Geo-Justice: The Emergence of Integral Ecology
The New Book from Jim Conlon
Jim Conlon’s book, Geo-Justice: The Emergence of Integral Ecology, is published at an extraordinary time. In the United States, Donald Trump has been elected president after the most divisive campaign in modern U.S. history. Unfortunately, the impact of Donald Trump’s election will be felt well beyond the shores of the United States. His environmental policies, and especially his spurious claims that climate change is a hoax, will make it much more difficult to reduce greenhouse gases globally. Failure to deal with climate change will mean more severe weather, droughts and floods, and rising sea levels. All of these are currently affecting the United States., but the most serious impact of climate change is in poor countries in Africa, Asia. and the Pacific.
Environmentalists and others were appalled that President-elect Trump named Myron Ebell of the business-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute to head his EPA transition team. In 2007, a Vanity Fair profile of Mr. Ebell called him the oil industry’s mouthpiece.
But the nationalist/populist political rhetoric is not confided to the United States. It raised its ugly head in the Brexit vote in Britain in June 2016. Trump’s victory can be seen as a harbinger of the far-right’s prospects in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Italy. Already populists are in power in Hungary and Poland, where they are introducing anti-immigration policies. At the same time, a vicious, bloody war is going on in Syria and Iraq, where it has claimed tens of thousands of lives. In the current political world order, no one seems to be able to stop or deal with the flood of refugees who are fleeing these conflicts.
Yet, there are also wonderful things happening across the globe. Conlon points to the election of Pope Francis in 2013, and to how quickly under his leadership, the Catholic Church, which had been fairly mute on environmental issues, began to address some of the most serious ecological issues across the globe. One direct result of Pope Francis’s concerns for the poor and the Earth was the issuing of a groundbreaking encyclical entitled Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home in May 2015. In his book, Conlon teases out the various strands of what he calls “geo-justice” as it operates at the individual, social, and planetary levels. The dynamic transformation involved in geo-justice is a clear invitation to change the dominant narrative humans have of our relationship with ourselves, other humans, and the Earth. We are moving from a narrative of control and abuse to one of solidarity and communion.
Another sign of hope is the realization that many, many people are now highly critical of the destructive ways humans have related to each other and the Earth during the past two hundred years. Conlon witnessed many such transformations during his thirty years involved in social and ecological education at Holy Name University in Oakland, California. As a colleague, Brian Swimme has written, Conlon saw students entering the program as members of an industrial society and leaving it transformed as “seed-bearers of a new planetary civilization.”
In this exciting book, we have a distillation and an engaging presentation of Conlon’s own educational journey over five decades. He had the privilege of working with some of the thoughtful and creative thinkers of the later part of the twentieth century. In the 1970s, he studied at Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation in Chicago. Like many of us who were working with oppressed communities, Conlon honed his approach to education with the insights of Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire. According to Freire, education is not neutral. It can be used to domesticate people into believing that the status quo cannot be challenged or changed, or it can be used to liberate people and enable them to organize themselves and work against all forms of oppression and domination.
This focus on addressing and changing the social and community dimension of human culture was further widened and deepened when Conlon came in contact with the work and writings of Thomas Berry. In chapter 2 of this book, Conlon admits that before discovering Berry, his approach “to justice lacked a connection to the Earth.” Conlon realized that his earlier engagement in community building and social organization lacked the dynamic focus that the cosmic story brings to integrating his personal, social, and global concerns. He points out that when people focused on personal transformation and those focused on social change work in isolation, and without understanding their place in the universe and what is happening to it “each fails to encompass the wisdom available to the other. One pursues emotional healing while overlooking oppressive structures, and the other seeks systemic change without dealing with personal need.”
For Conlon, geo-justice is the most holistic way of understanding the challenges facing us, our society, and our cosmic journey at this precise point in human history. We learn about our place in the universe both through the eyes of science and the Christian gospel: “Geo-justice brings a synthesis of socioeconomic concerns and ecological justice.”
Some people who have been exposed to the extraordinary insights of Thomas Berry, based partly on the writing of Teilhard de Chardin, reject or forget their Christian past, with its rich biblical tradition. Conlon does not do this. He claims that “in the Cosmic Christ theology, we come to believe that the Christian story is identical with the universe story.” He links the Trinitarian perspective with the fundamental dynamism of the cosmic story, as it reveals itself to us in the differentiation of all things that we experience in the cosmos, the interiority or inner dimension that each reality has, and the connectedness of everything in the universe.
