Category: Climate Change

The Second Best Time to Plant a Tree

Guest Post by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons

A hairy, naked male and a hairy, naked female crouch over the body of an antelope they’ve just killed. They’re looking up with fear and fight in their faces as a huge bird of prey swoops down to try to steal their kill. A jackal lurks in the background too, biding its time. It’s a frozen moment from a hundred thousand years ago, a flash in the life of a Neanderthal couple, reconstructed by scientists for a diorama at the Museum of Natural History. I saw this couple over Thanksgiving weekend when my family and I wandered into the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. If you’ve ever been there, you know it’s strange and amazing.

This diorama especially grabbed me. I felt moved by it. My kids were fascinated. Something about it is so real and poignant. It must have been so much work to bring down that antelope. The couple is alone in the open landscape, vulnerable to all the fierceness of nature. I wondered if they ever got to just chill in their cave. Did they ever sing? Did they play? Did they love each other? Their Neanderthal bodies are wiry and strong, thin and scrappy from a lifetime of fighting for survival. They didn’t survive, of course, not that couple nor their entire species. The early hominids all went extinct, just like the dinosaurs before them. Unique expressions of the divine, like a single firework, exploding for a short time, showering light, and then gone.

How did they go extinct? Scientists say it was a mix of factors, possibly including violence from homo sapiens (that’s us) and definitely the pressures of climate change. Yes, they had climate change back then too – the deniers are right about that – the climate has always been changing. But it happened at a much slower pace – at least ten times slower than ours today. Even so, the pace of change was too fast – the landscapes and plants and animals morphed and the Neanderthals were unable to adapt.

Homo sapiens were able to adapt. Homo sapien means “wise man,” smart human, and our adaptability is a hallmark of our species. As long as we had a good thousand years before things were really different, we were able to make the changes that we needed to make in where we lived, what we ate, and what tools we used in time. We were able to figure it out. And the unique, unrepeatable spirit of life continued to flow through us.

This time around, we don’t have a thousand years to figure it out. We don’t even have a hundred years. According to the UN report that just came out about climate change, we have twelve years. That’s what they said. Twelve years. We have twelve years to radically transform our economy, especially the amount of energy that we use and how we generate it. From coal, oil, and gas to solar and wind. Energy from hell to energy from heaven. Twelve years. Now this is not adapting to climate change – that’s a whole other set of things we need to do. This is about preventing the climate from changing so dramatically and so quickly, that we are unable to adapt. My fellow homo sapiens, smart humans, we have twelve years.

And if we don’t? Best case scenario, the UN report warns of catastrophic flooding, droughts, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Worst case, some scientists believe we are heading toward the sixth mass extinction. We can hear the drumbeat clearly now – the fires in California getting worse every year, the hurricanes growing more violent, droughts around the world, deserts expanding, thousands being forced from their farmlands and becoming refugees. It’s happening in real time.

Hearing about this more and more these days, the drumbeat getting louder, I’ll tell you where I’m at personally. I feel scared for my children. They’re just eight years old now, Miriam and Micah. I’m scared for them of what kind of shifting, collapsing world they are going to have to make their way in. Even with all of their advantages as white, well-educated, relatively wealthy Americans, are they going to have to struggle to survive? And they both want children of their own. I was telling them recently about a celibate monk I had met and Micah had a strong negative reaction, saying how sad it would be to not have ancestors (by which he meant, descendants). And I wish I could gush about how great it will be for them to have children and for me to have grandchildren. Except I’m not sure how great it will be for those grandchildren.

——

I’m sad that they will never get to experience the untouched beauty of wilderness. Because what we’ve done touches everything, everywhere. I’m heartbroken for all that we’ve already lost, for the wilderness itself and the polar bears and countless other animals whose stars will burn out before their time.

I also feel an immense sense of personal responsibility. I am in a position of leadership where I have this soapbox to stand on and if I am not doing absolutely everything in my power to inspire and nurture and activate all of you, my congregation, to confront the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, then what the hell am I doing here? What even gives me the right to stand up here before you all? These questions keep me up at night.

