Author: CEE Staff

Marching Toward Change – Faith & Governance in the Movement for THE RIGHTS OF NATURE

Mari Margil on Rights of Nature – Read the complete text published by the Center for Humans and Nature.

Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.

—Pope Francis, May 24, 2015, Laudato Si’[1]

Those fighting for rights and freedom know that change never just happens.

It may seem that the bending of the “arc of the moral universe . . . toward justice” about which Dr. Martin Luther King spoke—witnessed with the abolishment of slavery, the recognition of rights of indigenous peoples, of African-Americans, of women—is inevitable. It’s not. It never has been.

The long history of people’s movements shows us that fundamental shifts in society only occur when people join together to demand such change. This requires mass mobilization across countries, cultures, religions, and even time—taking decades, generations, and centuries to achieve—each requiring major shifts in consciousness to achieve major shifts in law and governance.

Today, as we face overlapping environmental crises, we need a fundamental shift in humankind’s relationship with the natural world—this means a major shift in how we govern ourselves toward nature. To achieve this requires advancing major societal and cultural shifts, as well—that is, changing how societies think about nature and humanity’s role as part of it, and the recognition that nature is worthy of respect, protection, and rights.

The Role of Faith in Cultural Shifts

One of the first places I ever spoke publicly about the rights of nature was at the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon, in 2009. As part of the Econvergence Symposium, I presented on a panel that focused on how unfettered economic growth was driving us to environmental and economic crisis.[2]

It is axiomatic that religion plays a major role in shaping culture. What we believe and how we think about the world are often deeply influenced by our faith. For instance, a 2015 Pew Research Center report found that over 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants in the United States do not believe in human evolution.[3] Belief that God is the creator of the Earth is a central tenet of their faith.[4] By contrast, over 85 percent of those without a religious affiliation believe in human evolution.

Too often, religion has been wielded to legitimize the oppression of others, including nature. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull which divided the world between Portugal and Spain, mandating that they colonize the new world and ensure that “barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” Subjugation of both nature and people had the blessing of the Catholic Church.

Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York, described the historic role of the church in defining our relationship with nature.[5] In her keynote address at the 2017 Rights of Nature Symposium held at Tulane Law School, she explained:

The way that Christianity has been interpreted from medieval Europe to the age of colonization to the efforts in the 1950s in America to wed it to capitalism through moves like putting “In God We Trust” on the money . . . to the contemporary expressions of the Prosperity Gospel, mainstream religion has contributed to the objectification and exploitation of nature.

But Gore also spoke of the shift in consciousness within faith to protect nature, including the rights of nature: “There has been a lot of recent effort to retrieve and revive the ecological sensibility within the Judeo-Christian tradition, including reinterpretations of the Bible based on ancient Aramaic and Hebrew and Greek.”

Just as we’re seeing people of faith today advocate protection of nature, during the colonial era we saw people of faith advocate for abolishing slavery. In 1688, the Quakers of Germantown, Pennsylvania, issued their protest against slavery, writing, “There is a saying, that we shall doe to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are.”[6] In the United States and Britain, Quakers would become a leading voice of opposition against slavery and the slave trade.

Faith played an important role in shifting societal perspectives on slavery, making possible the abolishment of slavery. President Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation attempted to free the slaves in the South, stated in 1860, just a year before the start of the Civil War:

I think that if anything can be proved by natural theology, it is that slavery is morally wrong. God gave man a mouth to receive bread, hands to feed it, and his hand has a right to carry bread to his mouth without controversy.[7]

Today—as species extinction occurs far faster than natural background rates, as coral reefs are bleaching and dying off in the world’s oceans, as climate change accelerates—we are once again seeing faith play an important role in driving necessary change.

Just as the Old Testament and religious teachings speak of man’s dominion over the Earth, helping drive the belief that humankind is separate from and superior to nature, today some leading voices in the faith community are showing a new way of understanding.

In 2015, Pope Francis received worldwide praise for his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, in which he called for the protection of “our common home.” He begins by quoting Saint Francis of Assisi, who said it is “Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us.”

Later that same year, Pope Francis spoke again on the need to protect nature, and specifically the rights of nature.

Read on…

Saying Goodbye – In Memoriam 2020

2020 has been a year of loss.  Even before the pandemic, we were grieving for our planet. We were grieving for loss of species, for children in cages, for the disparity in our world. But the last few months have been wrought with heartbreaks from Covid-19 to George Floyd to John Lewis. We are mourning as a nation and as a global community for our loved ones, our neighbors and our beloved leaders. CEE remembers a few of our friends and loved ones lost during this time of crisis. We invite you to reflect with us on lives lived in the spirit of justice and care for our Earth. These courageous lives, leave us with the incredible task of carrying the work forward for more equality, for reparation, for the right to vote and have our voices heard –  and for the ability to do the work that we must to protect one another and our planet. We honor you. With deepest thanks.

