Loretto Earth Network News Divest/Reinvest Summer 2013
Vol. 21, No. 3
Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith: The Moral Case for Divestment By Maureen Fiedler SL
s storm clouds gather (literally!), climate change is more and more in the news. At Interfaith Voices, we are always interested in religious responses to crises like climate change. So, when I read an article urging religious groups to divest from fossil fuel stocks (coal, oil and gas) as a response to the climate crisis, I sought an interview with its author, Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest who is the Executive Director of GreenFaith – an interfaith environmental coalition. He did not disappoint. (See: http://greenfaith. org/). Early in the interview, I asked him why he left his life as a parish priest to work with GreenFaith, and you could hear the passion in his voice as he laid out a trilogy of reasons. “Like many people of faith, I’ve had some of my most powerful experiences of God outdoors …” He rejects emphatically the lure of consumerism, and cares deeply for the poor and most vulnerable of Earth who are most affected by pollution today and will be most affected by climate change and its ravages. For example, he cited estimates that there will be between 50 million and 100 million refugees globally in 50 years … just from climate change! Carbon emissions from fossil fuels are, of course, the major cause of climate change, and so he argued that there is a serious moral question
involved in profiting from investments that threaten life as we know it on Planet Earth – as strongly as do fossil fuels. I asked questions I have heard voiced in Loretto. “Aren’t there other alternatives? What about the way that religious groups have traditionally dealt with problematic corporations? Why not use timehonored shareholder resolutions to force these companies to face the facts?” He knew immediately what I meant, and commended the long work of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and their successful work with shareholder resolutions on a number of issues over decades. However, he said that the “most skilled shareholder advocates” have been trying the same strategy with fossil fuel companies for more than 20 years, and have gotten nowhere. That’s because fossil fuel companies have refused to recognize the real dangers of climate change. (Indeed, some of them have bankrolled the movement to debunk climate science). He called divestment a way of “delegitimizing” an industry, or to use a religious word, “shunning” it. He noted that many religious groups divested from tobacco stocks for just that reason, and in the 1980s, they divested from companies working in South Africa.
The fossil fuel divestment movement, he said, is moving strongly on college campuses, and several religious groups are actively considering it, including the Unitarian-Universalists, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church USA, among others. But divestment is not enough. Religious groups, he said, need to reinvest in a clean energy future. And first on the list, he said, is “greening” their own religious facilities: putting renewable energy into houses of worship and other buildings. The savings, he noted, would represent a good return on such an investment. In conclusion, he said simply, “Money matters.” When he wanted to start a serious discussion about some topic in his former congregation, he tied it to money. “Money matters,” he noted. That’s why divestment matters. To listen to the interview on Interfaith Voices, go to: http://interfaithradio. org/StoryAudio/Choosing_Not_to_ Profit_from_Coal__Oil_and_Gas
Editor’s Note Mary Ann Coyle SL
his issue of Loretto Earth Network News is directly focused on the questions we are all asking ourselves: What is my personal responsibility to the sustainability of Planet Earth for the generations to come? For the most part our writers’ names are well known to LENNews readers. I am delighted to introduce you first to our three new contributors, Kim Klein, Elissa J. Tivona and Christinia Eala. A resident of Berkeley, CA, Kim Klein is well known for her work in grassroots fundraising. She is the author of several books—all related to fundraising for social causes. Perhaps her best known is Fundraising For Social Change, now in its sixth edition. Elissa Tivona lives in the Fort Collins, CO area and serves currently as President of the United Nations Association of Northern Colorado. She has long been involved in education where her emphasis centered on educational technology, peace education, reconciliation, diversity and women’s issues. Christinia Eala is a “young” elder of Sicangu, Lakota and Ilicano, Filipina heritage. She claims as her spiritual Path that of the traditional Lakota Red Road—related directly to Mother Earth. As part of her spiritual journey, she is involved in building dome homes in the Sovereign Lakota Territories of South Dakota. These homes are built with the earth the people live on. See www.calearth.org for more information. What I found so refreshing about the work of all our writers is the diverse approach they took to expand on selected topics. Maureen Fiedler, true to her Faith Matters radio talk show, brings the passion of Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith to life—in fact, full, front and center—as he extols how much money matters and whether or not we are complicit in the destruction of Planet Earth as our money keeps the fossil fuel industry alive. Continuing her passion to keep before us the work of Bill McKibben and 350.org as well as the Rights of Mother Earth, Libby Comeaux leaves us to think about how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights intersects with 350.org. After attending the on-line Trinity Institute webcast, Libby asks us to imagine if we really acted as a sacred Earth community, how would we respond to the climate crisis. Kim Klein leads us toward some strategic planning as we try to move forward to a clean energy economy. Maureen McCormack was deeply moved by an interview Tim DeChristopher had recently on the Bill Moyers show. She describes his unique gift to the climate justice movement. Both of these articles make us think and wonder about our commitment to the Planet in practical terms. And then along comes Martha Alderson’s article about a real Earth hero, Chloe Maxmin, who calls herself a climate activist from birth! After reading the article by Elissa Tivona and Christinia Eala, I realized I would have liked to have been in a corner listening intently to the conversation. There is so much to learn and so little time to do it! Thoreau’s radical moment may now be ours: ‘Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary.’ It is always instructive and inspirational to hear from you, our readers. Thank you.
