Month: January 2020

Health Care in the Time of Climate Crisis: An Earth Ethics Perspective – 2nd Annual Clinical Climate Change Conference

The Center for Earth Ethics joined the Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research to convene the Institute’s 2nd Annual Clinical Climate Change Conference. Additional partners included the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association. CEE Director Karenna Gore was honored to give the opening Keynote address on Health Care in the Time of Climate Crisis.

About our partner: The Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research is the nucleus of the Icahn School of Medicine’s work on studying how the environment affects human health. To learn more visit: Follow us at @SinaiExposomics.


Karenna also recorded a companion Road to Resilience podcast leading up to the event.  Listen


Watch the Video now at Clinical Climate Change

Please enjoy the full text of Karenna’s speech below or with this pdf link.

Read Full Text:

Health Care in the Time of Climate Crisis: An Earth Ethics Perspective by Karenna Gore

Clinical Climate Change Conference – New York Academy of Medicine

January 24, 2020



Thank you for inviting me to be with you today. Thank you to the Institute for Exposomic Research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai for convening us.

I am the founder and director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. We draw from the world’s faith and wisdom traditions to confront the ecological crisis and we work through education, convening and movement building.



Religion is relevant to climate change work for a few reasons: One is that religious identity drives behavior in much of the world. At its best, religion can call people to values that transcend politics. There is organizing power and reach in faith communities. As in the Civil Rights movement, moral language and communal cultural strength can inspire breakthroughs for social change. People also often turn to spirituality in times of loss and faith communities are often at the forefront of disaster relief efforts, helping people make sense of what has happened and act in service to help their neighbors. Interfaith dialogue can discern values that are held in common across different doctrines and can even unmask some of the belief systems embedded in mainstream secular society. For all these reasons the Center for Earth Ethics takes religion seriously but is not forwarding one particular religious viewpoint. We are working on an ethical framework for our ecological crisis.

Ethics becomes particularly important in times when people sense that morality is out of step with the laws and norms of society. So it is today. The climate crisis is unfolding, and those that suffer most are those least likely to have a voice: the poor, marginalized and most vulnerable peoples of the world (including the elderly, young children and the infirm), all future generations, and nonhuman life. Those laws and norms that facilitate this system and hasten this trajectory are upheld by entrenched political power and financial interests. They also reflect a deeply held beliefs, or illusions, that prevent people from grasping reality and responding to it. I am not a medical professional, and I am eager to learn from you all who are. But I do want to talk about ethics, in the largest sense of the term … how to avoid doing harm, and how to heal. I will focus my remarks on insights from my field, and connect them to clinical health care as best I can.



We live in an extraordinary time, in the midst of an existential crisis that seems to have crept up on us. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been digging and burning the oil, coal and gas stored in the Earth at an ever-increasing pace, releasing emissions that are called greenhouse gases because of the heat-trapping effect in our thin shell of atmosphere. Warnings from scientists go as far back as the nineteenth century but have been more specific, thoroughly researched and urgent, culminating in the recent reports from the International Panel on Climate Change, known as the IPCC.

Their 2018 report concluded that in order to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees over pre-Industrial averages (which is what they have deemed relatively manageable to adapt to), we need to act decisively to curb emissions (by about 45% of 2010 levels) within the next 12 years. According to the math, it means we have ten years left to make those changes in all sectors of society, including buildings, transport, industry, and land use. What it really it means is that every unit and aspect of time is of the essence, and even to meet the less desirable target of 2 degree rise, we must act right now.

At the same time, there has been rampant deforestation and soil depletion, removing critical carbon sinks as well as destroying habitat for other specieswhole interconnected webs of plant and animal life. Who knows how many untapped potential medicines we are destroying unwittingly? It must be said that this is habitat for some humans as well.

I was born in 1973; in my lifetime alone, the human population has about doubled while the wild animal population has been cut in half, 40 per cent of wetlands have been lost, half the coral reefs have died, and we have destroyed half of the world’s forests. In this same time period there have been lifestyle changes aided by technologies that, for all their benefits, have also brought about things like the phenomenon of “screen time” and the proliferation of waste, especially single use plastics. It often feels as if the world is in shock.



