Spark, November 2011
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
|New York Yearly Meeting News|
|The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)||November 2011|
|Editor, Paul Busby|
Caring for Our Earth
Patricia Chernoff, Morningside Meeting
This issue of Spark continues our Summer Sessions theme of Peace with Earth: Transforming Our Communities.
Many Friends and members of the NYYM Earthcare Google group have contributed articles for this issue. The topics cover a wide range of issues and experiences related to Earthcare. I hope you enjoy the issue and find much to think about in these articles, and I hope they will have an effect on Earthcare in your life and in the life of your meetings. Each person’s contribution can make a big difference when multiplied by 7 billion.
I have just returned from the Annual Meeting of our national Quaker organization, Quaker Earthcare Witness. I encourage you as individuals and meetings to support their work and their publication, Befriending Creation. It is a wonderful resource.
If you would like to join the NYYM Earthcare Google group to stay abreast of Earthcare developments around the Yearly Meeting, please e-mail me at patriciachernoff [at] verizon.net and I will send you an invitation.
At War with Nature
Newton Garver, Buffalo Meeting
Testimonies of concern for the environment, for Mother Earth, have resonated among Friends in the past decade or so. Partly this has been corporate effort, as in the three pioneering LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings that come to mind: the FCNL office in Washington, the new middle school building at Sidwell Friends, and Friends Center in Philadelphia. Partly it has been the testimony of individual Friends in reducing their carbon footprint, such as Steven Matchett in San Francisco limiting his travel (with rare exceptions) to trains and bicycle. Each of us has our own little ways, no doubt.
In spite of these testimonies, it troubles me that Friends seem generally in denial about our long-standing war against nature. The chief human accomplishment in this war has been the explosion of the human population. When I was born, no human had lived through a doubling of the human population. In my lifetime it has more than tripled, and I could still live to see it quadruple. All that growth has been at the expense of nature, that is, at the expense of other creatures and features of the natural world. How has that happened?
The campaign to achieve domination over nature has, of course, not been a specifically Quaker war, but Friends have not distanced themselves from other humans in this matter, and have generally participated with easy consciences or even pride in the endeavor to have dominion over plants, animals, and minerals. To satisfy the “needs” of humans, we have slushed millions of tons of topsoil into the ocean, we have depleted fishery stocks and hydrocarbon deposits, we have decimated forests, and we have emptied aquifers—thereby, as Evo Morales puts it, depleting in 200 years the stock that Mother Earth took tens of millions of years to accumulate. Is that what NYYM had in mind when speaking this summer of “Peace with Earth”? Did Friends have in mind that this has not occurred? Or that it might stop?
I wonder whether at the root of this human war has been a reluctance to accept death as integral to life. Defiance of death would be the ultimate form of domination over Mother Nature. There is nothing that lives forever. Anything that lives, in the primary biological sense, also dies. As Schiller put it, “Auch das Schöne muss sterben.” (Even the beautiful must die.) In the poem that begins with this agonizing line, Schiller goes on to say that tears stream down the faces of the gods and goddesses, but they can do nothing to stop the beautiful from dying or the perfect from falling apart—all they can do is to weep and to mourn. Death is essential to the dynamic of the natural world. Not only does everything that lives eventually die, but while it lives its life depends on other things dying or having died. No tree could grow if other living things had not died and left their decayed remains to fertilize the soil.
Psalm 24 begins by saying that the earth is the Lord’s, and all that it contains. To my mind that simple, powerful verse conflicts with Genesis 1:26, in which the Lord is said to give humans dominion over the whole earth. Dominion is more than custody. What I have dominion over can belong to no other person, nor can it, without my permission, follow its own laws or its own will. It appears to me that humans, Friends included, have generally hearkened to Genesis 1:26 and neglected Psalm 24:1. Perhaps that is only “natural.” Could it be that seeking dominion is a natural form of greed?
Psalm 24:1 speaks of the earth and all that it contains. Presumably that means all creatures great and small. Do you tolerate all creatures great and small in your life? I don’t. I don’t spray my apples trees, but I use insecticides to keep ants out of the house and wasps from the eaves. I use herbicides around the mailbox and driveway and fungicides between my toes. I also use antibiotics to counter infections, and so on. I know and respect Friends who are vegetarians or vegans, but I have not met Friends who refuse to kill bacteria or carcinoma cells. I confess, therefore, that there are many little things that I kill, so that I can have a longer and more comfortable life. Am I so different from other Friends? Am I in these ways acting contrary to ideals of Quaker Earthcare Witness?
Our war against nature is a war of domination. The issue is whether we humans can dominate nature rather than conform to the natural dynamic of nature, which would lead to far earlier deaths for far more humans. We have been very, very successful so far. We no longer adjust to heat and cold but instead depend on AC and furnaces (or heat pumps). More than anything else we have achieved domination over bacteria, viruses, and microbes, so that the forces of nature that might otherwise bring us early death (and thereby balance the human population with other biological populations) have been overcome. People speak openly of wars against cancers, and scientists recently held out hope that leukemia might be eliminated, as polio and smallpox have been (almost) eliminated.
Looked at in this way it is not only mining and drilling and industrial agriculture that war against nature. Our “armed forces” in this war against nature are primarily the medical professionals. Medical professionals regularly speak of saving lives, though in fact they do nothing of the kind—they merely postpone death. Postponing death is something we all wish for, but it is always thwarting nature. It is a kind of greed to want to live longer, greed that I share with all the rest of you. So I am in a quandary: while I make constant use of medical professionals, and trust and admire them, I also see that nearly everything they do upsets the dynamic balance of Mother Nature.
My sense is that rather than making “Peace with Earth,” Friends heartily approve of the medical profession, as I generally do, and thereby join in the war against nature, adding to the widespread neglect of Psalm 24:1. Since the medical profession is now the fastest growing segment of our workforce, it seems inevitable that the war against nature will intensify.
I can envision “Peace with Earth” when the human population declines to two billion. I believe that may eventually happen, or is even likely to happen, but I cannot envision how. Meanwhile we all continue, in various ways, our struggle to dominate, control, re-form, and exploit the dynamic mysteries surrounding us, which all amounts to a war against nature, that is, against the natural dynamic of abundant life and early death.
Seeking Integrity in Quaker Activism
Fred Doneit, Poughkeepsie Meeting
As Friends are led to become engaged in environmental action that calls for public witness, we should be careful to stay close to the truth, to remain nonviolent in our witness, and to always ground our witness in the leadings of the Spirit. It is easy to become influenced by those we ally ourselves with, so that our witness becomes politicized, antagonistic, or judgmental, and we lose sight of that of God in those we oppose.
Many environmental issues are only partly understood, and those groups that wage campaigns opposing a potentially destructive or dangerous project often resort to half-truths and opinion, just as the proponents do in proposing them. This “fighting fire with fire” may be a necessary tactic in the political arena to stop perceived environmental destruction, but Friends should always be mindful of the difference between proven or accepted fact and opinion or estimates. We are far safer to justify our witness on moral grounds or ethical values, than to resort to logical or scientific claims advanced by experts.
Maintaining an attitude of nonviolence is crucial, and must be extended to the language and statements made on banners, posters, and handbills, as well as in oral discussion with those who ask for information, justification, or “proof” for a position being taken. Although Quaker groups have much experience with demonstrations, vigils, and public meetings, such groups should always ensure that new Friends or attenders participating are aware of the manner of Quaker public witness. Friends who join non-Quaker groups to demonstrate must be clear that they will withdraw if violence erupts or tempers flare, or the discourse becomes inflammatory.
Most importantly, our public witness should always be in accordance with leadings we have been given in worship. Convincement and rationalization are not enough; our hearts must be engaged as well as our minds. It is best if we can precede any public witness with a period of worship as a final validation of our intent. This leading of the Spirit serves as both our motivation to give witness and our reason for giving witness—that is, we justify our witness not solely on logical or scientific arguments but on doing the right thing, as revealed by the Spirit.
Discernment will help us to understand why we are emotionally involved. Is it because the issue threatens our home grounds? Would we hold the same concern if the threat was in another region or country? Understand, self-protection is a powerful motivation and justification for action, but it is a weak basis for Quaker activism or for giving testimony to advance truth—only doing the right thing for the larger community of life can do that.