Loretto Earth Network Beth Blissman Karen Cassidy Libby Comeaux Mary Ann Coyle Maureen Fiedler Maureen McCormack Nancy Wittwer
Loretto Earth Network News
A publication of the Loretto Community
Editor: Mary Ann Coyle SL 3126 S Osceola Street Denver, CO 80236-2332
Layout: Nancy Wittwer SL
LENN Summer 2013
On The Need for Multiple Strategies to Address Climate Change By Kim Klein CoL for the Loretto Investment Committee
ndulge me in a trip down memory lane: About 30 years ago, I was at a meeting with a variety of housing organizations. We wanted to get a more strict form of rent control passed in Oakland. Those present didn’t agree on what “more strict” meant. We started with coming to consensus on our demands to the city. This proved to be fairly easy: Two organizations dropped some of their demands, and others agreed to demands they, at first, had said were too strict. Then the lead organizers of the campaign did something that was fairly common then but rarely seen now. They said, “OK, now we have to create a scenario in which these demands to which we have all agreed appear to be the most rational and reasonable.” To do that, organizations which the city council felt would want controls that would be bad for business were given the task of presenting their viewpoint to the council. Then organizations seemingly pro-landlord and probusiness were given the task of arguing that the regulations already in the law were strict enough. Finally two organizations perceived to be nonpartisan were to present demands to which the entire assembly had agreed. In other words, we created the entire spectrum of opinion so that our demands would seem centrist and rational. And, in fact, we won. The two organizations that presented the “centrist” view got all the accolades but we all knew it was a team effort.
to the divestment proposal, I should clarify that the Investment Committee doesn’t have the authority to make that happen. The Investment Committee is responsible for alternative investments and shareholder actions. We could recommend a shareholder action such as divestment to the Finance Committee and the Trustees of the Charitable Trust (of whom I am one), and a recommendation from both our committees would be powerful, but we are not in charge of Loretto investments.
What does this have to do with divestment? Well, quite a bit. In recent weeks the Investment Committee has been deluged with articles about the need to divest from fossil fuels from the Loretto Earth Network (LEN). The articles are compelling. LEN wants Loretto (the congregation and all comembers) to divest of all fossil fuel stocks we own.
Here’s an example of multiple strategies: The Investment Committee currently works with Jewish Voice for Peace, which itself is part of a huge Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Campaign. The campaign calls for people and organizations to divest from any company doing business in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. It calls for consumer boycotts of goods produced using Palestinian labor (such as Motorola, Hewlett Packard,
Before I discuss the likely response of the Investment Committee
Why do I think the Investment Committee will probably not be part of such a request? My opening paragraph illustrates possible reasons. Let’s first focus on the result we want overall, i.e., to move to alternative energy sources and away from fossil fuels. Restructuring our society so that we no longer need fossil fuels and rely only on renewable energy sources is the most reasonable and rational course of action. Divestment is a very important demand and one that I hope a lot of people and organizations will do. It should represent one flank of the debate. Another strategy that must be pursued is shareholder activism. Corporations have to hear from their own owners (shareholders) that we find it imperative to move away from a fossil fuel economy, and we demand that “our company” make the changes needed for that to happen.