How did we get here? The main way that society measures success, metrics like GDP (gross domestic product), do not count some pretty striking things: depletion of resources, pollution, inequality, the spread of disease, or the long term benefit of positive actions like conservation. The argument has been that short term economic growth is good for the well-being of all, and we needn’t concern ourselves with those so-called externalities. We needn’t worry if the products bought and sold are harmful as long as there are more of them, we needn’t worry about long term consequences or aggregate effects, as long as the jobs numbers look good and the stock market is up. We now face a reckoning.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, issued a detailed report last year, which stated “Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. On Dec 19th, researchers from the Climate Impact Lab who are working on precise data driven estimates to project future impacts, recently told the House of Representatives Oversight committee that their main finding to date is that “the increase in global mortality rate due to climate change induced temperature changes in 2100 is larger than the current mortality rate for all infectious diseases.” And this is only a fraction of what will come, if we continue on the path we are on.

Of course, even with 1 degree of warming (in some areas it is a bit more) we now see the stronger storms, exacerbated floods, more severe heat waves, melting ice and permafrost, rising sea levels, raging wildfires, worsened droughts, seasonal weather disruption, and the like, including the ongoing fires in Australia right now that have killed 32 people since September, including 3 Americans yesterday who were piloting a tanker plane to drop fire retardant. It is also estimated that these fires have killed 1 billion animals.



Health care professionals are on the frontlines of this crisis, not only because you treat people who are hurt and suffering, and diagnose and strategize and communicate about how to manage risks that affect whole populations, but because we have a planetary health problem that we, as a whole, have not been able to fully grasp.

Many have used analogies involving doctors in trying to explain what is happening. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe has said the Earth is running a fever, pointing out that a thermometer is not conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. One public intellectual said that we should understand our situation as caretakers of someone who has symptoms of sickness and, having sought multiple opinions, we have found out that the vast consensus is that the patient is suffering from a serious progressive disease called [anthropogenic] climate change. One political leader reached for this analogy a few months ago that illustrates the problem with the gap between the process of treating a patient and the current process of our self-government: “Congress right now, he said, is like a room full of doctors arguing about what to do over a cancer patient. And half of them are arguing over whether medication or surgery is the best approach. And the other half is saying cancer doesn’t exist.” Needless to say, we need more of the kind of disciplined thinking that comes from actual real-life doctors to come to our aid.

Today we will learn more about the way that climate change impacts affect human health, from the injury and trauma associated with extreme weather events, to disease vectors, to issues around hydration and nutrition, to the physiological effects of extreme heat. I have visited some communities impacted already, such a community in Lowndes County, Alabama where a combination of poverty, raw sewage on the ground, rising heat, and more rainfall, have created a haven for disease. As a study by the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College confirmed a couple of years ago, there is a resurgence of hookworm and significant risk of the advent of tropical diseases not known in that region before.

There are also health care concerns on the other end of these impacts: the same activity that is the primary cause of the disruption in our Earth’s atmospherethe extraction and burning of fossil fuelsalso causes ambient pollution that harms human health in the communities where these toxic sites are located. For example, I visited a community called Belew’s Creek in North Carolina which is inundated with coal ash, and suffers high cancer and asthma rates. For years, people there were told that cancer ran in their family, but now they are making the connection and fighting back. Soon I plan to visit St. James, Lousiana, where a giant petrochemical company is planning a 90 billion dollar mega-complex in an overwhelmingly African-American community that has already suffered from the health impacts of the literally dozens of other such plants that are already there in that region, so much so that the region has been dubbed “death alley.”

Some people talk about social services in the time of climate change by emphasizing adaptation. But if all these activities are continued and expanded, if more coal plants are built and more oil and gas fracking and drilling is done, and emissions continue to rise, as they have this past year, there will be no end point of climate impacts to adapt to, no static point of what health care will look like in an altered environment. it will just get exponentially worse.



What is the deepest level of cause of the climate crisis?

On September 19th, 2014 an essay titled Pursuit of the Common Good was published in the journal Science, co-authored by an economist, Partha Dasgupta, and a climate scientist, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, that called for cross-disciplinary engagement in a difficult but infinitely worthwhile task: “Over and above institutional reforms and policy changes that are required,” they wrote, “there is a need to reorient our attitude towards nature and thereby towards ourselves.” 

