Environment

Day of Resolutions

Introduction

Winter solstice is the shortest day/longest night of the year.  From this day forth until the summer solstice, light overtakes dark, the sun returns.  Hence, it is generally thought of as the beginning of the solar year.  The Jewish new year, while it occurs during a different season, is a time for atonement of past wrongs.  In the Chinese tradition, winter solstice is around when the Kitchen God ascends up to heaven to report the deeds of each family for the past year, for which an accounting must be made.  And of course there is the practice of New Years resolutions.  The word "resolution" means both the satisfactory end of a pre-existing condition and the firm determination to achieve a new one.  Winter solstice is also a time to celebrate as the sun and the light return.  The winter holidays are often marked by fire and light (Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule).


Personal

If at all possible, do not go into the new year with old wrongs that have not been made right.  Before the new year arrives, seek out those you have wronged, name the wrong, and apologize for it (but do not ask them to forgive you, as they may not be ready to do so).  Consider those who have wronged you, even if they have not apologized to you, and decide whether or not you can forgive them.  The fewer resentments you carry into the new year the lighter the load.  But it's ok if there are ones you of which you are not ready to let go.

Now think of the positive things you wish to accomplish this year.  The personal ritual is simple.  Light your chalice or candle. And say:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May my aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Hold in you mind what you wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If you have several resolutions, feel free to light a candle for each one, naming them as you light them.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring a small candle and holder, one for each person participating.  Do not use tea lights as they will not work well during the transfer.  (You might want to have some extra candles on hand, perhaps available for a nominal fee, so that those who forget are not left out.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Communion leader (or someone else) says:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May our aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Have 2-4 people closest to the chalice (including yourself) light their candles from the chalice.  Have them light the candles of 2-4 people closest to them.  And so on, moving outwards. until every candle is lit.  As each person lights their candle and passes the flame to the next person, have them hold in their minds what they wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If your congregation or group has a covenant or mission statement and it is not too long, now, while all the candles are lit, would be a good time to repeat and reaffirm the covenant/mission statement. If you do not have something specific to your congregation/group, then have the participants repeat the (adapted) words of John Murray:

Go out into the highways and byways of your land.
Give the people something of your new vision.
You may have but a small light, uncover it, let it shine.
Use it bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of people.
Give them not hell but hope and courage.
Do not push them deeper into their despair, but preach kindness and Love.

Let folks set their candles by where they will eat so that they light the communion meal.

Meditation on Energy

Author: 
Kat Liu

(This guided meditation was originally written for UUs observing Earth Hour, with the intent of adding a deeper, spiritual dimension to just turning off the lights for an hour.  It has been adapted here for Climate Justice Month.  In the U.S., nearly 50% of our electricity comes from burning coal.  That is why the meditation focuses on coal.)

 

We are the generation that stands
between the fires;
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
the flame and the smoke that consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
but the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different,
all of us bearing
One Spark.

- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

 

Turn on a light. 

Picture the light that you have just turned on.
Picture it connected via wiring to the other light bulbs, electrical outlets, appliances… in your home.

Follow the wiring out of your home, along the utility line, to the power lines outside.

Feel the energy that is flowing, coursing, towards your home and your light, available with the flick of a switch.
Follow the transmission lines as they run for miles.
Realize that not all of the energy traveling in those lines makes it to your home, some of it lost in friction… heat.

Follow the transmission lines…. all the way back to the power plant.

See the smoke pouring from the smokestacks.

See that the smoke consists of: carbon dioxide which causes global warming, sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metals.

See the water used to cool the power plant – thousands of gallons gushing by - heated by the burning coal and then dumped back into the water supply.

Feel how the water by the plant is warmer than water elsewhere.

Think about how that affects the plants and animals.

See the coal sludge – solid waste suspended in water to make a toxic slurry – stored precariously behind artificial dams.

Remember that these dams have broken, burying the neighboring communities in toxic sludge.

Picture people living near the power plant – who lives there? What is in their drinking water?

What is in their air? In the ground that children play on? Maybe it’s your children.

Picture the coal being delivered to the power plant. Where does it come from?

Follow the trail in your mind to Appalachia.

Picture entire mountain ranges removed in order to extract the low-grade coal below.

Picture the debris that had been mountaintops being dumped into nearby streams.

See the heavy metals and other poisons leaching out into the water supply.

See what happens when it rains and there is no top soil and vegetation to hold the water.

Hear the sound of the explosives used to blast off the mountain tops.

Picture people living here. What is in their drinking water? What is in their air? What would it be like to live there? Maybe you do live here.

