Author: Shannon M.D. Smith

Climate Equity and Inclusion

When people think about climate change and environmentalism, the image that comes to mind is a polar bear on a melting block of ice. However, that image neglects to include people, especially living in communities that are suffering from lack of climate and environmental justice. These areas, often inhabited by people of color, poor people or rural residents are located across the United States. In many of these communities, basic services such was access to water and wastewater sanitation are also affected by climate change.

In Florida, sea-level rise is very apparent. As a result, the groundwater is rising too. This makes it hard to treat wastewater with septic tanks. The failing septic tanks are damaging the environment and the health of residents relying on that technology for wastewater treatment. In Miami-Dade County, septic tanks contaminate the aquifer that provides drinking water. Over a year ago, a Miami Herald article trumpeted that the city of Miami has a $3 Billion septic tank problem. This failing or nonexistent wastewater infrastructure we’re seeing largely impacts communities of color where sewage ends up inside their homes or in their yards. This should concern everyone since it has been established that COVID-19 is shed in feces and can exist in wastewater.

“Climate injustice is exposing marginalized communities to imminent destruction caused by our fossil fuel addiction, which exacerbates climate vulnerabilities and expands climate inequality.”

Sea-level rise has also led to sunny day flooding in the Sunshine State. As a result, escaping sea-level rise has led those that can afford it to move to higher ground. The highest ground in the Miami area is called Little Haiti. Historically it has been a neighborhood of low-income immigrants of color, and now, longtime residents are being forced out of their homes. This is called “climate gentrification” and it is also occurring in nearby Liberty City and Overtown, both of which were largely occupied by black people. In fact, Overtown was once called “Color Town” because of its large black population. Another pattern of climate injustice is exposing marginalized communities to imminent destruction caused by our fossil fuel addiction, which exacerbates climate vulnerabilities and expands climate inequality. Without an intentional effort to promote climate equity and inclusion, the displaced will end up in the flood-prone areas with failing septic systems.

“The people least responsible for climate change are the most impacted.”

In Alaska, water and sewer lines are being exposed and twisted because of thawing permafrost. Many indigenous communities have never received water or wastewater infrastructure. Places like the village of Newtok don’t even have running water. Without any toilets, people rely on five-gallon buckets known as “honey buckets” to dispense their waste. Then dispose of it in a pit or hole. The town is currently being relocated because of housing  being lost to melting caused by increasing temperatures. In the Navajo Nation, many homes are also without running water or wastewater infrastructure. Infections from COVID-19 are remarkably high and are underscored by limited water in homes and the inability to wash hands.. The theme is similar. The people least responsible for climate change are the most impacted.

Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret by Catherine Flowers, via hardback and Kindle on November 17th, 2020.

Lowndes County, Alabama provides another clear example of how the lack of access to sanitation is where environmental justice intersects with climate change. Known as “Bloody Lowndes” because of its history of racial terror, it is located between Selma and Montgomery. Most of the historic Selma to Montgomery voting rights march trail passes through this county. In the 1960s, sharecroppers were denied the right to vote and evicted from the plantations where they lived for attempting to exercise their right to vote. Today, Lowndes County, still a Black-majority county has the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the state of Alabama. This should not come as a surprise since the area came to international prominence for its poverty and people living with raw sewage in their yards or flowing back into their homes because of failing septic systems. In 2017, a peer-reviewed study was published revealing that several tropical parasites including hookworm were found in fecal samples of county residents. Some of the tropical parasites were not expected to be found in the United States. Yet with climate change bringing warmer temperatures, the health consequences will worsen, and the old infrastructure designs are not and won’t be sufficient. Wastewater infrastructure in particular is continuously ignored despite being just as essential as water infrastructure. Those on the frontlines of these infrastructure injustices are suffering now more than ever because of climate change. They are the canary in the coal mine.

“A truly inclusive green future acknowledges the needs and voices of all living at the frontlines of climate change — rural communities, the poor, and people of color as well as polar bears and melting ice caps.”

Therefore, we need an inclusive view of environmentalism and an equitable vision for green infrastructure and jobs. A view that includes converting to a green economy using clean energy and renewables; building sustainable housing with a zero-carbon footprint; and switching from fossil fuels. It also includes creating affordable wastewater treatment technologies that reclaim nutrients and water for reuse. Most importantly, it requires supporting a truly inclusive green future that acknowledges the needs and voices of all living at the frontlines of climate change – rural communities, the poor, and people of color as well as polar bears and melting ice caps.

