Category: Climate Change

Deep Water Mining – What’s really going on in our Oceans?

“The world is too tragic for naive optimism” – Cornel West

The coronavirus has spurred a number of recovery plans including from the World Bank and the Democrats, and the European Union all of which keep the climate and sustainability at the forefront. Threaded through all of them is the idea of a green revolution that “Builds Back Better”, meaning that the world will once again hit all of its economic markers without the fossil fuel pollution that’s always accompanied it.

That may be easier said than done, however. The green revolution will require massive solar fields and wind farms as well as fields of batteries to store and manage the energy that is captured. The materials required for sustainable tech – primarily lithium, cobalt, copper, and the rare earth metal neodymium among others – are increasingly hard to come by and are mostly found in China, parts of SE Asia, Australia, sub-Saharan African countries, and along the Ring of Fire that runs from the southern tip of Chile to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Demand is driving fresh exploration in Eastern Europe and across the United States but the biggest cache of minerals exists underwater. 

4000-6000 ft under the Pacific Ocean exist large hydrothermal vents that belch out constant streams of minerals that form clusters of gold, silver, copper, cobalt and an array of rare earth metals. It’s the new frontier of mining according to a 60 Minutes feature from 2019 that asked why the US hasn’t yet capitalized on this emerging market. And that is a question to ask. The underwater deposits are estimated to be worth upwards of $17 trillion and whoever gets there first could have a veritable monopoly over the much coveted metals. From this vantage point it is fairly mysterious that the United States has not committed more money towards this endeavor especially considering the 2 million sq/mi minefield, called the Clarion Clipperton Zone, or CCZ, is situated between Hawaii and Mexico. 

There are no reliable deep sea mining operations yet because of the extreme complexities involved in the process. Yet is the operative word here. There’s a mad dash by groups around the globe trying to be the first ones to crack this nut and that’s a very scary thing because no one really knows what the environmental impacts would be in any direction. To date, roughly 1% of the deepwater ocean floor has been mapped and little is known about what ecosystems exist down there. What is known is that the  hydrothermal vents that produce the bounty of metals more importantly play host to one of the most curious and alien biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. They are wonderfully complex and shrouded in mystery not only to questions of how they evolved but how they integrate into the oceans ecosystem at large. 

The United Nations recently released a resolution calling for the suspension of deep sea mining until better and comprehensive environmental impact studies are done. The resolution came out of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) which is a consortium of 168 nations formed in 1982 to study and provide regulations for activities in the sea. Though under the umbrella of the United Nations, they are relatively autonomous and have their own governance structure. They have put forward hard fought agreements such as the Convention on the Law of the Sea and The Mining Code which are meant to provide a semblance of guidelines and regulations to those wanting extract resources from the ocean. As agreed to by the 168 nations in the ISA, all the minerals in the deep seabed are considered the shared heritage of all mankind, which is one way to say that it’s open season for whoever can get them. 

In 2018, De Beers Corporation scraped the sea floor for 1.4 million carats of diamonds off the coast of Namibia and is working on a new boat that can scrape at twice the speed. There’s no telling what it’s done or will do to those ecosystems going forward because there’s no requirement to learn what those impacts might be. It’s a disturbing precedent that’s being set and it’s only just beginning. There are mining operations underway in New Guinea to break apart underwater geysers to access the mineral deposits built up around them, and both Japan and South Korea are starting their own deep water operations. There isn’t a policing body for much of any of this. Countries own the waters 12 miles off their coastlines but beyond that invisible line it becomes international waters where regulations and oversight fade away. It’s the perfect place for corporations and countries to extract with relative immunity and little to no recourse, except for whatever the Earth doles out. 

We should have been descaling carbon production decades ago but we didn’t and now we’re looking for an exit where one might not exist. The green revolution that the world so desperately needs might come with costs that we do not begin to know how to measure. In our desperation to avoid the worst of fossil fuels we must not let our hope in a green revolution allow us to rely upon the processes and ideologies that got us here in the first place. 


The Rebirth of Coal

Funding for fossil fuels has not slowed down.

In 2015, 197 nations signed The Paris Climate Agreement pledging to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The science is clear that unless emission from fossil fuels drop to near 0 by 2030, the world is sure to eclipse the 1.5C standard that would stave off the worst impacts of climate change. It was an ambitious and historic pledge that most agreed wasn’t strong enough for the amount of change we needed but a good first step all the same. Four years later and they’re still spending irresponsible amounts of money on fossil fuels and making insufficient process on renewable energy.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic there has been a precipitous drop in fossil fuel consumption. Most estimates put the annual drop somewhere between 5-8% depending on how / if the virus returns with conviction in the Fall. 

Decreases in air pollution above the Northeast United States due to COVID-19 response. (Image credit: NASA / Science Visualization Studio)

Britain has gone two months without burning coal which is something that hasn’t happened since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Elsewhere in Europe, we are seeing drastic cuts in coal emissions as well as the shuttering of coal plants. In the United States, coal continues to plummet despite efforts by Donald Trump and his advisors who are determined to prop up and deregulate the dying industry.

Of all the fossil fuels coal is the worst. It’s dirty and toxic and polluting from the word go because of what is required to mine it and when’s its burnt it releases a toxic cocktail of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) mixed with Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and Fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) that come together to pollute the air, warm the atmosphere, and cause cancer. Once burned there are mountains of coal ash full of heavy metals that blow into the air and seep into waterways and aquifers. 33% of power in the USA is generated by coal and almost every coal plant is located adjacent to or in a primarily Black community.

Though the use of coal is down in the United States and Europe, the Asian market has invested heavily in it over the past decades. Recently, China announced 34 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power –  which is equivalent to the power Poland’s produces in a year  – and adds to the already staggering 147 GW it produces from coal annually. It is estimated that China is currently financing a quarter of the world’s coal projects with its development banks – including the China Development Bank (CDB) and China Export-Import Bank (CHEXIM) – providing over $226 billion in loans to Vietnam, Indonesia, India, South Africa, Afghanistan and the Philippines over the past two decades. 

The Chinese investment in coal is discordant with their much celebrated commitment to renewable energy initiatives. China remains the world leader in onboarding wind and solar projects and has outsold every other country in regards to electric vehicles. There are similar questions being raised for Japan which has dramatically increased its reliance on coal on the other side of the Fukushima disaster. It has quickly become the world’s third largest importer of coal in and is Australia’s largest client. When asked why Japan invested in coal rather than safe renewable energy options, one economist simply replied, “because coal is cheap.”

Though the price of renewables is down across the world coal is still a cheap and rapidly scalable option for countries that need energy fast. Countries may have their eyes set on a renewable future but the minerals and metals required for renewable technologies are not keeping pace with energy demands.

Asia as a whole is one of the last markets for coal producing countries like Indonesia, Australia, and India who are seeing their other accounts dry up. Miners and producers in the United States are eager to get in on the action. Interior states including the Dakotas, Utah, New Mexico, Montana and Wyoming are eager to put people to work and send their products to Asia but are being blocked from doing so by Western ports. In 2016, a 96-car train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed outside of Mosier, OR causing an explosion unlike any that had ever been seen. The incident inspired waves of protests in both Oregon and Washington, and sparked new regulations on what can be shipped and exported through the States. For interior coal and oil producing states, though, exploding trains and broken pipelines aren’t reason enough to stop.  Instead, they are suing Oregon, Washington, and California over their prohibitive regulations.