Think about the coal within the mountain – how long it’s been sitting there, and how it came to be there.

Think of the plants and animals that lived 300 million years ago, their bodies first becoming peat, and then over the millennia turning to sedimentary rock… the coal that now powers your home.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the energy that will power the lights when you flip the switch in the room where you are sitting now.

Energy extracted from what used to be the lifeblood of animals living 300 million years ago.

Energy extracted from and refined in the neighborhoods of other humans living now.

Precious energy.


Closing Reading:


I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk easy on the earth.
Plant trees.
Live in harmony with all creatures, including my sisters and brothers.
I will restore the earth where I am.
Use no more of its resources than I need.
And listen, listen to what it is telling me.
(adapted from M.J. Slim Hooey’s prayer, p. 109 in Earth Prayers from Around the World)

Meditation on Inter-Being

Author: 
Thich Nhat Hahn

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. "Interbeing" is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix "inter" with the verb "to be", we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here - time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.

Ethical Eating: Produce

On Friday, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating. I had been practicing the principles, imperfectly, since it's inception. What I've learned is to remember that it is just that, a practice.

I live in a predominantly Latino and Black neighborhood in a medium sized city in Southern California. I just completed ny second seminary year which included field education. Before I took the internship (not UU), I did have a part-time office job. I was earning the same hourly wage that I did 15 years before, but with full benefits back then. To be clear, the last year and a half, I've been living on my spouse's death benefit, taking a full load in seminary, and only doing the internship once it became clear that I could not keep my grades up and work, as well.

As money becomes tighter and tighter, I anticipate the ethical eating part of my life to become more difficult. I do wonder if the resolution on ethical eating, coming from place of privilege, is irrelevant and elitist to a country in the grip of economic hardship and a class war that has a grossly unequal income distribution.

Beans and rice are staples of the poor, and I grew up on them. I do love vegetables. When I was very young, there were pitched and protracted battles regarding vegetables vs. meat, fish and poultry. One particularly memorable battle was over having an artichoke to myself and the expense of said artichoke. That said, here are some thoughts, just on produce:

In my neighborhood there are two major grocery stores, two ethnic grocery stores, and several small ethnic markets. Before my spouse died, we wanted to buy a share in a farm. We just never had enough money to invest up front into a season or more of organic vegetables. The stores in my neighborhood are overflowing with inexpensive, plentiful produce. The first time I met a new dean at school, she asked which Pasadena neighborhood I lived in. She proceeded to enthuse over the cheap produce at one of the ethnic grocery stores.

My theory is that the produce are loss leaders, and every thing that is processed is overpriced. The people that shop there walk, ride bicycles or take the bus. The store has a shuttle to take people home. The cyclists are of the variety that ride the wrong way down the street or on sidewalks, not the pannier, helmeted set. The clientele at the particular store do not speak a lot of English. Beer and sodas are incredibly expensive, as are virtually all other brand name and processed foods. Before a ill-planned condominium complex was built across the street, small items from deodorant to razors were locked behind glass, and cost more than the big name grocery stores. This is the reality in poor neighborhoods. How would we begin to address the inequalities of access, before the pesticide laden produce?

Most of the ethnic grocery shoppers do not have the choice to buy local or sustainable, nor the education to desire or request change. I use the store when I'm not feeling flush, but I have begun to have anxiety over doing the "right" thing since so many issues come into play. When buying, my first thought is food miles. Where did most of these inexpensive vegetables come from? In this neighborhood, they come from Mexico, and further South. With the unfortunate exception of my attachment to bananas, I am intentional about buying produce from California, staying within the season. (By the way, when in the world did garlic begin to be imported from China? I thought the garlic capital is in Northern California.)

The people who bring food to the table have such appalling working conditions. They have been documented not to be given breaks, shade, decent living conditions, fresh water, subject to wage theft, exposed to herbicides and pesticides. Yet, when grocery stores charge more for "organic" produce, I wonder just how much of that extra money is passed on to the farmers and the migrant workers.

About eight years ago, there was a grocery store strike in which the workers lost badly over healthcare and wages. I refused to walk into one of the big name chains until a couple of years ago. I will only go for the very few things that can not be found in Trader Joes, or the store fondly known as Whole Paycheck. I was appalled at the price of produce when I did return. According to Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA), a strike is imminent. We UU's passed an Action of Immediate Witness, but how will that support the workers once they go on strike? Trader joes pays fairer wages, but Whole Foods is anti-organizing and their produce is ridiculously high. However, they have some organic things not found elsewhere. Reconciling these choices is difficult.