Caterpillar and Soda Stream) as well as divestment from such companies, and it calls for governments to impose sanctions on Israel until a just peace can be worked out which affirms the rights of Palestinians. BDS is exciting and energizing and has caused a lot of controversy and conversation. But alongside BDS, Jewish Voice for Peace and Loretto continue to own Caterpillar stock and continue to go to Caterpillar meetings as shareholders. Ditto the recent actions at WalMart. These strategies show corporations that wherever they go, someone is demanding change, and it gives us an opportunity to educate all company shareholders using the company’s own resources. We need multiple strategies to win the changes we know must be made to save our planet. We are all part of a fossil fuel economy, and we are a significant part of the demand side of the fossil fuel industry. Creating affordable and accessible alternative energy sources is the most important strategy. Certainly our Pakistani sisters have set an excellent example with all the solar panels they have installed at their convent and at St. Albert’s. We must also look at ways that we can participate in the global efforts for decreased demand of fossil fuels since the solution to global warming must be global in scope. The Loretto Investment Committee supports a multi-pronged approach to addressing climate change. We invite members of LEN and others to go to shareholder meetings. We don’t have enough people on the Investment Committee to go to all of them. We look forward to continuing engagement about what actions Loretto can take to be part of what we all want – a healthy planet for us and those who come after us.
LENN Summer 2013
Tim DeChristopher: A Gift to the Climate Justice Movement By Maureen McCormack SL as believing that juries represent the conscience of the community. The prosecutor was aghast, saying: “This notion of voting your conscience is out in space.”
hen I heard Bill Moyers’ interview with Tim DeChristopher (May 24, 2013), I was intrigued. I thought, “Tim is the kind of person I would like to sit down with and learn from.” First, a bit of background. In December 2008, during the closing weeks of the Bush administration, 27-year-old climate activist Tim DeChristopher disrupted a federal Bureau of Land Management auction of gas and oil-drilling rights to 150,000 acres of public lands in Utah. Instead of an ordinary protest, he began bidding for parcels of the land at the auction. He won a dozen land leases worth nearly $2 million. He was arrested for criminal fraud, found guilty of what the prosecution called “obstructing lawful government proceedings” and sentenced to two years in federal prison—even though the new Obama Administration declared the oil and gas auction null and void. The interview with Bill Moyers took place shortly after he was released from prison. Watch the entire interview at <http://billmoyers. com/guest/tim-dechristopher/>. There was a moment during the jury selection, when the prosecution and the judge found out that most of the jury pool had gotten a pamphlet from the Fully Informed Jurors Association before the trial was to begin. The pamphlet quoted our country founders
Rather than dismiss the entire jury pool, the judge called the potential jurors into his chambers one at a time and said: “You understand it’s not your job to decide what’s right or wrong here. Your job is to listen to what the law says. You have to enforce it, even if you think it’s morally wrong. Can you do that?” Unless they said yes, they weren’t seated. DeChristopher watched one person after another say, “Yes, Your Honor, I’ll do whatever you tell me to do, even if I think it’s morally wrong.” The mistake that a lot of people make is thinking that law or words like “legal” are synonymous with moral or just. That’s not the case. Most of our great examples of morality throughout history are about people who broke the law. DeChristopher had read why the founding fathers thought it was so important to have jury trials. If a law were out of line with the conscience of most of society, people would refuse to follow it. They would take their case before a jury of their peers, who would decide whether or not that law was in accordance with their shared values and the conscience of the community. In recent decades, we’ve evolved from founders who set up a government to keep power in the hands of people to a government that wants to concentrate as much power as it can and is afraid of the power of the people. Another huge shift we have had over the centuries is a restriction on the right to a jury trial. Hardly any of the people DeChristopher was in prison with had gone through jury trials.