Individual Friends who join with non-Quaker groups in public demonstrations would do well to bring their concern, leadings, and rationale to their monthly meeting for hearing and discernment. This discipline will help to ensure that a proposed course of action has been sufficiently seasoned and is truly Spirit-led. The meeting may minute its support (or nonsupport) of an individual action, or it may minute its approval that the individual Friend may represent the meeting in its witness and public declaration. This time-tested practice among Quakers is often overlooked by activists and is often not discussed with activists who seek membership.
Quakers bring moral authority to activism. We should not diffuse our identity by joining the scientific debate. Our identity and our message will be better served by witnessing on the moral plane—a place that ultimately carries far more weight than political or scientific argument.
20 Million within 50 Miles
Vitalah Simon, Purchase Meeting
Since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima last March, I have been working with the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC) in Westchester County to close Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Buchanan, NY, 13 miles from my home. The knowledge that two seismic fault lines cross one mile north of Indian Point totally activated my need to prevent a disaster here and get very involved. IPSEC is a coalition of environmental, health, and public-policy organizations, founded in 2001 to address the vulnerability of the nuclear reactors at Indian Point. Over 20 million people live within 50 miles of the plant. The concerns of IPSEC include both existing radiation releases and potential additional releases from either human error, aging infrastructure, or terrorism, and the flawed, unfixable evacuation plan. Our grassroots efforts have enlisted the support of hundreds of local, state, and federal officials. IPSEC members are currently fighting the proposed 20-year relicensing of the aging, leaking reactors. Nuclear power is neither clean nor green! Conservation and renewable energy sources hold the key to a sustainable future for the Hudson Valley Region. We welcome new members. Contact 888-474-8848; http://bit.ly/tA3w99. If you live in NYC, also visit http://bit.ly/uzwz6h.
We have also formed a broader coalition for the region called the Indian Point Convergence. We are an even larger gathering of individuals and organizations in the Hudson River Valley and New York City metro area who work cooperatively for a safe energy policy, including developing viable alternatives to Indian Point and closing the plant. We are practicing a tool for organizing called Open Space Technology, which is very similar to Quaker process. You can learn more about it at http://bit.ly/utSFa6. This technique works in a way that fully involves all participants in helping to craft the discussion and the movement of the group in the present moment. We meet in Stony Point, NY (Rockland County), once a month and any interested parties can attend—just contact me for the information (vitalah [at] verizon.net). We especially welcome more faith-based activists—that’s you!
Inspired and energized by being together and what I have learned in these past 6 months, a song started to form in my head/heart, and now has taken full form. It’s sung to the tune of “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.” The words will be included in the Web site version of this article at www.nyym.org.
Speaking Truth to Power about the Tar Sands:
|Syncrude processing facility and upgrader|
|photo by David Dodge, the Pembrina Institute|
Dr. James Hansen, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City who warned us as early as the 1980’s of the dangers of global warming, has spoken out about the new pipeline. He says this would be an environmental disaster on a grand scale that could spell the end of life as we know it on this planet.
The oil from these sands is diluted bitumen, an acidic crude oil. The largest deposit in Alberta, containing about 80% of Alberta’s total, is along the Athabasca River. It is the only deposit suitable for surface mining—which involves cutting down forests and removing the peat bog overburden. The sands are then removed using the largest power shovels (100 or more tons) and dump trucks (400 tons) in the world. Further stages of refinement are required before the oil is usable for a variety of applications.
About two tons of oil sands are required to produce one barrel (roughly 1/8 ton) of oil. The process generates massive lakes of toxic wastewater and churns up hundreds of square miles of earth. 90% recovery of the oil is now possible by doing this.
Yet approximately 90% of Alberta’s oil sands are too far below the surface to use this open-pit-mining technique. A growing number of other processes are being tried. They are all very energy intensive—some create vast amounts of steam; others even ignite oil to assist in extraction. Natural gas is the main energy source for tar-sands extraction, previously chiefly from Alberta, but now from new “unconventional” fields in British Columbia. New processes are constantly being proposed.
Monitoring of chemicals used in oil sands extraction has lagged. Environment Canada completed a 2007 study showing high deformity rates in fish embryos in an area adjacent to one of these operations. Industry-supported studies have contested their results. Other health concerns include claims of higher than normal rates of cancer among residents of Ft. Chipewyan in Alberta and high levels of arsenic in moose, an important indigenous meat source. Residents near the British Columbia gas fields used for extracting tar-sands oil are now complaining of serious illnesses.
Here is James Hansen’s analysis of the threat posed by greenhouse gases that will be released by extracting and burning tar-sands oil:
If released all at once, the known tar sands resource is equivalent to 150 parts per million [of CO2—a greenhouse gas that causes climate change—added to the atmosphere].…
What makes tar sands particularly odious is that the energy you get out in the end, per unit carbon dioxide, is poor. It’s equivalent to burning coal in your automobile. We simply cannot be that stupid if we want to preserve a planet for our children and grandchildren.
To keep climate disruption to a minimum, many scientists say parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere shouldn’t rise above 350. It is presently 390. By extracting and burning tar-sands oil, we will over time add another 150 ppm to the earth’s atmosphere. Although it will be released over the course of decades, the Keystone XL pipeline commits us to that.
In addition, consider this recent message from Interfaith Power & Light:
TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline has experienced a dozen leaks in its first year, including this spring’s 500-barrel gusher in North Dakota, which forced the Obama administration to shut it down. Imagine if this happened near the Ogallala Aquifer—which provides 30% of America’s drinking water and irrigates the nation’s Midwest and Southern farms. The proposed pipeline would run directly over the aquifer.
With all this awfulness, is it any wonder that people are choosing this issue as the one at which to draw the line? Where will Quakers stand as the planet gets ever closer to the brink? What are we willing to do to preserve the beauty and integrity of the earth?
NOTE—James Hansen was one of those recently arrested and incarcerated along with Tom Goodridge, who speaks of his civil disobedience experience elsewhere in this issue.
Arrested and Close to Hell
Tom Goodridge, Morningside Meeting
with Paddy Lane, Butternuts Meeting
My love of the Earth feels like the deepest root of my identity. I was privileged to spend childhood summers by a pristine glacial lake in western Connecticut. I believe my sense of self was shaped as a child swimming in that lake and roaming the surrounding old-growth hemlock forest. As a wonderstruck boy, I discovered an amazingly diverse community of frogs, ferns, turtles, snakes, and mushrooms. The sense grew in me that in some miraculous way I too belonged to that community. Now, at 60, I work in early-childhood special education, and I’m concerned that today’s children are under so much pressure and get to spend so little time in nature.
I’ve been part of NYC’s Friends in Unity with Nature (now Quaker Earthcare Witness) since its founding. We see the ecological crisis we face as a spiritual opportunity. We need to forge a new relationship with the Earth or, as Thomas Berry put it, “We need to reinvent the human.” We need to understand that we’re not just here for ourselves—we are of the Earth, and we are asked to play a new role in service to the Earth in this critical time of transition toward a more sustainable culture.
When I learned about the threat to the Canadian tar sands and saw pictures on the Web of the desecration of Alberta’s plains, I knew that I must participate in the tar sands action in Washington. I decided to join the two-week protest on the first day.
The protest was planned to be peaceful and dignified. We were to wear business attire despite the 80°+ weather. Participants were asked to make a three-day commitment. On the evening before, we attended a training to learn about civil disobedience and its possible consequences. We expected to be arrested and fined $100 if it was our first such arrest. I felt some trepidation about how an arrest could jeopardize future employment, but I could not resist this opportunity to stand in solidarity with this strategically planned action against the wanton abuse of our Earth.
65 women and men, old and young, were arrested in the park across from the White House gates that first Saturday. We were taken away in plastic handcuffs in a police van. I’d never before known the restraint of handcuffs or the resulting lack of balance as we bounced around in the hot van. About 20 of us men were transferred to DC’s central cell block, where we were incarcerated for the next days, in horrible conditions. In pairs we were put into steel cells that closely resembled cages—each small cell had two steel berths and a metal toilet. It was very hot, with no movement of air. Periodically we would hear the guards passing through slamming the metal gates. We were fed only baloney or cheese sandwiches. A bright neon light shone constantly. A feeling of alienation crept over me when they locked us in. If the cells were designed to humiliate the inmates, it started to work, even on me, with such good reasons to be there. I felt scared, not seeing the sun or feeling fresh air. We had to ask the guards what time of day it was. If I had not been part of a community, I fear I would have soon lost my sense of dignity.
