FEBRUARY 2013

POVERTY, JUSTICE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
How Are They Connected, and Why Should We Care?

AT A GLANCE: THE INTERSECTION OF POVERTY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Of the poorest people in the world, 70 percent live in rural areas, and the vast majority depend on the land for survival through smallscale farming. But the land just isn’t producing enough. Parents struggle to put food on the table, and children aren’t getting the nutrition they need to grow up strong and healthy. Families don’t have enough income for basics such as children’s school fees or family health care. You don’t have to dig far to get to the root cause. Extreme poverty and environmental degradation are directly linked.
Consider the cycle of poverty and deforestation. As agricultural productivity decreases, farmers who are desperate to feed their families turn to cutting trees either as a source of income or to clear land to farm. Yet attempts to grow crops on cleared land are unproductive because the soil’s fertility and ability to hold water has been compromised. The deforestation also leads to serious erosion, causing soil depletion, water pollution, and increased vulnerability to storms and other disasters. The continued decline in productivity paradoxically leads to more tree cutting. And the vicious cycle continues.

The harsh reality is that the poor are most affected by environmental issues like deforestation, climate change, and pollution— yet they have the fewest resources to make significant changes.

Today, the country has to import 60 percent of the food it needs, and half of children under 5 are malnourished (IFAD; UNDP Human Development Report, 2004). In Burundi, one of the five poorest countries in the world, more than 90 percent of people depend on farming for survival, but 70 percent of the soil has been degraded, leading to the highest rate of food insecurity in the world (IFAD; 2012 Global Hunger Index) Next door in Tanzania, 98 percent of rural women who are economically active depend on farming, yet there remains a 42 percent rate of chronic under-nutrition among children under 5 (USAID). PLANT WITH PURPOSE is dedicated to transforming the lives of poor, rural families in places where extreme poverty and environmental degradation intersect. Learn more at plantwithpurpose.org

THE FACTS: REAL PEOPLE, REAL PLACES

Let’s look at Haiti, for example, where the connection between environmental degradation and poverty is undeniable. In a country that was once lush and green, only 2 percent of the original forest remains.

And in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the majority of indigenous families go without enough to eat, poverty has led to the country’s highest rate of migration, as men head north to find work.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. We believe that together, we can help families change their circumstances, provide for their children, and live with dignity. Even in the most degraded areas, we see places of possibility, not places defined by poverty.

three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people” (Lausanne Movement, “The Cape Town Commitment,” 2010).

A CALL TO RESPOND: PRAY, LEARN, DO
• Arocha engages in scientific research, communitybased conservation projects and environmental education in response to the biblical call to steward the earth. arocha-usa.org • Creation Care Study Program is a Christian organization that educates students to be a part of, and agents for, God’s shalom particularly through understanding and caring for creation. creationcsp.org • Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) seeks to equip, inspire, disciple, and mobilize God’s people in their effort to care for God’s creation. creationcare.org • Plant With Purpose works to transform lives at the intersection of poverty and the environment around the world. plantwithpurpose.org • Renewal is a Christ-centered, student-driven network that strives to inspire, connect, and equip students in their sustainability efforts. renewingcreation.org • Restoring Eden makes hearts bigger, hands dirtier, and voices stronger by rediscovering the biblical call to love, serve, and protect God’s creation. restoringeden.org • Young Evangelicals for Climate Action are taking action to overcome the climate crisis as part of our Christian discipleship and witness. yecaction.org In Kadiso, Haiti, Philidor and his wife, Marie Anne, have seven children (ages 4 to 18). As a subsistence farmer, Philidor was at the point of despair because his land was not producing, and he couldn’t provide for his family. “I did not have hope that life in Kadiso was possible,” he says. But then he learned and put into practice sustainable agriculture techniques, combined with environmental restoration efforts. Today, as a result of a little know-how and a lot of hard work, Philidor says things are different: “I earn my living. I keep my life fairly modest and dignified. I’m happy with myself and who I am today.”

The key is finding solutions that address the environment and poverty simultaneously. In fact, long-term poverty reduction is pretty much impossible without an integrated approach (InterAction Policy Brief: Climate, Environment and Development, January 2013). The key is addressing the cause, not just the symptom. For example, agricultural development allows poor families to grow food and provide for their children with God-given dignity rather than waiting for food aid.

ROOTED IN LOVE: A BIBLICAL RESPONSE
We agree with Leith Anderson, who wrote, “God calls us to care for those who are poor, vulnerable and oppressed. It is the Christian thing to do” (NAE, “Loving the Least of These,” 2011). We believe that when we care for God’s creation—and the people who live in it—we are loving God and loving our neighbor, as Jesus taught: Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV).

Environmental stewardship is an act of caring for the least of these around the world, and the act of caring for the least of these is an act of loving Christ:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40-45, NIV). We support the Lausanne Cape Town Commitment, which says, “The Bible declares God’s redemptive purpose for creation itself. Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all
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