Author: Andrew Schwartz

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

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.

On Water & Faith: Minister’s Training 2018

We began the conference with a water ceremony.  In a large circle, on a beautiful late spring day, 70 of us gathered around a copper pot to pay homage to Creator, life-giving water, and to one another. The water each of us poured into the pot carried stories of hope and sometimes pain, but when mixed together they represented resolve to bring healing to our world.

The three days spent during On Water And Faith: Ministry in the Time of Climate Change were transformative. We designed the conference so that Day 1 focused on faith, theology, and the people who are impacted by climate change. The day was capped off by a public lecture featuring former Vice President, Al Gore and CEE’s Catherine Flowers, as they discussed the felt impacts of climate crisis and the reasons why the climate is changing so much.

On Day 2, VP Gore spent the morning digging deeper into the science behind climate change and its global impacts. It provided a strong foundation not only on the science but also on the solutions to climate change, and why there is reason to hope. Yes, the climate is changing and yes, there will be major obstacles to overcome. What we do right now in these next fifteen years will dictate how big those obstacles are. It’s vital we come together now to implement the solutions we know will create positive changes. To that end, we spent the afternoon on our second day learning from experts on religion, science, community organizing, and advocacy.

The final day was spent brainstorming. Each of us came from a different context with challenges all our own. For some, their issues were related to health others, on pipelines and fracking. Even more are dealing with stronger storms and extreme weather events that test the resolve of their communities. No matter the problem, we came together as a group to share the wisdom we came with and the knowledge gained throughout the weekend to imagine solutions.

None of us are alone. It is important to remember that in each city and each town and in each community there are people standing in the breach doing good work for those that they love. If we look at all the issues surrounding water as a whole we are justified in sitting down and saying, “It’s just too much. This problem is too big to overcome.” It is an understandable response. But when we take a step back we realize that around the world good, passionate people are fighting hard for our collective future.

We’ll leave you with a poem from Wendell Berry that brings us comfort and hope:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 


Andrew Schwartz, Director of Operations

 

Andrew Schwartz is the Deputy Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

 

 

Collaborations Across Borders: Human Impacts

December 6, 2017, CEE had the pleasure to co-host Collaborations Across Borders in New York City with the Human Impacts Institute. This one-night Human Impacts Salon featured live performances by Lemon Guo, Angel Nafis, and Lyla June Johnston, exploring how we are working together in innovative ways to take climate action.

Original Caretakers Fellow, Lyla June Johnston, offered a poem titled The Borders Between You and Me. You can see a video of her performance here.

The evening’s panel was asked to engage the question “What Really Are the Roots of Climate Change?”, which seemed simple but led to a 90 minute discussion punctuated by artist’s interpretation of the same question.

The panel, moderated by Tara DePorte, director of HII, was a unique intersection of perspectives from Lyla June Johnston, CEE Original Caretakers Fellow; Karenna Gore, CEE Director; Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, CEE Advisor; and Anton Hufnagl, Counsellor for Climate, Environment and Urban Affairs at the German Embassy in Washington, D.C.

To see a video of the event panel presentation, click here.

Dear Pope Francis – Please Help Us Protect the World’s Sacred Places

“We want peace, we want dignity, we want life, but we also want future generations to have life to take care of.”

There is real fear in people across the planet that their children and their children’s children will not have much of a planet to inherit. This is not a fear based in an apocalyptic eschatology or rooted in a theology of end times. It is a fear based on bar graphs that track increased levels of CO2 that lead to higher global temperatures that are becoming less and less palatable to living and life.

As program director of Original Caretakers, Mindahi has traveled throughout the Americas working with Indigenous leaders and wisdom keepers to protect and restore Sacred Sites. These sites – whether mountains, valleys, lakes, or steams – play a vital spiritual and environmental role that need to be protected. He took his message to the Vatican which you can see below

Mindahi has also been working with UNESCO to get formal status for Sacred Sites around the globe. If this status is granted it would bring new measures and rules to help Indigenous People’s protect Sacred Spaces from being developed or lost to mining or agriculture. We hope Pope Francis listens to our appeal and joins in the fight to protect Sacred Places around the globe.

Special thanks again to Ashley Young for filming and editing the video! You can see more of her work at www.somedayfire.com and on her YouTube channel

A Message to Pope Francis – Rescind the Doctrine of Discovery

Last June several CEE staff traveled to Rome and Assisi to take part in the Rome/Assisi Conference on Spirituality and Sustainability. CEE was one of the conveners along with Center for Ethics.

Part of that dialogue included speaking truth about the role the Catholic Church played in the genocide of Indigenous People’s throughout the Americas and the erasure of their culture, religion, and traditions. The Papal Bull of 1493, and the Doctrine of Discovery which grew out of it, gave clemency to and encouraged Christopher Columbus and all subsequent explorers to the Americas to subdue, kill, and enslave any pagans and natives they met along the way.

While in Rome, CEE Fellow Lyla June Johnston delivered a message to Pope Francis, asking him to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery.

Special thanks to Ashley Young for filming and editing the video! You can see more of her work at www.somedayfire.com and on her YouTube channel

Brothers and Sisters Peace and All Good

Brothers and sisters peace and all good

These next few weeks we are going to start hearing a great deal of chatter about how we have cut spending, how we cannot afford programs like Meals on Wheels, how there is not enough money to protect the environment. They will be talking about how we have to cut the deficit and how taxes are too high especially for the wealthy and corporations. Our leaders are looking and talking as if our federal budget is an economic document, a balance sheet. The federal budget is not just an economic document; it is also a statement on the moral compass of our nation. As such, it should reflect our highest calling to take care of the most vulnerable and support a just, equitable society. The budget presented by President Trump has turned its back on that calling, as evidenced by the laundry list of programs and institutions being drained of resources in favor of expanding military spending.

On Friday night we heard Tamika talk about faithful anger. Well I am very angry. I am angry because my faith, my spirituality my religion has been hijacked by people claiming to be Christian but promoting a theology of hate and fear a theology of separation, a theology that justifies destruction of this beautiful and wondrous creation, a theology of war not peace. Our nation’s Leaders who worship the false gods of money and power. But we need to be more than angry we need to turn our righteous anger into prayerful action. We need to remind these leaders that they will be judged not just by the voters but by God. We can no longer be timid whispering this in quiet meetings we need to shout it from the highest mountain tops.

The 13th century theologian and Franciscan, St. Bonaventure is credited with saying that how we choose and what we choose makes a difference – first, in what we become by our choices and second, in what the world becomes by our choices. This framework of faith is neither radical nor conservative: it simply places justice, dignity, compassion, and solidarity at the core of decision making. That is what our leaders should incorporate in their budget deliberations. In these extremely difficult times, we all need to rely on these principles.

Patrick Carolan is the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network in Washington D.C. and a Center for Earth Ethics Senior Fellow. Learn More at franciscanaction.org