No one had expected we would be held for over two days. Before dawn of the third day, we were alerted that we would see the judge. We were handcuffed and transferred to the basement of the federal justice building. We awaited word from the judge about what would happen next in large holding pens where up to 50 of the almost entirely black population of the DC jails were crammed. We were assaulted by the sight of this degradation of humanity, seeing everybody in shackles. Because there were no chairs, all these black men lay on the floor, many asleep with their T-shirts pulled over their heads. A deranged man screamed in the background. Big burly white marshals would shout instructions. If anyone felt no shame on entering this space, the exposed toilets in each section would cure that. We were all exhausted from lack of sleep, from the heat, from not knowing what was going to happen. The combined effect was like entering a realm of hell. There we spent the next six hours in shackles in the holding pens. I felt like a character in Kafka’s The Trial, I have never felt myself, in all my 60 years, so close to hell.
Finally we learned we were to be released without seeing a judge. They called our names individually and the shackles were removed. With an extraordinary feeling of liberation, I walked up two flights of stairs and then ascended an escalator to the huge white marble ground floor of the justice building. Finally I saw the sun, now setting, through the enormous glass walls. I exited to the courtyard to a crowd of cheering people and reporters with cameras trained upon us, the released heroes. And a smorgasbord of food and drinks but no baloney sandwiches. I ate well and lay down on the well-cropped grass, looking gratefully into the blue sky. As sweet as my liberation felt, I continue to be haunted by the memory of the black men who I knew were not released and for whom no feast of justice would be prepared.
“If we listen to the earth, we will hear it proclaim the glory of God. If we enjoy and preserve the earth, it will become our home. And as we unite with creation, we draw ever nearer to God.”
NYYM Faith and Practice, page 43
What Do Friends Need to Know about Fracking?
Margaret McCasland, Ithaca Meeting
Fracking is an imprecise term that means different things to different people. So the rest of this article will use “HVHF” (high-volume hydraulic fracturing). HVHF is very different from traditional gas drilling, which taps into large pockets of gas in a porous geological formation.
A more general industry distinction refers to all fossil fuels: “unconventional” vs. “conventional” extraction of coal, oil, or gas. Unconventional extraction includes mountaintop removal coal mining, deepwater oil drilling, tar-sands oil—and HVHF gas drilling. Since we’ve already used most of Earth’s conventional fuel sources, unconventional extraction is increasing. While it takes more equipment, energy, and money to extract unconventional fuels, many of the true ecological and economic costs get externalized to local communities and to global ecosystems.
So before I explain what is unconventional about HVHF, I need to call out for a rapid, massive build-out of renewable energy sources, paired with major energy conservation and efficiency programs, so that a safe supply can meet a reasonable demand.
If you don’t live over a drillable section of the Marcellus Shale, why do you need to know anything about HVHF?
Because most of New York State will be affected directly or indirectly—including NYC. Much of central and western New York lies over the Marcellus or Utica shales. But a wider area is targeted for wastewater disposal, from surface water disposal in Watertown and Niagara Falls to injection wells wherever porous formations could absorb wastewater. Truck accidents and surface spills will be the most likely source of accidental water contamination. And there will be thousands of truck trips bringing chemicals to drilling pads and then hauling wastewater away. Air pollution from drill rigs, compressors, processing stations, pipelines leaks—and all those trucks—will affect areas well beyond drilling pads.
|photo by Rick Jackofsky|
Because water is life and accidents happen and water flows downhill. From the Great Lakes and the Finger Lakes to the Catskills, New York has much of the best water in the world. Leaking well casings, truck accidents, leaking wastewater ponds, and flooded drilling pads have already happened in Pennsylvania. (Note: prohibiting drilling-related construction projects from being done very close to the NYC and Syracuse reservoirs protects them from construction mud, but not from toxic spills in the watersheds that feed them.)
Because dilution, it turns out, is NOTthe solution to pollution. Many chemicals previously thought safe in the parts per million are now known to harm human health in the parts per billion. Neither drinking-water plants nor wastewater plants can remove all the chemicals, minerals, or waterborne radiation associated with unconventional drilling. The technology exists, but it is too expensive (and energy-intensive) to use widely.
Because gas drilling is a boondoggle, not an economic boon. Extractive industries give a short-term economic boost to a few sectors, but bring long-term economic costs to many sectors. Even if there are no accidents at drilling sites, the introduction of widespread heavy industry will damage tourism, wineries, wildlife-related activities, and agriculture, plus raise rents at the same time it reduces real estate values.
Because gas is a fossil fuel with a high impact on global climate disruption. “Natural gas” is methane. When released to the atmosphere, unburned methane traps 1,900% more heat than CO2 does. Due to the higher pressures used during drilling, HVHF releases far more unburned methane than conventional gas drilling does.
Because “energy independence” will come at a price. Once pipelines connect NY gas to the global market (liquid-natural-gas export terminals are in process), both demand and prices will be set globally, not locally. While demand will keep much gas here, we will be paying much higher prices. And you are a gas customer even if you don’t use gas for heat or cooking: more and more of NYS’s electricity is from gas-fired plants.
More than you want to know about HVHF.
High-volume (slickwater) hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) was developed in the late 1990s as part of deepwater oil drilling. An older, less intensive form of hydrofracking was developed by Halliburton in the late 1940s. HVHF uses much more fluid (on average 5.6 million gallons vs. 20,000 to 80,000 gallons of fluid). It is also called “slickwater” because it uses a different mix of chemicals than the older methods, including friction reducers. HVHF is the only way to remove gas locked in tiny pores, as in the Marcellus and Utica shales.
HVHF drilling is used to extract gas (primarily methane) that is tightly embedded in tiny pores within dense shale. HVHF fractures the shale, releasing gas into the newly created cracks. Because gas is released only from sections of the shale that have been fractured, each drilling pad has 6–12+ wells, each with a horizontal arm running thousands of feet in a different direction. This process is usually repeated several times per well. Every time a well is “stimulated,” millions of gallons of water are contaminated by chemicals added on the surface and by minerals and organic compounds found in the shale. Small amounts of flow-back water can be recycled, but most water is left underground, forever lost to the water cycle.
In order to justify bringing in the extensive infrastructure needed to extract, process, and transmit methane extracted using HVHF, gas companies need to have as many drilling pads as possible in the same region.
How to comment on both the SGEIS and the recently issued draft regulations (both due December 12, 2011). The SGEIS is a set of guidelines for issuing drilling permits. NYS recently issued a set of draft regulations on gas drilling, which have not previously existed. See www.tcgasmap.org/ and http://1.usa.gov/pQ5v1n.
General Background on Fracking:
- Pro Publica: http://bit.ly/r5prGO
- New York Times: “Drilling Down: the risks of natural-gas drilling and efforts to regulate this rapidly growing industry” (with archive of original documents), http://nyti.ms/orB3CR.
- William Kappel, US Geological Survey (good maps, diagrams, and photos), http://bit.ly/oAim6c
- List of resources from Marcellus Accountability Project for Tompkins County, http://bit.ly/pbRE7R
Economic aspects: Susan Christopherson, ed. “The Economic Consequences of Marcellus Shale Gas Extraction: Key Issues.” CaRDI Reports Issue 14, Sep.2011, http://bit.ly/od7DDk
Engineering of gas drilling: search for videos and articles by Anthony (Tony) Ingraffea.
Human Health: Theo Colborn, PhD, on endocrine disruption, http://bit.ly/r3k96l
Haudenosaunee Statement on Hydrofracking: http://bit.ly/ncuzQ9
Minute: “Energy Sources and Right Relationship with Earth”(response to HVHF drilling): Ithaca Monthly Meeting, http://ithacamonthlymeeting.org (click on Earthcare Committee link)
Gas leasing: http://fleased.org/
Radioactivity: James W. Ring, Hamilton College. Coverage of Ring’s testimony to the NYS DEC. “Special Delivery? Spectra pipeline could bring radon to NYC stoves,” http://bit.ly/olgiUc
Water quality and testing: http://bit.ly/pvRM36
What Is Yours to Do?