I want to explore what that means for clinical settings. But first I would like to offer some suggestions from my field of work about our collective relationship to nature now. There was a moment years when the CEO of a large fossil fuel company said something interesting- his contention that fossil-fuel driven economic development was alleviating human suffering (part of the fallacy of the economic growth paradigm we have already considered)– – and when pressed about the problem that his business plan was going to lead to global ecological collapse, he said “what good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers.” The obvious response to this is: well, so we have some place to live? Another response is that, if we do not mitigate climate change, the suffering will be unimaginable. But these responses are not even quite adequate to fully deal with the mistaken way of thinking he gave voice to. And it is not just him. How is it that so many have come to think that the Earth—air, water, soil, other species of life—is simply a backdrop or set of resources, rather than integral to our bodies and our lives.

Part of this problem is theological. Some say it goes all the way back to Plato—who posited a separation between matter and spirit referred to as “dualism” that threaded on through European thinkers such as Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon. Others say it is based on a bad translation of the concept of “dominion” in the Book of Genesis- and a distortion of the concept of “Imago Dei,” that human beings, and only human beings, are created in the image of God.

In that same vein, a clue might be found in the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine to Christianity in the early 4th century, precipitating the marriage of institutional Christianity to empire and colonization. This had a big impact on wiping out animistic spirituality that saw nature as sacred and alive, which made it a lot easier to think of rivers and forests and mountaintops as objects and resources rather than living beings. Imperial forces like to extract resources and control local populations and it helps to promote a belief system amenable to that. In 1967, a medieval historian named Lynn White wrote a paper called the Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis in which he claimed that “The victory of Christianity over paganism was the biggest psychic revolution in the history of our culture.” This is not a comment on the essence of Christian faith, by the way, it is simply an observation of the effect of this convergence of forces.

Then, in the fifteenth century, when the Vatican issued decrees–papal bulls, they were called—that proclaimed that the land and the peoples of the Americas and Africa should be “conquered, vanquished and subdued,” this mentality was instilled in the beginning of European peoples presence in the land we are in now. In fact, Pope Alexander VI’s decree even explicitly stated that the non-Christian peoples of these lands (meaning everyone there at the time) were part of the “flora and fauna” to be subdued. The dehumanization of people of color and the sense of license to pillage the natural world were linked. And judging from the amount of environmental racism there is now—the number one indicator of the placement of a toxic facility in this country is race—it still is.

As far as Christian theology is concerned, there is a lot of work being done do redress this particular doctrinal mistake. In 2015, Pope Francis published an encyclical entitled Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home which is devoted to the concept of “integral ecology.” A quote from paragraph 116: “An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about. Instead, our “dominion” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”



More people are also recognizing that the wisdom of Indigenous peoples is powerful, especially as a counterforce to the chain of events we have set in place. Several teachings from Indigenous peoples of this land come to mind—one, from the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), is that every important decision made today should be made with seven generations ahead in mind. There is also the concept of reciprocity with nature- that as we take, we must also give, even- and perhaps especially- if that is in the form of conscious acknowledgment and respect.

The contrast in belief systems was evident at the conflict at Standing Rock. I was able to be there but I will quote the writer Walter Kirn to give you a sense of what it was like: “It is not a romantic or fanciful event but an earnest and passionate spiritual intervention by people for whom spirit and matter are not separate categories at all but a living, interpenetrating unity. Their immediate concern is with a pipeline capable of fouling the local waters with toxic oil from the nearby fracking fields. Their larger concern is with a mad philosophy that pits human beings against their natural home for vain and temporary benefits.”

The Native peoples at Standing Rock said we are not protestors, we are protectors. They marched behind a banner that said “Defend the Sacred.” The term “water protector” became widespread- and the term “sky protector” has begun to be used as well. This is one example of a reorientation of our attitude towards nature.



The pioneering environmental scientist Rachel Carson wrote: Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

There is now a lot of new research confirming that exposure and immersion in nature is beneficial to health. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2018 found that exposure to the natural world lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing stress. The government of Japan promotes the practice of shinrin-yoku or “Forest Bathing, because of its proven health benefits. As one Japanese doctor has put it, This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.”