What is mystifying about all of this is that coal is on its last legs according to most every investor. Financial markets and asset managers are being forced to analyze their own portfolios to strategize how they’ll account for depreciating coal stakes and the industries likely inability to cover their outstanding loans.

And it’s not just coal. Fossil fuels across the board are decreasing in value and are projected to continue depreciating. The coronavirus sent oil down to -$37 per/barrel before rebounding and stabilizing in the $20 per/barrel range. This is temporary at best. A recent report by Coal Tracker estimates that if demand drops at the annual 2% outlined in the Paris Agreement, fossil fuel profits could fall by $25 trillion, potentially collapsing the global financial market.

What the world is looking at is an industry that is killing the planet and whose death throes have the potential to untether the global economy. It’s not good. What’s worse is that rather than cutting credit to fossil fuels and investing aggressively into renewables the World Bank and other multilateral development banks continue loaning billions to oil, gas, and coal at twice the rate they are giving to renewables. The pressure to change is mounting from both inside and outside the industry and it cannot relent. In many regards, fossil fuels have never been in a weaker position and though they aren’t going down without a fight they are undeniably going down. The question is navigating the transition in an equitable, sustainable way.


Health Care in the Time of Climate Crisis: An Earth Ethics Perspective – 2nd Annual Clinical Climate Change Conference

The Center for Earth Ethics joined the Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research to convene the Institute’s 2nd Annual Clinical Climate Change Conference. Additional partners included the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association. CEE Director Karenna Gore was honored to give the opening Keynote address on Health Care in the Time of Climate Crisis.

About our partner: The Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research is the nucleus of the Icahn School of Medicine’s work on studying how the environment affects human health. To learn more visit: Follow us at @SinaiExposomics.


Karenna also recorded a companion Road to Resilience podcast leading up to the event.  Listen


Watch the Video now at Clinical Climate Change

Please enjoy the full text of Karenna’s speech below or with this pdf link.

Read Full Text:

Health Care in the Time of Climate Crisis: An Earth Ethics Perspective by Karenna Gore

Clinical Climate Change Conference – New York Academy of Medicine

January 24, 2020



Thank you for inviting me to be with you today. Thank you to the Institute for Exposomic Research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai for convening us.

I am the founder and director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. We draw from the world’s faith and wisdom traditions to confront the ecological crisis and we work through education, convening and movement building.



Religion is relevant to climate change work for a few reasons: One is that religious identity drives behavior in much of the world. At its best, religion can call people to values that transcend politics. There is organizing power and reach in faith communities. As in the Civil Rights movement, moral language and communal cultural strength can inspire breakthroughs for social change. People also often turn to spirituality in times of loss and faith communities are often at the forefront of disaster relief efforts, helping people make sense of what has happened and act in service to help their neighbors. Interfaith dialogue can discern values that are held in common across different doctrines and can even unmask some of the belief systems embedded in mainstream secular society. For all these reasons the Center for Earth Ethics takes religion seriously but is not forwarding one particular religious viewpoint. We are working on an ethical framework for our ecological crisis.

Ethics becomes particularly important in times when people sense that morality is out of step with the laws and norms of society. So it is today. The climate crisis is unfolding, and those that suffer most are those least likely to have a voice: the poor, marginalized and most vulnerable peoples of the world (including the elderly, young children and the infirm), all future generations, and nonhuman life. Those laws and norms that facilitate this system and hasten this trajectory are upheld by entrenched political power and financial interests. They also reflect a deeply held beliefs, or illusions, that prevent people from grasping reality and responding to it. I am not a medical professional, and I am eager to learn from you all who are. But I do want to talk about ethics, in the largest sense of the term … how to avoid doing harm, and how to heal. I will focus my remarks on insights from my field, and connect them to clinical health care as best I can.



We live in an extraordinary time, in the midst of an existential crisis that seems to have crept up on us. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been digging and burning the oil, coal and gas stored in the Earth at an ever-increasing pace, releasing emissions that are called greenhouse gases because of the heat-trapping effect in our thin shell of atmosphere. Warnings from scientists go as far back as the nineteenth century but have been more specific, thoroughly researched and urgent, culminating in the recent reports from the International Panel on Climate Change, known as the IPCC.

Their 2018 report concluded that in order to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees over pre-Industrial averages (which is what they have deemed relatively manageable to adapt to), we need to act decisively to curb emissions (by about 45% of 2010 levels) within the next 12 years. According to the math, it means we have ten years left to make those changes in all sectors of society, including buildings, transport, industry, and land use. What it really it means is that every unit and aspect of time is of the essence, and even to meet the less desirable target of 2 degree rise, we must act right now.

At the same time, there has been rampant deforestation and soil depletion, removing critical carbon sinks as well as destroying habitat for other specieswhole interconnected webs of plant and animal life. Who knows how many untapped potential medicines we are destroying unwittingly? It must be said that this is habitat for some humans as well.

I was born in 1973; in my lifetime alone, the human population has about doubled while the wild animal population has been cut in half, 40 per cent of wetlands have been lost, half the coral reefs have died, and we have destroyed half of the world’s forests. In this same time period there have been lifestyle changes aided by technologies that, for all their benefits, have also brought about things like the phenomenon of “screen time” and the proliferation of waste, especially single use plastics. It often feels as if the world is in shock.



How did we get here? The main way that society measures success, metrics like GDP (gross domestic product), do not count some pretty striking things: depletion of resources, pollution, inequality, the spread of disease, or the long term benefit of positive actions like conservation. The argument has been that short term economic growth is good for the well-being of all, and we needn’t concern ourselves with those so-called externalities. We needn’t worry if the products bought and sold are harmful as long as there are more of them, we needn’t worry about long term consequences or aggregate effects, as long as the jobs numbers look good and the stock market is up. We now face a reckoning.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, issued a detailed report last year, which stated “Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. On Dec 19th, researchers from the Climate Impact Lab who are working on precise data driven estimates to project future impacts, recently told the House of Representatives Oversight committee that their main finding to date is that “the increase in global mortality rate due to climate change induced temperature changes in 2100 is larger than the current mortality rate for all infectious diseases.” And this is only a fraction of what will come, if we continue on the path we are on.

Of course, even with 1 degree of warming (in some areas it is a bit more) we now see the stronger storms, exacerbated floods, more severe heat waves, melting ice and permafrost, rising sea levels, raging wildfires, worsened droughts, seasonal weather disruption, and the like, including the ongoing fires in Australia right now that have killed 32 people since September, including 3 Americans yesterday who were piloting a tanker plane to drop fire retardant. It is also estimated that these fires have killed 1 billion animals.



Health care professionals are on the frontlines of this crisis, not only because you treat people who are hurt and suffering, and diagnose and strategize and communicate about how to manage risks that affect whole populations, but because we have a planetary health problem that we, as a whole, have not been able to fully grasp.