At Trader Joes, food miles and packaging come into play, as well. Not only do they sell out of season produce from Mexico and Chile, the produce comes prepackaged in plastic, in a family size. Trader Joes has begun to improve based on consumer pressure, but as soon as one item is sold individually, different prepackaged items arrive. I limited my produce to the staples, organic: carrots, celery, in season lemons, onions and tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower. Squash is plentiful, inexpensive, good and relatively safe in the grand scheme of things not organic.

This leaves the small family owned markets and the farmers markets. This is where I have to be most intentional. I will admit to being exceedingly blessed when it comes to farmers markets in the area. There are several going on each day of the week during the day, with some in the evening. It takes planning to go. There is a small health foods market that is in the next town to the North straight uphill. The farmers market that is in my neighborhood is held on Tuesday mornings, but there are numerous other in the area. As much as I want to support the mom and pop shops, knowing where the produce comes from is more important.

So, the anxiety continues. I have stopped eating quite as large of a variety of vegetables for fear of pesticide residues, perpetuating unfair unhealthy working conditions for those who pick and package produce, environmental impact and the impact on migrant workers of herbicides and pesticides, economic justice for grocery store workers, supporting small business, lack of time to shop at farmers markets being a student, and my own economic well-being. Fortunately, by putting together this post, I found a CSA that was not available before, which allows payment on a week to week basis.

A Few Drops in the Ocean

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."
-Mahatma Gandhi

This was one of my favorite quotes. A year ago, it took on a particularly poignant significance when the Deep Water Horizon well exploded and the earth began to hemorrhage crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. With the Pacific garbage patch, mercury laden fish, and now Japan releasing exceedingly radioactive water, I wonder just much longer this quote will be relevant. Or, it it already a relic from a time just over a century past?

Spring is here fulfilling its promise of renewed life. What other new metaphors can we use to restore a belief in humanity, especially in the face of a tiny minority (Not Japan but the top 1%) who is in a race to exploit, sell and use up our beloved earth’s gifts.

My Symphony

To live content with small means.
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion.
To be worthy not respectable,
and wealthy not rich.
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently,
act frankly, to listen to stars, birds, babes,
and sages with open heart, to bear all cheerfully,
do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual,
unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.

-Wiliam Henry Channing

For Earth Day...

Tip #1 on saving the world:

Stop buying bottled water.

First of all, there's the plastic bottles that the water comes in.  Don't let the idea that it's recyclable lull you into thinking it's environmentally friendly.  Only bottles labeled #1 and #2 have any chance of being recycled, and the production of new plastic still outpaces recycling several times over.  Most of it still ends up in landfills.  Not to mention the fact that both the production and recycling of plastic produces toxic fumes containg such carcinogens as benzine and vinyl chloride, which impact those living around the plants.

Secondly, there's the absurdity of paying for what in most cases is filtered tap water.  Aqua fina, put out by Pepsi and Dasani, put out by Coca-cola, are nothing more than filtered bottled tap water with pretty names on them, and a heck of a lot of marketing behind them.  Why pay beaucoup bucks for something that comes out of your own kitchen faucet?

But if one wanted to do something as absurd as pay money for tap water, that would be ok if it weren't for the fact that it's contributing to the privitization of water.  World wide, companies such as Pepsi and Coca-cola set up bottling plants in an area, draining the natural water resources and damaging the eco-systems, all while getting paid massive subsidies to do so.  In southern India, when a Coca-cola bottling plant opened, tapping into the underground aquifer and using up to 1 million litres of water a day, the local wells went dry.  Coke claimed it was a "coincidence" but "out of the goodness of their hearts" trucked in bottled water.  That's nice, except that it's destroyed the local farming industry and people who used to able to get their daily needs of water from wells are now dependent upon Coke. 

In the U.S. too, facing money issues, municipalities are increasingly privatizing their water systems.  Imagine being cut off from water because of the inability to pay.  As water is necessary for life, the right to water is a fundamental human right.

Stop buying bottled water.

If you are concerned about the safety of your tap water, and in some areas there is good reason to be, use a water filter. A quality filter can be bought for around $40 and will give you water at least as good as the water you get in bottles. You will save money in the long run. You will reduce the use of plastic. And most importantly, you will be resisting the privatization of water, which is making it into a commodity available only to those who can pay.

For more information:

Thou Shalt Not Pollute

Coming fresh off the Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference, where I participated in the eco-justice track and was surrounded by Christians working for environmental justice, I am further heartened by the following two news items, both announced today.

