Category: Eco-Ministry

A Community Response to Climate Change

A problem with climate change is that no one knows what’s going to come next. Yes there are climate models – some from nearly 40 years ago – that accurately predict the moment we are in: record floods, incredible droughts, dwindling snowpacks, and a full ⅓ of the year consumed by fire.  

What is lost in these reports, though, are the realities of the communities that now must respond to the crises they create. They don’t tell the stories of those forced to relocate to Portland because their home went up in flames two years ago in Paradise, CA. These unwilling transplants never dreamed of moving to Oregon but are here now trying to make sense of their new lives. There are thousands of such in-migrants finding their way to Oregon either due to force of circumstance or because they can see the writing on the wall. 

Oregon has always been a popular destination for transplants but the numbers are being amplified thanks to climate change.  Already stressed and aging infrastructure in cities across the state are being asked to do more than ever before. Bend is expecting a ~40% population increase in the next decade leading city managers to wonder where to put them and how to allocate an already stretched water supply. In Portland, the housing crisis is only getting worse, to say nothing of the increasing traffic and decreased air quality that will come with it. 

For all of these reasons we are required to think differently about how we live in the now so that we’re prepared for whatever then presents itself. It’s why nearly 40 faith leaders from around Oregon gathered together at Willamette University December 4-5 for a training titled ‘A Community Response to Climate Change’. The training – hosted by the Center for Earth Ethics, the Claremont School of Theology at Willamette University, the Climate Reality Project, and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon – was convened to hear how communities around the state are already being impacted and how faith leaders can best respond. 

 

One of the principle goals of the conference was to create a stronger sense of community for faith leaders working on climate in Oregon. Advocacy on climate can be an isolating experience for many faith leaders who don’t find allies within their peer groups or in their own communities. Yet though climate change remains a politically charged topic, the felt realities of climate change refuse to be ignored. Many pastors in the room shared how their congregations are increasingly impacted and of the emotional and financial toll climate change brings. And while those in the rooms came from very different contexts around the state several common themes emerged among the group: struggles to address mental health issues related to climate change, a desire for better disaster preparedness, responses to wildfire, and an ever increasing need to care for immigrants and in-migrants moving to the state. 

While the problems facing communities are becoming startling clear the solutions to them remain clouded and somewhat distant. Working groups to address each of the issues were created to identify and imagine how the faith community could respond especially in regards to the most vulnerable in Oregon. There is no doubt that frontline and historically marginalized communities are feeling them the worst. It was important that these voices were present as conference attendees but also as speakers to highlight the struggles many of these communities face. We were grateful to hear from Oriana Magnera of Verde NW, Pastor E.D. Mondaine of the Portland NAACP, and Jeremy Five Crows of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. 

Ms. Magnera spoke to the need for better legislation to protect air quality, especially in low-income urban zones. It’s not by mistake that most bus depots and major thoroughfares are placed next to brown, black, and low-income neighborhoods leading to increased incidences of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. It is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately and once solved, will have cascading benefits for surrounding communities and their environments. This message was echoed by Pastor Mondaine as well, who through his work at the NAACP, has fought for community water and housing rights and meaningful climate legislation.  One such piece of legislation is the Portland Clean Energy Fund that “will lift up a community-led vision that builds resilience and wealth in the face of climate change and federal inaction.” 

Jeremy Five Crows challenged the audience to look at the religious and cultural impacts of climate change through the lens of the  First Foods tradition of the Umatilla Tribe which serves as a reminder to local tribes to care for the First Foods – water, fish, game, roots and berries – that care for them. As climate change worsens, each of these elements are threatened differently and must be cared for in their own ways. If left unaddressed, these foods may be lost to history taking with them a cultural and spiritual importance of generations. 

The problems set in front of us are limitless. Even in a room of pastors whose day job is to help others find hope and purpose, the reality of climate change weighs heavy. Climate change asks us to truly look into the void of not only our own mortality but of the morality of every aspect of the world which grounds us and gives us meaning. It means articulating a future not of hope and happiness but of loss and unknown change. It’s an existential weight that bears down on each generation differently. For the old it’s a question of what have they done? How could they leave behind such an awful legacy? For the young it’s wondering how to come to terms with a dramatic harrowing future. And for those somewhere in the middle its severing the promises we were told in our youths and doing our best to prepare the way for ourselves and those younger generations we’re now accountable to in ways we never imagined.

