Putting the Justice in Environmentalism

By: Kat Liu

Delivered at: Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists, in Finksburg, MD

On: March 9th, 2008


by Wangari Maathai, from her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.

That time is now.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has challenged the world to broaden the understanding of peace: there can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space. This shift is an idea whose time has come.


Putting the Justice in Environmentalism

First, let me thank you all for inviting me into your congregation this Sunday to worship with the Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists. I am honored. I’m here today, first as a fellow Unitarian Universalist, and second as the Assistant Director of the Washington Office for Advocacy of the UUA. Our office exists to represent your voice on Capitol Hill, and also to provide support and resources to UU congregations and individuals in your advocacy work.

I didn’t start off thinking this is what I’d be doing now, living in Washington DC, working for a religious lobbying group. Long before I’d ever heard of Unitarian Universalism, I grew up in the San Francisco bay area wanting to be a scientist. Not that political activism was that far a stretch. I was a good, Northern California liberal, attending my first political protests in high school, many of them having to do with environmental concerns. Every Friday at noon we had a “die-in,” where everyone in the courtyard would drop to the ground to “simulate” what would happen in the event of nuclear war. College at UC Berkeley in the early 80’s meant campus protests for divestment from South Africa and also against nuclear proliferation. Those of you who came into adulthood later may find this hard to believe but for young adults at THAT time, the threat of mass extinction from thermonuclear annihilation was a pressing fear on many people’s minds.

In addition to nukes, there was save the whales. Save the rain forests. And by the time I got to graduate school at Caltech, it was save the spotted owls. By then, I had at various times been a member of Green Peace, Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, and Union of Concerned Scientists. I recycled, fretted over paper or plastic, bought Seventh Generation cleaning products. And there was also the camping, communing with nature. From Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Anza Borego in California to the beautiful national parks in Utah – Arches, Bryce, and Zion. If you haven’t been to these places, you really should.

And in all of this, there was almost a hostility to humankind. If I was enjoying the scenic beauty, experiencing the spirituality of being one with nature, the last thing that I wanted to see was humans, other than the ones I had come with. If there were too many of them, well, we just had to move, to go some place more remote, more pristine.

Indeed, my view of “nature” was that it was pristine, virginal, having not been touched by man.

And one could have seen the same thing in my approach to environmental issues. I never went so far as to say, “If only humans weren’t around then the whole world could live in peace.” Well, ok, maybe I said that once or twice. But in general my misanthropy was more subtle. The rain forests were being destroyed. It was all the fault of those greedy people who were cutting them down for money. The spotted owls were endangered. It was all the fault of those loggers.

Sure…. I had vague misgivings when I actually thought of the loggers as people, trying to earn a living and feed their families…. But surely they should be able to see that saving a species is more important. That they would just have to find other jobs, and if that was an inconvenience for them, well, that’s unfortunate but it couldn’t be helped. Vaguely… I understood that a truly just approach to environmentalism would involve helping those affected to find new jobs – training, assistance, economic development – instead of just vilifying them. But that kind of work was for someone else to figure out. What was most pressing was to save the owls. Still, it left me feeling uncomfortable. Something was not quite right.

Social activism aside, I went on in science, earning my Ph.D. in biology and moving to New York for a postdoctoral position. It was on Long Island that I found UU. Away from the social activism structures that I knew in California, I realized that if I didn’t join a group of some kind that would help remind me of the larger community, I was in danger of just working in the lab and not caring about the rest of the world. So I joined UU. A bit later, I decided to leave science, moved to DC to study religion at Georgetown, became very involved at All Souls in DC, and then involved in the workings of our denomination as a whole.

General Assembly of 2006 was my second GA, and while I was aware that we had been working for two years on a Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change, I hadn’t bothered to look at the text. Surely, I thought, we UUs know environmentalism and we’ll craft a worthy Statement. Pam Sparr, who is a fellow member of All Souls and a member of the UU Ministry for Earth was one of the people that I was thinking of when I figured we UUs knew what we were doing. Well, Pam and others at the UUMFE do know their stuff on the environment, but that didn’t mean that all UUs did. When she showed me the text, I was stunned. On the eve of General Assembly, when we were supposed to ratify this Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change that was to represent us as Unitarian Universalists to the wider world, there were some serious flaws with the penultimate draft.

