Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Surviving or Flourishing
distributed 8/19/05 - ©2005

Our small flower bed was pathetic, depressing, even embarrassing.

The dry little corner of our front yard where we try to grow flowers gets lots of sun and almost no rain. What's more, a huge spruce tree sucks any lingering moisture out of the soil, and provides a constant shower of acidic needles. The perennials that we plant there each spring are "at risk" plants.

The poor flowers have to contend, not only with difficult ground, but with my less-than-attentive gardening style. My general tendency toward botanical neglect has been colored by several years of severe drought in the Denver area, which lets me justify bad care by calling it "water conservation."

In early May of this year, we purchased our normal flats of marigolds -- a durable little plant that even I have a hard time killing -- and tucked them gently into the dry, nutrient-deprived dirt. I watered and fed them according to my austere, drought-driven mindset, and the flowers survived, but just barely. They grew, a little, and a few of them even managed to bloom on a consistent basis.

But then things got worse. Through July of this year, we had a nasty stretch of blazingly hot weather, with more days over 100 degrees than Denver has ever experienced in a single year. Our flowers drooped. The lawn, even with judicious watering, turned brown.

When the hot spell broke a few weeks ago, I set out to help our plantings recover. I gave real attention to watering schedules, and did more than the bare minimum. In our alleged flower bed, where even some of the marigolds had died, I started providing abundant water, broke up the hard-packed dirt, and gave a boost of fertilizer.

An amazing thing has happened -- the flowers are actually thriving! The stunted, struggling plants are now bursting forth with new growth and a plethora of colorful blooms. What had been a desolate, depressing spot has been transformed into a lovely, refreshing and lively part of the neighborhood.

A few extra gallons of water, a bit of attention, and our flowers have gone from bare survival to flourishing life. It is what they deserved all along.

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Well, the gardening lesson in all of that is fairly obvious. I tell the story, though, because there is an important parallel in US public policy that does not seem to be so obvious.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of the "crown jewels" of environmental law in the United States. The ESA exists to provide ways of identifying plant and animal species that are barely surviving, that are sliding or plunging toward extinction, and developing management plans that will pull them back from the brink.

Through the last 32 years, the Endangered Species Act has worked to prevent extinctions, stabilize declining species, and bring some at-risk species to the point of recovery. Scientists have estimated that nearly 200 more species would have gone extinct without the Endangered Species Act and that over 40% of the species protected by the ESA are stabilized or improving.

This fall, legislation probably will be introduced by US Representative Richard Pombo that would dramatically change the purpose and scope of the ESA. One of those changes -- the one that relates to our now-healthy flower bed -- would alter a critical definition. Rather than the current ESA provisions for preserving 'sufficient habitat for the conservation of species,' the new language may require only enough habitat for the 'survival of species.'

The "conservation" of species has been interpreted to mean their recovery to viable populations. "Survival" means just that -- a bare minimum to keep the species going.

In mid-July, our marigolds were "surviving." They were small, stunted, and had only occasional blooms, but they were alive. In mid-August, our flowers have recovered from the damage of drought, heat and neglect. They are now flourishing. There is a dramatic difference between "survival" and genuine recovery.

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The Endangered Species Act is a complex piece of US law. What should not be complex is the theological fact that God intends the Earth to be filled with flourishing, diverse life, and that humanity is called to protect and enhance that diversity.

Our Senators and Representatives need to hear from us as people of faith who are committed to God's intention for a flourishing Earth. Our lobbying needs to insist on a strong ESA, one that seeks the recovery of species, not their bare survival.

This fall, Eco-Justice Ministries is taking part in an interfaith effort to mobilize congregations in support of a strong Endangered Species Act. I invite you to join in that effort in at least one of two ways.

  1. Sign up for the specialized "US political advocacy" emails from Eco-Justice Ministries. Through the next few months, we will be sending members of that list a limited number of e-mails with more specifics about the ESA. Use the form at the bottom of this page to request those mailings, or just drop me a note with your request.

  2. Plan --or ask your pastor to plan -- a worship service this fall that will lift up some theological affirmations that support a strong Endangered Species Act. Many churches do a Blessing of the Animals in connection with St. Francis Day in October -- this is a good occasion to seek the blessing of all species, and not only our pets. Other appropriate occasions might be Thanksgiving or the fall stewardship season. A variety of worship resources will be made available, along with materials for letter writing campaigns. Please let me know if you have any interest in such a service, and I'll be sure that you are included in the sharing of resources.
Our flower bed is a simple reminder that bare survival is a poor substitute for flourishing life, especially when it comes to the survival of entire species. I strongly urge you to involve your congregation in the campaign for a strong Endangered Species Act.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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