Author: Andrew Schwartz

Heber Brown III | Facebook | Fair Use

On Faith and Food Disparities

 

Last week, Rev. Dr. Heber Brown joined the webinar series CEE hosts with the Climate Reality Project. 

Through the work at his church, Pleasant Hope Baptist, and the organization he founded, the Black Church Food Security Network, He and his congregation are attempting to unravel the strangle hold Food Apartheid Zones – more commonly know as Food Deserts – have on black and brown communities throughout Baltimore and around the country. The semantics between Food Desert and Food Apartheids is important. A desert, as Rev. Brown relays, is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Their being is necessary to the vitality of creation as a whole and foster life found nowhere else.

There is nothing natural about apartheid. By definition, apartheid is “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race” that is intended to harm or disadvantage an entire population. What we see with Food Apartheid are entire communities shut off from healthy, life sustaining foods. It is a conscious decision by grocery chains not to open stores in these locations because they don’t believe the communities will support their profit margins, think them too dangerous, or even that the communities wouldn’t know what to do with the fruits and veggies even if they were made available. Within this are layers of discrimination and racism that form a boot of oppression not easily lifted.

In this webinar, Rev. Brown helps unravel the history of  Food Apartheids, the misinformation that surround them, and actions that communities can take to reclaim power of their own food systems.

Center for Earth Ethics Affiliates with Columbia Earth Institute

Beginning October 2019, the Center for Earth Ethics will affiliate with the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Karenna Gore, as director of CEE, will become an ex-officio member of the EI Faculty.

The Earth Institute (EI) is comprised of nearly 2,000 professionals – including researchers, students, and academics – from across Columbia University. It is a unique gathering place for transdisciplinary conversations to advance Global Sustainability Solutions. EI understands that there is no single solution to sustainability in the time of climate change, and that only collaboration will we be able to adequately address the most pressing issues of our times

As a new partner, CEE will have the opportunity to contribute our earth ethical lens to these conversations. Our experience working with frontline, indigenous, and faith communities coupled with our comprehensive scholarship and research will be an important value add to the EI community.

It is an exciting opportunity to work with new partners to research and implement much needed solutions to the climate crisis. Look forward to future news about joint projects with EI and updates on ways to become more involved.

 

CEE Gains Consultative Status with United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

The Center for Earth Ethics is pleased to announce that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations adopted the recommendation of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to grant Special Consultative status to CEE (via Union Theological Seminary).

Consultative status will enable the Center to actively engage with ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, as well as with the United Nations Secretariat, programs, funds and agencies in a number of ways. CEE will now be able to participate in the work of the Council, including opportunities to consult with Member States and the United Nations system at large.

Working directly with the United Nations will advance CEEs programmatic goals of advancing conversations between frontline and Indigenous communities with policymakers, providing policy recommendations, and establishing key relationships to encourage meaningful action on the climate crisis. It is an opportunity to work with high-level actors on the world’s most pressing issues at global summits and meetings. With consultative status, the Center will be informed of the Economic and Social Council provisional agenda and have the ability to request through the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations that the Secretary General add items of special interest.

We will use this new platform to continue our mission of building a world where value is measured according to the sustained well-being of all people and our planet.

CEE Hosts Indigenous Leaders and Vatican Representative for Dialogue on a New Development Paradigm

In Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (2015) Pope Francis wrote, “It is essential to show special care for Indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.”

Inspired, the Center for Earth Ethics partnered with the Indigenous Environmental Network and Forum 21 to host an intimate dialogue between Indigenous leaders and a representative from the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to discuss the wisdom that Indigenous traditions offer to the world as we forge a new development paradigm, and how we all may support them as they protect their land.

Among those present were Dr. Aliou Niang (UTS Professor), Ken Kitatani (Forum 21), Dr. Mindahi Bastida (Otomi; CEE), Karenna Gore (CEE), Chief Dwaine Perry (Ramapough Lenape), Chief Ninawa, Tom Goldtooth (Dakota / Dine; Indigenous Environmental Network), Betty Lyons (Onandaga / Haudenosaunee; American Indian Law Alliance), Francisca Calfin (Mapuche), Clara Soaring Hawk (Ramapough Lenape Deer Clan), Bernadette Demientieff (Gwich’in), Fr. Augusto Zampini, Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina (CEE), and Petra Thombs (CEE).

