Category: Culture

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

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

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

Climate Justice with Karenna Gore

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

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

 

Excerpts:

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

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

On Addiction to Fossil Fuels

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

KBD: “That’s right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Values of Faith, Examining Social and Ecological Injustice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Beyond GDP

Letting It In

Grief. It’s not that we need to stay there. It’s that we need to first let it in, consume us, before we can let it go and make room for what comes next. It’s true after a loved one dies, or the end of a relationship, and it’s true when we are grieving for our planet.

Holly Truhlar’s must-read article on how The Environmental Movement has Failed points to an issue any somatic practitioner knows – all trauma is stored in the body – whether you are aware of it or not. And it is through the vessel of the body that we can access both the trauma and the resources needed to move through and ultimately to release it. This is one of the key principles that those not well versed in the nature of trauma will forget or miss altogether – with trauma there is no way out but through.  And through means feeling it.

It won’t be enough to bypass your emotions and stay afloat. At some point you will have to drown so you can be reborn. Now, saying this doesn’t not mean there is a predicated timeline. Grief takes as long as it takes. But the more we are willing to spend time in the quiet, to be with our thoughts, be with and listen carefully to the voice underlying our emotions, then we can get on with the wailing that needs to happen… in the silence of the forest that is dying, face planted in the soil, listening to our bodies and to the body of the Earth. Those who can surrender enough to the grief to let it move through them from the depths of their being can then become the hand that holds, the arms that cradle, the next one ready to surrender.

The only timeline is this… Mother Nature is waiting on us. The longer we hold out, the more species die. The longer we wait, the more our world becomes the dystopia of Total Recall with humans living in oxygenated domes or Avatar’s vision of humanity looking for a new home planet because we ‘already killed our Mother’. As long as we are insisting nothing is wrong – or maybe knowing something is so very wrong it feels impossible to face head on – we are not just delaying the inevitable, we are actually choosing to let the entire planet’s ecosystem collapse while we close our eyes, put our fingers in our ears and sing “Mary had a Little Lamb” at the top of our lungs. This is a choice.

It is not just ignorance anymore, it is willful ignorance.

And it’s not because the news media is talking about it more, it’s that you know the weather – and the climate – has changed.

You have already experienced or are presently experiencing storms, fires, floods, unseasonable weather at any rate. You are maybe hearing less bird songs or seeing fewer flowers and fewer bees. Your grandchildren are talking to you about it and even walking out of school to get your attention.  And if you are poor, well, you know it’s coming even if it hasn’t already arrived on your geographical doorstep. You know because you are vulnerable and that vulnerability means if anything should happen…

This is Climate Apartheid.

If you have money, you own your house, rooms for your family, maybe even a nice yard or land, you might be outwardly denying anything is going on.  However more than likely, just in case, you are preparing –  making sure your windows are energy efficient, replacing the roof, keeping a store room of bottled water and food stuffs. You know how to access your funds should you need them. It is likely that you have insurance and if you lose your home in a flood or fire you can afford to acquire new accommodation elsewhere while your insurance company pays to rebuild your old house where it stood. It might be uncomfortable, and certainly a bit of a hassle but you won’t actually be hurting. You won’t be in a shelter having lost all your belongings with no way to replace them, or be sleeping a family of four on a floor in your friend’s living room.

This is the difference in perspective when we talk about Environmental Justice, why we say the poor and disenfranchised are hardest hit.  This is why the poor, and therefore often minority groups, are labeled those on the front lines of climate change.

Those who are most vulnerable may not survive.  Whether we are talking about Pacific Islanders preparing for migration as the rising tides slowly engulf their home of generations, whether we are talking about Cancer Alley in the South and mortality rates among those living in and among raw sewage and hookworm, or those who have no clean water from Alabama to Michigan… India or South Africa.  This is what we understand when hearing the testimony of a 14 year old Sioux girl begging for our intervention so her tribe does not meet it’s final end by pipeline.  She’s consumed by the absolute terror that her entire tribal race will be wiped out by a pipeline spill destroying their water source.  And the horror that no one seems to care about it.

This is the grief we must face.

Facing the reality that in the United States, still calling itself the wealthiest country in the world, families & children have gone without clean water in Flint, MI since 2014 and that the federal government has not allocated the funds, created the jobs and hired the necessary people to fix it in five years.  This, too, is the reality of our paralysis.  Our inability to respond in the face of these crises.  Even when people need jobs.  Even when our neighbor’s lives are at stake.  Even when we have more money than any other country in the world.

The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells has shaken some readers into action.  As Mark O’Connell writes in his review for The Guardian:  “Because as dire as the projections are, if you are surveying the topic from a privileged western vantage, it’s easy to overlook how bad things have already got, to accept the hurricanes and the heatstroke deaths as simply the unfortunate nature of things. In this way, Wallace-Wells raises the disquieting spectre of future normalisation – the prospect that we might raise, incrementally but inexorably, our baseline of acceptable human suffering. (This phenomenon is not without precedent. See, for example, the whole of human history.)”

And it seems this is not the future after all – we, in fact, are already there.  A society allowing children to die quickly in gunfire at school and slowly in detention centers or by poison in the water.

Holly Truhlar attempts to bring it home:

Essentially, the environmental movement failed because it’s not big enough. It lacks both width and depth. It’s based on an old paradigm, existing within a system which separates us from each other and the wild. Rather than being born from our hearts and soul, and connected to the anima mundi—the Soul of the world—the environmental movement was conceived through the colonized mind. This limited mindset breeds hierarchy, supremacy, and solutions of force. Within this space, we continue to oppress and abuse because it’s what happened, is happening, to us and we aren’t capable, resourced enough, to radically take it on and transform it.