Instead, they were pressured into plea bargains to get a better deal. DeChristopher says that the climate justice movement is not looking for corporations to be friendlier, greener masters of people. We want them to be subservient to human interests. We’re looking for a different kind of world. Too much of our environmental work encourages people to think as consumers, e.g., to drive a hybrid, buy the right light bulbs, etc. That’s understandable. We see 3,000 advertisements a day that remind us that we are consumers. We don’t have nearly as many reminders that we are also citizens, human beings and community members who can connect with one another and inspire one another. We can shape our society. Nobody has ever stopped a climate crisis before. We need a diverse movement. Not everyone has to go to prison. But everyone has to feel empowered to take strong actions. No one can say, “This is the kind of action that we need right now. This is what’s definitely going to work. This is what is politically feasible. Nobody has all the answers.” So, rather than working from what corporations tell us they’ll accept, we’re going to work for what we actually want, what’s in line with our vision for society. A documentary, Bidder 70, tells more of the story. In the fall of 2013, DeChristopher will go to Harvard Divinity School and study to become a Unitarian minister. He identifies much of what we’re facing as a spiritual struggle. He believes that part of why religious institutions have played such an important role in so many social movements throughout history is that they recognize the empowerment that comes through connecting with a community.
LENN Summer 2013
Chloe Maxmin: A Leader in the Divestment Movement By Martha Alderson CoL
onfront Big Oil? Oppose the administration of a major university, in fact prestigious Harvard University? Be completely committed to making changes, not only by talking and writing about them but by leading movements? That’s what Harvard student Chloe Maxmin (class of 2015) is doing. Not a small task. Having been an activist for many years of her young life, she is concerned with climate change and her major interest now is in divestiture from fossil fuels. That is a tall order at Harvard where endowments from fossil-fuel companies total nearly $31 billion. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine this year, Chloe says, “My life has been taken over by divestment, and I can see it succeeding.” It could not be said that her campaign is a whopping success in terms of Harvard’s response, but its influence is widespread and growing. Now about to begin her junior year with a major in sociology and minors in environmental science and public policy, Chloe is following an activist journey that began when she was only 12 years old. Chloe is from a small town in Maine where she learned to appreciate both the abundance of nature and the devastation of climate change. When she was in high school, her family’s house was hit by lightning and caught fire. She connected that event with the possibility that global warming, causing extreme weather patterns, could have had something to do with the significant increases in lightning strikes in Maine that year. In an article remembering the distressing emotions around losing her home, she wrote, “… the frequency of extreme storms in Maine has increased 70 percent in the past 60 years.” She acknowledged that there was no proof of the connection, but that the likelihood was high. She realized that her generation, which has inherited
climate change, is commissioned to do something about it. In 2012 she wrote in The Harvard Crimson, where she serves on its editorial board, “If past generations had the power to alter the global climate system for the worse, then our generation must rally to change it for the better.” In high school this young woman started the Climate Action Club. The immediate purpose was to protect a local area headed for commercial development. A talk she gave in 2009 in her hometown of Damariscotta, Maine, can be viewed on YouTube at http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=z3-LFUVigDY. In the video she explains many projects of the Climate Action Club: recycling, energy auditing, reducing use of plastic bags, letter writing to protect local creeks and developments. Their goal was to expand action through intergenerational activities. Their work was with local merchants and high school youth. The students encouraged local merchants to sell reusable bags imprinted with store logos. The result: Approximately 671,000 plastic bags saved from the environment. Out of Climate Action Club came First Here, Then Everywhere, a network Chloe founded for connecting young people to ecological concerns. Next came CliMates, an international think tank of students who are focused on projects internationally as well as nationally. Then at Harvard came Divest Harvard for which Chloe is coordinator. In 2012, Chloe, along with two other students, wrote in The Harvard Crimson “Subsidizing fossil fuels is dangerous.” The title of the piece is “Everyone Can Agree.” Of course, that isn’t yet the case, but Chloe makes it persuasive. In winter of 2013 in an interview in Green America (http://www.GreenAmerica.
