Month: November 2021

CEE November Newsletter

CEE News
November 2021

Dear Friends,

As many of us gather to give thanks in the coming days, we at Center for Earth Ethics want to convey our respect and gratitude to Indigenous peoples around the world who have kept traditional ways that honor and protect the whole community of life. We also want to share some updates from our work.



Program Updates

William J. Barber III Joins CEE

If you are in Virginia, please join Will and other dedicated climate justice advocates for ”Protect Our Air, Our Lives” this Saturday, November 27, 2021, 2 – 4 p.m. Eastern Time. Angler’s Park, 350 Northside Drive, Danville, Virginia. Learn More and Register Here.

Virginia Mercury Publishes Karenna Gore Column on Mountain Valley Pipeline

On the 49th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Executive Director Karenna Gore penned a guest column, “The common wealth of water,” in the Virginia Mercury. Gore urged Virginia’s state government not to certify the planned Mountain Valley Pipeline. Read More

“The Time to Act is Now”: A Faith + Food Reflection

Indigenous Water Ethics: A Traditional Dialogue

On Thursday, October 7, CEE convened “Indigenous Water Ethics: A Traditional Dialogue.” Mona Polacca, senior fellow for the Original Caretakers Program, brought together diverse perspectives and lived experiences around Indigenous communities’ water sources: Betty Lyons, president and executive director of the American Indian Law Alliance, Austin Nunez, chairman of the Wa:k—San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and Rāwiri Tinirau, co-director of Te Atawhai o Te Ao, a Māori research institute. Watch Now

Upcoming Events

In Case You Missed It…

Advisory Board member Jacqueline Patterson, environmental justice advocate and founder of the Chisholm Legacy Project, received the 26th Heinz Award for the Environment. Read More

On November 2, Mona Polacca, senior fellow for the Original Caretakers Program, led a session, “In Conversation: Nature’s Community,” at Expo 2020 in Dubai. Learn More

On Tuesday, October 26, Union Theological Seminary hosted an online screening of “The Ants and the Grasshopper”—a new film that follows Anita Chitaya as she visits the US and battles hunger, sexism and climate change in her native Malawi. Co-director Raj Patel introduced the film. Afterwards, the Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, led a discussion with the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center, Karenna Gore, executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics, and Francine Johnson from the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign and Mileston Co-operative. Read More

The Metaphysics of COP26: A Brief Reflection

“Power must be challenged by power,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr in “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” and so it felt during the COP26 gathering in Glasgow. There were the representatives of the world’s most powerful governments and the lobbyists who do so much to maintain business as usual (a data analysis identified 503 from the fossil fuel industry). On the other hand there were agents of transformative change lifting up science and ethics. One question at COP26 was whether the growing cohesion and resolve in the second group is becoming an adequate source of power to change the equation. It seems that the answer is not yet, but almost.

I was grateful to be in Glasgow as a representative of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at Jewish Theological Seminary. I am also grateful to the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation for accreditation and support. There has been a lot written about the COP already, and I am still processing it, so this short reflection is merely to lift up a few highlights and express my gratitude for the opportunity to do this work. There is more to come from the Center for Earth Ethics.

The world’s religions are often cited for the “moral and social pedagogy” that Niebuhr warned was inadequate to effect real political change. They also have land, schools, finances, and are deeply intertwined in cultures around the world in ways that influence collective behavior. One of the most interesting aspects of this moment is to witness the work being done within faith traditions, and the connections being made across them.

Talanoa Dialogue, Garnethill Synagogue (Photo Credit: Brahma Kumaris)

A highlight for me was the Talanoa Dialogue in the historic Garnethill Synagogue, which, with a Jewish Heritage Center housed within, was itself a source of grounding gravitas for the moment. The chief rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, gave opening remarks, and speakers across a wide range of traditions followed.

One of them, Rev. James Bhagwan of the Pacific Council of Churches, spoke from the perspective of small island nations and invoked the meaning of the seashell cross he wore. “People with a deep spiritual relationship with land and sea were told that was backwards and ignorant,” he said. “That is what colonization did to us.” Clearly these faith communities are focused eradicating that effect of colonization and reclaiming that relationship. Rev. Bhagwon also expressed the fight for climate justice (including loss and damage) in terms of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, not only asking “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” but connecting it to the question on the minds of many with a stake in this COP: “Who will pay?”

I was delighted to be on a panel hosted in the World Wildlife Fund Pavilion that was focused on the role of faith-based organizations in both climate and biodiversity work. My remarks focused on three concepts that were being manipulated at the COP in ways that the world’s faith and wisdom traditions have something to say about: time, place and being. Although my framework barely scratches the surface, the metaphysics of COP are worth reflecting on, especially when “offsets,” distant timelines and top-down development models play such a big role in national commitments. My co-panelists—Gopal Patel, Debra Boudreaux, Sister Jayant Kirpalani and Daniel Perrel—each offered moving insights, and I was honored to be included.