I’ll tell you about the most glaring problem. As part of our efforts to combat Global Warming/Climate Change, our Statement of Conscience called on developing countries to limit their population growth…. Some of you may be wondering what’s wrong with that. After all, over population is a serious concern, taxing our earth’s resources and keeping families in poverty. Wouldn’t we want to promote responsible family planning? Yes. Yes, we would. But not as part of our Statement on Global Warming. Here’s why. The United States constitutes 5% of the world’s population, yet it creates 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. We are 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 25% of the world's fossil fuel resources. Per capita, we use five times more resources than the average human and we belch out five times more pollution. And yet our Statement of Conscience was saying, yeah, global climate change is a really serious problem and we want you all out there to fix it for us. You all who use less than we do, and pollute less than we do are gonna fix this problem, even though we’re the main culprits.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

That was when the concept of Environmental Justice really hit home. Our Statement of Conscience had the right goal in mind. Yes, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming/climate change is a pressing reality, and we really need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But environmental justice says that how we get to that goal is as important as getting there. Who is being most affected? Who is most responsible for the problem? Who bears the brunt of the “solution”? And who gets to decide what happens? These were the questions that were missing from our Statement of Conscience. Missing from our general awareness. As a result, despite the best intentions of the environmentalist communities, more often than not it is the poor and communities of color who are made to suffer the most from both the environmental problems and their solutions, even though they have less access to the benefits and little control over how resources are used. This is true both internationally and within our country.

Some other examples of environmental injustice:
In relatively affluent and thus shielded, middle America, people are still debating whether global climate change is even real. It’s discussed on a theoretical level, like whether life on Mars could have existed at some time. Meanwhile, within our own borders in Alaska, the Inupiak and Yup’ik peoples are losing their land and way of life due to the melting permafrost. Over 180 villages are expected to slip into the sea within the next ten years.[1] In the South Pacific, low-lying island nations are going under the waves as well, creating a tidal wave of climate refugees. Tens of thousands of islanders have applied for residence in New Zealand.[2] Entire cultures will have to be transplanted. The irony is that these people contribute the least to global warming, and yet they are the first to suffer.

Even more than loss of land, loss of fresh drinkable water is the greatest concern. All over South and Southeast Asia, sources of fresh drinking water are drying up or being contaminated by rising salt waters, ruining agriculture, creating refugees and conflict. Global climate change is a peace and security issue.

And speaking of the coal-burning power plants that are responsible for much of the change, where are they located in this country? Where do our garbage dumps go? Usually, power plants and garbage dumps are near the poorer neighborhoods or communities of color, people who don’t have the power to say, “Not in my back yard.” This is where the highest levels of lead and other toxins are located, and not surprisingly the highest incidences of children’s asthma.

To be honest, in all my years of trying to conserve and reduce, reuse, recycle, I never used to wonder where my electricity and clean water came from or where my waste went. I had wanted to reduce landfill waste for the sake of the “environment,” so that my beloved wildernesses would not one day be turned into garbage dumps. But I did not think of who already had to live down-wind of the land-fills we have right now.

To look at environmentalism through a social justice lens means to look at the picture as a whole, not just focusing on the immediate causes and effects. If people living near rain forests are clear cutting them to graze cows, we have to look at why a they doing this. And when we do, we see people being pressured into plundering their own natural resources in order to supply us with the cheap goods that drive our consumer-based economy. Given that we too depend on healthy rain forests as much as they do, to keep carbon gas levels lower and maintain biodiversity, perhaps we too need to take responsibility for their preservation. Perhaps we need to help them find ways to preserve the forests and feed their families, in partnership with them. To look at environmentalism through a social justice lens means that everyone involved has a voice in the decisions, at every level. It is a holistic and democratic approach to the environment.