Angela Manno, Fifteenth Street Meeting
The Great Work before us, the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign mode of presence, is not a role we have chosen.…We were chosen by some power beyond ourselves for this historic task.…We are, as it were, thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice. The nobility of our lives, however, depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role.
—Thomas Berry, cultural historian, eco-theologian
Thomas Berry’s words reinforce what I have known since my “ecological awakening” nearly 30 years ago. I was in the midst of my first hypnosis session, in an attempt to explore my spirituality and get beyond my rational mind, when I began to sob uncontrollably.
“They’re destroying the Earth!” I cried out. Images in my mind of nuclear waste spread upon the Earth pained me as if my very body were being poisoned.
Soon thereafter, when reading about the Gaia hypothesis, the theory of atmospheric chemist James Lovelock that the Earth is a living system, everything finally came together. “Of course!” I thought. “It’s all alive.” The trees breathed out carbon dioxide and all animal life breathed in the sweet oxygen. The water circulated throughout the Earth the way blood flows and nourishes every cell in our bodies. Also like our bodies, the Earth regulates its own temperature, maintaining the optimum range so that life can flourish.
I saw that all these systems function interdependently. And human beings were part of that system. But what part?
French paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin postulated that humans constituted the Earth’s noosphere, the cognitive layer of the living planet that emerged out of the other layers. Native Americans say we are the caretakers of the Earth. What do Friends say?
However we define ourselves within this living body, it is clear she is in the throes of a major health crisis. Because of our numbers, our patterns of consumption, and our technology, humans have become a force of nature, having pumped, within a few generations, almost the entire carbon contents of the lithosphere that have been sequestered in the depths of our planet for millions of years.
In so doing, the Right Relationship to our planet has been violated, while increasingly violent means are being used to extract from it what we want:
Tar-sands strip mining: The boreal forests are first stripped for the oil-laden sand that lies beneath them. To extract the oil, steam is injected into the ground to melt the tar-like crude from the sand, taking three gallons of water to produce a gallon of oil. The wastewater, contaminated with toxic chemicals used to dilute the tar-like oil, is dumped into huge pits that will persist for decades. Large swaths of land are left like an open wound.
The proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas threatens to contaminate major freshwater aquifers within the North American continent. A new project has just been proposed within the US in Utah.
Hydraulic fracturing: To release the captured methane gas inside the bedrock, millions of gallons of fresh water are mixed with sand and 500 toxic chemicals and forced into the ground at tremendous pressures, literally shattering the Earth’s foundation. Escaped methane combines with sunlight and volatile organic chemicals to create ground-level ozone, which destroys both lung tissue and the vascular structure of leaves that provide our oxygen and a sink for rainwater and snowmelt. The wastewater is irrevocably contaminated. Injection wells that store the wastewater have caused earthquakes in parts of the country. The list of abominations with this technology, which is threatening New York State, is long.
Mountaintop removal (MTR): To get at coal deposits more easily, companies are blowing off the tops of mountains, dumping the rubble into streams, and poisoning communities and all life forms in the affected areas. MTR is ruining both health and the beloved landscape, while the burning of coal uses our skies as an open sewer.
Deepwater drilling: The hemorrhage in the Gulf of Mexico on Earth Day 2010 that released millions of gallons of toxic crude oil into the waters was the environmental equivalent of 9/11. The damage and suffering to sea life is incalculable, and the ramifications are still unknown; yet we continue to drill in deep waters.
We are in a “use relationship” with the Earth, in which we exploit the Earth as “other” for our own needs, not taking into consideration, and often ignorant of, the Earth’s needs.
Our testimonies grew out of another era, when the suffering of the Earth was not as acute. Now is the time to widen our embrace to include the Earth so that our testimonies can live out their fuller meaning. They must be integral with the planet in which we live and move and have our being.
New sensibilities need to be awoken within the Religious Society of Friends, and new patterns of behavior and consumption adopted.
Here are four approaches to change:
1. The Confrontational—used when conventional approaches to change are failing and time is of the essence. Julia Butterfly Hill’s living in an old growth tree for two years to prevent it from being cut down is a shining example of this approach. Among Friends, the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) is focusing on PNC Bank, which has positioned itself as a green bank, to persuade them through the use of varied direct actions to divest from MTR companies and coal mining and to invest further in renewable alternatives.
2. The Legislative attempts to effect change from within—through the legal system. FCNL, the Ecuadoran Constitution, which grants rights to Nature, and Quaker environmentalist Marshall Massey’s Nature Amendment to the US Constitution (http://bit.ly/pkp1wP), are some examples of this approach.
3. The Creative. Rather than resisting or working from within the existing system, this approach builds alternative structures. Community-supported-agriculture groups, intentional communities that produce their own energy and food, urban rooftop gardens, “living machines” that convert sewage to drinking water using all-natural systems, are but a few of the multiplicity of examples.
4. Consciousness Changing. When our spirituality is rooted deeply in the Earth, our policies and behavior will naturally flow from that awareness. Participating in Deep Listening to Nature, a Council of All Beings, Native American ceremonies, Earth Literacy programs, and the Universe Walk are some of the ways to prepare for this shift at both the head and heart levels.
Which methods you choose is a matter of temperament.
In his keynote address to Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting (2003), Lloyd Lee Wilson acknowledged that many Friends now argue, “environmental concerns should be, and must be, the preeminent witness of Friends in this century.” I submit that the jury is no longer out on this issue.
Marshall Massey told the audience at Baltimore Yearly Meeting a few years ago, “Our traditions and testimonies are branches that grew out of a central tree (spirit) in response to specific needs. We have a new need.”
Yes, we have an urgent need. What is yours to do?
Watching Climate Change Come
to a Garden in Riverside Park, NYC
Patricia Chernoff, Morningside Meeting
|photo by Patricia Chernoff|
Since 2000 I have tended a garden in Riverside Park as part of a volunteer gardener program. The garden is largely yellow flag iris, but there are borders of orange day lilies, echinacea, Solomon’s seal, ostrich ferns, snakeroot, astilbe, and many volunteer Virginia knotweed. There is a tall dawn redwood, a large black locust tree with beautiful burls, several holly bushes, a few inkberry bushes, and lamiastrum, lamium and wild ginger as ground cover. It is a large garden, approximately 20 by 40 feet, and is situated against the historic Olmsted Wall at 99th Street and Riverside Drive.
As the years have progressed, I have noted that the iris come into bloom a full month earlier than they did in 2000 when I began tending the garden. They now bloom in early May, whereas they previously came into bloom in early June.
For the past two years the ferns, previously lush green throughout the summer, have been burned by the intensity of the sun, turning them brown, even in their semishady location.
I note these changes with a bit of sadness and the realization that our climate is changing, that I can no longer count on things to remain as they have been. I have started to research native plant species that may be more hardy in this new climate that is now ours.
Speaking Truth into Power
A review of Sandra Steingraber’s
Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis
Margaret McCasland, Ithaca Meeting
Sandra Steingraber has always been able to write about subjects we’d rather not hear about (cancer, birth defects, etc.). Her latest book, Raising Elijah, is no exception. Global warming. Endangered species. Fracking. Toxic metals and hormone-altering chemicals in everyday products. Especially in products around children. “The new morbidities of childhood.” Morbid stuff indeed. But then she connects the dots in ways that inspire rather than overwhelm us.
The title refers to three Elijahs: the biblical prophet, the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy (assassinated in Sandra’s hometown), and her son, Elijah. The book is about raising our children, as she and her husband, Jeff de Castro, have been raising Elijah and his older sister, Faith. But it is also about raising our deepest concerns to the fore, as the prophet Elijah did when he preached against the worship of false gods.
Sandra lays out the problem right up front (in the not-to-be-skipped foreword), explaining that we face two crises with a common cause: fossil fuels have caused global climate disruption, and petrochemicals have brought a variety of dangers into everyday life. She paints these dual dangers as a full portrait, mixing mundane (meaning daily, but not trivial) details with the cosmic (literally combining them in the skylight her husband built). In everyday terms (even if sometimes using very scientific words), she broadens our perspective, placing narrow worries in the context of what life should be like for children.
Sandra also points us to where we should be. Still in the foreword, she hands us the solution: saying that the book “rejects altogether the notion that toxicity should be a consumer choice. Instead it seeks the higher ground of human rights in which to explore systemic solutions.” And then she guides us to the solutions as she explains the nature of the problems.