 

Pamela Sue Rush

From Remembering Pamela Sue Rush – Rev. William Barber and CEE Fellow, Catherine Coleman Flowers

“She opened her life and showed the world what inequality looks like. Some of the wealthiest U.S. citizens walked through Pamela’s dilapidated home and sewage-polluted yard. Many left in disbelief. Yet she was quietly, patiently waiting for someone to help her escape this prison imposed upon her and her two children. In the meantime, she would testify before Congress and become an active member and one of the faces of the New Poor People’s Campaign led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. She even hosted them in her home. A presidential candidate visited as well. Sen. Bernie Sanders promised to raise up her story as he fought for a more equitable society.”

Watch: PBS News Hour

 

Alfredo Sirkis  – In the Fall of 2019, CEE Director Karenna Gore traveled to Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil at the invitation of Alfredo Sirkis to participate in Faith and Climate (Fé No Clima), for the Brazilian Climate Change Conference. True to the work of Earth Ethics faith and climate leaders were convened from not only the major religious institutions of the Catholic Church and Jewish communities but also with representation of indigenous faith and wisdom groups rooted in the forest and African traditions which make up the richly diverse cultural landscape of the country.  Read Karenna’s overview of the experience: Faith in Climate, and watch Climate Reality’s tribute to Alfredo Sirkis below with his daughter, Anna Sirkis, and former US Vice President, Al Gore.

 

Father John Raush 

Father John S. Rausch was a Catholic priest with the Glenmary Home Missioners served for over 40 years ministering in small towns throughout Appalachia and the South. He passed on February 9, 2020 while getting ready to say Mass.

From Father John: For the People, For the Land

“Father John regularly conducts tours of Appalachia introducing people to the ministries and social issues of the region.  During these tours he combines social analysis with theological reflection encouraging a conversion of heart in participants.  A strong environmentalist, he speaks against the devastation of mountaintop removal and encourages sustainable economic development.”

Enjoy reading ‘Four Lessons from the Life of Father John Rausch’ by Margaret Gabriel here.

Watch: Saving the Earth through our Spirituality

Lighting the Sacred Fire – May Fire Festivals and Prayers in Solidarity

Today we light our sacred fires across the country and indeed across many sacred lands, to stand with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe for peace and right action. During this time of the Coronavirus the Mashpee have received notice of dissolution of their lands from the US Department of the Interior and have filed a court injunction. Arguments will be heard by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by phone Thursday, May 7, 2020.

“The Mashpee Wampanoag tribal people have called this land home for over 12,000 years. Their history predates the United States and they were the tribe who welcomed the Pilgrims in the 17th Century. The Tribe fought the U.S. government for recognition for nearly 40 years before finally becoming a federally recognized tribe in 2007. However, they have remained landless.” – From Massachusetts Congressman, Joe Kennedy’s statement of support.

Tonight, May 3rd, we light our candles and sacred fires sending our prayers and support as they prepare for a court hearing on Thursday, May 7th.

This call to action coincides with other significant events rooted in the traditions associated with lighting fires.

It’s no surprise International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day in some countries and often referred to as May Day (May 1st), was chosen for a celebration of labourers and workers. The beginning of May is a traditional time for the lighting of sacred fires across the world and truly a time of festivities for the people.

In the Celtic Wheel of the year, May 1 is the common observance day of Beltane, one of the High Holy Days of the Celtic calendar. Notably celebrated in the British Isles, Beltane is marked by a many days long festival culminating in the dance around the Maypole weaving brightly colored ribbons. The weaving is in honor of the marriage of the May King and Queen, or the God and Goddess of the Land and the fertility that expresses itself at the on-set of summer in flowers and trees, in birdsong and the dance of the sacred masculine and feminine. In present day Ireland, the festival is celebrated with the lighting of a sacred fire at the center of the Emerald Isle in the place where the ancient kings would have gone to be ‘married’ to the Goddess of the Land, Eiru. The early peoples of these lands believed the king could not rule well unless he was in service to the land and to the life-giving Mother Goddess. Fires are lit at each of the 8 major seasonal holidays of the calendar – the four Solar Festivals of Solstices and Equinoxes and the Cross-Quarter days that fall directly between them, also known as Lunar Sabbats. Beltane heralds the entrance to the Light Half of the Year, completing the first or Dark Half that began with the Feast of the Ancestors or Samhain, celebrated on October 31st, and is considered one of the most sacred festivals of the year.

May 3rd, is also a sacred day in Mesoamerican Cosmovision that can be celebrated with the lighting of a fire.  CEE’s Scholar in Residence Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina explains:

May 3, 2013 (and not December 21, 2012, as miscalculated) was conceived by ancient Olmecs some three thousand years ago as the ideal date for the culmination of the great cycle of 13 Baktuns. This cycle—5,128 years and 280 days long—would be ruled by evening Venus heralding the waters over the western horizon of the Yucatan Peninsula on that May 3, 2013, or 4 Ajaw 3 Kank’in in the calendar system inherited by the Maya. Such event would provide most favorable omens for the Corn People to thrive in the 13 Baktun cycle unfolding. Evening Venus, the great wind deity, marks its agency as a bringer of rain clouds by appearing at its northernmost position around May 3. This appearance is so important that multiple temples and pyramids, built over thousands of years, were carefully aligned to May 3, including the Feathered Serpent Pyramid at the Citadel of Teotihuacan.

The great cycle of 13 Baktuns offered omens of abundance and fertility to the Corn People, that is, to both the Corn-Corn Deity and the Corn keepers who care for the seeds, observe the arrival of the rains and fulfill calendar-based ceremonies in harmony with entities of the natural world.

At the completion of the great cycle of 13 Baktuns one of the five Bacabs—deities as giant as the sacred Ceiba and upholders of the Sky and the Earth— lets go of its burden. For thirteen years, every May 3, the Corn People have the responsibility to present to Grandfather Fire what they no longer need for the new cycle. They will thus be prepared to accompany the Bacab in its standing ceremony on May 3, 2026, entering together a new cycle of abundance and harmony with Mother Earth, Grandmother Moon, Father Sun and Venus.

At noon of May 3, the Primordial Couple in the Pleiades fuse their beam of light with the Sun’s rays directly activating the baby corn stalks that have been helped by its caregivers to stand upright a few days earlier. This is a happy encounter between the heart of the sky, the heart of Earth and the heart of the Corn People. When sunset falls later that May 3, the favorite son of the Primordial Couple, born on day 9 Wind, brings the rains with his breath of life, ensuring abundant corn offspring six months later, on November 3.


Contributing authors:

Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina, Scholar in Residence

Shannon M.D. Smith, Communications

CEE Stands with Wendsler Nosie / Poor Peoples Campaign

Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the new Poor Peoples Campaign said, “I really feel that, in some sense, Apache elder and my brother Wendsler Nosie Sr. is America’s Gandhi in this moment. A lot of our struggles start with lone individuals acting in ways that affect the whole.”

The protection of sacred sites of the original peoples is a moral and ecological imperative.  The United States of America is built upon the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness including freedom of religion, and equal protections under the law. The Center for Earth Ethics stands in solidarity with Wendsler Nosie, Sr. and his commitment to protect and defend the Sacred Sites of the Apache Nation.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

We share with you the story of Wendsler Nosie’s return to Oak Flat, from the Poor Peoples Campaign published by the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice.


Wendsler Nosie Sr. Returns to Oak Flat to Protect Sacred Land from Extraction

On Thanksgiving Day (and National Day of Mourning), former chair of the San Carlos Apache, Wendsler Nosie Sr., left their reservation and began his return to the Apache holy site of Oak Flat (Chi’chil Bildagoteel) in Arizona.

Oak Flat is under threat of destruction by Resolution Copper, a joint venture owned in part by Rio Tinto, one of the largest metal and mining companies in the world. Wendsler, with the blessings of the Apache Stronghold, has decided that he will not leave the sacred site until it is protected, and his tribe’s Constitutional and moral rights to religious freedom are respected, even if it means losing his life. National Co-Chair and President of Repairers of the Breach, Rev. Dr. Barber, along with Rev. John Mendez, Rev. Dr. Robin Tanner, and Ms. Yara Allen were present as he started this journey home.

Sign the petition today to protect this sacred land.

Oak Flat
Wendsler Nosie Sr. returns to the sacred site of Oak Flat.

STEVE PAVEY

In the Apache tradition, the waters at Oak Flat are the source of all life. Generations of Apache have come to pray for thousands of years at this most holy site. After years of unsuccessful negotiations and a corruption scandal that landed an Arizona Congressman in prison, Resolution Copper was given the rights to mine Oak Flat as part of a last-minute rider that then-Senator John McCain added to the 2014 Defense Spending Bill. To process the copper ore, the proposed extraction would use 6.5 billion gallons of water annually — as much water as a small city — which would then be polluted with sulfuric acid. These operations would replace the holy ground with a gaping crater, two miles wide and one thousand feet deep.

The only thing standing between Resolution Copper and the mining rights they have already been granted is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS must be certified by the federal government before private companies can begin mining public lands. During the required public comment period on the EIS, Wendsler argued that, while the environmental impact of this proposed project would be devastating, the bigger issue is in fact religious liberty.

In a joint statement with the current San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler, Wendsler wrote, “the Oak Flat Draft Environmental Impact Statement does not address the current religious significance and the value given to Oak Flat by the Apache people, Yavapai people, Aravaipa and many others…Native American Religion has been excluded from the areas of concern and value.” However, the U.S. Forest Service has refused to consider the Apache’s religious freedom claim in its EIS.

DC
Wendsler Nosie Sr. with Rev. Dr. Barber in Washington, D.C. before setting off on his journey.

