Category: Sustainability and Global Affairs

Global Support for UNEA Plastics Treaty Brings Hope

During the closing plenary session of the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, or UNEA 5.2, earlier this year, representatives gave a standing ovation for the passing of a resolution: “End Plastic Pollution: Towards an Internationally Legally Binding Instrument.” In order to understand how groundbreaking this really is, we must understand the shortcomings of earlier proposals to fix the climate crisis.

Fossil fuel and petrochemical companies are adept at greenwashing, providing a veneer of good spirit when it comes to curbing fossil-fuel emissions. But it’s all talk to protect their interests and bottom lines. The fossil fuel industry and the plastics industry will be sure to push false solutions that will delay progress toward a more sustainable business model—one that includes extended producer responsibility and circular economy. Bioplastics and improved recycling methods are worthy avenues to pursue, but we cannot wait forever to change. We need to take action now, especially when projections show that if the current trend continues, plastic production will triple by 2050.

The plastics industry has avoided stringent restrictions by touting bioplastics, recycling and plastic waste-to-fuel conversions as solutions. It is hard not to buy into these ideas, because it makes us hopeful that we will not have to drastically change the way we live. The simple fact is, though, that we need to change … and fast.

Alyssa Ng

UNEA 5.2  established an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, whose members will draft  an instrument that will include legally binding and voluntary mechanisms to combat plastic production and pollution. The sheer enthusiasm for the first legally binding text about plastic was unbelievably moving. It was a testament to the willpower of the 175 nations that wanted to make a difference in global health and climate change.

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee’s goal is to have the language ready by 2024, including the following:

  • Global objectives to tackle plastic pollution in marine and other environments and its impacts
  • Global obligations and measures along the full lifecycle of plastics, including on product design, consumption and waste management
  • A mechanism for providing policy-relevant scientific information and assessment
  • A mechanism for providing financial support to the treaty implementation
  • National and international cooperative measures
  • National action plans and reporting towards the prevention, reduction and elimination of plastic pollution
  • Treaty implementation progress assessment

The implementation of these measures cannot come soon enough. The most recent IPCC report indicates that even if we end fossil fuel emissions by the end of this decade, we are almost certain to surpass the 1.5C boundary, which refers to the earth’s temperature. We are currently at 1.2C and as temperatures rise, the earth will undergo major climatic changes. We will see more severe natural disasters, extinction of various species, and rising sea levels that encroach on homes, public infrastructure, and farmland. Every action that we take now is a race towards keeping the worst case from happening. Every degree, every moment matters and this plastic treaty matters a lot.

There is a significant amount of talk about future technologies that will help stall, if not reverse, the upward trend of global temperatures. But those solutions do not yet exist at scale, and the ones that are pointed to—such as carbon capture technology in Greenland—have an insignificant impact on annual emissions. What is needed—and what this UNEA resolution represents—is a significant step toward meaningful policy changes that will change our relationship to plastics and consumption, rather than depending on technologies that do not work or don’t yet exist.

It is time we stopped relying solely on industry, which has no real incentive besides the profit motive and changing public opinion, to change the way it operates. The passing of the resolution reflects this sentiment because it will take the entire life cycle of plastics into account. With technological solutions for disposal in the works, attention must turn to the other end of the spectrum: production. The resolution aims to reduce the production of virgin plastics, so companies cannot offset progress by scaling up their manufacturing. This holistic approach closes a major loophole for the plastic industry and opens up a real opportunity for change.

Saying that UNEA 5.2 was a success is an understatement. All 14 resolutions within the treaty are complementary and meant to align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Resolutions for sustainable lake management, animal welfare and protection of their habitats, and reduction of nitrogen waste were made, amongst others. They all have some connection to plastic’s life cycle because plastic infiltrates everything—the air, water, soil, and even our bodies. As the negotiations take place over the next two years, the United Nations Environment Programme will not be sitting idly by. They will hold a preparatory meeting, assist governments and businesses that voluntarily want to reduce their use of single-use plastics, and gather private funding to help promote this shift.

Although the effects of plastics are amplified in certain locations more than others, it is indisputable that the problem is universal and crosses political boundaries. The passing of the plastic treaty shows that it is being taken seriously. We are hitting a threshold of how much plastic we can throw away, because the waste will keep accumulating for decades at the very least. Taking action and holding producers accountable is what we need, and it is exactly what the representatives at UNEA 5.2 delivered.