There’s always a way out of no way. There’s always reason to hope even if it’s not ready to be found. When we began the conference,  Rev. Michael Ellick of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon reminded the room that we don’t have all the answers – and that’s ok. What we have is each other and the connections we make now are critical for dealing with tomorrow’s problems. We must grieve what is being lost while keeping ourselves open to the new life that emerges along the way. There’s always hope for the new. 

 

Karenna Gore participates in interfaith climate event in Recife

Originally published in Portuguese

DIÁRIO DE PERNAMBUCO – 8NOV19
Interview with Karenna Gore
By: Sérgio Xavier

STILL INCONVENIENT TRUTHS
Karenna Gore participates in interfaith event about the climate in Recife and talks about the global challenges of sustainable development

Reversing environmental degradations on planetary scales, containing global
warming and eliminating immense inequalities are 21st century challenges that require the utmost of human wisdom in politics, economics, culture and spirituality. When imagination and high spirits are lacking in pragmatic processes, religiosity can be a source of inspiration to join forces and open new paths. This Friday (8), in the context of the Brazilian Climate Change Conference, a historic meeting will unite Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous leaders in a multi-religious event, in defense of the environment at the oldest Synagogue of the Americas – Kahal Zur Israel (2 pm) and at the SinsPire Hub (4 pm), in Recife Antigo.

“Faith in the Climate” event will feature Rabbi Nilton Bonder; Father Fábio Santos, coordinator of the Commission for Ecumenism of the Catholic Church of Pernambuco; Pastor Paulo César Pereira, president of the Alliance of Baptist Churches; Mother Beth de Oxum, Ialorixá from the terreiro (meeting place) Ilê Axé Oxum Karê and Jaqueline Xukuru, from the Xukuru indigenous community (Serra do Ororubá, Pesqueira – PE).

The event is a co-hosting of Centro Brasil no Cima (CBC), the Institute for Religious Studies (ISER), the Faith in Climate initiative and the Climate and Society Institute (ICS), with the support of the Israelite Federation of Pernambuco (FIPE), chaired by Sônia Sette.

The schedule, mediated by environmentalist Alfredo Sirkis, will be attended by Karenna Gore, director of Center for Earth Ethics (USA), graduated in history and literature by Harvard University, daughter of former vice president of the United States, Al Gore, who has intense international environmental activism. Karenna works with ecumenical mobilization in defense of climate balance and in this exclusive interview, synthesizes the importance of connecting material and immaterial dimensions in the search for consistent solutions to the great problems of humanity.

Sérgio Xavier – Special for the Diário de Pernambuco
Q: Does planet Earth have a natural ethic that can be perceived, learned and practiced by humanity in the construction of a righteous and sustainable civilization?

Karenna Gore – Yes. Ethics is a field of fundamental values. It becomes especially important when laws and social norms are out of sync with issues of moral conscience. For example, this happened in relation to the end of the horrible institution of slavery. More and more influential people began to think about it through an ethical or moral lens, rather than a purely utilitarian economic lens. In the case of planet Earth, the activities that are degrading and destroying the biosphere are legal and in line with social norms. However, more and more people realize that this system has come into conflict with ethical concerns about the most vulnerable people among us – and also in conflict with the laws of nature. We can perceive, learn, and practice natural ethics by observing and aligning ourselves with the laws of nature, whether we conceive them as science or as God’s sacred creation, or both. If we want to build a just and sustainable civilization, we must measure the impacts of big decisions on three voiceless groups in decision making: poor and marginalized peoples, future generations, and non-human life. If we pay attention to these categories, health will improve for all of us.

Q: The first challenge to avoid climate change is to convince people, companies and governments to change their perceptions and attitudes towards the environment. How does the Center for Earth Ethics work in this context?

The Center for Earth Ethics unites the worlds of academia, religion, politics and culture. We believe that scientific data is important, but we also know that this climate crisis is about value perception, moral obligations to others, and courage to change. If logic and reason were enough, we would not be in this terrible emergency. Many people have been educated to believe that humans are separate and superior to the rest of the natural world and, therefore, society can spew as much air pollution as we want, without any effect. But the truth is more beautiful and interesting than that – we are connected to the
whole network of life. Our bodies are created from the Earth – air, water, iron and much more. We have massively signed an insane accounting scheme that does not recognize the real costs of the fossil fuel extraction economy. The Center for Earth Ethics wants to help look at the deeper reality of long-term value, far beyond the current price landscape. Therefore, we work with education, offering workshops on topics such as: Religion and
Climate Change; Beyond GDP; How to measure a successful society; Indigenous voices on colonization, ecology and spirituality; Rights of nature…

What are the relationships between environmental crisis and spirituality?

