Religious leaders in Wyoming, like Pope Francis, teach respect for the earth. They understand that natural tensions arise when nature and humans interact.
But, current stresses on the earth require greater efforts to examine the reality of interdependence — how water, air, humans, plants and wildlife work together in a holistic way. In his encyclical, the pope put it simply: “We must regain the conviction that we need one another.”
However, the Trump administration has chosen not interdependence but competition as a strategy. He calls it “energy dominance.” And it profoundly affects Wyoming, not just jobs but places of beauty and peace.
What is “energy dominance?” It is the no-holds-barred approach of the Trump administration to develop fossil fuels with a competitive stance toward the rest of the world. Energy dominance means that the agencies leasing for oil, gas and coal are prioritizing these resources above the needs of wildlife, above clean air and water, and above the desires of local citizens who deeply value the landscapes around their communities. Under energy dominance, the Trump administration has limited public participation in oil and gas decisions.
Energy dominance turns a blind eye to the biological connectivity and complexity of the earth. We all breathe the same air. Plants and crops alike grow under the same sun. In short, energy dominance is unhealthy for us all.
As Rev. Peter Sawtell, a former biologist and pastor, has said: “The Trump administration’s policy crosses a line. It is an undeniable and unacceptable attack on our human neighbors now and into the future, and on all creatures that are part of this biosphere.”
In short, natural forces teach a balance that sustains life. But energy dominance presses the resources of the land beyond what is healthy for us all.
Why is energy dominance unhealthy and unwise? Because it is blind to the natural interdependencies of life. It is just as true for the microcosms in the soil as the macrocosms of migration corridors. Every time we have unwittingly altered the balances of nature, someone or something has had to pay the price. And this is especially true for fragile landscapes, like the Red Desert, right here in Wyoming.
Energy dominance may sound like a grand idea in terms of a global marketplace, but it is short-sighted for those of us who live in Wyoming and will continue to drink the water long after the wells have gone dry, or continue to hunt after big game has dwindled beyond repair.
The Wyoming Association of Churches was formed, in fact, during the 1970s when local churches realized that the energy boom had negative impacts that would last for years to come. It is the goal of the Wyoming Association of Churches, now Wyoming Interfaith Network, to look at the long run, not just the next election. It is also our work to bear witness to human responsibility in a world that God has made.
So, in a year of rushing toward energy dominance, we have to weigh not only the scientific consequences of the extraction industries, but ethical dilemmas of how we have altered time-honored patterns of life. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has asked for these changes:
1) The Bureau of Land Management should sell nearly every parcel nominated for oil and gas leasing.
2) Furthermore, these sales should be expedited so that there is no time to do research on the impacts of oil and gas development on wildlife native to the region.
And, finally, under Zinke’s instruction, the BLM has been asked to ignore past agreements that protected sensitive areas. In other words, the language of energy dominance and its accompanying polices mean that there will be winners but there will indeed be losers.
The energy secretary says we need “dominance.” The pope says, “We need one another.” And the Wyoming Interfaith Network says, “Our home is a place with clean waters, kind people and magnificent landscapes. In caring for creation, we can know that something lasts beyond us, and we can come closer to what God has in mind.”
In caring for creation, we can honor the long traditions of faith that listened to words that still guide us: “See, I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose Life that you and your descendants might live.”