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Prophecy - September/October 2000

Open Justice and the Environment
By Fred Small

All environmental work is justice work. Automobile fuel economy is an environmental issue. But when an Inuit fisherman has to import frozen seal meat because he cannot take it safely from a bay fouled by an oil spill resulting from the rush to meet soaring demand for gasoline, that is a justice issue.

Recycling is an environmental issue. But when an African American woman develops lung cancer after breathing fumes emitted by a neighborhood in-cinerator that burns recyclable trash, that is a justice issue.

The greenhouse effect is an environmental issue. But when a Pacific Islander discovers that the rising seas resulting from profligate energy use in the developed world will obliterate her low-lying nation within decades, that is a justice issue.

Organic food is an environmental issue. But when a Guatemalan banana worker becomes sterile from pesticide exposure, that is a justice issue.

Perhaps the greatest justice issue of all is intergenerational theft. The eighth Commandment says, "Thou shalt not steal," but every day that we live unsustainably, we steal from our children and their children. When we speak of community, we must understand that community occurs not merely in space but also in time, extending backward through memory and tradition and forward through vision and legacy.

The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy says, "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." However reckless a lifestyle we might choose for ourselves, however little we may value other species, surely we owe our descendants the duty of care. The same compassion that moved the Samaritan to bandage the wounds of a stranger not of his tribe must today move us to care for future generations.

The Rev. Fred Small is minister of First Church Unitarian, Littleton, MA.  This reflection is adapted from his address to the 1999 annual meeting of the Seventh Principle Project, the UU environmental organization, entitled "Green Sanctuary: An Environmental Challenge for UU Congregations."

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