So here we are.  Attempting to fall back in love with the earth so that we might protect it.  Here we are in a feedback loop of grief so deep we can barely perceive it.  Here we are with deep needs and with few therapists, counselors or spiritual leadership equipped to take on the transformation required in our personal journey out of the apocalypse.  If you made it this far in this post, then there’s a chance.

Let us begin letting it in.

Dancing the EarthDream: The Pedagogy of Nature Connection

Somatic Resiliency:  The Work that Reconnects & Turning Towards Grief

Moving on Center (MoC)

VICE: Women Prisoners Heal Trauma with Dance

A Very Special Evening with Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer: Reflection & Video

“Last night I had the joyful opportunity to interview Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. She is sweet as the sweetgrass, loving as a mother and attentive as a wise elder. She was delighted to hear that we, from the Center for Earth Ethics, are offering the course Plant Wisdom and Ecological Consciousness and wants to know all about it. Surely we will have opportunities to interact with her, as we actively engage in braiding together plant wisdom, science and traditional knowledge as a practice of being in the world. Certainly all of humanity needs to remember that communing with all sentient beings is the original purpose of living a human experience. The art of reminding about this purpose is something that Robin has become exquisitely passionate about. Last night, over two hundred people stood in ovation to express their deep gratitude for her overflow of wisdom, joy for life and caring for Mother Earth. Let us spread her word and make her dream –a shared dream– come true in her lifetime.”
~  Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina
***
Join us for a conversation with Robin Wall Kimmerer as she helps us rethink, reimagine and, renarrate our relationship to the sacred and the natural world. Can the objective, data-driven approach of science be enriched by non-anthropocentric spiritual worldviews? As a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Dr. Kimmerer draws on both indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge to enrich and animate our understanding of the natural world. This expansive way of seeing and relating to creation privileges regeneration and reciprocity, and offers novel solutions for ecological restoration and climate change resilience.

Dr. Kimmerer will be joined in conversation with Union faculty member John Thatamanil, and Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina, Scholar in Residence for Union’s Center for Earth Ethics.

 

About Robin Wall Kimmerer:
Dr. Kimmerer is a mother, plant ecologist, writer and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. She serves as the founding Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability. Her research interests include the role of traditional ecological knowledge in ecological restoration and the ecology of mosses. In collaboration with tribal partners, she and her students have an active research program in the ecology and restoration of plants of cultural significance to Native people. Read More.

About The Insight Project:
The Insight Project is a new multi-year program series that explores modern conceptions of theology and spirituality through a diverse array of thought-provoking lectures, screenings, performances, and on-stage conversations. Click HERE to learn more.

Karenna Gore on Climate Ethics & Corporate Social Responsibility at LIM

Originally posted  by Janise Vargas

On Monday, February 4, our Sustainability and the Future of Fashion class at LIM College shared a conversation with Founder and Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, Karenna Gore. We spoke about climate change and its relation to ethics and social justice on a global scale.

Daughter of former Vice President Al Gore Jr., Ms. Gore had a political upbringing, but her professional expertise lies in ecological conservation, ministry, and social justice. Gore founded the Center for Earth Ethics in 2015, after the Religions for the Earth conference held at Union in 2014. At this conference, over 200 religious and spiritual leaders gathered to emphasize climate as a moral issue and apply faith-based activism to help fix it. Gore explained that the Center’s purpose is to generate dialogue around the immorality of climate change and train leaders to implement change across the world.

I found Gore’s focus on social justice and ministry to be intriguing because it is a niche perspective on our threatened ecosystem. When talking about climate change, most people think of the very tangible effects it has on the earth’s landscape and our weather system. However, listening to Gore refocused my lens toward the humanitarian crises—which include threats like floods, food shortages, and large-scale displacements of populations—that will result if change is not made now. Gore believes that the magnitude of hope and good-will that accompany followers of faith can be the catalyst society needs to spark progressive efforts toward conserving our planet and improving our society.

Being that we are taking this sustainability course at a business-focused fashion college, how can we change the fashion industry to better serve the environment? Gore had a number of solutions to this problem, one of which included measuring the success of a business beyond profit. She explained that examining a brand’s globalism and ecological footprint are very relevant measurements of a company’s effect on the people it serves internationally as well as how its business practices affect the environment. I believe if every fashion brand started to prioritize their ecological footprint, that alone would initiate visible change on our planet.

On a macro level, we talked about government and its role in climate change and conservatory efforts. Joining our lecture was Professor Gayathri Banavara, from LIM’s Marketing, Management & Finance department. Professor Banavara asked if government policy should play a role in conservatory efforts. She used, as an example, India, which has imposed a policy on incoming corporations to contribute 2% of their profits to maintaining India’s landscape and resources and improving their infrastructure. Gore implored the helpfulness of this practice and explained that government policy can play a major role in climate change. If political leaders used their power and influence to create conservatory policies and eco-friendly regulations, companies and people as a whole would be forced to take these issues seriously and implement change. She also explained that similar to business, governments measure a nation’s success with a bottom-line mentality, considering only GDP. The problem is, GDP does not measure aspects like pollution, depletion of resources or environmental harm. Nations are being held to a standard of profitability only, and it is that mentality that has led to our overuse of resources.

I found Gore’s presentation and dialogue inspiring, because it allowed my perception of climate change and the realities of it to come full circle. I came away feeling that it is important to know and share this information—we must emphasize the immorality of ignoring our changing environment and warn against the humanitarian crisis that will result should we continue this way. As future business leaders and advocates for change, we must use this knowledge to change how business is conducted. There is much more at stake than hotter summers.

Topics: Climate ChangesustainabilityLIM Undergraduate Studiesguest speakers,SustainableSustainable Fashionsocial responsibilityCorporate Social Responsibilty