The “Green” Issue of Birth Control?

Much has been said about Pope Benedict’s comments regarding selective condom use as a possible minor first step in taking personal responsibility for one’s actions. Below is a very thoughtful Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post from a member of a local Catholic parish:

The clarifications of Pope Benedict XVI’s comment on condoms [“Theologians debate meaning of pope’s condom remark,” news story, Nov. 24] are suggestive, given the oft-stated concern of this “green pope” for the environment.

Incongruously, he remains in denial about the reality of global overpopulation, even while accepting the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change.

But the view ascribed to him by his spokesman – of the moral imperative of “taking into consideration the risk of the life of another” and “avoiding passing a grave risk onto another” – applies as much to the ravaged world that we are leaving to posterity as it does to the AIDS epidemic.

Might not a sophisticated thinker such as Benedict eventually come to see that the ecological harm done by overpopulation is the strongest argument of all for birth control?–Daryl P. Domning, Silver Spring

In part, the issue Domning raises is whether principles of moral discernment can be applied in a variety of situations that require moral decisions or do certain virtue ethics apply in cases of sexuality but not in other equally dire situations.

Will The White House Go Solar … Again?

Balcony solar water heaters in Zhejiang, China

Karen Lattea over at Sojourners has got a nice post on whatever happened to those White House solar panels that Jimmy Carter installed in the 1970s. They didn’t sit well with subsequent oil-baron presidents and were removed. But … things are looking sunny again!

In 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter announced the installation of solar panels on the White House roof. Today, a group of students from Unity College in Unity, Maine, accompanied by 350.org founder and environmentalist Bill McKibben, will ask President Obama to re-install the panels on the roof of his home.

The story of how the solar panels got from the White House to Maine was covered yesterday morning on Democracy Now! as the student delegation passed through New York on its way to Washington, D.C. Democracy Now!, broadcast on WPFW every morning in the D.C. metro area, is the always-informative, often-disturbing, independent- and grassroots-focused news and interview program hosted by Amy Goodman. Yesterday, Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez covered a story that provided both a reminder of the importance of symbolic activism and insight into how the next generation of activists is being born.

Read Karen’s whole post here.

‘Shaping Our Future’: Church of England Leads on Climate Change

UK climate changeIn a recent post Outlook Good: The Shifting Sands of Young Evangelicals and Climate Change, I cited as study that shows how important it is for religious leaders to lead well on climate change issues.

In that light, I was heartened to see a release this week on how the Church of England is asserting itself on environmental issues.

The ‘third sector’ [civil society], including the Church of England, has a crucial role to play in using its voice to increase public demand for government action to make low carbon options available and attractive to the public, the Church said in a press release today.

Government and third sectors will work together over the next five years to tackle key environmental issues such as climate change and sustainable development, according to the vision set out in Shaping Our Future, a new report published this month.

Government and UK civil society and religious organizations have agreed on a joint mission statement for a 5 year plan:

“The third sector shapes the future by mobilizing and inspiring others to tackle climate change and maximizing the social, economic and environmental opportunities of action.”

Stephen Hale, writing in the Third Sector foreword to the Shaping Our Future report, says:

The future is what we make it. The third sector provides the voice for society’s ambitions about the kind of world we want to live in, and has been the engine of progressive change. We secured the right to vote for women, and have won many battles in the struggle for equality and human rights, and against poverty and injustice. Climate change is now the most pressing of the challenges facing humanity. … Climate change is not simply an environmental issue. It profoundly threatens many other causes that the sector holds dear. It threatens the struggle to defeat poverty and inequality in the UK and globally. It threatens our health, our local environment, the cohesion of our communities, and the struggle for peace and security. For all these reasons and more, it is above all an issue of social justice. A step change in our response to this threat is in our interests, and a moral imperative. The transition to a low-carbon economy and society also provides some specific opportunities for the sector; to create resilient communities, new jobs, sustainable public services and a better quality of life. It’s time to seize them.

Of course, making social change from inside the power structure always needs a multi-pronged approach. While the Church of England is working with the government to inspire society toward a lower carbon diet, the Church must also be applying effective shareholder pressure to the mining and oil companies where the C of  E holds massive investments.

