Category: Earth Ethics

Earth Charter and Ecological Civilization Webinar Series

On September 10th, CEE Director Karenna Gore, joined speakers Mary Evelyn Tucker and Meijun Fan along with moderator, Andrew Schwartz to begin a conversation on Ecological Civilization inspired from China’s adoption of this directive into their constitution. Please enjoy this first webinar in a 4-part series beginning with Values & Worldviews: Ecological Civilization as Mutual Flourishing.

Webinar Series: Earth Charter and Ecological Civilization

A new kind of collaboration, toward a new kind of civilization, is needed if we are to shift humanity away from the current civilization that is indifferent to the needs of the most vulnerable and that predominantly has lifestyles and production patterns that destroys the life support systems that sustain life on Earth.

Two decades ago, after years of international collaboration and with input from visionaries around the world, a document known as the Earth Charter was drafted as a vision of hope and a call to action. The 16 principles of the Earth Charter provide a framework for the long-term well-being of people and the planet.

In 2012, China adopted Ecological Civilization in its National Constitution and mandated its incorporation into “all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social progress.” This call for civilizational change raises awareness of the need for an alternative paradigm. But, what is “ecological civilization” and how can it be achieved?

Now, as we enter the third decade of the new millennium, there is urgency in generating an intercultural and intersectoral dialogue about the meaning, principles, metrics, vision, and values that ought to drive humanity towards ecological civilization.

Toward this end, a group of global partners are coming together to organize a series of webinars to exchange views, deepen discourse, and hopeful stimulate further collaboration. This series of four webinars, to take place between September and December, is being organized as a collaborative effort between the Earth Charter International, University for Peace, Pace Center for Green Sci-Teck and Development, the Institute of Ecological Civilization, China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF), and the Center for Process Studies.

The following questions will be addressed:

  • What is an “Ecological Civilization?”
  • What values and worldviews are needed to ground a paradigm shift towards that direction?
  • Can the Earth Charter principles provide a framework for building an ecological civilization?
  • How to cultivate the consciousness needed, and how to turn this new consciousness into action?
  • What are the driving forces of the current civilization and what could be the drivers of “Ecological Civilization”?
  • What is the role of education, policies, and international collaboration to turn Ecological Civilization a reality?

Learn More, See More Dates and Speakers…

‘Forging an Earth Ethic’ – Video: Karenna Gore hosted by Charlemont Forum

Karenna Gore
Director, Center for Earth Ethics Union Theological Seminary
Forging an Earth Ethic in a Time of Crisis

Hosted by Charlemont Forum of the Charlemont Federated Church – Affiliated with the United Church of Christ

Watch the Complete Video HERE

“The coronavirus pandemic has revealed injustices in the fabric of our society and demonstrated the strong relationship between science and ethics and the potential for systemic change. As we meet the challenge of this pandemic, we must also reckon with the looming climate crisis and forge a new earth ethic together.”

The themes of climate change and the corona virus merge in the Charlemont Forum’s second summer program event with Karenna Gore speaking to the challenge of “Forging an Earth Ethic in a Time of Crisis”. The Forum will once again utilize the Zoom technology platform that has proved effective in reaching audience members in Western Massachusetts as well as nation wide. The program originally aired July 9, 2020 at 7 p.m.

Ethical Call to Action on Climate Policy by Karenna Gore

Ethics is simply about right and wrong and as a field of thought, it is most powerful when a widely held, deep sense of right and wrong is out of step with both laws and social norms. That is the case with the climate crisis today and we need to point it out clearly. The stunning truth of our situation is that the main drivers of global ecological destruction are perfectly legal—and even socially encouraged. We know that half of the global warming emissions in the atmosphere now have been put up there in the past 20 years, the time we have known the most about this and had the most viable alternatives. Data and science and technology and common sense are not enough. The urgent work to be done is changing the laws and the way to do so is to appeal to our deepest shared values. We need an ethical call to legislative advocacy.

Most Americans sense and express that it is wrong to turn a blind eye to this trajectory that we are on, passing on the burdens of climate impacts to the poor and vulnerable and to all future generations, allowing the mass extinctions and extreme weather events to unfold, with the consequence of certain and massive suffering and death. To confront the truth of it naturally causes moral indignation. And this is a force we need to be very mindful of. We cannot count on it doing the work on its own. It causes such discomfort, particularly in a situation in which most of us feel implicated in the systems that are a part and parcel of all this, that it can be easily inverted into denial, despair, grief, inaction, and projection. We also live in a time that is so saturated with outrage that an effort to convey it is sometimes put into a funhouse mirror and turned back on itself. So this is all reason to take the discourse of ethics and morals very seriously in legislative advocacy— it is essential, and it is most powerful if used with intention and care.

Religion can and does play an important role, as it has in other major movements for change around the world throughout history. One is to call people to a sense of belonging that is deeper than political or partisan affiliations. Bishop Desmond Tutu said that the scriptural teaching that all human beings are made in the image of God was key to ending apartheid in South Africa. Spiritual teachings and practices can also galvanize, inspire, and bring people together to act with courage and conviction. Mahatma Gandhi’s notions of satyagraha (truth-force) and ahimsa (nonviolence) helped bring down British imperial rule in India. And finally, there is organizational reach and power in faith communities. In the United States, we saw all of this in the Civil Rights movement, whose most powerful leader was a Baptist preacher who invoked scripture and practiced nonviolence and packed churches throughout the South with people who were ready to march, vote, speak out and fight for legislation.

