Holistic Health & Healing: Environmental Racism & Ecological Justice

By Hopkins, Dwight N. | Currents in Theology and Mission, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Holistic Health & Healing: Environmental Racism & Ecological Justice


Hopkins, Dwight N., Currents in Theology and Mission


The environmental movement in the U.S. is comprised of at least two major sectors. One is known to the public because of its emphasis on the preservation and conservation of Mother Earth, and Greenpeace is usually the face of this grouping. The second important dimension of environmental concerns is the struggle against environmental racism and for ecological justice. Here, poor and working class communities of African Americans, Latino-Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans have taken the lead against sickness in human bodies, social relations, and nature.

The Greenpeace wing of the movement has consistently fought for the healing of the planet. It teaches us that "... environmental degradation caused by massive pollution of air, water and land threatens the very life of the earth. Rapid depletion of non-renewable resources, indeed of species themselves, the thinning of the ozone layer, exposing all living creatures to the danger of radiation, the buildup of gases exacerbating the greenhouse effect, increasing erosion by the sea--all these are documented by scientific research." (1)

The primary foci of the earth-emphasis environmental wing have been historically "wilderness and wildlife preservation, wise resource management, pollution abatement, and population control." Preservation examples include the spotted owl and the snail darter. The leaders and followers of this movement have mainly been middle and upper income white people with above average education and easy access to political, cultural, and economic resources. (2)

For instance, in April 2007, roughly one thousand scientists from about seventy-four countries constituted the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. The final report disclosed the dire impact of global warming on the earth's ecosystems. Increased populations and growing urbanization coupled with adverse climate changes will eventually result in hazardous flooding, drought, and slow extinction for up to twenty to thirty percent of plant and animal species. (3) More than ever, Mother Earth is sick with acid-rain pollution. The greenhouse effect is increasing. Carbon dioxide traps the sun's heat in the atmosphere and consequently warms the earth. Industrial pollution is another part of the problem. What many people don't know is that carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for about two hundred years. The increase in temperatures and sea levels will give rise to massive famine and damaging flooding. It is possible that in the year 2040, sea ice in the Arctic might disappear totally, preventing polar bears from hunting sea animals on which to live. For us humans, a radical climate change will drastically lower rainfall in the western United States and global storms will intensify. (4)

Though the two wings of the environmental movement in the United States are mainly separated, on the global scale, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has united the two positions of protecting Mother Earth and also struggling for ecological justice.

For instance, the 1974 Bucharest meeting of the WCC sub-unit on Church and Society introduced the notion of "sustain-ability." Sustainability acknowledges that there are finite resources and, consequently, one needs to develop new technologies and social systems less dependent on these limited resources. Non-renewable resources demand alternative means of sustaining human progress. However, at this meeting, poorer countries emphasized a definition of economic justice and development which contrasted with the northern hemisphere's focus on limiting the use of non-renewable sources to facilitate human development." (5)

At the World Council of Churches sixth assembly in Vancouver (1983), there was a gradual merger, at least conceptually, of these two approaches to healing the environment. Earth was recognized as an agent along with human beings in the creation process. Simultaneously, talk about ecology had to take into account justice.

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Holistic Health & Healing: Environmental Racism & Ecological Justice
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