In sharing why as well as how she and Jeff have made various decisions while raising their family, Sandra provides guidance for how we should make decisions that affect our households. But it is also a book about discerning broader leadings. As Sandra points out, we have to move beyond individual actions. Two challenges discussed in the book are mercury in tuna and chemicals and air pollution caused by standard American lawn care.
Parents should not have to police their children’s tuna fish sandwich consumption. Those of us who feel so led should be demanding policies that remove the sources of mercury from our ecosystems and thus from our food, such as phasing out coal-fired electricity. This means calling for energy efficiency and renewable power sources, not for switching from one fossil fuel to another.
Homeowners currently face a variety of challenges while moving toward more ecological lawn care, but public policy can use a mix of restrictions and incentives to move our lawn care, or the very existence of so many very large lawns, in a more ecological direction. Ban those stinky two-stroke mower engines. Give tax credits for companies to again produce electric lawn tractors—and this time they could be charged by solar panels. Ban toxic forms of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Have planning that promotes small personal lawns complemented by shared ball fields in every neighborhood, with more sidewalks and pathways so kids can safely walk there and back.
The list of ideal public policies could go on and on, but underlying them all is the idea of the Commons: those common resources that belong to all but cannot (should not) be owned by any—clean air, clean water, living soil, lakes where fish can live, oceans where whales still sing, and an atmosphere with just the right amount of heat-holding gases. For public policies to reflect what’s best for all people (and other living things), we must first agree on what values we hold in common. Which brings us to the Quaker testimonies.
Our Quaker testimonies have often become part of public policies without most people knowing that their proponents were Quakers: economist Kenneth Boulding, geographer Gilbert White, social reformer Jane Addams, etc. But that list is Quaker heritage. The point is that our Quaker values (including, but not limited to, Simplicity, Equality, Peace—no wars for oil!) are appropriate guides for public policies that promote the Common Good, that protect the Common Wealth. So that we all can have better options as we move forward from scary times to a more resilient, safer world.
“We are all musicians in a great human orchestra, and it is now time to play the Save the World Symphony. You are not required to play a solo, but you are required to know what instrument you hold and play it as well as you can. You are required to find your place in the score. What we love we must protect. That’s what love means. From the right to know and the duty to inquire flows the obligation to act.” (Sandra Steingraber quoted in the portrait series Americans Who Tell the Truth, http://bit.ly/nq8ZvA)
Sandra Steingraber is also the author of Having Faith and of Living Downstream (and subject of the documentary Living Downstream). She received a Heinz award this fall, in recognition of her work “highlighting the link between toxic chemicals and diseases as well as engaging the public as a cancer survivor.” She has decided to dedicate her $100,000 award toward fighting hydrofracking. Sandra, Jeff, Faith, and Elijah recently became members of Ithaca Monthly Meeting.
There Is No Earthcare without Animal Care
M. P. Baumgartner, Chatham-Summit Meeting
Recently I had the pleasure of attending a conference at the Drew Theological School on the topic of “Divinanimality: Creaturely Theology.” One of the keynote speakers, theologian Jay McDaniel, raised a question that I have often wondered about as well: Why do so many people in the earthcare community seem to find it easier to care about mountains and trees than about our much nearer relatives in the animal kingdom? Why the leap from concern about humans to concern about air, water, and soil, without a pause to consider the welfare of what Buddhists recognize as the other “sentient beings” living alongside us? Whatever the reason for the low priority given to animal rights and animal welfare in so much environmental activism, the simple fact is that ignoring animal concerns is a mistake for any environmentalist. There can be no successful earthcare without animal care. Human and nonhuman animals are bound together in complex interactions within our shared environment, and what people do or do not do in regard to other animals has a significant effect on us all.
Consider, for example, the consequences of human overpopulation. Estimates place the worldwide human population at about 200 million at the dawn of the Christian era, 700 million at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, 1.2 billion by 1850; 2.5 billion by 1950; about 7 billion today; and, if trends continue, 9 billion by 2050. As human numbers have soared, people have destroyed the habitats of thousands of other species in their ongoing quest for ever more land for their own settlements and crops. Human needs and appetites have also resulted in the exploitation of many nonhuman species beyond the ability of those species to remain viable. Many kinds of fish, for example, are on the brink of extinction due to overfishing by humans.
The result of human pressure on other species has brought about an ongoing wave of extinctions. Biologists call what is happening now the “sixth great extinction” in the history of life on earth. Great extinctions occur when at least 10% of species on earth are lost. All of the five earlier great extinctions were caused by volcanic or seismic activity on earth or by impact with bodies from space such as asteroids. The fifth great extinction, the last one before now, was marked by the extinction of the dinosaurs. Scientists estimate that as many as 40% of today’s species are currently threatened or endangered and may disappear by the end of this century. Among the animals currently facing extinction are tigers, pandas, mountain gorillas, whooping cranes, leatherback sea turtles, and many others. What kind of environment will be left if these and other creatures simply disappear? Extinctions are great blows to entire ecosystems, and some are worse than others. Biologist E. O. Wilson has observed, “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”
More evidence that environmental health depends on the treatment of nonhuman animals can be found in the context of meat eating. As human numbers have risen overall and as human prosperity has increased in many places, the human desire to eat meat has led to ever larger numbers of domesticated animals being raised for human consumption. Aside from the unspeakable suffering this has caused the animals involved, it has also led to great environmental harm and, ironically, to great risk to members of the human community as well. Among the damaging consequences of meat eating are: deforestation and other habitat destruction brought about by people who need room for their livestock; pollution of the air (such as through the emission of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, as a byproduct of digestion in livestock animals), the pollution of water (as runoff from animal excrement and other pollutants enters waterways); and famine and thirst among poorer humans (as plant food and water that might nourish human beings are given to livestock instead).
|photo by Rick Jackofsky|
As humans have increasingly invaded and seized spaces from which they were previously absent—rain forests, caves, marshlands, and more—another source of environmental harm has emerged: new viruses and other infectious agents that can wreak havoc on entire populations. Sometimes these new infections affect people, sometimes nonhuman animals, and sometimes both groups alike. It is believed that HIV infection crossed from nonhuman primates to humans in the Congo region of Africa when humans began killing and eating jungle animals from previously pristine settings; Ebola fever appears to have been contracted from bats when people began exploring caves they had previously left alone. Health consequences for nonhumans have also been great. Among the species whose numbers have been decimated by exposure to new infectious agents introduced or spread by humans are bats (mortality rates of 90% and higher have followed the appearance of a fungus that causes “white nose” syndrome in bat colonies in the eastern United States); the Panamanian gold frog (the national symbol of Panama, which may already be extinct in the wild), and possibly honeybee colonies (where colony collapse disorder may be linked in part to new infections). Since bats and bees provide valuable services to humans through insect control and crop fertilization, respectively, the impact on people is likely to be considerable.
Aside from any impact on forests, rivers, crop plants, and oceans, however, the treatment of nonhuman animals by humans raises concerns of a moral nature. The more scientists learn about nonhumans, the more it appears that rationality, emotionality, and other “human” attributes are actually things we share with many nonhuman species. We now know that many nonhuman animals have conflicts and resolve them through peacemaking; enjoy painting and watching sunsets; innovate and problem solve to achieve goals, and more. People from faith traditions such as Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism have long recognized that nonhuman animals have moral rights; ethical philosophers like Peter Singer and Tom Regan have come to similar conclusions in our own time. As Quakers, shouldn’t we also come down on the side of compassion for nonhuman animals, not just because this will make our own environment better but because it is the right thing to do? Shouldn’t we join in the Buddhist prayer that asks that “all who have life be delivered from suffering”?
Jean Doneit, Poughkeepsie Meeting
The question of why we need to eat sustainably is important to consider as we look at the environmental issues that confront us today. How we feed ourselves is linked to all environmental issues: pollution, population, transportation, energy, social justice, economics, animal welfare, genetically modified foods, factory farming, and more. Changing your diet is the single most effective way to help stop global warming. The following information was taken from Eating, a documentary that was featured on PBS, Air America, and Pacifica Radio.
