Earth Day 2022: Life Force
Livestreamed from James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary
Friday, April 22, 2022 | 4 – 7 p.m.
Spend an afternoon tending to the best of the human spirit, which is part and parcel of the life force that animates our planet.
Earth Day 2022 is an opportunity for tapping into the creative energy that flows through each of us, a counterpoint to the overload of information and analysis that can leave us depleted and exhausted—and a boost to get us to the other side. Join us as we gather with artists, poets, thought leaders and climate scientists who are reimagining and recasting how we experience the greatest challenge of our time.
Scheduled speakers and performers at Earth Day 2022, which will be live-streamed from James Chapel at Union Theological Seminary in New York, include Bill McKibben, Gavin Schmidt, Jacqui Patterson, Jody Sperling, Karenna Gore, Kate Marvel, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Lyla June, Mike Massimino, Miranda Massie, Mitchell Joachim, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, and the New York City Labor Chorus
“Widening the Circle”
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
12 p.m. New Haven & New York
On Wednesday, February 23, 2022, at noon Eastern Time, Executive Director Karenna Gore will address Yale students and guests as a session in the School of the Environment BIOMES speaker series. The title of Ms. Gore’s address, “Widening the Circle,” will examine the root causes of today’s compound ecological crisis.
Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-founder and co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale, will introduce Ms. Gore. The talk will be broadcast live to members of the Yale community in Burke Auditorium and online to guests.
CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore will take part in the Keeping Faith in Science?, a series of webinars in February sponsored by the London-based United Society Partners in the Gospel. She will speak about faith and the climate crisis at 2:30 p.m. EST (7.30 p.m. U.K. time) on February 17 alongside Dr. George Zachariah from Trinity Methodist Theological College, New Zealand.
“We are privileged to be joined by Karenna Gore, an expert in the relationship between faith and climate activism, alongside many other experts in their respective fields across the world church,” said Revd Canon Richard Bartlett, USPG’s director of mission engagement. “It is going to be a thought-provoking and very topical series of webinars.”
Other speakers in the four-part series, which will be running at 7.30 p.m. every Thursday in February, include Professor Jolyon Mitchell, director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues at the University of Edinburgh, and Dr. Mwai Makoka, programme executive at the World Council of Churches.
Founded in 1701, USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential and champion justice.
Mass environmental devastation affects us all, even if the damage is inflicted within national borders. Yet as it stands today international law is inadequate to address extreme, willful damage to the environment.
Now, a global effort is underway to make international law a more powerful mechanism to protect our planet. In June 2021, the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide defined ecocide as the “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”
This definition is an initial step to making ecocide an international crime. At present, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court lists four international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Recognizing ecocide as the fifth would create, in the Panel’s words, “a new and practical legal tool” to preserve and protect the Earth, our common home.
Left to right: Hugo Echeverria, Kate Mackintosh, Olivia Swaak-Goldman, Karenna Gore
On Thursday, January 20, 2022, at noon (New York time), “Ecocide: A Discussion of Law and Ethics” will assemble international lawyers and scholars to discuss the Panel’s efforts to define ecocide as well as to examine the significance of shifting to an eco-centric framework.
Scheduled speakers include attorney and consultant Hugo Echeverria, an expert in the environmental rule of law, wildlife crime, and the rights of Nature; Kate Mackintosh, inaugural executive director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law and a deputy chair of the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide; and Olivia Swaak-Goldman, executive director of the Wildlife Justice Commission, who has published extensively on international criminal law and humanitarian law. Karenna Gore, CEE’s founder and executive director, organized the session and will serve as moderator.
Hugo Echeverria has worked in environmental law since 2001, with an emphasis on constitutional approaches to biodiversity conservation, the environmental rule of law, wildlife crime, and the rights of Nature, areas in which he practices as an attorney and a consultant. He also lectures on environmental law in Ecuador, at undergraduate and graduate levels. Between 2014 and 2017, he coordinated the minor on environmental law at the Faculty of Law of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, where he currently lectures in Environmental Law.
