I was raised behind the Redwood Curtain on California’s Mendocino Coast. It is a beautiful bit of creation, tucked there on the edge of the continent, an extraordinary meeting of land and sea, a place of tall cliffs, rocky beaches, wind, and fog.
It’s a hard place to reach by car, and car is the only way to get there. The nearest freeways are more than an hour inland by curvy, two-lane mountain roads that wend their way through vineyards, orchards, and redwood forest. Growing up I had friends who never left the coast without suffering violent bouts of carsickness.
It is difficult to imagine that a place as remote has my childhood home would have any connection to the recent violence in the Middle East, but the Mendocino Coast is a place where huge oil reserves lie beneath the ocean floor. Oil companies have long coveted the offshore oil reserves, and given the ongoing violence in the Middle East as the United States continues its quest to secure its foreign oil supply, many folks are looking at the oil buried off the Mendocino Coast with renewed interest driven by the hope that Americans might one day have an oil supply that needn’t be defended with violence.
On June 29, at the behest of Richard Pombo, a congressman representing a district in California’s San Juaquin Valley, the US House of Representatives passed a bill lifting a twenty-five year moratorium on drilling for oil off Northern California’s coast. The bill now must be reconciled to a Senate bill, passed last week, that would limit offshore oil drilling to the Gulf of Mexico. My fond hope that the Senate will stand firm in its refusal to authorize new drilling in California’s costal waters, because drilling for oil off the Northern California coast would be an abdication of what is best for the earth and of what is best in humanity.
The most common objection to drilling offshore appeals to an environmentalist sensibility. It is wrong intentionally to scar anything beautiful, especially when such scarring has the potential to damage the health of the ocean’s ecosystems. For many opponents of drilling, this is a question of faithfulness: to deface the beauty of God’s creation is blasphemous. It is a compelling argument, as is the suggestion that changing pushers is not the best way to kick a habit.
It also is important to remember that the best way to address a shortage of natural resources is not through exploitation but through creativity. This too is a matter of faithfulness. The creation myths found in the Bible’s opening pages demonstrate both that God is a creating deity and that humanity is made in God’s image. Therefore, when we create, we give expression to the imago dei, the divine spark within us.
Certainly, the American oil addiction is a problem that can be addressed through creativity. Already we have the technology to drive automobiles that are far more efficient than those we tend to buy. We simply need to create for ourselves a self-image that doesn’t draw a correlation between our virility and the size of our tires.
And we can do more. We can create cities with viable public transportation. We can re-create our communities so that they encourage walking and cycling. We can explore greater efficiency in our wind and solar technologies. Humans can be wonderfully creative. It’s part of what makes us different from the other members of the animal kingdom.
Utilizing the creativity that we have inherited as people made in God’s image is a spiritual calling. If we are faithful, then we can preserve the beauty of the earth’s wild places and we can wean ourselves from our great national petroleum jones. We don’t really have to choose.
This is a spiritual reward that is well worth creative pursuit. We need innovation in our personal use of energy, and, looking to November’s elections, we need to choose leaders who will join in the work of creative energy conservation and in the preservation of God’s creation. We need elected officials who understand that the beautiful and wild places of the earth are worth saving, and who understand that energy independence is one way to work for peace in the world. Both goals are achievable, but we must change our lives and habits in creative ways, and we must elect leaders who are willing to let the image of a creating God live in them as they pursue these objectives.