“So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are” Or shall you? This quote from the Bible in the Book of Numbers seems very matter-of-fact in its declaration and is, in fact, one of many that outlines the relationship between the two living creations of God, humans and nature, in the Christian creation myth. Selected verses from the Bible concerning the environment can range wildly, be unclear, and even be contradictory, but they all generally try to communicate the same message of using the earth for our needs — and — taking care of it so as to keep it in harmony with us and within itself.
I quote the Bible here because there is one particular passage from it that I think is too often used to go against that general message I specified before. Most that are somewhat familiar with the Bible can probably already guess the quote, but nevertheless, it comes from the first chapter in Genesis, verse 26, and reads, “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’”
This quote is usually used to prop up absolute domination over the earth. Specifically, the utilization of earth’s resources in any and every way humans can imagine without regard to effects on the environment or the people those resources are meant to be used for. In a way, human domination is literally true according to the exact words. “Dominion” is not a light word and is denoting something approaching absolute. Also, physically, humans do dominate the earth. We have intellect unrivaled by any other animal that allows us to shape the world in ways only mortally imaginable. But humans are only at the top so far as intellect is concerned; in reality, humans are just as influenced by nature as we influence it. The small, precariously floating wet rock we call home is, in reality, a hostel that we share during our trip through space. We are all connected, so it is in our interest, as well as nature’s, to ensure that this home is well kept and in order.
The placement above other living things that our nature entitles us to eases exploitation of the earth and makes restraint difficult. Yet, restraint has been a strong influencer in America’s interest in preserving its diverse beauty. I think the awe of nature in its grand canyons, strong rivers, crowded forests, chilled tundras, scorched deserts, and faraway islands touches a part of the human psyche that yearns for conservation and preservation — to be a part of something bigger than oneself. It certainly beckoned to President Theodore Roosevelt, and it has done so for generations and politicians after him.
Today, however, we find a different story. Land and sea and sky once dedicated to remaining unspoiled is since open to horrors of industrial processing and waste accumulation. The one that struck me the hardest and became the impetus of this article was the reduction of the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments.
In 2017, the Trump Administration announced and started the process of reducing the size of these monuments to open the land for energy exploration, and it is this year that the decisions go into full effect. The cuts made by the administration were drastic and the largest in the nation’s history. The protected area in Bear Ears was slashed by 85% while Grand Staircase-Escalante was reduced by 47%, an absurd and damning amount of land. The equivalent here in Louisiana would be announcing two-thirds of the Kisatchie National Forest open to logging — again, absurd.
These two national monuments are the very essence of natural beauty and earth’s wonders. Millions of years of natural processes have culminated in structures that rival the human imagination of architects. Strong arches and proud columns extend themselves from the ground below to announce their presence to the land. Smooth, permanent waves of rock and jagged mineral steps paint this landscape to suggest to the viewer that this place was made to be experienced and loved by any being who might appreciate it. Places that can evoke such feelings — places like the Grand Canyon, Redwood Forest, Yosemite and Yellowstone — are designated as being too precious and pure for human intervention and are rightfully done so.
The decision to open up these lands is being challenged in court; the argument being the president is not given the power by the Antiquities Act to reduce the size of lands deemed national monuments, only the power to expand existing ones or create new ones. The power to reduce the lands lies solely with Congress, they argue. I hope they are right, and I hope that this administration would come to its senses and realize that the earth is the home of all, and to make a short-term decision of financial gain will undeniably cause long-term irreversible effects to the landscape.
A decision like this, so utterly lacking in compassion and empathy towards the people who enjoy and the creatures that utilize these solemn alcoves of the earth, is a poignant reminder of whose interests this administration has in mind.