Karenna Gore is the founder and executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. Karenna formed CEE in 2015 to address the moral and spiritual dimensions of the climate crisis. Working at the intersection of faith, ethics, and ecology, she guides the Center’s public programs, educational initiatives, and movement-building. She also is an ex officio faculty member of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Her previous experience includes serving as director of Union Forum, a platform for theological scholarship to engage with civic discourse and social change.
Kate Mackintosh is the inaugural executive director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law. She has held multiple roles at the UN international criminal tribunals, worked in post-conflict human rights field operations in Bosnia and in Rwanda, and was for eight years legal adviser and then head of humanitarian affairs for the international NGO, Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders. Most recently she was a deputy co-chair of the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide.
Olivia Swaak-Goldman, the executive director of the Wildlife Justice Commission, has 25 years’ experience in international justice and diplomacy, has published extensively on issues of international criminal law and international humanitarian law, and served as a lecturer for both Harvard and Leiden Universities. Prior to joining the WJC, Olivia was head of the International Relations Task Force of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and Senior Legal Advisor at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among other roles.
“Power must be challenged by power,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr in “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” and so it felt during the COP26 gathering in Glasgow. There were the representatives of the world’s most powerful governments and the lobbyists who do so much to maintain business as usual (a data analysis identified 503 from the fossil fuel industry). On the other hand there were agents of transformative change lifting up science and ethics. One question at COP26 was whether the growing cohesion and resolve in the second group is becoming an adequate source of power to change the equation. It seems that the answer is not yet, but almost.
I was grateful to be in Glasgow as a representative of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at Jewish Theological Seminary. I am also grateful to the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation for accreditation and support. There has been a lot written about the COP already, and I am still processing it, so this short reflection is merely to lift up a few highlights and express my gratitude for the opportunity to do this work. There is more to come from the Center for Earth Ethics.
The world’s religions are often cited for the “moral and social pedagogy” that Niebuhr warned was inadequate to effect real political change. They also have land, schools, finances, and are deeply intertwined in cultures around the world in ways that influence collective behavior. One of the most interesting aspects of this moment is to witness the work being done within faith traditions, and the connections being made across them.
A highlight for me was the Talanoa Dialogue in the historic Garnethill Synagogue, which, with a Jewish Heritage Center housed within, was itself a source of grounding gravitas for the moment. The chief rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, gave opening remarks, and speakers across a wide range of traditions followed.
One of them, Rev. James Bhagwan of the Pacific Council of Churches, spoke from the perspective of small island nations and invoked the meaning of the seashell cross he wore. “People with a deep spiritual relationship with land and sea were told that was backwards and ignorant,” he said. “That is what colonization did to us.” Clearly these faith communities are focused eradicating that effect of colonization and reclaiming that relationship. Rev. Bhagwon also expressed the fight for climate justice (including loss and damage) in terms of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, not only asking “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” but connecting it to the question on the minds of many with a stake in this COP: “Who will pay?”
I was delighted to be on a panel hosted in the World Wildlife Fund Pavilion that was focused on the role of faith-based organizations in both climate and biodiversity work. My remarks focused on three concepts that were being manipulated at the COP in ways that the world’s faith and wisdom traditions have something to say about: time, place and being. Although my framework barely scratches the surface, the metaphysics of COP are worth reflecting on, especially when “offsets,” distant timelines and top-down development models play such a big role in national commitments. My co-panelists—Gopal Patel, Debra Boudreaux, Sister Jayant Kirpalani and Daniel Perrel—each offered moving insights, and I was honored to be included.
The most interesting encounters I had were with people who were most vocal on the outside of the COP, even if they also appeared within the “Blue Zone” as official observers. I was fortunate to have a chance to speak with Telma Taurepang of the Union of Indigenous Women of the Amazon, who expressed the importance of women claiming power in this time because they are especially called to speak for “Mother Earth” and restore the balance that has been disrupted by predatory and extractionist systems that hide behind the category of “development.” Taurepang also made public comments about one of COP26’s most heralded announcements: the pledge to halt and reverse deforestation by the end of the decade, which was backed by public and private financing of $19 billion. She was skeptical based on experience: “The resource, when it arrives, doesn’t reach Indigenous peoples” she said. Instead, it “goes to those who deforest,” and the deforestation continues.