2019 Ministers Training Applications are Open!

Ministry in the Time of Climate Change:
On Food and Faith

May 30 – June 1, 2019

At Methodist Theological School in Delaware, OH


“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all.  It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
– Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

Technological advances in the 20th and the 21st century offer many American consumers easy access to cheap and abundant food, much of which is traced to supply and labor chains around the world. The same advances have resulted in the depletion of soils, the overuse of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, greenhouse gas pollution, as well as increasing obesity and food related health issues. And within this system, millions in the U.S. and billions more across the globe go hungry each day. Food deserts persist across urban and rural America, and upwards of 41 million Americans are food insecure, 13 million of whom are children. This system keeps externalities hidden, supply high, and prices low affecting the long term health of soils, water, human beings and wildlife.

As climate change becomes more pronounced, communities around the world will have to become more self-sufficient and sustainable. This new model of resilience may entail some hardship, but it also brings the opportunity to create new, more robust community relationships with the land and one another. It is here that faith communities have unique opportunity to guide others by providing space, pastoral care, education and leadership.

This year’s conference will teach faith leaders how our current food system is contributing to the climate crisis, explore the impact climate change is having on farming and food security, and help empower attendees to take action on these issues in a way that aligns with their deepest values. The training is hosted by the Center for Earth Ethics, Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO), and The Climate Reality Project. It will take place at MTSO May 30th-June 1st.

Applications:
Applications are open for the 2019 program. Application deadline is April 15, 2019. Applicants will be notified of decisions soon after.

Click here to submit an application.

Questions:
Please contact: Genie Cooper

How to Start a Green Team Webinar – with Rev. Kate McGregor Mosley

Once something is up and going it seems like it’s always been there but how do we start? Many churches have begun green teams to help green their churches and become more involved in their larger communities. It’s a way to give back and to practice the stewardship we preach.

In this webinar, the Center for Earth Ethics and Climate Reality Project have teamed up with Rev. Kate McGregor Mosley of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light to discuss best practices for starting up a green team in your own faith community.

 

Reducing Waste Webinar

In Matthew 7:5 Jesus warns his followers to remove the beam from their eyes before speaking to the speck of dust in someone else’s eye.

As we look at the causes of climate change it’s easy to point out who the big polluters are and how they need to change. There is no doubt that fossil fuels emissions need to draw down to zero and that our friends in agriculture, tech, and manufacturing need to clean up how they do business. That much is obvious. What can be less obvious, though, is how our own lives and the institutions we frequent contribute to the problem. Are we making the changes we need to see in order to prevent climate change? I for one can say that I’m trying but there’s a lot of work left to do.

In this webinar, the Climate Reality Project and Center for Earth Ethics teamed up with Rev. Kate Mosely from Zero Waste Church to talk about reducing waste in our faith communities and the things we can do as individuals to lessen our overall footprint. You can find good tips on how to start a similar project in your own faith house too!

Allensworth

Not many people know where Allensworth, CA is. Of all the people I asked in Fresno only one had heard of it. Allensworth is a small town about 30 miles north of Bakersfield that according to the last census is home to 471 people. The town leadership says its closer to 800 because of seasonal farm workers but the census didn’t bother or care to count them.

There are two Allensworths. The first can be found in Colonel Allensworth State Park, which memorializes the town founded in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth, a black man. It was founded as the Tuskegee of the West and meant to be a town for African Americans run by and for African Americans.  By 1910, it was being heralded across the country as an improbable success. It had a functional school, general stores, a church, and all the other indications of a thriving community. Many of the men in the town were employed by the railroad company while others worked the verdant fields in the otherwise dry desert brown Tulare County Its success was apparently too much to bear for the white farmers in surrounding towns, though. That the rail line was diverted and irrigation water refused was no accident. Both went to service and advance white owned farms nearby. Problems were further exacerbated when elevated levels of arsenic were found in the water in the 1960s. More and more residents moved away and the town fell into disrepair. In 1976 it became a California State Park making the town and its residents a part of history.

Barely a few miles up the road from the park exists modern-day Allensworth. You would be forgiven if upon arrival you thought the town and its 800 residents had been forgotten to history as well. The homes are primarily single or doublewide trailers planted haphazardly on sun-hardened lots. There are holes where walls and roofs should be and barely an AC unit in sight to help manage the 115-degree heat in the summer. “This isn’t supposed to exist in America” many of us say. It’s dusty and uncomfortable.