Outlook Good: The Shifting Sands of Young Evangelicals and Climate Change

PocketGuideThe data is in. Kids these days trust the news media as a source for information on global climate change only slightly more than they trust Sarah “I’m-not-one-who-would-attribute-it-to-being-man-made” Palin. So sayeth the researchers at American, Yale, and George Mason universities in a recent study.

Matthew Nisbet, an assistant professor in AU’s School of Communication, writes that “only 33% under the age of 35 trust the news media as a source of information about climate change, a proportion lower than any other age group. This proportion is also only slightly higher than the 27% of those under 35 who trust Sarah Palin on climate change.”

Social intuition has told us that “youth” are and should be more concerned about climate change than older adults. After all, the younger you are the more future you have to lose, right? Well, no. It turns out that the under-35ers are less likely than older adults to believe that global warming is already harming people in the United States and elsewhere in the world and are instead more likely to believe that harm will begin 10, 25, or even 50 years in the future. Just 21% of 18-34 year-olds believe that people around the world are currently experiencing harm due to global warming, relative to 33% of those 35-59 and 29% of those 60 and older.

But here’s a really interesting part of this study–when you add religion into the mix. There was no measurable difference across age when it comes to trusting religious leaders on climate change–except among evangelical Christians. While self-identified evangelicals, who make up roughly 30% of the U.S. population, are more likely to trust religious leaders on global warming than Americans who don’t identify as evangelical, this is especially true of young adults.

Eighty-one percent of the under-35 evangelicals trust religious leaders as an information source on global warming, compared to just 36% of non-evangelical young adults.

In contrast, 51% of evangelicals 60 and older trust religious leaders compared to 41% of non-evangelicals. Notably, 66%  of evangelicals trust scientists. And a full 77% of young evangelicals  says that they trust scientists as an information source on global warming. President Obama is also a trusted source among a majority (52%) of young evangelicals.

This data highlights the critical role religious leaders play in education around global climate change. It is important that the pulpit be a place that provides accurate and trustworthy information on environmental issues within the context of our Christian narrative and moral tradition.

So, pastors out there, here’s your 3-point sermon:

Earthkeeping. Fruitfulness. Sabbath.

“Serve and Preserve.” “Foster Creativity.” “Regularly Choose Being, Not Doing.”

Genesis 2:15. Ezekiel 34:18. Leviticus 25 and 26.

Find more climate change and creation-care sermons at Creation Care for Pastors. And get your solid climate science in easy spoonfuls at RealClimate. Your youth (and your old ones) are listening.

Shall the Mountains Fall and Hills Turn to Dust?

peruandes

Over at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns site, Maryknoll lay missioner Barbara Fraser has a nice reflection for the second Sunday of Advent. Fraser spent many years in Peru.

In the Andes mountains, water is life. Rains fall from November to March, during the growing season. In the dry months, however, people depend on glaciers, which slowly release water, irrigating pastures where animals graze and feeding streams that provide water for drinking and washing. As the glaciers disappear, the pastures dry up, and neighbors begin to fight over access to the remaining pastures and streams. Some cannot continue to make a living from the land. They migrate to cities, where they face hardship and discrimination, because they have little formal education and do not speak Spanish well.

Farmers in the Andes see the world they have known collapsing around them, because of the changing climate. What they feel is probably similar to what the Israelites felt when they were in exile, or what the Jews of John the Baptist’s time felt under foreign occupation. They lived in a time of  uncertainty, had little control over events, and did not know if they could promise their children a better future.

Today’s readings reminded them ­ and remind us ­ of God’s faithfulness and the promise of salvation. But the readings also remind us that God calls us to action, to prepare the way for salvation.

Read Barbara Fraser’s whole reflection here.

Operation Noah Reports from Copenhagen

Daily film videos from the UN climate summit starting on Copenhagen next week are part of a December plan of action to make sure that the voice of faith is heard at this “make or break” time in our history. These will be on the new ON website at: www.operationnoah.org.

Watch the 3-minute introductory video below.

Operation Noah, the ecumenical community which campaigns exclusively on climate change, is working with a US web-based organization, Odyssey Networks, to bring you the voices of religious wisdom as monks, nuns, rabbis and holy men and women converge on the Danish capital.

