Saturday, June 9, 2007


Aquaphilia is a condition of loving waterways, rivers, oceans, bays, lakes, springs, rain, snow and ice. It flows through our lives like a dazzling current. Aquaphilia emerges out of an immersion in waterscapes and their surroundings, so much so that we are transformed. The result is a deep respect and reverence for the life giving properties of water. Water is precious but all over the world waterways, both salt and fresh, are under threat from urban development, industrialisation, pollution, overfishing and global warming. But likewise, across the globe, there are watercarers working to protect and preserve these sacred environments.

In the past two weeks the environment has played centre stage at the G8 meeting in Germany. Sir Bob Geldof called it 'a total farce'. The major government leaders seemed to bury their heads in the sand, not seeing the urgent need to take the environment seriously, well not until or at least the year 2050.

Their lack of action flew in the face of a UN report 'Global Outlook for Ice and Snow' released last week which heralded the enormous impact that melting ice and snow will have on millions of people and environments worldwide. The report noted that 'glaciers from the Himalayas to the Alps are in retreat, permafrost from Alaska to Siberia is warming and snowfalls are becoming unreliable in many regions' (Doyle, 2007).

While the G8 nations have been at their talkfest, another important environment event was taking place in the American Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: An Examination of the Views of Religious Organizations Regarding Global Warming. One of the speakers giving evidence was the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. Before becoming a priest she was an oceanographer, and she began her testimony merging her scientific background with her faith:

'As one who has been formed both through a deep faith and as a scientist I believe science has revealed to us without equivocation that climate change and global warming are real, and caused in significant part by human activities. They are a threat not only to God’s good creation but to all of humanity. This acknowledgment of global warming, and the Church’s commitment to ameliorating it, is a part of the ongoing discovery of God’s revelation to humanity and a call to a fuller understanding of the scriptural imperative of loving our neighbor'.

Loving our neighbour. The ocean. The river. The creatures of the water. In the animistic world of visionary and indigenous cultures, neighbours can be both human and 'other than human' - rivers, trees, rocks, birds, animals. This is illustrated beautifully in the words of the Inuit elder Nalungiaq interviewed in the 1930s by Danish ethnographer Knut Rasmussen (cited by Rothenberg, 1996:139):

'In the very earliest time, when both people and animals lived on the earth, a person could become an animal if she wanted,
or an animal could be a human being. There was no difference. All spoke the same language.'

Can we still learn to speak the language of animals, or hear the guuurrrggle of the river, the plushshshshsh of the ocean wave, or attune to the sounds of the earth? Dave Foreman (1991:4-5) passionate activist from the Rewilding Institute and founder of Earth First! in the US, says 'Yes' and declares his animism:

'We must break out of society’s freeze on our passions, we must become animals again. … Damn it, I am an animal. A living being of flesh and blood, storm and fury. The oceans of the Earth course through my veins, the winds of the sky fill my lungs, the very bedrock of the planet makes my bones.'

Perhaps the biophilia hypothesis of E. O Wilson (1986) shares, to some extent, this animistic view. Wilson explains that as humans, we have an innate affinity with with the natural world; it's hardwired, part of our genetic makeup. This love of life compels us to embrace a conservation ethic. It is only natural. We are nature and we need the otherness of nature for human survival. Physically we need nature for food and shelter, but emotionally and spiritually, connecting with nature, with the river, with sacred places, can boost emotional and spiritual wellbeing and quality of life (Ogunseitan, 2005).

If you would like to make a comment, please click 'Comments' below.

Doyle A, 2007, Melting Ice, Snow To Hit Livelihoods Worldwide, UN Says, Environmental News Network, June 4,
Foreman D, 1991, Confessions of An Eco-Warrior, New York, Harmony Books.
Ogunseitan OA, 2005, Topophilia and the Quality of Life, Environmental Health Perspectives, 113, 2, 143-148,
Rothenberg D, Ed, 1996, Wild Ideas, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
Wilson EO, 1986, Biophilia, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.