My studies in biology taught me well that we humans are no better than other species. We share our DNA and a common origin, and from the standpoint of evolutionary theory are no “better” than the cockroach. But if I had really been paying attention, I would have understood this meant we humans are no worse than other species. Indeed, we are natural. Not separate from nature. And our Seventh Principle says the same thing. It calls us to affirm and promote the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. We cannot think in terms of either or. It cannot be either the spotted owls or the loggers; it must be both/and. Thus, any truly comprehensive view of environmentalism must incorporate the needs of our fellow humans into the picture. Our Seventh Principle calls us to come into right relationship with our mother Earth, with our fellow humans, and with other species.

For those of you who don’t know how things turned out with our 2006 Statement of Conscience on Global Warming, I am very proud to report that when the injustice of the population control provision was pointed out to them, the UUs at General Assembly of 2006 were reasonable and fair enough to take it out. In the end, after much debate, which is de rigueur with UUs, we ratified a Statement of which UUs can be proud. It was another positive step in our prophetic tradition of witnessing for social justice. I believe that we UUs, with our long histories in the racial and economic justice movements and the environmentalist movement and the peace movement, (and the feminist movement for that matter,) can make the connections. To see the interdependency of all these things and realize they must be approached as one unified, organic movement. Now is the time.

Now is the time, as Wangari Maathai said in our opening reading, making the connections between all these things for us. She said, “There can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space.” We are called to heal the earth and in the process heal ourselves, for as long as we see ourselves as separate from the earth and from each other, we cannot be whole. Now is the time for us to “shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground.”


Eco-justice II

As sometimes happens I double-booked myself. This morning, I was supposed to be attending the second full day of Ecumenical Advocacy Days. But I had to skip out of that because I had also committed myself to giving a sermon at the congregation of Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists. As I drove in my gas-guzzling pick-up truck, first from my home in DC to the congregation in Finksburg, MD, and then to the conference in Alexandria, VA, I was more mindful than ever about the disconnect between what I would be preaching and my own lifestyle.

The title of the sermon (my first) was "Putting the Justice in Environmentalism," where I talked about how environmentalism has to be approached thru the lens of social justice.  The laudable goal of preserving creation cannot be seen as in opposition to the goal of equitable economic opportunities for all people, for indeed we people are an integral part of creation.  The Cedarhurst UUs were a warm and receptive bunch, making me feel very welcome. Their questions showed great interest and desire to make a difference.  Because of that, they also made me feel a great sense of responsibility to serve them and other UUs.

Next, it was a mad drive to the conference. I had missed the plenary presentations on lobbying, but made it with enough time to grab lunch and scarf it down before the start of the track workshops. (I was literally cramming sandwich down my throat.) The schedule was hectic, yet there was a kind of synergy going on. Between my sermon topic and the "eco-justice" track of the conference, I was fully immersed in environmental justice, which is how I like to approach anything I care about.

One of only two other UUs at the conference had convinced me to attend the workshop on nuclear power instead of the "Science of Global Warming." It was a good choice. Much of the science I already knew, and what I didn't know I could look up. But I probably never would have found this information on nuclear power plants, since I wouldn't have known to look for it. (You tend to find what you're looking for.)  And the information was shocking.

Both at Cedarhurst and amongst other UUs (and liberals), I've heard from a small yet vocal minority who believe that nuclear energy is the solution to our global climate crisis, providing abundant energy with almost no carbon gas emissions. If there was any part of me that ever entertained the idea, it was squashed by this workshop.  First we heard from a mother who's daughter had been diagnosed with a very rare kind of brain cancer.  She subsequently learned that there was a small epidemic of rare cancers in her area - much higher than statistical chance would allow. With persistent digging over years, she learned that the nuclear power plant in her area had been illegally venting tritiated (radioactive) water, and that it wasn't the only one.  From her and from the next speaker, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, we learned that nuclear power plants are self-regulating. They decide when to monitor their own radiation levels and do so at the times best suited to them.  We also learned that the government guidelines for "safe" levels of radiation are determined by "reference man," a theoretical caucasian, 5' 6", young adult male in perfect health.  The govt uses this standard even tho it's well known that women and children are more susceptible to cancer from radiation exposure.

Yet another example of how the govt that is supposed to protect us, especially the most vulnerable of us, instead protects the interests of powerful corporations.  In all, Ecumenical Advocacy Days was a needed wake-up call.

