Putting Earth at the Heart

Whatever else occupies these pages in the decades to come, environmental issues will be at the forefront. Lester Brown of Worldwatch Institute contends that humanity has about 40 years to make the shifts in thinking and living that will save the Earth.

Let it be said first that concern about Earth's environment signifies no departure whatsoever from the issues of justice and peace that have filled this magazine for the past two decades. On the contrary, it will only be through even more serious efforts toward equity and dignity for the poor and through peaceful solutions to human conflict that the planet will be saved.

A faith-inspired environmentalism does not come out of some selfish, affluent desire to purify OUR air, OUR soil, OUR water. What Christians envision for this world goes to the very heart of what it means to be human -- living in harmony with all of nature and with human beings. We offer two theses in this regard.

First, social injustice increases environmental decline. Take the air. Through our exorbitant lifestyles, the wealthiest fifth of humanity is pumping out more than half of the greenhouse gases that threaten the Earth's climate. Or think of the soil. Poverty on the current macro level is clearly the chief underlying reason for soil degradation and desertification. Millions of desperate people around the world overexploit their tiny plots, overgraze rangeland, destroy forests to farm -- knowing to their own horror that these practices will quickly erode the poor soil beneath them. And consider water. While water from a single spring in France is bottled and shipped to the prosperous few around the world, 1.9 billion people drink and bathe in water contaminated with deadly parasites and pathogens; more than half of humanity lacks sanitary toilets.

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