First, the Vatican spoke to the faithful this weekend about the "new sins" of our times. In addition to the area of bioethics (where I disagree with Rome on stem cell research), Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man, also listed "ecological" offenses. Indeed, Pope Benedict has recently said more than once that climate change is an important concern for the entire human race. The Vatican has hosted a scientific conference in the past to discuss the ramifications of global warming/climate change.

Second, the New York Times reported today that 44 Southern Baptist leaders are backing a declaration calling for more action on climate change, saying their previous position had been "too timid." Their 2007 position was more skeptical about climate change. Guess they've seen the light. :) The signatories include the current and past two presidents of the Convention, so these are no rogue "liberals." They reiterated the biblical mandate for humanity to be stewards of the earth, and called on Baptist ministers to preach on the topic.

Between the Catholics and the Southern Baptists, we are talking about the two largest religious groups in the country. And at least for the Southern Baptists, we are talking about a traditionally conservative group. The fact that they are both now talking about the need to action on climate change is wonderful.

Putting the Justice in Environmentalism

By: Kat Liu

Delivered at: Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists, in Finksburg, MD

On: March 9th, 2008

Reading:

by Wangari Maathai, from her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.

That time is now.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has challenged the world to broaden the understanding of peace: there can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space. This shift is an idea whose time has come.

Sermon:

Putting the Justice in Environmentalism

First, let me thank you all for inviting me into your congregation this Sunday to worship with the Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists. I am honored. I’m here today, first as a fellow Unitarian Universalist, and second as the Assistant Director of the Washington Office for Advocacy of the UUA. Our office exists to represent your voice on Capitol Hill, and also to provide support and resources to UU congregations and individuals in your advocacy work.

I didn’t start off thinking this is what I’d be doing now, living in Washington DC, working for a religious lobbying group. Long before I’d ever heard of Unitarian Universalism, I grew up in the San Francisco bay area wanting to be a scientist. Not that political activism was that far a stretch. I was a good, Northern California liberal, attending my first political protests in high school, many of them having to do with environmental concerns. Every Friday at noon we had a “die-in,” where everyone in the courtyard would drop to the ground to “simulate” what would happen in the event of nuclear war. College at UC Berkeley in the early 80’s meant campus protests for divestment from South Africa and also against nuclear proliferation. Those of you who came into adulthood later may find this hard to believe but for young adults at THAT time, the threat of mass extinction from thermonuclear annihilation was a pressing fear on many people’s minds.

In addition to nukes, there was save the whales. Save the rain forests. And by the time I got to graduate school at Caltech, it was save the spotted owls. By then, I had at various times been a member of Green Peace, Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, and Union of Concerned Scientists. I recycled, fretted over paper or plastic, bought Seventh Generation cleaning products. And there was also the camping, communing with nature. From Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Anza Borego in California to the beautiful national parks in Utah – Arches, Bryce, and Zion. If you haven’t been to these places, you really should.

And in all of this, there was almost a hostility to humankind. If I was enjoying the scenic beauty, experiencing the spirituality of being one with nature, the last thing that I wanted to see was humans, other than the ones I had come with. If there were too many of them, well, we just had to move, to go some place more remote, more pristine.

Indeed, my view of “nature” was that it was pristine, virginal, having not been touched by man.

And one could have seen the same thing in my approach to environmental issues. I never went so far as to say, “If only humans weren’t around then the whole world could live in peace.” Well, ok, maybe I said that once or twice. But in general my misanthropy was more subtle. The rain forests were being destroyed. It was all the fault of those greedy people who were cutting them down for money. The spotted owls were endangered. It was all the fault of those loggers.

Sure…. I had vague misgivings when I actually thought of the loggers as people, trying to earn a living and feed their families…. But surely they should be able to see that saving a species is more important. That they would just have to find other jobs, and if that was an inconvenience for them, well, that’s unfortunate but it couldn’t be helped. Vaguely… I understood that a truly just approach to environmentalism would involve helping those affected to find new jobs – training, assistance, economic development – instead of just vilifying them. But that kind of work was for someone else to figure out. What was most pressing was to save the owls. Still, it left me feeling uncomfortable. Something was not quite right.

Social activism aside, I went on in science, earning my Ph.D. in biology and moving to New York for a postdoctoral position. It was on Long Island that I found UU. Away from the social activism structures that I knew in California, I realized that if I didn’t join a group of some kind that would help remind me of the larger community, I was in danger of just working in the lab and not caring about the rest of the world. So I joined UU. A bit later, I decided to leave science, moved to DC to study religion at Georgetown, became very involved at All Souls in DC, and then involved in the workings of our denomination as a whole.

General Assembly of 2006 was my second GA, and while I was aware that we had been working for two years on a Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change, I hadn’t bothered to look at the text. Surely, I thought, we UUs know environmentalism and we’ll craft a worthy Statement. Pam Sparr, who is a fellow member of All Souls and a member of the UU Ministry for Earth was one of the people that I was thinking of when I figured we UUs knew what we were doing. Well, Pam and others at the UUMFE do know their stuff on the environment, but that didn’t mean that all UUs did. When she showed me the text, I was stunned. On the eve of General Assembly, when we were supposed to ratify this Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change that was to represent us as Unitarian Universalists to the wider world, there were some serious flaws with the penultimate draft.

I’ll tell you about the most glaring problem. As part of our efforts to combat Global Warming/Climate Change, our Statement of Conscience called on developing countries to limit their population growth…. Some of you may be wondering what’s wrong with that. After all, over population is a serious concern, taxing our earth’s resources and keeping families in poverty. Wouldn’t we want to promote responsible family planning? Yes. Yes, we would. But not as part of our Statement on Global Warming. Here’s why. The United States constitutes 5% of the world’s population, yet it creates 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. We are 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 25% of the world's fossil fuel resources. Per capita, we use five times more resources than the average human and we belch out five times more pollution. And yet our Statement of Conscience was saying, yeah, global climate change is a really serious problem and we want you all out there to fix it for us. You all who use less than we do, and pollute less than we do are gonna fix this problem, even though we’re the main culprits.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

That was when the concept of Environmental Justice really hit home. Our Statement of Conscience had the right goal in mind. Yes, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming/climate change is a pressing reality, and we really need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But environmental justice says that how we get to that goal is as important as getting there. Who is being most affected? Who is most responsible for the problem? Who bears the brunt of the “solution”? And who gets to decide what happens? These were the questions that were missing from our Statement of Conscience. Missing from our general awareness. As a result, despite the best intentions of the environmentalist communities, more often than not it is the poor and communities of color who are made to suffer the most from both the environmental problems and their solutions, even though they have less access to the benefits and little control over how resources are used. This is true both internationally and within our country.

Some other examples of environmental injustice:
In relatively affluent and thus shielded, middle America, people are still debating whether global climate change is even real. It’s discussed on a theoretical level, like whether life on Mars could have existed at some time. Meanwhile, within our own borders in Alaska, the Inupiak and Yup’ik peoples are losing their land and way of life due to the melting permafrost. Over 180 villages are expected to slip into the sea within the next ten years.[1] In the South Pacific, low-lying island nations are going under the waves as well, creating a tidal wave of climate refugees. Tens of thousands of islanders have applied for residence in New Zealand.[2] Entire cultures will have to be transplanted. The irony is that these people contribute the least to global warming, and yet they are the first to suffer.

Even more than loss of land, loss of fresh drinkable water is the greatest concern. All over South and Southeast Asia, sources of fresh drinking water are drying up or being contaminated by rising salt waters, ruining agriculture, creating refugees and conflict. Global climate change is a peace and security issue.

And speaking of the coal-burning power plants that are responsible for much of the change, where are they located in this country? Where do our garbage dumps go? Usually, power plants and garbage dumps are near the poorer neighborhoods or communities of color, people who don’t have the power to say, “Not in my back yard.” This is where the highest levels of lead and other toxins are located, and not surprisingly the highest incidences of children’s asthma.

To be honest, in all my years of trying to conserve and reduce, reuse, recycle, I never used to wonder where my electricity and clean water came from or where my waste went. I had wanted to reduce landfill waste for the sake of the “environment,” so that my beloved wildernesses would not one day be turned into garbage dumps. But I did not think of who already had to live down-wind of the land-fills we have right now.

To look at environmentalism through a social justice lens means to look at the picture as a whole, not just focusing on the immediate causes and effects. If people living near rain forests are clear cutting them to graze cows, we have to look at why a they doing this. And when we do, we see people being pressured into plundering their own natural resources in order to supply us with the cheap goods that drive our consumer-based economy. Given that we too depend on healthy rain forests as much as they do, to keep carbon gas levels lower and maintain biodiversity, perhaps we too need to take responsibility for their preservation. Perhaps we need to help them find ways to preserve the forests and feed their families, in partnership with them. To look at environmentalism through a social justice lens means that everyone involved has a voice in the decisions, at every level. It is a holistic and democratic approach to the environment.