Eco-justice I

Today was the first full day of Ecumenical Advocacy Days, a conference for mainly Christian progressives to meet and advocate on pressing social issues. Even though I'm not Christian, I attended because of the eco-justice track.

Given that we work with progressive Christian groups so often, and given our commitment to social justice, I was surprised that out of all the progressive, activisty people there, I could only find two other UUs. Kinda sad. Aside from a couple of "Lord"s here and there, I felt completely at ease. Granted, a non-theist UU might have felt more out of place, but shouldn't the most important thing be the commitment to the issues?

Anyway, yall don't know what you missed because it was awesome. An outsider who didn't know any better might have thought that he'd walked into a den of Neocons because the theme of the conference was "Global Security." But the conference organizers argue, rather cogently imo, that in order to have true security, you have to have justice. The framing was magnificent. For example, global climate change is going to force massive migrations, straining international relations. If you want peace and security, work to address climate change. I could go on with examples from other issues. The presenters made such great points on so many issues such as poverty, immigration, education, defense... But I went to the conference to learn/talk about eco-justice and that's what I've labeled this post, so...

The first track workshop was on the effects of climate change in Asia/the Pacific Islands. Here we were gently confronted with testimony by natives of Tuvalu - a nation of small islands in the Pacific, who quietly but deliberately showed us pictures of their shrinking homeland. It's one thing to read about this stuff, and quite another to know that the way you are living is destroying the way of life of the person standing in front of you.  One of the presenters pointed out that the much touted target - cut "80% of carbon emissions by 2050" - assumes that non-industrialized countries will stay undeveloped. That means that, if, for the sake of fairness, we wanted to allow for economic development in these countries, then we will have to cut back much farther on our end than we think we do.

The second track workshop was on the environmental INjustice of the border wall being built between the U.S. and Mexico. The wall cuts right through wildlife preserves that took decades to buy and build, cutting the migration patterns of many threatened species. In terms of humans, the studies show that the wall is woefully ineffective at keeping people out. All it does is make the journey more dangerous and the smugglers rich. Not to mention that not a single terrorist has been caught coming across the Mexican border. Several have been caught crossing the Canadian border, yet we're not building walls there. Lastly, the mass influx of undocumented workers right now is due to NAFTA. If we decide that goods can move freely across borders, why is it that workers cannot?

The third and final track workshop for the day was on the theology of eco-justice, presented by Catherine Keller. I'd never heard of her before but she was amazing. She spent the entire time dissecting out the first few verses of Genesis. Much of what she'd said I'd heard before in various classes, but she put them in the context of feminism, process theology, and eco-justice. For example, God did not create ex nihilo (from nothing). There was already something there - Chaos. Tiamat, which had been a Babylonian goddess. God did not "zap" here and there and create. God said, "Let there be" and the earth offered forth. Creation was much more of a collaboration between creator and created. And God did not pronounce that things were good. He saw that things were good and said so, ie - He recognized what was the case. The picture that Keller painted was of an ongoing creative process, a mutuality, and an element of surprise and delight on God's part. Not omniscient dictatorship.

The eco-justice implications of this? Our relationship with the earth should be partnership, not dominance.

the Governator

Three cheers for the Governator!  The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has returned to his action hero roots fighting on behalf of Californians and the environment.

Earlier this year, California filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force it to respond to the state's request for a waiver.  California, along with 16 other states, wants to set auto emissions standards that are higher than the EPA federal guidelines.  They needed a waiver in order to do that.  If it had been granted, the higher standards would have applied to half of the cars sold in the U.S.  However, on Wednesday the EPA finally responded, after a delay of over two years, denying the request.

According to the EPA:

"The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules,” he said. “I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone."

So much for state's rights.  Why in the world would it be a problem to require higher emissions standards?  Just who is the EPA really protecting?  It doesn't seem to be the environment.

