Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Good News!
distributed 3/28/03 - ©2003

I was elated by the news that I heard on Wednesday evening, March 19, 2003. Two stories on NPR's "All Things Considered" filled me with joy and hope.

Then, two hours later, the bombing of Baghdad started, and my earlier emotions were almost crushed by the agony of war breaking out. Almost, but not quite.

As we continue to be drenched by the non-stop news of war, let's think back 9 days, and remember a pair of wonderful reports.

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A Presbyterian minister winning an award usually does not make the national news. But this award is the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities, and it comes with a check for $1.2 million.

The minister who received the prize is philosophy professor Holmes Rolston. The Templeton Foundation said that he was selected because his research, writing and lecturing have helped create the field of environmental ethics, "an effort made all the more critical in the past three decades by escalating environmental concerns worldwide."

At the press conference announcing the award, Rolston reflected: "No sooner did I discover that nature is grace, than I found we were treating it disgracefully. We must encounter nature with grace, with an Earth ethics, because our ultimate environment is God."

When NPR asked for the "short version" of his thinking, Rolston said, "There are intrinsic values in nature. By that, I mean there are things that warrant respect in nature, independently of human instrumental use, resource use and so forth. We need to respect nature for what it is in itself."

The Templeton Prize is the world's largest monetary annual award given to an individual. When he created the prize, Templeton stipulated that its value always exceed the Nobel Prizes to underscore his belief that advances in spiritual discoveries can be quantifiably more significant than those honored by the Nobels.

And the $1.2 million? Rolston is donating it all to the college he attended.

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The political news on March 19 was shaped by the same ethical questions that have engaged Rolston for 25 years. On that day, the US Senate debated whether or not to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

President Bush had included revenues from oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge in his proposed budget. After heated debate in the Senate, the Republican leadership came up 2 votes short, and the drilling authorization was removed from the budget resolution.

The philosophical perspectives behind the sharp political differences were revealed in comments from two Senate leaders.

Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico chairs the Senate Energy Committee. He said: "For the next 25 to 30 years, our children, our way of life, our standard of living demands that we do right and that we use that little, tiny piece of real estate without doing damage to this gigantic wilderness to produce energy for our great country."

After the vote, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said: "We believe that the vote today is indicative of the bipartisan support for protection of this pristine wetland and wildlife area, and we believe very, very strongly that we can sustain that vote over and over again."

As the nation stood hours away from war -- a war in which oil resources are a significant factor -- the Senate debated a Rolston-esqe question: whether a major policy decision would be grounded in "human instrumental use, resource use" or if the policy would recognize "intrinsic values in nature."

By a narrow margin -- and a remarkable one, considering the political leanings of the Senate, and the hard-ball lobbying that went on -- the senators held out for the intrinsic value of the Alaskan coastal plain.

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What a day for good news!

A major award proclaims that the most significant recent advance in spiritual matters is in the area of environmental ethics. And the US Senate, in a surprise vote, reflects those same ethical principles in saving the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the ravages of oil drilling -- at least for another year.

Those are, indeed, wonderful pieces of news for those of us who are working to communicate and embody the principles of eco-justice in our churches, our communities and our world.

Let's not allow the ongoing war to diminish our gratitude and joy over this good news!


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

The Templeton Prize website has an extensive description of the prize, and of Dr. Rolston's accomplishments.

You can listen to (but not read) the two NPR reports that were mentioned: "Rolston Claims Templeton Prize" and "Senate Defeats Arctic Refuge Oil Drilling."

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