I know it's going to seem a bit obtuse that with all the topics I could choose to write on this week -- airstrikes over Libya, deadly protests in Yemen and Jordan, a lethal bomb blast in Jerusalem and rising radiation levels in Japan -- that I should opt for pecking out a piece on the cutlery changes being made in the House cafeteria. After all, whether or not the main House eatery opts for plastic knives, forks, spoons and cups over the "compostable" sort first introduced by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, hardly ranks up there as an event of earth-shattering proportions.
One of the first things the new Republican House majority did upon taking over the reins of authority was to bring back plastic utensils and plastic (polystyrene) cups, claiming that Speaker Pelosi's "Green the Capitol" initiative -- a $475,000-a year composting program that introduced cutlery made from cornstarch -- was "neither cost-effective nor energy-efficient." According to Sally Wood, the Republican spokeswoman for House Administration Committee Chair Dan Lungren (R-CA), "I think you'd be hard-pressed to find taxpayers who consider blowing a half-million dollars on a failing program a 'small thing' in this economic environment." And yet, these same Republicans -- and quite a few Democrats up to and including President Obama, to be painfully honest -- consider "blowing" more than a half-trillion dollars on tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent "a 'small thing' in this economic environment."
Make no mistake about it: the Republicans have not ditched the eco-friendly plates, cups and cutlery of the Democratic era in order to save a half-million dollars during tough economic times; they have done so to send a political message. To wit, that commerce trumps conservation and that the issue of economy easily outstrips that of ecology. The GOP's "war on compostable cutlery" should come as no surprise; these are, after all, the folks who have lent wholehearted support to legislation:
- Thwarting the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions;
- Cutting the buget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and
- Repealing a national mandate for more energy-efficient cars and light bulbs.
To my way of thinking, there is something maddeningly inconsistent about being "pro-life" and employing the rhetoric of religion on the one hand, while at the same time seemingly turning a hostile blind eye towards anything and everything we might do to save the greatest, most fundamental of all God's creations: the earth. Its about as inconsistent as proclaiming that "Life begins at conception but ends at birth."
To be religious, to believe the Biblical account of the Acts of Creation, means to be a protector of the earth. (n.b. This is not to say that the world was created in six 24-hour days. The Hebrew text -- Gen. 1:5 -- says vy'yihi erev, vy'yihi voker, yom echad, which means " . . . and it was evening, and it was morning, one day. How long was that one day? No one knows. It could have been 24 hours; it also could have been 800 million years . . .)
But regardless of precisely how long it took God to complete the "Works of Creation," there is brilliance, an undeniable logic to the order of that creation. Nothing God created depends or relies on anything created after it; rather, it depends on everything created prior to it. Simply stated, the waters preceded fish and trees preceded winged creatures. As such, the waters do not require anything which swims, flies, crawls or walks upright, but all things which swim, fly, crawl or walk upright require water. Taken to its logical extension, this means that nothing depends on man (the last of God's creations), but man depends on virtually everything.
Moreover, God's very first commandment to humanity (Gen. 1:28) reads: p'ru u'rvu u'milu et ha-artez v'kheebshuha -- namely, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and preserve -- kheebshua -- it." When kheebshua ("preserve it") was translated into Greek, it came out kataktisoun, which actually means "conquer it." From Greek to Latin -- vincere -- to English and a host of other Romance Languages, people were taught that God had given us permission to essentially do whatever we wished with the earth and all its creatures.
What the Biblical text teaches -- at least in the original -- is that our sacred task is to preserve everything God has created . . . the earth and all its creatures. If this is the case, then we have been failing miserably. Over the past generation or so there has developed among many folks, a willful blindness to our destruction of the earth; to the despoliation of the land and water, the air and oh so many, many creatures. To me, it is incomprehensible that so many otherwise intelligent, reasonably well-educated people evince such intense hostility, mistrust and distrust towards science -- specifically in the matter of global warming and all the irreversible extinction it entails. How can so many people willfully blind themselves to the fact of rising temperatures, melting icecaps and species that disappear? To argue that those who insist on cutting America's carbon footprint are somehow subversive, unpatriotic or irreligious, is beyond the pale of reason. And yet, those who have decided that going back to plastic and polystyrene in the House cafeteria is both necessary and important because it will save $475,000 a year (which works out to just under six cents for each of the 2.7 million meals it serves annually) somehow manage to do so with a straight face. If they truly believe the opening words of Psalm 24 ("The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof . . .") they would quit trying to make short term political capital out of an onrushing global catastrophe.
Way back in 1959, the Kingston Trio recorded a Sheldon Harnick ditty called The Merry Minuet. It begins:
They're rioting in Africa/They're starving in Spain
There's hurricanes in Florida/And Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans, the German hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch
AND I DON'T LIKE ANYBODY VERY MUCH!
Keeping in mind all those who refuse to budge on the very real crisis facing our planet, Harnick's piece with:
They're rioting in Africa
There's strife in Iran
What nature doesn't do to us
Will be done by our fellow man!
©2011 Kurt F. Stone