“Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites. —Numbers 35:33-34
Ever since the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, a progressive wing of newly-elected congresspeople have finally taken to environmental issues with the urgency that have long needed. "The Green New Deal" proposes, as the name suggests, that the U.S. draw from Depression-era tactics to address both economic stratification and climate change.
The bill is sponsored by Catholic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who isn't hesitant to quote scripture to defend her bold environmental justice platform. She and the bill's 65 other sponsors draw from a tradition of environmental justice that has arisen from the most marginalized among us: indigenous leaders, inner-city Black and Latinx activists, immigrants, and the working poor.
The United States accounts for over 14 percent of the world's carbon emitters, but is home to only 4 percent of humanity. Together with China and the European Union, these countries account for half of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere. In these colonizing countries—places where race relations and the tenets of social justice have always been fraught—we see how marginalized communities struggle for access to clean water, decent air quality, and ability to escape rising sea levels.
These are questions of life and death.
Climate change is even exacerbating a parallel environmental disaster, in Chornobyl, where droughts and wildfires have the potential to unleash greater amounts of radiation in Eastern Europe than the initial disaster did in 1986.
All of these problems can only be solved through labor. And labor, social justice requires, must be equitable. While there perhaps is no immediate capital to be made on fighting environmental disaster, this is a human project that's required to serve God's mandate of protecting creation and quality of life for subsequent generations. The only way that can be done is for state actors to stimulate action. That's exactly what the Green New Deal hopes to accomplish.
After much anticipation, the text of the Green New Deal was recently published. It’s only 14 pages, and it is very easy to read.
Every Christian in our apostolic churches will find that it’s nothing that the Bishop of Constantinople, the Bishop of Rome, and Bishop of Kyiv-Halych haven’t been saying for years, just now in the form of an action plan for the United States.
Here are quotes from the bishops, in chronological order, in increasing order of urgency, interspersed with points from the Green New Deal.
We paternally urge, on the one hand, all the faithful in the world to admonish themselves and their children to respect and protect the natural environment, and, on the other hand, all those who are entrusted with the responsibility of governing nations to act without delay in taking all necessary measures for the protection and preservation of natural creation. —Patriarch Dimitrios, 1989
The gradual depletion of the ozone layer and the related "greenhouse effect"has now reached crisis proportions as a consequence of industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs. Industrial waste, the burning of fossil fuels, unrestricted deforestation, the use of certain types of herbicides, coolants and propellants: all of these are known to harm the atmosphere and environment. The resulting meteorological and atmospheric changes range from damage to health to the possible future submersion of low-lying lands. While in some cases the damage already done may well be irreversible, in many other cases it can still be halted. It is necessary, however, that the entire human community - individuals, States and international bodies - take seriously the responsibility that is theirs. —Pope John Paul II, 1990
We observe, that the ecological problem has become in many respects more complicated and that the ecological darkness has become even more extensive, which is to say that there is still a substantial ignorance of many and skillful propaganda on the part of the few, who delight in their alliance with the forces of darkness. These facts result in many untruths regarding the ecology, in purposeful concealment and even distortion of the truth on ecological matters and, indeed, ecological terrorism in the form of exaggeration or abusive intervention in the natural order of things, at times even to the point of exercising interstate threat and violence. This has resulted also in the brutal contravention of international conventions on necessary ecological arrangements and the stubborn refusal to accept the financial burdens of elementary and essential ecological discipline and a plethora of other violations which threaten directly even the very air which surrounds us.—Patriarch Bartholomew, 1996
Global warming at or above 2 degrees Celsius beyond preindustrialized levels will cause mass migration from the regions most affected by climate change; more than $500,000,000,000 in lost annual economic output in the United States by the year 2100; wildfires that, by 2050, will annually burn at least twice as much forest area in the western United States than was typically burned by wildfires in the years preceding 2019; a loss of more than 99 percent of all coral reefs on Earth; more than 350,000,000 more people to be exposed globally to deadly heat stress by 2050; and a risk of damage to $1,000,000,000,000 of public infrastructure and coastal real estate in the United States. —Green New Deal Proposal, 2019
From the earliest days when Cain murdered Abel, at which point man altered the staff formerly used for support into a rod of assault, he now tries to use every element as a weapon. Thus, he was not satisfied with using elements which God granted him in abundance -- such as copper, bronze, and iron, etc. -- to produce of tools for a peaceful life. Rather, using all recent scientific discoveries, he fashioned from these elements weapons of murder and a system of human annihilation. Unfortunately, he continues to use these weapons. We, therefore, see gunpowder, nitroglycerine, atomic and nuclear energy, chemical gasses, bacterial and every kind of micro-organism and disease-causing factors, being mobilized and gathered into super-modern arsenals, for the purpose of using them as a threat to coerce others into submission as well as a means of active annihilation of those who do not submit. ...Unfortunately, the coercion of nature to act destructively against itself and the human race does not come out of the will of certain evil leaders, as supported by those who wish to deny their own responsibility. It also comes from the consenting will of thousands of individuals, without whose psychological support these leaders would not be able to accomplish anything. Consequently, the responsibility of each and every living person on the face of the earth flows out of his conscious acceptance or rejection of what has been accomplished. It is through this acceptance or rejection that he participates in the formation of the predominant will. —Patriarch Bartholomew, 1998