This brings us back to moral philosophy. Theologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda has written about the concept of “structural evil,” explaining that one of its key characteristics is that it easily masquerades as good. This is one way to explain the tidal wave of greenwashing that accompanies the business-as-usual group at the COP. But a worthy counterforce is building, drawing not only from the science, but also from the transformative work being done within communities who are ready to claim their power.
The three-day virtual conference will address the theme of the United Nations Climate Conference, or COP26, which begins on November 1, in relation to religion and politics. Scholars from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas are scheduled to participate. The COP26 CSRP Scholars Conference is being hosted in conjunction with Scholars at the Peripheries (a group of scholars from the Global South) and Laudato Si’ International (a group that has been working to understand and deliver the message of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ on the care of the planet as the common home).
How can we understand the Bible and other faith teachings in the context of today’s ecological crisis? How can we restore traditional practices that once directed a mutual relationship among God, humans and nature?
These are among the questions raised by Aliou Niang, associate professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary, in “A Poetics of Postcolonial Biblical Criticism: God, Human-Nature Relationship, and Negritude” (2019). Niang will discuss these and other issues raised in his book in a webinar on Friday, November 5, at noon Eastern Time.
Left to right: Aliou Niang, Souleymane Diagne, Petra Thombs
A native of Senegal and member of the region’s Diola people, Niang describes his book as “a humble reading of Scripture in conversation with Diola faith traditions.” He integrates the work of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the architect of the concept of Négritude, and other postcolonial theorists to “reposition the colonized” and learn from “people who have been negotiating life with nature since time immemorial and were aware of climate change since its onset.”
At the discussion, Columbia University Professor of French and of Philosophy Souleymane Diagne, who also directs the Institute of African Studies at Columbia, will offer a response to Niang’s presentation. Rev. Petra Thombs, executive director of the Ramapough Lenape Nation Community Center in Mahwah, N.J., will provide a reflection.
“Postcolonial Poetics: Aliou Niang on the Human-Nature Relationship” is co-sponsored by the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Institute for African Studies at Columbia University.
This webinar is free, but registration is required.
Aliou Cisse Niang is associate professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Before joining Union, he served as assistant and associate professor of New Testament at Memphis Theological Seminary in Tennessee, where he was named The Rev. Dr. James L. Netters Associate Professor of New Testament and received The Paul R. Brown Distinguished Teaching Award. His previous books include “Faith and Freedom in Galatia and Senegal” (2009) and “Text, Image and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World: A Festschrift in Honor of David Lee Balch” (2012), which he co-edited with Carolyn Osiek.
Souleymane Bachir Diagne is professor of French and of philosophy at Columbia University, where he also directs the Institute for African Studies. Before joining Columbia, he taught philosophy for many years at Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar (Senegal) and at Northwestern University. He is the author of “African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson, and the Idea of Negritude” (2011), “Bergson postcolonial. L’élan vital dans la pensée de Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal” (2011), “The Ink of the Scholars: Reflections on Philosophy in Africa” (2016), and “Open to Reason: Muslim Philosophers in Conversation with Western Tradition” (2018).
Petra Thombs is the executive director of the Ramapough Lenape Community Center in Mahwah, N.J., operated by the Ramapough Mountain Indians. She is in preliminary fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association, and was ordained in 2021. A graduate from Union Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity and a major in church history, she focuses on the Doctrine of Discovery as it has fostered racism and extreme marginalization for Indigenous communities globally.
On the 49th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Executive Director Karenna Gore penned a guest column, “The common wealth of water,” in the Virginia Mercury. Gore urged Virginia’s state government not to certify the planned Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would bring fracked gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia.