A root cause of the environmental crisis is the illusion that humans are separated from nature and can treat all elements and other living beings as objects, resources or properties. A theologian I like, Thomas Berry, taught that we should see that “the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects”. This sense of communion is spiritual.

Q: Nature (sky, water, forests, animals, land, humans) is the visible face of the Gods of various religions. Therefore, polluting and degrading ecosystems is disrespecting and attacking Gods. Why do most people worship and respect Gods, but do not care for and respect nature?

There is some history of defining monotheistic religions against animist – or “pagan” – traditions that see nature as having personality and divinity. I think that in some parts of the world, including the Americas, a historical fear and contempt for animist traditions are responsible for a part of the inability to translate religiosity into a truly respectful care for nature. This has also been exploited by those who wage cultural wars for political reasons. There is hope, however, especially because of how innate and natural it is for children to love nature in a genuine way.

Q: To reverse global warming and mitigate climate change, innovation is essential. How can traditional religions drive creative changes in politics, economics and technology?

Traditional religions and interfaith dialogue can help promote the creativity and innovation we need to make changes and solve the climate crisis. There is rich cultural knowledge and historical memory in religious communities. They were forged in a time prior to ingrained dependence on fossil fuels and can help us remember deeper values and more sustainable lifestyles. They can also serve as a force contrary to some prevailing messages of contemporary society, which confuse monetary wealth with virtue.

Q: The urgency to reverse global warming requires immediate and large-scale action on all continents. Is interfaith dialogue an effective strategy to accelerate the mobilization of humanity?

Diversity always encourages creativity and spiritual diversity in Brazil is a huge force. Interfaith dialogue can help discern essential common values and reveal how many different colorful ways can be expressed. Some of these common values are caring for the poor and vulnerable; the importance of community at the expense of competitive individualism; respect for ancestors and future generations; and a sense of the sacred that must be protected from sale and corruption. In fact, not all religious leaders or institutions fulfill these values, but interfaith dialogue can help discern a purer expression of them, as well as to celebrate the aspirations we have in common. Mobilization comes from inspiration and also from necessity. Some people still deny the urgency and severity of the climate crisis, but there is something that will touch them or move them environmentally. We need all the ancient wisdom we can get to meet this challenge.

Faced with fake news and the denial of climate science, how can interfaith dialogue bring us closer to the truth and inspire actions in defense of peace and life?

Interfaith dialogue can show that morality is not simply a matter of following a doctrine or spiritual leader but is a deeper conviction.

In the age of digital networks how can journalism make truths more attractive and more convenient?

In the digital age, journalists can raise voices of people who are suffering the impacts of pollution, deforestation and climate change. In addition, they can show solutions, especially those to live in balance with nature, demonstrating the way forward.

Q: The construction of a sustainable, peaceful, culturally diverse and poverty-free civilization depends on material and immaterial developments. Your father, Al Gore, was notable for articulating political, economic and technological solutions to reverse global warming. You are dedicated to interfaith dialogue and the development of spirituality. Is it possible to integrate the material and the immaterial by creating a new biocentric, collaborative and spiritualized economy?

The relationship between matter and spirit is a timeless and fascinating investigation. Even after so much time and so many approaches, it seems that we have not solved it yet! Of course, mystery is part of beauty. The legacy of dualistic thinking, which holds that matter and spirit are separated, is very present in the mentality of climate denial. In this regard, I believe there is some healing power in the syncretic traditions that have mixed the indigenous traditions in an artistic and graceful way and the dominant religions of the world, such as Christianity. There is also a new kind of denial, based on the idea that we don’t need to worry about that crisis, because technology will save us somehow. Of course, it is related to what Pope Francis called the technocratic paradigm in our society. I believe we need to question this paradigm and invest more time and energy to reconnect with nature. One benefit of this is that it is better for human health because, after all, we are nature and our species evolved in conditions that were more synchronized with natural rhythms and cycles. Anxiety and depression epidemics can be related to disconnection from nature at various levels. Certainly, the climatic disturbances of the planet are related to the fact that human societies are at war with the laws of nature. At the same time, we need innovative technologies. If we are connected to the deepest sense of ourselves and the ultimate meaning of life, changes can be lasting and have integrity. Material and immaterial are related and can support each other if we reconnect.