Becoming aware of some of the following facts may help us to change our ways of eating with the realization that eating sustainably is really an important issue and that we can do our part. Subsidies to animal food industries make meat cheaper, while nutritious fruits and vegetables don’t receive subsidies. This needs to be changed.
|photo by Rick Jackofsky|
One-third of all raw materials and fuels in the US are consumed in raising animals to eat. Farm animals generate more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined. If everyone stopped eating meat just one day a week, it would have the same effect as taking eight million cars off American roads. One-half of all the fresh water in the US is used to grow crops to feed the animals that we eat. It takes 12,000 gallons of fresh water to produce one pound of beef. It takes 60 gallons of fresh water to produce one pound of potatoes. Reducing meat consumption is one of the best ways to conserve our fresh-water supplies. The increased consumption of processed foods is an aspect of the disconnection between human life and the life-generating earth. Industrialized agriculture degrades the soil it depends upon for nutrients, and it also treats animals inhumanely. 70 percent of all antibiotics are used on farm animals. Not only are the antibiotics in our foods, as a result of their use on the farm animals, unhealthy for us, but this also makes them less effective for humans when they are needed. At least 87 percent of agricultural land is used to raise animals for food. This is almost half of the land mass in the US. Fossil fuels used in fertilizers, fertilizer production, and food transport contribute to global warming and pollution. Food is second to perhaps transportation as a source of environmental problems. US produce is shipped an average of 1,500 miles or more. Genetically modified foods are contributing to a lack of biodiversity in crops. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have never been proven safe or beneficial. They are becoming more prevalent, and many scientists consider them to be a health risk. Most people are unaware that they are eating GMOs, which don’t need to be labeled as such. Even the fish are now a problem. Many are contaminated with mercury, and more fish have been harvested from the oceans than can reproduce. These are only some of the problems of our food supply. It is important to be aware of what is happening to our food.
Here are some ideas on eating sustainably. You can probably think of more. Every dollar you spend on food and drink votes for the system that produces what we buy. Vote for life-sustaining, nourishing organic and natural foods. Choosing not to support the industrial food system is the beginning of sustainable eating. Eat locally and seasonally. Our bodies are attuned to the foods grown in our local environment. Those foods will also be fresher and more nutritious and will reduce the use of fuel for transportation. Support your local farmers at farmer’s markets, farms, and CSA (community-supported agriculture) groups. Preserve the harvest by canning, dehydrating, freezing, and fermenting when you can. Plant your own garden. Start with something simple when just beginning. Expose your children to local farms and markets and the growing of food. Teach them sustainable practices. They are the future. Compost your natural food wastes. Use leftovers for soup and stock whenever possible. Cut back on meat or become a vegetarian. If you eat meat, buy free-range or organic animal products from your local farmers. Cut back on processed food. It’s less nutritious than whole food, depends on the transportation system, and adds packaging wastes to landfills. Eat organic whenever possible for more nutrition and the need for less food. Learn to cook your local foods. You will be able to control the ingredients in the foods that you and your family eat. Know where your food comes from and know the real cost of cheap foods. Be aware of factory farms, GMOs, and antibiotics and chemicals in food. Don’t support fast-food establishments. They depend on big agribusiness. Don’t drink commercially bottled water. Get a water filter and your own water bottle (stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free plastic). Not only can some commercial plastic bottles be toxic to humans, but they are also adding greatly to our landfill pollution. Know what plastics can be recycled in your area. Buy Fair Trade products, supporting farmers and sustainable practices. Give up store-bought convenience foods when you can and make your own versions of them. Encourage elected officials to act in support of reevaluating our food system’s energy efficiency and environmental impact, supporting the planting of more diverse crops and local farming instead of agribusiness. There are many things that we can do to help make a more sustainable, healthy planet, and at the same time we will become healthier too. Let us work toward being part of the solution.
I Like the Sound of “Earthcare”
Rebecca Schillenback, Poplar Ridge Meeting
I like the sound of “Earthcare.” It makes sense. It makes common sense, down-to-earth sense. We ought to take care of the earth. Because, of course, the earth takes care of us, providing us with medicines, shelter, clothing, food, fuel for warmth, beauty, poetry, and ways to make meaning of our time here. It makes sense to take care of what takes care of us, lest it stop taking care of us because it has not been cared for.
That logic has seemed like common sense to me for a long time. I recall being very confused by grown-ups and their behavior when I was a child. Why didn’t they understand that it was just against common sense to poison things you needed to survive? What was wrong with them? Was something broken? Why did they seem like they knew what they were doing? Why did they act like it all made sense?
Before I was ten years old, I had sensed a deep dissonance in the way that humans were living. I grew up in a small postindustrial prison town in upstate New York, and I remember feeling very anxious and not knowing quite why. I remember a sense of confusion and fear because I wanted grown-ups to be in the right, to be the authority that I could trust. But in the ways that they related to the more-than-human world, and in countless other strange and perplexing things that they did and the rules that they made, they clearly weren’t in the right.
The lack of care for the Earth in the institutions and people of authority that I grew up with was the first fissure that cracked my faith in the stories I was being told. It was the first fault line that threatened the stability of the cosmological foundations upon which my life as a first world resident was being built. It was deeply unsettling to realize that those at the helm were not operating at full understanding of the situation, and everything that has followed for me has proceeded from that “original sin” of perceiving differently than the prevailing norms I grew up with.
Perceiving that something was rotten here cast me out of the garden where America originated: the land where there are no limits to what we can buy or sell as we pursue ever higher heights of happy consumption; where there are no consequences worth considering, whether social or ecological, whether near or far; where money is the point of life, and stuff can provide meaning, and those who win in the wealth game get to make the rules because they are better than everyone else; where greed is good; where the earth doesn’t enter into the equation at all, except as the inexhaustible, invisible supply house and sewer.
It is still perplexing to me that the above foundational assumptions persist today, unexamined, despite overwhelming evidence that the bill for this way of life is coming due. Now, as one of the grown-ups compelled to participate with the culture that is cannibalizing itself, I tend to search for the cosmology and the underlying ways of making meaning that would cause a people to destroy what gives them life. I see a spiritual void in modern industrial growth society, and I see a frantic search to fill it in every way except sitting still and letting truth speak in the silence. I see the frantic pace speeding up, as if we are getting louder and louder to drown out the silence we cannot bear. I think that we are afraid. I think we are deeply, deeply afraid of being mortal, of loving what is mortal, of our own inevitable ends, the ceasing of these individual lives, with all their compelling sound and fury. I think we long to belong to something that can’t end.
Could we be attempting to destroy the mortal world, to dissolve it, annihilate it, to conquer death by conquering life? If our reign of dominion continues on this logical course, we will end up destroying the life-support systems that sustain us. Could that be our subconscious—or, as articulated in some apocalyptic theologies—our conscious aim? Do we long for annihilation? For freedom from the tiny cells of our individual bodies and union with something greater?
The tragedy there is that we are already one. We are already part of something vast and great. There is a magnificent story unfolding every day here, one in which zillions of tiny parts interact and cooperate beautifully to make the whole, and it is all animated, all alive. Earthcare is the cosmology that we need to bring us back from the brink of extinction, to make us born again, newly alive to our belonging to the whole of Creation. Earthcare is nothing short of seeing that of God in everyone and everything. Earthcare is perceiving the sacred thread that connects all of us, and understanding that what we do unto the least of these—the air, the soil, the microbes, our endocrine systems, the ozone layer, the children, the elderly, the indigenous people that can point the way toward home—we do unto ourselves, literally.
At heart I see the crisis that is unfolding on Earth in so many ways in our time as a spiritual crisis, a cosmological crisis, and a crisis of imagination and perception. If we saw that of God everywhere and cared for that of God everywhere, we might be able to create heaven, right here on Earth.
Did you know that...?
William H. Mueller, St. Lawrence Valley Friends Meeting
...all the world’s great religions—those that cross cultures—began at almost the same time in history (ca. 3,600 yrs. B.P.) in response to environmental changes wrought by the human species, which by that time had filled up all the planet’s productive living space to the detriment of other living things? (Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation, 2006)
...this was the beginning of the sufferings of the human race: mass migrations; widespread epidemics, hunger, thirst, and homelessness; suspicion of the “other”; and wholesale torture and incarceration, giving birth to great ethical and spiritual traditions to address these problems? (Armstrong, above)
...at the most fundamental level, all religious traditions are thus concerned about the “population bomb” and the ensuing scarcity of resources that initiated human suffering on a vast scale for the first time in history?
