The Sacred Balance

Posted: 20 March 2001

Author: David Suzuki
Prometheus Books
New York
1998
$25.95

Among the flood of books on environment, a growing current focuses on the spiritual changes needed for us to stop our destruction of nature. The prescriptions are usually remarkably similar: recognise our unity with and interdependence with nature; shift from a Cartesian mechanistic view of reality to a holistic ecological view; control our egocentric, consumerist appetites. Of course they are no less valid for being repeated: the repetition is a sign of hope, it shows that a shift is occurring or has occurred in the dominant ideology.

coverThis book from the geneticist and science populariser David Suzuki adds to that rising tide but goes further. Suzuki skilfully uses his science background to show just how intimately we are linked with our surroundings - how every breath we take, for example, contains billions of billions of atoms that link us not only with the respiration of every other animal and plant on earth, but also with the carbon and nitrogen cycles, with volcanoes, and with the history of the earth's climate.

He performs the same service for water - "the oceans in our veins". For energy, from the sun to cycles of adenosine triphosphate in the body; for soil; and for the diversity of living species. He ends with an (again familiar but still always useful) call to individual action and a roster of environmental success stories ranging from Kenya's Green Belt movement to Bangladesh's Grameen Bank. All this with an agreeable mix of diagrams and quotes from ancient and modern poets, philosophers and writers on religion.

The religious aspect is implicit in the book's title and in the chapter headings - 'The Divine Fire' on energy and the sun, 'Sacred Matter' on spiritual attitudes. Suzuki argues that we need a new ethical system based on interdependence, a new acceptance of our bodily and material existence, and a new religious approach reconnecting with earth through ritual and ceremony. Yet these sections are not elaborated, and seemed much shorter than would be required in a call for restoring the sacred balance.

All along I was waiting for a mention of pantheism, which equates the universe and nature with God. Pantheism is implicit in a great deal of writing about the spiritual aspects of environment. The mention never came. But it is implicit in this book, and Suzuki is clearly a pantheist.

Reviewer: Paul Harrison

Reviewer Info: Paul Harrison is the author of The Third Revolution (Penguin, £6.99).