Category: Newsletters

The Metaphysics of COP26: A Brief Reflection

“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.

Talanoa Dialogue, Garnethill Synagogue (Photo Credit: Brahma Kumaris)

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.


Executive Director Karenna Gore with Telma Taurepang of the Union of Indigenous Women of the Amazon

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.



An interfaith gathering at COP26 Glasgow, Scotland

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.

William J. Barber III Joins CEE as Fellow

Environmental justice scholar and advocate William J. Barber III has joined CEE as a fellow for the Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement Program. He brings to the Center nearly a decade of social justice organizing experience along with deep academic training in both the science and the law behind environmental and climate issues.

“I am pleased to join the Center as a fellow for this next year,” says Barber. “The work that the Center is doing to reclaim the calls for stewardship of our planet—across multiple faiths—speaks to my own desire to explore how we build a movement of power and principle to save people and planet.”

“We are thrilled that Will has taken this fellowship with the Center for Earth Ethics,” says Executive Director Karenna Gore. “He has a deep understanding of the intersection of issues that have culminated in the climate crisis and brings extraordinary skills, insight and passion to solving it in a way that forwards justice.”

“As a son of the church, exploring these intersections of faith and social activism resonates with my own upbringing rooted in a legacy of social justice ministry,” adds Barber.

Barber recently co-authored, with Ethan Blumenthal, an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer presenting “an objective view of implementing greenhouse reduction policies in North Carolina while fully addressing equity and environmental justice concerns.” He was also profiled as part of LinkedIn’s “Rising Leaders” series.

Barber is the strategic partnerships manager at The Climate Reality Project, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary’s Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board, as well as co-chair for the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign Ecological Devastation Committee.

Recently, he founded The Rural Beacon Initiative, a multi-member startup that provides consultation for groups looking to advance equity, climate justice, and environmental justice.

He has several years of experience in grassroots and community organizing. He was a field secretary for the North Carolina NAACP for two years and was one of a three-member leadership team for its Moral Freedom Summer, a long-term voter mobilization campaign. Barber earned his B.S. in environmental physics from North Carolina Central University and earned his juris doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of law, where he focused on environmental law and policy.

william j. barber iii Biography >




CEE Fall Update

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Join us TONIGHT! October 26th from 6:00 – 8:00 pm ET, for a screening of The Ants and The Grasshopper. This new film, directed by Raj Patel, follows Anita Chitaya as she battles hunger, sexism and climate change in her home in Malawi, through the heartland of the US midwest, to communities of people of color in Detroit, to the White House. Despite a language barrier, she’s able to reach patriarchs, climate skeptics, and deniers of equality through her fluency with the Bible.

Before the film screening, there will be a welcome by the film’s co-director, Raj Patel. Immediately following the screening there will be a panel discussion moderated by the Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union. The panel will feature the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center, Karenna Gore, executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics, and Francine Johnson of the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign and Mileston Cooperative.


More Upcoming Events…

On Friday, October 29, at 12:15 p.m. British Summer Time (7:15 a.m. in New York), Karenna Gore, executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics, will deliver the opening address at “Uniting the World to Tackle Climate Change: Perspectives from Religion and Politics,” an international conference hosted by the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews.  REGISTER


Postcolonial Poetics: Aliou Niang on the Human-Nature Relationship Friday, November 5, 2021 | 12 pm ET

Join Aliou Niang, associate professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary, for a talk on the human-nature relationship.

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.

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Institute for African Studies at Columbia University.


From Our Friends…

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CEE December 2020 Update

Dear Friends of the Center for Earth Ethics,

Please join us along with Union Theological Seminary today, Tuesday, December 8, 12:30-2 pm Eastern time for the first of a series of important conversations with faith communities and the Biden-Harris Transition team.

For this first roundtable we’ll be talking about building bridges with multi-faith communities, climate change, police reform, anti-racism, poverty, immigration and refugees.

We’re excited to be joined by Josh Dickson (Biden-Harris Transition) with Rev. Dr. Serene Jones (Union Theological Seminary), Eboo Patel (Interfaith Youth Core), Dean Jonathan Walton (Wake Forest Divinity School), Rev. Liz Theoharis (Poor People’s Campaign), Tatiana Torres (Faith 2020), Rev. Frederick A. Davie (Union Theological Seminary), Karenna Gore (Center For Earth Ethics), Rev. Adam Nicholas Phillips (Faith 2020).


