Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Dealing with the Bush Energy Policy
distributed 5/18/01 - ©2001

Yesterday, the Bush administration released its energy policy. As expected, the emphasis is on increasing energy production -- oil, coal, gas and nuclear. Alternative and renewable energy sources, somehow, are lumped into the "conservation" heading, and are given little encouragement. It appears that some programs for conservation and renewable energy will be substantially cut. To add insult to injury, the Bush plan also lifts environmental controls in a number of areas, and proposes opening a vast array of federal lands -- perhaps even national parks -- to energy extraction.

The few surprises in the plan look, from what I have been able to see in early reports, like token concessions and "greenwashing" -- putting an environmental veneer on a generally destructive policy. The widespread desire of the American people for a clean environment is being seen as a PR issue, not a matter that will have a genuine impact on policy.

Through the day today, I've had several phone calls from folk wanting to talk about what we might think, say, or do now that the policy has been officially released. In those conversations, I hear three sorts of questions and issues.


1) What do we do about the various policies recommendations?

What sort of specific proposals can be made that will deal with the wide range of issues: conservation vs. increased energy production, the sources of energy, issues of public lands and environmental health. This is a difficult challenge, not only because of the large number of issues that are on the table, but because the Bush policy is such a brutal assault on our values and on established policy.

Negotiating policy questions is challenging when the parties involved share many of the same core values and goals. Even in a case like that, it can be hard to work out the programs and technical details. In this throwback to the Reagan/ Watt mindset, it is especially difficult to know where and how to begin looking for negotiating points and areas of compromise.

As one woman said to me, "I just want to write and say that you're wrong in everything you are doing!"


2) What strategy do we use in challenging the Bush plan?

The administration is not politically stupid. They are presenting this plan as the path to continued freedom, growth and prosperity. They are describing it as the necessary solution to a dangerous energy "crisis." They are eager to present the option to their plan as a return to the "dark" years of Jimmy Carter, with long gas lines, high prices, and calls to turn down the thermostat and face deprivation.

As one administration staffer wrote, "Whoever captures the quality of life argument wins."

How do we address the real problems of waste and excess, the real need to face limits, the real need to reduce consumption, without playing into the desired images of the Bush camp?


3) Today's callers also needed to vent some emotions.

I heard lots of anger and frustration, some fear, some grief, and a bit of loneliness.

Dealing with the issues raised by this energy policy is not a tidy, intellectual process. The impacts on our values, our lifestyles, and our communities have profound emotional impacts.

When the issues are as big as we see today, and when the stakes are this high, the emotions run strong. Sometimes, that can be a powerful force for effective change. In the 1980s, outrage over James Watt's policies helped build a new strength in the environmental movement. If these emotions can be channeled into good organizing and energy for change, that is a blessing.

But strong emotions can be paralyzing, too. Grief and frustration and confusion and fear and loneliness don't tend to mobilize people. Such feelings may cause folk to withdraw from the issues, to stop watching the news, to stop trying.


What can happen in our churches and our communities to address these three problem areas?

  1. Churches may not be very effective at working through the details of policy questions. But churches can be at the center of identifying the values that shape policy. Leaders in churches need to speak loud and clear about faithful notions of stewardship and sustainability, about the need to place environmental health above (or at least even with) energy and the economy.

  2. Churches can make an important contribution in the quality of life debate. There's more to the good life than energy consumption. The religious community can challenge the simplistic, materialistic and individualistic vision that is behind the energy plan.

  3. Churches have a crucial role to play in providing hope and healing for the emotional casualties of this conflict. We have some real expertise in guiding people through grief and into effectiveness. We know about how to build community and how to help people cope with frustration and fear. The pastoral ministry of the church can make a difference in mobilizing those who care about God's creation.

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Next week, in Washington DC, the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Working Group is hosting a major conference: "On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Witnessing to God's Healing of Creation."

350 people from 23 denominations will gather for four days of worship, study, strategy, fellowship and networking, and an afternoon of lobbying members of Congress. I'm delighted that I'll be able to attend this exciting conference.

We'll return to our churches and our ministries, informed and energized to help take part in the important work that churches must do in advocating for eco-justice.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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