And then… I get distracted from the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced by the mundane necessities of life. My sense of responsibility to defend my kids’ future gets hijacked by my kids’ need for help with their math homework. My sense of responsibility to plant a seedbed of revolutionary change here gets hijacked by the need to let everyone know that Facebook is doing a matching grant fundraiser on Giving Tuesday and we all should contribute on that day in time to get the matching grant.

And every single person I know is just like me in this respect. We all get absorbed in the work of life, and the joys of life, and the struggles of life, mostly doing things which, when you take them one at a time, are each valid and important, even noble. Some of us have trouble enough just making it through the day. Some of us are just trying to survive in an economy with virtually no safety net. Or an illness takes all our time and energy to manage. Or a family conflict. Or someone hacked our email or our bank account and we’re spending hours on the phone trying to sort it out. Someone breaks our heart and we’re spending a year feeling like we want to die. Or we fall in love and we’re just too damn happy to worry about anything.

Our political life follows the same pattern. Political debate centers on the vivid human suffering of our time. Our government teargassing children at the border, to take just one of thousands of nauseating examples. Politicians rarely – really almost never – talk about the existential elephant in the room. Partly because this is not what we’re talking about, for all the reasons I just listed. Partly it’s because fossil fuel companies and chemical manufacturers and big ag are paying a lot of money to make sure that we don’t talk about it. And to make sure that deregulation continues, that the science gets muddied, and that green referendums fail; to make sure that at this week’s G20 summit in Argentina our delegation is over there promoting fossil fuels. And for good measure, they work to suppress the votes of poor people and people of color who are most affected by environmental collapse because they might actually vote to change things.

—–

So is this how it’s going to go down? Good people are too busy and bad people are too smart? Homo sapiens, smart humans, is this really how it’s going to go down? You can imagine the diorama at the Museum of Natural History a hundred thousand years from now. (Yes, I’m aware that there probably won’t be Museums of Natural History with dioramas a hundred thousand years from now, but just indulge me for a minute.) The diorama depicts a homo sapien family in an industrialized nation at meal time. A female is lifting a package of food out of a microwave. A male is staring into a cellphone. A baby is drooling onto the plastic tray of a high chair, clutching something that looks like a beanie baby in one hand and a juice box in the other. A toddler is watching something on a tablet of some kind, laughing.

Next to the diorama, the information panel reads as follows: “Homo sapiens roamed the earth for a brief 200,000-year span. Their extinction was precipitated primarily by rapid climate change. Unlike the climatic shifts of previous eras, this climate change was largely caused by these apex predators themselves, specifically by the burning of the fossilized remains of all the creatures that had gone extinct before them.” (That’s what fossil fuels are, by the way – you cannot make this stuff up.) “It is unclear whether this burning was a religious ritual or had some other purpose. Archeological evidence suggests that homo sapiens had discovered solar energy long before their extinction. But their primitive form of social organization and rudimentary ability to share resources may have prevented them from addressing the global threat in time.”

Our primitive form of social organization – basically the powerful practicing dominionism over the earth and over those less powerful. Some of us say it’s all too big and we’re too late – we should have fixed this thirty years ago. And yes, in an ideal world, thirty years ago we would have switched to renewable energy, drastically reduced our consumption and waste, adopted plant-based diets, shared our wealth to alleviate the desperation of poor nations, and planted about ten million trees. We’d be having a very different conversation right now. But the conversation we are going to have in thirty years – or in twelve years – will depend entirely on what we do today. And I mean today. This week, this holiday season. They say the best time to plant a tree is thirty years ago. The second best time is now.

Never before in the history of planet earth has a species been able to foresee its own extinction. Never before has a species been able to prevent it. But we can. How do I know? Because there is something in us that rebels, in every cell, with every breath. Because when I open the eyes of my spirit really wide and I think that when you open yours really wide, we can see that our star, our fireworks is not ready to burn out yet. God, the pulsing life force of the universe, is not done moving through us. In fact, if anything, it’s pulsing stronger than ever now.

You can feel it in the air. The forces of change are stirring. We are understanding that all of our struggles are one. Many of us and many people we know have become activists for the first time in our lives as we recognize that we have to take power into our own hands. There are at least one million organizations working toward sustainability and social justice. Several of the newly-elected members of congress are representing communities that had little voice before and they are pushing for The New Green Deal. With the markings of evil so clearly scrawled right in front of us on national television every day, with the assaults on this earth and its people now unmistakable for anything else, we are rising up.

