Doctors couldn’t diagnose the rash spreading across Catherine Flowers’ legs and body. But the activist thought it had to do with the day she wore a dress during a visit to a family whose yard featured “a hole in the ground full of raw sewage.” “I began to wonder if third-world conditions might be bringing third-world diseases to our region,” Flowers writes in her new book, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret.
She was right. That rash led to research that found that hookworm, a parasite thought to be pretty much dead in the US, was actually alive and well in the rural Alabama county where she grew up. Without working septic systems, residents were getting sick from raw sewage. Flowers has been on a mission to change things for her community ever since. She is now a recent MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” awardee, and she founded the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ).
With her latest book, available on November 17th, Flowers is expanding that fight to places across the US which lack the basic infrastructure that many city-dwellers take for granted. Two million Americans lack access to indoor plumbing, a 2019 report found, and that has huge implications for their health. The Verge spoke with Flowers about what she’s seen and how COVID-19 and climate change are piling on top of what’s already a shitty situation.
On April 26 America received its first-ever memorial dedicated to the more than 4,000 victims of lynching in this country. Two days later, James Cone, the acclaimed author of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” died.
The opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., and the passing of a theological legend coincide in ways that provoke thoughts about the spiritual implications of American racism. How do the cross and the lynching tree represent both injustice and redemption? How do we confront the dark truths of our past to create a future that is brighter for all people?
Tribute to James Cone Union Theological Seminary invited guests to post memories, thoughts, and meaningful experiences they’ve shared with him. Responses came from throughout the Union community and from around the world.
We join in concert celebrating and honoring his remarkable life. With thanks.
CEE’s Original Caretakers Program Director, Mindahi Bastida is doing work with the kind of care few have patience for. He has a slow pace to his words, and a firm stance. Mindahi never tires of explaining to those he encounters about the preciousness of the water, the sacredness of the land, and the heritage imbued inside the mountains and the earth herself.
What is the initiative you are working on with CEE and UNESCO?
The initiative that CEE is working with UNESCO is the Protection of Biocultural Sacred Sites (BSS) of the world. This effort is being supported by indigenous organizations like Asociación Andes, Parque de la Papa, and other allied organizations such as Forum 21, The Fountain, Unity Earth and the Convergence, among others. This initiative has also been named previously as the Spiritual Reserves of Humanity.
Why is it important at this time?
This initiative is highly important nowadays due to many sacred places in the indigenous territories are facing destruction or desecration.
The sacred places are key to protect life systems and biocultural heritage. The sacred places are special because they provide energetic balance to ancestral territories and also offer protection of one or more elements of life.
How does it augment USESCO’s current process of selecting World Heritage sites?
This initiative strengthens UNESCO work in protecting World Heritage Sites because it gives acknowledgement to Biocultural sacred sites that are being threatened and are meaningful for humans, all beings and life in the planet.
How is this work relevant to the mission of the Center for Earth Ethics?
This work is very relevant to the CEE mission to protect and defend life in the world. The Protection of Biocultural Sacred Sites initiative in the indigenous territories gives the chance to strengthen the biocultural diversity and heritage. Also acknowledge the indigenous peoples spirituality.
Is there a specific goal or timeline you hope to achieve?
By the year 2020 we should have ready the draft proposal to be presented to one or more nation States.
I see that there is a focus on Latin American countries. How might this work impact a similar strategy within the United States? Does this have any bearing on our protection of National Parks?
The focus is because this initiative was born in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia with spiritual leaders from indigenous peoples mostly from Latin America. We are working in USA and other countries to write declarations towards the need of protecting sacred sites around the world. If there are Sacred Sites in the National Parks they should be acknowledged as Biocultural Sacred Sites.
The public and other organizations can support this important initiative through the Center for Earth Ethics.
We send our greetings to you at this challenging time. It is a time that calls those who can be both advocates and healers. As we fight to change the system that continues to dump this pollution into the air, we also stand with those who are recovering and rebuilding from the impacts. As we join with those who resist corrupt policies and abuse of power, we also seek to understand the painful divisions and persistent illusions in our civic life.
This semester, The Center for Earth Ethics is initiating a new time of serious inquiry as individuals, as collaborators and as leaders in an ever-changing landscape, geographically and politically. Our goal is to address the root cause of climate change—an economic development model based on short-term profit, no matter what the cost to people and planet. We envision a world in which value is measured according to the long-term well being of the whole. We believe that this value system can be achieved through a combination of the restoration of older traditional ways and the inclusive, equitable application of new technologies.
Thank you for being a part of our work. We invite you to learn more about each of our four program areas– Original Caretakers, Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement, Sustainability and Global Affairs and Eco-Ministry—and to be in touch with us about the work you are doing in your community. Please also follow us on social media and feel free to come to the gatherings at Union. There’s so much going on already this Fall, and we’ve only just begun!
June 13, 2017|Mackenzie Beltz, Environmental Leadership Intern
It is not often that I see faith and environmental activism intersect, but last Tuesday, June 6th, 2017, I had the opportunity to attend a portion of The Center for Earth Ethics’ weekend-long conference, “Ministry in the Time of Climate Change”. Many of the conference-goers I spoke to, all of them faith leaders from a wide spectrum of faiths, admitted that while they were well-versed in religious texts and community engagement, they struggled to integrate climate awareness into their sermons, fearing backlash. Today, climate change is not purely accepted as fact, but is a political talking point (or not-talking point) that divides the country, and fear of deepening that division can lead to faith leaders’ reluctance to discuss it with their communities at all.
At the conference, speakers from many different religions and cultures shared ways to engage with their prospective congregations, groups, and tribes. During a panel entitled “Meeting Denial, Grief and Despair With Integrity, Grace and Hope,” Margaret Bullitt-Jonas of Reviving Creation shared a thought that I found moving, “If we turn to God as an extrinsic source of hope, saying, ‘If climate change is real, God will surely do something about it,’ our hope is very vulnerable. Intrinsic hope is the hope we feel in those moments where we truly know who we are. Our purpose is to love.” Climate change can inspire fear and uncertainty for the future, but the moderator Andrew Schwartz and the panelists, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Lynne Iser, Barbara Rossing and Aliou Niang shared strategies to channel that fear into hope and inspiration for the future.
Later in the evening, I had the privilege of attending a community discussion moderated by Karenna Gore and Derrick Harkins and featuring Vice President Al Gore, Pat Williams, Azza Karam and Burt Visotzky. I was particularly interested in Ms. Williams’s insights on the legal and economic implications of environmental degradation and climate discourse. And of course, the “headliner” Al Gore was an incredible speaker who left everyone in the room aware of the imminent danger of climate change, while also convincing us that we could enact positive change to save our planet together.
It was humbling to see ministers, Native American chiefs, rabbis, priests and imams coming together to admit that for all their knowledge, there were things that they did not know. “I came here to learn,” shared one man during a small discussion group, “and to take this information back to my people.”
Linked below is a beautiful song performed by Bethany Yarrow and Rufus Cappadocia that was shared immediately after the “Denial, Grief and Despair” panel and gave me a strong feeling of healing and peace following such a difficult discussion.