Editor’s Note: Alyssa Ng is a student in the Columbia Climate School’s MA in Climate & Society program, an interdisciplinary program that trains students to understand the impacts of climate change and climate variability. During the 2021-2022 academic year, Alyssa has worked as a graduate research assistant at the Center for Earth Ethics through a Climate School program that places students in affiliates to work on research related to climate and sustainability. 

CEE Hosts “A Consultation on Air” – Tuesday, April 26

A Consultation on Air: St. James Parish
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
8 a.m. San Francisco | 11 a.m. New York | 5 p.m. Paris

REGISTER TODAY!

The global community is learning quickly about the perils of plastic pollution. It is not just the plastic waste that litter the world’s oceans, streams and landscapes. Microplastics contamination ranges from the high atmosphere to the delicate ocean floor. Microplastics are found deep in our lungs, in our blood and even in placentae.

For the residents of St. James Parish, Louisiana, the devastating impacts of plastic and plastic production have been a daily, lived reality. Known as Cancer Alley because of astronomical cancer rates among residents, St. James Parish is an 85-mile stretch of land along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which is home to more than 150 petrochemical plants and refineries that supply chemicals and raw materials used in plastics.

On Tuesday, April 26, 2022, at 11 a.m. Eastern Time, the Center for Earth Ethics for “A Consultation on Air: St James Parrish.” You’ll hear from four incredible people working in and around St. James Parish who utilize their traditions, culture and values to stop plastic pollution at its source, push restoration work, and create legal frameworks to deal with plastic pollution through its entire lifecycle.

Our speakers for the consultation are:

  • Casey Camp-Horinek – Activist, Drumkeeper for the Ponca Pa-tha-ta, Woman’s Scalp Dance Society
  • Jane Patton – Campaign Manager, Plastics & Petrochemicals, Center for International Environmental Law
  • Judith Enck – President, Beyond Plastics; Senior Fellow and Visiting Faculty Member, Bennington College
  • Sharon Lavigne – President, Rise St. James, 2021 Goldman Prize Recipient

This dialogue is the first in the Values, Culture, and Spirituality Series, convened by the Center for Earth Ethics as part of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Andrew Schwartz, director of sustainability and global affairs, organized the consultation and will moderate.

REGISTER TODAY!

Values, Culture and Spirituality in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

Fireside Chat: Values, Culture and Spirituality in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration
Virtual Event — Monday, April 11, 2022
8 a.m. Los Angeles | 11 a.m. New York | 5 p.m. Paris | 6 p.m. Nairobi

What does it take to heal the planet? Some might look to finance, knowledge or political power. But what about the values, ethics and spiritual elements as guides for climate action? The Center for Earth Ethics and the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration invite you to a fireside chat on Monday, April 11, on the role of values, culture, and spirituality in the work of ecosystem restoration.

Speakers at the fireside chat, which will begin at 11 a.m. Eastern Time, will be:

  • Lucy Mulenkei – Executive Director, Indigenous Information Network
  • Tim Christophersen – Head, Nature for Climate Branch Ecosystems Division, United Nations Environment Programme
  • Andrew Schwartz – Director, Sustainability and Global Affairs, Center for Earth Ethics

This chat kick off a series of consultations, organized by Schwartz, with faith-based and other spiritual groups during 2022 about the UN Decade.

Find out more here and join us live on Zoom.

Karenna Gore: “Faiths Respond to Stockholm+50”

I was grateful for the opportunity to speak at a dialogue, “Faiths Respond to Stockholm+50,” organized by Faith for Earth Initiative of the United Nations Environment Program on March 4, 2022. Below is an extended version of my remarks. 

* * * * * *

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. If I may, I would like to begin by describing my personal perspective on this topic. I was born close to the time of the 1972 Stockholm conference, into a family of Americans descended from Europeans, including Swedes on my mother’s side. I was told that some of my ancestors, particularly those from France and Great Britain, came to escape the heavy hand of religious authorities who would deny them their religious freedom. My country, the United States, has always spoken of this ideal of religious freedom. It was only in recent decades that I came to realize that that principle was not extended to the Native peoples of this land whose traditions were marked by reverence for the natural world. I speak to you now from ancestral lands of the Lenape people here in New York City, where the United Nations is based.