A group of us came to Allensworth on an environmental justice tour to learn the history of Allensworth and to see where things stand now. It’s not great. We gathered at the elementary school to hear from local advocates and university researchers to be told the myriad problems that trouble the town. The arsenic is still in the water and so too are elecvated levels of lead and chromium II. Residents haven’t been able to drink their water for years yet they are still charged for it. There aren’t many jobs in Allensworth and the ones that are there don’t pay well. Many don’t have working septic systems and rely on outhouses to do their business. There’s no natural gas either so it’s not uncommon to see folks cooking their meals outside over wood or coal fires. Propane is the fuel of choice for those who can afford it.

Professors, researchers and non-profit leaders enumerated the problems in Allensworth to our small group including solutions that they hoped to install. The problem was that there was no money for the solutions. One researcher told us that with $10k they could fund potentially revolutionary research that would extract arsenic from the water supply, which would have far-reaching application for communities around the world.

$10k.

San Francisco is barely 4 hours away from Allensworth. In one of the world’s richest cities, 10k could be dropped at a bar on a Tuesday night without second thought. In Allensworth 10k is an impossible amount of money. The annual per capita income is $8,413. Median household income is $29,091. A venture capitalist could sneeze and solve half of the town’s troubles.

American history is a tired record of repeated injustices perpetuated towards non-white people. When Allensworth was founded it was 97% black. Now it’s 97% Latino which may or may not account for migrant laborers. The much maligned, alleged job-stealing Latino workers are certainly not living high off the hog. The mishmash of dirt and paved roads that make up the town betray as much. Parts of Allensworth look like a shantytown. There are a few houses that demonstrate wealth is to be found in Allensworth but their relative opulence makes the surrounding poverty so much more pronounced and painful. It’s a reminder that wealth can and should be possible in a place like this but due to systems beyond the control of the community it simply isn’t.

According to a 2016 report, the Central Valley generates more than $21 billion in revenue (though Chinese growers are biting into these profits), which obviously doesn’t make it back to the communities of farmers who harvest the crop. There are more than a handful of farm owners who see the lion share of the profits and have encouraged short-term investments from Wall Street types who want to cash in on the dividends almonds supply.

Problem is that almonds demand incredible amounts of water to produce. For instance, it takes an entire gallon of water to produce a single almond. That’s a shocking amount of water anywhere and is especially shocking in bone-dry Tulare County. It was reported by the SF Weekly one farmer in particular, Stewart Resnick, used more than 400,000 acre-feet of water to grow his mixture of almonds, pistachios, citrus, and other crop which represented two thirds the annual consumption of Los Angeles.  

Despite all the water pumped into Tulare and its surrounding counties there is still little for the farm workers who live there. In a small community owned plot, locals have an experimental community garden in the works. Among other things, the garden grows leafy vegetables, watermelons, and okra. All crops are grown above ground to avoid contamination from the arsenic rich soil. Problem is that there aren’t good reliable water sources for homes and even less for their gardens. Large plastic water cisterns were given to the community to help irrigate their crops yet they aren’t wholly functional and making them so presents another obstacle in a queue of already too many.

Like every environmental justices issue, Allensworth is the product of choice. The choice systems and the individuals who create those systems to preferentializes the rich at the expense of the poor; that are willing to utilize racist policies to disembowel a community because of their skin color. Systems that make land and water management decisions that create short-term economic gains that jeopardize the land and community alike. That refuse to pay a living wage, provide benefits, or social services and then wonder why the people struggle.

If things don’t change, the Central Valley’s farming days are numbered. If it weren’t for extensive and expensive irrigation infrastructure nothing would be able to grow. The sources of that water, the Sierra Nevadas, with its ancient Sequoias and water tables, no longer see the same rainfall as they once did. Nor is the snowpack as voluminous or long lasting as it once was. At some point the water there will dry up and so too will the Central Valley. For those outside the Valley it will be a sad footnote along with so many others. But for those in the Valley and the Valley itself it is the end of a story and a reminder of the devastating results of the hubris of men. The soil is rich there and the growing season is abnormally long but both these can be wiped away by shortsighted greed and a fundamental ignorance of what eco-systems need in order to be healthy.