Chloe Maxmin Climate Activist org/pubs/greenamerican/articles/ JanFeb2013/Chloe-Maxim.cfm) she says a powerful argument is “we don’t want our universities investing in companies that are threatening our future. It’s counterproductive to everything they’re teaching us.” In April of 2013 editors of their campus paper representing the group Divest Harvard delivered an open letter with 1,300 signatures to Harvard President Drew Faust at an enthusiastic rally at Harvard Yard. Chloe Maxmin, now of Nobleboro, Maine, still has two years to continue as coordinator of Divest Harvard organizing against fossil-fuel support on behalf of her school while she continues her academic education. She says her studies and her activism are intertwined. She is quoted in an April 2013 Bloomberg online report: “It is intellectually inconsistent to be investing in fossil-fuel companies that offset everything that you’re doing on campus and everything you’re teaching us.” The impact of this outstanding young person is far-reaching. It is most likely to continue for many years to come.
LENN Summer 2013
The Mni Indigenous Water Summit By Elissa J. Tivona and Christinia Eala
“Mni wicozani is a native Lakota phrase meaning ‘through water there is life.’ Without the precious medicine of mni (clean water) life on earth will perish. Indigenous people across Turtle Island (North and South America on European maps) refuse to let that happen.”
isionaries from across the globe gathered on May 22, 23 and 24, 2013, for the Mni Indigenous Water Summit hosted in Eagle Butte on Cheyenne River Reservation. Organized by Candace Ducheneaux, daughter of four-time Cheyenne River tribal chairman, the Summit’s goal was to explore and advance practical strategies for bringing the earth’s hydrologic cycle back into balance, or what Lakota people call “wicosani.” Lakota activist, Christinia Eala, Executive Director of Tiyospaye Winyan Maka spoke of traditional life-ways that motivate many of her people to stand against despoliation of earth and water: ““‘Wicosani’ is a Lakota word meaning to ‘Walk in Balance with the four aspects of Self: Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual.’ It is not enough to work to attain this in one’s own life. To sustain health and to thrive, the entire community must also ‘BE’ in Wicosani, first with themselves, then with one another; [and then] we must also work together to promote Wicosani in our environment. Earth, air, fire and water are the elements we must strive to keep in balance in order for all life to thrive.” The Lakota at this gathering hope to reclaim indigenous stewardship of earth’s land and water, a stewardship disrupted when colonizers claimed ownership of resources above and below their feet and displaced native people from traditional homelands. Ducheneaux relates her direct experience. Her tiyospaye (extended
family) was relocated from their land along the Missouri River with the building of the Oahe hydroelectric dam. Floodwaters destroyed trees and plants holding rainwater in place; this disruption to the watershed damaged the hydrologic cycle rapidly moving reservation lands towards desertification. Candace is determined to turn this process around in her lifetime.
Conference attendees shared the same sense of urgency. They offered perspectives pointing ways forward along parallel paths, framed by keynote presenter Waziyatawin, renowned Dakota writer, teacher, and activist from Pezihutazizi Otunwe (Yellow Medicine Village) in Minnesota. Waziyata stresses that decolonization of indigenous people and reclamation of traditional wisdom and practices require bold acts of “resistance and resurgence.” Resistance implies standing against relentless efforts by corporations to eke out every drop of fossil fuel despite consequences to land and water. Resurgence refers to establishing best practices to recharge the small water cycle and replenish local and regional watersheds. The first day of the Summit focused on water safety, highlighting international resistance efforts to
protect waterways and aquifers on native homelands. Nina Was’te (Wilsonfeld), co-founder of Canadianbased Idle No More (INM), described how the INM movement began in 2012 with an uprising of aboriginal people of Canada in reaction to legislative abuses of indigenous treaty rights. According to Was’te, INM was the match that lit the dry tinder of frustration among Canada’s First Nations. Today this grassroots organization has grown to include more than 109,000 tribal activists, allies and environmentalists across Canada, the US, and Central and South America. The name Idle No More has become synonymous with fierce resistance to encroachment by oil and gas companies on Reserves and general exploitation of natural resources by private interests at the expense of original inhabitants. Eala also said she witnesses ruin when companies put profits ahead of the needs of people. She noted she continues pointing out parallels between individual and environmental Wicosani: “When one aspect of Self is out of balance, the individual becomes ill or suffers. However, not just that individual is affected. Their entire family loses harmony for a period of time. This is also so with the forces of nature. When the earth becomes polluted with pesticides, uranium tailings and byproducts from the removal of coal from the earth, the water is affected. Today, large-scale industrial operations use large quantities of water and toxic chemicals to extract natural gas and fossil fuel reserves trapped in tar sands and shale.
