Karenna Gore participates in interfaith climate event in Recife

Originally published in Portuguese

Interview with Karenna Gore
By: Sérgio Xavier

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.