President Trump announced this week the formal departure of the Paris Agreement. 25 U.S. governors, from the US Climate Alliance, are making opposite movements, similar to the “Governors for the Climate” initiative in Brazil, which has the participation of Governor Paulo Câmara. With its innovative capacity, the United States would gain much more by leading the transition to the new low-carbon economy. How to convince President Trump to change his mind?

“We Are Still In” movement is very important in the US. There is action and momentum from many subnational actors and also from community movements. We cannot be distracted by the forces of absurdity, no matter how highly placed they are temporarily in our own government.

Leading ecological movements requires giving examples and showing that it is possible to change behavior and consumption. What material and immaterial examples from your daily life can be inspiring for other people who want to contribute to climate sustainability?

One tactic of those who want to prevent us from changing and avoid mass ecological destruction is to criticize the messengers. They focus on individual human beings, who are imperfect, and do not deal with the crisis. Change needs to occur at many levels at once – individual, community and large-scale change. The latter is the most important, but individuals can give examples. I appreciate how Greta Thunberg does this and, of course, the traditional indigenous leaders who have lived low-impact lifestyles for millennia. They are important leaders in ecological and climate justice. For my part, I have little to brag about – I rarely eat meat, try to fly less, I am conscious as a consumer, try not to waste energy – I use renewable sources in my home and at work – and so on. But I know that I am part of a high-consumption sector of human society, responsible for this crisis. So, I think the most important thing I can do is to raise the voices of people on the front lines and advocate for systemic change.

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.

***

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.

***

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

***

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…

***

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 

Don’t Wait Until Next Week – Choosing to Serve & Protect the Earth Now

BEREISHIT BY BURTON L. VISOTZKYNATHAN AND JANET APPLEMAN PROFESSOR OF MIDRASH AND INTERRELIGIOUS STUDIES

Originally Published to the Jewish Theological Seminary Website

POSTED ON OCTOBER 25, 2019 / 5780 | MAIN COMMENTARY | NATURAL WORLD

Authored together with Karenna Gore, Director, Center for Earth Ethics, Union Theological Seminary

The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all its inhabitants. God founded it upon the oceans and set it on the rivers. (Psalm 24:1-2)

As the Jewish community once more begins its annual reading of the Torah, and as we recount the grandeur of God’s creation, we focus on God’s charge to newly created humanity: “The Lord God took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to serve and protect it.” (Gen. 2:15, authors’ translations).

If we want God’s world to be a garden, a place of beauty and abundance, we must recall God’s warning that we must serve and protect the Earth we have been given. As the book of Ecclesiastes (which Jews just read over Sukkot) tells us, “One generation goes and another generation comes, but the Earth remains forever.” (Eccl. 1:4)

Last month, a new young generation rose up in the streets and demanded action on the global ecological emergency. They made their point that this moment is about saving the climate, in which life on Earth can survive.

The book of Ecclesiastes (9:12) also emphasizes that human lives, like those of every other creature, are not guaranteed: “A person cannot know when their time will come any more than a fish taken in an evil net or birds caught in a trap; so people are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

Creation is not merely the material substance of the Earth, Creation is also the laws of nature—gravity, the carbon cycle, the physics and metaphysics of cause and effect. Our rational minds and bodily senses can align with them and we can change our actions so as to help us escape the “evil net” in which we have ensnared ourselves.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, issued a detailed report this summer stating that “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.”

Think about what is changing in God’s creation before our very eyes. Did you eat apples and honey over the New Year? Our pesticides are wiping out the bees. We are already facing a crisis of less pollen, fewer apples, more expensive honey. And it’s not just the bees. The birds are affected, too. The New York Times reported that there are 2.9 billion fewer birds in North America than there were a half-century ago. Almost 3 billion birds—that’s a whole lot of canaries in the coal mine that is our fossil fuel-burning world.

But it goes even further than burning atmosphere-destroying coal, oil, and methane gas. In the Amazon forest they are burning trees, the very “lungs” of our world, in order to clear land for development. The same trees that exchange carbon and make the planet more breathable are literally going up in smoke.