We have twelve years left and we have a moment before us to be seized. Right now, we need political action. We need to boycott corporations whose greed is killing us. Every week, we can make a phone call, write a letter, speak out at a town hall – we can do something to fight back. A new climate organization has started in Great Britain called Extinction Rebellion and there’s a chapter forming here in New York City. It’s about taking bold, direct action in defense of our future. I plan to be part of it and I invite you to join me. Blocking pipelines, getting arrested, physically obstructing the desecration of our ecosystems because asking nicely is just not working.

We need the extinction rebellion. But we need something else, too. It’s not enough to just resist evil. It’s not enough to just scream, “stop!” We need a revolution. We need a vision of a re-sanctified earth. We need a dream of who we can be as a species. I don’t believe that the great Cosmic Wisdom meant for us to stay stuck as homo sapiens. Homo sapiens have been smart humans with great technology, but primitive forms of social organization that divide and rank people based on race and gender and hoard resources. We can be better than that. We are meant to evolve into something else. That something else is of the heart and of the spirit; of deep compassion and broad vision: Homo amandi. Loving person.

Homo amandi creates life sustaining societies committed to restoring balance to the earth. Let’s do it right now. Let’s make the heart decision to evolve into homo amandi. Let’s compress the next thousand years of evolution into the next twelve. It will be the evolution revolution. And the best thing about it, is that every single one of us can participate in this revolution every day. We participate through our choices, through what we say in casual conversation, what we buy, what we click on, what we discard, and through who we are. Each action may seem trivial on its own, but we have to think big, think collectively, and ask, “what is it a part of? What is happening through me? Is it the sixth mass extinction? Or is it the evolution of homo amandi?”

We need the extinction rebellion and the evolution revolution both. We need to be saying “no” with all our might to the powers that are doing violence to the earth. And we need to be saying “yes” to a new way of living together in peace. I want it for my children and I know you will want it for yours and for all those you love. I want to be a blessing to the earth, not a curse; and I know you do too. My fellow homo amandi, join me in seizing the day, this day – the second best time ever – to plant a tree and become something new.

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

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

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

 

Climate Change Is a Civil Rights Issue: Here are 4 Ways to Respond

A thoughtful response to the state of our climate and ways to meaningfully respond. The Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley combines the disciplines of faith and science with the lessons learned as a civil/human rights advocate from the 1960s.
COMMENTARY by Gerald L. Durley 

America is at one of its most critical points in its illustrious history. Global warming and environmental injustice have evolved into a corrosive, divisive concern where lines of mistrust are deeply drawn in the minds of those who hold differing opinions. There appears to be entrenched emotional camps of dueling understanding as to whether climate change is a natural pattern of weather evolution or has been created by the human footprint.

As a civil rights activist from the civil rights movement of the ‘60s, I continue to believe that everyone has constitutional rights. Thousands of Americans are being denied their civil and human rights because insensitive or politically manipulated legislators are creating policies that are destroying the environment. When profit, rather than the well-being of human and environmental life, determine the survival of the planet, it is a civil rights issue.

Fifty-eight years later, it has become blatantly clear that we need to implement some of the organizational strategies of the civil rights movement to advance the climate change movement. It is my hope that this response will ensure that every person has access to toxin-free air and uncontaminated water.

Science confirms that humans are the primary perpetrators of climate change. Scientists from all over the world are now increasingly certain that the drastic weather changes, which we are currently experiencing, are the result of human involvement. It is now an accepted fact that the greenhouse effect is a result of excess carbon dioxide trapping solar radiation from the atmosphere, causing the earth’s temperature to rise and rapidly challenging the existence of all living things. Acidity in the oceans is increasing at an unprecedented rate and rising water temperatures are causing bleaching to once beautiful corals.

There are numerous reports, studies, and surveys that detail the negative impact global climate change poses, specifically to communities of color, low-income neighborhoods, and rural areas.

Fossil fuel, automobile emissions, and methane gas, which is the byproduct of fracking, have created a critical tipping point that will affect all life —human, animal, and plant.

Floods, hurricanes, droughts, wild fires, extreme heat waves, earthquakes, asthma, loss of life and property are the glaring aftermath of a changing climate.

I realize that businesses are structured in such a way that they must profit in order to remain viable. The moral questions that must be asked of them are: At whose expense? And at what cost to the sustainability of the planet and its inhabitants?

The earth is experiencing some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. We are witnessing conflicts over water, not oil. The bee population is being decimated. Pollination of essential food crops has diminished, posing a threat to global food supply.

Climate change has become a runaway train.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools.” Climate change is a civil rights issue which business, political, educational, and faith leaders must join forces to stop.

I am more confident now than ever before that we must, can, and will be victorious in this moral civil rights struggle for the environment and for all life.

A few meaningful action steps and strategies that can reduce the impact of climate change:

Read on…

 

For the Season of Creation, Chinook Blessing Litany

We call upon the earth, our planet home, with its beautiful depths and soaring heights, its vitality and abundance of life, and together we ask that it

Teach us, and show us the Way.

We call upon the mountains, the Cascades and the Olympics, the high green valleys and meadows filled with wild flowers, the snows that never melt,the summits of intense silence, and we ask that they

Teach us, and show us the Way.

We call upon the waters that rim the earth, horizon to horizon, that flow in our rivers and streams, that fall upon our gardens and fields and we ask that they

Teach us, and show us the Way.

We call upon the land which grows our food, the nurturing soil, the fertile fields, the abundant gardens and orchards, and we ask that they

Teach us, and show us the Way.

We call upon the forests, the great trees reaching strongly to the sky with the earth in their roots and the heavens in their branches, the fir and the pine and the cedar, and we ask them to

Teach us, and show us the Way.

We call upon the creatures of the fields and forests and the seas, our brothers and sisters the wolves and deer, the eagle and dove, the great whales and dolphin, the beautiful Orca and salmon who share our Northwest home, and we ask them to

Teach us, and show us the Way.

We call upon all those who have lived on this earth, our ancestors and our friends, who dreamed the best for future generations, and upon whose lives our lives are built, and with thanksgiving, we call upon them to

Teach us, and show us the Way.

And lastly, we call upon all that we hold most sacred, the presence and power of the Great Spirit of love and truth which flows through all the Universe, to be with us to

Teach us, and show us the Way.

***

Chinook Blessing Litany ~ The Chinook is a tribal nation from Southwest Washington, whose ancestral lands sit at the mouth of the Columbia River.  They have been fighting for federal recognition since 1899.   Read more…

Many thanks to Diane L. Neu, Co-Founder & Co-Director of W.A.T.E.R (Women’s Alliance  for Theology, Ethics and Ritual) in Silver Spring, MD, for publishing this Chinook Blessing Litany in her book Return Blessings.

The Season of Creation is an annual, worldwide celebration of prayer and action organized by Christian faith leaders from around the world united in the cause to protect our common home and is open to all to participate.  The Season begins with the World Day of Prayer for Creation on September 1st and extends to the Feast Day of Saint Francis on October 4th. This year’s Season of Creation has the theme of “walking together”.  In walking together, we follow the role of Jesus, who walked with friends on the roads around Jerusalem.  As he traveled the byways of his community, Jesus invited us to encounter God through God’s presence in creation. Whether by considering “the lilies of the field” or the “grain of wheat that falls to the earth,” the spiritual journey of following Jesus is closely tied to the everyday wonders of nature that He experienced in His earthly journey.  Learn More / Participate…

***

In Case You Missed It… CEE Update from August 30th: Are You Ready to RISE for Climate Justice?

Here’s Everything You Need to Know for the Upcoming Week of Action on Climate

(P.S.  There’s still time to help flyer at events around the city including joining today’s Caribbean-West Indian Day Parade climate contingent.)


Rise For Climate, Jobs, and Justice is less than two weeks away, and  Thursday, 8/30 at 8 PM EST is a national organizing call to get everyone fired up and ready to RISE!

On the call, you’ll hear from amazing organizers like Cherri Foytlin, an organizer with The L’eau Est La Vie (Water is Life) Camp in Louisiana, Lucas Zuker with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable EconomyRoberto Jesus Clack with Warehouse Workers For Justice, and Ananya Singh with the Sierra Student Coalition about the actions they are hosting across the country.

