In the mid-1970s, at a conservation education conference at the University of London's Chelsea College, the Bishop of Kingston-upon-Thames, the Rt Rev Hugh Montefiore, put forward what he termed a conservationist version of the 10 Commandments. Here it is:
– 1 I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other Gods but me.
– 2 You shall not make for yourselves idols or graven images such as progress or affluence or technology. You shall not bow down to them nor worship them. For I visit the sins of the fathers upon the children for many generations of those who do this.
– 3 You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain by honouring Him with your lips and disobeying His laws of nature; for the Lord holds each man accountable for the ways in which he treats his world.
– 4 Remember that you keep one day in the week holy. Six days you may work or have leisure but unless you seek renewal from me on the seventh day you will be bored stiff in the new age which you are bringing upon yourselves.
– 5 Honour your father and mother in many ways, particularly by caring for them when they grow old and feel unwanted.
– 6 You shall do no murder, particularly to posterity, by nuclear fall-out or by catastrophic disturbance to the balance of nature.
– 7 You shall not commit sexual sin, especially through genetic engineering or by unusual means of reproduction.
– 8 You shall not steal the inheritance of posterity.
– 9 You shall not bear false witness against posterity by pretending that they can put right the wrong that you have done to them.
– 10 You shall not covert an ever-increasing standard of living.
Here, for comparison, are the original ones (King James version) that many of us are familiar with. There's no doubt in my mind which is the more poetic text, as I find the bishop's version rather hard to read and impossible to like. The original commandments were meant to be universally applicable, even though the universe was a small one at that time, whereas the bishop's text is aimed at advanced industrial economies and their consumers. The 10th commandment is particularly hard to take when so many people in the world, unlike Anglican bishops, struggle in wretched poverty.
Perhaps the bishop would have had better luck had he updated the Beatitudes: Blesséd are the vegans for they shall have a lower carbon footprint, etc. Alternatively, a hip version today might be the 17 Commandments based on the SDGs, but good luck rendering those into something poetic.
A History of Environmental Education: 21/2/5
This is the latest in a series of articles about early environmental education in the UK. Others will appear here on a monthly basis. You can read previous essays here: