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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Born to Belonging: Praying the Primal Elements


by: Larry Rasmussen on October 8th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

We would all be well advised to listen to the counsel of Wendell Berry, who has been for the past fifty years America’s foremost teacher on the subject of the wholeness of creation. “To cherish the remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal,” he warns, “is our only legitimate hope for survival.” There is no more effective way to cherish the remains of the Earth than first, to recognize the primal elements of earth, air, water and fire as sacred and therefore worthy of reverence. Then, as we perceive more deeply the wholeness of creation, we understand as well that we have been born to belonging to the sacred primal elements, of which we are composed and without which we could not live.

(CC-BY-NC-SA by www.martin-liebermann.de)

From the moment we are born until our death, we need air. Likewise water. Our body mass is, like the planet’s, 70 percent water. As the descendents of Adam, whose name derives from the Hebrew word adama (soil), we are groundlings, earthlings, the good clods who became the cultivators. We are creatures of dust, a little water, and the breath of God. Our identity is in our belonging to the sacred elements, a heritage that unites us with a past stretching back millions of years; yet, this identity has current implications as well. We live in a period of transition from an industrial-technological civilization to an ecological civilization, a transition that some have called the greatest that humans have ever faced. This transition marks the emergence from the Holocene Age to the Anthropocene Age.


Working to Heal, Repair, and Transform Citizens so They Heal the World


by: Sam Daley-Harris on September 11th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

[Editor's Note: The 20th anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy (Camino Books 2013) by Sam Daley-Harris has much to teach us. In his May 29, 2013, Fixes column in the NY Times David Bornstein wrote the following about Daley-Harris' work with the anti-poverty lobby RESULTS which he founded in 1980 and Citizens Climate Lobby which he has coached since its inception nearly six years ago:

We don't often hear stories like this - stories about ordinary citizens working powerfully side by side with elected officials - particularly citizens who don't come bearing campaign checks. That's why it's important to understand how these changes were achieved and how much more may be possible than most citizens imagine.

Bornstein points to the need for political will to address climate change saying, "The big question is, what useful steps can citizens take to build that will?" If you pose that question to the leading climate scientist James E. Hansen, he'll tell you to connect with the Citizens Climate Lobby (C.C.L.). 'They have the potential to be extremely effective,' [Hansen] said. ‘That’s why I recommend them in my speeches.’ “To understand CCL,” Bornstein continues, “it’s necessary to understand RESULTS, which remains one of the best-kept secrets in development.” Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus called the group his most critical partner “in seeing to it that microcredit is used as a tool to eradicate poverty and empower women.” And former Unicef Deputy Executive Director Kul Chandra Gautam told Bornstein, “To a great extent, it was because of the receptivity created by RESULTS that the United States funding for child survival increased so dramatically [starting in the mid-1980s]. And that led many other countries to come on board.” The child survival campaign has saved the lived of 25 million children according to UNICEF estimates. The following excerpts, from the 20th anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy provide insights into the thinking behind Daley-Harris’ new Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation.]


Working to Heal, Repair, and Transform the Break between People and Government

by Sam Daley-Harris


Climate change can be paralyzing. Because it is so big it can produce fear and inertia, and because its causes and solutions are so diffuse it can frustrate and discourage action. Perhaps the biggest challenge for climate activists to overcome is to remain truly hopeful – something Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) has mastered better than any other organization.


Cut Off from Nature: Air-Conditioned Synagogues on Rosh Hashanah


by: Shari Motro on September 3rd, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Credit: Scott Ableman/Creative Commons.

Jewish law requires that all synagogues have windows. We’re not supposed to pray in separation from the world; we’re supposed to pray with the world, conscious of its cycles, in a space that invites connection with them. Unfortunately, most authorities interpret this rule as permitting synagogues to have windows that never open – windows that seal congregants in an air-conditioned bubble, even on days when outdoor temperatures are moderate.

Synagogues, like other houses of worship, are no different from the majority of our secular spaces. Our default building methods presume round-the-clock mechanical air circulation – windows do not open, and natural cooling designs like cross-ventilation, high ceilings, porches, and recessed doors and windows are quaint rarities. The official guided tour of Washington DC’s National Building Museum, built in 1887 and inspired by Michelangelo’s church architecture, features the building’s ventilation system literally as a museum piece. Visitors are informed that the building’s great hall was designed to “create a healthful building with plenty of fresh air” – but in step with the times, the days of natural airflow there too are gone.