We have seen this some of this in the climate movement already and there is much more potential. In fact, I would argue that some of what is causing the current excitement and traction around climate legislation—the emphasis on justice—has been voiced by faith-based climate leaders for some time.

In August of 2013, Rev Gerald Durley, currently the chairman of Interfaith Power and Light, wrote a piece titled Climate Change is Civil Rights Issue in which he laid it out. And there are many other examples, one place to find them is in the many faith based statement on climate change that are online.

We just had the 5 year anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home and it is important to acknowledge that this great effort was one of the driving forces behind the agreement in Paris. I was in Paris as a representative of the Climate Task Force of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Pope Francis’ message was powerful in the international community and it was also part of the leading edge of thought that has gotten us to widespread realization that social and ecological issues are intertwined.  

In the wake of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris treaty (not in effect officially until the day after the next election), the We are Still In movement has kept it alive. There are 100s of Faith signatories and there have been eloquent statements from faith leaders on this matter.

There has also been a tremendous push on divestment in faith communities, internationally and nationally, and I want to acknowledge the work of GreenFaith and 350 and others on this front. This can influence legislative advocacy because it pulls together political force and will and crystallizes values.

I have had the honor of witnessing and supporting some of the faith-based organizing work that has gone on in the US around climate, including by some people who are on this call, and I want to say that this is going on as we speak, with some the bills being presented today, and merits respect, support and expansion. In addition to the specific interfaith climate organizations I have already mentioned, there are faith-based groups from distinct religious traditions. (I won’t name them now due to time and my worry I will get in trouble for leaving some out). The work of Indigenous peoples and organizations and First Nations themselves is also important in this sphere—it has spiritual power and it is important for many deep reasons that coalitions of faith groups act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples in legislative advocacy.

There are also some Green groups that have staffers designated to work on faith outreach. And perhaps most interesting in terms of immediate potential for legislative advocacy, there is a lot of energy and expertise in faith-based organizations and groups that had been focused on other advocacy efforts but can laser focus their attention on climate in the sessions ahead, drawing the connections to the issues of race, poverty, refugees that they already know so well. Coalitions such as the Washington Interfaith Service Coalition, Church World Service, and others are doing this and also there is tremendous work being done in specific denominations. And of course, there is the power of activating the grassroots network of congregations and communities throughout the land.

This work is powerful not just to reach across the ideological spectrum but also to bring people off the sidelines and breathe life into our body politic. Now is the time to step up that ethical call to Legislative Advocacy, thank you to those who already are.

 

Watch the complete webinar – Karenna Gore’s remarks begin at 38:46.

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

Holy Land – Living Water

Middle East (Jordan, Palestine and Israel)

The Holy Land Living Water event, organized by Unity Earth in collaboration with EcoPeace Middle East and in partnership with the United Religions Initiative, has been a historic journey of spirit, music and ecology. The event took place on February 1-7, 2020, and we visited sacred places and shared rituals and ceremonies in Jordan, Israel and Palestine.

This journey and pilgrimage forms part of Unity Earth’s Road to 2020, “a series of worldwide events designed to capture new opportunities for weaving a spirit of unity and peaceful coexistence across the Earth”. The Jordan River Valley, which is of high importance for the Abrahamic Religions, was the main focus of the journey along with visits to related sacred places. In the Middle East, water is critical for survival of many species and people and it has been under dispute for decades.

The Jordan River is a sacred river. Over the past fifty years almost all of the waters have been diverted and the remaining waters have been polluted and commodified, especially in the Lower Jordan. This means the Jordan River Valley has been under desecration and is now facing ecological crisis. This injustice is threatening the people and the environment, and it is a situation that is being addressed in a joint effort to recover peace and dignity in the Holy Land. One of the purposes of this journey has been to bring attention to the importance of cooperation around water management and about the human relationship with water for a higher standard of living in the territory. This could enhance sustainable livelihoods and generate regional political stability.

This event brought ecologists and spiritual leaders from different faith traditions to share about the importance to uphold a common conviction, not just among monotheist Abrahamic faiths. We also spoke about the importance to practice responsible stewardship for the land and specifically for water, because the sacred element of water is at the core of raising awareness about our relationship with nature and ultimately with Mother Earth. There is an urgent need to achieve peace among peoples, but most important is to be at peace with Mother Earth – our common home.

It has also been the intention of this international event to bring public awareness to the work of EcoPeace about the socio-ecological rehabilitation and sustainability of the lower Jordan Valley, shared by Jordan, Palestine and Israel. The event has used a “faith-based approach showcased in EcoPeace’s Regional NGO Master Plan for the Sustainable Development of the Jordan River Valley, as the symbolism of the Jordan River can encourage Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faithful to actively support conservation efforts of this shared natural resource”. This was affirmed during our trip and addressed at the Dead Sea Convergence: Interfaith Ecology Conference held on February 2nd.

In the trip there were more than ninety international delegates and around forty delegates from the region. Among the delegates were representatives of Indigenous Peoples from Mexico (Otomi-Toltec), United States (Dine-Navajo, Lakota), Canada (Anishinaabe), Australia (Aboriginals) and Thailand (Karen).
There were also representatives of different faith traditions, spiritual leaders of Islam, Christians, Jewish, Buddhists among others. The presence of the Green Sheik of the Arab Emirates, the Prince of Ethiopia, an Ambassador to the African Union, reggae and traditional and mystic singers, academics and scientists gave relevance to the pilgrimage.

