Larry Rasmussen: Radical Realism about our Planetary Plight

Renowned Christian environmental ethicist Larry Rasmussen visited Union Theological Seminary on April 24 to celebrate the launch of his new book, “The Planet You Inherit: Letters to My Grandchildren when Uncertainty’s a Sure Thing” (Broadleaf Books, 2022). Rasmussen, a pioneer in the field of earth ethics, is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Union.

Rasmussen retired to New Mexico in 2004. But in her welcome, CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore noted how Rasmussen “was a presence [at Union] after he left.” “You were so far ahead of your time,” Gore said.

Gary Dorrien, the current Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics, introduced Rasmussen as “important and inspiring.” Rasmussen changed his research and teaching focus mid-career, Dorrien said, when he realized the world was “faced with the prospect of eco-apocalypse.”

Members of the Rasmussen family and friends joined President Serene Jones and Union faculty for the event, organized by the Center for Earth Ethics. Liv Parsons, Rasmussen’s grandchild and a New York City high school student, recited her poem, “You Can’t Shift the Stars.”  

“The Planet You Inherit” is made up of selected letters that Rasmussen originally sent to his grandchildren, several of whom were present at the event, from 2018 to 2021. The main audience for the published letters, he said, were millennials and Generation Z. Adapting a phrase from author James Baldwin, Rasmussen said the book’s first theme was to offer “radical realism about our planetary plight.”

“Let yourselves be overwhelmed – to be overwhelmed by wonder.”

The second theme is wonder. “Rational analysis can miss the most consequential things in life,” he said. “Let yourselves be overwhelmed – to be overwhelmed by wonder.”

Rasmussen is the author of “Earth Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key” (2013) and “Earth Community, Earth Ethics” (1996). He contributed the “Declaration for an Awakened Kinship with the Earth” to Union’s Religions for the Earth conference in 2014. Rasmussen serves on CEE’s Board of Advisors.