This is a guest post by Peter.
A United States Vice-President once notoriously dismissed conservation as “a sign of personal virtue,” but not a basis for a comprehensive energy policy. I’ve thought about that dichotomy many times as I’ve listened to earth stewardship conversations. I’ve noticed that people tend to approach the principle of stewardship with one of two orientations. Some focus on stewardship implications for themselves as individuals, endeavoring to personally tread more lightly. These stalwarts eat local produce, buy fuel-efficient vehicles and turn the thermostat down in the winter. If they are concerned about overfishing of the oceans, they resolve not to eat unsustainable seafood. When they consume resources, they do so mindfully.
I have the utmost respect for those who strive to align their own lives with the principle of stewardship. I share their aspiration, but I have to confess that my primary orientation is somewhat different. For better or worse, I am preoccupied with the big picture, the implications of society’s stewardship choices writ large. Global phenomena like climate disruption and ocean acidification, tropical deforestation and collapsing fisheries. I believe such unfolding disasters require institutional solutions. I look to fishing quotas and creation of marine reserves for hope of protecting the oceans. I look to water pollution laws to keep industrial poisons out of rivers and lakes. Moreover, I see such laws as appropriate tools for exercising societal stewardship.
I ultimately reject the former Vice-President’s simplistic binary framing. The challenges of earth stewardship clearly demand both personal virtue and public policy. They demand local action as well as global perspective. Threats like species extinction, air pollution, and water pollution can only be effectively addressed through public policy, and effective public policy must rest on a foundation of popular support. That means the support of individuals. Not tenuous support that squeaks through a partisan Congress by a whisker, but broad and resilient consensus. By bringing the most intimate and the most expansive perspectives into the same conversation, this earth stewardship group can be a vehicle for personal edification as well as for global solutions.