Goals: mitigating and managing the long-term adverse health, economic, and other effects of pollution and climate change, including by providing funding for community-defined projects and strategies; removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as land preservation and afforestation; restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency; cleaning up existing hazardous waste and abandoned sites, ensuring economic development and sustainability on those sites; identifying other emission and pollution sources and creating solutions to remove them; and promoting the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal. —Green New Deal Proposal, 2019
The promotion of human dignity is linked to the right to a healthy environment, since this right highlights the dynamics of the relationship between the individual and society. A body of international, regional and national norms on the environment is gradually giving juridic form to this right. But juridic measures by themselves are not sufficient. The danger of serious damage to land and sea, and to the climate, flora and fauna, calls for a profound change in modern civilization's typical consumer life-style, particularly in the richer countries. Nor can we underestimate another risk, even if it is a less drastic one: people who live in poverty in rural areas can be driven by necessity to exploit beyond sustainable limits the little land which they have at their disposal. Special training aimed at teaching them how to harmonize the cultivation of the land with respect for the environment needs to be encouraged. —Pope John Paul II, 1999
The audacity of the builders of the Tower of Babel produced a break in human understanding and communication. Men's exclusive turning to the carnal aspect of their being, to the exclusion of the spiritual aspect, brought about the purging cataclysm of Noah's times. Since then, God refrains from letting natural disaster bring man back to his senses, as the light bow symbolizes. Nevertheless, man continues to pursue his greedy efforts towards forcing nature to mass production and unnatural usage and as a result he procures terrible environmental disasters that primarily damage humanity itself. We may recall here such well-known cases as the environmental calamities incurred by nuclear explosions and radio energy waste, or by toxic rain and polluting spillages. We may also recall here the consequences of the violent feeding of vegetarian animals that is enforced by human audacity in order to produce food from animals that constitutes an insolent overthrow of natural order. It is indeed becoming generally accepted that the overthrow of this natural order in the personal and social life of human beings produces ill reactions to the human organism, such as the contemporary plagues of humanity, cancer, the syndrome of post virus fatigue, heart diseases, anxieties and a multitude of other diseases. —Patriarch Bartholomew, 2001
Whereas the United States is currently experiencing several related crises, with life expectancy declining while basic needs, such as clean air, clean water, healthy food, and adequate health care, housing, transportation, and education, are inaccessible to a significant portion of the United States population; a 4-decade trend of wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and antilabor policies that has led to hourly wages overall stagnating since the 1970s despite increased worker productivity; the third-worst level of socioeconomic mobility in the developed world before the Great Recession; the erosion of the earning and bargaining power of workers in the United States; and inadequate resources for public sector workers to confront the challenges of climate change at local, State, and Federal levels; and the greatest income inequality since the 1920s, with the top 1 percent of earners accruing 91 percent of gains in the first few years of economic recovery after the Great Recession; a large racial wealth divide amounting to a difference of 20 times more wealth between the average white family and the average black family; and a gender earnings gap that results in women earning approximately 80 percent as much as men, at the median. —Green New Deal Proposal, 2019
What is more difficult - and yet at the same time more noble - is to discern the degree to which we constitute part of the problem itself. Just how many of us examine the foods that we consume, the goods that we purchase, the energy that we waste, or the consequences of our privileged living? How often do we take the time to scrutinize the choices that we make on a daily basis, whether as individuals, as institutions, as parishes, as communities, as societies, and even as nations? More importantly, just how many of our Orthodox clergy are prepared to assume leadership on issues concerning the environment? How many of our Orthodox parishes and communities are prepared to materialize the knowledge that we have accumulated in recent years by practicing ecologically-sensitive principles in their own communities? —Patriarch Bartholomew, 2004
Goals: working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including— by supporting family farming; by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food. —Green New Deal Proposal, 2019
On account of this egocentrism, the relationship between humanity and nature has been radically altered. Now an impertinent, arrogant subjugation of the forces of nature has supplanted that which was designed by God. In place of the preservation of life and freedom, these forces serve to destroy and oppress our fellow man, or we indulge in excessive consumption, without regard to the consequences of such excess. —Patriarch Bartholomew, 2006