Within the confines of of this relatively slim book, Conlon deals with some of the most profound issues of our times. He shows us how not to succumb to despair, but to emerge transformed and victorious. The book could be very useful for community or parish groups who are striving to educate themselves about what is happening in our world in order to heal themselves, our society, and our planet.
Apart from his insights and the clarity of his writing, Conlon provides the reader with challenging questions. He asks us to discuss, for example, how we might “build mediating institutions between the powerful structures of greed that dominate our lives and the gentler forms designed for nature?”
Finally, Conlon tells us that “For the new era of global interdependence, we need a mature spirituality that reverences creation for its own sake, a spirituality that understands our perception of creation through the senses as an experience of the divine. We need to be able to deal with social structures as well as personal attitudes, with multinational corporations as well as family life. For we are dealing here with our whole civilization, our whole planet.”
Given the difficult times we are entering with the Trump presidency and right-wing, nationalist and populist rhetoric spreading across the globe, many groups will value a book, such as Conlon’s, that focuses on the real world and how we might make it a more just and compassionate place.
FROM THE FOREWORD TO THE NEW EDITION
BY SEAN MCDONAGH, SSC
PRAISE FOR GEO-JUSTICE
In this work, Jim Conlon unites prose, poetry, and prayer in a healing reflection on what humanity belongs to, and is called to strive toward and to celebrate. We encounter in this thoughtful exposition deep and challenging insights fueled by hope, courage, and profound wisdom—a graced vision!
This is a book of depth and wisdom. Jim Conlon has been deeply engaged in the greening of the Earth for many years and this succinct work draws us into a new vision for a new world. With a poetic heart and searching mind, Jim is a seer and a prophet for our age. Read this book slowly and prayerfully, and you will awake to see the world in a new way.
Conlon provides the reader with challenging questions. He asks us to discuss how we might "build mediating institutions between the powerful structures of greed that dominate our lives."
Geo-justice initiates a new context for theological discussion of justice issues. Gone forever are the former dualism that pitted human social concerns on one side, and environmental concerns on the other. Conlon establishes a holistic orientation that assists us in exploring the justice implications of one Earth, that helps us hold our minds open both to the beauty and the crisis of our time, and that enables us to articulate our deepest convictions and plan for action.
Jim Conlon wrote this book with passion and intelligence. What a wonderful and rare combination! I assure you that you will be inspired—set aflame, actually—as I was by Jim’s unsentimental, wise, and absolutely timely message. He writes as a theologian activist. I miss this important voice in the Catholic tradition: visionary, compassionate, earth-loving.
With inspiring wisdom from the past and engaging contemporary insights, this most welcome volume boldly takes on the serious ecological challenges facing us today. The text is informed by evolutionary science, scriptural insight, and open-eyed social engagement. Each page is written with an evident spirit of deep concern for our fragile ecosystem and abiding compassion for all its inhabitants. The author’s call for harmony, balance, peace, and care for the earth is exactly what we need to hear today: the message of geo-justice. This well-articulated vision of a healthier cosmos will allow all who read this book to grow in awareness of the sacredness of all creation and will energize us to work for a better world.
Jim Conlon identified the needed linkage of ecology and justice twenty years ago. Now he is revisiting geo-justice through the lens of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’. The result is a passionate book that needs to be read and put into practice by all who care about the future of our planet.
To address our present ecological predicament, we need a new vision of the world and a creative new way of understanding our relationship to it. Conlon’s compelling notion of geo-justice is not only indispensable to such a vision but also a prime candidate for becoming the operative myth for our time.
When this book first appeared in 1990, it was a landmark publication, highlighting the fact that justice can no longer be confined to personal rights and privileges, but must incorporate the major global and ecological issues facing humanity today. In a word, there can be no justice for persons without an equivalent commitment to justice for the earth itself and for all its life-forms. Quite rightly, therefore, this updated and revised edition highlights the parallels with the wisdom of Laudato Si, and and many other efforts made in the intervening years to align the pursuit of justice in an interdependent way, and not merely to serve human needs in isolation. For me, this book remains one of Jim Conlon's most fertile works, and I trust it will get the wide readership it deserves.