Some of this might seem more in category of common sense but the medical research and recommendations are helping people to take it more seriously. According to EPA, the average American spends over 90% of their life indoors and we know also that an ever increasing amount of that time is devoted to screens. In the 2003 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder,” sparking a wave of mainstream cultural inquiry into the effect of nature on health, which has included books such as The Nature Fix. Some of the ensuing discourse seems to dwell on the lack of specificity of accessing the beneficial effect and seeks to identify “micro-hacks” of nature to short cut the benefits with maximum efficiency.

I think of the words of one of my favorite theologians, Howard Thurman, an African- American Baptist and mystic who was a significant influence on Martin Luther King Jr. (he was dean of Boston University’s Marsh Chapel when King was a student there and he wrote an extraordinary book called Jesus and the Disinherited which King carried around with him for some time. In The Search for Common Ground, Thurman wrote: Man cannot long separate himself from nature without withering as a cut rose in a vase” and he posited that many modern mental and emotional disorders result from feeling “rootless” and “vagabond” and even a deranging effect of sensing that collectively we are “fouling our own nest.”


This community has long been aware of the connection between the realm of the physical and the realm of the mental and emotional. The Climate Psychiatry Alliance states that “mental health is profoundly impacted by the disruptions associated with climate change” and has created a forum to bring psychiatrists together to have a collective voice on this issue. Of course, this includes trauma from extreme weather events and the stress-inducing effects of extreme heat and the like, but there is a growing body of work around mental health and climate in a more broad sense.

In 2017, the American Psychological Association endorsed a body of research identifying “eco-anxiety.” Dr. Lise Van Susteren uses the term “pre-traumatic stress disorder.” Many people are now discussing the phenomenon of “climate grief” – brought on by the sense of the current loss of biodiversity and empathy for the suffering of those experiencing climate impacts, as well as the recognition that the future looks much different than we had imagined, and that we may have saddled our children with an unspeakable burden. This is a real mental health issue. It is one that religious and spiritual leaders deal with as well and we all need the best clinical research and insights to draw from.

To return to the theme of concerning ourselves also with the level of cause . . . consider this: the American Psychological Association also stated: “To compound the issue, the psychological responses to climate change, such as conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness, and resignation are growing. These responses are keeping us, and our nation, from properly addressing the core causes of and solutions for our changing climate, and from building and supporting psychological resiliency.”

Not only is the climate crisis causing mental health issues, but it seems that our failure to respond to the climate crisis is itself a mental health issue. After all, half the global warming pollution in the atmosphere has been put up there in the last 20 years, the time that we have known the most about this and had the most available alternative in clean renewable energies. Metaphors of addiction and suicide are hard to avoid. Clinical insights about preventing and treating these maladies are not incidental to our ability to solve the climate crisis.

Here again, connection to nature has proven therapeutic. I would suggest that this may be especially true if there is an establishment of reciprocity with nature, rather than resource extraction. A sense of belonging is reciprocal, and powerful, and hard to fake. The trauma theorist Bessel Van Der Kolk has written that “safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives;” perhaps in the time of climate crisis that insight can also be applied to the connections of humans to nature as well as to each other

In the book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “Restoring land without restoring our relationship is an empty exercise. It is relationship that will endure and relationship that will sustain the restored land. Therefor connecting people and the landscape is as essential as reestablishing proper hydrology or cleaning up contaminants. It is medicine for the earth.” We could add to that: It is also medicine for humanity.



In addition to reconnecting to nature, there is a bit of hard core public health advocacy work that needs to be done. In this situation, surely the call to heal must include a duty to warn.

You all are familiar with the power of marketing and PR. The history of the tobacco companies and their deliberate campaign of misinformation around smoking is an important case in point. Thank you to the American Lung Association, one of our co-hosts today, for the great work done on that issue, and on so much else. In the book Merchants of Doubt, the historian of science Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway lay out that history and its connections to the dynamics of current misinformation from the fossil fuel industry. When medical professionals step up to educate the public and hold all the layers of our self-government accountable to the truth about public health hazards, it brings change.

One of my favorite figures in American history is Dr. Alice Hamilton who was active a hundred years ago, in the aftermath of World War One. The American Public Health Association, one of our co-hosts today, which does such wonderful work, gives an award in her name every year. She was an expert what was termed “industrial medicine” at a time when toxins such as lead and mercury were poisoning workers in factories and there was no precedent for preventative measures or government oversight or regulation. Indeed there was a sense that anything that interrupted the industrial juggernaut of the early twentieth century was somehow anti-American. With a combination of meticulous research, moral reasoning and skilled advocacy, she was among those that achieved the first protocols, laws and policies for occupational medicine.