Whereas climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction have exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental, and economic injustices by disproportionately affecting indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth. —Green New Deal Proposal, 2019
Human progress is not just the accumulation of wealth and the thoughtless consumption of the earth's resources. The way that the present crisis has been dealt with has revealed the values of the few who are shaping the destiny of our society; of those who can find vast sums of money to support the financial system that has betrayed them, but are not willing to allot even the least portion of that money to remedy the piteous state the creation has been reduced to because of these very values, or for feeding the hungry of the world, or for securing safe drinking water for the thirsty, who are also victims of those values. On the face of every hungry child is written a question for us, and we must not turn away to avoid the answer. Why has this happened? Is it a problem of human inability or of human will? We have rendered the Market the centre of our interest, our activities and, finally, of our life, forgetting that this choice of ours will affect the lives of future generations, limiting the number of their choices that would probably be more oriented towards the well-being of man as well as the creation. Our human economy, which has made us consumers, is failing. The divine economy, which has made us in the image of the loving Creator, calls us to love and care for all creation. —Patriarch Bartholomew, 2009
No consideration of the problems associated with development could fail to highlight the direct link between poverty and unemployment. In many cases, poverty results from a violation of the dignity of human work, either because work opportunities are limited (through unemployment or underemployment), or “because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family”...Technology, in this sense, is a response to God's command to till and to keep the land (cf. Gen 2:15) that he has entrusted to humanity, and it must serve to reinforce the covenant between human beings and the environment, a covenant that should mirror God's creative love. —Pope Benedict XVI, 2009
It is important to note that the current grievous financial crisis may spark the much-reported and absolutely essential shift to environmentally viable development; i.e., to a standard of economic and social policy whose priority will be the environment, and not unbridled financial gain.... We hold, therefore, that there is a dire need in our day for a combination of societal sanctions and political initiatives, such that there is a powerful change in direction, to a path of viable and sustainable environmental development. For our Orthodox Church, the protection of the environment, as a divine and very good creation, embodies a great responsibility for every human person, regardless of material or financial benefits. —Patriarch Bartholomew, 2010
Goals: guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States; strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment; strengthening and enforcing labor, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors. —Green New Deal Proposal, 2019
Today's ecological crisis is rooted in the crisis of human environment: a lack of faith, spirituality, and morality. When one's soul becomes conquered by ego and consumerism, a human turns from a wise and responsible actor into an agent of mindless exploitation and expropriation that threatens to ruin all of creation and undermines his own human existence. Therefore, the only way to address our ecological crisis is a deep and wholesome return to God. Bearing witness to God will create a new, responsible, and equitable relationship with our natural environment. —Patriarch Sviatoslav, 2013
Science is quite right to research constantly and endeavor to explain the natural laws and order. God's commandment to the first-created, namely that they "subdue the earth" (Gen. 9.1), grants the license for research into and knowledge of the natural and biological mechanisms active in nature so that the natural environment may be a heavenly entity. The only condition is that the pursuit and utilization of knowledge should not aim solely at profit or become an arrogant effort toward the construction of a new tower of Babel, whereby God's creatures seek to reach and perhaps, through some people's conceit, even surpass the Creator Himself. Unfortunately, sometimes human beings forget the fact that "the source of beauty created all things" (Wisdom 13.3) and "the Lord's hand established the earth, while His right hand founded the heavens." (Is. 48.13) —Patriarch Bartholomew, 2013
The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected....Today, it is the case that some economic sectors exercise more power than states themselves. But economics without politics cannot be justified, since this would make it impossible to favour other ways of handling the various aspects of the present crisis. The mindset which leaves no room for sincere concern for the environment is the same mindset which lacks concern for the inclusion of the most vulnerable members of society. —Pope Francis, 2015
Whereas, because the United States has historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, having emitted 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions through 2014, and has a high technological capacity, the United States must take a leading role in reducing emissions through economic transformation. —Green New Deal Proposal, 2019
For a more complete reference on all that has been said by the firsts-among-equals, more links are provided:
Ecumenical Patriarchate, Messages for the Day of Indiction and Prayer for Protection of Creation:
Patriarch Sviatoslav, Letter on the Day of God the Creator, 2013
Francis, Laudato Si’, 2015.
EP Bartholomew and Pope Francis, 2017.
Let us pray, that, through the beauty and suffering of nature, the Lord will touch every person with His love and soften even the most hardened hearts so that, through co-suffering love, we can all bear witness to the saving Love of God, witnessing His creation and our co-dependent relationship to it. —Excerpt of the Prayer for Christ's Passion and the Environment, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Ecological Bureau