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Environmental Justice a Form of Social Justice

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"Only after the last tree has been cut down,
only after the last river has been poisoned,
only after the last fish has been caught,
only then will you learn that you cannot eat money."
-- Cree Proverb

Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, questioned Barack Obama's "theology" in an Ohio campaign stop, February 19, by asserting that Obama believes in "some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology."

When asked to explain his remarks on the CBS news program Face the Nation by moderator Bob Schieffer, Santorum responded that he was referring to "the radical environmentalists," and by implication, placed Obama in this category. Santorum attacked the notion that "man is here to serve the Earth," which he argued "is a phony ideal." While Santorum conceded "that man is here to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth," he was emphatic that "we're not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective. I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside-down."

In yet another ill-conceived and executed Christian crusade, Santorum, with his publicly expressed literal biblical perspective, conjures up such passages as Genesis 1:26, which states: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'" And Genesis 1:28: "God blessed [humans] and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.'"

And Santorum is certainly not alone among his Republican colleagues and electorate. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, in their 2008 study "A Deeper Partisan Divide over Global Warming," found that while 58 percent of respondents who identified as Democrats and 50 percent of Independents believe that global warming is mostly caused by human activity, only 27 percent of Republicans believed this.

Among Democrats, those with higher educational levels, 75 percent with college degrees compared with 52 percent with less education, expressed the view that solid evidence has shown human activity largely as the cause of global warming. Opposed to the Democrats, however, educational levels of Republicans resulted in an inverse relationship in trusting the scientific evidence with only 19 percent of Republican college graduates compared with 31 percent with less education believing in the human connection to climate change.

How many more British Petroleum and Exxon Valdez oil spills, polluted and poisoned waterways and skies, dead lakes, clear cut forests, mine disasters, mutilated and scorched Earth, nuclear power plant accidents and meltdowns, toxic dumps and landfills, trash littered landscapes, extinct animal and plant species, encroachments on land masses by increasingly raising oceans and seas, and how many more unprecedented global climatic fluctuations will it take for the anti-science Republican party to put the health of the planet and by extension of the health of all Earth's inhabitants on the front burner, if you will, of policy priorities over the unquenchable lust for profits by corporate executives?

For a party claiming to stand as "pro-family," what kind of legacy and what kind of future are they really bequeathing to our youth? For a party that claims to promote political conservatism and "traditional values," what is more traditional and valuable than conserving and thus sustaining the Earth's resources responsibly and equitably?

The full current crop of Republican presidential candidates, while differing marginally on specific issues, all march in lock-step to the drummer of conservative political and corporate dogma centering on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatizing governmental services, industries and institutions including education, health care and social welfare; permanently incorporating across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, advancing market driven and unfettered "free market" economics.

I ask, though, how "free" are we now as mining, oil and lumber companies lobby to exploit the land, and as legislators grant corporations enormous tax breaks and subsidies? How "free" will we be if conservative Republicans succeed in abolishing the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and other governmental agencies? How "free" will we be if conservative Republicans succeed in the U.S. Congress with their threats to privatize our national parks, and to loosen environmental and consumer protections of all kinds?

In truth, the conservative Republican battle cry, seemingly coined by Sarah Palin, of "drill baby drill," unfortunately is what the Obama administration has forwarded, resulting in significantly more domestic oil production than under the George W. Bush administration. This, however, is simply unsustainable since the U.S. currently consumes approximately 20-25 percent of the oil produced worldwide, though we hold in the range of only 2 percent of planetary oil reserves.

Webster's dictionary defines "Oppression" as a noun meaning "the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power" on the individual/interpersonal, institutional and larger societal levels. Human treatment of the environment certainly falls under this definition. As opposed to "oppression," I define "social justice" as the concept that local, national, and global communities functioning where everyone has equal access to and equitable distribution of the rights, benefits, privileges and resources, and where everyone can live freely unencumbered by social constructions of hierarchical positions of "domination and subordination."

This concluding phrase is of prime importance, for when humans place themselves into "hierarchical positions of domination and subordination," environmental degradation inevitably results. This is no different in a U.S. context from other hierarchies of power and privilege: White people over People of Color, men over women, rich over working class and poor, heterosexuals over homosexuals and bisexuals, cisgender people over transgender people, able-bodied people over people with disabilities, native-born English speakers over immigrant linguistic minorities, adults of a certain age over youth and over seniors, Christians over member of all other religious and spiritual communities as well as over non-believers, and the spokes on the oppression wheel continue to trample over people and over our environment.

A non-regulated privatized so-called "free-market" economic system lacking in environmental protections is tantamount to a social system deficient of civil and human rights protections for minoritized peoples.

If Mr. Santorum and others wish to quote scripture, they would do well to heed biblical warnings, such as Isaiah 24: 4-6: "The earth dries up and withers, the world languished and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth lies under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statues, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt."

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