As a representative of the Original Caretakers Program at the Center for Earth Ethics and as a spiritual representative of the Otomi-Toltec Peoples, I joined this international delegation for a historic sacred pilgrimage across the Sacred Sites of Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The Holy Land Living Water journey was dedicated principally to share worldviews, ceremonies and prayers mainly to the Jordan River Holy waters.

This event also took place in the framework of celebrating the United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week. My participation at this event was to share and conduct the Four Directions Ceremony – Water Ceremony by the Dead Sea with all delegates, especially with the leadership of Indigenous spiritual leaders, to honor the Holy Land, the Dead Sea and the Jordan River.

We visited the most sacred places where we honored the sacred sites. During our journey we went to Al Maghtas Baptism Site, Abu-Obeida Mosque, Mount of Temptation, Church of Nativity Bethlehem, the old city of Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee, and carried out a special ceremony for Peace and Healing at Megiddo (Armageddon), led by Indigenous Spiritual Elders. At the end of the journey there was the U-NITE Harmony Week Concert and the visit to the Bahá’i Gardens in Haifa in order to close the trip and celebrate Unity.

Final Thoughts
I have been participating with Unity Earth in previous similar events in Australia, Ethiopia, the US and Canada. In all the events I have been representing my ancestral Indigenous spirituality. My work has been to share ancestral wisdom of Indigenous Peoples and to share values through indigenous ceremonies and also through speeches. This has also helped to support the work that we do at Center for Earth Ethics, called Healing and Balancing Mother Earth and Protecting Sacred Sites, which we carry out worldwide thanks to the support of Forum 21, The Fountain, and other private contributions.

In our view, the Jordan River is a biocultural sacred river that is meaningful to the region and the world, and healing and balance is needed. We want to continue to raise awareness about this situation and join efforts with the Regional NGO EcoPeace and other local initiatives.

A message from the Dead Sea
I arrived at Amman, Jordan, together with my friends, reggae singers Pato Banton and Antoinette Rootsdawtah. It was late when we got to the hotel by the shores of the Dead Sea, it was already around 2 am of February 2nd , and I went to sleep soon after, but it was just for less than an hour because a strong energy woke me up. When it was at 3 am when I began to hear a deep wailing. I didn’t get scared, but it was a hurtful cry. The crying lasted for at least ten minutes. I began to pray and concentrate so I could know where this crying was coming from. After some minutes I realized that everything was in complete silence, so I could distinguish the direction of the howling. It took me some time to understand that it was a feminine wailing and that it was coming from the heart of the Dead Sea. Then, I understood that it was the crying of Mother Earth, it was the crying of the Holy Waters that are suffering and are asking for help.

EcoPeace’s River Out of Eden Inter-faith Tool Kit

Read and Sign the Covenant for the Jordan River

Holy Land Video & Photos

Living Water Festival in Megiddo Brings Spiritual Leaders Together

We want to take you now to NorthernIsrael to the historic site of Megiddo where a peaceproject called LIVING WATERS brought togetherspiritual and political leaders. Among them, the grandsonof Ethiopia’s Emperor. Our correspondent Emily Francestells us more.

Posted by Holy Land Uncovered – i24NEWS on Sunday, February 23, 2020

 

Water Ceremony at the Dead Sea – CEE’s Mindahi Bastida (right)

 

Women in prayer over the water led by Diné elder Pat McCabe

 

Delegates visiting Abu-Obeida Mosque

Faith in Climate

A few weeks ago I went to Recife at the invitation of Brazilian environmentalist, Alfredo Sirkis, on the occasion of the Brazilian Climate Change Conference. Named for the stone reefs in the Atlantic ocean off its shores, Recife is the largest city in the Northeastern state of Pernambuco. 

Brazil was set to host the upcoming COP 25 Climate meeting until newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro pulled out last year. 

Alfredo Sirkis, Mayor of Recife, Geraldo Júlio and Karenna Gore.

As in the United States, there is denialism at the top of the government, but real movement to address the climate crisis on a subnational level. The Mayor of Recife, Geraldo Júlio who serves as regional chairman of a consortium of local governments for sustainability (ICLEI) and was the first mayor in South America to declare a climate emergency and is working on a transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Sirkis has been working on emissions reductions commitment from Brazil’s governors. He recently spoke alongside some of them (as well as some governors from the Peruvian Amazon) at the Vatican, one day after the Amazonian Synod. This is all happening during a surge in deforestation (and the related phenomenon of forest fires) which Philip Fearnside, a scientist at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus says “results both from the constant anti-environment rhetoric and from concrete actions in dismantling the country’s environmental agencies and effectively halting fines for illegal clearing.”

Sirkis is formerly chair of the Brazil Climate Change Forum (Bolsonaro fired him) and currently head of the Brazilian Climate Center. My role was to participate in an interfaith ceremony and panel discussion on November 8th that was held at the oldest synagogue in the Americas, Kahal Zur Israel. Sirkis also invited his friend, the extraordinary Rabbi Nilton Bonder of Rio, and he worked with other organizers to invite Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim, Candomblé and Indigenous faith leaders (in the end the Muslim representative was unable to attend unfortunately).  Thanks to a friendship with his daughter, Anna, who lives in New York City, I know something about the family history. Alfredo has recently made a documentary about his mother Liliana’s journey fleeing her native Poland in the 1930s in the context of the genocide of Jewish people to which his family was subjected. 

