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.
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.
Traveling through Asia this Dec – Jan, visiting Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan, traversing throughout city and mountain terrain, observing climate conditions of rain and drought through floral growth in Nature, opened dialogue with park rangers, farmers, students and Buddhist monks on the effects of Climate Change in their lives and work. Global Warming.
Thailand is a mountain forest land with lush valleys and water ways in a central basin continuing to beaches and Islands. My travels took me from Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthalon, 2,500 meters or 8,400 ft, south to the coastal region, an area named Trat, a peninsula in Thailand’s farthest land south west bordering Cambodia.
The fertile and tropical monsoon climate, ideally suited to wet rice cultivation attracted farmers to the central part of the country, for hundreds of years, where the mountains drained streams into rivers, rivers passing through wide open flat lands and valleys, emptying into the gulf of Thailand. Thailand’s rice farmers have had to adapt to climate change, and its Critical Global Warming effects.
Rice has been Thailand’s traditional food crop and its main export product. Rice is grown on 50% of its arable land and 80% is exported abroad. Mountain villages depend on a sustainable healthy abundant harvest. Many countries depend on the 10 million tons of exported rice from Thailand, including the United States. Thailand’s losses due to floods, and droughts, which come spontaneously, as well as the natural order of its seasons, now being unpredictable, has their crop losses in the billions of dollars.
I’ve had dialogue with central river rice farmers, on large farms, as well as, mountain village farmers in northern regions who are sustainable growers. They all are telling me the same thing, that Global Warming effects are getting more intense over the past few years. The government has provided Genetically Modified varieties of rice to grow in the times of excess water due to flooding and odd storms, and has programs producing drought resistant varieties. These are more expensive rice strains that would have to be purchased each season as they do not reproduce. Rural mountain farmers spoke of being unable to afford these strains of GMO rice and some have awareness to stay away from modified genetic rice strains.
The larger commercial farms are using these Genetically Modified strains of Rice as a direct result of the Global Warming Crisis.
New farming systems in the mountainous regions I observed are constructed with natural technology: using large sized bamboo poles along the rice paddies to act as emergency drainage when sudden storms or unusual monsoon type rains flood the area. Heavy rain storms come in unusual patterns and directions not associated with the normal patterns of the seasons.
New to the terrain are water catches for sudden droughts that can happen anytime; at times of the year when the rains are supposed to come, extreme drought conditions may happen usually followed by heavy rain which turns into flooding. The large corporate and government rice farms have added costly water release systems and elaborate watering systems.
Throughout the north west region I experienced a consistent four day rain storm in December, the dry part of the year. I was told by several people this was unusual weather on top of unusual weather. Thailand’s government has pledged 7 billion over the next 3 years to alleviate damages and losses. Global warming is a costly affair of life and monetary-ism.
Thailand’s other crops, such as rubber and fruit plantations in the southern region are also adversely effected by global warming climate change. Heavy rains for two years were followed by drought, with heavy losses in fruit and rubber production and rotting tree roots from excess water or dying from drought. Farmers and plantation workers from northern Thailand through to the southern peninsula have expressed that fruit trees flowering and harvesting are as much as two months off their normal growth cycle, which effects the insects`s cycle of life which effects the bird life’s cycle, not good at all. Thailand is currently the worlds largest natural rubber producer. High emissions of greenhouse gases, caused by the production of raw latex for rubber production, their factories and mills also contribute raw material waste. The loss of natural hard wood forest being cut and cleared for rubber tree plantations. In this case the emissions are much higher because of carbon loss from land conversion. Farmers and plantation workers have voiced their thoughts: the cause of Global Warming is a combination of factors. One of the main contributors towards Climate Change is the use of Fossil Fuels, along with Mass Deforestation, pollution of the air, lands and waters, the change of oxygen in our oceans and lakes due to toxic heavy metals from the worlds chemical factories, as well as electrical pollution.
