Chapter 13: Eco-Justice: A Key Religious Environmental Focus
Given how essential “justice” has been to motivate the entry of faith communities into ecological concern, it should be no surprise that eco-justice remains not only a key concern, but is an overarching framework that highlights the connections among many complex factors – economic, environmental, race/class/gender and other moral concerns. Such complexity requires an integral ecology, and demands an approach that recognizes and works amid the intersectionality of these many factors, some of which have not historically been comfortable or regular topics of environmental discourse. Moving in this direction requires opening the dialogue and shifting emphases within organizations to raise up voices and leadership that haven’t been central in the past, and whose absence has kept the environmental movement more narrow and less effective.
I see many promising signs, though without doubt, this is a long road to travel, and will require long-term commitments, perseverance, and an ongoing renewal of vision. One hopeful note is that many of the steps we might take to implement new policies are not unfamiliar. Legislation that was proposed in 2009 (but failed to pass at the federal level) to deal with climate change and the injustices it causes globally was also sensitive to the injustices that could be caused as the US shifts to reduce the share of fossil fuels in energy production. Such shifts will hit the poor in fossil-dependent states like Ohio and West Virginia more than those in states like California, and so measures can be developed to tend to justice concerns locally as well as globally. Having the political will to move ahead in these realms is not a wild shot in the dark, as robust networks of social concern and community development stand ready to work together to build a more just and sustainable future.
One of the most inspiring visions for justice in our world was a biblical passage invoked by Martin Luther King, Jr: “Let justice roll down like waters”; and the next phrase in the Hebrew scripture intones: “and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). We hope that our best efforts to build a more just world can be aided by the faithful work and response of people working together, and if a cascade of justice begins to raise the tide of flourishing, we hope those waters are clean, and not clogged with toxic algae blooms or poisoned by lead; we hope those waters are freshly flowing, not spontaneously combusting in rivers of industrial effluent; we hope those waters are life giving and pure, not laden with sulfuric acid from the burning of coal; we hope these waters bring life to parched landscapes, and not carry mercury into the tissues of fish; we hope these waters house an abundance of creatures, not choked in plastic trash; we hope those waters are ample, and not dried up like an overdrawn aquifer; we hope those waters bring life, not water-borne disease to poor villages; we hope those waters can be accessed and shared by all, not just by those with enough money to purify the polluted waters of our globalized, industrialized world. That any system of providing resources and sustenance for the people of the world does so by polluting the world, its people — especially its poor and vulnerable people, in contrast to the rich people who profit from this system — and the larger community of life, is not a just system. If you are bothered by such injustice, then you too are called to respond to the challenges of eco-justice.