Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Musings on Fairness
distributed 11/15/00 - ©2000

As the legal and procedural complexity of the 2000 election works its way out (it is still up in the air as I write), I find two interesting parallels. One of them is of great importance for eco-justice.

Digging into the depths of cultural history, I remember the slapstick comedy from the 1960s, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The storyline is built around four groups of people who can't find a way to divide a fortune (I think of $100,000 it seemed like a lot then!). Each group suggests a strategy for splitting the loot that is reasonable, and whose "fairness" just happens to favor the one making the suggestion. Without an outside perspective, they can't agree on a fair solution, and they resort to "every man for himself" in the ludicrous race to find the stolen money.

The wrangling around election results in Florida is centered in the same problem. There is no single, clear and unbiased option that represents a fair solution to all involved. Proposals from both campaigns are grounded in seemingly reasonable notions of legal interpretation and justice, and yet each "fair" proposal is clearly to the benefit of the one making the proposal. We count on the courts to provide some measure of objectivity and perspective, so that we can, eventually, come to an acceptable resolution of the election.

The parallel question for eco-justice emerges in another newsworthy event of this week. An international conference is being held to work out the practical details for implementing the Kyoto Protocols for minimizing global warming. The nations of the world are trying to find a way to allocate reductions in greenhouse gasses that will be fair to all parties. As in the movie, and as in the elections, each camp has a reasonable statement for what is fair, and each proposal works to the relative advantage of the one making the suggestion.

The United States will be spared from electoral crisis by the intervention of the courts. The negotiations over Kyoto Protocols have no corresponding arbiter. We face the real prospect that the talks will be unable to reach agreement, and that we'll be fall back on "every nation for itself." In the movie, that free-for-all made for a wonderful joke. For our planet, that would be a disaster.

In the scant news that will circulate in the US on the negotiations, there is likely to be a strong sense of "we" and "they" of reasonable proposals that respect the economy of the US, and of absurd notions that poor countries should have a claim to energy resources. Let us remember that no one negotiating position is likely to embody an objective and universal "fairness." And let us remember that the Gospel, if it has a bias, is biased in favor of the poor.

In our churches, in our daily conversations, and in our political activism, may our sense of what's fair be shaped by our Christian convictions. May we acknowledge our self-interest, and strive to hear the legitimate perspectives of other sides. May we genuinely work toward justice, and not self-interest.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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