Farmers, city dwellers and mountain villagers believe that to relieve the environment of toxic stress would be to stop using them and allow other technologies to be used. I spoke of the use of plastic and again was told, corporate companies “stop producing these harmful things, there has to be other ways.” I was shown various ways of using the soy bean and the wing bean, can be made into biodegradable materials such as paper, clothing, soy bean fibers are sustainable and don’t need chemicals to grow, cups and containers, baskets and much more. We must replace the Plastic industry with an eco-friendly source. Most Thai people are not too far removed from ancestral ways and have a strong belief in their way of prayer, Buddism. Temples large and small are all over the country, and in the homes. Their overstanding of mindfulness of nature and life spirit are in
their mantra, they make awareness of thee Omni presence with in nature and ancestral spirits. Thai peoples’s way of greeting and departing is with Buddha hands and a slight bow. They let me know they are smothered in the plastics, the motorized life style, bills and debts. Values need to change, people need to be allowed to change the life style from being pressed into a monetary system supporting the production of harmful things, besides the income in this system was spoke of as being insufficient for basic survival. Change to a sustainable was so we may all sustain, and that I should know this, coming form a country that is a main contributor of fossil fuel and greenhouse gases.
Awareness of source of food and from farm to table.
Food is abundantly pouring into the streets of Thailand through street vendors selling their fresh seafood, vegetables and meats, cooking on charcoal grills and carts with mini kitchens boiling delicious noodle dishes. Many markets abundant with fresh fruit, veggies, specialty foods, treats and coconuts on ice -Thai people like to eat real food. Fast food chains that are there look out of place surrounded with rows of street food and colorful fruit stands and fresh juice. I walked into a “super” market, very odd experience, a few people wandering around, everything in plastic, quietly suffocating, I looked through the glass widow and across the street, the outdoor market was thriving with fresh everything, people,color, laughter and energy. I wandered out not buying anything, the only time I was in a “regular” store while visiting Thailand. The markets are amazing arrays of tropical vegetables and fruits, some familiar foods with different variations. Food stands cooking different types of Thai food from northern, north east or west, southern style cuisine. Live turtles, fish and frogs, lobster, dried fish and snakes, bugs, grubs of all kinds. I observed their closeness to their food source, their overstanding of where their foods are coming from, how many hands has it gone through and how many miles to market. Very close relationship with their food, which can give one a direct insight on the daily impact of Global Warming.
Chaing Mai is a city in northern Thailand. Established by 1226 and was the capital of the Lanna kingdom until 1558. Population is around a million people with a inner city population of twenty thousand. For me It felt like a very large town, not bombarded with sky scrapers or huge concreted metropolitan area`s . The Thai people point out the new tall buildings and malls that have been built over the past seven years and feel Chaing Mai will change over the next ten years and become more like Bangkok. They showed I the new roads and Huge neon sighns that were not around a few years ago.The increase in cars over the past ten years has trippled or more where as the streets would have much more scooters and bicycles, adding more Fossil Fuel thats thick in the air of this valley.
Bamboo and Hemp are two of many natural fast growing plants that would be a major contributor in stopping the destruction of the worlds forests. This knowledge has been presented as an alternative to deforestation , as well as adding a thriving economic boost to countries who’s climates are suitable to growing these crops.Over the pas 30 years since I was involved with the green push to implement bamboo and hemp as sustainable building materials, Corporation controlled lobbyist of the timber industry and its building products have a strong voting and bureaucracy to not allow this change of ethics to happen. Bamboo and Hemp are a renewable crop, grows well with little or no fertilizer or water, ph balance of 7, no strain on the environment . From rooting to harvest bamboo has a much faster to mature growth to usable product than any tree species ,and can be processed into various types of building material. The trees that are being harvested in the US are very young, due to depletion of old growth forests, and do not have the tensil building strength of older mature trees. Teragren, the worlds largest bamboo building products manufacturer, has engineered a new structural joint made of moso, a strain of bamboo with the tensil strength of steel. America’s southern states would be ideal for growing bamboo and hemp. Meetings of engineer, bureaucrats, farmers an manufacturers in Greenville, Miss, gathered to discuss how land formerly cultivated for cotton might be converted to produce bamboo on a massive scale, creating a new profitable industry through out the southern states of America.
Hemp is very versatile in the many building materials it can be organically processed into. Hemp can be made into any building material, including fiberboard, roofing, flooring, paint, particle board, plaster,caulking, plywood, insulation, insulation panels or spray-on insulation, concrete, concrete pipes, bricks and biodegradable plastics. Concrete made from Hemp is referred to as Hempcrete. A product that is stronger than concrete and breathes, allowing dust particles to settle and be cleaned, as dust molecules and particles do not settle on concrete creating allergies and a static energy with blocks the natural flow of nature. Also harsh on the structure of the human body. Hemp Crete is three times more resistant than regular concrete. Fire proof, water proof and earth quake proof. to manufacture concrete places more carbon in our atmosphere. Building a home with Hempcrete can save about 20,000 lbs of carbon being released into the atmosphere per home. Hempcrete continues to harden through out its life until it completely petrifies, becoming rock like lasting thousands of years. Besides all the other products that could be made from hemp, hopefully we can re evaluate these wonderful plant gifts. The technologies are here, to eliminate fossil fuel and clean the environment must be allowed to flourish. Free Energy.