Come be inspired by all the incredible work that people across the United States
are doing to fight climate change on the frontlines.

RSVP here to be a part of the call TONIGHT at 8 pm EST and join the movement!

 

CEE invites you to join us along with hundreds of other Participating Groups around the world to RISE for Climate, Jobs and Justice. FIND AN EVENT NEAR YOU!

We’ve included some helpful links below on the special #RiseNY Event on September 6th, and links to Faith and Indigenous Community Events in San Francisco leading up to the GCAS and beyond.


STARTING THE WAVE

NYC – BATTERY PARK – SEPTEMBER 6TH
GET CONNECTED!


Join us on September 6th at 5:30 pm at Battery Park to kick off a wave of climate action!  In the face of policy reversals on oil and gas drilling, coal, asbestos, pipelines, car emissions, and the Clean Air Act – now more than ever we need to:
  • Enact A Just Transition to 100% Renewable Energy Now!
  • Stop All Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
  • Make Corporate Polluters Pay
  1. Help flyer at events around the city or join the Caribbean-West Indian Day Parade climate contingent.
  2. Join a Subway Blitz.
  3. Dial a fellow NY’er to get them to the march.
  4. Come to a Community Art Build, Aug 30th or Sept 1st.
  5. To participate in a Direct Action on Sept 7th, contact us at [email protected].

Interfaith and Indigenous Bloc in CA 

Faith Communities in California 
RISE for Climate, Jobs and & Justice

Indigenous Bloc at RISE Days of Action
San Francisco, CA


 

Intertribal Prayer, Teach-In & Direct Action Training

37th Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty New Moon Ceremony

RISE Against Climate Capitalism

 

Have Questions? Ask at the Indigenous Bloc Facebook Page.  For more Actions check out ItTakesRoots.org and the Climate Justice Alliance.


If you are in New York City, join CEE’s Karenna Gore and Rev. Leo Woodbury of Kingdom Living Temple as we convene the 2018 Global South Summit at the United Nations Church Center on September 14th. The Summit is a solutions driven program serving to bring allies together, thereby strengthening our potential impact through partnership.  Read More…

Thanks for the Memories, Clean Air

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

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

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

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

Religion and Climate Change: A Conversation with Karenna Gore

In conversation with Berkley Center Director Shaun Casey, Karenna discussed how religious communities strive to promote environmental consciousness with an aim to fulfill a responsibility for the common good.

Over the past three decades, climate change has become an increasingly prominent topic on the global agenda as advocates have marshaled scientific, policy, and moral support to protect the environment. In addition to state actors and the private sector—who engage in traditional coordinated advocacy efforts for environmental protection policies—faith-inspired actors can foster significant change in addressing environmental challenges as key participants in sacred spaces, community development, and advocacy practices. This faith-based engagement incorporates a spectrum of responses, ranging from official proclamations such as Pope Francis’ Laudato Si to indigenous efforts tied to spiritually significant locations, such as the water protectors at Standing Rock.

Originally published to www.berkleycenter.georgetown.edu.

Looking for more?  See more of Karenna Gore & the CEE Team by browsing our YouTube playlists.

***

CEE Director Karenna Gore Delivers Earth Day Sermon at Harvard Memorial Church

CEE Director Karenna Gore celebrated Earth Day by offering a sermon at Harvard Memorial Church.  She was introduced by Harvard Professor Jonathon L. Walton.

Listen to the audio here

Full text of Karenna’s Earth Day sermon April 22, 2018:

The Wisdom of the Earth

Thank you friends; thank you Reverend Walton.

Thank you all for inviting me back to my alma mater this morning.  “Alma
Mater” means “nurturing mother” which is the way that many of the
world’s religious and spiritual traditions refer to the Earth.

On this Earth Day, I would like to offer a reflection on the Wisdom of the
Earth, starting with the words of Howard Thurman, the longtime dean of
Marsh Chapel at Boston University. He recalled the feeling he had as a
child on the Atlantic coast of Florida: “I had the sense that all things, the
sand, the sea, the stars, the night, and I were one lung through which all life
breathed. Not only was I aware of the vast rhythm enveloping all, but I was
a part of it and it was a part of me” . . . He goes on to say “the resulting
synthesis was to me religious rather than metaphysical.”