More This Week…

Engaging Orthodox Christian Theology with Today’s World

 DECEMBER 11, 2020

In the News…

Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret
named one of ‘The Ten Best Science Books of 2020’
by Smithsonian Magazine

“Flowers, who has been called the “Erin Brockovich of Sewage,” puts a spotlight on long-standing issues in Appalachia, Central California, coastal Florida, Alaska, the urban Midwest and on Native American reservations in the West. She thoughtfully weaves systemic issues of class, race and geographic prejudice into a compelling, and at times arresting, narrative. Like the issues Waste puts in focus, this book can’t be overlooked.”
Available now from The New Press

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CEE Update and Vote the Earth!

The Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University are launching Vote the Earth, an interactive poetry project connecting place and voice. Expanding on the Earth Stanzas community poem project launched in honor of 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, Vote the Earth draws on the inspiration of George Ella Lyons’ poem “Where I Am From,” and invites visitors to view the short videos and poems on the map and to share their own poetic voice.


As the election approaches, we invite you to help inspire voters to put their love for the Earth behind the power of their vote – to #VotefortheEarth! In a time when wildfires burn out west, tropical storms flood the Gulf Coast, and we remain in the grips of a global pandemic, many of us seek the healing experiences offered to us by the land. There is no more important time to come together for the climate, ethics, voting and justice. Let’s make our vote count for the places we love – to consider the question of positionality through an ecological lens, giving poetic voice to our forests and our watersheds, invoking their political agency through Ecological Citizenship.In the lead up to the U.S. elections on November 3rd, we offer this platform to map the creative voices of the Earth and ask your networks to help us spread the word.

Full link: or click below:

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

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

For more information please contact:

Email David Hassler, Director, WPC

Email Shannon M.D. Smith, Communications Manager, CEE

Center for Earth Ethics Director, Karenna Gore was honored to speak at the Global Vision Summit lifting up the teachings of the Dalai Lama on five concepts as keys to overcoming the climate crisis: karma, inter-dependence, universal responsibility, happiness and compassion. Listen Now.

Join CEE and the Big Shift Global Campaign in telling the World Bank to stop using public money to fund fossil fuel development projects. 

Sign the Petition here:

Send us a Message to receive CEE Updates and Seasonal Newsletters

Support the Center for Earth Ethics

CEE Fall Updates – Invitation to join 38th Annual Marshall Meyer Retreat

38th Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Retreat for Social Justice

The Climate Crisis and New York Faith Communities

Thursday, October 8th, 9:00 am to 2:00 pm EDT

Panel Discussion:
Faith-Based Perspectives on Climate Change

From left to right:
Imam Saffet Catovic, Co-Founder and Chair
Green Muslims of New Jersey
Rick Chavolla, Board Chair
American Indian Community House
Gopal D. Patel, Co-Founder and Director
Bhumi Global
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Founder and CEO
Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action

Keynote Dialogue:
New York City Sustainability on Climate Change

From left to right:
Karenna Gore, Founder and Director
The Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary
Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder and Executive Director
WE ACT for Environmental Justice
Daniel Zarrilli, Chief Climate Policy Advisor and OneNYC Director
NYC Office of the Mayor

The climate crisis poses an existential threat to New York City, and indeed to our entire world. Global warming, sea-level rise, devastating storms, and the many other effects of carbon pollution are an imminent threat to public health, food and water security, and the sustainable development of human societies. Marginalized communities in New York and elsewhere are uniquely vulnerable, as they face a future of displacement and dislocation. With the United States posed to withdraw from landmark climate treaties, it is more critical than ever for local leaders to work together on real solutions. In 2013, New York City adopted the OneNYC 2050 strategic plan, to secure the city’s future and confront the climate crisis, for example by achieving carbon neutrality and 100% clean electricity. Real progress has been made in the past seven years, but there’s more for all New Yorkers to do, and faith leaders have a unique role to play.

In all of our diverse religious traditions, faith-based eco-justice organizations have taken up the ministry of environmental stewardship – caring for the earth and its creatures, out of their abiding love for both creation and creator. But too many faith communities and congregations have been slow to address the climate crisis. This conference will catalyze much-needed action, by exploring the role of faith-based organizations in confronting the climate crisis. Why we will ask, is combating climate change a moral imperative according to diverse faith traditions? How does this essential work intersect with efforts to promote racial and economic justice? How can faith leaders spark discussions of the climate crisis in their own congregations, among policymakers, and in the broader society?

Register Today

For detailed information and registration, visit

Contact Hanadi Doleh at [email protected] with any questions.

Make Good Trouble with Catherine Flowers – VOTE!

Make sure you’re set to make GOOD TROUBLE this election season.

– Check that you’re registered to vote here.

– Register to vote here.

– Confirm you have the ID you need to vote in your state here.

– Make sure you’re an informed voter here.

– Check your polling place here.

The Right to Vote is critical for an effective
and fair democracy that works for all of us.