Our time is now, to become more active in creating a healthy harmonious existence while we are here, our duty do the better for the whole.
About the Author
Poppy Jones is the Herbalist in Residence at the Center for Earth Ethics. He facilitates forest walks and teaches identification, properties, and preparations of herbs and food for health. Some of his favorite plants, include the Pearly Everlasting pictured below.
On January 10th, CEE’s Director, Karenna Gore, participated in a panel discussion regarding one of NY’s most important issues: the closing of Indian Point. Long considered a public health risk due to leaking radioactive water, the aging power plant has experienced recurring emergency shutdowns and is shown to be vulnerable to both human and natural disasters, such as an earthquake. An accident at Indian Point could bring destruction and contamination as far south as New York City. Now that the state has reached an agreement to close the plant, the conversation must turn to how, and what happens in it’s stead. The easy answer may seem like natural gas, but, the science of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees doesn’t support that claim. “I want to emphasize that fracked gas is not the answer,” Karenna reminded. “It is not a bridge fuel.”
Facebook Live video from our “Closing Indian Point” forum:
Facebook Live video from our "Closing Indian Point" forum. Our panel: Karenna Gore, Director of the Center for Earth Ethics; Cecil Corbin-Mark: Deputy Director, WE ACT; and Karl R. Rábago of the Pace Energy and Climate Center. The moderator was Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper.
Paul Gallay, President and Riverkeeper explains, “Once Indian Point is closed, we won’t need to rely on fossil fuels to make up for its energy. Peak demand in the region will have declined by more than the 2,000 megawatts the plant generates, and the replacement power will be carbon neutral as the State further increases its clean energy investments,” said Gallay. “There will be little impact on electricity bills — between $1 and $2 dollars a month — which is a small price to pay for minimizing the risk that this plant poses. Going forward, new efficiency and renewable energy projects will drive still greater savings for consumers, thanks to aggressive energy investments by the state. It’s a new day for New York and the Metro region.”
Cecil Corbin-Mark talked about the great work WeAct is doing on energy efficiency in NYC and how that is part of the picture of meeting our energy needs.
Karenna spoke during the panel on faith, ethics and climate, “This conversation is about more than economics and science. It’s about morals and ethics and our responsibilities to humans across the world and here, as well as non-human life, and future generations.”
For more information on the Closure Agreement and Riverkeeper’s promise to ‘compel full compliance’ click here: Riverkeeper.org.
These next few weeks we are going to start hearing a great deal of chatter about how we have cut spending, how we cannot afford programs like Meals on Wheels, how there is not enough money to protect the environment. They will be talking about how we have to cut the deficit and how taxes are too high especially for the wealthy and corporations. Our leaders are looking and talking as if our federal budget is an economic document, a balance sheet. The federal budget is not just an economic document; it is also a statement on the moral compass of our nation. As such, it should reflect our highest calling to take care of the most vulnerable and support a just, equitable society. The budget presented by President Trump has turned its back on that calling, as evidenced by the laundry list of programs and institutions being drained of resources in favor of expanding military spending.
On Friday night we heard Tamika talk about faithful anger. Well I am very angry. I am angry because my faith, my spirituality my religion has been hijacked by people claiming to be Christian but promoting a theology of hate and fear a theology of separation, a theology that justifies destruction of this beautiful and wondrous creation, a theology of war not peace. Our nation’s Leaders who worship the false gods of money and power. But we need to be more than angry we need to turn our righteous anger into prayerful action. We need to remind these leaders that they will be judged not just by the voters but by God. We can no longer be timid whispering this in quiet meetings we need to shout it from the highest mountain tops.
The 13th century theologian and Franciscan, St. Bonaventure is credited with saying that how we choose and what we choose makes a difference – first, in what we become by our choices and second, in what the world becomes by our choices. This framework of faith is neither radical nor conservative: it simply places justice, dignity, compassion, and solidarity at the core of decision making. That is what our leaders should incorporate in their budget deliberations. In these extremely difficult times, we all need to rely on these principles.
Patrick Carolan is the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network in Washington D.C. and a Center for Earth Ethics Senior Fellow. Learn More at franciscanaction.org