I also grew up in a family that had a particular regard for the United Nations because one person who was central to its founding in 1945, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, was from the same rural place in Tennessee that my father’s family is from. Most everything near the small town of Carthage, Tennessee, is named for Cordell Hull, who won the Nobel Peace Prize of 1945 as “father of the United Nations.” Hull, like my own grandparents on my father’s side, grew up without electricity and lived through the period of unprecedented change and economic growth that marked the post-World War II period in this part of the world. I recall my grandparents remembering the advent of the things that I took for granted—refrigerators, toasters, washer/driers, air conditioning, television, highways. I mention this because it seems notable how recent this way of life is, even in the most developed industrial nations. In Cordell Hull’s memoir he writes of his childhood: “with what we grew and what we hunted and trapped, we had no great need for money.” [1]

Of course, the development that I am pointing to is seen as progress for some good reasons, related to quality of life. But it also seems that development has become untethered from quality of life, and that social norms and values took a turn for the worse somewhere along the way. Ever-increasing production and consumption cycles fueling trade was mistaken for peace-building. High numbers of gross domestic product masqueraded as common good. Inequity was held as necessary for competition. Money confused with virtue. Hoarding material possessions associated with success. And of course, development has come at the expense of nature.

The way of thinking that discounts religion and spirituality has often been blind to how deep this shift in values has been, at least within the dominant culture. The American Transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed it this way: “A person will worship something, have no doubt about that . . . . That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming.” If we worship money and the idea that humankind is special because we dominate nature, we become aliens on the Earth. Of course we must make every effort to eradicate poverty, but if in the process, a way of life that is intimately tied with nature is seen and described as poverty, to be eradicated, we are on our way to eradicating nature too. Once we have shifted values away from reverence for those biocultural ties, we lose our sense of belonging in the natural world.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy (the matriarchal Indigenous society that is more commonly known as the Iroquois) pointed this out in the position papers they delivered to the NGOs of the United Nations in September of 1977 that included a document called “A Basic Call to Consciousness.” It argued against the imposition of the way of life of the rest of the world that had been imposed on them here in the United States. “The majority of the world does not find its roots in Western Culture or traditions. The majority of the world finds its roots in the Natural World and it is the Natural World and the traditions of the Natural World that must prevail if we are to develop truly free and egalitarian societies.” [2]

In my lifetime, the population of wild animals has decreased by about 60 percent, over half the rainforests have been chopped down, human population has doubled, the wealth gap has widened, many communities are inundated with toxic waste and pollution that harms their health through what has been called “slow violence”; in my country it is especially Black, Indigenous and communities of color that have already experienced racism in so many other ways. There are epidemics of obesity, addiction, anxiety and depression. In many places local cultures have been replaced by giant box stores and fast food places (including in Carthage, Tennessee), and we have loaded the atmosphere so full of climate-changing pollution that the weather has already begun to change, as the Haudenosaunee also warned in those papers I mentioned earlier. These changes—the stronger storms, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, rising sea levels and chaotic patterns—all hurt those people who live in poverty first and worst.

We are now in a climate emergency, on the brink of unspeakable loss. This loss is not only economic, it is cultural, spiritual and moral. The biggest loss is the mass suffering and death among the most vulnerable people around the world. In a report issued several years ago, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston stated: “Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health and poverty reduction” and will drive many millions more into extreme poverty. Of course, many will also be driven from their homes (estimates vary from 25 million to one billion environmental migrants by 2050). [3]

We know the cause of climate change. It is the value system described that propels the two modern megatrends of pollution (particularly carbon pollution from the burning of fossil fuels) and depletion (particularly depletion of carbon sinks like forests and soil). If we are to confront this compound ecological crisis, we must look clearly at the level of cause, not just the level of effects. We must return to the best of the spirit of inquiry that existed in Stockholm in 1972.

When Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme spoke at that conference, he referenced that post War period in the dominant parts of the world, that unprecedented technical and economic progress. He referenced the way of thinking . He explained that any moral uneasiness about poverty in the rest of the world was tempered by the prospect that with rigorous development efforts, they would catch up. The wake-up call at Stockholm in 1972 centered around the realization that the Earth’s resources were finite and the central issue at the conference was the need to address the potential conflict between economic development and environmental protection. As Palme stated, “the decisive question is in which direction we will develop, by what means we will grow, which qualities we want to achieve, and what values we wish to guide our future.”