Like many Jews, my only visits to synagogue are during the High Holy Days, which begin this week with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This is also one of the periods when the ubiquity of air conditioning saddens me most. It saddens me because of the sheer waste. It saddens me because I like to wear white linen to usher in the holiday and walk to services carrying nothing, rather than packing layers fit for the tundra as I do when I go to the office, the megaplex, or the airport. And it saddens me because sealed windows separate me from the signs and wonders with which nature beckons me to contemplate the very same lessons that are at the heart of what Rosh Hashanah is all about.


“Barack Needs You, Right Now” – Give Me A Break!


by: on July 28th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

OK, this last email pushed me to my limit. The subject line heading read: “Barack needs you, right now.” You’ve got to me kidding me. Barack needs ME? For what? Well Michelle (the email was sent from Michelle Obama), before I am willing to help Barack, I’d like to see Barack help the people of this country – the people who voted for him, who went doorbelling for him, who stood up for him because they believed in his message of “Yes We Can.” President Obama, your policies, practices and actions since taking office in 2009 are completely opposite of what you said you would do and I will not support you, so stop asking. In case you are wondering why, here is a list of a few of the things you have done that I do not condone and hence why I won’t give you any money or support.

Credit: Flickrcc/Storm Crypt

  • Instead of helping the working class and poor people, you have aligned yourself with Wall Street and the corporate giants of the world.
  • Instead of ensuring protection of our food supply, you have appointed Monsanto executives to your government.
  • Instead of thanking whistle-blowers for uncovering the corruption and violence in our government and private agencies (as you said you would), you are hunting them down and prosecuting them.
  • Instead of ensuring the protection of constitutional rights, you have signed into law the NDAA – allowing for unlimited detention without charges or a trial.
  • Instead of upholding the law and following a path of peace and nonviolence, you have dropped drones and killed innocent children, women, men and community leaders.
  • Instead of protecting the environment, you appoint people in your government who are hell bent on destroying our environment.
  • Instead of confronting issues of race and racism, you talk platitudes while considering appointing the NY police commissioner, Kelly, the one in charge of the controversial stop and frisk policy in NYC that has led to the harassment of black and brown men at alarming rates, as the head of Homeland Security. All the while claiming that Trayvon Martin could have been you or your son.

Agenda 21 vs. the TPP


by: on July 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

A new wave of reaction to Agenda 21 threatens to confound the public and undermine efforts toward global cooperation on both environment and development. Meanwhile, those who raise the alarm about Agenda 21, a non-binding agreement, are silent about negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a binding agreement that would grant corporations new rights to interfere with our democracy.

Agenda 21

I was part of the United Methodist delegation to Rio de Janeiro in 1992, during the historic United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or “Earth Summit,” where Agenda 21 was signed. The agreement was negotiated openly in advance, with input from governments, corporations, and civil society. Its purpose was to suggest principles, policies, and guidelines that could help the nations of the world move cooperatively into the 21st century (hence the name) in ways that could both protect the earth and raise poor nations out of poverty.

Agenda 21 is not a treaty, so it was not ratified by the Senate. It does not have the force of law. It is non-binding, to be enacted voluntarily as governments see fit. Some jurisdictions in various countries, including the United States, have enacted policies based on Agenda 21′s suggested principles, such as protecting biodiversity, controlling pollution, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the progression of global warming, combating poverty, strengthening the role of marginalized groups, etc. Agenda 21 does not infringe upon national, state, or local sovereignty. Its goal is not to abolish private property or take away our freedoms or create an “eco-dictatorship,” regardless of what Glen Beck or Fox News have to say.


Summer’s Gone, or The Bliss of Suburbia


by: on June 4th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

I woke this morning, happy to greet summer and looking forward to planting seeds.

Before, there was no time. No time. Never enough time.

This morning. I would make time.

I opened my door to greet the semi-quiet morning. Birds. Lots of birds. The humming of insects. The far away hum of cars.

First, I made coffee and planned to sit on my porch and read Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.