Learn how you can help protect voting rights.



The Center for Earth Ethics has been participating in the Climate Crisis Policy review of pending climate legislation. We strongly encourage all those interested in protecting our environment through the legislative process to use the extensive resources collected here to deepen your understanding of proposed legislation. You can participate by attending Bi-Weekly Campaign Calls, take action through Climate Crisis Policy’s “Adopt-a-District” program, or join the Faith Mobilization. There are a multitude of ways to engage your community and representatives.






CEE Fall 2020 Newsletter – Intro to Climate Week

Dear Friends,

2020 has been extraordinary so far and there are more challenges ahead. We hold dear the knowledge that we do in fact ‘belong to the Earth’ and to that end will continue on a path of education, dialogue and movement-building to adjust our value systems accordingly. The Center for Earth Ethics works in places of intersection where theologians, ecologists, educators, front-line actors and wisdom keepers of many faiths and others can join together to share this work. 

Now is the time to understand our role in the times we are in.

We invite you to join us in affirming our solidarity with the Earth as we move into Climate Week 2020 and into the fall election season beginning with tomorrow’s online event Ecology & Ecumenicity.

~ The Center for Earth Ethics Team

Join Us…

A Spiritual and Moral Response to the Climate Crisis

Center for Earth Ethics Director, Karenna Gore

September 19th, 10 am – Livestream


How do we understand the climate crisis from a spiritual and moral perspective?
What personal and societal change is needed for a sustainable future? What specific things can I do to make a difference?

CEE Joins NYC Climate Week in Actions &
Commitment to Racial Justice 

Climate Week NYC is kicking off with a march on
Sunday, September 20th at 1 pm, gathering at “Columbus Circle.”

This gathering is to make clear that we cannot achieve climate justice without racial justice and to set the agenda to keep the work of racial justice centered as we work for Cliamte Justice for our Home.
Building movements for racial, economic, and climate justice in NYC requires using every tool we have available – be that voting, completing the census, holding elected officials accountable, and mobilizing mass actions. JOIN the March for Science rally if you can, and work to support these initiatives online –
wherever you are.


Vote! Vote! Vote!

Vote like our planet depends on us!

Visit the Poor People’s Campaign Website

Watch ‘Voting is Power Unleashed!’
Train to Become a Poll Monitor
Spread the Word ~ Do M.O.R.E.

The Prophetic Pledge is a call for at least 1000 faith and community organizations to come together and pledge to each turnout 1000 people to vote. These organizations will identify a team of people to be trained as M.O.R.E. Organizers. Building a new electorate will require a mass wave of political participation. Faith and community organizations that sign on to the Prophetic Pledge are signing on to help build a movement that votes with the power we need to hold our elected officials accountable to the policy agenda that we are demanding. Click here to take the Prophetic Pledge.

The Center for Earth Ethics has been participating in the Climate Crisis Policy review of climate bills and legislation for 2021. This month, CCP discussed the Environmental Justice for All Act – Improving Lives of Marginalized Communities.

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

If you missed the CCP call and would like to learn more about this legislation, or how you can mobilize with other members of the faith community for climate action, email us at [email protected].

Take the pledge!


Resources and Reads For These Times:

CEE Fellow, Catherine Coleman Flowers’ new book
Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

“Catherine Coleman Flowers’s life story is a testament to the importance of sustained activism, a compassionate heart bound by justice, and a commitment to political clarity informed by the dark annals of history. If you care about environmental justice, racial justice, and class reckoning, this book is a lodestar.”
— Regina Hall, actor and environmental activist with The Solutions Project

Available to Pre-Order NOW!


What Can You Do to Fight the Climate Crisis?

Catherine Coleman Flowers & more

60 Days to Save the Earth, The Guardian


Deep Water Mining – What’s really going on in our Oceans?

by CEE’s Andrew Schwartz


Earth Charter and Ecological Civilization Webinar Series

Values & Worldviews: Ecological Civilization as Mutual Flourishing


Marching Toward Change

Faith & Governance in the Movement for THE RIGHTS OF NATURE

by Mari Margill






Saying Goodbye – In Memoriam 2020

2020 has been a year of loss.  Even before the pandemic, we were grieving for our planet. We were grieving for loss of species, for children in cages, for the disparity in our world. But the last few months have been wrought with heartbreaks from Covid-19 to George Floyd to John Lewis. We are mourning as a nation and as a global community for our loved ones, our neighbors and our beloved leaders. CEE remembers a few of our friends and loved ones lost during this time of crisis. We invite you to reflect with us on lives lived in the spirit of justice and care for our Earth. These courageous lives, leave us with the incredible task of carrying the work forward for more equality, for reparation, for the right to vote and have our voices heard –  and for the ability to do the work that we must to protect one another and our planet. We honor you. With deepest thanks.