We are created of the Earth, of course. The water in our bodies, the iron in
our blood, the calcium in our bones, the air in our lungs, the soil and
sunshine in the food that sustains us. The thoughts in our minds and the
feelings in our hearts are also elemental—they are connected to what it is
we choose to perceive and ponder. In this time of information revolution–
and revolting information— how do we find wisdom?

In the book of Proverbs, “Wisdom” is not merely an abstraction. In
Chapter 3, verse 18, “She is a tree of life to all those who lay hold of her
and those who hold her fast are called happy.” In Proverbs 8, she speaks:
“When he established the heavens, I was there.” “And now, my children,
listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways.”

In the Book of Luke, there is a striking quotation from Jesus. He is speaking to a crowd of people. “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:56-57)

Today we as a people look down to our handheld devices more than up at the sky at all. We may not even know how to read the weather itself anymore, much less the deeper truths of our time.

But the signs abound. Stronger storms and floods, heat waves, droughts,
wildfires. For the third year in a row, in the middle of winter, temperatures
at the North Pole climbed above freezing for significant time periods. The
ice in the Arctic, including the massive ice cap on top of Greenland, has
begun to melt faster and faster, even as many Antarctic glaciers are moving
towards the sea more quickly. So sea levels are rising fast, and climate
refugees have begun to stream from small island nations and low lying
coastal areas.

And it is not just humans that are migrating. Both animals and plants are
moving towards the poles at an average rate of 15 ft per day. Some are
climbing slopes in search of cooler air. Many species face extinction, not
only because of the changing climate but also because their habitats are
being devoured by human societies.

We could also interpret the proliferation of plastic waste as a sign, one that
is more visible than the gaseous heat-trapping waste we are constantly
spewing into the thin shell of atmosphere—the sky. And yet, political
leaders still call for more drilling, fracking and burning of fossil fuels, as if
there is nothing wrong. The signs are clear: something is very wrong
indeed. As Pope Francis famously said “if we destroy Creation, Creation
will destroy us.”

This reminds me of a joke: What’s the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? The pessimist says I just can’t imagine how things could get much worse and the optimist says “oh I think I can!”

Perhaps this moment in time is not best understood as a choice between optimism and pessimism, but rather as a call to wisdom.

In the book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Robin 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. Therefore connecting people and the landscape is as essential as reestablishing proper hydrology or cleaning up contaminants. It is medicine for the earth.” It is also medicine for humanity.

Like the crowd Jesus spoke to, we as a whole are paying attention to the
values of a system that we know to be untethered to the truth of who we
really are. The gospel of our time is economic growth and the way we
measure it encourages what is known as “the externalization of costs”—
pollution, exploitation, breakdown of communities, the depletion of
groundwater, forests, wetlands, and the web of biodiversity. The term
“externalities” comes from the language of economists. What it means is, it
is ok to ignore it. In our political sphere, this is held in place in the name of
prosperity and freedom. We forget that the source of all wealth and life is
the biosphere itself. As the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote
“Emancipation from the bondage of the soil is no freedom for the tree.”

One reason we are stuck in this perverse trajectory, trapped in a society
that is designed to be at war with the natural cycles of life, is because of
bad theology. The papal bulls from the Vatican in the 15 th century invoked
the Book of Genesis when they asserted that that the Bible gave European
explorers the right to “conquer, vanquish and subdue” the peoples of
Africa and the Americas. They labeled them “part of the flora and fauna”
of the land to be claimed by Christendom. [This led to the Doctrine of
Discovery, still cited in American jurisprudence.]

And for millennia many leaders have claimed Biblical authority for male to
dominate female. Eco-womanist theologian Melanie Harris points out that
“the powerful connections that can be observed between human life-givers

(mothers/creators) and creation as Mother Earth” are still “often deemed
heretical, pagan, and sacrilegious.” (245). So when the politicians working
remove protections against pollution and to open our public lands and
oceans to fracking and drilling eagerly pronounce themselves “good
stewards of the Earth,” when the catch phrase of the day is “Energy
Dominance,” they are operating within a theological tradition we know all
too well.