Photo: CEE Director Karenna Gore speaks at Kahal Zur Israel, the oldest synagogue in the Americas in Recife, Brazil.

Kahal Zur Israel synogogue, which now functions as an intimate museum with original artifacts, was established in around 1636 by Sephardic Jews who had fled from Spain and Portugal to the Netherlands during the Inquisition and then came over with the Dutch.  The Dutch ruled Northeast Brazil from 1630-1654 and the Dutch West India Company made its headquarters in Recife. When the Portuguese took over again and expelled Jews from Recife in 1654, the Kahal Zur community fled to, among other places, “New Amsterdam,” my hometown. Over the next centuries, some returned, along with Jewish immigrants and refugees from around the world.

The Interfaith ceremony became highly charged, provoking a stark awareness about the connection between religious persecution and climate disruption. But it began gently. Rabbi Bonder spoke of heeding signs and listening and sang beautifully. Later that evening he would return to Kahal-Zur Israel to lead a service. Pastor Paul César, a Baptist pastor, spoke from the heart about the need for stronger voices from the Protestant community, advised that we ask forgiveness from Creator and Creation, and told the story of bringing his wife and four daughters back to the remote area of Brazil where he was born on order to show them the river he used to cherish, only to find it degraded and depleted: “we are destroying our own home,” he said. He spoke of the misinterpretation of Genesis and the problematic reality that when the mission of the church is to save souls for the afterlife, we ignore our home here. He also invoked Dorothy Stang, a Catholic sister originally from Dayton Ohio whose advocacy for the rural poor and the rainforest caused her to receive death threats from land owners and loggers, and who was murdered in the Brazilian Amazon in 2005. “We need to develop new leaders,” he said in closing.

Mother Beth de Oxum, Rabbi Nilton Bonder, Jaqueline Xukuru, Pastor Paulo César Pereira and Father Fabio Santos

It was then that Mãe Beth de Oxum of the Candomblé community heightened the volume and shifted the energy. She said that it was the first time she had been invited to a synagogue and she took it as a good sign. She said that her ancestors came from Africa and brought oral traditions and that they always knew the sacred dimensions of nature. She spoke of the Orishas, especially Yemanja and Oxum. She said the Earth womb is the first uterus. She said they sing to the leaves and the ocean and more and raising her voice, she said “we don’t get respect for our sacred traditions.” She spoke passionately and at length about the demonization of her community and implored those present to stand in alliance with them. She received standing ovation. Father Fábio Santos, who spoke next, invoking Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, gave her a clear statement of support.

The Xukuru are an Indigenous first nation of Brazil who have been fighting for the right to their ancestral land in Pernambuco; Jacqueline Xukuru spoke with jarring clarity about the clash of belief systems that is still playing out from time of conquest: “We do not see the Earth as a subject of financial speculation,” she said, “it is our body, our spirit.” She referenced the incendiary and outrageously disrespectful things that the current Brazilian President has said about Indigenous peoples, as well as his moves to dismantle the official department for Indigenous affairs (FUNAI). 

“Progress for who? Development for who?” These questions seem to be at the heart of our global ecological crisis.

The most striking part about her talk was the omnipresent and imminent violence against Indigenous peoples. Just days before our gathering, there was another murder—Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a member of the Guararaja tribe and the organization Guardians of the Forest.We will keep up the resistance until the last Indigenous people are here,” Xukuru said, and referred to a global campaign: Indigenous Blood: Not One Drop More. She questioned all the actors who make moves on land and water without consulting Indigenous peoples: “Progress for who? Development for who?” These questions seem to be at the heart of our global ecological crisis. 

Guarani representative Mirin Juyan joins Youth & Climate side event at SinsPire wearing traditional feathers.

Listening to these speakers in this synagogue, it was poignant to recall that it was the same powers who ordered the Inquisition to purge the Jews and Moors from Spain and Portugal who worked with the Vatican to craft the papal bulls that divided the world for Spanish and Portuguese explorers. When the Portuguese established Recife in 1573, it soon became the first slave port in the Americas. These bulls proclaimed that the original peoples of Africa and the Americas were merely part of the flora and fauna to be “conquered vanquished and subdued.” Many see this same mentality present in both the climate denial and bigotry of today. At one of the conference side events I attended at the SinsPire Center, a young Guarani man named Mirin Juyan noted that some current Brazilian leaders have called Indigenous peoples “animals.” He explained that this is especially odd because in his traditional way, animals are our relatives rather than hallmarks of a lesser category of being, adding “I would rather be an animal than a destroyer of life.” 

“I would rather be an animal than a destroyer of life.”

The prophetic voice of Pope Francis (the first pontiff from Latin America) in the climate conversation also calls to mind some echoes of Recife’s past. Dom Hélder Câmara, the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife from 1964-1985, is now officially on the path to canonization. He endured increasing resistance to his work with and for the marginalized people of Brazil and famously said “when I give food to the poor, they call me a saint, when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and was instrumental in the drafting of Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Pope Paul VI, 1965), which is quite worth reading. One passage points out: Our era needs such wisdom more than bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to be further humanized. For the future of the world stands in peril unless wiser men are forthcoming. It should also be pointed out that many nations, poorer in economic goods, are quite rich in wisdom and can offer noteworthy advantages to others. Câmara also founded a Theological Institute where he taught alongside feminist theologian Ivone Gebara for 17 years. 

Crane colony in the mangroves.