About the Author

Catherine Coleman Flowers the author of the book entitled Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, founder and director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Practitioner in Residence at Duke University, and board member of Climate Reality Project. Inspired by her daughter and grandson, her goal is to create a Green world that will benefit seven generations to come.

Catherine is the Center for Earth Ethics Senior Fellow for Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement. Learn More about Catherine’s work

Laudato Si at 5: Climate Justice and Ecological Citizenship in times of Covid-19

Video: Please enjoy the Laudato Si at 5 webinar program hosted by Fordham Law, June 18, 2020 |12:00-1:00 p.m.

Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home reaches its fifth anniversary, amid a pandemic which has the power to transform ways of working, commuting, and connecting. It also reveals the deep inequities in our society, including environmental injustice that harms human health. In this dialogue, we will explore the ecological crisis in times of COVID-19 from a moral, economic, and legal perspective.

Speakers:
Kit KennedyDirector, Energy & Transportation Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council 
Karenna GoreDirector, Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary
John MundellPresident/Senior Environmental Consultant at Mundell & Associates, Inc.
Simone BorgLaw Professor and Head of the Department of Environmental Law and Resources Law at the University of Malta School of Law.

Moderators:
Rabbi Burt Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and Director, Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Jewish Theological Seminary
Endy Moraes, Director of Fordham’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work.

Conveners:

Fordham’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work

Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary

Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Jewish Theological Seminary

Catherine Flowers recognized among Black Climate Scientists & Scholars “Changing the World”

Excerpts from “The Black Climate Scientists and Scholars Changing the World” by Read the Full Article on Green Matters.

That also means the environmental movement has so much to gain by listening to voices of color in the climate space. There are numerous brilliant Black scientists and scholars in the climate movement; we’ve highlighted just a few of them below, including quotes from each of them about the connections between climate justice and racial justice. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a starting point for learning about some of the Black scientists and scholars using climate science to make the world a better place.

Keep reading to learn about six Black scientists and scholars who have made indelible marks on the journey to climate justice…

Catherine Coleman Flowers is the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ), founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation (ACRE), a member of the Board of Directors for the Climate Reality Project, the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, and a Senior Fellow for the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, according to the Center for Earth Ethics.

Her work largely focuses on finding solutions to the water and sanitation crises in poor rural communities across the U.S. — a topic she detailed in her book Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, set to be released on Nov. 17, 2020.

If you are looking for ways to donate your time or money to Black Lives Matter and other antiracist organizations, we have created a list of resources to get you started.

Read more on Green Matters

Fall 2019 – Regional Ministers Training: A Community Response to Climate Change 

A Community Response to Climate Change Program

December 4- December 5, 2019 

Claremont School of Theology at Willamette University Salem, OR 

Putnam University Center Willamette University 900 State St. Salem, OR 97301 

Shepard House Willamette University 820 Mill Street Salem Oregon 97301 

 

Wednesday December 4th 

10:00 AM Registration and Housing Check-In 11:45 AM Location: Putnam University Center, 3rd Flood 

11:45 AM Opening and Welcome – A Theology of Interconnectedness 12:30 PM Location: Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor 

Presenters: Andrew Schwartz, Jan Elfers, Jill Leaness, and Michael Ellick 

12:30 PM Lunch and Table Activity 1:30 PM Location: Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor 

Eat Lunch and get to know your tablemates while answering questions about who you are and what brought you here. 

1:30 PM Reflect and Share: Connecting the Dots 2:30 PM Location: Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor 

Climate change is often seen as a separate and solely environmental problem that should be left to the scientists and environmentalists to solve. In this workshop we will connect some of the wide-reaching impacts of the climate crisis with other sectors, and provide examples of different actions that are being taken to address the issues. 

Presenters: Jill Leaness and Rebeca Cipollitti 

2:30 PM Break

2:45 PM Reflect and Share: Identifying the Problems 4:00 PM Location: Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor 

What climate impacts is your community experiencing? What have you witnessed in your own backyard? We will take this time to explore how climate change is impacting those in the room and the communities they serve. 