...the awakening to this suffering in the Western tradition is presented in the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible based on a Mesopotamian epic warning of the consequences of human overpopulation? (R. J. Clifford & R. E. Murphy, “Genesis,” New Jerome Biblical Commentary [NJBC], 1990)
...the first chapter of Genesis recounts the evolution of the universe with remarkably “modern” understanding however metaphorically, and is a paean to the essential goodness of God’s Creation? (Richard Rohr, Things Hidden, 2008; Karen Armstrong, The Bible, 2007)
...the story of Adam and Eve is God’s call to an awareness of suffering in the Creation (“evil”) and our responsibility to walk with God to overcome it (“good”)?
...for millions of years in the hunting/gathering phase of human evolution the male and female voice had equal weight in the community, also depicted in the Judeo-Christian vision as Adam and Eve become one flesh? (Genesis 2:24; 3:16—see NJBC, 1990, p. 12—commentary on vs.16)
...the male/female balance at the heart of human affairs for so long began to be lost when overpopulation led ultimately to the adoption of mass agriculture and the overweeningly left-brained and patriarchal modes of order and obedience conceived in panic to attend to the chaos? [Intimated in many stories in the chapters of Genesis that follow the garden of Eden story—see Robert Crumb’s notes to chapter 12, Book of Genesis Illustrated, 2010]
...the Fifth Commandment of the 10 deals with intergenerational responsibility for the care of God’s gift to us (the land—Mother earth) so that we may live long on it, and in order to do so, we must honor our wise mentors who have taken us thus far, and in turn become wise mentors for those who come after us? [Note: The commandment reads: “Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land Yahweh your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12—New Jerusalem Bible, 1985)]
...the prophet Jesus’s ministry completes the Hebrew vision of overcoming suffering occasioned by overpopulation, by reminding us of our responsibility to attend to hunger, thirst and nakedness where we find it, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and disabled, and come to see the imprisoned? (Matthew 5:17; 25:35–36)
...Holy Scripture and Judeo-Christian teachers past and present are powerful allies in our struggle to save planet Earth and all its creatures?
Liseli Haines, Mohawk Valley Meeting
It was in December of 2009. After one of those two-foot snows that happen every couple of years in this area, I was just starting Kamana, a wilderness-awareness program, through the Wilderness Awareness School. I was looking for my “sit spot,” a place to spend an hour every day throughout the program, to really get to know one place and all the living things that inhabit it.
I had lived here for 33 years, but didn’t normally go down to the old milk house that is slowly being reclaimed by the marsh. That year I did. Snow up to my knees, but light and fluffy, coating everything in sight. A wonderland of white with more snowflakes drifting out of the sky. Over the pasture fence and into the marsh. As I got closer to the spring I was awed and amazed to see that the banks of white snow had melted down into the water of the spring and there was a pool of intense green—a pond of watercress. That deep, vibrant color in the white landscape came to be a symbol for me and wedded me to this spot as my special place.
The homework for the first month of Kamana was to go every day to my sit spot and to be present—just be present to the sights and smells, the sounds of the chickadees in the cedars, the feel of the wind, the taste of the snow on my tongue. I thought, how fitting for a Quaker to spend an hour every day being present. And it didn’t always come easily, as it doesn’t always come easily in meeting for worship, to quiet the busy mind and let the thoughts go. As the days and weeks went by I came to know this place, the deer that came to dig for apples under the snow, the chickadees that ate the seeds in the cedar cones, and the gray fox whose den is under a fallen cedar right next to the spring. I came to know that I really belonged here, as I belong on the earth.
When I learned that the homework for the second month, in addition to being present, was to daily say a prayer of gratitude, I began to realize that this program was not just about getting to know all the names of the plants and animals I encountered in my sit spot. I realized I was being taken on a spiritual journey. The Thanksgiving Prayer is based on the Iroquois Thanksgiving Prayer that many of us heard Henry Lickers offer at Sessions at Oakwood School several years ago. Sometimes it would take me 20 minutes to give thanks, sometimes less. Sometimes the thanks to one part of our planet would bring me to tears and sometimes another. It has become a part of this journey that I am on to reclaim my place on the earth. To acknowledge what I take from the earth in order to live and to understand what part I play in the web of creation.
Perhaps it is part of our healing. To reconnect with the earth from which we have so removed ourselves. To feel our needs and give thanks. To give thanks to the cold waters that bubble up out of the springs to refresh us; to put our hands in the cool earth and know that the millions of life-forms in that earth support our life; to look with awe at the trees that provide oxygen for us to breath, as well as wood for shelter and warmth and foods for us to eat; to give thanks to the plants and animals that provide our bodies with nourishment and clothing. We cannot be whole until we find our rightful place in this world, acknowledge the gifts we receive, and learn to live with full awareness of the nations of the plants and the animals and the waters around us. We are inextricably intertwined.
Earthcare Means and Ends
John Edminster, Fifteenth Street Meeting
Friends hoped our Summer Sessions might help us “become empowered to give voice and witness for the Earth in our individual lives and in our home communities.” I try substituting “to give voice and witness for God in our stewardship of the Earth in our individual lives and our home communities,” and for me the meaning and tone shift radically. It’s a whole different mind-set. When we set out to serve the Earth we must think of means and ends. When we serve God we need think only of being faithful. Therefore, when we work alongside like-minded Earth-protectors who lack a sense of divine covering, sharing many goals and values, it’s important to remember our difference of perspective. Our explicitly faith-informed view of the situation may, for all we know, allow us to help our fellows find peace of mind in setbacks, goodwill toward the adversary in confrontations, and resoluteness in the face of the ever-present temptations to lie, to scapegoat, and to pretend to knowledge that we don’t have.
I’m not just airing lofty platitudes, but remembering green-activist postings I’ve actually seen on the Web this year. One of them read: “Our only hope is to sway public opinion!” There was real desperation there, such as I remember feeling when I was a young atheist involved in left politics. No, friend, it’s not your only hope; the Almighty, known to Islam as the Turner of Hearts, may yet turn some key legislator’s heart, while leaving public opinion just the way it was. Or the Almighty may let both the legislator and public opinion stagnate in ignorance, then let Nature deliver a sudden wake-up jolt to everyone. The Creator knows best how to defend creation against human foolishness.
Another piece of faithless advice I heard this year from “our” side was “Don’t talk like you’re coming from a religious point of view when you write to your representatives; they’ll just ignore you.” (Yet they ignored me when I pretended not to have a religious point of view!) But George Fox advised us to “answer that of God” in the people we write to for a reason: they need to hear from their conscience. Our task is not to be successful persuaders but to be true speakers for conscience’s voice.
If “Earth” is all we’re empowered to witness for, we’re advocating for a mortal creature, like ourselves, whose only value may lie in her capacity to give pleasure to other mortal creatures before all are returned to the sun’s flames. But I like to think that the Society of Friends witnesses to a Source of Value that has no end.
Two Northeastern Yearly Meetings: One Global Theme, One Global Call
Reb MacKenzie, Easton MM (NYYM),
attending Quaker City Unity Friends Meeting (NEYM)
By the time you read this, I will have taken my facilitator’s training to be an Awakening The Dreamer program facilitator. What helped manifest this specific event in my life? NYYM’s July interest group by the Earthcare Working Group titled Awakening The Dreamer, Changing The Dream Symposium. I am very grateful for Fred and Jean Doneit and Judy Meikle, who have faithfully followed their leading to make this program available to us in NYYM.
My summer has been rich with faithful Friends who are leading the way to “changing the dream.” I attended both New York Yearly Meeting (NYYM) in mid-July and New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) during the second week of August 2011. What did These two Yearly Meetings have in common? Themes. NYYM’s theme: Peace with Earth: Transforming Our Communities. NEYM’s theme: Called to Heal a Broken Planet. I reveled in the opportunities to learn and grow with other Friends, taking my relationship with Earth to heart, soul, and mind.
NYYM plenary speaker, Anne Mitchell, the new general secretary of Quaker Earthcare Witness, also the presiding clerk of Canadian Yearly Meeting, reminded us of sowing seeds of peace, not just looking for the seeds of war. She stated that our peace testimony needs to include peace with the Earth. She shared some of the lessons she learned from examples of change she had been involved in, including: 1) individual and corporate discernment and prayer are foundational; 2) faith communities have an important role to play in challenging governments and corporations; and 3) be persistent; change takes time.