My trip also included the opportunity to encounter the mangroves, the fragile ecosystem that nurtures life and sequesters carbon, eat Brazilian food, enjoy music and truly warm and gracious hospitality across the board. Many Brazilians expressed concern over the recent oil spill of the Northeastern Coast not too far from Recife, still apparently mysterious in origin, but most everyone seemed to be continuing to enjoy the fruits of the sea. Finally, right before I left, I was able to visit an extraordinary collection at the Ricardo Brennand Institute featuring European art and artifacts, some of which the collector brought from Europe, others which were created by Europeans in Brazil. This includes illustrations of the land and people of Brazil done centuries ago, infused with all the “Old World” preconceptions and raw wonder one might imagine.

One gallery is focused on the period of Dutch occupation of the Northeast and includes the largest collection of the work of Frans Post, who is acknowledged as the first European landscape painter in the Americas. He was from Haarlam, in the Netherlands. Union Theological Seminary is in Harlem—or rather on the border of “Morningside Heights” and Harlem, where gentrification is a major issue— and I took this occasion to learn the roots of the word in Dutch. Apparently it is traceable to haarlo-heim, meaning a home in a forested elevated place. The Lenape people lived in Harlem – and all of “Manahatta” – when the Dutch West India Company arrived there in 1624. One benefit of our time is the incredible surge in awareness of the layers of history that we live in.

Painting: ‘Village of Olinda after the fire on November 25, 1631’, by Frans Post

One benefit of our time is the incredible surge in awareness of the layers of history that we live in.

We are far behind the goals of the Paris Agreement and, seen through that lens, we appear set on a trajectory to ecological collapse. For all of us, we must face the feeling of doom that visits the climate conversation at least as often as the feelings of rage, grief, disbelief and inspiration do. But we must also realize that there is more going on than meets the eye. The force of history can feel as indominable as the many tons of carbon pollution that scientists tell us is now stuck up in the atmosphere for centuries, no matter what we do now. But that cannot be the only way to look at it. There are physics at work, but there are also metaphysics, and one can feel them palpably in Brazil. As another native of Recife, Pedagogy of the Oppressed author and legendary movement-builder Paolo Friere wrote: “It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice. For this to happen, a total denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.” I am grateful for my time in Brazil in which I felt that force gathering, inviting all of us into transformation together.

Sources:

https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/brazilian

https://www.climatehotmap.org/global-warming-locations/recife-brazil.html

http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/en/direitos-humanos/noticia/2018-03/inter-american-court-condemns-brazil-violating-indigenous-rights

https://www.survivalinternational.org/articles/3540-Bolsonaro

https://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/07/books/chapters/over-the-edge-of-the-world.html

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

https://www.nytimes.com/1971/05/23/archives/the-little-priest-who-stands-up-to-brazils-generals-the-little.html

https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/call-him-saint

http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar_en/index.php?option=com_content&id=1118:indios-em-pernambuco-indians-in-pernambuco

https://iclei.org/en/media/recife-takes-on-the-leadership-of-icleis-network-in-south-america

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/11/brazil-s-deforestation-exploding-and-2020-will-be-worse

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-environment/brazils-bolsonaro-fires-militant-head-of-climate-change-action-group-idUSKCN1SG2BT

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/27/jair-bolsonaro-demands-emmanuel-macron-withdraw-insults-over-fires

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/23/brazils-bolsonaro-hits-back-at-frances-macron-over-amazon-fires.html

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-brazil/no-longer-the-host-brazil-still-aims-for-key-role-at-u-n-climate-talks-idUSKBN1WU2YF

Ivone Gebara essay in Planetary Solidarity 

Simple Gifts for Mother Earth: A beautiful way to kick off Climate Week

On the eve of Climate Week we gathered in an historic meeting house church on the New Haven Green to center ourselves, align our intentions for the days ahead and to be reminded of why we gather at this time, and what’s at stake.

Invocation – Tiokasin Ghosthorse

What we are doing here is a good thing.  We must hold her in our arms… we drink her water which is the milk… we understand the Earth… we have understood for a long time… it has always been about the relationship with Her.  The rocks have a consciousness and intelligence, the fire has… the trees… the water… how do they live within us?  We are in this together .  This is who we are in a very practical and related way.  I want to invite Mother Earth here.  I’m here because She deserves to be first.

 

Inspired by the Universe’s Story

Mary Evelyn Tucker has been leading the call to education around climate conditions in the halls of our most hallowed institutions for decades. She directs the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale with her husband, John Grim.  She continues to call into focus the craftsmanship to articulate that which has never been before – across generational narratives and with a single aim – to appeal to our best selves and point them in the direction of healing and protecting our world.

Many cultures share a common theme in our origin stories that says we come from the stars.  Out of a super nova all the elements of our earth emerged and from that all life forms have actually been derived – the stars literally are our ancestors.  We reference Deep Time – the time of the cosmos – that has birthed life over billions of years.  It is ‘a story of magnificence’ but also a story that grounds us in a sense of our purpose because it raises the questions like all of the worlds religions do in their creation stories: Where have we come from ?  Why are we here? How do we belong?  And what is our work?

Mary Evelyn Tucker points us to Thomas Berry, and that he would say – ‘We have a Great Work.  We have work to be done at this particular moment in human history.’  A work to be done, a “Functional Cosmology”.  The story of magnificence of life that invokes in us a sense of awe and wonder, a trait of the monastic and contemplative life, and yet that we also have a responsibility for it.