“It’s quite an ambition,” said ON’s Mark Dowd, who will be fronting many of the reports. “We’re following everyone from the Archbishop of Canterbury, to youngsters from the Christian-Muslim forum, Benedictine and Franciscan nuns, Hindu gurus, Buddhist monks and American evangelicals.”

Using the full range of new media potential, there are plans for daily video diaries, blogs and film reports which will feature, for example, the huge religious gatherings on the weekend of December 12th and 13th.

“I am sure that much of Copenhagen will de dominated by the politicians and policymakers with endless talks of carbon trading, cap and trade and mitigation measures,” said Mark Dowd. “That’s all well and good, but we need to stand back and give the faith voice a platform. Creation is a gift and unless we include some sense of the sacred in our reflections, we are not going to get back on course to living in greater balance and harmony with the natural world.”

Marina Silva: “Forest Time vs City Time”

marinasilva2When international climate negotiators meet in December in Copenhagen, Brazilian Catholic Amazonian activist Marina Silva will serve as the conference’s conscience. A native Amazonian who grew up in a community of rubber-tappers, Silva worked with murdered Catholic activist Chico Mendes, won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996, and served as Brazil’s minister of the environment under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from 2002 to 2008, when she resigned in protest.

Of her early faith, Silva writes: “One of my biggest problems during my childhood was to find out who God was and where He had come from. Even if I had never seen a Bible and had never entered church, I started a journey” (see Marina Silva: Defending Rainforest Communities in Brazil). She’s also known for her deeply held beliefs in nonviolence. “I have a great admiration for people who struggle in the way Gandhi did: at once activist and pacifist, ” she said in a 1995 interview.

Washington Post
‘s environment reporter Julie Eilperin interviewed Marina Silva when she was in town this month. Here’s an excerpt:

What inspired you to do environmental work?

It was a combination of things. First, the sensibility I gained from living with the forest, from being born there and taking my sustenance from it until I was 16 years old. Second was my contact with liberation theology, with people like Chico Mendes, a connection that raised social and political consciousness about the actions of the Amazonian rubber-tappers and Indians who were being driven out of their lands because the old rubber estates were being sold into cattle ranches. These encounters made me become engaged with the struggle in defense of the forest. Later, I discovered that this was about “the environment” and the protection of ecosystems. It was an ethical commitment that these natural resources could not be simply destroyed.

How does your Amazon upbringing affect the way you see the issues at stake?

Without doubt, the experience of living in one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions of the world has affected how I see the world. I see two time frames: forest time and city time. Forest time is slower; things have to be more fully processed; information takes a long time to get there, so people didn’t have access to new information. When a new idea arrived, you thought about it, elaborated on it, talked about it for a long time. So this way of thinking, reflecting on and developing ideas, helps me have a sense of the preservation of things, to not make rushed decisions.

Read the whole interview here.

Why So Glum, Climate Change Movement?

happyplanetSo, the planets in peril. Yeah. That’s bad. But hand-wringing never solved anything. U.K.’s Giles Fraser, canon chancellor at St. Paul’s cathedral in London, says the motto “Let’s make huge sacrifices in order to make nothing happen” is not the way to run a successful social movement!

“The climate-change campaign needs a sense of can-do enthusiasm”, says Fraser.  The language of “hope” and “salvation” comes to mind as a way religious folk can contribute to a global shift in consciousness about all of us living lightly on the earth.

Here’s an excerpt from Fraser’s recent speech:

Why is the climate-change campaign failing to change hearts and minds? Or perhaps it is chang­ing hearts and minds (we all do our little bit: recycling, green toothpaste, and so on), but is failing to affect our fundamental thirst for energy which drives the deeper changes that are taking place. Why?

One explanation is that many climate-change campaigners sweat gloom about the future. That hardly gives them a Henry V leadership style. It can sometimes seem as if their message is that if we try extremely hard, then we can just about stop any more changes. In other words: let’s make huge sacrifices in order to make nothing happen. With that message, it is hard to imagine how you might persuade someone to get out of bed.

At Lambeth Palace last fortnight, religious leaders got together to press a different message. We are the generation that is being called on to be heroes, to make a difference, to save the planet. Now that is the right emphasis.

The climate-change campaign needs a sense of can-do enthusiasm. It would be really something if that was what faith leaders were able to add to the mix: replacing gloomy defeatism with a secularised version of something we call hope.

