Category: Climate Change

Pledge to be a Faith Climate Justice Voter!

This is a moment for fundamental change. When people of faith vote our values, elected officials take note. We can help make change by electing leaders who are committed to ending structures of oppression, ending environmental injustices, and tackling climate change.

Join us in helping communicate our values of caring for God’s Creation and loving our neighbors.

I pledge to vote with climate and Creation in mind.

I am pledging to be a Faith Climate Justice Voter to put love into action for every living creature and for every vulnerable community suffering the impacts of our changing climate, from sea rise, to extreme heat, to devastating droughts, to supercharged storms.

My pledge to vote for climate justice is rooted in environmental justice. I am in solidarity with all who are disproportionately burdened with climate impacts, including Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities.

I believe that our nation’s elected leaders and our public policies should reflect our shared values. By pledging to be a consistent voter and vote with climate justice in mind, I am communicating the values of caring for God’s Creation and our children’s future.

You pledge to vote. We remind you to keep your word. It’s so easy. And it works.

Climate Crisis Policy Launches Climate Movement Campaign

The Center for Earth Ethics has been participating in the Climate Crisis Policy (CCP) review of pending climate legislation. We strongly encourage all those interested in protecting our environment through the legislative process to use the extensive resources collected by CCP to deepen your understanding of proposed legislation. You can participate by attending the bi-weekly Action Campaign calls, through Climate Crisis Policy’s “Adopt-a-District” program, join the Faith Mobilization, or find another way to engage your community and representatives.

A “Climate Bill Package” Creates Unified Front for Climate Movement, Preparing Now for Nationally Coordinated Effort in 2021

 

For Climate Week 2020, a nationwide network has launched a ”Climate Bill Package” campaign, uniting 10 bills spanning key policy sectors.  Designed to unite the underlying movements, the bills are collectively supported by over 1200 organizations.

 

The Climate Bill Package tackles regenerative agriculture, fracking, fossil fuel subsidies, plastics, refrigerants, confined animal feeding operations, toxic pesticides, planting billions of trees, restoring wetlands, environmental justice, and just transition, with additional bills pending.

 

Collectively, these have a myriad of climate, environmental and structural benefits, and serve as core elements of a more comprehensive legislative agenda in 2021.  

 

“Strategically, the package unites movements to increase the political power needed for victory,” said Todd Fernandez, Director of Climate Crisis Policy, featuring a digest of climate solutions from 150 sources.  “If we work together across topics, climate activists can defeat the triumvirate of Big Oil, Big Ag & Big Pharma and reclaim our democracy.  But we have to be ready.”

 

The Climate Bill Package network will target all 435 Congressional Districts with an Adopt-A-District effort where local organizations form mini-coalitions to secure co-sponsorship of the package. In 2020, the network will target 100 Districts, led by local leaders with Climate Reality, Project Drawdown, Unitarian Universalists, Sierra Club, 350, and more.

 

Among the many NGOs leading legislative efforts, the network collaborates with the Center for Biological Diversity, Mighty Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Food & Water Action, Family Farm Alliance, Environmental Investigation Agency, Climate Justice Alliance, The Center for Earth Ethics, and The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

 

Expectations are high that 2021 will present the first opportunity for huge climate action in Congress.  To prepare, the network aims to grow nationwide coalition capacity and infrastructure so that civil society writ large is ready to seize this moment and save our planet from ecological disaster.  

 

The network hosts open meetings on Wednesdays featuring experts on the legislation and action with past meetings available on YouTube.  The website lists the Package Bills, Sponsors, Group Support, and District leads. They are also reviewing the U.S. House Climate Action Plan to identify what’s good, bad, and missing, to prepare for action in 2021.

2020 CLIMATE BILL PACKAGE 
(See Detailed Summaries; Outreach Toolkit)

 Materials

1. Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 (H5845 – 2020):

  • Phases out most common single-use non-recyclable plastic products by 2022
  • Reforms waste and recycling programs, and establishes nationwide bottle return refund program
  • Holds corporations responsible for cleaning up plastic pollution

2. American Innovation & Manufacturing Act (H5544 – 2020)

  • Bipartisan bill to replace environmentally harmful hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration and air conditioning with more efficient cooling products
  • Creates 33,000 manufacturing jobs and an estimated 2.5M industry jobs by 2027

3. Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (H7940 – 2020)

  • Bans pesticides shown to cause significant harm to children, adults, and the environment, some which are already banned or restricted in Europe & Canada
  • Bans insecticides that lead to pollinator collapse
  • Protects frontline communities directly impacted by pesticide exposure

 

Farming & Forests

4. Farm System Reform Act (H6718 – 2020)

  • Phases out concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and large factory farms that produce enormous waste and harmful pollution
  • Offers buyouts to help farmers transition from CAFOs to regenerative practices


5. Food & Agribusiness Merger Moratorium Act (H2933 – 2019)

  • Halts corporate consolidation in the food & farming industries, which devastates independent farms and can thwart efforts on regenerative practices
  • Establishes commission to investigate the impact of market concentration


6. Climate Stewardship Act (H4269 – 2019)

  • Supports programs to reduce or offset one-third of agricultural emissions by 2025
  • Plants 16 billion trees, including 400 million in urban areas
  • Restores and protects 2 million acres of essential coastal wetlands
  • Invests in regional food systems, helping small and medium sized farms provide fresh, nutritious food to more people via local systems


7. Agriculture Resilience Act (H5861 – 2020)

  • Rewards farmers for promoting healthy soil and carbon sequestration
  • Supports farmers for practicing pasture-based livestock systems
  • Provides financial incentives to help farms transition to green energy
  • New federal programs aimed at reducing food waste

 

Fossil Fuels


8. Fracking Ban Act (S.3247 / H5857 – 2020)

  • Bans fracking nationwide by 2025 and prioritizes transition of fossil fuel workers into good-paying jobs in their communities
  • Immediately bans new federal permits for fracking-related infrastructure and bans fracking within 2,500ft of homes


9. End Polluter Welfare Act (H7781 – 2020)

  • Eliminates up to $150B in federal subsidies to fossil fuel companies over 10yrs
Environmental Justice & Just Transition


10. Environmental Justice for All Act (H5986 – 2020)

  • Addresses disparities in environmental and public health, particularly impacting under-served communities and communities of color
  • Provides economic assistance for communities that depend on the fossil fuel industry, ensuring a fair and just transition for workers and local economies

Help Secure Sponsors! Adopt-A-District.

Why Climate Change is an Environmental Justice Issue

BY  |Originally published SEPTEMBER 22, 2020 for State of the Planet – The Earth Institute’s blog at Columbia University

 

September 21-27 is Climate Week in New York City. Join us for a series of online events and blog posts covering the climate crisis and pointing us towards action.

 

While COVID-19 has killed 200,000 Americans so far, communities of color have borne disproportionately greater impacts of the pandemic. Black, Indigenous and LatinX Americans are at least three times more likely to die of COVID than whites. In 23 states, there were 3.5 times more cases among American Indian and Alaskan Native communities than in white communities. Many of the reasons these communities of color are falling victim to the pandemic are the same reasons why they are hardest hit by the impacts of climate change.

How communities of color are affected by climate change

Climate change is a threat to everyone’s physical health, mental health, air, water, food and shelter, but some groups—socially and economically disadvantaged ones—face the greatest risks. This is because of where they live, their health, income, language barriers, and limited access to resources. In the U.S., these more vulnerable communities are largely the communities of color, immigrants, low-income communities and people for whom English is not their native language. As time goes on, they will suffer the worst impacts of climate change, unless we recognize that fighting climate change and environmental justice are inextricably linked.

Heat

The U.S. is facing warming temperatures and more intense and frequent heat waves as the climate changes. Higher temperatures lead to more deaths and illness, hospital and emergency room visits, and birth defects. Extreme heat can cause heat cramps, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, hyperthermia, and dehydration.

patient in hospital bed

A heat stroke patient in the ER (Photo: Janine Rivera)

Disadvantaged communities have higher rates of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Heat stress can exacerbate heart disease and diabetes, and warming temperatures result in more pollen and smog, which can worsen asthma and COPD. Heat waves also affect birth outcomes. A study of the impact of California heat waves from 1999 to 2011 on infants found that mortality rates were highest for Black infants. Moreover, disadvantaged communities often lack access to good medical care and health insurance.