We are all painfully aware of climate disorders: more frequent and stronger storms and hurricanes, palpably hotter summers, wildfires, droughts, melting ice-caps and glaciers, waters rising to slowly but surely inundate our coastal cities. And we all have been horrified at seeing the immense islands of plastics polluting our oceans: strangling birds and fish, and poisoning the water.

We live among a Great Extinction wave, with 1 million species threatened to disappear from the Earth due to the destruction of their habitat and the warming of the planet. We can and should make changes in our communities—to serve the Earth and protect it, by saying no to single-use plastics, switching to solar and wind sources, working for energy efficiency, conserving forests, and planting trees.

We have what we need to make this right; we need only make the choice to heed the Torah’s warnings. At this time of harvest, of cycles, of new beginnings, let us stand with our children and grandchildren, and make the choice for the sacred regeneration of life.

When God created the world, a cosmic clock began to tick. It ticks now toward disaster, much as it did during the first 10 generations that humanity lived upon the earth. Even as we read the Torah’s glorious account of the six days of creation, before this Shabbat’s Torah reading has come to an end we learn that “When God saw that humanity’s evil was great upon the earth . . . God regretted creating humanity on the earth, it pained God’s heart. So God said, “I will blot out the humans I created from the face of the earth” (Gen. 6:5-7).

We know how that story ended. Next week’s Torah reading tells the story of the great flood that destroyed almost all of humanity. Humanity is once more at the same inflection point. Start saving the Earth today, now, before it is truly too late. Don’t wait until next week!

The publication and distribution of the JTS Commentary are made possible by a generous grant from Rita Dee (z”l) and Harold Hassenfeld (z”l).

PLEASE ENJOY…

Heber Brown III | Facebook | Fair Use

On Faith and Food Disparities

 

Last week, Rev. Dr. Heber Brown joined the webinar series CEE hosts with the Climate Reality Project. 

Through the work at his church, Pleasant Hope Baptist, and the organization he founded, the Black Church Food Security Network, He and his congregation are attempting to unravel the strangle hold Food Apartheid Zones – more commonly know as Food Deserts – have on black and brown communities throughout Baltimore and around the country. The semantics between Food Desert and Food Apartheids is important. A desert, as Rev. Brown relays, is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Their being is necessary to the vitality of creation as a whole and foster life found nowhere else.

There is nothing natural about apartheid. By definition, apartheid is “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race” that is intended to harm or disadvantage an entire population. What we see with Food Apartheid are entire communities shut off from healthy, life sustaining foods. It is a conscious decision by grocery chains not to open stores in these locations because they don’t believe the communities will support their profit margins, think them too dangerous, or even that the communities wouldn’t know what to do with the fruits and veggies even if they were made available. Within this are layers of discrimination and racism that form a boot of oppression not easily lifted.

In this webinar, Rev. Brown helps unravel the history of  Food Apartheids, the misinformation that surround them, and actions that communities can take to reclaim power of their own food systems.

‘Sacred Rivers’ ceremony highlights faith in the face of climate change

Originally published 9/30/2019 by Riverkeeper’s Cliff Weathers

In a moving interfaith ceremony on September 26, those who protect the Hudson and Jordan Rivers joined with religious and indigenous leaders in an interfaith ceremony focused on tackling shared risks communities and ecosystems across the globe face from climate disruption.

The Sacred Rivers ceremony at the Union Theological Seminary’s James Memorial Chapel began with a welcome from Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, who are original inhabitants of the region. The Lenape named the Hudson the Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk, the “river that flows two ways.” The ceremony highlighted how traditional, sacred, and secular concerns compel action and how communities of faith and environmental organizations can collaborate to reduce climate risk and build bridges of resilience at the local level.

Speakers at the event addressed the plights of both rivers as they face ongoing threats from climate change and development. EcoPeace Middle East — which has offices in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine with parallel staff in each office — gave a compelling presentation on the destruction of the Jordan River and their coordinated efforts to clean, revitalize, and bring sustainable development to the Jordan River and valley.

This was followed by a ceremony that combined the waters of the two rivers to signify connecting water from around the world and solidarity in fighting to protect it. Participants carried the ceremonial waters in a procession to the 125th Street Pier where they blessed and released them into the Hudson.

“It was a beautiful day that joined people from across the world, united in our fight to protect the water that sustains all of us; Mni Wiconi — water is life. EcoPeace Middle East is a testament to how working together we can perform Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). We really appreciate connecting with them around Climate Week and both our unified and diverse struggles.” said Jessica Roff, Riverkeeper’s Director of Advocacy and Engagement.