Many have used analogies involving doctors in trying to explain what is happening. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe has said the Earth is running a fever, pointing out that a thermometer is not conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. One public intellectual said that we should understand our situation as caretakers of someone who has symptoms of sickness and, having sought multiple opinions, we have found out that the vast consensus is that the patient is suffering from a serious progressive disease called [anthropogenic] climate change. One political leader reached for this analogy a few months ago that illustrates the problem with the gap between the process of treating a patient and the current process of our self-government: “Congress right now, he said, is like a room full of doctors arguing about what to do over a cancer patient. And half of them are arguing over whether medication or surgery is the best approach. And the other half is saying cancer doesn’t exist.” Needless to say, we need more of the kind of disciplined thinking that comes from actual real-life doctors to come to our aid.

Today we will learn more about the way that climate change impacts affect human health, from the injury and trauma associated with extreme weather events, to disease vectors, to issues around hydration and nutrition, to the physiological effects of extreme heat. I have visited some communities impacted already, such a community in Lowndes County, Alabama where a combination of poverty, raw sewage on the ground, rising heat, and more rainfall, have created a haven for disease. As a study by the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College confirmed a couple of years ago, there is a resurgence of hookworm and significant risk of the advent of tropical diseases not known in that region before.

There are also health care concerns on the other end of these impacts: the same activity that is the primary cause of the disruption in our Earth’s atmospherethe extraction and burning of fossil fuelsalso causes ambient pollution that harms human health in the communities where these toxic sites are located. For example, I visited a community called Belew’s Creek in North Carolina which is inundated with coal ash, and suffers high cancer and asthma rates. For years, people there were told that cancer ran in their family, but now they are making the connection and fighting back. Soon I plan to visit St. James, Lousiana, where a giant petrochemical company is planning a 90 billion dollar mega-complex in an overwhelmingly African-American community that has already suffered from the health impacts of the literally dozens of other such plants that are already there in that region, so much so that the region has been dubbed “death alley.”

Some people talk about social services in the time of climate change by emphasizing adaptation. But if all these activities are continued and expanded, if more coal plants are built and more oil and gas fracking and drilling is done, and emissions continue to rise, as they have this past year, there will be no end point of climate impacts to adapt to, no static point of what health care will look like in an altered environment. it will just get exponentially worse.



What is the deepest level of cause of the climate crisis?

On September 19th, 2014 an essay titled Pursuit of the Common Good was published in the journal Science, co-authored by an economist, Partha Dasgupta, and a climate scientist, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, that called for cross-disciplinary engagement in a difficult but infinitely worthwhile task: “Over and above institutional reforms and policy changes that are required,” they wrote, “there is a need to reorient our attitude towards nature and thereby towards ourselves.” 

I want to explore what that means for clinical settings. But first I would like to offer some suggestions from my field of work about our collective relationship to nature now. There was a moment years when the CEO of a large fossil fuel company said something interesting- his contention that fossil-fuel driven economic development was alleviating human suffering (part of the fallacy of the economic growth paradigm we have already considered)– – and when pressed about the problem that his business plan was going to lead to global ecological collapse, he said “what good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers.” The obvious response to this is: well, so we have some place to live? Another response is that, if we do not mitigate climate change, the suffering will be unimaginable. But these responses are not even quite adequate to fully deal with the mistaken way of thinking he gave voice to. And it is not just him. How is it that so many have come to think that the Earth—air, water, soil, other species of life—is simply a backdrop or set of resources, rather than integral to our bodies and our lives.

Part of this problem is theological. Some say it goes all the way back to Plato—who posited a separation between matter and spirit referred to as “dualism” that threaded on through European thinkers such as Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon. Others say it is based on a bad translation of the concept of “dominion” in the Book of Genesis- and a distortion of the concept of “Imago Dei,” that human beings, and only human beings, are created in the image of God.

In that same vein, a clue might be found in the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine to Christianity in the early 4th century, precipitating the marriage of institutional Christianity to empire and colonization. This had a big impact on wiping out animistic spirituality that saw nature as sacred and alive, which made it a lot easier to think of rivers and forests and mountaintops as objects and resources rather than living beings. Imperial forces like to extract resources and control local populations and it helps to promote a belief system amenable to that. In 1967, a medieval historian named Lynn White wrote a paper called the Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis in which he claimed that “The victory of Christianity over paganism was the biggest psychic revolution in the history of our culture.” This is not a comment on the essence of Christian faith, by the way, it is simply an observation of the effect of this convergence of forces.

Then, in the fifteenth century, when the Vatican issued decrees–papal bulls, they were called—that proclaimed that the land and the peoples of the Americas and Africa should be “conquered, vanquished and subdued,” this mentality was instilled in the beginning of European peoples presence in the land we are in now. In fact, Pope Alexander VI’s decree even explicitly stated that the non-Christian peoples of these lands (meaning everyone there at the time) were part of the “flora and fauna” to be subdued. The dehumanization of people of color and the sense of license to pillage the natural world were linked. And judging from the amount of environmental racism there is now—the number one indicator of the placement of a toxic facility in this country is race—it still is.

As far as Christian theology is concerned, there is a lot of work being done do redress this particular doctrinal mistake. In 2015, Pope Francis published an encyclical entitled Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home which is devoted to the concept of “integral ecology.” A quote from paragraph 116: “An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about. Instead, our “dominion” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”



More people are also recognizing that the wisdom of Indigenous peoples is powerful, especially as a counterforce to the chain of events we have set in place. Several teachings from Indigenous peoples of this land come to mind—one, from the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), is that every important decision made today should be made with seven generations ahead in mind. There is also the concept of reciprocity with nature- that as we take, we must also give, even- and perhaps especially- if that is in the form of conscious acknowledgment and respect.

The contrast in belief systems was evident at the conflict at Standing Rock. I was able to be there but I will quote the writer Walter Kirn to give you a sense of what it was like: “It is not a romantic or fanciful event but an earnest and passionate spiritual intervention by people for whom spirit and matter are not separate categories at all but a living, interpenetrating unity. Their immediate concern is with a pipeline capable of fouling the local waters with toxic oil from the nearby fracking fields. Their larger concern is with a mad philosophy that pits human beings against their natural home for vain and temporary benefits.”

The Native peoples at Standing Rock said we are not protestors, we are protectors. They marched behind a banner that said “Defend the Sacred.” The term “water protector” became widespread- and the term “sky protector” has begun to be used as well. This is one example of a reorientation of our attitude towards nature.



The pioneering environmental scientist Rachel Carson wrote: Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

There is now a lot of new research confirming that exposure and immersion in nature is beneficial to health. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2018 found that exposure to the natural world lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing stress. The government of Japan promotes the practice of shinrin-yoku or “Forest Bathing, because of its proven health benefits. As one Japanese doctor has put it, This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.”

Some of this might seem more in category of common sense but the medical research and recommendations are helping people to take it more seriously. According to EPA, the average American spends over 90% of their life indoors and we know also that an ever increasing amount of that time is devoted to screens. In the 2003 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder,” sparking a wave of mainstream cultural inquiry into the effect of nature on health, which has included books such as The Nature Fix. Some of the ensuing discourse seems to dwell on the lack of specificity of accessing the beneficial effect and seeks to identify “micro-hacks” of nature to short cut the benefits with maximum efficiency.

