Loving your Neighbor with Environmental Justice


Loving your Neighbor with Environmental Justice via Tirzah Magazine

For years, I knew that I would spend every summer at Camp Washington, the Episcopal Camp and Conference Center in Connecticut. Even after I was too old to be a camper I came back as a staff member. I loved my work there because I was glorifying God by teaching my campers to follow Him. The most important thing I took away from my time at CW were all of the things my campers taught me. I felt so blessed to work with children.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.  So are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver is full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But they shall speak with their enemies in the gate.”  -Psalm 127:3-5

Starting college last year was a difficult transition for me. I could not wait to return to camp because it was something I knew and was comfortable with. But, I found myself called to do something different with my summer: an internship called Climate Summer. I applied for a spot. I knew that if I was accepted I would be traveling exclusively by bicycle and fighting fossil fuel infrastructure projects. I had never done any environmental work before but my heart was being called in this direction.

When I showed up for training I did not know what to expect. I did not know if I was capable of biking the 1,000 anticipated miles and I did not know what environmental justice was. But most importantly I did not know why God had called me to do this.  I was terrified, I felt like the disciples when they heard God speak to them through the cloud.

“When the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.” -Mathew 17:6

The definition the Environmental Protection Agency gives is very wordy but in essence, environmental justice means the fair treatment of everyone regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or income level when building polluting industries in communities. To me it sounded a lot like God asking me to love my neighbor.

“And the second, like it, is this: 'You Shall love your neighbor as yourself'. There is no other commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:31

Of all the commandments Jesus gave us, the only one above, “You shall love your neighbor” is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” So, loving your neighbor has to be pretty important, but have you made it a priority in your life all day, every day? Have you taken the time to think through the impact every action is going to have on those around you? I know that I haven’t. When school or work gets really busy, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about what I want and what I need instead of thinking about those around me.

But, I finally learned why the Lord is pushing me in this direction. It was clear that I had fallen into a rut of thinking about what I needed rather than thinking about my impact on those around me. Last summer the Lord changed my heart and allowed me to see the needs of others before my own. Putting others first was something I thought I had learned years ago but I needed a refresher.

I am from New England and the majority of our electricity is produced by gas-fired electric plants. I have lived here my entire life and I did not know that until this summer. I also did not know about the huge coal-fired electric plant just one town over from where I live. I was not aware of these things because I never had to think about them. The pollutants that diminishes air quality for people living close to these plants was not something I had to think about.

However, last summer I learned about the pollution produced by fossil fuel infrastructure. I met a lot of people who were dedicating all of their time to fighting the construction of these projects in their home towns. Even though the projects I was helping with were not in my home town, my energy consumption still effects the people living close to those pieces of infrastructure.

Now that I am back home, I am trying to continue to think about others first the way that I learned to do last summer during my internship. I am trying to be mindful of how my actions fuel the fossil fuel industry because those infrastructures do impact people. Thinking about others goes beyond fossil fuels and environmental pollutants though; thinking about others must influence all areas of our lives.

Our actions create a ripple effect whether we see it or not. What kind of ripple have you made?

// image via Pinterest.