African Americans are three times more likely than whites to live in old, crowded or inferior housing; residents of homes with poor insulation and no air conditioning are particularly susceptible to the effects of increased heat. In addition, low-income areas in cities have been found to be five to 12 degrees hotter than higher income neighborhoods because they have fewer trees and parks, and more asphalt that retains heat.

Extreme weather events

While climate change cannot be definitively linked to any particular extreme weather event, incidents of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, heavy downpours, winter storms, floods and hurricanes have increased and climate change is expected to make them more frequent and intense.

Extreme weather events can cause injury, illness, and death. Changes in precipitation patterns and warming water temperatures enable bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxic algae to flourish; heavy rains and flooding can pollute drinking water and increase water contamination, potentially causing gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhea and damaging livers and kidneys.

buildings destroyed by hurricane katrina

Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage. Photo: FEMA/Mark Wolfe

Extreme weather events also disrupt electrical power, water systems and transportation, as well as the communication networks needed to access emergency services and health care. Disadvantaged communities are particularly at risk because subpar housing with old infrastructure may be more vulnerable to power outages, water issues and damage. Residents of these communities may lack adequate health care, medicines, health insurance, and access to public health warnings in a language they can understand. In addition, they may not have access to transportation to escape the impacts of extreme weather, or home insurance and other resources to relocate or rebuild after a disaster. Communities of color are also less likely to receive adequate protection against disasters or a prompt response in case of emergencies. In addition to physical hardships, the stress and anxiety of dealing with these impacts of extreme weather can end up exacerbating mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress and suicide.

Poor air quality

While climate change does not cause poor air quality, burning fossil fuels does; and climate change can worsen air quality. Heat waves cause air masses to remain stagnant and prevent air pollution from moving away. Warmer temperatures lead to the creation of more smog, particularly during summer. And wildfires, fueled by heat waves and drought, produce smoke that contains toxic pollutants.

Living with polluted air can lead to heart and lung diseases, aggravate allergies and asthma and cause premature death. People who live in urban areas with air pollution, or who have medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma or COPD, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution.

child in hospital bed

Air pollution exacerbates asthma. Photo: Dani

Black people are three times more likely to die from air pollution than white people. This is in part because they are 70 percent more likely to live in counties that are in violation of federal air pollution standards. A University of Minnesota study found that, on average, people of color are exposed to 38 percent higher levels of nitrogen dioxide outdoor air pollution than white people. One reason for the high COVID-19 death rate among African Americans is that cumulative exposure to air pollution leads to a significant increase in the COVID death rate, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

Pollution

More people of color live in places that are polluted with toxic waste, which can lead to illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma. These pre-existing conditions put people at higher risk for the more severe effects of COVID-19.

The fact that disadvantaged communities are in some of the most polluted environments in the U.S. is no coincidence. Communities of color are often chosen as sites for landfills, chemical plants, bus terminals and other dirty businesses because corporations know it’s harder for these residents to object. They usually lack the connections to lawmakers who could protect them and can’t afford to hire technical or legal help to put up a fight. They may not understand how they will be impacted, perhaps because the information is not in their native language. A 1987 reportshowed that race was the single most important factor in determining where to locate a toxic waste facility in the U.S. It found that “Communities with the greatest number of commercial hazardous waste facilities had the highest composition of racial and ethnic residents.”

For example, while Blacks make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, 68 percent live within 30 miles of a coal plant. LatinX people are 17 percent of the population, but 39 percent of them live near coal plants. A new report found that about 2,000 official and potential highly contaminated Superfund sites are at risk of flooding due to sea level rise; the areas around these sites are mainly communities of color and low-income communities.

The link between climate change and environmental justice

Mary Annaïse Heglar, a climate justice essayist and former writer-in-residence at the Earth Institute, asserts that climate change is actually the product of racism. “It started with conquest, genocides, slavery, and colonialism,” she wrote. “That is the moment when White men’s relationship with living things became extractive and disharmonious. Everything was for the taking; everything was for sale. The fossil fuel industry was literally built on the backs and over the graves of Indigenous people around the globe, as they were forced off their land and either slaughtered or subjugated — from the Arab world to Africa, from Asia to the Americas. Again, it was no accident.”