Presenters: Jill Leaness and Rebeca Cipollitti 

4:00 PM Break 

4:15 PM Listen and Learn: Bridging the Divide 5:30 PM Location: Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor 

An opportunity to reflect on what happened with HB 2020 and develop next steps. In this block, we will have a series of presentations to layout what happened in 2019 and what can be expected in 2020. Following the presentations and Q&A, we will break into small groups for more focused conversations 

Presenters: Jan Elfers and Britt Conroy 

5:45 PM Dinner 

7:00 PM Location: Goudy Commons (reserved dining room) 

7:30 PM Optional Get Together 9:00 PM Location: Willamette University Tree Lighting Festival and/or Grand Hotel 

 

Thursday, December 5, 2019 

8:00 AM Breakfast 9:00 AM Location: Goudy Commons or Catered Shepard House 

9:00 AM Morning Meditation and Theological Reflection 9:30 AM Location: Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor 

9:30 AM Listen and Learn: Felt Impacts From Frontline Communities 10:45 AM Location: Putnam Center 

Throughout Oregon communities are feeling the impacts of Climate Change. This panel will feature voices from around the state to share stories of how climate change is reshaping their communities, and the actions they are taking to address the issues. 

Speakers 

Oriana Magenra Climate and Energy Policy Coordinator, Verde Pastor E.D Mondainé – President, Portland NAACP Jeremy Five Crows – Public Affairs Specialist, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Rev. Linda Jaramillo – Board Chair, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon 

10:45 AM Break 10:55 AM 

10:55 AM Connect and Communicate: Storytelling and Theology Workshops 12:00 PM Location: Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor and Other Room 

This sessions offers two breakout sessions designed to help us tell our own climate stories and the other to help us deepen our knowledge on eco-theology. 

Two sessions of 30 minutes each to allow participants to attend both sessions. 

Session One: 10:55 am – 11:25 am Session Two: 11:30 am – 12:00 pm 

Room Session Facilitator 

Alumni Room 

Storytelling Workshop Jill Leaness and Rebeca Cipollitti, 

Climate Reality Project 

Autzen Room 

Towards and Ecological Philip Civilization 

Clayton and Wm. Andrew Schwartz, Claremont School of Theology 

12:00 PM Lunch 1:00 PM Location: Catered Lunch Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor 

1:00 PM Plan and Act: Identifying Solutions 2:00 PM Location: Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor and Other Room 

In this session, we will break into discussion groups to explore a variety of paths to help promote meaningful change in our communities and across the state, based on the problems we identified Wednesday afternoon. 

Presenters: Jill Leaness and Andrew Schwartz 

2:00 PM Plan and Act: Pathways for Change – Report Backs and Next Steps 3:30 PM Location: Alumni Lounge, Putnam Center, 3rd Floor and Other Room 

For our final activity, we will break into regional groups to brainstorm actions that can work in our home communities, what won’t, and outlining what we’ll need to be effective. 

3:30 PM Closing Prayer and Depart 

Mindahi Bastida and Tiokasin Ghosthorse join other indigenous voices contributing to National Geographic Corona Virus Coverage

Traditional indigenous beliefs are a powerful tool for understanding the pandemic

Native American spiritual leaders say this is a time to recalibrate for a better future.

Read the complete article at National Geographic online – May 12, 2020

***

‘Blood memory’

For indigenous people, history plays an unavoidable role in interpreting the pandemic. One elder from Michigan called Joseph to talk about how difficult it’s been for her to care for herself and her family. After some reflection, the woman realized why: She was weighed down by thoughts of the smallpox epidemic that had killed so many Native Americans. She felt she needed to forgive the U.S. government for intentionally giving her people the illness.

While documentary evidence that Europeans or Americans purposely spread smallpox is scarce, there’s little doubt that colonizers brought infectious diseases that killed an estimated 90 percent—some 20 million people or more—of the indigenous population in the Americas. “Even though we may not have been alive in the time of the smallpox epidemic, that’s in our blood memory,” says Joseph, “just as historical resiliency is also in our blood memory.”

Those deeply rooted experiences can lead to acceptance, especially among elders. “They have been through so much and experienced so much that there’s no need to fear or even panic,” says Tiokasin Ghosthorse, the Stoneridge, New York-based host of First Voices Radio and a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation from South Dakota. “It’s almost like this [pandemic] is familiar.”

As such, indigenous communities aren’t dwelling on the pandemic’s backstory. “Indigenous peoples don’t always need to go and explain what happened, why it happened,” says the Reverend David Wilson, a Methodist minister in Oklahoma City and member of the Choctaw Nation. “We just know it’s there.”