Pamela Sue Rush

From Remembering Pamela Sue Rush – Rev. William Barber and CEE Fellow, Catherine Coleman Flowers

“She opened her life and showed the world what inequality looks like. Some of the wealthiest U.S. citizens walked through Pamela’s dilapidated home and sewage-polluted yard. Many left in disbelief. Yet she was quietly, patiently waiting for someone to help her escape this prison imposed upon her and her two children. In the meantime, she would testify before Congress and become an active member and one of the faces of the New Poor People’s Campaign led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. She even hosted them in her home. A presidential candidate visited as well. Sen. Bernie Sanders promised to raise up her story as he fought for a more equitable society.”

Watch: PBS News Hour


Alfredo Sirkis  – In the Fall of 2019, CEE Director Karenna Gore traveled to Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil at the invitation of Alfredo Sirkis to participate in Faith and Climate (Fé No Clima), for the Brazilian Climate Change Conference. True to the work of Earth Ethics faith and climate leaders were convened from not only the major religious institutions of the Catholic Church and Jewish communities but also with representation of indigenous faith and wisdom groups rooted in the forest and African traditions which make up the richly diverse cultural landscape of the country.  Read Karenna’s overview of the experience: Faith in Climate, and watch Climate Reality’s tribute to Alfredo Sirkis below with his daughter, Anna Sirkis, and former US Vice President, Al Gore.


Father John Raush 

Father John S. Rausch was a Catholic priest with the Glenmary Home Missioners served for over 40 years ministering in small towns throughout Appalachia and the South. He passed on February 9, 2020 while getting ready to say Mass.

From Father John: For the People, For the Land

“Father John regularly conducts tours of Appalachia introducing people to the ministries and social issues of the region.  During these tours he combines social analysis with theological reflection encouraging a conversion of heart in participants.  A strong environmentalist, he speaks against the devastation of mountaintop removal and encourages sustainable economic development.”

Enjoy reading ‘Four Lessons from the Life of Father John Rausch’ by Margaret Gabriel here.

Watch: Saving the Earth through our Spirituality

Summer News – A Call to Peace, Justice and Prayers for the Earth

Honoring Sacred Sites Day, June 21st

A Call to Peace, Justice and Prayers for the Earth
June 18th -21st, 2020

Chief Arvol Looking Horse has a vision. “One day I would like to see ‘Honoring Sacred Sites Day, June 21st’ recognized all over the world, when people will finally understand their importance. 2020 is the 25th year of ‘World Peace and Prayer Day’ at the Summer Solstice to bring attention to the importance of Sacred Sites.  In addition to daily live streaming events beginning June 18th, we are invited to visit sacred places in nature or in our houses of faith to join in solidarity: All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer to mend the Sacred Hoop of Life.  Learn more…

In that same spirit, the Center for Earth Ethics asks all of our allies to join the 150+ Mobilizing Partners and organizations of the June 20th Poor People’s Campaign Mass Assembly. Visit where you can register and instantly send letters to your elected representatives in support of a Moral Agenda to address the interlocking injustices we must face, and that we must heal. And don’t forget to download the social media tool kit to share with your networks. We are stronger together.

See below for links to today’s convening of Laudato Si’ at 5: Ecological Citizenship and Climate Justice live from 12 -1:15 pm and Friday’s conversation between Kelly Brown Douglas and Michelle Alexander on Covid-19 & Prison Reform.

Celebrate the Solstice and the Earth with Earth Stanzas!  Join CEE, our partners at the Wick Poetry Center and special guests sharing music and poems for the Earth on the  SustainWhat? webcast hosted by Andrew Revkin of the Initiative on Communication & Sustainability at Columbia University’s Earth InstituteFind links to all of this week’s events below, along with and recommended readings and resources for these times.

Lastly, we share an important message from General Coordinator of the Otomi-Toltec Regional Council, Mindahi Bastida in response to the murder of Domingo Choc, Maya Q’echi, Traditional Maya Healer on June 6th in Guatemala – The Spirit is Action: A Call for Justice.

In Solidarity,
The Center for Earth Ethics Team

Take the Pledge!

June 21st – Earth Stanzas & Sustain What?

Resources and Reads For These Times:

Black Climate Scientists & Scholars Changing the World

Catherine Coleman Flowers & more by Sophie Hirsh for Green Matters

Racism is Killing the Planet

by Hop Hopkins for SIERRA


A Conversation with Kelly Brown Douglas and Karenna Gore:

COVID-19 and the Environment

My Grandmother’s Hands

Racialized Trauma & the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts & Bodies

by Resmaa Menaken