Executive Director Karenna Gore with Telma Taurepang of the Union of Indigenous Women of the Amazon

The most interesting encounters I had were with people who were most vocal on the outside of the COP, even if they also appeared within the “Blue Zone” as official observers. I was fortunate to have a chance to speak with Telma Taurepang of the Union of Indigenous Women of the Amazon, who expressed the importance of women claiming power in this time because they are especially called to speak for “Mother Earth” and restore the balance that has been disrupted by predatory and extractionist systems that hide behind the category of “development.” Taurepang also made public comments about one of COP26’s most heralded announcements: the pledge to halt and reverse deforestation by the end of the decade, which was backed by public and private financing of $19 billion. She was skeptical based on experience: “The resource, when it arrives, doesn’t reach Indigenous peoples” she said. Instead, it “goes to those who deforest,” and the deforestation continues.



An interfaith gathering at COP26 Glasgow, Scotland

This brings us back to moral philosophy. Theologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda has written about the concept of “structural evil,” explaining that one of its key characteristics is that it easily masquerades as good. This is one way to explain the tidal wave of greenwashing that accompanies the business-as-usual group at the COP. But a worthy counterforce is building, drawing not only from the science, but also from the transformative work being done within communities who are ready to claim their power.

William J. Barber III Joins CEE as Fellow

Environmental justice scholar and advocate William J. Barber III has joined CEE as a fellow for the Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement Program. He brings to the Center nearly a decade of social justice organizing experience along with deep academic training in both the science and the law behind environmental and climate issues.

“I am pleased to join the Center as a fellow for this next year,” says Barber. “The work that the Center is doing to reclaim the calls for stewardship of our planet—across multiple faiths—speaks to my own desire to explore how we build a movement of power and principle to save people and planet.”

“We are thrilled that Will has taken this fellowship with the Center for Earth Ethics,” says Executive Director Karenna Gore. “He has a deep understanding of the intersection of issues that have culminated in the climate crisis and brings extraordinary skills, insight and passion to solving it in a way that forwards justice.”

“As a son of the church, exploring these intersections of faith and social activism resonates with my own upbringing rooted in a legacy of social justice ministry,” adds Barber.

Barber recently co-authored, with Ethan Blumenthal, an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer presenting “an objective view of implementing greenhouse reduction policies in North Carolina while fully addressing equity and environmental justice concerns.” He was also profiled as part of LinkedIn’s “Rising Leaders” series.

Barber is the strategic partnerships manager at The Climate Reality Project, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary’s Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board, as well as co-chair for the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign Ecological Devastation Committee.

Recently, he founded The Rural Beacon Initiative, a multi-member startup that provides consultation for groups looking to advance equity, climate justice, and environmental justice.

He has several years of experience in grassroots and community organizing. He was a field secretary for the North Carolina NAACP for two years and was one of a three-member leadership team for its Moral Freedom Summer, a long-term voter mobilization campaign. Barber earned his B.S. in environmental physics from North Carolina Central University and earned his juris doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of law, where he focused on environmental law and policy.

william j. barber iii Biography >




The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will take place online on Cork Community Television from Thursday 25th November 2021 until Sunday 28th November 2021. There will be live events, including Q&A’s with the interviewees as well as some live music at the Maldron Hotel in Shandon, Cork, Ireland during the course of the Festival. These are subject strictly to the Covid 19 regulations specified at the time and the attendance will be limited.

Please join us for any of the online and hybrid events happening this week!

Programme of online events on Cork Community Television

For the 2021 Tenth Anniversary Festival Launch, CEE Original Caretakers Senior Fellow, Mona Polacca, joined Spirit of Mother Jones Festival Committee organizer Dr. John Barimo for a special online event. See “Restoring Our Connection to Nature” with Mona Polacca below or on the Mother Jones site here.

This invitation was inspired by the outpouring of support from the Irish people to the Hopi and Navajo Covid-19 Relief Fund. Donations came with heartfelt messages:

“We will never forget your kindness to us when we had less than nothing… in Solidarity from Ireland.”

“In times of great suffering like now, if we could all stand together and support each other… It will make a difference. The generosity shown to the Irish during our famine did that. I want to honour that gesture and help now.”

“In thanks for our fellow Indigenous people’s, the Choctaw Nation, aid during the Great Hunger in Ireland.”

The fund has raised over 7.5 million dollars in support of Hopi and Navajo Nations.

This online interview with Mona Polacca of Hopi, Tewa and Havasupai traditions, took place at the launch of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, 14th October 2021. We were gratefully joined by two University College Cork (UCC) students from the Choctaw Nation, Claire Young and Austin West. A good meeting was had by all.

The discussion was held as part of UCC Community Week in a collaboration between the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival with the UCC Department of Civic and Community Engagement and the Center for Earth Ethics in New York City.

This special launch event was coordinated by UCC’s Dr John Barimo and CEE’s Shannon MD Smith. Many thanks to Mr. Ger O’Mahony, Coordinator and Co-Founder of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival for inviting us to participate in such a meaningful way and for keeping the spirit of Mother Jones, the spirit of justice alive for people and the Earth.

The exchange between the Choctaw and Irish during the Great Famine is memorialized by the ‘Kindred Spirits’ memorial in Cork and in the etchings on the NYC Hunger Memorial.