Letter: Shalom and coal

Many Judeo-Christian traditions affirm God’s call to shalom for the world. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes that “Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation.” It is a vision that sees peace, justice and harmony for all of God’s creation. Shalom is communal — the whole community is involved — and it is important to include progress toward shalom in discussions of the various choices that face us individually and societally.

The current federal coal leasing review offers an opportunity. The federal government owns about one-third of the land with known coal reserves. Coal jobs have fueled our economy for decades, as have the coal revenue to our governments. The money supports thousands of workers and enables investments in projects that serve communities. But studies have found coal royalties paid to governments have been nonuniform, and in most cases, insufficient. We’ve been selling Colorado’s coal for 23 cents a ton — over 17 tons for the price of a Big Mac. That’s not fair to citizens or coal-related workers, and it needs to be adjusted.

These and other potential reforms to the leasing program, and impacts to coal prices from broader market forces, directly affect communities with coal economies. While it is vital to work toward a just transition to a different future for the people involved now, we have to remember that coal is part of a broad range of other relationships in our larger community. We must consider the human and ecological impacts of coal far from the mines and generating plants, and far into the future.

Experts say that 80 percent of all fossil fuel reserves, including 92 percent of U.S. coal, need to stay in the ground if we are to have any chance of avoiding ecological damage. That basically means that no new leases for coal should be issued, ever. Some communities and industries will indeed be hard hit, and they will need help, which, in the spirit of shalom, we should provide. But the long-term systemic damage from mining, shipping and burning more coal is far greater than short-term local impacts.

These inherent conflicts could be mitigated and addressed by holding a vision of shalom. If we reframe the conversation in terms of making progress toward a multidimensional shalom — peace, justice and harmony for all of God’s creation — rather than of single issues such as carbon emissions, specific kinds of jobs or revenue, we can find the space we need to move through these tumultuous times toward a better future for ourselves and for the Earth, our only home.

Mary Sealing, Rev. Brenda Brown

First Congregational United Church of Christ in Grand Junction

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