Incidentally, in 1919, Hamilton was the first woman faculty member of Harvard University and it was not because they were looking for a woman—in fact they made stipulations to her contract that said she was not allowed in the faculty club, could not go to Commencement and could not have any football tickets– it was because she was the preeminent figure in a new and critical field. Hamilton explained that qualified male scientists rejected this field because it was “tainted with socialism or with feminine sentimentality for the poor.” This too is something for us to be aware of—the notion of a taint– some of the most essential approaches in clinical climate work may initially be treated the same way. And of course, it is combined with the inevitable pushback from those with a financial stake in the status quo. Be as unintimidated as Alice Hamilton was in protecting workers in factories.

Today, the so-called “externalities” of our industrial society have increased to the point that they threaten the future of human civilization. Chemical companies and the political leaders they donate to are leading efforts to roll back protections from toxic chemicals like the ones Alice Hamilton and later, Rachel Carson and others fought for. The federal government is pushing out scientists who are telling the truth about climate change and even removing the mention of it from public documents. We need a public health campaign like never seen before, and I applaud those in this community that are already rising to the challenge.



I hope that this this talk has been helpful in some way. I know that your work is noble and necessary and hard, even in the best of times. Thank you for listening to the perspective I bring from Earth Ethics and being open to the ways it intersects with health care. This is no ordinary time and we are together in not knowing how it will all turn out. As the Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy has put it, “The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift may arise from grief for our world that contradicts illusions of the separate and isolated self. Or they may arise from breakthroughs in science, such as quantum physics and systems theory. Or we may find ourselves inspired by the wisdom traditions of native peoples and mystical voices in the major religions [saying] that our world is a sacred whole in which we have a sacred mission.”

When it comes to matters of life and death, Doctors and other health care professionals have unique respect and authority in our society. We need you to warn and we need you to heal. We need you to be aware of the climate crisis in your individual practice … particularly as you treat the poor, the elderly and the children who will bear a disproportionate burden, but also in your work among all peoples of all backgrounds; we are inter-connected, the current trajectory of the climate crisis is a force that would ultimately spare no one, and we need treatment at the level of cause as well as effect. Solving it should be a unifying cause- we all breathe air, we all drink water, we all eat food that grows in soil. We are the Earth. Lets trade the illusion of externalities for the reality of exposomics, the harm of mere extraction for the healing of reciprocity– and let’s get this done. Thank you.


Join us at the Center for Earth Ethics!  Receive updates, invitations to public events, and reflections on the work ahead.



Flashback to 2018… Karenna Gore interviewed by LINYEE YUAN.

LinYee Yuan is the founder and editor of MOLD. Through original reporting, MOLD explores how designers can address the coming food crisis by creating products and systems that will help feed 9 billion people by the year 2050.

“When we frame [climate change] as a moral and spiritual problem, it’s about caring for the most vulnerable, and it’s also about our own integrity. Are we able to look at the real costs? Just because costs aren’t measured does not mean they don’t exist.” – CEE Director, Karenna Gore

Read the full article here…

Catherine Coleman Flowers: A Rosa Parks Day “Catalyst for Change”

At the Rosa Parks Commemoration in Huntsville, AL guest speaker Catherine Coleman Flowers, CEE’s Senior Fellow, spoke on how Environmental Justice and Climate Change are Civil Rights issues. Catherine was among those honored as a “Catalyst for Change” including the youth winners of the “I am Rosa Parks” essay contest.

The Commemoration was celebrated over many days and included the keeping open of the first seat on every bus, voter registration hours and the Declaration of Rosa Parks Day – December 2nd. Visit the Rosa Parks Day Huntsville/Madison County facebook page for more photos and videos from the event!

Watch Video of Catherine speaking at the event with many thanks to the League of Women Voters of the Tennessee Valley.