Two weeks ago, Wendsler and a delegation from the Apache Stronghold went to Washington D.C. to meet with the U.S. Forest Service and deliver the statement of his intent to return to Oak Flat. They were joined by Rev. Barber, Rev. Theoharis and a delegation of multi-faith clergy.

signal-2019-11-28-092531
Rev. Dr. Barber, Wendsler Nosie Sr. and Rev. Mendez on the day of Wendsler’s departure.

STEVE PAVEY

Rev. Dr. Barber was introduced to Wendsler seven years ago by Rev. Mendez, who has been engaged with the Apache Stronghold for over twenty years. Since then, they have built a relationship across faith, race, issues, and geography, to find common ground in this sacred and moral struggle.

Wendsler is a member of the National Steering Committee of the Poor People’s Campaign. Along with a delegation from the San Carlos Apache, he joined the December 4th, 2017, official launch of the Campaign in Washington D.C. And in June 2018, following a sacred journey connecting with indigenous people across the country, the San Carlos Apache joined the Campaign in Washington D.C. for the 40 Days of Action. There on Capitol Hill, Vanessa Nosie, Wendsler’s daughter, spoke to the conditions they had witnessed on their journey.

AS-in-DC-June-2018
The San Carlos Apache joined the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington D.C. for the 40 Days of Action last year.

STEVE PAVEY

The Poor People’s Campaign now calls on all of the people in our movement to support the Apache Stronghold in their struggle for religious freedom and the right to their sacred lands at Oak Flat.

In Rev. Barber’s and Rev. Theoharis’ words, “As Christian ministers who are committed to the freedom of religion for all people, we call on all people of faith to stand with Wendsler Nosie and the Apache Stronghold before it is too late. To preach the resurrection of Jesus is to proclaim that no one and no one’s tradition must be crucified for the greater good. We can protect the waters, protect Oak Flat, and still have enough resources for every family in this land to flourish. The history of terrible violence this nation has committed against indigenous people from the Trail of Tears to Standing Rock is a reminder that the apocalypse Nosie goes home to face is a real possibility. But it is not a necessity. We pray Americans will act to show genuine gratitude for the original stewards of this land and their religious freedom. We join our brother, Wendsler Nosie, in the call to save Oak Flat.”

 

Support this critical struggle by signing the petition and please consider making a donation to the Apache Stronghold at this pivotal moment.

Clergy From Around the Planet Gathered to Pray for the Environment at Megiddo National Park

Originally Published by the Jewish Press.
Photo Credit: Lucy Yosef / Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Clergy from around the planet pray at Megiddo National Park, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 

A delegation of ninety-four senior clerics from around the world representing more than twenty different religions and groups toured the Megiddo National Park on Thursday, and held a unique, joint religious prayer service there.

Clergy from around the planet pray at Megiddo National Park, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 / Lucy Yosef / Israel Nature and Parks Authority

The group included rabbis, imams, priests, Buddhist monks, and Native American and African clergy, among many others.

They arrived as part of their tour of the Holy Land to raise global awareness of interfaith cooperation, most importantly cross-border environmental cooperation.

This visit is organized by UNITY Earth and the EcoPeace Middle East Center.

The city of Megiddo was important in the ancient world. It guarded the western branch of a narrow pass on the most important trade route of the ancient Fertile Crescent, linking Egypt with Mesopotamia and Asia Minor and known today as Via Maris. Because of its strategic location, Megiddo was the site of several battles. It was inhabited from approximately 7000 BCE to 586 BCE, though the first significant remains date to the Chalcolithic period (4500–3500 BCE).

According to the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible, Megiddo (Armageddon) is the prophesied location of a gathering of armies for a battle during the end times.


More information on Holy Land, Living Waters

More about EcoPeace Middle East and the Center for Earth Ethics

‘Peace With Not Just People, But Also Nature’

Originally Published by The New York Jewish Week

29 October 2019, 5:42 pm

“Most politicians see the Jordan River as a border,” Bromberg said “We see the river as a bridge.”

For environmentalist peacebuilders in the Middle East, solving the climate crisis & the conflict go hand in hand. An interfaith water ceremony here showcased their unique approach.

 

New York City — Experts have long argued that the only way to effectively address the climate crisis is via a concerted, intergovernmental approach. It’s the issue world leaders and policy makers were in New York City to discuss at the United Nations Climate Summit last month and during a series of breakout sessions spread out over the week.

Among the over 150 Climate Week (Sept. 23-29) events and panel discussions, one particular one stood out for its unique approach. Faith leaders and environmentalists from the Middle East and New York came together at the Union Theological Seminary in Harlem for an interfaith water ritual ceremony to honor the shared risks communities and ecosystems face due to climate disruption.

The event was a collaboration of Hudson Riverkeeper, an environmental group that advocates for the Hudson River and its tributaries, the Center For Earth Ethics at the seminary and EcoPeace Middle East, an environmentalist peacemaking NGO with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian directors.

