Environment

'Fiddling While the World Burns:' A Faithful Response to Partisan Gridlock

Gina McCarthy, Public Domain, U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons
Gina McCarthy, Public Domain, U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million – nearly 15 percent over what many scientists estimate is a safe level. Amid this and other crises in creation, the Environmental Protection Agency needs a strong leader to navigate the complex policy and economic situation that governs environmental policy.

In March, In March, President Barack Obama nominated Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA. At the time, many regarded her as a shoo-in, as she has held top posts under Republican governors, was endorsed by many in the energy industry, and has acted as assistant administrator of the EPA under President Obama since 2009.

It was surprising, then, when all eight Republican members of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee decided to boycott McCarthy’s nomination hearing. This surprise decision, which effectively canceled the vote, was part of a longer-term pattern of obstruction and partisanship on once-routine matters.

In the face of such unprecedented risk to human health and well-being, many were surprised that senators tasked with studying issues of clean air, clean water, and similar issues put ideology ahead of fairness in obstructing the vote. Sen. David Vitter, the leader of the obstructionist group, said it best himself in 2005 when discussing judicial appointments: “I think that every nominee deserves a vote. It’s a matter of fairness.”

The Lord Will Destroy the Destroyers of the Earth (Rev. 11:18)

Burning Earth, Igor Zh. / Shutterstock.com
Burning Earth, Igor Zh. / Shutterstock.com

We in our era have accomplished something no other civilization would have considered possible — or desirable. We have taken human wastefulness and self-destruction to never-before-seen levels and we have distorted our scriptures to justify  even celebrate — our own destruction.

Whether it is fracking (with its own legacy of toxic waste) the Keystone XL Pipeline (with its virtually guaranteed oil spills across prime farm land) accompanied by the largest population ever seen on the face of the earth — with its attendant garbage and sewage — we are seeing threats to our climate, food supply, economy, and quality of life on a level never seen before in human history.

Historically, theologies (and philosophy) have put a brake on human avarice, violence, and unbridled destruction of the environment.

Reflection and restraint, for millennia, have been the twin pillars of historic conservatism.

Not now.

Biblical Economics and Ecology for the 21st Century

Caring for the Earth illustration, Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta / Shutterstock.com
Caring for the Earth illustration, Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta / Shutterstock.com

In the secular American political world, even among  progressives, two progressive focuses – social justice and healing of the Earth  – have remained mostly segregated from each other.

But the Bible, in one of its crucial passages, intertwine social justice and the urge toward healing Earth. It is as if the Bible  – after watching the alienation of two May Days (pagan spring and workers’ social justice) from each other –  had shrugged impatiently and said: “Now here’s the way to do it!”

The Bible calls for an entire year of rest for the land and its workers, every seventh year. Deuteronomy adds that in that year, everyone’s debts are annulled. (Deut. 15: 1-3). Thus the Bible sees economics and ecologics as intimately intertwined, and calls for a practice of strong, spiritually rooted regulation of both.

Leviticus calls this seventh year a Shabbat Shabbaton – restfulness to the exponential power of Restfulness, an echo and expansion of the restful seventh day. Deuteronomy calls the year “shmitah”  – “release” or “non-attachment.”

Why all this? Because, says YHWH, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, The Interbreathing of all life, “The earth is Mine. You are but sojourners, temporary visiting-settlers, with Me.”  (Lev 25: 23)

On Scripture: Earth Day, God, and the Apocalypse

Globe in hand,  Magdalena Bujak / Shutterstock.com
Globe in hand, Magdalena Bujak / Shutterstock.com

Have you ever heard someone described as, “So heavenly minded, he was no earthly good?” This phrase suggests one danger of interpreting the book of Revelation. Sadly, when it comes to considering the natural world and Revelation, heavenly mindedness often undermines care for our environment. Some Christians have a tendency to think, “Well, if I’m off to heaven, I shouldn’t care much about this silly earth of ours. It’s just a temporary home, after all.” 

In fact, Revelation suggests the opposite: the earth isn’t truly “left behind,” but renewed, becoming the very dwelling place of God. Revelation 21 calls people to be, well, “earthly good,” caring for creation as we prepare for God to come home. 

EPA Gives Rebuttal to State Department's Keystone Analysis

Forward on Climate Rally, Photo by Scot DeGraf
Forward on Climate Rally, Photo by Scot DeGraf

In the midst of our celebration of Earth Day, government agencies continued the debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada’s tar sands across the United States into the gulf coast of Texas to be refined and shipped elsewhere. The State Department, tasked with reviewing the pipeline’s environmental impact, gave it a tentative pass a month and a half ago.

