Environmental Injustice

Environmental Injustice

 

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Introduction

Environmental injustice, just as social injustice is prevalent in our society and a legacy of generations of deep-rooted oppression and inequality that are now ingrained into our institutional structures and systems. Like social injustice, it is designed for intentional disadvantage of groups of people based on their identity while advantaging members of the dominant group, whether overtly or covertly. It is systematic and historical and is supported and enforced by society and its institutions. The global environmental crises – climate change, energy demands, pollution, habitat degradation, diseases, and food insecurity have eventually replaced the natural harmony and beautiful nature that existed before the whites Europeans arrived. Environmental degradation is causing global warming – the increase in the average temperature of the earth’s surface air and oceans, which is one of the most evident aspects of climate change. Effects of climate change includes hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons, which are increasing in strength, causing loss of life and destruction of property. The changing climate is causing more extreme floods and droughts. Fish stocks are seriously depleted and coastal areas have been damaged by oil pollution. Species are being lost by extinction at a much higher rate than might happen naturally. Poor countries and marginalized communities are often the hardest hit. Thus, human life and the whole of creation are suffering a new threat. Environmental degradation is closely connected with poverty, disease and other suffering. Previously fertile lands become desert, clean water supplies are becoming scarce and pollution is prevalent.Indigenous people around the world have always recognized the earth and land as a living being with which they have an indivisible, interdependent, complementary and spiritual relationship. My paper will try to eventually drew a connection between social injustice and environmental injustice. I will examine the inseparable place of social justice within ecological justice.

 

A CHRISTIAN LOOK AT The ENVIRONMENT

The scripture affirms that the “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it!” (Psalm 24:1 NRSV).In Genesis 1:28, God charges humanity to care for the earth by giving humanity “dominion” over it. The word “dominion”, in true Christian understanding, is most appropriately translated as “stewardship”, since humanity is not the master of the earth but steward to responsibly care for the integrity of creation. God wondrously and lovingly created a world with more than enough resources to sustain generations upon generations of human beings and other living creatures. But humanity is not always faithful in its stewardship. Greediness, mindless production and excessive consumption by individuals, corporations and countries have led to the continuous desecration of creation, including global warming and other forms of climate change.What is happening to the environment has become of great importance. Changes have always taken place but now the rate of temperature change, pollution, and using up of resources is proceeding on an unprecedented scale, due in large measure to human activity and human sin. The evidence is now ‘unequivocal’ that humans’ activities are causing global warming, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR4, 2007) Much of the change of the environment is due to the need for enough food, and therefore to farming practices. Rain forest is often cleared to provide more commercial grazing land for animals, as well as logging. The land gets so used it easily becomes unproductive and industrialactivities lead to dumping of substances on soil and in water, without understanding the effect they may have. Air pollution, and increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is prevalent.

Christians believe the God’s created Nature to provide an array of ecosystem services including sources of food,natural resources, outdoor recreation that highlight inextricable links between humans and the natural ecosystems that support our health. Changes to ecological structure and functions have a range of social implications such as human health, inequality, survivability and environmental. There arealso major concerns about environmental injustices were landfills and toxic emitting facilities, are disproportionately located in minority communitiesand economically impoverished neighborhoods [35], Rawls [42] advocated for societies to maximize the well-beingof the least well-off individual. Poor health of individuals in certain neighborhoods would further disadvantage themsocially and economically, making health equity an issue of social justice [43]. Land is one of the most important natural resources on Earth. It is required both directly and indirectly for food production, raw materials, and for the generation of energy sources such as biofuels. The land is essential for the functioning of ecosystems, providing nutrients, oxygen, water, and heat. Soil resources are being degraded via pollution and physical degradation by intensive agricultural practices and chemical contamination as a result of industrial activities, mining, transportation, waste and sewage disposal.Abundant clean water is critical to the health of people, plants, and animals, as well as the economy. it has the potential to become massively contaminated by pollution which comes from sources like factories and power plants, unmanaged sewage as well as agricultural fields. If the pollution is severe, usable water quantity is decreased.Furthermore, equitable access to parks and green spaces is vital to human health. Recent studies document how socio-economic factorssuch as race/ethnicity [49,50] and income [50] are associated with the distribution of green space other health-promoting natural amenities [47,48].Limited recreation opportunities are available for disadvantaged populations, thus a social and environmental justice issue. The human-induced pressure on the Earth system has reached such levels that it puts in danger not only the environment itself, but also the future of human’s survival on Earth.Before the arrival of the white European colonizers, like other indigenous societies, native Americans were living simple and egalitarian lifestyles. A lifestyle that prioritize the care of the their environmental over everything else. Their approach to life was minimalist yet nurturing of members of the community. Their life depended on materials readily available on the land. They had their own important religious, spiritual and cultural formation, which was closely connected to their land and the natural environment. Their spirituality was based on linking creation, the land and the people. The sacred nature of the whole creation is truly reflected in the indigenous world-views. Nevertheless, all of these graceful living changed when the white Europeans arrived.  The white European settlers and their descendants expropriated native land and removed the indigenous people by cutting them from their food resources, and engaged in genocidal massacres. Because of their capitalist technology, and the desire to acquire land and accumulate wealth at any cost, the white European settlers overpowered, terrorized, and almost exterminated indigenous people of Americans. These injustices, though modified in some ways have continued unto these days, in which the indigenous peoples were almost destroyed and the ownership of their land entirely transferred to the white European settlers and their descendants.

