While there is increased conversation about the many aspects of justice, the one related area that seems to lag behind is environmental justice.
Our federal government recently announced plans to scale back the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, which, among other things, mandates environmental reviews for federal projects. These revised policies suggest that it will be easier for corporations to drill, mine, pipe, etc., despite the potential threats these processes have on our environment.
Remember the well-publicized standoff at the Standing Rock Reservation? The Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile-long (1,886 km) underground oil pipeline beginning in North Dakota and ending in Illinois, was completed in April, 2017 and its first oil was delivered on May 14, 2017. Yet, the pipeline was the center of a national debate just months before when pipeline construction crews attempted to stretch pipe across indigenous territory threatening to disrupt multiple water sources and cultural sites.
To date, the Keystone XL Pipeline has leaked over 500,000 gallons of oil. Opponents of these pipelines point to this oil leakage as proof that the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines pose an imminent threat to the environment.
The government’s unfavorable response to the cries of indigenous victims, betrays its unwillingness to provide the vulnerable while beneath the banner of “liberty and justice for all.” Rather, it signals a willingness to sacrifice the health of the environment for economic benefits.
The history of our country, yea the entire planet, is replete with horrific accounts of devastating abuse to the environment for economic gain. Worse yet, these environmental atrocities consistently impact marginalized and impoverished people groups and communities. The Environmental Justice Atlas collects data on every environmental conflict that is ongoing, and as of 2018, it estimated that there are nearly 2,500 ongoing environmental conflicts or ecological distribution conflicts. Whether it is “land grabbing,” excessive fishing, mega-mining, or nuclear power proliferation, these issues represent bloody and lucrative conflicts all around the globe with no apparent end in sight.
Whenever I review these disturbing conflicts, I am forced to reflect on multiple biblical principles that I believe are at work. Please allow me to illustrate them using a few Bible texts.
- Psalm 24:1-2 “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.”
- Genesis 2:15 “ The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
- Romans 8:22 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
- Revelation 11:18 “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
The aforementioned texts highlight for us two very important principles. First, the earth belongs to God and we are commissioned to care for, protect, and preserve it. Secondly, the incessant environmental conflicts underscore the failings of humanity to preserve the earth, and God has promised to punish those who abuse and destroy the planet.
The indigenous tribes of the Standing Rock Reservation are still fighting for their land. And while it might pose a geographical challenge to go protest in North Dakota, with 2,500 present-day conflicts worldwide, you don’t have to go far to find an issue that is close to home. Drinkable water is still an issue in my state, Alabama, as well as in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania. Maybe you’re aware of the need to protect the coastline and wetlands as is the case in Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. Or maybe you’ve seen the toxic impact of coal ash as they have in Indiana and North Carolina. No matter where you live, environmental issues are impacting you. Maybe it’s time that you start making an impact. Our planet is groaning. Let’s console its cries.
CARLTON P. BYRD, D.MIN., is Senior Pastor of the Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Alabama and the speaker and director for Breath of Life Television Ministries.
This article is part of our 2020 MArch / April Issue