Despite widespread concerns about environmental problems, and very considerable efforts to identify and implement solutions, the overall response to environmental threats still falls far short of what is necessary.
The rate and scale of environmental deterioration and climate change demand urgent and effective responses, but so far the responses have in general been neither rapid nor effective enough.
This is in spite of the fact that a great deal of pertinent information has been amassed by governments and institutions and many organisations have arisen to press for action.
How is this disjunction between knowledge and intention on the one hand, and action and effect on the other, best explained?
There are some well-known factors at work, in particular the role of vested interests (such as the coal and oil industries) in obstructing action, and conflicting views about how urgent and manageable the environmental and climate change problems are.
I would argue that a significant factor in slowing progress is the extent to which individuals hold contradictory beliefs about the relationship between life and the natural environment.
This is very apparent in the case of beliefs associated with biblical and Christian tradition, which encourage commitment to the view that there is an afterlife in a transcendent realm where the imperfections of the present world are eliminated.
Views of this kind are widespread in Christian and other belief systems. Examination of the biblical evidence shows that Christian beliefs in this regard are not justified, and that it is unrealistic to think that there is a way of escape into another realm from current difficulties.
Although the basis for other-worldly beliefs is weak, the hope of escape is strong, and many people would be reluctant to rule out such a hope when their circumstances are otherwise very discouraging.
There are clearly implications here for attitudes to the natural environment. A person may look on environmental action as ethically valuable, and yet have a lukewarm approach to the need for such action on the grounds that in the end there will be ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ which will solve all our difficulties as long as we are faithful, God-fearing believers.
Ironically, while this attitude is fostered by a desire for the best life possible, it works against the interests of the only life we and other species will ever know – life on this planet, where we are dependent on the continuance of the environmental conditions necessary for sustaining life.
In this light, I argue that it is a matter of priority that we evaluate current belief systems that are muting our response to environmental issues, and that we work towards a soundly based, effective world-view and philosophy of life.