Environmentalism as a Step in Individual Evolution

Environmental care is a practical, worldly thing. But it is also a step in one’s personal evolution. On the one hand, it is a practical response to the environmental problems we are facing. It is also a foresighted response to the issues (economic and environmental) that we might be facing if we don’t think more about the environment we live in and rely on. But, on the other hand, it is much more than that.



I read a book in one of my sociology classes in college titled Who Is My Neighbor?: Social Affinity in a Modern World. The results and conclusions of the book still stick with me today. Basically, through interviews, the author decided that people could be classified into different categories based on how far their care for others extended. For example, if I remember this all correctly, the first category included people who just basically cared about themselves and their family. Next were people who cared about their community or region, followed by people who felt a great care for and responsibility to their country. Last in the group were people who cared about all people in the world. The author also went on to break down the concept of social affinity (or what I just summarized as “care”) — the different aspects of it are social consciousness, sentiment, and action, according to the author.

I would say that the spectrum layed out in that book could go one ring further to include people who care for all living things, all life.

In fact, the spectrum layed out by the author was displayed in a sort of worldly, practical way, but it is actually similar to a variation presented in a more spiritual way by various religions and spirtual paths as well.


Buddhism talks about an “awakening” and sometimes even a series of awakenings leading one further and further into a spiritual life. The end goal is a sort of ultimate understanding and love.

Christianity talks about “coming to Christ” in a positive since that often means coming to a greater understanding and becoming a better human being, as well as believing in Christ as your savior. As part of this, the Bible says to “love thy neighbor as theyself,” to care for the feelings of all other people, and to care for and protect all animals and nature. Basically, love and care for others, for all of life.

Taoism talks about becoming in touch with the Tao, the essence of all beings and of all Creation. “All things arise from Tao,” as the Tao Te Ching states. “Every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. It springs into existence, unconscious, perfect, free, takes on a physical body, lets circumstances complete it.” Being in touch with the Tao means being in touch with all of life and caring for it.

In harmony with the Way,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man abandons the Way,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

Other religions and spiritual paths talk about coming to deeper understanding and care in their own languages as well.


Environmentalism, therefore, can be about ensuring we, our families, and other people we care about or who are close to us remain safe and live with a high standard of life. At its narrowest, this environmentalism is called NIMBYISM (Not In My Back Yard syndrome). Environmentalism can also be a greater concern (or sentiment) for all humanity, or on a deeper level, for all the living animals and even plants in the world. This can be a “negative” caring — worry — or a pure, open caring — one that is present and just as abundant in all situations, not just in the face of trouble.

Another possibility is to be nurturing and caring at all times. This would be the last ring on the spectrum — a nurturing and caring for all of life and the environment in any situation we are in. In any way we can, putting more positivity, more love, into others.


This is not to say that we should not act in response to the many practical problems we see in the world — work to address them. This piece is just to encourage us all (myself included) to look at the different layers of our environmentalism, to see how deep it goes, and to bring environmentalism outside of the spectrum of a solely physical phenomenon.

May we all be deeper environmentalists!!

For more articles like this, read:
1) Care and the Environment: A Proposition for Further Personal Growth
2) Environmental Degradation and the Self: The Link between the Two

Image Credit 1: Cesar R. via flickr under a Creative Commons license

Image Credit 2: Grant MacDonald via flickr under a Creative Commons license

Image Credit 3: h.koppdelaney via flickr under a Creative Commons license

  • G. MacDougal

    Look, I’m all for finding good, clean, renewable energy, and personal responsibility in environmental matters, but this is ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone go farther to pat themselves on the back than what you’ve done in this article.

    If you’re proud of yourself fine, but don’t try to tell me you’ve achieved spiritual nirvana by putting a solar panel on your rood.

  • Zachary Shahan

    @G. MacDougal: not a pat on the back. this is just an effort to take a look at the deeper roots of environmentalism. and, it may not have been clear in the article, but it is supposed to hint that care for the environment is a step towards these spiritual ideals — not that you have achieved nirvana if you care about the environment (that may not have been clear, but thought it would be clear given that those other things also refer to specific spiritual realizations and experiences :)

    hope that clears some up. thank you

  • Sukhvinder Singh

    Very well said in this passage that the way to spiritual enlightenment is through our surrounding only.
    We need to save the surrounding first to achieve any thing in the future.

  • Sande VL Sanders

    Zachary, great article. This whole concept of care for our environment as an expression of our spiritual growth is a very important one. There is alot of very current research being done on a very grassroots level regarding our connection to the earth and our mental and emotional health (in addition to, obviously, our physical health.) I’m sorry that some people equate spiritual growth with concepts like “nirvana” or even “going to heaven”. The reward is not in some afterlife, it is in the here and now, and in the future of our world as a whole and all of its creatures. And, it’s about a whole lot more than putting solar panels on your roof.
    Somatic therapy, environmental psychology, and many relatively new fields of study are reinforcing the concept that we are, as many religions of the world have said for centuries: All One. We are all one in that we are all connected, we share the elements and breathe the same air, drink the same water. We need clean air, water and earth to live, to survive and to prosper. All beings need each other. Every loss unbalances the whole, The Earth will survive, but will the life on it? Unfortunately, many people haven’t evolved mentally and emotionally to the point of being open to these concepts. I pray for them and attempt to allow their foolishness… pass by me.

  • http://www.energycorps.org/montana/positions.php melissa terry

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