I think of the words of one of my favorite theologians, Howard Thurman, an African- American Baptist and mystic who was a significant influence on Martin Luther King Jr. (he was dean of Boston University’s Marsh Chapel when King was a student there and he wrote an extraordinary book called Jesus and the Disinherited which King carried around with him for some time. In The Search for Common Ground, Thurman wrote: Man cannot long separate himself from nature without withering as a cut rose in a vase” and he posited that many modern mental and emotional disorders result from feeling “rootless” and “vagabond” and even a deranging effect of sensing that collectively we are “fouling our own nest.”


This community has long been aware of the connection between the realm of the physical and the realm of the mental and emotional. The Climate Psychiatry Alliance states that “mental health is profoundly impacted by the disruptions associated with climate change” and has created a forum to bring psychiatrists together to have a collective voice on this issue. Of course, this includes trauma from extreme weather events and the stress-inducing effects of extreme heat and the like, but there is a growing body of work around mental health and climate in a more broad sense.

In 2017, the American Psychological Association endorsed a body of research identifying “eco-anxiety.” Dr. Lise Van Susteren uses the term “pre-traumatic stress disorder.” Many people are now discussing the phenomenon of “climate grief” – brought on by the sense of the current loss of biodiversity and empathy for the suffering of those experiencing climate impacts, as well as the recognition that the future looks much different than we had imagined, and that we may have saddled our children with an unspeakable burden. This is a real mental health issue. It is one that religious and spiritual leaders deal with as well and we all need the best clinical research and insights to draw from.

To return to the theme of concerning ourselves also with the level of cause . . . consider this: the American Psychological Association also stated: “To compound the issue, the psychological responses to climate change, such as conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness, and resignation are growing. These responses are keeping us, and our nation, from properly addressing the core causes of and solutions for our changing climate, and from building and supporting psychological resiliency.”

Not only is the climate crisis causing mental health issues, but it seems that our failure to respond to the climate crisis is itself a mental health issue. After all, half the global warming pollution in the atmosphere has been put up there in the last 20 years, the time that we have known the most about this and had the most available alternative in clean renewable energies. Metaphors of addiction and suicide are hard to avoid. Clinical insights about preventing and treating these maladies are not incidental to our ability to solve the climate crisis.

Here again, connection to nature has proven therapeutic. I would suggest that this may be especially true if there is an establishment of reciprocity with nature, rather than resource extraction. A sense of belonging is reciprocal, and powerful, and hard to fake. The trauma theorist Bessel Van Der Kolk has written that “safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives;” perhaps in the time of climate crisis that insight can also be applied to the connections of humans to nature as well as to each other

In the book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “Restoring land without restoring our relationship is an empty exercise. It is relationship that will endure and relationship that will sustain the restored land. Therefor connecting people and the landscape is as essential as reestablishing proper hydrology or cleaning up contaminants. It is medicine for the earth.” We could add to that: It is also medicine for humanity.



In addition to reconnecting to nature, there is a bit of hard core public health advocacy work that needs to be done. In this situation, surely the call to heal must include a duty to warn.

You all are familiar with the power of marketing and PR. The history of the tobacco companies and their deliberate campaign of misinformation around smoking is an important case in point. Thank you to the American Lung Association, one of our co-hosts today, for the great work done on that issue, and on so much else. In the book Merchants of Doubt, the historian of science Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway lay out that history and its connections to the dynamics of current misinformation from the fossil fuel industry. When medical professionals step up to educate the public and hold all the layers of our self-government accountable to the truth about public health hazards, it brings change.

One of my favorite figures in American history is Dr. Alice Hamilton who was active a hundred years ago, in the aftermath of World War One. The American Public Health Association, one of our co-hosts today, which does such wonderful work, gives an award in her name every year. She was an expert what was termed “industrial medicine” at a time when toxins such as lead and mercury were poisoning workers in factories and there was no precedent for preventative measures or government oversight or regulation. Indeed there was a sense that anything that interrupted the industrial juggernaut of the early twentieth century was somehow anti-American. With a combination of meticulous research, moral reasoning and skilled advocacy, she was among those that achieved the first protocols, laws and policies for occupational medicine.

Incidentally, in 1919, Hamilton was the first woman faculty member of Harvard University and it was not because they were looking for a woman—in fact they made stipulations to her contract that said she was not allowed in the faculty club, could not go to Commencement and could not have any football tickets– it was because she was the preeminent figure in a new and critical field. Hamilton explained that qualified male scientists rejected this field because it was “tainted with socialism or with feminine sentimentality for the poor.” This too is something for us to be aware of—the notion of a taint– some of the most essential approaches in clinical climate work may initially be treated the same way. And of course, it is combined with the inevitable pushback from those with a financial stake in the status quo. Be as unintimidated as Alice Hamilton was in protecting workers in factories.

Today, the so-called “externalities” of our industrial society have increased to the point that they threaten the future of human civilization. Chemical companies and the political leaders they donate to are leading efforts to roll back protections from toxic chemicals like the ones Alice Hamilton and later, Rachel Carson and others fought for. The federal government is pushing out scientists who are telling the truth about climate change and even removing the mention of it from public documents. We need a public health campaign like never seen before, and I applaud those in this community that are already rising to the challenge.



I hope that this this talk has been helpful in some way. I know that your work is noble and necessary and hard, even in the best of times. Thank you for listening to the perspective I bring from Earth Ethics and being open to the ways it intersects with health care. This is no ordinary time and we are together in not knowing how it will all turn out. As the Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy has put it, “The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift may arise from grief for our world that contradicts illusions of the separate and isolated self. Or they may arise from breakthroughs in science, such as quantum physics and systems theory. Or we may find ourselves inspired by the wisdom traditions of native peoples and mystical voices in the major religions [saying] that our world is a sacred whole in which we have a sacred mission.”

When it comes to matters of life and death, Doctors and other health care professionals have unique respect and authority in our society. We need you to warn and we need you to heal. We need you to be aware of the climate crisis in your individual practice … particularly as you treat the poor, the elderly and the children who will bear a disproportionate burden, but also in your work among all peoples of all backgrounds; we are inter-connected, the current trajectory of the climate crisis is a force that would ultimately spare no one, and we need treatment at the level of cause as well as effect. Solving it should be a unifying cause- we all breathe air, we all drink water, we all eat food that grows in soil. We are the Earth. Lets trade the illusion of externalities for the reality of exposomics, the harm of mere extraction for the healing of reciprocity– and let’s get this done. Thank you.


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NYC Climate Speaks Youth Program Applications Due January 17th!

Want to inspire action on climate change? Register today for Climate Speaks 2020!

Announcing Climate Speaks 2020, a creative writing and performance program.

Students, sign up here to participate!

Registration Deadline: January 17th, 2020

Free program, spots limited, registration required.

Phase 1: Jan.–March

Phase 2: March–April

Phase 3: April–May


Competition (Optional)


All students participate in climate justice and creative writing workshops

Interested students receive training and mentoring and can compete for a chance to perform

Selected students continue collaborating with teaching artists before a series of performances

Climate Speaks 2020 – Flyer and Workshop Dates

Climate specialists & teaching artists help students hone their voice to confront the climate crisis.

