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Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Impact on Our Interconnected World

A man in a black suit stands facing the camera, with his right hand up, bent at the elbow. This is a black and white photo.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo: Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., best remembered for his life-changing work and speeches on civil rights, understood the interconnected nature of existence. On Christmas Eve fifty years ago, during a sermon on peace and nonviolence at his own Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. King told his congregation that to achieve peace on earth, “we must develop a world perspective,” a vision for the entire planet. “Yes,” he said, “as nations and individuals, we are interdependent.” Moments later, with words that could easily have been uttered by Jane Goodall or Edward O. Wilson, Dr. King said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.”

In his recent New York Times editorial, Drew Dellinger draws upon Dr. King’s innate understanding of the interconnectedness of life to illustrate that Dr. King “anticipated much of the ecological consciousness and environmental concerns of the next 50 years, and the links between ecology and social justice that are vital to our present and future.” King’s work to dismantle white supremacy and economic injustice was rooted in a worldview including concern for “the survival of the world.”

Our Survival Depends on a Healthy Planet

As Wildlands Network strives to reconnect, restore, and rewild North America so that life in all its diversity can thrive, we know humanity is only one part of a vast, evolving universe, just as Dr. King knew it. Earth—our home—is alive with a unique community of life, and we must all work together to preserve it. The resilience of the community of life, as well as the well being of humanity, depends upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust that belongs to all of us.

In Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, the eminent ecologist Dr. Edward O. Wilson presents a solution to preserving the resiliency of life on Earth. He beseeches us to commit half of the planet’s surface to nature; only then can we hope to save the immensity of life forms that compose it: “I am convinced that only by setting aside half the planet in reserve, or more, can we save the living part of the environment [including humankind], and achieve the stabilization required for our own survival.” That goal lies within our grasp.

Bettering Our Communities to Preserve Our Planet

Only then, with a global perspective and a common understanding that our shared Earth should be protected, can we honor Dr. King’s legacy and take the steps to preserve the planet for future generations.

As conservationists, our strength is advocating for and saving Wild Nature’s “Half.”  However, our success depends on how well humanity succeeds in protecting and restoring societies that are just, informed, democratic, and substantially less energy- and land-consumptive.1 Only then, with a global perspective and a common understanding that our shared Earth should be protected, can we honor Dr. King’s legacy and take the steps to preserve the planet for future generations.

Therefore, we all need to purposely contribute to developing knowledgeable, inquiring, and caring citizens who help create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect for the Earth’s diversity of life, including wildlife.

Humanity—the earth’s “Other Half”—will need the conservation community’s attention, understanding, advice, and support, just as the conservation community needs the attention of those working for intercultural understanding and social betterment.

All Life Is Intertwined

In this black and white photo, a man sits at a table. Both elbows are propped up on the table and both hands are raised. The man looks at the camera; he is wearing a black suite.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo: Dick DeMarsico

Like it or not, the fate of all life lies inextricably entwined with humankind’s behavior. Our very survival depends on what Abraham Lincoln described as “the better angels of our nature.” I suggest that those qualities—reason, empathy, willingness to compromise—are present in much, but certainly not all, of humanity’s community. Martin Luther King Jr., flaws acknowledged, would certainly qualify as a “better angel.” And while certain thinkers assure us that history may be on our side2, time most likely is not. Conservationists’ urgent task remains to integrate protection and restoration of Wild Nature into a compelling narrative for global social and environmental responsibility, and to enlist those better angels to achieve that end.

A few years ago a global movement of organizations and individuals echoed King’s world view and embraced the Earth Charter, whose preamble reads:

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms, we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

Our Earth—this tiny living outpost in a vast and lonely universe—is our only home. There is no Planet B. We can’t save any of it—including ourselves—or honor Dr. King’s Legacy if we don’t work together to preserve life in all its diversity.

McDonough, William. 2017. How Cities Could Save Us. Scientific American 317(1): 44-48. See also Dellinger, Drew. 2017. Dr. King’s Interconnected World. December 22, 2017. The New York Times.
2 “For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in our world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor, and an impetus to cherish the forces civilization and enlightenment that made it possible” (Pinker , 2011, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, page 696). Also, Wilber 1999).

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