Our House is in Ruins

March 7, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, Rev. Michael Malcom, and Rev. Kate Mosley

In the first chapter of the book of Haggai the prophet says that God asks, “Is it time for you to live in your luxurious homes while my house is in ruins?” God goes on to ask, “How has that worked out for you?” 

In our efforts to expand economic power in the state of Georgia, we have lost sight of the impacts on God’s house and God’s people. God’s house is all the earth and God’s people are all people. Therefore, the forests are God’s house and communities that suffer from the decisions we make via deforestation are God’s people. As to “how has that worked out for you?”, the Stand4Forests resolutions, currently in committee in Georgia’s legislature, call upon the state to recognize and respond to the unfortunate reality that Georgia has become increasingly vulnerable to climate change, extreme heat, and extreme weather events.  However, this is not an isolated event in an isolated state. 

The woods of the American Southeast are on the brink of a crisis. Under attack from a European utilities giant with a voracious appetite for our forests, hundreds of thousands of GA acres are in danger of being harvested, turned into pellets, shipped across the ocean, and burned for fuel disguised as eco-friendly “biomass.”

In just a few years, the Southeast has become the world’s largest exporter of whole trees for foreign energy. One retired forester put it this way: “90% of the forested land in the Southern US is privately owned, so it’s totally unprotected. There is nothing stopping Europe from taking it all in the next 10 years.”

Wood pellet facilities wreak havoc on nearby communities. They spit smog, asbestos, sulfur dioxide, and explosive dust into the air, cause increased road and rail traffic, and put undue stress on an already crumbling infrastructure. They create constant noise pollution and can drastically reduce area property values. The wood pellet industry relies on just a few highly specialized jobs and therefore does little to nothing to boost the local economy. 

This industry has a long history of siting their plants in poor, rural, communities of color. These are known as frontline communities in the environmental justice movement because they often suffer disproportionately from the health impacts of polluting industries. There are many health and quality of life impacts from the wood pellet industry but the clear cutting associated with this industry also leaves these communities more exposed to damaging winds and flooding from storms – storms that are only expected to increase in intensity and frequency as the result of our changing climate. 

Dr. King said, if America is to survive and prosper we must realize “there is a fierce urgency of now.” America is facing a moral dilemma. Do we make decisions to sustain the earth and its inhabitants or do we decide to destroy all that has been provided for us?” As stewards of creation, we have been mandated to care for God’s creation. This creation is both people and planet. These two cannot be separated. Our very own Dr King said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

This region’s trees allow us to hunt and fish in the wild, help keep our air and water clean and buffer our communities from floodwaters, give homes to millions of living creatures, and help to shape the area’s character. Right now, there are two resolutions sitting in the Natural Resources and Environment committees in the Georgia General Assembly, Senate (SR 108) and House (HR 930). These resolutions aim to protect our woods from being incinerated in distant fires. They will help keep Georgia’s wild places wild, and our communities healthy. Our legislators need to know that trees deserve protection. Legislators need to hear the S4F Resolutions in committees this month. Join us in protecting our state’s trees by adding  your voice to the movement and taking the pledge at bit.ly/Stand4ForestsPledge. 

Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, Interfaith Power & Light Board; Rev. Michael Malcom, Executive Director & Founder of Alabama Interfaith Power & Light; Rev. Kate Mosley, Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light