‘The Talk’ — How to Tell Your 8-Year-Old About Climate Change


by: Ngoc Nguyen on June 4th, 2013 | Comments Off

(Cross-posted from New America Media)

When Ian Kim imagines the world his 7-year-old daughter will be living in 20 years from now, he says, it keeps him up at night. Images of ever more frequent super storms like Sandy, along with rising seas, or drought and heat waves wreaking havoc with crops haunt his waking hours.

“It’s a huge worry for me,” said Kim, a self-described environmental and social justice activist. “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 10.”

It’s a sentiment likely shared by parents the world over, though it’s especially pronounced among those working close to the issue. Kim described climate change as “a slow motion disaster that is already happening right now.”


Weekly Sermon: The Word Is Very Near


by: on May 21st, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Since Easter, we have worked with the great challenge of our times, the news that climate change will bring no more normal now – that everything will change, and we must change. Our species has no experience with demands so implacable. Our whole world view – religious, philosophical and political – along with all other world views, evolved on a hospitable planet and presumes such. But that simple presumption of earth’s hospitality has been shattered by our own actions, however unwittingly. Therefore, our religion faces a test unlike any previous: Is our faith able to help us adapt and adopt a world view and habits adequate to a world waiting to be born? Why, just yesterday, Columbia Univ. professor James Hanson, retired head of NASA’s Goddard Institute, was speaking to lawmakers in London. He told them that if the tar sands in Canada and other lands are exploited “to a significant extent,” then the problem of climate change will be “unsolvable.” Yet like an alcoholic, the nations belly up to the barrel and tell the baron of oil, “Break open another!” If in this crisis, our religion is not part of the solution, then what we do each Sunday is part of the addiction.

Certainly, religious life has been key in crises before. We could tell the stories for hours, but let Moses speak for them all. “I call hot heaven and a warming earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” But before the faithful get to work on themselves and their situation, the people must first confront the basic predicament of society. We just don’t agree. Unlike the animals, we come to our crises with separate consciences and separate aims, which cannot be coerced; with separate fears and separate gifts for living with our fears.


The Case Against Empathy


by: on May 19th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

One of our most powerful, affective emotions is our ability to feel or relate to the condition of another. While emotions such as grief and guilt often lead to paralysis, empathy leads us to action. We witness the suffering of someone in our community, read an emotive Facebook post of a friend in need of help, or hear the pained cries of our child and are moved to act. (We donate money to a personal cancer fund, offer advice, and comfort our child.) Why? Because we, in part, are able to personally feel the experience of that person standing outside ourselves. We are hit by an emotional wave that is personal, and that wave pushes us forward.

And this is a beautiful human characteristic – a trait that evolution has bestowed upon us, this instinctive, emotional pull to help others by feeling their pain and suffering. It’s an emotion cognitive neuroscientists are currently researching, trying to understand how it works. For if we learn how empathy truly functions, perhaps we can evoke with greater regularity this beautiful, moral emotion.

However, this beautiful human characteristic – beneficial when the world is small, say a family or a village – has become a liability and, in some cases, a destructive force in our world.

In some ways, empathy is killing us.


Inherit the Earth: Stay in the City


by: on May 7th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

A film from 2010 by Danish director Lars von Trier received little notice then, but I hear of it more and more now. It is called Melancholia. A heavenly body – far bigger than an asteroid – has appeared in the night sky. It seems more beautiful than the moon – but is it moving? How? Will it fly by Earth? Will it . . . ? Can people deny the evidence of its approach? The film’s sole subject is a wealthy family living on an elegant country estate, reacting to this approaching orb, one in this way, another in that.

It would be too small to say the film is about global warming. Rather, the film evokes silence for a question of absolute urgency: How do we meet the news that there is no more normal now – that everything will change, that we must change; not just our person, but our civilization must change; and with it every connection, every living system? How to meet that news?

When the subject is climate change, some of us wonder, Why worry about a far-off threat that doesn’t affect us where we live? Has the preacher already forgotten about mass incarceration and stop+frisk? About immigration abuses and the need for education and health care delivery right here in this community? Others of us feel overwhelmed. Climate change is just too big – like that planet coming in the skies of Melancholia. It is news we can’t use in the pews! What can we do? These responses are normal.