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

An Earth Day Lament
distributed 4/20/18 - ©2018

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Chuck and Clara Burrows, of Honolulu, Hawaii. Their generous support helps make this publication possible.

This Sunday, on Earth Day, I will be the guest preacher at a Lutheran church in suburban Denver. I plan to be well-behaved as I tease a relevant eco-justice message out of the "Good Shepherd" text in John's gospel. I'll get a little more edgy during the adult class between services.

It will be a nice morning -- because I won't give voice to what is crying out in my soul. As a visitor, it is not appropriate for me to unload such a painful message on an unprepared congregation.

But still, my conscience tells me that Earth Day in 2018 is not a time to be well-behaved. This year's public day of environmental awareness and action calls -- first and foremost -- for the rawness of grief and lament.

I keep coming back to the wise words of biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, from his important book The Prophetic Imagination:

real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the visceral announcement that things are not right. Only in the empire are we invited to pretend that things are all right ... And as long as the Empire can keep the pretense alive that things are all right, there will be no real grieving and no real criticism.

Things are not all right. Not in the United States (still the modern manifestation of empire), and not on planet Earth.

Earth Day, in 2018, is not a time for gentle education (how insulating your home can save you money), for tepid commitments (bike to work twice this year), or for incremental politics.

On April 22 of this year, we must -- personally, if not politically and culturally -- acknowledge the alarming facts of what is happening to God's creation. We must name the ecological trauma that is unfolding around us. We must take the time, and have the courage, to grieve this great loss and desecration.

This Earth Day weekend is an opportunity to let down the emotional barriers that we desperately hold in place to keep ourselves functional day in and day out. This weekend is a moment to name our hurts and losses, our grief and anger and fear, and our aching love for all of creation. It is an occasion to embrace all of the rich and profound emotions that are with us each and every day, but that are too hard for most of us to face.

To you, my committed and courageous friends, I extend the invitation to enter into this weekend as a time of lament.

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I call us to grieve, because this has been an especially brutal year within the realm of US politics. The raw and passionate hurt of blatantly anti-environmental polices is part of what must be named by people of conscience even as I'll add moderating words in a few moments. The last 15 months in the United States have been horrible. To name just a few examples:

  • Within the last year, the US has made climate denial a matter of formal policy, and this nation has announced its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. The US has launched a policy of "energy dominance" and embraced a full-bore celebration of fossil fuels. Climate-aware actions from previous administrations are being revoked -- including pragmatic and evidence-based rules to moderate methane waste and pollution from drilling operations and gas pipelines. (Public comments on changes to the methane rule are being accepted until Monday, April 23 -- comment now!) Decades-old fights about protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and limiting coastal drilling have been lost (pending court decisions, or the realization that these stupid actions make no economic sense.).
  • We have a US "Environmental Protection Agency" that seeks to degrade the environment, and that befriends polluting industries.
  • We see an appointee to Fish and Wildlife work who considers endangered species a threat to our society a bothersome impediment to the economic activities that she, and the administration, value most highly.
  • We witness a Department of the Interior removing protections from public lands, including national monuments and vast swaths of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, in order to prioritize resource extraction.

The list can, and should, go on and on and on. 15 months into the Trump era, we must decry the devastating sea change in policy and philosophy, and lament the horrendous change in direction that is taking place. We must never minimize or normalize the horror of what has been going on in the US since the 2016 election.

But we must also acknowledge that some of these Trumpian policies, while crass and brutal, are not all that far removed from mainstream US politics in the last two decades. There are long trends in the US and globally which are not the fault of this one US administration. These larger trends call, too, for grief and lament and confession.

Seven years ago, in the Obama years, I described God's creation as "damaged, depleted and destabilized." The crisis of biodiversity loss (species extinction) is tied to the rise of human civilizations across thousands of years. Rapid climate change has been taking hold for decades. The exhaustion of ocean fisheries is a global impact of international laws and technologies. The spread of toxic chemicals throughout the biosphere has been going on for half a century. The careless over-use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides has been causing havoc to ecosystems, oceans and farmworkers for generations. Again, the list can go on and on, because the damage to Earth is deep and wide and long-standing.

The call to lament is not a partisan attack on the current US administration -- although there is plenty of grief to be found there. An honest Earth Day assessment shows a world severely damaged by our culture's business as usual. If Earth Day is about showing our love for the planet, then we should be brought to tears by the assault on our beloved home.

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There is one more aspect to Earth's distress that must be named this Earth Day: the polarization of US politics which has made Earth stewardship into a partisan wedge. Shortly after the first Earth Day, a wave of strong environmental legislation -- the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act -- had bipartisan support.

In recent years, though, the Republican Party has increasingly attacked those policies and regulations. The science that informs responsible environmental policies has been repudiated. The Trump administration's actions that I named above are in keeping with its party's stances. The broad principles of Earth Day are now on the hit list of roughly half the nation's politicians.

Last week, I wrote about a strange and nasty bill being considered in the Colorado Senate. When I testified at a committee hearing on Wednesday, the bill's sponsors and Republicans on the committee spoke at length, denying the danger of climate change, and repudiating the value of science. (Sen. Marble thinks her cats are a bigger asthma danger than fossil fuel emissions, and stated, "I refuse to be held captive and in fear because of what somebody else believes.") After the bill passed out of committee on a party-line vote, one of the bill's sponsors told me that, if I didn't accept the religious and free-market perspectives of the Cornwall Alliance, then we didn't have anything in common to discuss.

I lament anti-science ideology and the rejection of creation care by the Republican Party (knowing that many in the US who are registered as Republicans do not agree with those extreme stances). I grieve the political paralysis, the horrendous policy shifts, and the loss of civil dialogue that is our new "normal."

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This Sunday is Earth Day. As I look toward that day, I lament the state of the Earth -- damaged, depleted and destabilized. I lament that Earth Day itself, in most churches and communities, will be a pleasant and polite occasion, without much alarm, without searing grief, and without bold political action.

I invite you, my friends, to go much deeper this Earth Day. This weekend, have the courage to grieve, and to announce that "things are not all right."

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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