Open to all h.s. students in NYC metro area – No experience necessary!

Click here for information on program structure, dates, and locations.

“I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. It was a huge confidence boost, and has opened up so many avenues of involvement in climate action.”

Jade, Climate Speaks 2019 Performer

Follow @climatespeaks and @climatemusem on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

For highlights from the 2019 program, visit or

Climate Speaks is presented by the Climate Museum and the NYC Department of Education Office of Sustainability. The museum would like to give special thanks to Urban Word NYC, The New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, the DreamYard Project, Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens, and the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.

Parenting in the Time of Climate Change Part II: Geraldine Patrick at the BPL

Concerned About Parenting? Try Humbling Yourself And Paying Attention

Last month, about fifty parents gathered at Brooklyn Public Library thanks to a series that they put together with 350 Brooklyn called Climate Wednesdays

At the talk our moderator Tom Roderick asked people to share their feelings. Anger, anxiety, fear, incertitude, overwhelming thoughts, self-blame or guilt, unrest, despair… all were expressed, in words or in body language –even in weeping faces. We, the speakers who had been featured on the events page as ‘experts’ presented ourselves as non-experts, but as proactive parents trying to figure out how to stand in a world so fragile. 

What I had jotted down a few days before the talk had been this: children are essentially Wisdom bringers, Truth tellers, Keepers of the word and Messengers of original principles of life. Such is the impression I have of children, and I referred to those aspects indirectly, using some brief anecdotes. What might catch the eye is that I consider they are ‘keepers of the word’. Yes: when they are very small they quickly acquire a concept of what keeping the word means; and they hold high hopes when a sacred pact is set with their adult party for the first time. I’m talking of an agreement such as, if I do my chores on time, you’ll take me to play in the park, or, you’ll get me a teddy bear if I give my best at school. But when the adult breaks the pact –even if out of mere distraction or obliviousness— we may have lost the precious opportunity to raise a child that trusts the word –and world– of adults. If parents/tutors carry on disregarding or disrespecting what keeping the word means, socializing stages and emotional intelligence may be severely affected. It may then become very difficult for the child to advance some initiative within the family, the school or broader community spheres. Whatever we as adults do to repair that condition of mistrust, we must openly show that we believe in the words and intentions of our child, leaving room for them to come up with creative ideas and supporting them all the way. Urgency is such that we can only humble ourselves, recognize our mistake and offer to keep the word of commitment so to co-participate in creating harmonious and sustainable livelihoods. 

In this humbling process, we adults need to pay attention to many of our own actions, for, aren’t we trying to model a way of life that makes sense to our children and motivates them to stand up? So here go some introspective questions that I didn’t get to share with the parents that day, but that might help us to pay attention on a daily basis:

Are we living each day in gratefulness for who brought us to the world, starting with the first of mothers, Mother Earth?

Are we honoring each of the four elements of life on every occasion?

Are we giving life back to the plants and animals whose lives we take?

Are we showing what a responsible consumer cares for in all scales of time and space? 

Are we considering all externalities involved in what we produce or consume?

Are we growing at least some of our own food, however small or large it may be in proportion to our needs? Are we respecting seasonal cycles and preferring local produce so to reduce footprints?

Are we showing that we care for human communities of all sociocultural conditions that live within and are related to ecological communities under some current or future level of threat, and in so doing, are we listening to those we offer to support and work with? 

As we wake up every morning, let us go over these and similar questions, and also schedule time to continue sharing what it means to be parenting in these very sensitive times, when building endurance and resilience with wisdom and love is crucial. Thank you Amy Adelman and Tom Roderick for the opportunity to share with all parents and especially with Liat and Nikki.


Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina is an Original Caretakers Fellow for the Center for Earth Ethics and a Scholar in Residence at Union Theological Seminary.

Parenting in the Time of Climate Change Part I: Karenna Gore on Parenting Through Climate Anxiety

Cindy Wang Brandt interviewed CEE Director Karenna Gore on Parenting through Climate Anxiety as part of her series on Parenting Forward.   The author covers topics concerning raising spiritual children without trauma, re-examining faith with embodied values and concerns for a better future.

Show Description: “I talk with Karenna Gore, Director of the Center for Earth Ethics from Union Theological Seminary about climate justice, spirituality, and how to parent our children through climate anxiety. She talks beautifully about how the climate justice moment is clarifying our interconnectedness and how to find authentic community in the social movement for life. Lots of recommendations for more resources, see the links below. There’s really some deep wisdom in this episode all, don’t miss it!”  Listen…

Links (affiliates included):

Center for Earth Ethics –

Karenna Gore on twitter –

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee –

How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk –

The Uninhabitable Earth –

Global Weirding with Katharine Hayhoe –

Parenting Forward Conference Recordings –

Join us at the Parenting Forward Patreon Team –

Parenting Forward, the Book –

Karenna Gore participates in interfaith climate event in Recife

Originally published in Portuguese

Interview with Karenna Gore
By: Sérgio Xavier

Karenna Gore participates in interfaith event about the climate in Recife and talks about the global challenges of sustainable development

Reversing environmental degradations on planetary scales, containing global
warming and eliminating immense inequalities are 21st century challenges that require the utmost of human wisdom in politics, economics, culture and spirituality. When imagination and high spirits are lacking in pragmatic processes, religiosity can be a source of inspiration to join forces and open new paths. This Friday (8), in the context of the Brazilian Climate Change Conference, a historic meeting will unite Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous leaders in a multi-religious event, in defense of the environment at the oldest Synagogue of the Americas – Kahal Zur Israel (2 pm) and at the SinsPire Hub (4 pm), in Recife Antigo.

“Faith in the Climate” event will feature Rabbi Nilton Bonder; Father Fábio Santos, coordinator of the Commission for Ecumenism of the Catholic Church of Pernambuco; Pastor Paulo César Pereira, president of the Alliance of Baptist Churches; Mother Beth de Oxum, Ialorixá from the terreiro (meeting place) Ilê Axé Oxum Karê and Jaqueline Xukuru, from the Xukuru indigenous community (Serra do Ororubá, Pesqueira – PE).

The event is a co-hosting of Centro Brasil no Cima (CBC), the Institute for Religious Studies (ISER), the Faith in Climate initiative and the Climate and Society Institute (ICS), with the support of the Israelite Federation of Pernambuco (FIPE), chaired by Sônia Sette.

The schedule, mediated by environmentalist Alfredo Sirkis, will be attended by Karenna Gore, director of Center for Earth Ethics (USA), graduated in history and literature by Harvard University, daughter of former vice president of the United States, Al Gore, who has intense international environmental activism. Karenna works with ecumenical mobilization in defense of climate balance and in this exclusive interview, synthesizes the importance of connecting material and immaterial dimensions in the search for consistent solutions to the great problems of humanity.

Sérgio Xavier – Special for the Diário de Pernambuco
Q: Does planet Earth have a natural ethic that can be perceived, learned and practiced by humanity in the construction of a righteous and sustainable civilization?