“We’re taught not to think of nature as separate,” explains Ghosthorse, and that includes COVID-19. “The coronavirus is a being,” he says. “And we have to respect that being in an ‘awe state’ and a ‘wonder state’ because it has come to us as a medicine” to treat spiritual ills.

Lessons for the future

While this pandemic is presenting an opportunity to find meaningful ways to connect, it’s also a wake-up call with important lessons for the future. “If we don’t learn from now,” warns Mindahi Bastida Muñoz, general coordinator of the Otomi-Toltec Regional Council in Mexico, “then another thing, more powerful, is going to come.”

Bastida, who is also the director of the Original Caretakers program at the Center for Earth Ethics in New York City, says the world is out of balance and that anthropocentrism—our human-centric outlook—is the cause. “We think that we are the ones who can decide everything,” he says, “but we are killing ourselves.”

It doesn’t matter where the coronavirus came from, says Mindahi Bastida Muñoz, a member of the Otomi and Tolteca people in Mexico who is sheltering with friends in Granville

… Read More PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSUÉ RIVAS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

“Mother Earth is saying, ‘please listen,’” adds Joyce Bryant, known as Grandmother Sasa, the Abenaki founder of a healing center in New Hampshire. “We have to care about others. You know, the grass, the trees, the plants, the air, the water—all are extensions of ourselves. And they teach us.”

“Living in harmony with Mother Earth is a lot of work,” says Bastida, but it can be done by reviving the indigenous idea that humans serve as caregivers of nature. He’s working with spiritual leaders across the world to return to the old ways—producing food by hand, finding medicine in plants, animals, and minerals, and performing rituals and ceremonies that send prayers to Mother Earth.

Perhaps the biggest lesson that indigenous spiritual leaders hope people will take from the pandemic is that it’s a time to be still, to reflect, and to listen to elders. Both Joseph and Wilson likened this period of stay-at-home orders to a long winter, when people would traditionally stay inside and listen to stories. According to Joseph, it’s like Earth is saying “not today, humans, you need some more reflection.”

The Spirit is Action: A Call for Justice

Mindahi Bastida, General Coordinator of the Otomi-Toltec Regional Council in Mexico, issued a statement in response to the murder of Maya Traditional Leader, Domingo Choc, in Guatemala. A video of Mindahi reading his response was recorded and can be viewed here. Read the statement below.

The Indigenous Peoples of the world are the ones who care for life and the Earth, our Mother, since time immemorial. It is time to recognize our work and that others recognize it fully. We are the main guardians of Diversity and Biocultural Heritage in the world. The greatest biocultural diversity is found in our territories, and this is thanks to our material and spiritual practices, which are based on the ancient wisdom of caring for life and relating with the sacred.

Our territories and the collective life of our peoples, both material and spiritual, are seriously threatened by the increasing deterioration of ecosystems and territories resulting from neoliberal economic development. It is urgent to halt ecocide and ethnocide not only to protect nature but to protect its guardians. If we want to protect the biological diversity of the world, it is necessary that national and international entities give absolute guarantees of protection to indigenous peoples, and especially to their spiritual and material leaders.

The historical and recent events of assassinations of indigenous leaders throughout the world have being taking place since the invasion of our territories. The Doctrine of Discovery has been in effect for at least 520 years and the colonial process of domination has been, and still is, devastating. Among other acts against life that we witness and suffer daily, we see with horror that those exercising ancestral spirituality in their own right are being victims of practices from the times of the Inquisition.

On June 6, Domingo Choc, Maya-Q’echi, a Spiritual Leader and Traditional Maya Healer, was burned alive in the Chimay Village, San Luis, Petén, Guatemala. A number of Pentecostal evangelicals set him on fire accusing him of being ‘a witch’. They killed him for practicing Mayan spirituality and, as inquisitors, they did it in proclamation of their Christian faith.

This aberrant and horrendous event is not an isolated case, for it happens often in many countries of the world. In Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and in other countries and continents such as Africa, indigenous spiritual and material leaders are assassinated or arrested for who they are and what they do—which is only in benefit of a good life for the community.

Taking into consideration the circumstances that led to this act, we demand Justice in the following terms:
1. Criminal and spiritual punishment to the material authors of the murder of Domingo Choc, basing the criminal punishment on articles 36 and 66 of the Political Constitution of Guatemala which refer to freedom of religion and that recognize the ethnic origin of the nation.
2. Granting of protection to the spiritual and material guardians and traditional authorities of Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala, Central and South America and the World.
3. Establishment of an inter-religious and spiritual dialogue to raise awareness and application of spiritual justice based on religious norms.
4. Investigation of cases related to bioprospection and access to traditional knowledge of medicinal plants in the territories of Indigenous Peoples.

