In studying the degradation of the environment in developing nations, one truth clearly emerges: desperate people do desperate things to their environment. It's all about survival today with complete disregard for the future. And as a pastor, one truth I've seen emerge time and time again is this: when pressure is applied, people's true values and commitments are revealed.
Today the U.S. is experiencing the convergence of these two truths. As our country has entered the economic pressure cooker, government officials are becoming desperate people -- and are beginning to show their true level of commitment to the environment.
Take the state of California, for example. The California Environmental Quality Act has served for years as a guard against reckless development that sometimes places bottom line profits over the environment and people. Now Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing to have certain projects released from the CEQA guidelines and immune to future lawsuits. Whether the CEQA is the best vehicle for serving as a watchdog for people and the environment is debatable -- but pushing it aside reveals the top priority for Schwarzenegger.
Now, don't get me wrong -- creating jobs and creating them now is important. We don't need to relegate people to poverty just for the sake of saving some trees. But pitting those two things against one another is a false choice. Thoughtful and careful consideration should be taken when approaching challenging times such as these we're living in -- and better solutions can be created.
In Haiti, for example, Scott Sabin has helped the non-profit Floresta organization lead the charge to reverse a massive environmental crisis brought about through the Haitian people's sheer need to survive. Mountains have been stripped bare and nutrients from once-fertile soils have been depleted all in the name of survival. It's not that these people didn't know what they were doing was unwise; they were simply trying to survive and provide for their needy families. But the long-term impact of their decisions has created even more desperation and challenges for their children.
Floresta has partnered with local churches and organizations to reseed mountains in Haiti with trees. The revitalization of these mountains is slowly replacing barren wastelands with beautiful landscapes -- and rejuvenated soil. This process hasn't happened overnight, but the luscious fruit of this labor of love is paying big dividends for a people who never fully understood the long-lasting impact of their decisions.
We aren't exactly stripping every mountain of trees and minerals in the name of commerce (well, not every mountain), but we must thoughtfully consider the long-term impact of these decisions. Going green goes against everything the American fast-food culture has championed over the last 25 years -- you may not be able to have it your way or even have it right now. This vision may take some time.
Staying green requires visionary leadership that can see beyond an economic crisis. Instead of simply abandoning values you once championed just to save some jobs or your political reputation, leaders such as Gov. Schwarzenegger should resist the urge to react with desperate measures.
Opportunity -- and a great future -- abounds for those who take the time to peer into the future and past challenging economic times. I hope for the environment's sake -- and the sake of people everywhere -- that there are enough leaders who can capture this vision and help make it a reality in the days ahead.
Tri Robinson is the pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, ID, and author of Saving God's Green Earth and Small Footprint, Big Handprint. He lives on a homestead that is almost fully sustainable and blogs about his adventures there at www.timberbuttehomestead.com