Karenna Gore – Yes. Ethics is a field of fundamental values. It becomes especially important when laws and social norms are out of sync with issues of moral conscience. For example, this happened in relation to the end of the horrible institution of slavery. More and more influential people began to think about it through an ethical or moral lens, rather than a purely utilitarian economic lens. In the case of planet Earth, the activities that are degrading and destroying the biosphere are legal and in line with social norms. However, more and more people realize that this system has come into conflict with ethical concerns about the most vulnerable people among us – and also in conflict with the laws of nature. We can perceive, learn, and practice natural ethics by observing and aligning ourselves with the laws of nature, whether we conceive them as science or as God’s sacred creation, or both. If we want to build a just and sustainable civilization, we must measure the impacts of big decisions on three voiceless groups in decision making: poor and marginalized peoples, future generations, and non-human life. If we pay attention to these categories, health will improve for all of us.

Q: The first challenge to avoid climate change is to convince people, companies and governments to change their perceptions and attitudes towards the environment. How does the Center for Earth Ethics work in this context?

The Center for Earth Ethics unites the worlds of academia, religion, politics and culture. We believe that scientific data is important, but we also know that this climate crisis is about value perception, moral obligations to others, and courage to change. If logic and reason were enough, we would not be in this terrible emergency. Many people have been educated to believe that humans are separate and superior to the rest of the natural world and, therefore, society can spew as much air pollution as we want, without any effect. But the truth is more beautiful and interesting than that – we are connected to the
whole network of life. Our bodies are created from the Earth – air, water, iron and much more. We have massively signed an insane accounting scheme that does not recognize the real costs of the fossil fuel extraction economy. The Center for Earth Ethics wants to help look at the deeper reality of long-term value, far beyond the current price landscape. Therefore, we work with education, offering workshops on topics such as: Religion and
Climate Change; Beyond GDP; How to measure a successful society; Indigenous voices on colonization, ecology and spirituality; Rights of nature…

What are the relationships between environmental crisis and spirituality?

A root cause of the environmental crisis is the illusion that humans are separated from nature and can treat all elements and other living beings as objects, resources or properties. A theologian I like, Thomas Berry, taught that we should see that “the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects”. This sense of communion is spiritual.

Q: Nature (sky, water, forests, animals, land, humans) is the visible face of the Gods of various religions. Therefore, polluting and degrading ecosystems is disrespecting and attacking Gods. Why do most people worship and respect Gods, but do not care for and respect nature?

There is some history of defining monotheistic religions against animist – or “pagan” – traditions that see nature as having personality and divinity. I think that in some parts of the world, including the Americas, a historical fear and contempt for animist traditions are responsible for a part of the inability to translate religiosity into a truly respectful care for nature. This has also been exploited by those who wage cultural wars for political reasons. There is hope, however, especially because of how innate and natural it is for children to love nature in a genuine way.

Q: To reverse global warming and mitigate climate change, innovation is essential. How can traditional religions drive creative changes in politics, economics and technology?

Traditional religions and interfaith dialogue can help promote the creativity and innovation we need to make changes and solve the climate crisis. There is rich cultural knowledge and historical memory in religious communities. They were forged in a time prior to ingrained dependence on fossil fuels and can help us remember deeper values and more sustainable lifestyles. They can also serve as a force contrary to some prevailing messages of contemporary society, which confuse monetary wealth with virtue.

Q: The urgency to reverse global warming requires immediate and large-scale action on all continents. Is interfaith dialogue an effective strategy to accelerate the mobilization of humanity?

Diversity always encourages creativity and spiritual diversity in Brazil is a huge force. Interfaith dialogue can help discern essential common values and reveal how many different colorful ways can be expressed. Some of these common values are caring for the poor and vulnerable; the importance of community at the expense of competitive individualism; respect for ancestors and future generations; and a sense of the sacred that must be protected from sale and corruption. In fact, not all religious leaders or institutions fulfill these values, but interfaith dialogue can help discern a purer expression of them, as well as to celebrate the aspirations we have in common. Mobilization comes from inspiration and also from necessity. Some people still deny the urgency and severity of the climate crisis, but there is something that will touch them or move them environmentally. We need all the ancient wisdom we can get to meet this challenge.

Faced with fake news and the denial of climate science, how can interfaith dialogue bring us closer to the truth and inspire actions in defense of peace and life?

Interfaith dialogue can show that morality is not simply a matter of following a doctrine or spiritual leader but is a deeper conviction.

In the age of digital networks how can journalism make truths more attractive and more convenient?

In the digital age, journalists can raise voices of people who are suffering the impacts of pollution, deforestation and climate change. In addition, they can show solutions, especially those to live in balance with nature, demonstrating the way forward.

Q: The construction of a sustainable, peaceful, culturally diverse and poverty-free civilization depends on material and immaterial developments. Your father, Al Gore, was notable for articulating political, economic and technological solutions to reverse global warming. You are dedicated to interfaith dialogue and the development of spirituality. Is it possible to integrate the material and the immaterial by creating a new biocentric, collaborative and spiritualized economy?

The relationship between matter and spirit is a timeless and fascinating investigation. Even after so much time and so many approaches, it seems that we have not solved it yet! Of course, mystery is part of beauty. The legacy of dualistic thinking, which holds that matter and spirit are separated, is very present in the mentality of climate denial. In this regard, I believe there is some healing power in the syncretic traditions that have mixed the indigenous traditions in an artistic and graceful way and the dominant religions of the world, such as Christianity. There is also a new kind of denial, based on the idea that we don’t need to worry about that crisis, because technology will save us somehow. Of course, it is related to what Pope Francis called the technocratic paradigm in our society. I believe we need to question this paradigm and invest more time and energy to reconnect with nature. One benefit of this is that it is better for human health because, after all, we are nature and our species evolved in conditions that were more synchronized with natural rhythms and cycles. Anxiety and depression epidemics can be related to disconnection from nature at various levels. Certainly, the climatic disturbances of the planet are related to the fact that human societies are at war with the laws of nature. At the same time, we need innovative technologies. If we are connected to the deepest sense of ourselves and the ultimate meaning of life, changes can be lasting and have integrity. Material and immaterial are related and can support each other if we reconnect.

President Trump announced this week the formal departure of the Paris Agreement. 25 U.S. governors, from the US Climate Alliance, are making opposite movements, similar to the “Governors for the Climate” initiative in Brazil, which has the participation of Governor Paulo Câmara. With its innovative capacity, the United States would gain much more by leading the transition to the new low-carbon economy. How to convince President Trump to change his mind?

“We Are Still In” movement is very important in the US. There is action and momentum from many subnational actors and also from community movements. We cannot be distracted by the forces of absurdity, no matter how highly placed they are temporarily in our own government.

Leading ecological movements requires giving examples and showing that it is possible to change behavior and consumption. What material and immaterial examples from your daily life can be inspiring for other people who want to contribute to climate sustainability?

One tactic of those who want to prevent us from changing and avoid mass ecological destruction is to criticize the messengers. They focus on individual human beings, who are imperfect, and do not deal with the crisis. Change needs to occur at many levels at once – individual, community and large-scale change. The latter is the most important, but individuals can give examples. I appreciate how Greta Thunberg does this and, of course, the traditional indigenous leaders who have lived low-impact lifestyles for millennia. They are important leaders in ecological and climate justice. For my part, I have little to brag about – I rarely eat meat, try to fly less, I am conscious as a consumer, try not to waste energy – I use renewable sources in my home and at work – and so on. But I know that I am part of a high-consumption sector of human society, responsible for this crisis. So, I think the most important thing I can do is to raise the voices of people on the front lines and advocate for systemic change.