NEYM’s plenary speaker, Steve Chase, gave a message titled “Blessed Are the Organized” and led us down a middle path between debilitating denial and debilitating despair. Steve is an Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium facilitator. (See http://awakeningthedreamer.org/.) He introduced the program’s mission that seeks to bring forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and social just human presence on Earth. He stated that 350 years ago, our Quaker ancestors lived sustainably. They weren’t addicted to oil as we are today. He drew our attention to early Friends who were involved in the abolition movement who were looked down upon by other Friends of that time. He asked us to appreciate those who are sensitive to moving forward a consciousness of sustainable living. He encouraged us to learn about transitioning to a post-carbon world (see www.350.org for more info), sooner rather than later. It will happen one way or the other.…Better to begin transitioning now than leave it until we are left without the choice. Steve offered two actions: (1) The Resistance Program, like our dear Gandhi: promoting nonviolent resistance by “loving your enemies, not pretending you don’t have any”; and (2) The Constructive Program: organize community. He gave us a wonderful example of the Earth Quaker Action Team (http://eqat.wordpress.com/) and their amazing work in targeting PNC Bank and the bank’s investment in mountaintop removal. Steve also drew our attention to the Transition Movement (http://transitionus.org/), which aims at a joyful community response to reducing energy needs, developing local safe and renewable energy resources, saving the best in our communities in these times of transition, and localizing economies. NEYM Earthcare Ministries Committee is sponsoring a Web site (see http://bit.ly/phUjIU), devoted to building a community for transition, and Steve encouraged us to be a source of excitement and positive modeling in this world, having fun and reawakening the dream of being world healers.
The NYYM Bible study with Kristina and Callid Keefe-Perry of Rochester Meeting echoed the themes of being faithful witnesses in the world. We are asked to listen to the “still small voice” and what it is calling us to do, including earthcare, if it be God’s call on our souls. Kristina and Callid called us to discerning the will of God and building the New Jerusalem. “We need to take something that is horrible and unacceptable and create it into a New Jerusalem.” The death of our precious planet and God’s creations is unacceptable to me.
NEYM’s Bible Half Hour was led by Maggie Edmondson of Winthrop Center Friends Church, ME. Her feminist perspective of Creation, the Earth as co-Creator along with God as in Genesis’ second story of Creation, “Let the Earth bring forth, or give birth, to the plants and animals, too…”, as well as many other scriptural references, was powerful and inspiring. I recall a particular image she shared with us on the last day of the Bible Half Hour. Maggie stated that one day a few years ago she was sitting at her computer and this thought shook her: “It is not that there is that of God in everything, everything is inside of God.” As in Psalm 139, God knows us intimately, as he knows the sparrow when she falls. “Earth is just one part of God,” states Maggie, no beginning and no end. This image, for her, helped her to see the inextricable connection each of us has with each other and our environment. We are sacredly connected, one and all. We are all within the orb of Life, and dependent on each other. She encouraged us to see our work as including Earth Justice: Earth being the focus of justice making, and Eco-Peace: peace with the Earth.
I would like to encourage each of us to look at what part we play in the orb of Life. What is our call to heal the Earth? There are many paths to take. They are all essential to building the New Jerusalem. I hope to see you at Powell House the weekend of March 30 to April 2, 2012, for an Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium to help you to connect with others who are bringing forth a sustainable, just and spiritually fulfilling world. Please come.
(A shorter version of this article appeared in the print version of this issue.)
YA Field Secretary on the Road
Gabi Savory Bailey, Chatham-Summit Meeting
NYYM Young Adult field secretary
In September I took a journey. I traveled to five different regions in NYYM in two weeks. I stopped in seven different towns. I covered over 1,100 miles from Albany, to Ithaca, to Buffalo, to Rochester, to Clinton, to Binghamton, to Manasquan. I spoke to over 40 Young Adult Friends from our Yearly Meeting. I worshipped with monthly meetings and regional/half yearly meetings. I went to seven potlucks. I was able to begin to get to know new Friends, and deepen my relationship to others I already knew. This is a rare view. I felt lifted. Here are some encouraging signs:
• In each place where I planned to stop I was warmly greeted. Potlucks appeared. All I said was that I was showing up. I found hospitality in homes all over the state. I did not have to dig to find such loving care. It was poured on me. And in each place where Friends gathered, there was beautiful fellowship. Friends of all ages were willing to share their light with each other. I met many passionate, spirit-filled people. They spoke of their work, their leadings, their needs, their hungers, their experiences, their frustrations, their gifts, their joys. They were excited to have the chance to share. This does not happen in a place that is dying.
• I made a survey for Friends between 18 and 35, which is still continuing, and Friends were eager to respond, sharing with me about who they are, and their experiences of their meetings and spiritual journeys. From this sparked deep conversations about who we are. (Please let me know if you haven’t filled out the survey, and I will get it to you.)
• I met over 40 Young Adults from our region. There were more who were not able to join us for various reasons. They all said they wanted to be in touch, and have opportunities to meet in the future, as did the ones who were able to attend. I do not remember any of them mentioning they were afraid for the future of Quakerism.
• Friends thanked me over and over for simply taking the time to visit, and listen. All I did was show up.
• At each stop Friends spoke to me about the ways that they are involved, already enriching and being enriched by their meetings. Other spoke about yearning for a deeper involvement, and being seen more for their gifts than their age. Others spoke about feeling overlooked or forgotten. Others want to be involved, but do not know how. Others spoke about the work they have done, and being tired by being known as the “young person” whom everyone goes to. Others desire that their meetings lovingly hold them accountable to the ways they are being asked to serve and be taken seriously, and supported, while they respond to their leadings.
Many Friends ask me how to get more young adult Friends into their meetings. They are worried about the future of Quakerism. They feel the future is uncertain and the news not good. I know that there are declining numbers in our registers. I hear, and understand, the concern; yet I am optimistic. I have the privilege of traveling among Friends and seeing Spirit moving, and I feel so blessed to have the experiences that I am having. I have no answers to my worried Friends, other than to say that I feel the news is good. I cannot explain my optimism, other than to say that I feel Spirit moving. I wish I could be in meetings with these amazing people each week. The good news for us is that we are in meetings with people of all ages, each of whom has amazing gifts, lessons, and Light to share. We are the future of Quakerism. We are living in a blessed present. We have the opportunity to love and care for those already among us, nurturing the gifts of Spirit and tending to our beloved communities so that they will naturally flourish. I hope for each of the Friends in NYYM that you have these types of conversations with each other. I wish for you the courage to ask another “How does the Spirit prosper with you today?” “How was your worship?” “Where are you feeling most alive?” “For what do you hunger?” “Where is your joy?” I wish for us all, even more, that we are able to deeply listen, hear the answers, and faithfully follow where those answers lead us.
Please contact me at nyym.yafs [at] gmail.com with your comments, ideas, and concerns.
Meeting for Discernment
March 3, 2012, Ithaca Meeting
Jeffrey Hitchcock, assistant clerk, NYYM
The 2012 winter session of Meetings for Discernment will be held at Ithaca Friends Meeting on Saturday, March 3, 2012.
Meetings for Discernment are a time when Friends from all parts of the Yearly Meeting come together for extended worship to discern the presence and movement of God, Spirit, Light—in our hearts, in the lives of our meetings, and in the life of the Yearly Meeting as a whole. To encourage a broad presence from throughout the Yearly Meeting, local meetings and worship groups name appointees from their meetings to attend, but Meetings for Discernment are open to all. Worship is held during morning and afternoon periods, with a break for lunch.
Meetings for Discernment offer Friends a time for deep reflection and spiritual connection and serve as a means for the Yearly Meeting to discern what is rising up among us that may not be apparent though our usual process of committees and attending to business.
Planning has commenced and registration details will be available soon. In the event of inclement weather, an alternate date of March 17 has been reserved.
William David Kwalwasser—Chatham-Summit
Christopher Sammond, from Bulls Head-Oswego to Poplar Ridge.
Jackson Ward Cherry, on July 16, 2011, to Audrey Jaynes, member of Montclair, and Christopher Cherry.