Under the towering stained glass windows of the James Memorial Chapel, Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics, spoke of the importance of inter-community work and honoring the spiritual aspects of our shared water sources, both the Hudson and Jordan rivers. “This is holy and sacred work, and this gathering is powerful,” she said before welcoming Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough Lenape Nation to share his community’s connection to the Hudson and surrounding land, their ancestral territory.

“Through our lack of connection to the land and the water and our drive to take and build and exploit, we … have ripped so many literal and figurative holes in the world,” Jessica Roff, director of advocacy and engagement at Riverkeeper, said. “From drilling fracking wells across the country, to tunneling pipelines under rivers, to allowing poisons in people’s drinking water, to damming rivers, to blasting giant quarries and then storing toxic materials in them. We have a lot to repair.”

Jordanian Director of EcoPeace Middle East, Yana Abu Taleb, speaks at the interfaith event at the Union Theological Seminary in N.Y.C. during Climate Week. Miriam Groner/JW

Gidon Bromberg, who as the Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East has made this work his mission over the last 30 years, said it’s no coincidence that the Jordan River is holy to all three Abrahamic faiths. “For Jews the river is a place of miracles, for Christianity it’s the place where Jesus was baptized and for Islam it’s the place where several of the companions of Mohammed are buried.”

Now both rivers are suffering from ecological collapse due to climate change and over-development.

Read the complete article at NY Jewish Week… 

Spiritual waters

Back uptown in the chapel, Bethany Yarrow (daughter of Peter Yarrow) shared a moving musical piece honoring the life-giving nature of water. Later, Rabbi Burton Visotzky, a professor at Jewish Theological Seminary, noted the importance of water in Jewish liturgy and read the prayer for rain Jews recite at the end of Sukkot: “May it be for blessing and not for a curse; may it be for life and not for death; may it be for abundance and not scarcity.”

The environmentalists and faith leaders huddled around a bowl in the center of the chapel and poured from chalices that held water from the Hudson and Jordan rivers.

“It’s a symbol of blessing and to remind ourselves that we are all one,” Gore said.

In typical New York fashion what had been a beautifully sunny day turned grey and windy as the group, a motley mix of environmental activists many who came seeking a spiritual addition to their packed itinerary of Climate Week events, proceeded out of the seminary, down Riverside Drive and west a few blocks to a pier extending onto the Hudson River.

Pouring the water into the Hudson below. Miriam Groner/JW

Steps away from our own wastewater treatment plant, with the New York City skyline on one side and the New Jersey skyline on the other — the Hudson River a border too — Bromberg and Chief Perry poured the water into the waters below. An act of transnational solidarity to honor the life in all our collective waterways.

“Most politicians see the Jordan River as a border,” Bromberg said “We see the river as a bridge.”

‘Sacred Rivers’ ceremony highlights faith in the face of climate change

Originally published 9/30/2019 by Riverkeeper’s Cliff Weathers

In a moving interfaith ceremony on September 26, those who protect the Hudson and Jordan Rivers joined with religious and indigenous leaders in an interfaith ceremony focused on tackling shared risks communities and ecosystems across the globe face from climate disruption.

The Sacred Rivers ceremony at the Union Theological Seminary’s James Memorial Chapel began with a welcome from Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, who are original inhabitants of the region. The Lenape named the Hudson the Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk, the “river that flows two ways.” The ceremony highlighted how traditional, sacred, and secular concerns compel action and how communities of faith and environmental organizations can collaborate to reduce climate risk and build bridges of resilience at the local level.

Speakers at the event addressed the plights of both rivers as they face ongoing threats from climate change and development. EcoPeace Middle East — which has offices in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine with parallel staff in each office — gave a compelling presentation on the destruction of the Jordan River and their coordinated efforts to clean, revitalize, and bring sustainable development to the Jordan River and valley.

This was followed by a ceremony that combined the waters of the two rivers to signify connecting water from around the world and solidarity in fighting to protect it. Participants carried the ceremonial waters in a procession to the 125th Street Pier where they blessed and released them into the Hudson.

“It was a beautiful day that joined people from across the world, united in our fight to protect the water that sustains all of us; Mni Wiconi — water is life. EcoPeace Middle East is a testament to how working together we can perform Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). We really appreciate connecting with them around Climate Week and both our unified and diverse struggles.” said Jessica Roff, Riverkeeper’s Director of Advocacy and Engagement.

Several honored guests and ceremony participants were joined by Roff and Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay. They included Karenna Gore, Director of The Center for Earth Ethics;  the three directors from EcoPeace Middle East, Gidon Bromberg (Israel), Yana Abu Talib (Jordan) and Nada Majdalani (Palestine); and Rabbi Burt Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Musical performer Bethany Yarrow led the audience in a spirited rendition of “River of Jordan,” a song written by her father, Peter Yarrow (Peter Paul and Mary):

There is only one river. There is only one sea.
And it flows through you, and it flows through me.
There is only one people. We are one and the same.
We are all one spirit. We are all one name.
We are the father, mother, daughter and son.
From the dawn of creation, we are one.
We are one.