The Stockholm Conference was important for many reasons. It marked a more inclusive world in some ways. For example, the People’ Republic of China had just become a part of the United Nations, and sent a delegation. East and West Germany were not yet members, and the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact countries did not attend in part because of the exclusion of East Germany. The Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, spoke, expressing some misgivings about an ecological agenda that would distract from the imperative for development and arguing “we have to prove to the disinherited majority of the world that ecology and conservation will not work against their interest but will bring improvement in their lives.” [4] We should note that it is climate justice activists from the Global South (like Vanessa Nakate of Uganda) that make that case loud and clear today. All in all, Stockholm 1972 also marked a wiser world, thinking about long-term problems beyond the daily distractions of the ordinary course of multilateral business.  Specifically, it revealed a United Nations that was taking responsibility for the global environmental questions that no one else would or could address. The UN has never abdicated this responsibility, as we saw this week with the release of the latest IPCC report and the agreement to launch negotiations to curtail the global scourge of plastics pollution.

I commend those who have worked so hard in recent decades to bring nature to the center of the work of the UN, including through the Sustainable Development Goals. But let us be honest: we have lost our way. It is not only that we are off target for the 17 goals and we have to push harder. Something is missing and something is wrong. What is missing? The most vital aspects of the human experience: the meaning and belonging that come from culture, including elements of culture that bond people to the ecosystems they live within. What is wrong? The forces behind those two modern megatrends of pollution and depletion have found their footing within these goals and within the extensive scaffolding and rhetoric of sustainable development. Profit-seeking industries have a lot of power in this world—let us not be naïve about this or dismiss it as too indelicate a thing to say aloud. These forces rely on a notion of progress that has gone unchallenged, a notion that includes the kind of top-down consumerism that sustains their markets and that still routinely sacrifices nature. We cannot slip into a critique that blames people for lacking moral fiber to stand up to this—the vast majority are living in systems in which the commons are being devoured, and they often do not have real choices. To correct course, we need to ask some different questions—not only “Is no one left behind?” but also “Are we sure we are going in the right direction?” and “Who and what is development actually for?”

The world’s faith and wisdom traditions have been asking these deeper questions for some time. Reading texts like “A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World,”  “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” and “Al-Mizan: A Covenant for the Earth” is like water for a thirsty person. It is within this scholarship from faith communities that the most vital work on the relationship between development and environments is being done because these scholars see the deeper issues. They are not naïve about the dimensions of belief and worship that Emerson described. They are not naïve about the nature of power either. They also carry intimate knowledge of the relationship between colonization, belief systems, and environmental devastation, even-—or perhaps sometimes especially–from within those religious traditions that were bound up in it. And finally, they are connected to ancient traditions that have stood the test of time and offer powerful teaching and practices on living life to the fullest, which of course means living in harmony with nature and with each other.

* * * * * *

You can watch the dialogue session in its entirely and hear from these speakers directly HERE. It includes a framing and response from Ambassador for Stockholm+50 from the Swedish government, Johanna Lissenger Peitz, some words from Haruko Okusu, principal coordination officer of Stockholm+50 at the United Nations Environment Program, and remarks from Stockholm+50 Youth Task Force member Shantanu Mandal.

I will name just a few of the points from the faith leaders that stood out to me. Islamic scholar Dr. Fazlun Khalid called attention the need for focus on educational systems and also to the harm done by assuming a drive for unlimited growth and called for us to take de-growth seriously in those places where we can. Father Joshua Kureethadam spoke from the Vatican, expressing the wisdom of some particular concepts from within faith traditions such as when jubilee and sabbath was grounded in allowing the land to rest. He called out the way that faith leaders can gather communities, especially that critical mass that is needed to make change, as we saw with leaders like Mandela and Gandhi. And he shared the Laudato Si Action platform as a resource for all. Bishop Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, spoke some words in Native language and lifted up Indigenous voices as prophetic in our time. He also pointed out that our societies have been fundamentally changed by economic and technological forces, with many getting their values from them rather than from religious and spiritual traditions, and that we must instead recognize that we are not fully human without nature. Bishop Andreas Holmberg of the Church of Sweden emphasized that faith communities must be recognized as key partners, especially in changing the short-sighted thinking that dominates today, instead opening a pathway to long-term decision making. He also proposed that adding ecocide as an international crime under the Rome Statute be taken up seriously at Stockholm+50. Gopal Patel of Bhumi Global spoke from the Hindu tradition, lifting the wisdom that change is the only thing that is constant and argued for consideration to be given to a version of common but differentiated responsibilities in how peoples restore and protect nature, with rights of nature appropriate in some cultures.