Activists across the country sprang into action to oppose the pipeline, citing its contribution to climate change and risk of oil spills. Supporters of the pipeline shot back, denying the climate impact of the pipeline and claiming that the oil would be produced whether or not the Keystone project moved forward.

The Environmental Protection Agency responded yesterday, calling into question the State Department’s findings and echoing the concerns of environmental activists everywhere: the Keystone Pipeline would be greatly exacerbate climate change

Major Oil Spill in Suburbia Shows Risk of Pipelines

Photo by Minale Tattersfield Roadside Retail / Flickr.com
Photo by Minale Tattersfield Roadside Retail / Flickr.com

Residents of Mayflower, Ark., spent Easter weekend evacuated from their homes as Exxon Mobil attended to a major oil spill from a crude oil pipeline. Residents described scenes of oil running down the streets like a river, as 22 families were forced to leave their homes.

Since the pipe burst on Friday afternoon, cleanup crews have collected around 12,000 barrels of oil and water. Images from the weekend show quiet cul-de-sacs inundated with thick, black sludge, and parents reported concern for their children and whether they would be able to play outside.

Transcript: Pope Francis' Inaugural Mass Homily

MattiaATH / Shutterstock.com
MattiaATH / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: Pope Francis delivered the following homily at his inaugural Mass on Tuesday, emphasizing the need to protect the poor and the environment. 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.

I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.

In the Gospel we heard that "Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife" (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: "Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model" (Redemptoris Custos, 1).

How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.

At Inaugural Mass, Pope Francis Calls for Defending Environment, Poor

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini
Pope Francis waves from the pope-mobile during his inauguration Mass on Tuesday. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis issued a powerful call for the protection of the environment and of society’s most vulnerable during his formal installation Mass at the Vatican, while qualifying his papal power as a “service” to the church and to humanity.

The pope on Tuesday celebrated a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Square in front of an estimated 200,000 people, as well as political and religious leaders from all over the world.

During the Mass, Francis received the symbols of his papal authority over the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics: the pallium, a lamb’s wool stole that recalls Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and the “ring of the fisherman.”

In keeping with the low-key style that has been the hallmark of his pontificate so far, Francis presided over a somewhat simpler, and definitely shorter, rite than the one that marked the start of Benedict XVI’s reign in 2005.

Francis was slowly driven around a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square in an open-top car, shunning the bulletproof, air-conditioned popemobile preferred by his predecessors. At one point, he asked to stop the car and got out to bless a disabled person.

In his homily, delivered in Italian, Francis described the church’s mission as “respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.”

God’s Earth is Crying Out; God’s People, Responding, Must Prepare for Jail

People of Faith Join the Forward on Climate Rally, Feb. 17. Sojourners Photo
People of Faith Join the Forward on Climate Rally, Feb. 17. Sojourners Photo

God’s creation is in danger; and to call upon the powers of the world to heal it, God’s people are prepared to go to jail. 

Perhaps most famously in our recent history, the startling sight of a religious leader in jail was embodied in the willingness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to go to jail more than 20 times in order to embody his religious commitment to racial justice, peace, and nonviolence.

As we approach the Holy Week of Christianity and Passover, we should be aware that this tradition goes back thousands of years. The movement of ancient Israelites seeking freedom from a lethal Pharaoh began even before Moses, when two midwives – the Bible carefully records  their names, Shifra and Puah – refused to murder the boy-babies of the Israelites as Pharaoh had commanded. The recollection of that moment is the first recorded instance of nonviolent civil disobedience.

When that cruel and arrogant Pharaoh, addicted to his own power, refused freedom to his nation’s slaves, his arrogance forced the Earth itself to arise in what we call the Plagues – ecological disasters like undrinkable water, swarms of frogs and locusts, the climate calamity of unprecedented hailstorms. 

Passover has kept alive and lively the memory of that uprising. So it is not surprising that the Gospels record that just before the week of Passover, Jesus led a protest against the behavior of the Roman Empire, its local authorities, and a Temple he and his followers thought had become corrupted from its sacred purpose. 

To protest against the Empire of his era, Jesus chose a time that was both appropriate and dangerous, since Passover celebrates the fall of Pharaoh. His challenge resulted in his arrest and imprisonment, and then his torture and execution.  

Both Judaism and Christianity can trace their origins to acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. Indeed, for several centuries of Imperial Rome, the very persistence of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were collective acts of civil disobedience. 

Today, religious folk face modern plagues imposed upon our countries and our planet by a new kind of Pharaoh.

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