***

To see more photos and learn more about Riverkeeper…

Karenna Gore on the Intersection of Faith, Climate Change, and Social Justice

Originally Published by State of the Planet, Earth Institute at Columbia University

September 25, 2019

By Jeff Berardelli

For the past five years Karenna Gore, age 46, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, has been working in the family business of climate change. While that may seem an obvious course, given her father’s prominence in the space, the path that led her there, and the methods she is employing to tackle the challenge of climate change, make up her own unique story.

After attending Harvard College, Columbia Law School and working for many years in child justice organizations, Karenna Gore went back to school in 2011, attending Union Theological Seminary.

Affiliated with Columbia University, Union is a historic-looking complex in Morningside Heights, Manhattan. Founded in 1836 by Presbyterian ministers, the vision was to respond to the growing urban social needs of the day with a mix of academics and faith. Today, Union is a training ground for progressive Christian academics, whose community embraces other faith traditions and works on inter-religious engagement and social justice.

Karenna Gore speaks at a rally protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline

Karenna Gore speaks at a rally protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Gore is the director of the Center for Earth Ethics, which works to support the well-being of all people and the planet. Photo courtesy Karenna Gore

Gore received her M.A. in Social Ethics in 2013 and stayed, founding the Center for Earth Ethics that same year, on the Union Campus. That is where I met her, at her office space located on the top floor of a majestic Gothic tower.

Gore informally greeted me at the office door, dressed business casual with none of the pomp and circumstance one may envision from such a high-profile figure. She seemed enthusiastic to take me for a short tour of the center she built. It was promptly followed by our interview, wherein she explained why climate change is a moral issue, how her group is galvanizing faith-based activism, and more.

I’m curious, what it’s like getting into the family business? How did you find your own your own voice within that?

I didn’t intend to go into doing climate change work, in part because I just didn’t want to be tagging along with my dad or riding his coat tails.

However, when I got my degree here at Union I just was in a time and a place when I was literally called into this work by the fact that I was here. I felt like I was called to the work. I can say that I did not plan it.

I respect my father a lot and in many ways it’s wonderful to be able to work with him. I would have resisted doing that more if it weren’t for the fact that this is such a compelling issue and I felt like I was in the place and the time to do something about it. And I honestly think that if we are going to confront this in a way that makes a significant difference in the trajectory that we are on now, I think everyone has to give whatever they can.

What was your goal in starting the Center for Earth Ethics?

As we were exploring reframing climate change as a moral issue in galvanizing faith-based activism about it, we also explored deeply the root causes, as we saw them, of the crisis that we’re in and we discovered that it’s really two root causes. One is this illusion that we are separate and superior to the whole rest of nature. The other root cause is the development paradigm/ economic growth paradigm — the way that we measure successful societies.

“I honestly think that if we are going to confront this in a way that makes a significant difference … everyone has to give whatever they can.”

Right now we have a value system reflected in economics, reflected in political dialogue that is very short-term, that doesn’t pay attention to the externalities of pollution and destruction of nature, nor does it pay attention to inequality, and so what we have is a result of that.

The Center for Earth Ethics was founded to make the changes in policy and culture that are necessary to change to a value system based on long-term well-being of all life.

How do you go about accomplishing the mission of the center? What would a typical day or a typical event look like?

During the academic year, the center works with Union students (seminarians), so during a typical weekday, I might meet with one of our Field Education students about their ongoing projects, co-teach a class like: Indigenous Voices on Colonization; Ecology and Spirituality; Beyond GDP; Religion and Climate Change; and Plant Wisdom and Interreligious Dialogue or plan curriculum for an upcoming course offering.

Sometimes I speak in public venues such as local churches or schools. Recently I spoke at the United Nations and moderated a panel at the Council on Foreign Relations.

I also often participate in organizing work to plan events or actions, such as those involving resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure projects.

What do you view as the fundamental problem that’s causing Earth’s destruction?

I think it’s a problem of value systems. I think that we’re living with the illusion that the things like the stock market reflect reality when in fact they don’t reflect anything about the value of the natural world… and it takes absolutely no account of whether we have completely depleted our natural resources or whether we’ve pumped all this pollution into the air.

There’s been a philosophy that has really risen up known as neoliberalism, which is really about elevating public-private partnerships and making a business model the kind of ideal for the government…. It’s not actually working out that well because government is different than business, you know, it’s not all about efficiency. It’s about taking care of people who are vulnerable. So as long as we have people who want our government to be run more like a business … then we’re going to be even more in this situation.

I listened to an interview you did and I’m going to paraphrase here… You said, “This [climate change] is a moment we were chosen for or that chose us — nothing happens by accident. So, I’m curious what you believe about the way the universe works?