It is time to promote the unification process with dignity, recognizing diversity. We all have rights, and we all have the responsibility, individually and collectively, to promote intercultural and inter-spiritual dialogue.

With respect and self-determination, on day 10 Reed, Zanbatha, Valley of the Moon, México. Mindahi Crescencio Bastida Muñoz
Otomi-Toltec
Member of the Alliance of Guardians of Mother Earth
With the support of the Center for Earth Ethics

Catherine Coleman Flowers appointed to ‘Unity’ Task Force on Climate Change

Moved by a visit to Lowndes County, Alabama, Bernie Sanders has appointed Catherine Coleman Flowers, Founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ) and CEE Fellow on Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement to the ‘Unity’ Task Force on Climate Change. Flowers has been shining a spotlight for years on conditions of abject poverty in southern states where neglect of poor people, largely communities of color, has led to a sanitation nightmare and the return of diseases long thought eradicated from the United States. She will serve alongside task force members selected by both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders to inform policy making discussions in preparation for the 2020 presidential election in November.

In addition to her work through CREEJ and at the Center for Earth Ethics, Catherine serves as the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative. Her first book, WASTE: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret will also be available in November.

Read a full list of Climate Task Force appointees below.

Read a summary of all the task force news at Vox.

Biden’s appointees:

  • Former Secretary of State John Kerry, task force co-chair
  • Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
  • Kerry Duggan, former deputy director for policy to Vice President Biden
  • Former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy
  • Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and co-founder of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Congressional Task Force

Sanders’s appointees:

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), task force co-chair and co-author of the Green New Deal resolution
  • Varshini Prakash, co-founder of youth activist group Sunrise Movement
  • Catherine Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice

A Conversation with Kelly Brown Douglas and Karenna Gore: COVID-19 and the Environment

Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary hosted a Facebook Live conversation between Dean Kelly Brown Douglas and CEE Director, Karenna Gore on COVID 19 and the Environment.

Karenna Gore has appeared in conversation with Kelly Brown Douglas on topics related to both Climate and Faith.

In this series of talks, Dean Kelly Brown Douglas speaks with guests on how the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing underlying injustices, poverty and racism that our Church and society have grown too comfortable with.

Tune in Monday, May 18th, 3:15 -3:45 pm for the next talk on Navajo Nation During COVID-19.

Covid-19 and the Environment

Join EDS at Union on Tuesday, May 12th at 2:15 PM ET for a Facebook Live conversation between Dean Kelly Brown Douglas and Karenna Gore on COVID 19 and the Environment. Karenna Gore is the founder and director of the Center for Earth Ethics (CEE) at Union Theological Seminary. The Center for Earth Ethics bridges the worlds of religion, academia, policy and culture to discern and pursue the changes that are necessary to stop ecological destruction.

Posted by Episcopal Divinity School at Union on Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Irish help raise 1.7 million and growing for Navajo and Hopi Nations impacted by Covid-19

In a time when many are struggling, and challenged to summon the will to care for those most suffering, a centuries old bond between nations shines a light on human kindness and solidarity. 

Over 1.7 million has been raised so far for the Navajo and Hopi families COVID-19 Relief Fund with thousands of donations over the first few days of May. During the night of May 4th and into the wee hours of the morning hundreds of donations raising hundreds of thousands of dollars poured in with multiple donations per minute. Along with the financial support came hundreds of messages of solidarity remembering the kindness shown to the Irish people by the Choctaw who sent $170 during the Irish Famine in 1847, the equivalent of thousands of dollars, soon after they had gone through their own Trail of Tears. 

**UPDATE: as of 2 pm EST May 6th, the total raised is over 2.6 million dollars.  And the relief fund has expanded it’s goal to 3 million dollars.

**UPDATE: as of 1 pm EST May 11th, the total raised is over 3.5 million dollars.  And the relief fund has expanded it’s goal to 5 million dollars.

This story is being tracked by Naomi O’Leary, Europe Correspondent with the @IrishTimes.

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

Link to the thread on twitter: https://twitter.com/mariafarrell/status/1257381654873673731?s=20

Visit the Go Fund Me page to donate and to read the responses from the Irish offering up their thanks for the kindness of Native American ancestors.