And perhaps this is the same calling our youth are responding to – the youth of the sunrise movement at Yale and around the country.  A calling to protect that which we are in awe of from the Grand Canyon, to the flight of a honey bee, to complex opening of each and every flower.

The sense of awe and appreciation for nature is deeply rooted in our sense of faith in traditions around the world.  It is our job to appeal to our highest selves, to restore value to our sense of awe at the beauty in nature and the fundamental order of its construct as it is expressed through science and spirituality.

We are called to seize the moment to give our all… Simple Gifts for Mother Earth.  May our words and music tonight bring inspiration to the great work ahead.

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Music as Meditation

The legendary Paul Winter offered us a few minutes, an interlude.  This window was an invitation to remember nature and the beauty in it, as well as the beauty it inspires in art and how art can inspire us to protect nature.  Mr. Winter performed the Song of the Wood Thrush.  It alternates the sound of flute, with the actual birdsong.  He explained each wood thrush has a four note song.  At the time he conceived the collaboration, the species was endangered.  He feared our children would never know the beauty of the song unless he made this recording.  His commitment led to the saving of some 515 acres of their woodland territory.

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There is an order to things.  A sense of natural law that when one is abiding by it miracles seems to unfold.  We track this through patterns in nature.  We observe the Fibonacci sequence mathematically reoccurring throughout nature.  And there is an order to our societal needs as well.  We can measure this only by our joy, the alleviation of suffering and the relief of when agreed upon outer reality seems to match our inner reality.

What the Great Work teaches us through the lens of Earth Ethics, is that through a series of acknowledgements a certain kind of work gets done.  One that brings cohesion and aligns principles.  It can even lead us to consensus, at times without us even realizing it.

This series of acknowledgements includes acknowledgement of first nations presence, existence, and wisdom

acknowledgement of the miracle that is life in all its forms and its right to live without fear or threat

acknowledgement of the rights of future generations to public space, clean air and clean water

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The Youth and the Community are Speaking

We heard from several members of the Yale and New Haven Communities of projects, meetings, advocacy groups and opportunities to be involved in the work of spreading awareness, raising funds, securing divestment and on it goes.

Adrian Huq is a high school senior at Metropolitan Business Academy in New Haven who is passionate about sustainability and climate activism. They have been working with Elm Energy Efficiency Project since last year to educate their school community on energy efficiency, and also serve on New Haven Climate Movement’s Youth Action Team.

Ms. Huq joyfully announced from the pulpit that the Board of Alders in New Haven unanimously declared a climate emergency the Tuesday night preceding our event.  They ordered the creation of a new Climate Emergency Mobilization Task Force charged with leading the push to end community-wide greenhouse gas emissions in a decade.

They unanimously recommended approval of an amended version of a climate emergency resolution that was drafted and proposed by Westville Alder Darryl Brackeen, Jr. and that has been supported for months by a youth-led coalition of environmental activists called the New Haven Climate Movement.

 

Doing the Work and Bringing it Home

CEE Director Karenna Gore spoke at length from the scholastic work of Earth Ethics on economics and the illusion of externalities, on data, the realities of environmental injustice, on the theology of “structural evil”, “the cultic commitment to greed”, and the simple clarifying point made by Oscar Wilde that ‘a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’.  And with the evidence presented, we return to our purpose, to prepare to walk into the streets.

In closing … she offered…

“I want to invoke the words on the beautiful flyer for this event—“how can we mobilize action for the climate emergency?” As we have heard, on September 20th, there will be a climate strike led by Greta and other youth activists. I hope to see each of you out there in some way- and lets commit to getting a few more to join us – and let’s make sure that they are all registered to vote while we are at it. And let us also fund those communities who are fighting fossil fuel expansion projects in their own communities and stand with them however we can.

The challenge of climate justice is also a great gift. Mother Earth has given us the gift of the laws of nature and the ability to learn them from experience and align with them. It is our gift back to her to show we understand, to simply agree to behave as if we belong here.”

And out into the streets we go…

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Full Transcript of “The Challenge of Climate Justice”, Karenna Gore

Simple Gifts for Mother Earth

It is an honor for me to be here with these powerful voices in this beautiful sanctuary- thank you Pastor Jocelyn for welcoming us here at the United Church on the Green. I want to say thank you to the other speakers—it was wonderful to hear from the New Haven community climate activists and just as Mary Evelyn spoke of “connecting the dots,” we at Center for Earth Ethics want to connect to what you are all doing. And also thanks especially to these phenomenal musicians what an honor and pleasure to be in the presence of such a great artist as you, to hear and absorb the meaning in your music. 

And to Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, I cannot say enough thanks for your guidance and example. I entered this field through conversations with Mary Evelyn and John- and through working alongside them to understand that the bridge between scholarship and activism is important to build and maintain and also that there is a flowing river of– the cultures and stories and though forms that shape our behaviors, the very essence of our perception of this life we are in together. The Yale Forum on Relgion and Ecology is simply extraordinary, as a resource, a platform and an example.  I’m honored to be here with you all and grateful to you always.

The UN Climate Summit is upon us. Five years ago, we hosted a gathering called Religions for the Earth on the occasion of the 2014 Climate Summit called by then SG Ban ki Moon. On the day our conference opened, an essay was published in the journal Science, co-authored by an economist and a climate scientist, that expressed the need for religious leaders to come forward to help because all the decades of research and analysis and reports were not even making a dent. They wrote: “Over and above the institutional reforms and policy changes that are required, there is a need to reorient our attitude towards nature and thereby ourselves.” And so this work tonight- simple gifts to Mother Earth- is as practical as it is profound- and it is essential to facing this climate emergency.

