By Trevar Simmons
Few people fit into these two caricatures, if any. In reality, a plurality of voices engage in environmental conversations. Carol Warren is one of these people and one to confound a number of stereotypes. Warren serves with the West Virginia Council of Churches (WVCC) as the chair of the Government Concerns Program Unit. Many people will hear this affiliation and assume Warren is closer to the right side of the conversation, since stereotyped Christians can barely wait until “hallelujah, by and by, [they] fly away,” to take a good hymn out of context.
But Warren has another affiliation. She is a project coordinator and faith-based liaison for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). As part of OVEC, she must be one of those extreme, tree-hugging environmentalists. How can she have these faith ties?
Warren has worked in the church in some capacity for the past twenty years and with OVEC for three years. She is an active Roman Catholic who cares about justice, particularly environmental (or eco-) justice. Her dual roles with WVCC and OVEC allow her to pursue her passions in public life.
I met Warren at the capitol building in Charleston where she was attending meetings on water, forests, and waste disposal. She said her voice and the voice of other Christians are particularly potent in these situations, because she sees environmental issues as ethical issues and, therefore, issues for ethical religions like Christianity.
According to Warren, “the faith community is the only voice accepted as … an ethical, moral voice.” Warren’s voice doesn’t differ greatly from environmentalists in terms of solutions–she works with an environmental group, after all–but she carries the ethical, moral weight people do not readily give to the environmental community, because of stereotypes. Warren wonders who speaks for ethics, morals, and religion in these situations “If the faith community is not there”?
Warren is not only surprising in her passions, but also in her role with OVEC. Although much of OVEC concerns itself with coal-related issues, especially mountaintop removal, Warren spends much of her time lobbying about natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Warren predicts, “what coal has been … natural gas will be in the twenty-first century.” If the way we tap into natural resources is an ethical issue, then we need to develop our morals alongside of our methodology. OVEC and Warren want to be involved in the early stages of developing appropriate ethics and methodology for natural gas drilling.
One such developmental concern for Warren is West Virginia property owners. “When you buy land in Appalachia,” Warren says, “all you have is the air” and the surface. Only when property owners have mineral rights do they have a say in what happens under their land. And what happens under their land can be a justice issue beyond the environment. The hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) involved in drilling in the Marcellus Shale poses environmental issues, one being the process uses millions of gallons of water. The waste water causes a health concern, thus moving the issue to justice concerning health and children. Drilling and water treatment would create many jobs, but Warren predicts these jobs would be filled by out-of-state employees, causing a labor issue for West Virginians.
Although Warren works with environmental issues with OVEC, she says, “the justice issues are so interrelated.” What she does with OVEC is not only about the environment, but also about many other justice issues, which is a large part of her position with WVCC.
Warren’s knowledge, faith and environmental affiliations enable her voice to be respected by legislators and the faith community. She says people know she is “not a ‘whacko’ who goes off on them” and that “they can talk to me.” She promotes dialogue with all, whether they agree with her views or not: “not talking to somebody never does any good.”
As for her views, she believes people should treat the planet like God would treat it, which, she pointed out, God called good before people were in it, according to the story in Genesis 1. Warren sees “creation … as good in itself, rather than good depending on how people can use it.”
It is with these views that Warren lobbies in Charleston and interacts with her own community in Webster Springs, “try[ing] to engage to the extent [that] she can.” Her engagement is admirable and encouraging. If we believe humans should have dominion over the earth (Gen 1:26), we need to determine what sort of dominion we have and what sort of dominion we should have, hopefully making it look like dressers and keepers of the earth (Gen 2:15).
Although Warren currently focuses on oil and gas drilling, she has worked with cemetery preservation and election reform issues, both which resulted in passing successful legislation last year.