As we move towards the convening in Stockholm in June, in the context of an urgent and perilous ecological crisis, let us keep in mind the potential contributions of faith communities in helping humanity to correct course. Their power is not only practical—which pertains to owning land, controlling funds and reaching vast networks of people—it is also in the quality of the analysis and vision that comes from traditions that have stood the test of time and speak to humanity’s most deeply held values.

 

1. “The Memoirs of Cordell Hull” (1948), p. 13.

2. “A Basic Call to Consciousness,” edited by Akwesasne Notes (1978).

3. https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/06/1041261

4. “What Happened in Stockholm.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Sept 1972).

Faith for Earth Aims to Shape Global Environmental Policy

Faith for Earth Dialogue
Online
Monday, February 21 – Friday, March 4

———

The next few weeks could prove decisive for global environmental policymaking. The fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly will be held online and in Nairobi, Kenya, from February 28 through March 2. Hosted by the UN Environment Programme, UNEA-5 will bring together representatives of the UN’s 193 Member States, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders “to agree on policies to address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.”

How can faith-based organizations ensure that their voices are heard when global policymakers meet in Nairobi? 

To amplify the voices of faith-based organizations at UNEA-5, UNEP’s Faith for Earth Initiative has organized the Faith for Earth Dialogue, a set of more than 25 online panels and conversations from February 21 to March 4. The goal is to demonstrate “the power and potential of faith-based organizations and faith leaders in shaping the discussions at UNEA as well as engaging in policy dialogue with other stakeholders.”

“Equity needs to be at the front of every conversation during UNEA-5 if policymakers want to create meaningful action on  the climate crisis,” says Andrew Schwartz, director of sustainability and global affairs. “In this unprecedented moment, the Faith for Earth Dialogue is an important opportunity for the Center for Earth Ethics and other organizations to help shape global climate policy.”

CEE’s participation in the Faith for Earth Dialogue includes the following sessions (all times New York): 

  • On Monday, February 21, 9:30 a.m., at “Faith for Earth: A Call for Action.” CEE Advisory Board member Kusumita Pedersen, chair of the Interfaith Center of New York and a trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, is a panelist.
  • On Wednesday, February 23, 8 a.m., at “Working Group on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration.” Andrew Schwartz and Gopal Patel, a senior advisor, are panelists.
  • On Friday, February 25, 9:30 a.m., at “Faith, Values & Ethics in Environmental Governance.” Kusumita Pedersen and Mona Polacca, a senior fellow at CEE, are panelists.
  • On Wednesday, March 2, 8 a.m., at “Faith and Food: Nature Positive Solutions for a Flourishing World.” Andrew Schwartz organized and will lead the session. (Special registration link for this session only: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_hDhq_ATDQLycXh5TDAwFpg?fbclid=IwAR3-_lPAtegBXBZNdzIEE77soY97ZPa8WNJUBfgZimHxzfxhHSpYhG0ZUpU.)
  • On Friday, March 4, 8 a.m., at “Faiths Respond to Stockholm+50 & [email protected]Gopal Patel is a panelist. Karenna Gore, CEE’s founder and executive director, will moderate the session.

The Faith for Earth Dialogue is open to all stakeholders. Register today at Faith for Earth Dialogue

 

NB. This post has been edited to correct the Faith for Food Dialogue start date, to include a new featured image, and to include a hyperlink to the 2 March “Faith and Food” session.

 

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.

Gore to Deliver Opening Address at International Scholars Climate Conference on October 29

“Uniting the World to Tackle Climate Change: Perspectives from Religion and Politics”
Friday, October 29, 2021 – Online
7:15 a.m. New York | 12:15 p.m. Scotland | 1:15 p.m. Paris

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.

The three-day virtual conference will address the theme of the United Nations Climate Conference, or COP26, which begins on November 1, in relation to religion and politics. Scholars from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas are scheduled to participate. The COP26 CSRP Scholars Conference is being hosted in conjunction with Scholars at the Peripheries (a group of scholars from the Global South) and Laudato Si’ International (a group that has been working to understand and deliver the message of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ on the care of the planet as the common home).