“Virginians who live along this pipeline route are experiencing a terrible burden. It is financial, but it also goes far beyond that,” she writes. “They are forced to watch as the government hands over their landscape to private interests who damage it, all for the sake of a project that does not benefit them and should not even exist.”
Water is fundamental to all life on Earth. Protecting water is essential for ecosystem restoration, biodiversity, food justice and calming the climate crisis. As we seek to build frameworks for regenerative systems, Indigenous peoples—who already safeguard water and hold ancestral knowledge and cultural practices necessary to support that work—deserve a place at the center.
Join the Center for Earth Ethics on Thursday, October 7, at noon Eastern Time, for a webinar, “Indigenous Water Ethics: A Traditional Dialogue.” Mona Polacca, senior fellow for CEE’s Original Caretakers Program, has assembled representatives of different Indigenous cultures to present their diverse perspectives and lived experiences stabilizing, protecting and creating resiliency for their communities’ water sources.
Speakers scheduled to appear in the dialogue are:
Rāwiri Tinirau, co-director of Te Atawhai o Te Ao, a Māori research institute focused on health and environmental research. He is also deputy chair of Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui, the post settlement governance entity for the Whanganui River settlement—the landmark 2017 case granting “personhood” to New Zealand’s Whanganui River.
Betty Lyons, president and executive director of the American Indian Law Alliance (AILA), an Indigenous and environmental activist, and citizen of the Onondaga Nation. She has worked for the Onondaga Nation for more than 20 years and is a fierce protector of Onondaga Lake and the Creek that connect the Nation to the body of water. Betty is co-chair of CEE’s Advisory Board.
Austin Nunez, chairman of the Wa:k—San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation located in the arid Sonoran Desert region of southwestern Arizona. He will present a case study about a 23-year legal challenge to regain his tribe’s inherent well and water rights.
CEE’s Original Caretakers Program promotes learning from Indigenous knowledge to address the ecological crisis. The program also supports wisdom keepers from Indigenous traditions, advocates for Indigenous rights and self-determination, and seeks the engagement of Indigenous peoples in economic development decisions.
United Nations Food Systems Summit
Thursday, September 23, 2021
Our story of food is one of sacred joy. Values of interdependence, sharing, dignity and empathy are enshrined in all traditions’ understanding of food as a universal human right.
Food serves as a sacred reminder of the holy and the righteous. It tells a story of fellowship and is an invitation into the presence of the Divine and the wider world.
Food should be a channel of peace, not a weapon of war used to cause hunger and poverty; We cannot sustain a global food system that exploits biodiversity and well-being in the name of short-term profit.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is a clarion call for the need to transform.
We call upon Heads of States and Governments, civil society, faith communities, and businesses to:
1. Invest in solutions informed by indigenous wisdom, smallholder farmers, women and youth, targeted at building food systems’ resilience including agroecology without acquiescing to corporate capture of critical infrastructure.
2. Subsidize nutritious, diverse plant- centered growing practices and increase smallholder presence within global markets from farmers, pastoralists, and blue foods.
3. Guarantee food security through sustainability, nutrition, and equity — innovating with a moral compass
4. Provide policy, innovation, educational, and business opportunities for the underrepresented food system actors and ensure their voices are involved at the highest levels of decision making.
5. Restore degraded lands and protect ecosystems.
6. Promote and support breastfeeding — the first food system
7. Regulate the marketing of food and beverages to children, preventing ultra-processed foods from being sold as healthy substitutes for real, nutritious food.
Ours is a challenge of ethical and spiritual conviction. The most recent IPCC report is alarmingly clear. If we do not reorient our worldviews, our future is bleak.
As people of faith, we are committed to the equitable transformation of our food systems to prioritize people and planet over profit. Let us come together as a world community to face this challenge as one human family.
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Editor’s Note: This statement was read during the “People’s Plenary” session of the United Nations Food Systems Summit on Thursday, September 23, 2021. Dr. Marium Husain and Steve Chiu, members of the Faith + Food Coalition Steering Committee, read the reflection, which was condensed from the Coalition’s Interfaith Statement, signed by 60 organizations and individuals at time of the Summit.