The Governator responded by saying:

And I think what it's basically saying is that they made a decision which is against the will of millions of people in California. It's a decision that is against the will of 16 other states. When I look at that, the Environmental Protection Agency is the Environmental Destruction Agency. The name says it protects the environment. How can that protect the environment when you don't want to let anyone really move forward with this agenda? And the excuse that it is a national issue and therefore it must be handled at a national level — I say to myself, "Wait a minute, let me think this through for a second," which we always do, we think a little bit. If you have a national problem with hunger and starvation, do I say, "Stop feeding people at the local level. We can't get involved. We have to have a policy nationally." No, we don't.

Ahhnold says that California will sue the EPA again, this time to overturn the decision.  Go Governator!  

It's Our Move

The U.S. govt has been saying that we will not agree to binding restrictions on green house gas emissions to address global climate change until China does so too.  Even tho we in the U.S. still generate five times more carbon emissions per capita than people in China, our govt had been arguing that it wasn't fair that China should get an "out" in the Kyoto Protocols.  

To some extent there is truth to that.  Even tho we generate far more carbon waste per capita, as a nation China has now surpassing the U.S. as the number one polluter.  (There are some things where one doesn't want to be number one.)  Fairness aside for the moment, 1.3 billion Chinese cannot live like us Americans.  The world just can't take it.

But there is also a reason why the Kyoto Protocol made exceptions for developing nations such as China and India and others, and it's not because the liberals at the UN hates the U.S.  We in the West, especially in the U.S., with our suburban houses with two-car garages, our central ac/heat, fancy flat-panel tvs and kitchen gadgets and washer/dryers and high-speed internet... We cannot with any moral authority tell other countries that they can't have what we have as long as we continue to demand it for ourselves.  It's simply not fair.

So if we are to ask China to step up and take on its share of the responsibility for global climate change, we must too.  And we must lead, instead of saying "Well I'll do it if you do it first."  Time is running out.

Water, Water

Looking at the news these days, it feels like we are in the Apocalypse. And I'm not talking about Iraq and Darfur, I'm talking about California and Atlanta.

In Georgia, the governor is suing the Army Corps of Engineers over water. The estimate is that Atlanta has less than three months worth of drinking water left. And they are in competition with power plants and endangered species. The entire SouthEast is gripped in terrible drought of historical proportions. I'm trying to imagine living in a city the size of Atlanta and not having drinking water.

In California, my home state, we are in need of water too. A tendency towards dry weather coupled with the Santa Ana winds makes fire season an annual tradition. But not like this. I am looking at pictures of the Malibu fire - how quickly it spread from the mountains to the sea. The destruction of Castle Kashan. And that's only one of several fires raging in SoCal, from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. San Diego county is engulfed. Over half a million people evacuated. Seven dead caught in the flames. I fear for the lives of the fire fighters.

Now I know that variations in weather is normal, and that I can't rightly blame all of this on global climate change. There are other factors at play in both regions. Such as poor planning. Populations larger than the environments can sustain. In Georgia, out-dated power plants that use too much water. In Cali, tract-housing built where they shouldn't be. But I can't help but think that global climate change has made everything worse. Longer droughts. Stronger winds. I can't help but feel we're at the breaking point.

Global Climate Change Is a Peace Issue

Color me shocked and also tickled. As all of you probably know by now, the winner of the this years Nobel Prize for Peace was announced today and Al Gore won, along with the United Nations Panel on Climate Change. Ol' Al had been nominated for "putting climate change on the agenda."

To be honest, I did not think Gore would be picked because he is too much of a "celebrity." Alex had made a strong case for a group called Mercy Corps. But nevertheless I am delighted.

Of course the good news comes with the accusations of liberal bias, politicization of the prize, and its general lack of credibility. (Sour grapes seeing as everyone still pays attention to who wins it.) The fact is that for as long as peace (true peace, not world dominance) is valued more by liberals than conservatives, there will appear to be a liberal bias to the prize. And being pro-peace is political statement; it always has been. Sure, everyone pays lip service to peace but as the world situation shows, not everyone actually pursues it.

The criticism that had me flabbergasted, however, was the claim that Gore deserved a Nobel Prize for climate change, but not for Peace, because climate change has nothing to do with peace. What planet are people on? Global Climate Change IS a Peace issue. Probably more so than any other issue facing us today.