My studies in biology taught me well that we humans are no better than other species. We share our DNA and a common origin, and from the standpoint of evolutionary theory are no “better” than the cockroach. But if I had really been paying attention, I would have understood this meant we humans are no worse than other species. Indeed, we are natural. Not separate from nature. And our Seventh Principle says the same thing. It calls us to affirm and promote the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. We cannot think in terms of either or. It cannot be either the spotted owls or the loggers; it must be both/and. Thus, any truly comprehensive view of environmentalism must incorporate the needs of our fellow humans into the picture. Our Seventh Principle calls us to come into right relationship with our mother Earth, with our fellow humans, and with other species.

For those of you who don’t know how things turned out with our 2006 Statement of Conscience on Global Warming, I am very proud to report that when the injustice of the population control provision was pointed out to them, the UUs at General Assembly of 2006 were reasonable and fair enough to take it out. In the end, after much debate, which is de rigueur with UUs, we ratified a Statement of which UUs can be proud. It was another positive step in our prophetic tradition of witnessing for social justice. I believe that we UUs, with our long histories in the racial and economic justice movements and the environmentalist movement and the peace movement, (and the feminist movement for that matter,) can make the connections. To see the interdependency of all these things and realize they must be approached as one unified, organic movement. Now is the time.

Now is the time, as Wangari Maathai said in our opening reading, making the connections between all these things for us. She said, “There can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space.” We are called to heal the earth and in the process heal ourselves, for as long as we see ourselves as separate from the earth and from each other, we cannot be whole. Now is the time for us to “shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground.”

Amen.

Eco-justice II

As sometimes happens I double-booked myself. This morning, I was supposed to be attending the second full day of Ecumenical Advocacy Days. But I had to skip out of that because I had also committed myself to giving a sermon at the congregation of Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists. As I drove in my gas-guzzling pick-up truck, first from my home in DC to the congregation in Finksburg, MD, and then to the conference in Alexandria, VA, I was more mindful than ever about the disconnect between what I would be preaching and my own lifestyle.

The title of the sermon (my first) was "Putting the Justice in Environmentalism," where I talked about how environmentalism has to be approached thru the lens of social justice.  The laudable goal of preserving creation cannot be seen as in opposition to the goal of equitable economic opportunities for all people, for indeed we people are an integral part of creation.  The Cedarhurst UUs were a warm and receptive bunch, making me feel very welcome. Their questions showed great interest and desire to make a difference.  Because of that, they also made me feel a great sense of responsibility to serve them and other UUs.

Next, it was a mad drive to the conference. I had missed the plenary presentations on lobbying, but made it with enough time to grab lunch and scarf it down before the start of the track workshops. (I was literally cramming sandwich down my throat.) The schedule was hectic, yet there was a kind of synergy going on. Between my sermon topic and the "eco-justice" track of the conference, I was fully immersed in environmental justice, which is how I like to approach anything I care about.

One of only two other UUs at the conference had convinced me to attend the workshop on nuclear power instead of the "Science of Global Warming." It was a good choice. Much of the science I already knew, and what I didn't know I could look up. But I probably never would have found this information on nuclear power plants, since I wouldn't have known to look for it. (You tend to find what you're looking for.)  And the information was shocking.

Both at Cedarhurst and amongst other UUs (and liberals), I've heard from a small yet vocal minority who believe that nuclear energy is the solution to our global climate crisis, providing abundant energy with almost no carbon gas emissions. If there was any part of me that ever entertained the idea, it was squashed by this workshop.  First we heard from a mother who's daughter had been diagnosed with a very rare kind of brain cancer.  She subsequently learned that there was a small epidemic of rare cancers in her area - much higher than statistical chance would allow. With persistent digging over years, she learned that the nuclear power plant in her area had been illegally venting tritiated (radioactive) water, and that it wasn't the only one.  From her and from the next speaker, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, we learned that nuclear power plants are self-regulating. They decide when to monitor their own radiation levels and do so at the times best suited to them.  We also learned that the government guidelines for "safe" levels of radiation are determined by "reference man," a theoretical caucasian, 5' 6", young adult male in perfect health.  The govt uses this standard even tho it's well known that women and children are more susceptible to cancer from radiation exposure.

Yet another example of how the govt that is supposed to protect us, especially the most vulnerable of us, instead protects the interests of powerful corporations.  In all, Ecumenical Advocacy Days was a needed wake-up call.

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