Read the Transcript below:

“The environmental issues are human and civil rights issues because there primarily – you see the people on the front lines are people of color, are people that are marginalized.  I had the opportunity to go West Virginia and I saw in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee I saw white people there reminded me of people in Lowndes County – they were poor.  Some of them were still using outhouses and that was recently.  That was part of the new Poor Peoples Campaign.

I had the opportunity to go down to Cancer Alley which is between New Orleans and Baton Rouge where multi-national corporations were allowed to come to the United States and poison the air and poison the water.

and on the way there I was riding with the General some of you know, who became well known because of Katrina, General Russell Honoré who is now an environmental activist.

and General Honoré was taking us there. We passed by plantations and sugar cane fields that were out there and these home were inhabited by people that were descendants of former slaves and they have some of the highest cancer rates in the country.

and if you go to East L.A. and find out where they are putting these oil rigs, they’re not putting the oil rigs where these wealthy homes are burning up every time there’s fires in California cause they’re dealing with issues too but they’re doing that because they can afford to be places where most people cannot afford to be and shouldn’t be there.

but in terms of East L.A. we see high asthma rates and a lot of illnesses associated with being near oil rigs.

It’s a human rights and a civil rights issue because that’s where these dirty plants are put, they are put in communities where people cannot speak for themselves because they are either poor, or they simply don’t care because they are people of color.

The reason that we should all be concerned about it – look at the movie Dark Waters. That community that DuPont poisoned was white.  It’s getting to the point now we have people in office that don’t care about environmental protection rules and after awhile it’s not going to stop –

Water doesn’t stay in one place – it moves!

And we’re seeing fishkills here in Alabama.  We’re seeing – I saw one story where in south Alabama divers were in Mobile Bay doing something there in the Mobile Bay and had to move to another area because the water’s contaminated.

I just shared an article on Facebook where on military bases now the water is contaminated.  I mean we have to all be concerned because if you don’t care about it being in Cancer Alley, if you don’t care about it being in Lowndes County, or the Mercury that’s poison, Uranium poisoning people in Navajo nation sooner or later if there are no rules in place we are all going to be suffering because we only have one world.  And I’d like to segue into something if I might.

It’s that one of the other issues that I’m very involved in is Climate Change.

The people that are suffering right now that are on the front lines are the poorest communities. In the black belt for an example, I know that Daniel Tate is here in the audience.

Daniel Tate, I know I’m getting ready to say something very unpopular, it’s something that we all need to be aware of.  All over the state of Alabama we have more sunshine than anywhere else but we have a tax on solar in this state that needs to be removed. (Read Catherine’s Op-Ed in the Montgomery Advertiser) People should have the right to control what they would put on their homes and they should be able to generate their own power.

And if we don’t do that, if we don’t switch to renewable energies and have a Green New Deal we are all going to suffer.

I think it’s ok for us to reflect and talk about the past, but I’m concerned about 7 generations to come. We keep doing what we’re doing right now and the Earth will not be able to be inhabitable by our great great great grandchildren and I’m very concerned about that.

We’re not a point in our lives right now where we can say “oh that’s happening in Lowndes County so I don’t care about that.”  We need to be concerned.

And if Jane Fonda who is on my board can get our there every Friday for #FireDrillFridays at the age of 82 because she has a 3 month old grandson… She’s concerned about her grandson’s future. I think we all need to take a stand

It shouldn’t just be the children – the child have always lead but it’s time for us to lead too and get out there and make sure that we become servant leaders.

And that we also make sure… my grandson about to graduate from Troy University about to graduate in Resource Management.

We have be concerned about 7 generations to come.”

Also read Catherine’s Op-Ed Alabama Voices: Two million Americans are in a water crisis; some of them are your neighbors.


Catherine Coleman Flowers

Catherine Coleman Flowers is Senior Fellow of Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement at the Center for Earth Ethics as well as the director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice.

Learn More about Catherine’s work…


A Community Response to Climate Change – Regional Minister’s Training

A problem with climate change is that no one knows what’s going to come next. Yes there are climate models – some from nearly 40 years ago – that accurately predict the moment we are in: record floods, incredible droughts, dwindling snowpacks, and a full ⅓ of the year consumed by fire.  

What is lost in these reports, though, are the realities of the communities that now must respond to the crises they create. They don’t tell the stories of those forced to relocate to Portland because their home went up in flames two years ago in Paradise, CA. These unwilling transplants never dreamed of moving to Oregon but are here now trying to make sense of their new lives. There are thousands of such in-migrants finding their way to Oregon either due to force of circumstance or because they can see the writing on the wall. 