As the global climate patterns change, there is drought where there wasn't drought before. There are floods where there weren't floods before. There are increased intensity of hurricanes. The permafrost is melting and islands are going under water, meaning the loss of livable land in both the north and south. All these things are causing massive dislocations of people across borders. Where do people go when they lose their land? Or if they don't have enough fresh water to survive?

Many people predict that the next wars will be fought over fresh water, not oil. And good arguments have been made that the current genocide in Darfur is due to the several year drought that they have been experiencing.

Global climate change IS a peace issue.

Environmental Justice

Our Seventh Principle calls us to recognize that human beings are are part of the interdependent web of existence. Too often environmental issues have been at odds with human needs. Environmental justice recognizes that the same paradigm of dominion that degrades our earth also causes economic and racial inequities. Only by seeking solutions that address both can we solve either.

To the right you will find links to wizdUUm resources on issues of environmental justice.  As always, you are invited to contribute to our collection.

Blowing Hot Air

When I logged on to the interweb Thursday morning and skimmed the news, I admit to being a bit stunned by the headline: "BUSH CALLS FOR GLOBAL EMISSIONS GOALS." Had the Universe shifted in my sleep? 

Despite campaign promises to reduce carbon emissions, in 2001 the Bush administration reversed U.S. policy under Clinton/Gore and pulled us out of the Kyoto accords, claiming that the requirements to reduce greenhouse emissions would be too costly. The Kyoto Protocol was a substantive amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was the first international agreement to fight global warming/climate change.  It has been signed by 162 nations to date, but without participation from the biggest contributor to greenhouse emissions.  Our absence has been glaring. For over six years, the Bush administration has resisted all calls to respond to the growing global warming/climate change crisis, even disputing the overwhelming science by saying that more studies needed to be done before we could conclude that human activity is responsible for the climate change we see.

Yet yesterday the headlines of all the major news organizations blared that Bush says the U.S. will take the lead in the fight against global warming. For a brief moment I thought that perhaps our president had had a sincere change of heart. Then I read what he was actually proposing. Ignoring the existence of the Kyoto Agreement, President Bush is calling on the world's 15 greatest polluters to meet in order to discuss agreeing to their own standards.   Ignoring the existence of an agreement signed by 162 nations, Bush wants us to start the discussion from scratch, in order to come up with our own standards, while still insisting that mandatory emissions reductions are too costly.

Given that the G8 summit is next week in Germany where global warming/climate change will once again be the top priority, one can't help but think that Thursday's announcement was designed to deflate the expected show-down between the U.S. and the rest of the world, while not providing anything of substance.  The good news is that the Bush administration is now on record admitting that green house emissions are a serious problem and the U.S. must take a lead in addressing this problem.  The bad news is that we aren't doing so and time is running out.

Environmental Justice

Currently on the UUA website, if one goes to the page under visitors/justice&diversity/environmental justice, one finds a nicely written blurb that isn't about environmental justice at all, but rather environmentalism and eco-spirituality.

The page will be changed and soon, but it gives me the opportunity to talk about what the UUA is now versus what we can be. We are a mostly white, mostly middle-to-upper-middle class group of folk. Most of us love "nature" and are pro-conservation, and a fair number of us incorporate at least some amount of eco-spirituality into our practice. We are well-intentioned folk but we often see things only through our own mostly white, mostly middle-to-upper-middle class perspective. And this is where much of the environmentalist movement is right now, not just UUs.

Environmental justice requires a broader perspective. Environmental justice recognizes race and class dimensions to environmental concerns. It recognizes that people of color and the poor most often bear the brunt of environmental degradation while less often benefiting from the use of our shared resources. Katrina is a stark example of environmental INjustice.

The difference between environmentalism and environmental justice is the difference between caring about the "environment" as an abstract concept and caring about the environment in reality, which includes people and their needs. One need only look to the "Spotted Owl" controversy of the late 80s/early 90s to realize the short-comings of the earlier environmentalist movement.

I have great hope for Unitarian Universalism however. As a whole, UUs try to look at things from a broader perspective than their own. We try to recognize systemic racism and (to a lesser extent) classism where they exist. Because of this, we are in a unique position to potentially become spiritual leaders in the environmental justice movement.

May it be so.


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