Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

On a Thriving Earth
distributed 9/16/05 - ©2005

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by John and Vicky Graham, of Boulder, Colorado. Their generous support helps make this publication possible.

Out of the entire series of six Star Wars movies, there is one image that I find especially haunting and disturbing.

The location that so bothers me shows up in Episode II: Attack of the Clones -- the fifth movie in the series. Through the previous episodes, Star Wars took us to an amazing variety of settings: an "ice planet," deserts, forests, swamps, deep oceans, and of course space ships of all kinds. Intriguingly, in this story about the intergalactic empire, almost all of the cities look like what we Earthlings would consider underdeveloped colonies -- small, struggling communities with cast-off technologies and barter economies.

But in Episode II, we finally make it to the center of the empire, the planet Coruscant, which is the seat of government and the site of the Jedi Temple. It is the view from the windows of the Jedi Council chamber that haunts me.

The Official Star Wars Website describes the location:

Over thousands of years of civilization, the planet has been entirely enveloped by cityscapes and urban sprawl. Immense skyscrapers reach high into the atmosphere, and stretch down deep into the dark shadows. Crisscrossing the skyline are streams of unending repulsorlift traffic. Even in the depths of night, Coruscant is alive with glittering lights and rivers of traffic, a bustling megalopolis that refuses to sleep.

Nowhere in the sweeping view from the Jedi chamber is there a hint of vegetation. There are no greenbelts or parks, no farmland, no lakes or rivers. There is only an unbroken expanse of urban grids. A brief hint of "nature" may appear in some of the close-in scenes on the planet. A bird may flap by, or a carefully tended plant may sit on a balcony. But Coruscant, the height of culture and development, is entirely a "built environment."

The notion is not unique to George Lucas. Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy also has a planet at the center of the galaxy that is completely encased in glass and metal. The imagination of these sci-fi greats can plot the course of "civilization" and find it easy to equate the pinnacle of technology and power with the complete exclusion of nature. And because we, too, see the trajectories of "progress" in our own society, we find it easy to catch the powerful implications of that imagery.

Some of the Star Wars images of Coruscant look like the "wallpaper" that I see every day on my computer screen. A composite of satellite photographs shows the entire Earth at night. Across North America, Europe, Japan, India, and Eastern China, the geography is defined precisely by a wash of light showing sprawling cities. Like the galactic capital, "even in the depths of night, Earth is alive with glittering lights and rivers of traffic, a bustling megalopolis that refuses to sleep."

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The complex idea of eco-justice has been summed up in a single phrase: "the well-being of all humanity on a thriving earth."

The theological principle of eco-justice turns us away from Coruscant, and raises warnings about the human and technological domination of our own planet. We are reminded that, no matter how affluent or equitable such a world might be for its human residents, we are missing a core value of life if the planet as a whole is not thriving.

"On a thriving earth" is a phrase that has at the center of my thoughts recently.

  • Eco-Justice Ministries has been doing a lot of work recently around the Endangered Species Act -- developing worship resources, doing political organizing, and scheduling ecumenical gatherings. Our passionate advocacy for a strong ESA is motivated by the global rush away from a thriving earth. Scientists tell us that we're entering into a time of mass extinction on a scale that has not been seen since the end of the age of dinosaurs. Almost entirely because of human influences -- habitat loss, pollution, over hunting and fishing -- species are being wiped from existence at rates 1,000 times higher than long-term norms. The ESA has been an important tool in slowing that flood of extinction. This fall, though, legislation is coming to the US Congress that would gut the ESA. What Rep. Pombo is proposing sounds like the roadmap to Coruscant, a world without nature.

  • In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there is serious debate about how and where rebuilding should happen. It is good to hear challenging questions about social equity and environmental health being raised at this moment when it is easiest to move in new directions. But unless those concerns are raised hard and fast, the rush toward redevelopment is likely to take us back to the same patterns of technological control over nature, and coastal destruction. More of the same may give us new roads and buildings, but not a thriving earth.
I frequently lead Bible study sessions on the creation story from Genesis 1. People in those classes are often surprised to see the rich and diverse life that is called forth from the soil and the water, and to discover that each kind of animal is promised sufficient food. The Priestly hope is that all creatures will "be fruitful and multiply," and that this peaceable realm will be "a thriving earth." That hope is at the core of eco-justice.

Two vivid images show us the choice that lies before us. We can continue as we have, and move more and more toward a planet-wide city where nature is excluded -- and almost certainly discover somewhere along the line that our own survival is tied to what has been lost. Or we can turn toward the option of a thriving earth, where life is diverse and abundant, and where the systems of nature enhance the well-being of all people.

The image from Star Wars frightens me. Will you join me in seeking a thriving earth?

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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