The harmful impacts of climate change are linked to historical neglect and racism. When Black people migrated North from the South in the early 20th century, many did not have jobs or money; consequently they were forced to live in substandard housing. Jim Crow laws in the South reinforced racial segregation, prohibiting Blacks from moving into white neighborhoods. In the 1930s through the 1960s, the federal government’s “redlining” policy denied federally backed mortgages and credit to minority neighborhoods. As a result, African Americans had limited access to better homes and all the advantages that went with them—a healthy environment, better schools and healthcare, and more food options.

Prime examples of environmental injustice

Poor sanitation in the U.S.

Catherine Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and a senior fellow for the Center for Earth Ethics, which is affiliated with the Earth Institute, is from Lowndes County, Alabama. As a child growing up in a poor, mostly Black rural area with less than 10,000 residents, she used an outhouse before her family installed indoor plumbing. After leaving to get an education, Flowers returned to Alabama in 2002 and still saw extreme disparities in rural wastewater treatment. She visited many homes with sewage backing up into their homes or pooling in their yards, as many residents couldn’t afford onsite wastewater treatment. She is still advocating for proper sanitation in Lowndes. As a result of her work, Baylor College’s National School of Tropical Medicine conducted a peer-reviewed study which showed that over 30 percent of Lowndes County residents had hookworm and other tropical parasites due to poor sanitation.

”We’re also seeing that there is a relationship between [wastewater and] COVID infections,” added Flowers. “We don’t know exactly what it is yet—but you can actually measure wastewater to determine the level of infections in the community before people start showing up with the illness.” In Lowndes, one of every 18 residents has COVID-19; it is one of the highest infection rates in the U.S.

Today, Flowers works at the intersection between climate change and wastewater throughout the U.S. “The more we see sea level rise, the more we’re going to have wastewater problems,” she said. Her new book, Waste, One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, due out in November, shows how proper sanitation is essential as climate change will likely bring sewage to more backyards everywhere, not just in poor communities.

Cancer Alley

An 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, hosts the densest concentration of petrochemical companies in the U.S. There have been so many cases of cancer and death in the area that it became known as “Cancer Alley.”

industries next to communities

Cancer Alley (Photo: Gines A. Sanchez)

Most of these petrochemical plants are situated near towns that are largely poor and Black. There are 30 large plants within 10 miles of mostly Black St. Gabriel, with 13 within three miles. St. James Parish, whose population is roughly half Black and half white, has over 30 petrochemical plants, but the majority are located in the district that is 80 percent Black.

These plants not only emit greenhouse gases that are exacerbating climate change, but the particulate matter they expel can contain hundreds of different chemicals. Chronic exposure to this air pollution can lead to heart and respiratory illnesses and diabetes. As such, it is no surprise that St. James Parish is among the 20 U.S. counties with the highest per-capita death rates from COVID-19.

Despite efforts of the residents to fight back, seven new petrochemical plants have been approved since 2015; five more are awaiting approval.

Hurricane Katrina

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm, caused extensive destruction in New Orleans and its environs. More than half of the 1,200 people who died were Black and 80 percent of the homes that were destroyed belonged to Black residents. The mostly Black neighborhoods of New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward were hit hardest by Katrina because while the levees in white areas had been shored up after earlier hurricanes, these poorer neighborhoods had received less government funding for flood protection. After the hurricane, when initial plans for rebuilding were in process, white neighborhoods again got priority, even if they had experienced less flooding. Eventually federal funds were directed toward the rebuilding of parts of the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East and the strengthening of their levees.

Flint, MI

In 2014, the city of Flint, MI, whose population is 56.6 percent Black, decided to draw its drinking water from the polluted Flint River in order to save money until a new pipeline from Lake Huron could be built. Previously the city had brought in treated drinking water from Detroit. Because the river had been used by industry as an illegal waste dump for many years, the water was corrosive, but officials failed to treat it. As a result, the water leached lead from the city’s aging pipelines. Officials claimed the water was safe, but more than 40 percent of the homes had elevated lead levels. As almost 100,000 residents — including 9,000 children — drank lead-laced water, lead levels in the children’s blood doubled and tripled in some neighborhoods, putting them at high risk for neurological damage.