I do believe in a greater intelligence — that there are forces greater than ourselves and that there is an intelligence in the universe that, if you are open to it, will open some doors and guide and show you a way.

karenna gore with chief ninawa

(Gore with Chief Ninawa of the Huni Kui people of the Brazilian Amazon. Photo courtesy Karenna Gore)

It’s a matter of personal experience, it’s not even so much belief, but when you have a few of those personal experiences where you just think, “Ah what are the chances that this would happen?” And it usually happens in the cases of being more open-hearted, more open-minded and being deeply grounded in a purpose that is greater than yourself.

When I say nothing happens by accident and that we’re called to these times, I think that’s really a statement of faith — that we have what it takes, that people are called together, that we can feel an element of grace in it or opportunity. It doesn’t have to feel just tragic.

I think people may be interested in how you practice religion? If you arecomfortable can you elaborate? 

I do not really feel comfortable talking about my personal spiritual/religious life in detail but I definitely have one and it is very important to me. I was raised Baptist, going to church every Sunday. I am happy to have had that foundation and also happy to have experienced and studied other traditions that have opened my perception and renewed my faith.

What is your opinion of Evangelical pushback on climate change?

I think it is important to be careful how we use the term “Evangelical” because it has come to denote a group that is more defined by their political affiliation than their theology. There is a long tradition of interpreting scripture in order to validate domination over nature and non-white peoples and I think the group of white evangelicals that deny the climate crisis is within that tradition. It is entirely irrational as well as immoral but it has deep roots and can be disguised as a kind of mandate to mankind to master and control the Earth by digging and burning the carbon stored in the ground.

It would be great if they came around and there is powerful work being done to facilitate that.

Do you have hope that we’re going to solve this?

Um … That’s such a hard question … [Deep breath and extended contemplation] … I have hope that we are going to make it less horrific then it could be. And I have hope that we might become better as a people and a species in the process, in ways that are really uplifting and kind of what life is all about. Those are the two things I can say about my hope. I do think that hope is different than optimism in an important way, that even if there’s a tiny sliver of light, you know, it doesn’t mean you think things are going great or you’re sure it’ll work out. It means there’s a chance. And you’re going to cling to that — you’re going to hold on to it.

Jeff Berardelli is a long-time TV meteorologist and climate contributor for CBS News in New York City. His work on at CBS News ranges from on-air weather to contributing to broadcast climate stories to writing articles for CBSNews.com. He is currently finishing up an MA in Climate and Society at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. He is most interested in communicating climate change challenges to a broad audience with the hopes of educating the public and improving awareness.

CEE Announces new affiliation with the Earth Institute at Columbia University beginning October 2019

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Facing Devastation in the Amazon

by Guest Contributor, Alfredo Sirkis, Executive Director of the Brazil Climate Center / Climate Reality Project

 

The confrontation with donors like Germany and Norway, the increase of more than 273% of deforestation in the Amazon in July of this year, compared to the same month last year, the increase of invasions of indigenous land with the pollution of its rivers with Mercury; the sticking at IMPE (Brazil’s satellite image monitoring institute)  to “break the thermometer”, the foolish eager to hide the fever, are crazy episodes.

With an additional 5% of further destruction of the Amazon rainforest,  we can engender irreversible changes affecting the rain regime in the rest of the country. Floods, desertification, risks to agriculture, extreme winds, invasion of coastal areas by the sea, heatwaves make up the foretold drama of climate change. On the other hand,  global decarbonization action offers Brazil economic opportunities, if we can use and negotiate with intelligence the immense environmental services we offer, our advantages in low carbon agriculture and clean energy and the great availability for the reforestation and afforestation producing negative emissions.

Bolsonaro’s invectives and gross misinformation silence those in his government who understand the equation. Climate change is unquestionable, its recent extreme manifestations: the terrible cyclones in Mozambique, affecting three million people or the 46-degree heatwave in Nantes, France, are warnings of what is coming. 2019 will be the warmest year ever experienced by mankind.

The latest IPCC report, dealing with not exceeding 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, mentions the need to reforest an area the size of US territory. Brazil has at least 60 million hectares of degraded pasture for reforestation and afforestation, both native and economic. It has abundant sun and wind for clean energy, biofuels and is pioneering low carbon farming techniques. So why all this destruction?

It is not mainly modern agribusiness who illegally deforests, promotes land grabbing and spreads indigent livestock, purely for speculative purposes or poison rivers with mercury. These are criminal activities incited by president Bolsonaro and favored by his dismantling of federal environmental low enforcement institutions.  Agribusiness has much to lose from the international repercussions of the new outbreak of devastation, with worldwide repercussions.

Between 2004 and 2012, Brazil managed to reduce its deforestation in the Amazon from 27,000 km2 to less than 5,000 km2, reducing its CO2 emissions by 80%, more than any other country. Now the deforestation rises again, in full swing. How far will it go?

