The Ecozoic Era

Field of Lilies

Reaching into his own past in North Carolina, he recalled his boyhood experience of a summer meadow filled with white lilies. This experience began to define his commitment to preserve and protect such beauty. Increasingly he spoke of a deep affectivity and authenticity imparted by Earth itself in its biodiversity. It was in the early 1980s that these ideas coalesced in his term “Ecozoic.” This was his way of marking the end of a geological era in which thousands of species were disappearing each year amidst the industrial-technological bubble of resource extraction. He observed that scientists were telling us that we are in the midst of an extinction period. Nothing this devastating had occurred since the dinosaurs went extinct sixty-five million years ago and the Cenozoic era began. But rather than leaving his audience in despair, he used the term Ecozoic to name that emerging period in which humans would recover their creative orientation to the world.

He drew increasingly on the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for insight into the story of our times, namely, the emerging, evolutionary universe. Teilhard provided a large-scale vision of humans as situated within the vast context of cosmic evolution. He had a profound sense of the increasing complexity and consciousness of evolution from the molecular to the cellular, and from multi-cellular organisms to the explosion of diverse life forms. Teilhard’s major work titled The Human Phenomenon was for Thomas a powerful narration of universe emergence. While Teilhard saw his work as science, Thomas narrated it as a "new story."

Rather than settling on Teilhard’s insights, however, Thomas pushed beyond to explore the conjunction of cosmology and ecology. While appreciating Teilhard he also critiqued his optimistic view of “building the Earth” with new technologies and scientific discoveries. He balanced Teilhard’s technological optimism with a strong sense of ecological realism—highlighting our current patterns of environmental degradation. He wanted us to see that in a geological instant we were diminishing life of ecosystems, rivers, and oceans. Our historical moment, he would observe, was as significant as the change implied in a geological era.

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