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Written by Jim Jordal   
Tuesday, 26 October 2010

WHO OWNS THE EARTH?

By Jim Jordal

The earth is the LORD'S, and the fullness thereof, the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.

Psalm 24:1-2 (KJV)

 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

Gen. 2:15 (KJV)

We seem to have forgotten that the earth, the sea, the air and everything on it and in it belongs to God—not to those with enough money and power to develop and destroy it. Recent developments in the Gulf oil spill and the 2008 Great Recession make it abundantly clear that we can no longer allow monster international corporations to run roughshod over our rights as citizens and the right of the earth to be protected and nurtured, as the Scriptures above indicate.

Scripture and historical experience—if we would heed them—assign much of the earth to what we might call "the commons," or land and its resources belonging in perpetuity to the people. Obviously, sustainable systems of agriculture and commercial development are necessary if the commons is to continue to support the population. But beginning in the Middle Ages much of this common land was enclosed, or partitioned off by autocrats and given to private owners who then made feudalistic slaves of the formerly free people living there. The process of enclosing public lands for private use continues even today in less-developed areas of the earth like the Amazon rain forest, Southern Mexico and parts of Africa.

We can thank English philosopher John Locke for much of the support behind enclosure. Locke’s philosophy that later set the stage for extreme private property rights was that land belonged to anyone investing labor in it. However, the lifetime labor of the poor or of indigenous peoples did not count because they had no understanding of what it meant to "own" land, and hence no legal system for handling land disposition. This lack of property institutions allowed kings and lords to enclose and seize much of what used to be common lands of the people and to redirect much of Europe into what we now call feudalism.

Today we have a situation in the South American country of Ecuador where Chevron in its search for oil has reportedly seriously polluted an area the size of the state of Delaware. Oil companies and gold producers are notorious polluters because of the by-products of their exploration and production efforts. With Big Oil it’s the devastation necessary to get their drilling rigs to where the oil is and the pollution of native water supplies by oil and drilling by-products. In the case of gold producers it’s the poisonous chemicals needed to dissolve the gold that are then discarded into water sources when no longer needed.

Fortunately, Ecuador is beginning to awaken to the fact that they do not need to allow these corporations to do whatever they wish. There is a legal case in progress now in Ecuador to correct this situation. The report is that Chevron fully expects to lose (about time).

And then there’s Big Coal and its oxymoronic claim that it produces "clean coal." Ecologists tell us that there is no such thing, but the lies and half-truths continue unabated. Who gives coal companies the right to grind off West Virginia mountaintops in order to strip mine the coal deposits below? Did God do this, or did extreme definitions of property rights get in the way of common sense? And the miners and their families; what about them?

People are routinely sacrificed for profits. Miners are afraid to criticize Big Coal for fear of losing jobs, so flagrant and numerous safety violations routinely occur. Cave-ins, explosions and poison gas seepage are considered just part of the cost of doing business. And then there’s the company town and the company store that bring miners into such financial bondage that they can never leave their jobs, nor can their families move to better surroundings. Does God favor this?

And all this escapes public notice and legislative censure because Big Business controls not only large portions of the earth’s surface, but also massive amounts of water, air, and resources and the welfare of hundreds of millions of the earth’s people. In addition, they spend billions per year for lobbyists to ensure that legislatures get only information biased toward business and its property rights.

If you like and accept this situation, then perhaps you ought to read a bit more of what Scripture says about oppression and injustice and who does it. If you hate injustice, you may be losing now, but remember that in the long run you’re on the winning side