Continued on Pg 7
LENN Summer 2013
Rights of Mother Earth By Libby Comeaux CoL “We, the peoples and nations of Earth … recognizing that the capitalist system and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change; conscious of the urgency of taking decisive, collective action to transform structures and systems that cause climate change and other threats to Mother Earth; proclaim this Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.”
that the planet can bear is 2o C. Even the world’s governments have agreed with the science on this number. But already at a mere 0.8o C increase, we are experiencing catastrophic climate effects far beyond those anticipated. Forests are burning all over the globe, while floods, tornados and hurricanes rage more often and more violently. Even if we managed to stop burning all fossil fuels right now, the effects of past burning will warm the planet an additional 0.8o C, bringing us fourfifths of the way to the 2o C limit.
— Preamble to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth
Scientific calculations tell us that, to avoid reaching that limit, we must keep from burning any more than 565 additional gigatons of CO2. At our current rates of increase, that would take us about 15 years. However, McKibben cites The Carbon Tracker Initiative as calculating industry
Bill McKibben passionately sets forth, three numbers to signal the urgency we face: 2 degrees Centigrade, 565 gigatons, and 2,795 gigatons. The maximum increase in temperature Indigenous Water Summit
Continued from Pg 6
“The by-products from these operations are released as toxins that eventually work themselves down to the water table. Similar pollutants poison the air, which has an effect on plants and trees, which in turn affects the four-legged and winged-ones. When the larger picture appears to be so bleak, what can be done to help restore Wicosani to individuals, community and the environment?” Answers to this foundational question—the process Waziyata calls resurgence—took center stage on day two of the Summit. Discussion shifted to water security and highlighted fieldwork by International water experts, among them: Goldman Environmental Prize winner Michal Kravcik, founder of People and Water in Slovakia, and NYC socialite turned Arizona rancher and water activist, Valer Austin. It is hard to imagine two more different individuals, let alone to find both attending an indigenous
water summit. But Candace holds an enduring vision: Find champions of water from multiple traditions and use all best practices to guide her work on the reservation. Candace recognized a kindred spirit in Kravcik while watching Blue Gold: World Water Wars. Speaking in Slovak, Michal described how to replenish aquifers by re-establishing small water cycles. The idea is simple: Retain water run-off with catch dams at intervals along streambeds, instead of diverting water from where it’s most needed. Water-holdings collect water, allowing it to permeate the soil and return moisture to air as water vapor. This practice runs counter to large-scale dam construction and urbanization that seal off the earth’s permeable surfaces with pavement, rooftops and concrete. Across the world from Slovakia, Valer Austin uses similar water-harvesting techniques to recover desert lands on
“Mother Earth is the source of life, nourishment and learning and provides everything we need to live well.”
reserves totaling 2795 gigatons scheduled to be mined and burned – 5 times too many gigatons! Taking these three numbers together, Naomi Klein claims we are being locked “ into a future we cannot survive.” Bill McKibben adds that it is “too late to stop global warming; all we can do is stop it from being an utter calamity.” As Lester Brown stresses, “What’s at stake now is civilization itself.” This is a wake-up call to listen to the rights of nature. both sides of the U.S. and Mexican border. Austin’s foundation, Cuenca Los Ojos, works with indigenous tribes building rock trincheros to impede erosion of hillsides and earthen berms to plug up washes, thus restoring biodiversity and productivity to the land. Land recovery allows indigenous people to remain in traditional communities with families, to reclaim right livelihoods and restore balance to mind, body, emotions and spirit. We invite enthusiastic support for these and other indigenous initiatives to recover and rehabilitate water and tribal land. We amplify the voices of Candace Ducheneaux and Christinia Eala, Nina Was’te and Waziyatawin, Kandi Mossett and Debra White Plume, Linda Tioleun Win Bishop and Sheree Denetsosie. The traditional wisdom that has gone unheeded for centuries holds hope and potential to light the way back to environmental reason and restore our fragile planet with the blessing of Wicosani.