 

A Christian believes that the environment is God’s and should be looked after as He desires. There is a need for balance between increasing food production and providing human needs, and restraint, so that the land is not exhausted. In the Old Testament the Israelites were commanded to practice restraint as in the Sabbath rest and the way they harvested their crops and the Jubilee. (Exodus 20, v10; Leviticus 19, vv9-10 & 23-24; Leviticus 25, vv1-23; Deuteronomy 22, v6). Humanity has a special role in creation by virtue of imago Dei. This is interpreted not as dominion over the world but responsibility for it. Humans are seen as God’s stewards, in fellowship with other creatures and embedded in the environment yet given the covenantal task of tending it, being called to be humane neighbors of creation, interacting with it in a empathic, interdependent.

 

How should we think about these Injustices as a Church?

The Bible provides a clear role for people in regards to the rest of God’s creation. We shall have the special responsibility of caring for the earth not only because we depend on a healthy ecosystem, but because we are called by God to care for God’s earth. Additionally, there are many points in the Bible which animals are used to describe that justice of a “new heaven” and “new earth” extends to all of God’s creation (Isaiah 65, Colossians 1:15-20 NRSV).Christianity’s complicity in such in the destruction of the environment and injustices against indigenous populations not only offends us, as Christians, it also contradicts Jesus’ message of good news to the poor and to all nations. Beyond indigenous societies in other parts of the world including Africa, south America and Asia, the story resonates very well with native people of the NorthAmerica. The story about the Christian missionaries and the land increasingly invites reflection on the displacement of American natives. One is left with no choice but to cite the papal Doctrine of Discovery that justified the subjugating indigenous people in the “new world”. The portrait of early missionaries was not of someone sacrificially loving his neighbor but of a Christian imperialist recklessly jeopardizing the lives of indigenous people for their sinful greediness.The spread of Christianity was also used to disguise and justify for the White European agenda of occupation and building extreme wealth at all cost. This Eurocentric thinking served as the background to white supremacy in the United States, believing that White people have been placed in a position of privilege, chosen and preferred by God (Charles & Rah, 2019).The motivation for bringing in mission into the Americas was not driven by God’s mission to reach all nations of the earth. The reason rested upon a rationale – an ideological rational that is propelled by a belief in the value of conquest and exploitation

Moreover, in 1967, the American cultural historian Lynn White wrote that Christianity is uniquely responsible for growing environmental problems. White claimed that Judeo-Christian religion was the world’s most ‘anthropocentric’ religion, blaming it for Western technologies’ exploitative relationship with nature. The Judeo-Christian tradition, for example, most famously for Lynn White, has been seen as anti-environmentalist and as being part of political regimes that are ecologically destructive.Moreover, looking at the deeply critical role Christianity has played in the ecological crisis by propagating the domination of earth, particularly, white male domination over creation. Richard Bauckham (2002) admits that such ideas appear in medieval theology but argues that none is biblical. Rather, they derive from Greek philosophy, from Aristotle’s claim that “Nature has made all things specifically for the sake of man” and Protagoras’ idea that “Man is the measure of all things”. Biblical interpretation was shaped by those Greek philosophies. Lynn White’s maintains, “Since the roots of our ecological troubles are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious.”115 (115 Lynn White, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science vol. 155, no. 3767 (1967): 1207.)