Domination does not mean that the real power of the dominated
disappears. As Jesus said, in the beginning of Luke 12, “Nothing is covered
up that will not be uncovered and nothing is secret that will not become
known.” The humanity that was denied by the version of Christianity that
justified oppression of Native peoples and slavery is powerfully before us.
Black Lives Matter. And whether you believe in it as an expression of the
divine feminine or not, the Earth is speaking, with Wisdom, saying . . . Me
Too.

The people suffering most from extraction economy are those who are also
dealing with racism and marginalization. Who can forget one of the most
stunning signs of our times, just a few years ago in Standing Rock. The
Standing Rock Sioux opposed an oil pipeline through their sacred land that
threatened the underground aquifer of water they had drawn from for time
immemorial. They established a peaceful prayer camp with allies from all
over the world and they spoke their truth: “we are protectors not
protestors” and “water is life.” They spoke of Mother Earth with
reverence. They stood unarmed in the land of their ancestors- in front of a
wall of militarized police who were there protecting the rights of a private
corporation. This pipeline was built. More such pipelines are being built.
They are financed by investors and banks who seek monetary profits.
Why do we not judge for ourselves what is right?

This University is in a time of judging for itself about its financial
relationship to the fossil fuel industry and I join with those who are saying:
it is time to divest.

Proverbs 3:14 teaches that the “income [of Wisdom] is better than silver
and her revenue is better than gold.”

Jesus said, “You hypocrites!” Perhaps some of us are afraid to judge what
is right because we fear the specter of our own hypocrisy. We feel so
implicated in the systems that we know are causing ecological harm (as
consumers if nothing else) that we are afraid to judge for ourselves what is
right, lest the judgment of others rain down upon us. And so by default we
choose an even greater hypocrisy — silent complicity in the absurd
assumption that nothing is wrong.

Even among the hypocrisies and absurdities of our time, there is a
powerful common human desire for community and connection. In
Laudato Si, Pope Frances writes that “An authentic humanity, calling for a
new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture,
almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door” (§112).
Of course, there is also hope from the new capacity for generating and
storing energy from the sun and wind. A recent headline from the Onion
reads, “Scientists Politely Remind World That Clean Energy Technology
Ready To Go . . . Whenever.” But it is authentic humanity that will truly
heal and relationship that will sustain and endure.

The Earth, all of our alma mater, is ending the illusion of separation. There
are no externalities. We must respect this living planet and live within her
bounds. The non-canonical Gospel of Thomas says: “If you bring forth
what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring
forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

The wisdom of the Earth is within us. In our present time, with all its signs
and wonders, let us bring it forth.

***

Climate Change, Colonialism and Christianity: An interview with Cardinal John Ribat and Karenna Gore

By Nexus Media, with Cardinal John Ribat and Karenna Gore

Under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church has become a powerful voice for action on climate change, while Catholic leaders from vulnerable countries have emerged as some of the issue’s greatest evangelists. Recently, Cardinal John Ribat of Papua New Guinea, visited the United States to meet with members of Congress about the carbon crisis. During his stay, Cardinal Ribat spoke with Nexus Media about climate change and Christianity. He was joined by Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and daughter of former vice president Al Gore. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


There are many Christians in the United States who believe that only God can change the weather, and for this reason, they reject the idea that humans can cause climate change. What do you say to people who hold that point of view?

Cardinal John Ribat: In the creation story, God gave the world to us — to till it and also to care for it — and if there are things that need to be corrected, then we do our best. We try our best to really be part of that.

Pope Francis came up with an encyclical to really make the world aware. And when he addressed this to people, he did not address this only to just Catholics. No. He addressed this to the whole of humanity, and this is because this world is created for all of us. We are living on this one planet. For that reason, we are responsible.

There has been some research looking at the pope’s encyclical that found that, in some ways, it backfired with conservative Catholics in the United States. It seems like partisanship and ideology are driving a lot of the discussion around climate change. How should faith leaders deal with that?

Karenna Gore: There are always problematic aspects of the marrying of religious and political agendas. In this case, I think that a lot of that is cultural. I think that it’s a matter of being open-minded and open-hearted on all of our parts to understand where people are coming from, but then to unmask where there has been misuse and perversion of the scripture.