Several honored guests and ceremony participants were joined by Roff and Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay. They included Karenna Gore, Director of The Center for Earth Ethics;  the three directors from EcoPeace Middle East, Gidon Bromberg (Israel), Yana Abu Talib (Jordan) and Nada Majdalani (Palestine); and Rabbi Burt Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Musical performer Bethany Yarrow led the audience in a spirited rendition of “River of Jordan,” a song written by her father, Peter Yarrow (Peter Paul and Mary):

There is only one river. There is only one sea.
And it flows through you, and it flows through me.
There is only one people. We are one and the same.
We are all one spirit. We are all one name.
We are the father, mother, daughter and son.
From the dawn of creation, we are one.
We are one.

***

To see more photos and learn more about Riverkeeper…

Karenna Gore on the Intersection of Faith, Climate Change, and Social Justice

Originally Published by State of the Planet, Earth Institute at Columbia University

September 25, 2019

By Jeff Berardelli

For the past five years Karenna Gore, age 46, the eldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, has been working in the family business of climate change. While that may seem an obvious course, given her father’s prominence in the space, the path that led her there, and the methods she is employing to tackle the challenge of climate change, make up her own unique story.

After attending Harvard College, Columbia Law School and working for many years in child justice organizations, Karenna Gore went back to school in 2011, attending Union Theological Seminary.

Affiliated with Columbia University, Union is a historic-looking complex in Morningside Heights, Manhattan. Founded in 1836 by Presbyterian ministers, the vision was to respond to the growing urban social needs of the day with a mix of academics and faith. Today, Union is a training ground for progressive Christian academics, whose community embraces other faith traditions and works on inter-religious engagement and social justice.

Read on for more…

What was your goal in starting the Center for Earth Ethics?

As we were exploring reframing climate change as a moral issue in galvanizing faith-based activism about it, we also explored deeply the root causes, as we saw them, of the crisis that we’re in and we discovered that it’s really two root causes. One is this illusion that we are separate and superior to the whole rest of nature. The other root cause is the development paradigm/ economic growth paradigm — the way that we measure successful societies.

Also…

CEE Announces new affiliation with the Earth Institute at Columbia University beginning October 2019

***

Climate Strike! CEE joins September 20th march and Karenna Gore delivers evening service on climate at Temple Emanu-el

Strike for Climate!  The Center for Earth Ethics will be among the many participating in the September 20th Climate Strike in New York City.  This landmark action will happen three days before the UN Climate Summit. Young people and adults will strike together all across the US and the world to demand transformative action be taken to address the climate crisis.

In NYC, we will gather at Foley Square and take to the streets to march to Battery Park. The event will conclude with speakers and performers, including Fridays For Future movement starter Greta Thunberg and NY-based youth leaders.  RSVP Now on Action Network to #StrikewithUsGlobal Strike Website for Sept. 20-27

The Center for Earth Ethics team stands with the Union Theological Seminary community marching for climate justice.  We will meet at UTS in the morning before the march, in connection with students, faculty and staff along with members of the Ecological Caucus and travel together to Foley Square.

“We must do right by the Earth.

We cannot deprive the coming generations of the source of life.

I strike with the youth in solidarity with all our relations.”

-Davis Ogima Logan
Union Theological Seminary student,
CEE Field Ed 2019, member of the Ecological Caucus


Please join CEE Director Karenna Gore at Temple Emanu-El
for a special Friday evening service
on the occasion of climate week and for our Earth.

September 20th at 6 pm following the Climate Strike

The Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center
One East Sixty-Fifth Street, New York, NY

This event is free and open to all, reservations are requested.

Climate Week in NYC has served as a dedicated time of convergence for all those working for the benefit of our earth and all those relying on us to provide conditions for clean air and clean water for generations to come.

As a pre-cursor to Climate Week, Karenna will join the Temple Emanu-El community’s Shabbat services to discuss our moral and religions obligations of protecting the earth.

“One generation goes and another generation comes, but the Earth remains forever” – Ecclesiastes 1:4


MORE EVENTS in honor of CLIMATE WEEK…


Social Good Summit
92nd Street Y, NYC
Sep 22, 2019

Catherine Flowers joins engineers, scientists, artists, chefs, policy advisers, media figures and youth climate leadership to address issues of climate protection, conservation and change.