Bolsonaro hates environmental concerns. He believes they are “leftist stuff” but who were their pioneers in Brazil? Marshal Cândido Rondon, a life in defense of the Indigenous peoples, Major Manuel Archer, promoted greater urban reforestation to date, made in the Tijuca massif in the late 19th century, Admiral Ibsen Gusmão, all military.  Paulo Nogueira Batista, Marcelo de Ipanema, conservatives,  who can hardly be considered the “left-paws” of his idiosyncratic bullshit.

No, worrying about climate and biodiversity is not a “communist scheme”. It is our responsibility to the generation of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, threatened by the catastrophic consequences that can still be contained but in a closing window of opportunity. Quickly.

Successful ‘On Food and Faith’ conference concludes

Originally published by Danny Russell, communications director at MTSO on June 5th, 2019

More than 100 religious leaders, scholars, scientists, farmers and activists gathered on the MTSO campus May 30-June 1 for “On Food and Faith: Ministry in the Time of Climate Change.” The conference was presented by MTSO, the Center for Earth EthicsThe Climate Reality Project and the Ohio State University Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT).

Karenna Gore and Tim Van Meter

“This is the first time that we have done this outside of Union Seminary,” said Center for Earth Ethics Director Karenna Gore at the opening plenary session. “We felt an incredible opportunity to come here and be at a place that is actually growing and harvesting food as part of the seminary.”

See the full event schedule.

Former Vice President Al Gore, founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, participated in all three days of the conference, delivering a multimedia climate presentation during the Day 2 plenary session.

Al Gore

In introducing Al Gore, MTSO President Jay Rundell highlighted his achievements and honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize, an Oscar and a Grammy Award. “What we sense here with you in our midst,” he told Gore, “is a certain synergy between the kinds of things you’ve committed yourself to and the kinds of things we’re about on an everyday basis.”

Early in his 90-minute talk, Gore spoke dramatically of the consequences of climate change, declaring, “We are in the process of visiting destruction upon God’s creation.” Still, he said, there is much good news, including dramatic strides in renewable energy: “It’s now cheaper in most parts of the world to get energy from solar and wind than to burn fossil fuels.”

“If anyone doubts for one moment that we as human beings have the will to change, just remember that the will to change itself is a renewable resource,” Gore concluded.

Also speaking on Day 2 was Ohio State Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science Rattan Lal, recipient of the 2019 Japan Prize, one of the most prestigious honors in science and technology.

Participants toured MTSO’s Seminary Hill Farm

“A part of the biomass produced by soil must be returned to it,” Lal told conference participants. “Taking away everything without returning any biomass is a robbery of the soil and a banditry.”

The conference also included 18 breakout sessions – ranging from “Islam, Ramadan and Hunger” to “Standing with Farm Workers.”

The session “Grief, Climate Change and Prophetic Hope” was moderated by Tim Van Meter, associate professor in MTSO’s Alford Chair of Christian Education and Youth Ministry. Van Meter, who also serves as MTSO’s coordinator of ecological initiatives, has worked with Karenna Gore on a number of projects, and their working relationship paved the way for MTSO to host “On Food and Faith.”

Jay Rundell leads the closing ceremony

Before conference participants toured MTSO’s Seminary Hill Farm on Day 1, Van Meter said, “I hope as you wander around with us, you’ll understand we have an incredible farm staff. And we have an incredible food staff. These are people we’re deeply, deeply grateful for.”

In brief remarks reflecting on the founding of the five-year-old farm, Rundell said, “Over time in our curriculum, we had a number of things happening that planted the seed, so to speak, for this work. Almost all religious traditions have some understanding of food in the center of who they are. We’re fairly deeply rooted in a number of Christian traditions here. We have sacramentalized food. We recognized that and found this was not so much doing something new but revitalizing our traditions.”

During Day 3’s final plenary session, a number of leaders and participants shared their reflections with the group. “If we can get people of faith to believe that the language we use is not geopolitical – it is spiritual language – then we can get this work done,” said MTSO Dean Valerie Bridgeman.

And 15-year-old Hadessa Henry of Indiana, who attended with her grandmother, Aster Bekele, founder of Felege Hiwot Center, inspired sustained applause with a plea: “Maybe next time we have this, we could invite more kids. We’re going to be here for a long time.”

Video and media coverage

See Karenna Gore explain why MTSO is the perfect place to talk about food and ministry and watch Al Gore discuss the opportunity to hold the conference on the MTSO campus on the MTSO website.

The Columbus Dispatch covered the conference with a newspaper story and this video:

View a Facebook photo album from the conference.

Methodist Theological School in Ohio provides theological education and leadership in pursuit of a just, sustainable and generative world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in counseling, social justice, theological studies and practical theology, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree.

CONTACT:

Danny Russell, communications director
[email protected], 740-362-3322