LENN Summer 2013
If We Were To Act as a Sacred Earth Community, How Would We Respond to the Climate Emergency? By Libby Comeaux CoL
his is the question posed by a two-day interfaith conversation sponsored by the Trinity Institute and Contemplative Alliance in New York City, June 22-23, 2013. Loretto Community members gathered to watch a webcast of the concluding panel and share reflections. Over a period of several weeks, we had reviewed preparatory materials, including an online video, http:// www.overviewthemovie.com. In the movie, several astronauts describe their first experiences of Earth-gazing from space: “Seeing the planet as a whole living system,” said one. “It looks like a living, breathing organism, at the same time very fragile,” said another. And yet another: “You see the atmosphere as a paper thin layer, all that protects every living thing on Earth from death, from the harshness of space.” To Edgar Mitchell, whose focus is science rather than religion, the experience was surprisingly one of “total unity and oneness.” David Korten, author and co-founder of yes! magazine and one-time contributor to LEN News, opened the session by reviewing the importance of a framing narrative for society. Long ago, that narrative was of a distant patriarch. Then followed the metaphor of a machine universe. Currently, he said, our common story is about “sacred money and markets.” He sounded a call for humans to accept responsibility for the destruction we have caused. We need to learn to live in balance with a living Earth Mother. He called for a “compelling Sacred Earth Community Story” that weaves together indigenous wisdom, ancient spiritual traditions, emerging science and cosmology. Buddhist Acharya Judith Lief observed that we are like orphans separated from our Mother. We need to reconnect through body, feelings, breath, and silence – as children
together of this patient, bountiful Mother. She named three intoxications that act as obstacles: materialism, ideologies and spiritual arrogance. Christian eco-feminist theologian and Buddhist dharma teacher Chung Hyun Kyung framed the forbidden fruit story in Genesis as a prohibition on destroying the commons. She urged us to move away from a pyramid organizational style to a round style, where every living thing is the same distance from the pulse of life. Rabbi Arthur Waskow recalled the ancient rabbinic description of “the birth pangs of the Messiah.” New narratives have always emerged as a response to the pain inflicted by the old powers using and abusing the old narrative. When Moses received the name of God from the burning bush, he said, it was all consonants: YWHW. He challenged us to try to pronounce the name, thus demonstrating that the name of God is a breath! “The climate crisis is a crisis in the name of God,” he declared. Barbara Marx Hubbard noted that it was only in the 1960s (when scientists were first able to hear the background radiation of the big bang) that we began to understand the unfolding nature of the universe. Our framing story began to change dramatically. With further science, she said, we now can apply three lessons: (1) Crisis precedes transformation; problems are evolutionary drivers. (2) Nature tends to take jumps at times of crisis to the creation of whole systems greater than and unpredictable from the sum of its parts. (3) When nature is far from equilibrium, small fluctuations in a sea of chaos can make the difference. Teilhard de Chardin wrote of this dynamic, that as a system becomes more complex, it jumps toward greater awareness, freedom, cooperation, complexity and a new level of order.
She posed the following question. If for the first time a species becomes conscious of extinction by its own action – or evolution by its own action – what choice would it make consistent with the laws of its own nature? Contemplating this question, she commits to work with others who feel so drawn, to engage the laws of natural systems to create or call together an organic structure that would act as an attractor for all those working for humanity and nature. By coalescing and self-organizing by the heart’s desire to express oneself at the highest level, perhaps within our available five-year window this small fluctuation in the sea of chaos would make a difference, generating a new sacred story written by the peoples of earth who are creating the new humanity. The discussion turned briefly to the divestment movement, i.e., faith communities pulling their money out of fossil fuel investments to avoid profiting from the destruction of the planet. David Korten reflected that an important part of the Exodus story was that the people actually walked away from the power-abusing Pharaoh. Rabbi Waskow challenged faith communities to do more than simply walk away (pull their money out). He said that the Shalom Center is putting that money into the new ecology, the new economy. The center has a new slogan, “Move Our Money, Protect Our Planet!” It is only coincidental that this spells out Mom and Pop, another frame for the family of humans and Earth!