In October, 2015, the city began importing water from Detroit again. An ongoing project to replace lead service pipes is expected to be complete by the end of November. And just recently, Flint victims were awarded a settlement of $600 million, with 80 percent of it designated for the affected children.

Steps to achieve environmental justice

As the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Catherine Flowers works to implement the best practices to reduce environmental injustice. Here are some key strategies she prescribes.

  • Acknowledge the damage and try to repair it.
  • Clean up sites where environmental damage has been done.
  • Create an equitable system for decision-making so there is not an undue burden placed on disadvantaged communities. “Lobbyists that represent these [polluting] companies shouldn’t have more influence than the people who live in the area that are impacted by it,” said Flowers. “We need to make sure that the people that live in the community are sitting at the table when decisions are being made about what’s located in their community.”
  • Call out the officials who are making decisions that are not in the best interest of the people they represent.
  • Vote to put in place representatives that listen to their constituents rather than the people and companies that donate to them.
  • Provide climate training to help people become more engaged. For example, the Climate Reality Project (Flowers sits on its board of directors) trains everyday people to fight for solutions and change in their communities.
  • Partner with universities to conduct peer-reviewed studies of health impacts to help validate and draw attention to the experiences of disadvantaged communities.
  • Build cleaner and greener. “We cannot discount the impact this could have on communities around the world,” said Flowers. “If we don’t pollute and we have a Green New Deal to build better, cleaner, and greener, then we won’t have these environmental justice issues.”

Environmental Justice for All Act

The Center for Earth Ethics has been participating in the Climate Crisis Policy review of climate bills and legislation for 2021.  This week, CCP discussed the Environmental Justice for All Act.  If you missed the CCP call and would like to learn more about this legislation, you can join the

Environmental Justice for All Act – Improving Lives of Marginalized Communities

Facebook Live Online Tour – Next Stop: Tuesday, Sept. 15 from Los Angeles 1:00 – 2:30 pm ET

Sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijlav (D-AZ) House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rep. Raul Grijalva is leading forums on Facebook Live to promote the “Environmental Justice for All Act,” which he and Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced. See fact sheet

Grijalva and Rep. McEachin will discuss the impacts that decades of neglect have had on Cancer Alley and how the Environmental Justice for All Act would give community members long-sought legal powers to protect themselves from polluter abuses. The bill was written after a collaborative process with impacted communities lasting more than a year, and has been praised as a new model for preparing legislation.

Event details and links will be made available on Rep. Grijalva’s website HERE.


Join us for the upcoming Climate Crisis Policy review sessions:

Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

What Can You Do to Fight the Climate Crisis?

With 60 Days to Save the Earth…

Catherine Flowers among experts interviewed for the Guardian.

Individual acts alone won’t stop the climate crisis, but there are things we can do. We asked experts what they do in their daily lives to make a difference.

in Washington, Published:

As the climate crisis intensifies, scientists and experts agree that systemic change is critical. But while individual efforts alone aren’t enough to reverse global heating, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. We asked several climate scientists and advocates about individual actions that can make a difference.

What’s one thing you do in your day-to-day life to combat the climate crisis?

Katharine Hayhoe, atmospheric scientist: I have transitioned over 80% of the talks I give to virtual online events (100% these days!), and when I do travel, I bundle my requests and commitments such that I am doing anywhere from 4-5 to as many as 15-25 events in each location that I fly to, in order to minimize the carbon footprint of each individual event.

Adrienne Hollis, climate justice and health scientist: I am being mindful about the water shortage. I like to plant around my deck, and I use my rain barrel to water my plants. It’s a small thing, and it’s a big thing. I get up at about 6 to water my plants, and I grow my herbs and peppers. It makes me feel like I am making a difference. And feeling like you’re making a difference is important. It’s finding your way of contributing. It makes you feel like you’re a part of the fight.

Sonia Aggarwal, energy policy expert: I recently found a great deal on a gently used electric car, and I have been loving it for those essential trips when I can’t walk, bike or use public transit. One thing I didn’t expect: this electric car is the most fun to drive! It’s peppy and quiet and it just feels so good to breeze right past the gas station without a second thought.

