A static belief is a dead position. A salient example being Dominican Sr. Patricia Siemen, who, after advocating for the construction of low-income housing in the 1980s that would devastate Florida wildlands, expanded her worldview, pushing her to look deep into her faith.
For Sr. Siemen (and many others), the false dichotomy between, 'human justice issues and environmental justice' can mislead us toward a divisive path. Eventually realizing that these two issues are in fact one, Sr. Siemen began advocating for the protection of Florida wildlife.
Why is Sr. Siemen's story still relevant to issues of social justice? Namely, because her account is far from unique with many Americans still convinced that they must choose between nature and humankind. Instead of condemning these people, we must remember Sr. Siemen and demonstrate to the world that caring for the environment is not putting humankind above nature. Rather, the issues are one in the same, compelling Christians to act in accordance with God's call to care for His creation (Genesis 2:15).
Hear Sr. Siemen's story here: The rights of nature: Patricia Siemen at TEDxJacksonville
Tara García Mathewson | Global Sisters Report
In 1988, not long after Dominican Sr. Patricia Siemen graduated from law school, she worked for a nonprofit that was preparing to build affordable housing for farm workers in south Florida.
She opened a TEDxJacksonville talk in 2013 with the story of how environmental activists fought the project's development in defense of the Florida scrub-jay. Siemen's employer hoped to purchase land that was apparently an occasional habitat of the bird.
"I kept walking that land and saying, 'Over my dead body is some bird going to stop our building housing for people in need,' " Siemen recounts for her TEDxJacksonville audience.
Siemen's sense of social justice has since expanded. Several years after that project — which did, in the end, build farmworker housing on the desired property — Siemen got into environmental ethics, and in 2006*, she co-founded the Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida, where she still serves as executive director.
"There has been this oftentimes divide between social and human justice issues and environmental justice, and sometimes a fear that if we're concerned about environmental justice, we're not worried about human justice," Siemen said.
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