Oregon has always been a popular destination for transplants but the numbers are being amplified thanks to climate change.  Already stressed and aging infrastructure in cities across the state are being asked to do more than ever before. Bend is expecting a ~40% population increase in the next decade leading city managers to wonder where to put them and how to allocate an already stretched water supply. In Portland, the housing crisis is only getting worse, to say nothing of the increasing traffic and decreased air quality that will come with it. 

For all of these reasons we are required to think differently about how we live in the now so that we’re prepared for whatever then presents itself. It’s why nearly 40 faith leaders from around Oregon gathered together at Willamette University December 4-5 for a training titled ‘A Community Response to Climate Change’. The training – hosted by the Center for Earth Ethics, the Claremont School of Theology at Willamette University, the Climate Reality Project, and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon – was convened to hear how communities around the state are already being impacted and how faith leaders can best respond. 


One of the principle goals of the conference was to create a stronger sense of community for faith leaders working on climate in Oregon. Advocacy on climate can be an isolating experience for many faith leaders who don’t find allies within their peer groups or in their own communities. Yet though climate change remains a politically charged topic, the felt realities of climate change refuse to be ignored. Many pastors in the room shared how their congregations are increasingly impacted and of the emotional and financial toll climate change brings. And while those in the rooms came from very different contexts around the state several common themes emerged among the group: struggles to address mental health issues related to climate change, a desire for better disaster preparedness, responses to wildfire, and an ever increasing need to care for immigrants and in-migrants moving to the state. 

While the problems facing communities are becoming startling clear the solutions to them remain clouded and somewhat distant. Working groups to address each of the issues were created to identify and imagine how the faith community could respond especially in regards to the most vulnerable in Oregon. There is no doubt that frontline and historically marginalized communities are feeling them the worst. It was important that these voices were present as conference attendees but also as speakers to highlight the struggles many of these communities face. We were grateful to hear from Oriana Magnera of Verde NW, Pastor E.D. Mondaine of the Portland NAACP, and Jeremy Five Crows of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. 

Ms. Magnera spoke to the need for better legislation to protect air quality, especially in low-income urban zones. It’s not by mistake that most bus depots and major thoroughfares are placed next to brown, black, and low-income neighborhoods leading to increased incidences of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. It is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately and once solved, will have cascading benefits for surrounding communities and their environments. This message was echoed by Pastor Mondaine as well, who through his work at the NAACP, has fought for community water and housing rights and meaningful climate legislation.  One such piece of legislation is the Portland Clean Energy Fund that “will lift up a community-led vision that builds resilience and wealth in the face of climate change and federal inaction.” 

Jeremy Five Crows challenged the audience to look at the religious and cultural impacts of climate change through the lens of the  First Foods tradition of the Umatilla Tribe which serves as a reminder to local tribes to care for the First Foods – water, fish, game, roots and berries – that care for them. As climate change worsens, each of these elements are threatened differently and must be cared for in their own ways. If left unaddressed, these foods may be lost to history taking with them a cultural and spiritual importance of generations. 

The problems set in front of us are limitless. Even in a room of pastors whose day job is to help others find hope and purpose, the reality of climate change weighs heavy. Climate change asks us to truly look into the void of not only our own mortality but of the morality of every aspect of the world which grounds us and gives us meaning. It means articulating a future not of hope and happiness but of loss and unknown change. It’s an existential weight that bears down on each generation differently. For the old it’s a question of what have they done? How could they leave behind such an awful legacy? For the young it’s wondering how to come to terms with a dramatic harrowing future. And for those somewhere in the middle its severing the promises we were told in our youths and doing our best to prepare the way for ourselves and those younger generations we’re now accountable to in ways we never imagined.

There’s always a way out of no way. There’s always reason to hope even if it’s not ready to be found. When we began the conference,  Rev. Michael Ellick of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon reminded the room that we don’t have all the answers – and that’s ok. What we have is each other and the connections we make now are critical for dealing with tomorrow’s problems. We must grieve what is being lost while keeping ourselves open to the new life that emerges along the way. There’s always hope for the new. 