Science and economics and data are important but they have not been enough. We know that one half of the global warming pollution in the atmosphere now has been put up there in the last 25 years, the time in which the harm has been most known. In that time we have also lost vast swaths of forests that serve as carbon sinks. Even with the increasing readiness and viability of clean renewable energy, about 80% of the world’s energy still now comes from fossil fuels. We see the impacts- the Bahamas is the latest field of devastation in the stronger storms, wildfires, droughts, floods that plague us.

We know the urgency to drastically reduce greenhouse gases. The IPCC gave us a window of twelve years that we entered over a year ago, to dramatically change our ways to cut global warming emissions in order to keep the warming of our planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is 2.7 degrees F. These numbers might seem small but we know a degree can be the difference between ice an water- it can make all the difference to the web of life we live within. CO2 must fall nearly 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and we must halt the release of methane (the primary component of what is known as “natural gas,”) which is up to 80 times more heat-trapping that CO2 over a 20 year period. 

And yet, the US is set to double down on carbon intensive energy. USA Today had an article Monday citing 277 fracked gas power plants planned for construction. This administration is rolling back regulations on methane emissions, and even the fuel efficiency standards of automobiles- against the wishes of major automakers. We know that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground, and yet there is a desire to explore and drill for more. Not just anywhere- in cherished public lands and even in deeply sacred places- including in the Arctic, the sacred land of the Gwich’in, the caribou calving grounds that they have revered and cherished and protected for millennia. An article in the Guardian on September 5 citing a recent study by Carbon Tracker reported that “Since the start of last year, fossil fuel companies have spent billions on high-cost plans to extract oil and gas from tar sands, deepwater fields and the Arctic despite the risks to the climate.” And we know they spend millions on lobbying and misinformation as part of that effort. 

What could possibly be held up as the justification for increasing our use of fossil fuels at this time? Economic growth. Economic Development. The most persuasive argument that is ever made on the other side is that we need more fossil fuel extraction and burning in order to alleviate global poverty. 

But we know that is not real. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, issued a detailed report last month warning of a coming era of “climate apartheid” and clearly stating, with facts to back it up: “Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction . . . It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work.” 

We must keep in mind something eco-theologian Cynthia Moe Lobeda has pointed out- building on the work of Larry Rasmussen and of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great theologian who was executed by the Nazis in his effort to resist them in his native Germany. The point is that there is a kind of sin or evil that is structural, and one of the key characteristics of “structural evil” is that it easily masquerades as good. This is all too true of the structural evil we are dealing with today- fossil fuel development masquerades as good. A central part of the challenge of climate justice to understand, to educate, to lift up the voices on the frontlines of fossil fuel projects who are speaking from their own life experience. To see through the mask- to take off the mask.

Some champions of the current system simply say there is money to be made. I read a profile in the Financial Times on Sept 2 of an oil trader who was lauded as the best connected and most successful in the business. It opened with an account of him on the phone hearing a firsthand witness tell of the crude oil spilling out during the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989—11 million gallons onto the pristine Alaskan coast- and the story tells of him breaking out in a huge grin, calling his clients to tell them gleefully,  “the price is going up.” This was not even presented as a negative story, but rather as a portrait of a genius at work, a master of our current system, and it reflects the reality of a deeply cynical mindset that has taken hold.

Oscar Wilde wrote that a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The current system is based on a widespread cynical misperception. It is premised on an insane alternate reality and is hell bent on devouring everything of real value . . our air, land, water, communities, life itself, all for the sake of numbers on a balance sheet. The current economic paradigm- including the measurements used to judge how the “economy” is doing (such as GDP or the stock market snapshots)- does not count depletion of resources, pollution or inequitable distribution of wealth, even the fostering of illnesses and disease. These are all considered, in the language of economics, “externalities.” Now as the pace and scale of production and consumption increases and demands more land and fuel, there are some clarion voices of reason who come from outside this system. Chief Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapó people of the Amazon had an op-ed in the Guardian on Sept. 2 in which he made the observation: What you are doing will change the whole world and will destroy our home- and it will destroy your home too.”

Our economic, energy and environmental policies not rational- they are fanatical. Only a kind of misguided religious fervor could drive this sort of thinking. Rev William Barber II has spoken of a “cultic commitment to greed.” Don’t ever think that those who study and talk about faith are naïve or soft- those are the people who are most likely to know what is is we are dealing with here. Even just the underlying assumption that human beings are separate and superior from the rest of all life, that we are meant to dominate and control all of nature . . . this thinking is neither rational nor it is actually secular, even though it is secularized. It is an extremist distortion and manipulation of a religious claim. 

And this brings us back to the challenge of climate justice. In thinking about issue, I like to remember a construct offered by Henrik Grape of the Church of Sweden- that any decision making room about energy or climate should designate three empty chairs for those who are both most impacts and least likely to be part of the consciousness of decision making: the poor and marginalized peoples of the world, future generations, and all nonhuman life.  But to respect the term climate justice as it is most used in the climate justice movement- and leaving aside a longer conversation about whether the term “justice” is rooted in Abrahamic religious traditions in a way that might influence us to conceive of this situation in a certain way— I want to focus on the first of those chairs.