Aliou Niang to Discuss Postcolonial Biblical Criticism on November 5

Postcolonial Poetics: Aliou Niang on the Human-Nature Relationship
Friday, November 5, 2021 – Online
9 a.m. Los Angeles | 12 p.m. New York | 4 p.m. Dakar | 5 p.m. Paris

REGISTER TODAY

How can we understand the Bible and other faith teachings in the context of today’s ecological crisis? How can we restore traditional practices that once directed a mutual relationship among God, humans and nature?

These are among the questions raised by Aliou Niang, associate professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary, in “A Poetics of Postcolonial Biblical Criticism: God, Human-Nature Relationship, and Negritude” (2019). Niang will discuss these and other issues raised in his book in a webinar on Friday, November 5, at noon Eastern Time.

Left to right: Aliou Niang, Souleymane Diagne, Petra Thombs

A native of Senegal and member of the region’s Diola people, Niang describes his book as “a humble reading of Scripture in conversation with Diola faith traditions.” He integrates the work of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the architect of the concept of Négritude, and other postcolonial theorists to “reposition the colonized” and learn from “people who have been negotiating life with nature since time immemorial and were aware of climate change since its onset.”

At the discussion, Columbia University Professor of French and of Philosophy Souleymane Diagne, who also directs the Institute of African Studies at Columbia, will offer a response to Niang’s presentation. Rev. Petra Thombs, executive director of the Ramapough Lenape Nation Community Center in Mahwah, N.J., will provide a reflection.

“Postcolonial Poetics: Aliou Niang on the Human-Nature Relationship” is co-sponsored by the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and the Institute for African Studies at Columbia University.

This webinar is free, but registration is required.

REGISTER TODAY 

 

PARTICIPANT BIOGRAPHIES

Aliou Cisse Niang is associate professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Before joining Union, he served as assistant and associate professor of New Testament at Memphis Theological Seminary in Tennessee, where he was named The Rev. Dr. James L. Netters Associate Professor of New Testament and received The Paul R. Brown Distinguished Teaching Award. His previous books include “Faith and Freedom in Galatia and Senegal” (2009) and “Text, Image and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World: A Festschrift in Honor of David Lee Balch” (2012), which he co-edited with Carolyn Osiek.

Souleymane Bachir Diagne is professor of French and of philosophy at Columbia University, where he also directs the Institute for African Studies. Before joining Columbia, he taught philosophy for many years at Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar (Senegal) and at Northwestern University. He is the author of “African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson, and the Idea of Negritude” (2011), “Bergson postcolonial. L’élan vital dans la pensée de Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal” (2011), “The Ink of the Scholars: Reflections on Philosophy in Africa” (2016), and “Open to Reason: Muslim Philosophers in Conversation with Western Tradition” (2018).

Petra Thombs is the executive director of the Ramapough Lenape Community Center in Mahwah, N.J., operated by the Ramapough Mountain Indians. She is in preliminary fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association, and was ordained in 2021. A graduate from Union Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity and a major in church history, she focuses on the Doctrine of Discovery as it has fostered racism and extreme marginalization for Indigenous communities globally.

The Time for Action Is Now: A Reflection for World Food Day

Tomorrow is World Food Day.

World Food Day began in 1979 to raise global awareness on poverty and hunger. This year, it is being observed just a few weeks after the end of the United Nations Food Systems Summit, the culmination of 18 months spent gathering information from stakeholders around the world. The Summit aimed to raise awareness about our food systems and contextualize our current moment.

Our moment is troubling to say the least. Today, nearly 800 million people around the world wake up and go to bed hungry. That number is expected to dip somewhat as the world recovers slowly from Covid-19. But any number above zero is too high. As one portion of the world’s population is consumed by hunger, another is consumed by excess. The proliferation and marketing of ultra-processed foods has caused a spike of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. As human health declines, so does planetary health. Much is being done to address both.

Five Dialogues

In the lead up to the Summit, the Faith + Food Coalition hosted five dialogues with voices from faith-based groups, Indigenous communities, small farmers and food producers, and underrepresented communities. The dialogues demonstrated that our current situation doesn’t need to be this way. Solutions for our food systems problems are within reach; in fact, they’re already being implemented around the world. Agroecology practices and recovered traditional and Indigenous wisdom have helped transform local food systems, delivering nutritious and diverse foods.

