John Muir and Aldo Leopold both wrote that our human vocation is to become earth citizens. Their convictions about this reflected deep appreciation of glorious landscapes and wildlife as well as imprinted memory of the second creation saga where, in Genesis 2:15, human beings are understood to be members of earth community, tasked with earth keeping responsibility. More recently, Wendell and Thomas Berry on the one hand, and a global network of eco-feminists on the other hand, have instructed us in the praxis and spirituality of this great work. Meanwhile, some expressions of organized religion have caught on, and are also cultivating eco-justice now.

We want, with help from other voices, to bring eco-justice vision and values to bear on five urgent, interrelated responsibilities of 21st century EARTH CITIZENSHIP, namely to:

  1. Foster local / global food security through eco-just production, consumption and trade;
  2. Act to mitigate global warming and to achieve climate justice in ways consistent with our ethical norms;
  3. Build sustainable communities through “green” policies and practices that counteract destructive economic globalization;
  4. Meet basic human obligations to ecosystems and other kind through prevention, protection, preservation, and restoration;
  5. Join the struggle for environmental justice that resists conditions of social inequality and severe land / water / air pollution.

[These five responsibilities of earth citizenship are of equal priority.]

Each of the five urgent, interrelated responsibilities of 21st century EARTH CITIZENSHIP is a very large subject of an expanding body of essays, books and videos that we will not even try to review or summarize here. Our intention is to “add value” to thinking about how to fulfill our basic obligations to the earth community. Essays posted here (with more to come over time) assume that readers already have some basic awareness of the five earth citizen responsibilities we are discussing, and will want to bring the vision and values of eco-justice ethics to bear on each of them.

So, the pieces offered in this section of the website seek to illumine, from an eco-justice perspective:

  1. the basic dynamics of each urgent earth citizen obligation,
  2. the contours of responsible engagement at all levels of moral agency, &
  3. the role of earth-friendly faith communities, particularly churches, in fostering such earth citizenship.

Fostering Food Security

Food, Farming and Faith

(A Panel Presentation by DTH at an AAR Pre-Conference Symposium in Washington, DC, 11/17/ 2006. Revised 2009.)

I was asked to clarify what mainline Protestant Churches in the USA are saying and doing about food and agriculture policies and practices; and to explore how we, teachers/scholars and members of religious communities, can contribute to food security and a just and sustainable food system.

Food has always been a feature of religious rituals, fellowship, and injunctions to share. Religious leaders in agrarian societies paid close attention to how food was raised, harvested or slaughtered, sold and utilized. But today’s monotheistic faith communities -- embedded in agriculturally industrialized, mass market society – have lost touch with their traditions.

The most basic teaching about food in Judeo-Christian scriptures is the ethical priority of feeding the hungry and acting justly toward the poor. Making sure that everyone has enough food is the most prominent moral obligation at the center of the faith community’s way of life in response to a covenanting God. As Bruce Birch & Larry Rasmussen put it in The Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life (Augsburg, 1989, 184) “The witness of both Old and New Testaments makes clear that concern for those who are forced to live a marginal existence in hunger and poverty is not an optional activity for the people of God.” It is not a minor requirement to be met with token charities; it is a moral imperative “at the heart of what it means to be the community of faith.”

In a similar vein consider the Jubilee vision in Leviticus (& in the Gospel of Luke’s portrait of Jesus’ ministry). It prioritizes sabbaticals for the land and justice to the poor – as expressions of what I propose for our time are ECO-JUSTICE values. With this ethical frame, religious communities and faith-based NGOs are mandated to do much more than provide free meals or direct food relief to respond to hunger and to overcome poverty.

As mainline churches in North America began to realize after the 1974 World Food Conference in Rome, Christians must get serious about more than charitable food relief. We must examine the way food is subsidized, produced, processed, purchased, distributed, and consumed, and pay attention to how the food system affects the health of Earth, people and every other kind. Pursuing the subject of Food, Farming and Faith exposes the hard realities that corporate food producers and marketers operating under government-approved agriculture policies often mistreat land, workers, animals, and consumers. Those policies also constrict the options of small farmers and destroy local community practices of self-sufficiency, forcing people to migrate to urban slums.