Moreover, we may find that those who have sneered at the very idea of salvation will come to see the importance of this type of language. A biblical-sounding crisis requires a language and a philosophy commensurate with the size of the threat.–Giles Fraser

Read the whole speech here.

Moving Toward a “Whole-Earth Jubilee”

earthjubileeOn October 24 people around the world will be observing the First International Day of Climate Action, hosted by Bill McKibben’s 350.org.

Right now, as the world prepares for the international climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December, the world lacks one thing to save itself: political will. We have the technology to make appropriate changes. But political will is forged through moral vision and religious persuasion brought to bear by a diverse set of grassroots actions. And grassroot action requires you.

For Christians, part of our mission in the world is to bring religious imagination to bear on the crises of our day. Climate change is one of the most critical crises of our day.

Thanks to Tim Kumfer over at Always New Depths for posting his short essay written for his Ecofeminist Theology and Philosophy class at Duke responding to this question: What resources exist in your religious and/or spiritual tradition for thinking about ecological crises like climate change, pollution, scarce resources like water and food, and species loss?

Here’s part of Tim’s response, but I encourage you to read the whole thing and consider what resources you draw on for shaping religious vision. Also, what fun and effective thing can you do for International Day of Climate Action on Oct. 24. Tim writes:

These themes of resistance to dominant ecological and economic practices within the Bible must be brought into the mix as Christians begin to reflect on our contemporary many-headed ecological crisis.  Listening deeply to these stories and paying attention to the dynamics in which they were formed I think we will find more radical conversation partners than we might have first imagined.  Our present lives in the first world are supported by structures of empire similar to those which our foremothers and fathers in the faith strove to leave or subvert from within. The rapacious practices of consumer capitalism need to be stopped; Sabbath can point towards alternatives which honor the earth and workers through the recognition of natural limits. A whole-earth Jubilee is necessary now more than ever, one which not only brings greater equality between humans but recognizes the inherent worth, beauty, and necessity of non-human species and the ecosystem.  This is perhaps the most important thing which the Christian (and Jewish) tradition at its best can bring to the table: an uncompromising moral vision which can go beneath green washing and eco-capitalist hype to re-present to us the truth which we already know: our lives in the first world need to change drastically for life on this planet to be sustained.

Read Tim’s full post here.

A Rising Tide Lifts All … Death Tolls

Oct 11: Filipino police dig for bodies in La Trinidad, Philippines, after Typhoon Parma.
Oct 11: Filipino police dig for bodies in La Trinidad, Philippines, after Typhoon Parma.

Scientists say that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. We are now at 385.92. Not good.

A new report from UCLA scientist Aradhna Tripati says that the last time we were this hot was 20 million years ago – and the seas covered the earth.

Read an excerpt from Tripati’s report below:

“The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland,” said the paper’s lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

“A slightly shocking finding,” Tripati said, “is that the only time in the last 20 million years that we find evidence for carbon dioxide levels similar to the modern level of 387 parts per million was 15 to 20 million years ago, when the planet was dramatically different.”

Levels of carbon dioxide have varied only between 180 and 300 parts per million over the last 800,000 years — until recent decades, said Tripati, who is also a member of UCLA’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. It has been known that modern-day levels of carbon dioxide are unprecedented over the last 800,000 years, but the finding that modern levels have not been reached in the last 15 million years is new.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the carbon dioxide level was about 280 parts per million, Tripati said. That figure had changed very little over the previous 1,000 years. But since the Industrial Revolution, the carbon dioxide level has been rising and is likely to soar unless action is taken to reverse the trend, Tripati said.

“During the Middle Miocene (the time period approximately 14 to 20 million years ago), carbon dioxide levels were sustained at about 400 parts per million, which is about where we are today,” Tripati said. “Globally, temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, a huge amount.”

In the last 20 million years, key features of the climate record include the sudden appearance of ice on Antarctica about 14 million years ago and a rise in sea level of approximately 75 to 120 feet.

“We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in carbon dioxide levels of about 100 parts per million, a huge change,” Tripati said. “This record is the first evidence that carbon dioxide may be linked with environmental changes, such as changes in the terrestrial ecosystem, distribution of ice, sea level and monsoon intensity.”

Read the whole article here. And check out the 350 Campaign.