David Beats Goliath: Update on Louisiana Pipelines & Cancer Alley

After a sweltering summertime march to draw attention to the high death rates of now infamously titled Cancer Alley, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade has put out the Press Release below.

A March Through Heat, Felony Threats, and Pollution Brings Louisiana’s Cancer Alley to Governor’s Attention – DeSmogBlog

The Guardian’s Series of Reports on Cancer Alley


PRESS RELEASE | FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                               

September 6, 2019​

David Beats Goliath
Wanhua Chemical Withdraws Project in St. James Parish
Victory for grassroots groups standing up for health and property values

(Convent, Louisiana) — In capitulation to the power of local opposition, Wanhua Chemical has formally withdrawn its land use application to build a $1 billion dollar facility in St. James Parish. Opponents’ appeal and law suit slowed the project, making the Chinese owned company vulnerable to economic changes and additional scrutiny.  “This is a victory for all of us in St. James Parish,” said Sharon Lavigne, President of RISE St. James, a group that has long opposed construction on grounds that it would endanger parish residents and reduce property values. “We aren’t just going to sit back and accept that it’s open season for industry to build in St. James Parish. We are ready to fight, and next up is Formosa.”

Legal challenges to the Wanhua project – including an appeal of the land use decision and an open meetings law suit – were filed by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of clients Genevieve Butler, Pastor Harry Joseph and the organizations RISE St. James and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.  “I’m glad that Wanhua is gone,” said Pastor Joseph. “They were coming with all kind of sneakiness and our parish might have been in trouble. I am glad that the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic gave the Parish Council an idea of some of the problems. We don’t have to worry about Wanhua and hopefully with Formosa, they will withdraw their plans.”

The project raised concerns about the proposed emissions in the parish. “I am happy with these results,” said Eve Butler, a resident of St. James. “We hope that before anything else is let in we can have an environmental impact statement in the parish.”

Wanhua had requested help with tariff exemptions from Senator Bill Cassidy, whose office had ongoing communication with Wanhua representatives. Wanhua’s announcement today came after months of doublespeak by company representatives. The company now plans to build its facility in a different part of the U.S., contradicting its public claim that tariffs were the reason for cancelling the project. Company reports also showed that Wanhua is owned by the Chinese government despite statements to the parish government denying that fact. The company’s promise of local jobs was belied by job ads requiring residence in Houston and Baton Rouge. “St. James Parish officials were told half-truths and evasions by a big foreign company that wanted to come here and use our state as its dumping ground,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “It was ordinary people who spotted the bad deal and stopped it. Today Wanhua, tomorrow Formosa.”

In June, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic filed the appeal of the parish planning commission’s approval of Wanhua. The project crumbled during the delay, after the Parish Council voted unanimously on the appeal to remand the approval back to the Planning Commission. In the appeal, the petitioners opposed construction of Wanhua because of the hazardous air pollutants, the unfair concentration of polluting industry in the parish’s African American districts and the resulting destruction of property values. Wanhua planned to have the chemical phosgene on site, a toxic substance used for chemical warfare in World War I and for which there is no safe level of exposure. Tariff exemptions were critical to the project, as Wanhua planned to build most of the facility in China and import it and assemble it in St. James.

Today’s announcement came as welcome news to Wanhua’s nearest neighbors. “My great-great-great-great grandmother came out of slavery and bought my family’s land,” said Barbara Washington of RISE whose home is near the proposed site. “Our hard work has paid off. We will not stop til all those industries who want to come in here change their plans. We are tired of being sick. We refuse to be sick anymore. Don’t even try to come into St. James. We will not allow it.”


RISE St. James is a faith based organization fighting for the removal of harmful petrochemicals in the land, air, water and bodies, of the people, of St. James Parish.

Louisiana Bucket Brigade uses grassroots action to support communities impacted by the petrochemical industry and hasten the transition from fossil fuels.

Get Involved! Contact: 

Anne Rolfes, Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, [email protected]

Eve Butler, St. James resident
Sharon Lavigne, President, RISE St. James
Barbara Washington, RISE St. James and Wanhua neighbor

CEE’s Karenna Gore speaks with Dean Kelly Brown Douglas of EDS at Union Theological Seminary

“When we bring together reason with our values a vision will evolve for the good of the whole.” – Karenna Gore

Dean Kelly Brown Douglas of Episcopal Divinity School speaks with Karenna Gore, Director of Union’s Center for Earth Ethics. They discuss the moral dimensions of our ecological crisis, how environmental issues are playing out in the presidential primary, and Karenna’s recent New York Times op-ed.  Full video and excerpted transcript below.

Climate Justice with Karenna Gore

Dean Kelly Brown Douglas speaks with Karenna Gore, Director of Union's Center for Earth Ethics. They discuss the moral dimensions of our ecological crisis, how environmental issues are playing out in the presidential primary, and Karenna's recent New York Times op-ed.The Center for Earth Ethics is an institute at Union Theological Seminary that envisions a world where value is measured according to the sustained well-being of all people and our planet. Learn more at their website

Posted by Episcopal Divinity School at Union on Thursday, September 12, 2019



KBD: “What we have to appreciate is that this is not a crisis that just emerged overnight for no reason. The roots of this are deep. And when we talk about the oppressions of people, the subjugations of people, the subjugations of the earth this is all the fruit of the same poisonous tree, right?  Or the same poisonous root. That goes deeply back into our traditions, into our religious traditions and into Christianity.

We are living in a time and a culture where people refuse to recognize that there is a problem, and that there’s a crisis.  And I’ve heard you speak about that before as an addiction.”

On Addiction to Fossil Fuels

KG: “Many people have experienced addiction or are close to people who have experienced addiction and it is instructive about the limits of human nature or the ways in which – how – the idea that we would self-destruct as a species – because that is what is happening in slow motion – ”

KBD: “That’s right.”

KG: “- is not logical.  But nor is it logical that someone would be so hooked on something that is causing them so much damage but they can’t quite see it.  Until, or in many cases it comes to hitting rock bottom, in many cases people say it comes to turning to a higher power. Those are instructive stories I think in a way of understanding what we’re seeing now because a lot of people are looking and watching because the see climate impacts now.  The amazon is on fire, polar ice caps are melting, we’re losing species…”

KBD:  “60% of, I understand, the animal species has been degraded?”

KG: “Yes. So the question is, how much, is a similar question as an addict might face.  How much more damage do you want to do?

I think most of us have the feeling we will turn away from fossil fuels – or we’ll die.  And it’s not just a feeling, it’s what the body of scientists in the IPCC tell us.”

