Without health, life is not life; it is only … suffering — an image of death. -Buddha
The LORD God took the human creature and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. -Genesis 2:15
Eat of the good things wherewith we have provided you, and render thanks to Allah. -Quran 2:172
Jesus went throughout Galilee, …curing every disease and every sickness. -Matthew 4:23
If you could save 17,000 lives while saving society $90 billion every year — you’d take it. Right?
That’s the opportunity that the US EPA has created by issuing a new rule to reduce the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants nationwide. The rule is an important step forward — and the figures noted above are well established. But it’s not just economics and science that make the rule right. It’s consistent with religious values that teach that protecting health and the environment are the right thing to do.
In ancient times, mercury, with its quicksilvery nature, was thought to possess magical powers — the ability to prolong life and heal fractures. But people who acted on this belief saw results to the contrary. A third century BCE Chinese emperor who drank a mercury potion thinking that it would bring him eternal life died soon after. And some ancient Egyptians and Romans used mercury in cosmetics, which proceeded to deform their faces.
Modern science confirms this anecdotal evidence. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that is found in many types of rock, including coal. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the air and makes its way into lakes, rivers, and oceans, and it enters the food chain, accumulating in the bodies of shellfish and fish. Eating fish and shellfish is the main way humans are exposed to mercury.
Studies have shown that 1 in 12 women in the US — and many more than that in some regions — have mercury in their blood at levels above that considered safe by EPA. This is a problem because it impacts fetuses and young children who absorb mercury through their mother’s breast milk. Over 300,000 US children per year are currently at risk of neurological damage due to mercury exposure. These kids will suffer from lower attention spans, delays in language development and fine motor coordination, and lower IQ. They’ll struggle to keep up in the classroom or require remedial education. And this isn’t a problem that’s confined to one part of the country. Health departments in 45 states have issued fish advisories warning people not to limit or avoid consumption of certain types of fish. It’s all around us — and we need action.
Religious teachings consistently affirm the importance of protecting and restoring health. Jesus’ commitment to healing, the Hindu and Buddhist commitment to promoting physical and spiritual well-being, the Koran’s recognition that good health is a sign of Allah’s mercy, Judaism’s demand that society and individuals protect human life — each of these teachings recognizes life’s value, and that protecting health is a sacred duty. And these traditions also affirm that we are responsible for protecting the earth. The Abrahamic traditions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — emphasize that God creates and owns the world and that we are its steward, responsible for its care. Hinduism and Buddhism teach that all life is interconnected and that we are to act compassionately towards both people and the earth. The quotes from sacred texts at the beginning this blog posting offer further examples of spiritual teachings in support of health — human and environmental. This is a case where science, economics, and our moral values all line up.
GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental coalition which I serve, is committed to helping people of diverse faiths put their beliefs into action for the earth. We’re inviting people to sign a petition to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that offers support for the new EPA rule. I hope you’ll join us in fighting for an earth that supports healthy life abundantly — just as its Creator intends.
GreenFaith is an interfaith coalition which educates, inspires and mobilizes members of diverse religious communities for environmental leadership. More information is available at www.greenfaith.org or on Facebook.
Photo courtesy of GreenFaith
NOTE: This is a guest post from the Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest, GreenFaith Executive Director and a nationally recognized religious-environmental leader.
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