To go a little bit deeper, I think we can talk about how stewardship has been interpreted. To be good stewards of the Earth, from the Book of Genesis, is often held up by conservationists within the Christian tradition as a central belief through which we can see that we are called to protect creation, to recognize our oneness with it, to recognize the sacred within the natural world.

It is also frequently cited by [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruitt, by Donald Trump. It’s been co-opted to mean a license to pillage. And that is not unrelated to what the colonial agenda was. So, I think it goes right back to when the Christian belief system was co-opted by the forces of empire and colonization.

There is a lot of that within the Christian community now. When you see the use of stewardship as a concept meaning that we should continue to dig and burn the fossil fuels within the Earth, it is nothing more than an illusion, and it is not real. There is a human instinct in many cultures to see a separation and a superiority of humanity, and that is a fallacy.

We really believe the solution to climate change lives in a deep exploration of its root causes, which include a theological error of the idea that humanity and nature are separate. We can see very clearly from science that we are connected — the air we breathe, the water we drink, the living beings that are part of our food chain are deeply connected.

You mentioned the historic relationship between colonization and the Church. Can you explain that?

Karenna Gore: When we talk about interfaith dialogue and religions, the traditional way of doing often includes only Abrahamic religions — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — and certainly that’s a very robust interfaith dialogue, but then when you add the non-Abrahamic traditions of Hinduism and the Indic traditions, and Buddhism and the East Asian traditions, you often have a very different conversation about whether nature itself is a subject.

Indigenous traditions often hadn’t been included in the category of religion or faith or interfaith dialogue, and the reasons for that are complex, and they’re deserving of a larger discussion. But it’s largely a result of colonization and the view that the papal bulls of the fifteenth century took that indigenous people were part of the flora and fauna of a land, and they were meant to be conquered and subdued in the name of the church.

It seems that many former European colonies, including Papua New Guinea, are especially vulnerable to climate change. Cardinal Ribat, why is climate change an urgent issue for your country?

Cardinal John Ribat: The United Nations has defined refugees as people leaving their homes because of danger. People are leaving [Papua New Guinea] not because of danger, but because the island is disappearing. Their home will no longer be there, and that is the difficulty.

We do not come from a continent, and that makes it difficult for us to live comfortably, because we know that, on the island, the sea around us is rising. People dig a well to get their water, but the well is no longer drinking water. It is already salty because of the constant rise of sea level.

Knowing that the United States is pulling out from the Paris Climate Agreement, to us, is really kind of a concern. It is really an issue for all of us, for all nations. It is not an issue only for some. It is for the whole world to come together and see how can we better address this issue of global warming.

This is a call to us now, when we are witnessing a lot of events happening around the world that should make us think, “What have we done?” or “What can we do here?” Of course, God’s help is there all the time for us, and He’s the one who gave us this Earth to live, to till and to care for.

For me, seeing the situation we are in, and just to keep quiet — for me, this is not the way I should live my life.

For More from Cardinal Ribat, Op-Ed: A Christian Obligation to Confront Climate Change in the Washington Examiner


This interview was conducted by Jeremy Deaton, who writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, politics, art and culture.

Spirit of Justice: Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein

The Center for Earth Ethics is proud to be at home here at Union Theological Seminary in New York City which convenes amazing conversations about our world.

Watch this riveting dialogue with award-winning journalist and best-selling author Naomi Klein and Union visiting professor Michelle Alexander about the current crises of our time and why we must connect the dots between the intersecting issues of white supremacy, rape culture, climate chaos and wealth hoarding. How do we move from strategic alliances and coalition building to a true political synthesis that not only connects these oppressions and injustices but maps a positive and healing future for all people and the planet? The Spirit of Justice aims to amplify the voices of modern-day revolutionaries—artists, activists, scholars, healers, teachers and more—who are committed to moving forward in new ways with a keen understanding of the political history and moral dilemmas which brought us to this moment in time.

Learn More about programming at Union including the Spirit of Justice, Trailblazers, Got Sermon?, R.I.S.E., Women of Spirit and our upcoming partnership On Water and Faith:  Ministry in the Time of Climate Change, May 31 – June 2nd, 2018.