The Coalition’s efforts attracted attention. After the dialogues, we were invited to present our findings to the WHO in June, during the UN’s Pre-Summit in July, and at a UN-sponsored “global dialogue” in September.

These two short videos from our dialogues highlight the struggle and the hope in front of us.

Interfaith Statement & Report

We recognized that not everyone would be able to watch all our dialogues, so the Coalition Steering Committee distilled the most salient insights and recommendations into two documents: the Faith + Food Interfaith Statement and a report.

First, our Interfaith Statement affirmed the universal right to healthy food, the importance of small producers, the irreplaceable role of women, Indigenous communities, and workers, and the interdependence of people and planet, among other conclusions. We are thrilled that nearly 100 organizations and individuals signed onto the statement in advance of the Summit. (You can read the full Interfaith Statement and view all the signatories here.)

The Coalition not only presented the statement to the Summit Secretariat and organizers but two Coalition members, Marium Husain and Steve Chiu, delivered a shortened version at the conclusion of the Summit’s morning session.

Faith + Food Coalition members Marium Husain, Joshua Basofin, Steve Chiu and Andrew Schwartz share their reflections on the UN Food Systems Summit.

Second, we produced a comprehensive report, Sustainable, Equitable, Resilient: An Ethical Approach to Global Food Systems, which provided a much deeper dive into the rich content of the five dialogues. We hope the recommendations and solutions captured in the report help in the great work of bringing about food systems transformation.

What’s Next

Our work didn’t stop with the Summit. On Monday, Oct. 18, I will moderate a breakout session, “Faith and Food: Cultivating Change Through Our Traditions” at the Parliament of the World Religion’s 2021 Meeting. Our Faith + Food Coalition partners will present the Interfaith Statement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, which begins in Glasgow on November 1. We want to keep pressure on Member States to achieve true food systems transformation.

What can you do? You can view the dialogues and read our report to learn more about the remarkable strides that individuals, Indigenous groups, grassroots organizations and faith communities are taking to improve food quality, access and security. You can sign on to the Interfaith Statement for yourself or your organization. And you can sign up for our Faith + Food Engagement List so that we can keep each other informed and share opportunities to contribute.

The time for action is now.

 

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect the session at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Interfaith Reflection Read at UN Food Systems Summit

Interfaith Reflection

United Nations Food Systems Summit
Thursday, September 23, 2021
New York

Our story of food is one of sacred joy. Values of interdependence, sharing, dignity and empathy are enshrined in all traditions’ understanding of food as a universal human right. 

Food serves as a sacred reminder of the holy and the righteous. It tells a story of fellowship and is an invitation into the presence of the Divine and the wider world.

Food should be a channel of peace, not a weapon of war used to cause hunger and poverty; We cannot sustain a global food system that exploits biodiversity and well-being in the name of short-term profit. 

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is a clarion call for the need to transform. 

We call upon Heads of States and Governments, civil society, faith communities, and businesses to:  

1. Invest in solutions informed by indigenous wisdom, smallholder farmers, women and youth, targeted at building food systems’ resilience including  agroecology without acquiescing to corporate capture of critical infrastructure.

2. Subsidize nutritious, diverse plant- centered growing practices and increase smallholder presence within global markets from farmers, pastoralists, and blue foods.

3. Guarantee food security through sustainability, nutrition, and equity — innovating with a moral compass 

4. Provide policy, innovation, educational, and business opportunities for the underrepresented food system actors and ensure their voices are involved at the highest levels of decision making.

5. Restore degraded lands and protect ecosystems.

6. Promote and support breastfeeding — the first food system

7. Regulate the marketing of food and beverages to children, preventing ultra-processed foods from being sold as healthy substitutes for real, nutritious food.

Ours is a challenge of ethical and spiritual conviction. The most recent IPCC report is alarmingly clear. If we do not reorient our worldviews, our future is bleak. 

As people of faith, we are committed to the equitable transformation of our food systems to prioritize people and planet over profit. Let us come together as a world community to face this challenge as one human family.

Thank you

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Editor’s Note: This statement was read during the “People’s Plenary” session of the United Nations Food Systems Summit on Thursday, September 23, 2021. Dr. Marium Husain and Steve Chiu, members of the Faith + Food Coalition Steering Committee, read the reflection, which was condensed from the Coalition’s Interfaith Statement, signed by 60 organizations and individuals at time of the Summit.