The legal scholar Maxine Burkett wrote a major piece in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review last year that argued that the climate crisis is “as much a socio-political phenomenon as a geophysical one.” She wrote: “In the United States, the field of climate justice has been concerned with the most vulnerable, as it explores the intersection of race, poverty, and climate change. Climate justice takes as a basic premise that the disadvantaged in the United States and the global South stand to suffer the risks of warming more severely than others” 

And of course, they are also the ones who have done the least to design, engage in or benefit from the system that is driving this destruction. We know that one face of climate justice is what we see in the Bahamas and before that in Puerto Rico and in Mozambique and countless other places. . .  we can see with our own eyes that the people who do not have monetary resources or ties to power are not able to flee or rebuild after this kind of devastation. A 2018 report by the World Bank estimated we will have 143 million migrants driven from their homes by climate impacts by the year 2050. One other rollback that this administration is proposing—as important to the notion of climate justice as the others- is to slash and even end the United States acceptance of refugees. The challenge of climate justice is in part to be sure that instead we welcome these migrants and also that we rebuild our own communities with resilience and equity at the forefront. 

But in addition to looking on the level of impact and effect, we must look on the level of cause. To understand our relationship with the sky, we must look at our relationship with the ground- and with each other.

This means to understand the history of white supremacy and colonization that led what led to what womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglass calls a “theo-ideology” that runs through the Doctrine of Discovery, the concept of Manifest Destiny and into what Douglas terms “Stand-Your-Ground” culture today. It is a theo-ideology that excludes, exploits and objectifies based on an illusion of separation.

We must see that the same activity most responsible for the climate crisis—the burning of fossil fuels- gas, coal and oil—is also responsible for ambient pollution that is harmful to peoples health. Toxic sites are located in communities that have less political power and racism also plays a role- in this country, race is the number one indicator of the placement of a toxic facility. Af-Am children are 10X more likely to die of asthma than Euro-Am children. The World Health Organization estimates that roughly million people die every year globally as a result of air pollution. To challenge of climate justice is to stand with these communities and fight for right relationship on the ground. As Rev Leo Woodberry of Kingdom Living Temple Church in Florence SC recently pointed out, if we had respected all people’s right to live free of this kind of poison and “slow violence” assault, we would never have gotten where we are with this planetary emergency. 

The Center for Earth Ethics has partnered with the Poor Peoples Campaign: a national Call for Moral Revival, which was started out of Union Theological Seminary by Rev Dr Liz Theoharis and others at the Kairos Center to coincide with the 50th anniversary of MLK’s PPC—and they partnered with Rev William Barber II of North Carolina Moral Mondays movement. King spoke of three interlocking evils of racism, poverty and militarism. The have added ecological devastation as one of these interlocking evils and have a platform that includes a ban on fracking and a just transition to 100 % clean renewable energy. They are committed to leadership from the most impacted communities and so we have been part of forums with testimonials, music, prayer, and calls to action. 

And so my notion of climate justice is informed by having talked with communities in North Carolina and Alabama who have been dealing with diseases and death from the effects of living with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of coal-fired power plants, often just dumped in open pits and left to blow in the air and seep into the groundwater. I have also been to Union Hill Virginia where a historic African American community founded by people who had been enslaved on plantations right there, have been fighting a giant toxic fracked gas compressor station which would bring deafening noise and toxic emissions right to their peaceful rural home. And of course there was Standing Rock, where the Standing Rock Sioux made their prayer camp to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs through their sacred ancestral land and threatens their aquifer. In that and so many of these cases, these projects were moved from more affluent, majority white communities after objections.

And when there are losses, when these projects get built anyway, as it happened with Standing Rock, as it seems to happen in so many heartbreaking developments lately, we must remember these other words of Dr. King: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

We are a part of something deep and powerful and we are rising together.

And actually, more and more . . . Activism works. Standing together and demanding change and demonstrating another way. We see it around the world- the power of the people in nonviolent movements. The Current Sec of OPEC recently said, at a meeting of oil producers in Vienna Austria— “There is a growing mass mobilization of world opinion… against oil” and this is “perhaps the greatest threat to our industry”. To which activists responded- including a tweet by Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg which linked to the account of his remarks and said:

“Thank you! Our biggest compliment yet!” https://www.afp.com/en/news/826/climate-campaigners-greatest-threat-oil-sector-opec-doc-1i79w11 …

In closing I want to invoke the words on the beautiful flyer for this event—“how can we mobilize action for the climate emergency?” As we have heard, on September 20th, there will be a climate strike led by Greta and other youth activists. I hope to see each of you out there in some way- and lets commit to getting a few more to join us – and let’s make sure that they are all registered to vote while we are at it. And let us also fund those communities who are fighting fossil fuel expansion projects in their own communities and stand with them however we can.

The challenge of climate justice is also a great gift. Mother Earth has given us the gift of the laws of nature and the ability to learn them from experience and align with them. It is our gift back to her to show we understand, to simply agree to behave as if we belong here. We have a deep universal spiritual truth to draw from—the essential one-ness of life, whether expressed by Thich Naht Han when he said “we are here to awaken to the illusion of our separateness or King when he wrote “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,  or in the beautiful Lakota saying “Mitakuye Oyason; All My Relations” or even in the more mystical moments of Images and Shadows of Divine Things written by Yale’s own Jonathan Edwards. We are not separate from each other. There is no such thing as an externality. Climate Justice is self care, it is awakening, it is a reorientation to nature and to the truth of who we are. Thank You