 

Thus, Christians are being urged to be a prophetic voice in their communities andembody an alternative model of lifestyle in the wake of climate warnings. No one can pretend any more that they do not know about the reality of current environmental crises and the risk they present for people throughout the world. Radical changes to our energy systems, transportation and how we manage landare needed, otherwise, the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty forhundreds of millions of people will be a reality.Limiting the effects of environmental crises and climate change could go hand in hand withensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.Christians are encouraged to make majors changes in our lifestyles, and guided by faith to lead the way.“Christians cannot ignore the predicted implications of climate change for thepoor and the marginalized as well as for the biodiversity of God’s good creation. For me, and surely for many Christians, this is anissue of justice. All decisions we make should be guided by our Christian faith, accepting ourGod-given call to care for the planet, founded on our ultimate hope, which is inGod’s purposes and promises. We need to make changes inour sourcing and use of energy, changes to the way we manage land, changes inour shopping and eating choices, and changes to the way we move around withtransportation.“Therefore, in our use of earth’s God-given resources and our care of God’splanet, churches should be a prophetic voice in their communities, we cancampaign with and support others who are working for a greener, cleaner,sustainable energy future and a pollution-free land and ocean, and the whole environment, with ambitious pledges to act, backed by real plans of action. Jesus refers to earth (Matthew 5:35) with the phrase “God’s footstool” that was used to describe the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chronicles 28:2). The footstool is God’s touching place, where his presence is found. Bauckham notes the NT command “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). The character of the Father’s mercy which Christians are to imitate is expressed in Exodus 34:6 “YHWH is good to all and his compassion is over all that he has made.”

 

What the church can do at the denominational level

The church must affirm and promote “respect for the interdependent of all creation of which we are a part.” It must envision a world in which all people are assured a secure and meaningful life that is ecologically responsible and sustainable, in which every form of life has intrinsic value. The church must acknowledge that entire cultures, nations, and life forms are at risk of extinction while basic human rights to adequate supplies of food, fresh water, and health as well as sustainable livelihoods for humans are being undermined. To sustain the interdependent natural system, we must burden it less while maintaining the essentials of our lives. Frequent occurrence of flooding, hurricanes and the effects of climate change are painful signs of how racism, poverty inequality worsen the effects of environmental crisis and climate change. Christian communities should seek to faithfully walk alongside the “other” wherever we have been called to serve. This can mean advocating for the rights of indigenous people and their plight and standing against discrimination and racism. It is unequivocal that throughout history, the Christian church has been known for complicit in many of the injustices against indigenous people and people of color who do not look like them. The church must acknowledge the lasting wounds that have been inflicted upon these people have resulted in multigenerational pain that we cannot ignore. Throughout history, the church has often turned away and failed to engage the stranger, the other, with love, acceptance and the quest for truth. The church must resist fight-or-flight mentality and start to engage. The first step is listening to one another so a deeper understanding of the pain and brokenness might be attained. With this in mind, the church leadership must issue a formal apology on behalf of their Christian community and an official church statement about where their tradition stands in injustice issues. As Christ followers, we understand that apologizing (asking and receiving forgiveness for deeds done or not done) to God and each other is at the heart of the journeying together to reconciliation. It is something we need to do individually and collectively.

 

What can the individual do

“Individuals can play an important role in their lifestyle choices, such aseating less meat and dairy, and consuming less energy,” she said. “We all sharethis one fragile planet together and so need to act considerably and in solidarity with the poorestand most vulnerable, those who will be impacted the most if we fail to act. In my ministry, I willcall on everyone to take action in these three ways:Consider all the ways your own life impacts on the environment – useGreen Christian’s leaflet, “9 Ways of Living Gently on the Earth” – andmake a pledge to change your life, prayerfully accepting the natural limitsGod has given us. You could start by making one day each month into aFossil Fuel Free day – thinking too about the impact of things that we buy,particularly the distances our goods have traveled before reaching ourshops.Join a campaign, write letters, spread the word. By joining Christian environmental groups or another environmental groups, you can add your voice to thecampaign and find out more ways to make a difference. You can also writeto retailers and governments – those who have power to make a biggerdifference.Prayer – for conversion of those in power who are ignoring or denying thisissue. And for yourself, to grow in a spirituality that recognizes that thedesire to have more stuff can get in the way of what God wants for us, andis profoundly damaging the first of God’s gifts to us – our common home.

 

Conclusion

Religion can play a crucial role in the climate change discourse, with faith-based groups and religious leaders as agent of change within society. Hulme (2009) asserted that, “our beliefs about the divine, about the spiritual and the transcendent and about our role in the world as moral agents, shape our sense of duty and responsibility to care for others and for Nature.Steps to the goals of true justice, and the healing of man and nature, come through repentance and the work of the Holy Spirit. Injustice is a hard habit to break. So, let’s build a coalition in the body of Christ and friendships across cultures, races, ethnicity characterized by reciprocity. Let’s practice humility and repentance. God created a harmonious world with humans in His image in order to enable a relationship with Him and with creation; humanity sinned against this, seeking self-awareness, thereby becoming alienated from God and creation; God provides the means to overcome this in a new creation, namely Jesus. Added to these are the commandments to love God and love your neighbor and that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.For Christian, the call is always the same: to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with ourGod as the mark of our Christian discipleship in the power of the Holy Spirit(Micah 6:8).

 

 

 

 

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