Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Environment & Repression

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. -John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath-

I am re-reading The Grapes of Wrath right now, and loving it as much as I did the first time I opened the book. This semester I had two courses in environmental history. I had never studied much environmental history but through the course of the semester realized how much I love the subject. One of the themes that constantly came up was the habit of capitalism in America disregarding responsibility for caring for the environment. The push for wealth and accumulation of stuff blinds people to their need to be responsible. In an eerie way, the blatant disregard for the environment has mirrored the capitalist disregard for poor people. The unique tie-in with Steinbeck is that is one of the themes of his work. I am not ready to jump ship from capitalism, but I find it unique at how many Christians regard capitalism with reverent fear while turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed under its banner. In conjunction with that, I think Christians have moved far too slowly on the environmental front. One could argue this from the stewardship angle, but more important then that is that environmental degradation has a history of being tied to an absence of care and responsibility for those less privileged. Unfortunately, I do not think this will change much – at least not in America. The Almighty $ has too much pull for real change to become effective in moving the hearts and minds of people – no matter what their beliefs.