Michael Mann, climatologist: I speak out about the climate crisis, and the importance of taking action, using every medium, vehicle, forum or platform that is available to me.

What can I do in my personal life to address the climate crisis?

Catherine Flowers, environmental justice leader: Use less plastic or no plastic, recycle, eat less meat, reduce our own carbon footprint, build better – there are lots of things we can do. Don’t buy unsustainable products, choose something else. That’s the quickest way to get people to change is to make another choice, then of course the market will adjust.

Aggarwal: Home energy use is responsible for 20% of US greenhouse gas emissions, between the electricity we use and the fuels we burn on site. There are some cool new technologies out there that can support the same or better service at home, while reducing energy use and emissions. Those include super-efficient heat pumps and new induction stoves that are safer than gas and offer the same or better temperature control. Many utilities and states offer rebates for appliances like these.

Klaus Jacob, geophysicist: It’s fine to put solar panels on our roofs and take only a three-minute shower instead of a 10-minute shower. But what is really needed is that the individuals participate and communicate in neighborhood actions where you have the best chance to make a difference.

I live in a small village on the Hudson river. As sea level rises, so does the Hudson. Over the last two decades, I have made sure that our village is one of the most aware that it is losing a good portion of its housing before the year 2050. We already have flooding on our streets.

Read On…

‘Putting Justice and Human Rights First in the US’ breakout with Catherine Flowers – Climate Reality

In Climate Reality’s Putting Justice and Human Rights First in the US breakout session, you can hear directly from climate and environmental justice leaders to better understand the history of injustice in the United States and the way forward in the fight for climate and social justice.

Tune in to hear from Climate Reality board member Catherine Coleman Flowers, Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Angelo Logan, and Julian Brave NoiseCat!

Learn More about Climate Reality Leadership Trainings

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.

 

Press Release: CEE Teams up with Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center to launch “Earth Stanzas”

Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center launch “Earth Stanzas,” an interactive online Earth Day Poetry Project

April 17, 2020

New York, NY / Kent, OH

The Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University are launching Earth Stanzas, an interactive poetry project in honor of Earth Day. Earth Stanzas draws on the inspiration of eight poets who engage the beauty, depth, and interconnectedness of the Earth, and invites readers to interact with the poems and find their own poetic voice.

Each model poem and its prompt invites participants to reflect on their relationship to the Earth and to share their voice in an online gallery. Another feature of the project invites readers to use the Wick Poetry Center’s Emerge™web-based app to create their own digital “erasure” poem from a pool of primary texts, including excerpts from an International Panel on Climate Change report, historical documents such as the Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World and Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, celebrated in 1970 when 20 million Americans gathered across the country to raise awareness to the growing destruction of our planet. Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. 50 years later as these protections are threatened we again must sound the alarm for dynamic action to be taken. 

In this unprecedented time of planetary crisis, it is important to remember the beauty of the world, the wonder of nature, and the deep connection we have to it and each other. This is why on the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, we are offering this platform for the creation of “Earth Stanzas” and asking your networks to help us spread the word. Please join us along with Poets for Science, The Academy of American Poets, The Climate Museum, Earth Day Network, and many others.

Full Link:  www.earthstanzas.com

The Center for Earth Ethics is a forum for education, public discourse and movement building that draws on faith and wisdom traditions to address our ecological crisis and its root causes at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. 

The Wick Poetry Center, in Kent State University’s College of Arts & Sciences, is home to the award-winning Traveling Stanzas project, and is one of the premier university poetry centers in the country. It is a national leader for the range, quality, and innovative outreach in the community.

For more information please contact:

David Hassler, Director, Wick Poetry Center: [email protected], 330.221.9913

Andrew Schwartz, Deputy Director CEE: [email protected], 541.760.2067

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: icahn.mssm.edu/exposomics. 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

 

INTRODUCTION

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/ ETHICS

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.

 

WHERE WE ARE

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 WE GOT HERE

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.

 

ROLE OF HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS

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.

 

ATTITUDE TOWARDS NATURE

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.”

 

INDIGENOUS WISDOM

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.

 

HEALING POWER OF 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.”

MENTAL HEALTH

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.

 

PUBLIC HEALTH ADVOCACY

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.

 

CONCLUSION

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.

THE END


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