Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Creative Energy
distributed 3/1/02 - ©2002

There are two things that get me going in the morning -- a strong cup of coffee, and stories in the newspaper that raise my blood pressure.

Among those anger-inducing stories, there is a certain type that has a recurring theme. Here are three prominent examples from the last few months:

  • Detroit auto workers object to legislation that would raise fuel efficiency standards, because they fear it might kill off the profitable SUV market, and thus cost jobs.

  • Unions support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, not because of their take on a coherent national energy policy, but because they predict the oil project will create jobs for union members.

  • Folk in West Yellowstone, Wyoming, have pushed the political battle to continue snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park for the sake of the town's winter economy.
The common thread that runs through these, and many other stories: a group advocates for a clearly anti-environmental national policy for the sake of close-to-home jobs.

It is a reversal of the activist mantra. These groups think locally and act globally.

Again and again, these stories raise the classic trade-off of jobs vs. the environment. The anti-environmental stances are grounded in the notion that we can't have both a clean, sustainable environment and a healthy economy.

The stories deal with important issues. I take these debates very seriously, because the anti-environmental stances challenge the whole premise of eco-justice. Eco-Justice insists that jobs and the environment are not conflicting goals, but must be seen as intertwined parts of how we relate to the whole of God's creation.

Part of what bothers me as I read these stories is a lack of creative thinking. There is little openness to new sorts of economic possibilities or jobs -- even shifting from an SUV assembly line to a hybrid auto assembly line. They look for a bolstering of the status quo -- more SUVs, oilfield jobs, and snowmobile tours -- and not for creative new options that provide for both jobs and environmental care.

(And, yes, there are corresponding approaches to the issues that call for narrow environmental goals at the cost of jobs. The narrowly pro-environmental side also needs to think more creatively about creative possibilities for the economics of communities.)

I'm convinced that we can have national policies that serve a long-term and diverse national interest. I'm convinced that we can find a way to care for our environment and provide decent jobs for workers and communities. I'm convinced that eco-justice is a viable option.

Theologian Dieter Hessel wrote:

Eco-Justice provides a dynamic framework for thought and action that fosters ecological integrity and the struggle for social and economic justice. It emerges through constructive human responses that serve environmental health and social equity together -- for the sake of human well-being with otherkind.

As our churches face up to the difficult and conflictual issues that fill the morning newspaper, I hope that we can embody Hessel's sense of eco-justice. May we work for creative options, dynamic possibilities, and constructive new policies.

+     +     +     +     +

I received a note this morning from a leader in the Interfaith Climate Change Campaign.

Doug Grace, the national staff person for that effort, has been meeting with US Senators about pending energy legislation. He reports that senate offices are hearing primarily from two polarized interest groups -- environmentalists and energy interests. The debate is shaping up as a battle of the environment vs. the economy. The more nuanced and reflective voice of the faith community is not being heard.

The climate change campaign is urging us, as members of faith communities, to speak up -- to call our senators or write letters to the editor -- and to be explicit about how our faith perspectives shape our opinions on US energy policy.

They ask that we advocate for three crucial elements in the Senate energy bill that is coming to the floor next week:

  1. stronger CAFE standards (auto and light truck fuel efficiency)

  2. programs that work for energy efficiency and conservation

  3. opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other pristine wilderness areas.
This weekend, take a few moments to communicate your views. And urge the members of your congregation to "think globally" in calling for energy legislation that seeks both environmental health and social equity. That sort of energy policy is what eco-justice is all about!


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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