 


Choose Us – Youth Climate Strike Demands Solutions & Action Now!
Sep 23 at 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.  Join us for an evening of conversation with youth climate leaders to learn how to move their demands forward with the urgency required by the global climate crisis. The New York Society for Ethical 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

Reorienting Humanity toward Nature: Eco-ministry is the great work of our time

Originally Published Tuesday, Feb 26, 2019 by Teachers College Newsroom

It seems fair to say that Karenna Gore knows as well as anyone that elective politics can be arduous, gridlocked and ultimately disappointing. Also that she’s got a bit of a family connection to the issue of climate change.

So Gore’s current job, directing a nonprofit called The Center for Earth Ethics, isn’t surprising. That the Center is based at Union Theological Seminary, however, bears more reflection.

“I actually never intended to work in climate change,” Gore, who toiled for her father’s campaign in the contested 2000 presidential election, told a rapt audience during a talk she gave at Teachers College’s Spirituality Mind Body Institute Winter Intensive in January. But the year she started work at Union – initially directing its Forum conference and lecture series – the United Nations held a summit on climate at which then Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, lamenting the inability of governments to act, called on civil society to mobilize on the issue. Gore, who had earned a master’s degree at Union in 2013, realized that interfaith dialogue could tap a powerful source of motivation – particularly if it reached beyond the typical focus on just Christianity, Judaism and Islam – and convened her own “Religions for the Earth” conference at Union.

Humanity has to reorient itself toward nature, and many indigenous ceremonies occur in a natural setting. Yet these faiths are often disrespected, which says a lot about why we’re at this pass with the environment.”

— Karenna Gore

“Humanity has to reorient itself toward nature, and many indigenous ceremonies occur in a natural setting,” she said. “Yet these faiths are often disrespected, which says a lot about why we’re at this pass with the environment.”

Gore quoted the late theologian and civil rights advocate Howard Thurman’s observation that “One of the deceptive aspects of mind in man is to give him the illusion of being distinct from and over against but not a part of nature,” and that this conceit enables him not only to exploit the natural environment but “plunder it, and rape it with impunity,” becoming “more and more… alien on the earth and fouler of his own nest.”

Citing a 1967 paper by the Princeton historian Lynn Townsend White, “The Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Gore said that the victory of Christianity over paganism was a critical turning point in humanity’s co-existence with nature.

UNEXPECTED PATH Gore didn't plan to work in climate change, but the UN's call to the civil sector changed her thinking.
UNEXPECTED PATH Gore didn’t plan to work in climate change, but the UN’s call to the civil sector changed her thinking.

“You value what you’re taught to notice and relate to,” she said. “People had been taught to greet the sunrise at a river. And then in the Middle Ages that’s banned and called satanic. The relationship to nature is broken, at the same time as the rise of mercantilism.”

The Vatican subsequently empowered Christian European explorers to vanquish and subdue native peoples, Gore said, reflecting the view that some human beings are subjects and everything else is an object. The slave trade reflected the same mentality, she said and so does America’s current obsession with constant economic growth and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the ultimate measure of our society’s success.

“Robert F. Kennedy once said that GDP measures everything in life except everything of real value,” Gore said, including the depletion of natural resources, the comfort and happiness of most people, and work in the home, which has not been monetized and is almost exclusively performed by women.

We need to seek other measures, like Bhutan’s happiness index, to change the conversation,. If we don’t, we’ll be up against the same thing with each discussion of pipelines and the opening up of the Amazon rain forest.”

— Karenna Gore

“We need to seek other measures, like Bhutan’s happiness index, to change the conversation,” Gore said. “If we don’t, we’ll be up against the same thing with each discussion of pipelines and the opening up of the Amazon rain forest.”

Gore concluded with the assertion that “eco-ministry is the great hope of our time.” That work includes civic actions such as the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline Protests that arose against plans to run an oil pipeline through the Standing Rock reservation.

“There is racism in the placement of toxic facilities – they often go where ‘people don’t count,’” she said. Standing Rock was “a great coming together of protectors, not protesters – an example of how environmental justice and civic engagement are calling us to the front lines.”

Author: Joe Levine

The Winter Intensive is part of the SMBI master’s program, which includes 10 days in the summer and four in the winter. The intensive offers a blended learning format, with students of all ages flying to TC from around the world. Click here to learn more.