So what have mainline (Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic) churches and networks organized by progressive Christians, been doing in response, beyond providing emergency food aid and disaster relief?
Read more (.pdf)

Food, Farming and the Earth Charter

In a rapidly warming world with drastically changing climate, chronic social turmoil, unstable food prices, and growing populations at risk from obesity and hunger, it is crucially important to comprehend the quality and quantity of what people are eating or can’t, as well as how and where food is being produced. At stake in this evaluation is the well-being of humans, animals, and eco-systems – i.e., the quality of earth community! Big problems looming in the global food system – with more than a billion hungry people, less healthy arable land, and unsustainable methods of food production -- threaten the near future of Earth community almost as much as does global warming.
Read more (.pdf)

Acting for Climate Justice

Climate Change : A Challenge to the Churches in South Africa

…Among Christians, the quest to find an appropriate response to climate change
has been inhibited by a number of theological trends that have to be exposed as
inadequate. In this document we explore in this regard mastery theology,
escapist theologies, enculturation theologies in the context of consumerism,
blaming theologies, and the prosperity gospel…

Worldwide, many people have been wonderfully innovative in finding practical
solutions to lower our collective carbon footprint, [but] the response has not nearly
been commensurate to the scale and gravity of the problem….In analyzing the root
causes of climate change it is important to integrate the needs for the production of
wealth (as emphasized in neo-liberal capitalism), the more equitable distribution of
wealth (as emphasized in forms of socialism) and the redefinition of wealth (as
emphasized in the “new economics”). This document offers an extensive analysis
that can aid further reflection on the economy and concludes that the church is
called to emphasize that aspect which is neglected in a particular context.
Read more (.pdf)

Toward Eco-just Energy and Climate Policies

Precis of Climate Justice: Ethics, Energy, and Public Policy
By James B. Martin-Schramm (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010)

This timely book brings eco-justice ethics to bear directly on issues of climate justice and U.S. energy policy. Avoiding “cheap despair” over these big problems, the author dares to “sketch the broad contours of a [less fossil-fuel dependent] way of life in which human beings can live more justly in relation to each other and more appropriately in relation to the ecological systems that support all forms of life on Earth.” (p. 158).

Jim Martin -Schramm, a Christian ethicist, who is Prof. of Religion at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, opens with a concise Introduction to the moral challenges of energy use, particularly dangerous addiction to fossil fuels and their destructive climate impact. In Chapter 1, he presents a framework of four basic eco-justice norms and twelve related energy policy guidelines that he goes on to utilize effectively in a comprehensive ethical assessment of U.S. energy policy options – both conventional (chapter 2) and alternative / renewable (Chapter 3). Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the implications for morally consistent international and national climate change policy. The concluding chapter applies this ethic of climate justice locally as the author tells readers about Luther College’s institutional initiative to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions.
Read more(.pdf)

Building Sustainable Communities

Statement on Eco-Justice and Ecological Debt

World Council of Churches document date: 2.09.2009
Provisional version as adopted by Central Committee.
The public issues committee proposes that the central committee adopt the following statement on eco-justice and ecological debt:

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12)

1. The era of “unlimited consumption” has reached its limits. The era of unlimited profit and compensation for the few must also come to an end. Based on a series of ecumenical consultations and incorporating the perspectives of many churches, this statement proposes the recognition and application of a concept that expresses a deep moral obligation to promote ecological justice by addressing our debts to peoples most affected by ecological destruction and to the earth itself. It begins with expressing gratitude to God, whose providential care is manifested in all God’s creation and the renewal of the earth for all species. Ecological debt includes hard economic calculations as well as incalculable biblical, spiritual, cultural and social dimensions of indebtedness.
Read more (.pdf)

Justice in a Global Economy (Reviewed by DTH, 11/10)

This is the title of a slim, packed paperback book that focuses on the negative effects of the current pattern of economic globalization and explores what we can do concretely to make economic activity more socially and environmentally just. Justice in a Global Economy: Strategies for Home, Community and World (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) was edited by three professors of social ethics, Pamela K. Brubaker, Rebecca Todd Peters, & Laura A. Stivers. They, with nine other contributors to the book’s twelve chapters, offer strategies for promoting just and sustainable communities that are resistant to neo-liberal economic globalization and that link eco-justice engagement with embodied faith. That combination is quite rare among the many books that present practical ways to become greener or to live sustainably.
Read more (.pdf)