Moderation, a Green Virtue

EarthThe human race consumes natural resources faster than the earth can regenerate them. We cut down too many forests, pull too many fish from the sea, and pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the earth’s biomass can absorb. We’re running at a deficit, and sticking future generations with the bill. The planet seems headed the way of Lehmen Brothers five years ago.

The same lessons apply: over consumption, quite simply, is not sustainable, whether in rain forests or bank loans. The bill will come due.

Solving the environmental crisis will require extraordinary measures. We will have to challenge ourselves to find a way to live our modern lives without making such a profound impact on the planet. A good place to look for an answer is the millennia-old virtue: moderation.

The virtue of moderation is a common theme throughout the world’s religions. In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra, the first teaching the Buddha delivered after his awakening, he describes the middle way as a path of moderation.

“The Buddha’s message was simple yet profound. Neither a life of self-indulgence, nor one of self-mortification can bring happiness,” wrote Bhante Henepola Gunaratana in Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness. “Only a middle path, avoiding these two extremes, leads to peace of mind, wisdom, and complete liberation from the dissatisfactions of life.”

“In Catholic tradition, the basic understanding of moderation … is found in the concept of gluttony as a vice opposed to the virtue of temperance,” according to Sister Mary Ann Walsh with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It has traditionally been named as one of the seven capital sins.”

Environmentally speaking, moderation is far more effective than applying hyper-consumerism to “green” products. Consume differently? Certainly. But more importantly, consume less. Instead of buying an “eco-friendly” water bottle, fill up a glass from the tap. Looking at a Lexus hybrid? Keep in mind the vehicle manages to consume more fuel than a smaller internal combustion sedan. Biodegradable plastic bags are a welcome alternative to their more common, more sinister cousins, but a reusable bag trumps them all.

“Consume less” is a tough concept to sell and moral leaders have been pushing the message for years with mixed results. Marcus Tullius Cicero irked fellow Romans in suggesting they “never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.”

Can we cut our consumption enough to return balance to the environment? It’s difficult to see how. But reducing consumption will be a part of any solution.

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About the Author

Brian Liberatore was a newspaper journalist for 10 years before joining the Peace Corps in 2011. He and his wife served in the northern Peruvian sierra. Brian has been a lifelong environmentalist. Humanity cannot survive without a healthy planet. Brian sees it as our moral obligation to be good stewards of the Earth.