Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Fear of Flying
distributed 10/5/01 - ©2001

The dramatic effects of September 11 continue to wash across the landscape. The suddenness of it all helps us see how closely our lives are woven together.

Starting point: the terrorists used four airplanes as the instruments of destruction.

The first after-shock: air travel is shut down for several days. Travelers are stranded. Business meetings are disrupted. Vacations and family gatherings are thrown into turmoil. One airline goes bankrupt.

And the effects continue to spread. Fear and inconvenience drive the volume of air travel way down. Figures this week talk of 90,000 airline workers out of work. Airplane manufacturers are cutting back. Businesses at airports take a hit when only ticketed passengers can get to the concourses. Business dries up for skycaps and taxi drivers.

Hotels and restaurants in convention cities and resort towns see their business drop, and they, in turn, cut back on their service workers. Ski areas fear a sharp drop in this winter's business, and postpone planned construction projects.

And there are winners, too. Teleconferencing booms as air travel goes bust. Amtrak gets a surge of passengers, and the possibility of new funding.

In three weeks, our new-found fear of flying has brought substantive change into communities across the country and around the world. The sudden shifts in the patterns of air travel provide a remarkable, vivid and painfully real case study in the web of our economic relationships. We see how the job security of a construction worker or a hotel maid in the mountains of Colorado is tied to terrorism in the skies on the East coast.

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What we see about the interconnected nature of our human ecology is equally true for the realm of natural ecology. A sudden or profound impact on one part of a natural community disturbs and distorts life in far-reaching ways. Consider just the first few rings of the expanding effects of a few common environmental changes.

  • Draining a critical wetland devastates a diverse local community of life. It also can change the long-term migration patterns of many birds and mammals, can impact stream flows and water tables in the surrounding region, and allow pollutants to be washed downstream.

  • Wiping out a prairie dog colony immediately hits populations of predators: hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes and ferrets. It touches on those who share the burrows: mice and rabbits. It also changes vegetation patterns and the long-term processes of soil development.

  • Damming a river cuts off spawning routes for salmon, which means major changes for those who depend on the salmon: eagles, bears and a large fishing industry. The dam changes the temperature and chemistry of the water in ways that are decisive for other fish, amphibians and insects. The river's natural processes of erosion and silting are disrupted, and new vegetation to take over stream banks far away that previously had been washed by floods.
In each of these cases, and so many others, the consequences of an action keep expanding, keep touching more distant communities and processes. What we do to the natural world in one place has far-reaching consequences. And the more sudden and dramatic the change, the greater the consequences. However much we might want to believe that our impacts are local or short-lived, the reality is far more likely to extend beyond what we can imagine in both space and time.

The awareness of those complex relationships is the revolutionary gift that comes from environmental studies. We must always see and trace the web of life. No creature exists in isolation. We are all tied together.

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Some churches -- at a local level and denominationally -- have developed a good awareness of the complex web of human relationships. They have seen how globalization has tied us together in economic, political, cultural and moral relationships.

Few churches (or other institutions, for that matter) seem to have an instinctive grasp of the way humanity is tied to, and shapes, the web of life. Even as we want to care for God's creation, we're not aware of how thoroughly the pieces are tied together. Learning about and appreciating those relationships will be one of the great challenges for the church.

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As you plan your congregation's mission giving for 2002, please consider including financial support for Eco-Justice Ministries. We provide resources, encouragement and consulting to local churches. We work with church leaders to educate about human and natural relationships, and advocate for theologically grounded eco-justice. Thanks!


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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