Residents call Allensworth “the town that refuses to die.” Despite the exhausting number of problems the town faces its residents remain proud and hopeful. Some wonder why the residents don’t just pack up and move. But to where? The poverty that haunts Allensworth isn’t dissimilar to the hourly wage-worker in Fresno, Bakersfield, or San Francisco. Nor would their departure signal a change to the environmental degradation in the Central Valley. No problem has ever been solved by running away from it. There are solutions to be had that empower communities and allow them to be self-sustaining but that would require systemic changes that gives more money and power back to the workers, and implementing ecologically minded practices that do no exhaust the land or the people who work it. They are changes that need to be made and fast otherwise the problems will grow to a magnitude we as a society are unable to address.

 

Letter to Pope Francis on Protecting Sacred Sites

This summer, Mindahi Bastida traveled by invitation to the Vatican to attend a conference organized by Cardinal Turkson titled “Saving Our Common Home and the Future of Life on Earth”The conference brought together indigenous and young activists, scientific experts, religious leaders and Vatican officials to assess the impact of Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

While there, Mindahi was able to meet Pope Francis and deliver him a letter by hand. The letter requests the following:

  1. To announce your support for our initiative to protect and restore sacred sites in the world.
  2. To give back to Indigenous Peoples the sacred objects and artifacts that are in possession of the Vatican and to support our demand to Nation States in this regard.
  3. To rescind the historical Papal Bulls, affecting indigenous peoples lives and territories.

You can read the full letter below

——

The Spirit is love

Protection of Sacred Sites in the World

Indigenous Peoples around the World are the caretakers of Mother Earth. It is the time of the New Dawn, it is time for the acknowledgement of their Biocultural wisdom to protect life and we need to pay respect to their spiritual and material sustainable practices.

Biocultural diversity and biocultural heritage are related concepts that intertwine culture and biodiversity. In Indigenous Peoples’ thoughts and philosophies, culture and biodiversity are interrelated and seen as unity. Precisely, thinking and feeling about the web of life as an interconnection allows us to think and act in a biocultural way of being.

Given the continuous deterioration of life systems of our Mother Earth, it is urgent to restore the most affected places in the world. The Ancestral Sacred Sites play a key role in the restoration of those affected places because Ancestral Sacred Sites are energetic points that elevate the capacity of Mother Earth to restore systemic balance.

Worldwide, Ancestral Sacred Sites are interconnected. This means that they work together energetically and potentiate the capacity of a single Place to restore the balance of a nearby affected area or region.

It is through reciprocity and specifically through ancestral rituals, by offerings and payments, how we as Ancestral Spiritual Leaders can accelerate and assure the healing process.

The proposal of biocultural sacred sites for humanity (Spiritual Reserves of Humanity) before UNESCO is crucial when we understand the connection between conservation and spiritual and cultural practices of indigenous peoples. We are presenting this initiative in order to strengthen and protect our territories and sacred sites and to mitigate the effects of Climate Change worldwide with emphasis in indigenous Peoples’ Territories.

We kindly request Your Holiness and the Vatican:

  1. To announce your support for our initiative to protect and restore sacred sites in the world.
  2. To give back to Indigenous Peoples the sacred objects and artifacts that are in possession of the Vatican and to support our demand to Nation States in this regard.
  3. To rescind the historical Papal Bulls, affecting indigenous peoples lives and territories.

In gratitude and deep respect,

Indigenous Peoples Representative in the Vatican City, July 4, 2018.

Mindahi Bastida (Otomí-Toltec, Mexico)

Thanks for the Memories, Clean Air

Today, President Trump proposed to roll back standards on car emissions. It’s a blow to Obama era standards that required automakers to build cleaner, more fuel efficient vehicles.  Allegedly the move will create new jobs and inject fresh life into the economy, though it’s unclear how.  Welcomed by Republicans and people who hate clean air, the relaxation of standards marks a very significant, stupid, and unnecessary step backwards.

Too often the job of the environmentalists is to spin losses. To stare a major defeat like this in the face and make it seem less awful. Sometimes there isn’t a spin to be made. Sometimes it’s right to be sad and mourn the direction our President is taking us.

We know we cannot afford to lean further into the fossil fuel economy. That we must transition to clean renewables as fast as possible. Be upset about this. Be angry. Be angry that our President is actively working to undermine the planet in favor of profit. We live in a society where the lingua franca is profits and development. Where the litmus test for progress is measured in dollars and cents. President Trump couched his decision in the shroud of economy, as though its ability to generate income (again unclear how) negates the massive environmental impacts. A robust economy does not justify imperiling the planet and the people who live on it.

We at the Center will continue our work of challenging the distorted value structure of profits over people. Join us.