In early May a group of activists gathered in a small Minnesota town. There they heard one woman recount the story of coming across a notice of sale for some local land in the newspaper. The price was exorbitant. She immediately grew suspicious. In time it all came out: A knock at the door and a representative of a mining company offering an unsuspecting land owner $10,000 on the spot. All that was necessary was a signature committing to the sale of land. A million and half would soon follow. Never mind that what used to be a home would be turned into a huge mining pit just off one of America’s scenic roads. Nor was mention made of the fact that what was once pure well water would be unfit to drink and the crystal clear country air filled with miniscule cancer causing particles.
It’s all about the extraction of silica sand in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Silica sand is that unique type of sand necessary to concoct the “fracking cocktail,” that is, the combination of water, sand and mostly unknown chemicals which make it possible to dislodge underground gas from the planet. The locals call it frack sand mining.
For sure there are differing opinions in the community. “Sand equals jobs,” say some. A few land owners stake their claim: “It’s our private property; we can do with it what we want.” Others retort: “If ‘your’ polluted well means I can no longer safely drink ‘my’ water and breathe ‘my’ air without risk of inhaling carcinogens coming from ‘your’ land, is your property really ‘private’ after all?”
The anticipation of the pope’s encyclical on ecology and climate change grows with every passing day. Almost everyone seems to have their issue or angle which they hope will be addressed. (Some, on the other hand, wish the entire letter would never be published. EWTN has accused the pope of being hoodwinked into accepting the reality of climate change.) While I don’t expect to find anything in the encyclical about frack sand mining, it most certainly has to say something about the commons, those aspects of life affecting and shared by the entire global community, if the pope is to address climate justice as promised. Surely there will be a relationship able to be drawn to “your well and my drinking water.”
I had read lots about fracking but little about frack sand mining before preparing to give the key note at this gathering of about one hundred Minnesota/Wisconsin activists. This is strangely reminiscent of what years ago was referred to as the “Parable of the Babies Floating Down the River.” Surely you recall the story of those at the water’s edge rescuing first one, then two, then three babies mysteriously floating down stream. Only after the receiving village set up an entire infrastructure to deal with the orphaned babies does someone go upstream to check out the problem at its source. While there may be a shred of truth in the reasoning which says, “No mining of the sand for fracking, no fracking,” we need something far deeper to walk us back from the precipice on which we stand as a global community on so very many fronts.
While we rightly look to the encyclical for this kind of guidance, perhaps it will be very much up to us and the way we use the Pope’s words to make certain they have the desired impact. It will be easy to use the words as ammunition to fire at one another to make our predetermined points. Easy, but far from sufficient. Rather, it seems the invitation is to do the really hard work of internalizing what for sure will be behind every word written: The fact that nanosecond by nanosecond, we are held in existence, woven by Resurrecting Love with all our differences into the tight-knit fabric of one sacred Earth community – people and planet – together an irreplaceable manifestation of the Divine. Contemplating this will make all the difference.
[Margaret Galiardi, is a Dominican Sister from Amityville, New York, whose passion is the contemplative integration of justice and peace for people and planet. She is a “lover of the wild,” a spiritual director and workshop and retreat leader who has lectured nationally on the New Cosmology and the Christian Story. She spent a year living with the Trappistine monks in their monastery on the Lost Coast of Northern California in the Redwood Forest.]