“We’re on track for about 7-9 degree Fahrenheit warming by the year 2100.  What that means, of course, are tipping points that we don’t totally understand. Many people criticize them (scientists) for being overly conservative it their estimates because they can’t exactly what happens when all the ice melts.  The Gulf Stream is changing.  We know that there are many things in place that would start to make large portions of this earth uninhabitable and the strife involved in that, the widespread suffering involved in that  – is unimaginable.  So if we’re on the road that kind of destruction, at what point can we decide – we’d like to stop now – let’s just try to stop now as opposed to doing more and more damage.  And I think the analogy to addiction is very important.”

On the role of Faith in the Climate Crisis: Prophetic and Pastoral

“There are three concepts to think about Place, Time, and Being in which, you know, we as individuals, we are asked to think about in our discourse, we as individuals we are asked to be consumers, we are asked to think about consumer choices.  We are asked to think about our belonging to different races, or genders, or denominations but to belong to a place and a time is also part of understanding what’s happening now. And that –

When you look at the scale and the pace of the ecological destruction we are living right now – it’s overwhelming.

And our own sense of what our agency is – it’s overwhelming.

And I believe it is going to come from leaders, faith leaders – and I say that in a broad way. If you are a counselor in a community center, if you’re an indigenous keeper of traditions, these are all forms of ministry.  But this is what is called for, those types of skills to help people through this time.”  – Karenna Gore

Values of Faith, Examining Social and Ecological Injustice

KBD: “Part of the work that you do at the Center for Earth Ethics is in fact to lift up faith values, religious values and how they inform, how we indeed should engage with the rest of creation and the kind of relationship we should have to the earth, and all that there is therein.  The Center for Earth Ethics in many ways focuses on this as a moral issue, as a faith issue. I’ve attended a couple of the programs with the Center for Earth Ethics and I’ve always walked away more informed.  And I’ve walked away inspired by the many faith traditions and the ways in which those traditions compel us into a caring relationship with our environment and with the earth. I also walk away wondering, and I want to ask you, what are the ways in which our faith traditions and religious traditions have been an impediment to our care for the earth?

KG: “Very important question.  I think we have to look clearly and honestly at that.  And I know in your work you have done that with regard to white supremacy, the ties of colonization, genocide and slavery to the form of Christianity that was really about Empire and expansion and extraction.  So I believe a lot of what is seen as secular including the economic growth construct as it is currently presented is actually highly charge, with almost and actually Rev Barber talks about the ‘culted commitment to greed’.

It’s only a kind of fanaticism that would’ve gotten us to this point.  It is not reason. It is not logic. And so I believe that we can look clearly at a couple of specific examples in this conversation.  One is the idea of separation of humanity and the rest of the natural world. So you have the concept of dominion from Genesis. You have the concept of imago dei, we are made in the image of God. These two things together are quite easily distorted to mean that we are God, and we get to dominate everything and in fact God says we should and given us all of this to dominate. So of course there’s a fair amount of work done on this and I won’t go into it too much except to say that there’s great theology there’s eco-feminism, there’s eco-womanism, there are many people who have worked on this.

When you have a concept like ‘stewardship’ used by people like Scott Pruitt the former head of the EPA who professes, evangelical Christian faith, and says stewardship means continuing to dig and burn fossil fuels – where does that come from? And it comes, it actually, I think we have to be quite honest there has been a tradition laid, and it is the same one that laid white supremacy.  So the separation of humanity and nature and of course, you’ve written so beautifully about this in your book Stand Your Ground, about how this unfolded doctrinally and of course, you know, there were the doctrine of discovery and this was the whole premise for Europeans to come to this land was a set of religious documents, that claimed authority from the Bible to conquer vanquish and subdue all non-Christian peoples.  And non-Christian people at the time in the Americas and Africa was any people of, indigenous peoples and so that has been played out and is very much alive and with us today.

So this is work of unraveling and detoxifying what has been done to lay that foundation is critically important in the leadership from within people of faith from within Episcopal Divinity School, from yourself, from the many people of faith who are actively claiming the best of those traditions, the scripture in its sacred meaning and explaining where it has been distorted and how we can move on I think is absolutely essential.

KBD:  “You’re precisely right and the insight and bringing together the way in which systems dominate and exploit people, it’s the same construct that allows for the domination and exploitation of our environment and the rest of creation.  And so, there is this intrinsic and inextricable link between white supremacist narratives and the narratives that have placed us in this position of destroying the environment and the earth.  As we’ve destroyed people, we destroy the earth. And these are all to be seen as sacred creations of God and to look at the ways in which faith traditions have been complicit in that.”

KG: “One other thing I want to add, because I think it is interesting to look back even before the colonization of the Americas and introduction of the slave trade at what happened in Europe with the Roman Empire. There is this thesis from 1967 from a medieval historian named Lynn White called ‘The Roots of our Ecological Crisis’, it’s controversial, but what he said is that the victory of Christianity over paganism in Europe in the middle ages is what led to the mindset of commodification and objectification of nature in how it played out. 

It’s worth noting because there were indigenous traditions in Europe, as well. There were sacred rivers, there were prayers to sacred places and many women were keepers of those ceremonies and so all of that had to be obliterated in order for there to be an empire put into place. And because of the marriage of the Roman Empire and Christianity which we know from the conversion of Constantine – I think there’s a lot to that. An extraordinary turn of events to have someone take these symbols and turn it into its opposite and it’s the kind of thing that’s being done to us today in our politics in a very sinister way, as well.

From the conversion of Constantine… This rings true to me when I read that Lynne White thesis ‘The Roots of our Ecological Crisis’ and when I also read and actually what he doesn’t talk about is the burning of witches in Europe, the specific targeting of women spiritual leadership in that way… so it’s also an important thing to include when we are talking about the doctrine of discovery and the papal bulls because I think it’s a part of the same story.”

The Center for Earth Ethics is an institute at Union Theological Seminary that envisions a world where value is measured according to the sustained well-being of all people and our planet. Learn more at their website

CBS News covers climate change at UN General Assembly 2019 – Karenna Gore contributes

Climate Change Front and Center at UN General Assembly 2019

Originally published on  September 17, 2019

CBS News’ Pamela Falk covers the Climate Crisis ahead of the UN Climate Summit.  CBS has joined 250 news sources committed to a week of climate coverage – Climate Coverage Now.

“There is good reason why most world leaders consistently identify it as the preeminent and central challenge for humanity in our time,” Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at the Colombia University-affiliated Union Theological Seminary, told CBS News.

recent CBS News Poll found that a majority of Americans say action needs to be taken right now to address climate change. Most consider it to be at least a “serious problem” — including more than a quarter who say it is a “crisis.”

The U.N.’s Climate Action Summit begins on September 23, and is expected to be a forum to hold countries accountable to the international commitments they made to cut global warming as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

That summit will be preceded by the Youth Climate Summit — a gathering of young global climate campaigners who have organized worldwide demonstrations this year. They’re calling for another “global climate strike” this Friday, with 800 events planned in the U.S. alone and corresponding rallies around the world.

The “climate strike” initiative was sparked by teen activist Greta Thunberg, who first made news last year with her solitary strike against climate change in her native Sweden. Since then she has been joined by millions of supporters rallying in more than 150 countries. She told “CBS This Morning” last week that she hopes world leaders will “step out of their comfort zones to prevent the worst consequences from happening.”

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston told diplomats recently, warning that “it could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work.”

Read more…