NYC Climate Speaks Youth Program Applications Due January 17th!

Want to inspire action on climate change? Register today for Climate Speaks 2020!

Announcing Climate Speaks 2020, a creative writing and performance program.

Students, sign up here to participate!

Registration Deadline: January 17th, 2020

Free program, spots limited, registration required.

Phase 1: Jan.–March

Phase 2: March–April

Phase 3: April–May


Competition (Optional)


All students participate in climate justice and creative writing workshops

Interested students receive training and mentoring and can compete for a chance to perform

Selected students continue collaborating with teaching artists before a series of performances

Climate Speaks 2020 – Flyer and Workshop Dates

Climate specialists & teaching artists help students hone their voice to confront the climate crisis.

Open to all h.s. students in NYC metro area – No experience necessary!

Click here for information on program structure, dates, and locations.

“I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. It was a huge confidence boost, and has opened up so many avenues of involvement in climate action.”

Jade, Climate Speaks 2019 Performer

Follow @climatespeaks and @climatemusem on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

For highlights from the 2019 program, visit or

Climate Speaks is presented by the Climate Museum and the NYC Department of Education Office of Sustainability. The museum would like to give special thanks to Urban Word NYC, The New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, the DreamYard Project, Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens, and the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.

Successful Seminar “Indigenous Knowledge for Integral Water Management in Latin America and the Caribbean”

Report on “Indigenous Knowledge for Integral Water Management in Latin America and the Caribbean ” Manaus, Brazil August 8-9 from CODIA.  CEE’s Mindahi Bastida was pleased to participate (see photo below).

CODIA, September 6, 2019

Within the framework of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, UNESCO convened leaders from Panama, Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico and Colombia, as well as local communities in Manaus around the Seminar “Indigenous Knowledge for Integral Water Management in Latin America and the Caribbean ”(Manaus, Brazil August 8-9). The meeting focused on the discussion about the sociocultural, technical, legal, economic and political aspects that the native peoples of the region have taken in the area of ​​water management. Organized by the International Hydrological Program (PHI) of UNESCO together with the UNESCO Office in Brasilia and Quito, the Conference of Ibero-American Water Directors (CODIA), the Agência Nacional de Águas (ANA), with the collaboration of the Organization of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (ACTO).

With the participation of Mr. Oscar Cordeiro Netto, Director of the ANA; Mr. César de las Casas, Executive Director of OTCA; Fabio Eon (UNESCO Brasilia); Ms. Karla Bitar, Superintendent of the Amazon National Historical and Artistic Patrimony Institute (IPHAN AM); and Mrs. Marcivana Rodrigues Paiva, Coordinator of the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of Amazônia Brasileira (COIAB), opened the seminar “Indigenous Knowledge for Integral Water Management in Latin America and the Caribbean” in Manaus, Brazil on the 8th of August at 9:00 a.m.

The Seminar was promoted within the framework of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples as an instance to exchange on the Sustainable Development Goals and their approach in relation to the knowledge of the native peoples about water management with the aim of generating recommendations for international agencies, UNESCO, indigenous peoples, around this theme.

The relationship between indigenous peoples and water resources inspires an approach to water as a human right and a common good, as well as providing the search for new technologies and forms of organization that guarantee water supply to the continent. The inclusion and knowledge of indigenous practices and techniques used in the resolution of water-related conflicts is often important as valuable knowledge for government organizations, businesses and civil society.

The event had a wide regional call through the honorable presence of the Secretary of Water (Ecuador), Mr. Humberto Cholango, and indigenous leaders linked to the management of water resources of Panama, Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico and Colombia, professionals from the water sector of Peru and Chile as well as from local communities in Manaus. In addition, the UNESCO Chair in Water and Culture (UdelaR, Uruguay) and the UNESCO Chair in Sustainability of Water Resources (San Carlos de Guatemala) joined this initiative.


The Conference of Ibero-American Directors of Water emerges as a response to the mandate of the I Ibero-American Forum of Ministers of the Environment (Spain, 2001)  in order to create a forum in Latin America in which the those mainly responsible for water management in the region will participate.The main functions of CODIA are to act as a technical instrument to support the Forum and to examine and implement cooperative modalities in the area of ​​water resources. CODIA is made up of a total of 22 countries.