling novelist of Clay’s Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves, and The Coal Tattoo, whose nonfiction has been published in Newsday, Sierra, The Oxford American, No Depression, and elsewhere. In 2008 he won the Helen Lewis Award for Community Service for his efforts in the fight against mountaintop removal.

Jason Howard is the editor of We All Live Downstream and has written for such publications as Equal Justice Magazine, Paste, Kentucky Living, The Louisville Review, and many others.

“This revelatory work is a challenging tocsin shouting out the effects of poverty and exploitations of the Appalachian people by strip miners and other corporate pirates. I am reminded of the fighting spirit of the Eastern Kentuckians when I visited these embattled pioneers in their hills and hollers. Here, Jean Ritchie and others speak out in the fighting tradition of the 1930s and 1960s. It is oral history at its best.”—Studs Terkel



In late 1994, wells in Pie, West Virginia, began to go dry, leaving many residents of the small coal-mining town without potable water. When local housewife Trish Bragg made a few phone calls in an effort to solve this problem, she had no idea that her inquiries would eventually lead to her becoming the named plaintiff in a major lawsuit, a summa cum laude college graduate, and a hero of her community. Moving Mountains recounts the struggle of Trish Bragg and other ordinary West Virginians for fair treatment by the coal companies that dominate the local economies of southern West Virginia. The collateral effects of mountaintop removal, deep mining, and other mining practices are felt most profoundly in the communities that supply much of the labor for these mining operations, which results in divided loyalties among families that have made their living from coal mining for generations. Author Penny Loeb spent nine years chronicling the triumphs and setbacks of people in the West Virginia coalfields–people caught between the economic opportunities provided by coal and the detriments to health and to quality of life that are so often the by-products of the coal industry. The result of her work is an account of the human and environmental costs of coal extraction, and the inspirational grassroots crusade to mitigate those costs.

“Loeb, a former senior editor for U.S. News and World Reports, is cautious and sensitive in her portrayals of the individuals and incidents depicted in [Moving Mountains]. She balances extrapolations of the technical details and reasons for the lawsuits with well-documented information concerning local residents’ cultural and emotional struggles, some of whom had generations of employment by the coal industry…[Loeb] provides a thorough, analytical account of the complexity of the situation as it evolved and the emotional turmoil.” — Appalachian Journal



The Dreiser Committee, including writers Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, and Sherwood Anderson, investigated the desperate situation of striking Kentucky miners in November 1931. When the Communist-led National Miners Union competed against the more conservative United Mine Workers of America for greater union membership, class resentment turned to warfare. Harlan Miners Speak, originally published in 1932, is an invaluable record that illustrates the living and working conditions of the miners during the 1930s. This edition of Harlan Miners Speak, with a new introduction by noted historian John C. Hennen, offers readers an in-depth look at a pivotal crisis in the complex history of this controversial form of energy production.

Harlan Miners Speak is an important testament to the hardships endured by miners and their families during the turbulent and poverty-ridden era of the Great Depression. The words of those miners are loud and clear in this volume, and they are worth hearing again.” —Modern Mountain Magazine

Available in paperback!



In 1995, Chris Holbrook burst onto the southern literary scene with Hell and Ohio: Stories of Southern Appalachia, stories that Robert Morgan described as “elegies for land and lives disappearing under mudslides from strip mines and new trailer parks and highways.” Now, with the publication of Upheaval, Holbrook more than answers the promise of that auspicious debut. In eight interrelated stories set in Eastern Kentucky, Holbrook again captures a region and its people as they struggle in the face of poverty, isolation, change, and the devastation of land and resources at the hands of the coal and timber industries. Written with a gritty, unflinching realism reminiscent of the work of Larry Brown and Cormac McCarthy, the stories in Upheaval prove that Holbrook is not only a faithful chronicler and champion of Appalachia’s working poor but also one of the most gifted writers of his generation.

Chris Holbrook, a native of Knott County, Kentucky, received the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing for Hell and Ohio: Stories of Southern Appalachia. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Holbrook is associate professor of English at Morehead State University.

“These eight stories are as finely shaped, and deceptively intricate, as a piece of Shaker furniture…What smolders beneath the surface of these stories is a sea of anxiety and anger, suppressed until the point of, well, upheaval.” —Louisville Courier-Journal