Archive for Environment

Experiencing Climate Change and Responding

Several years ago, a friend and I returned to our beloved Glacier Basin Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park.  It took me a bit to figure out what was wrong:  about half the trees were missing.  And so were the shade and the feeling of being embraced by the forest.  What happened?

I soon learned from a ranger that the major culprit is the pine bark beetle. Normally beetles are killed off by a certain number of winter days below a certain temperature, which usually happens every 2-3 years. At that time these temperatures hadn’t happened for ten years. A nearby camper told me that Timber Creek Campground, another favorite, didn’t even open until July 4 because of dead tree removal. He said. “There’s not a tree left.”  I couldn’t even go there. That was when climate change became real and personal for me.  To this day, I can seldom tell the story without a surge of emotion.

The ranger commented: “The forest will come back, but it won’t be the same forest and it won’t be in our lifetimes.”

All of us have experienced climate change, if we pause to think about it.  The year 2011 included 12 major climate events ranging from killer tornadoes to floods, to drought to catastrophic fires.  In the Midwest, average annual temperatures have risen in recent decades, especially in the winter months. The growing season is starting earlier and lasting longer.  Extreme heat events and heavy downpours are becoming much more common.  Fire ants are headed north.

The vast majority of climate scientists and earth scientists (over 95%) agree that global climate change is real, caused by human activity, and a serious threat to our future.  For a snapshot of what this change might mean for humans, I recommend a study by the Pontifical Academy of Science called “The Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.”  The article clearly illustrates the fate of glaciers, with before-and-after pictures. It analyzes the inevitable coming crisis of fresh water for both human consumption and agriculture for millions of people, many of whom are already poor. 1

The irony is that those who are contributing the most to this climate change phenomenon are those who are not only the least affected – for now – but who also have the greatest resources to cope.

Really, I’m not trying to make you depressed. I prefer to think of it as reality therapy.  The wonderful part about facing reality is that it has the power to move us to constructive action.

What action?  The choices range from reconstructing our worldview, to changing our daily habits, to speaking out in order to change our institutions and social structures.

Do you remember, during the recovery period from 9/11, when President Bush encouraged us to shop!  Are we a nation of citizens or of consumers?  Are we here on earth to reach out to one another and to build relationships of care, concern and mutual responsibility for the wellbeing of one another and the planet — or to accumulate more “stuff”?  As a culture, we have been seduced into a worldview in which personal worth is measured by money, where “the one with the most toys wins.” This culture is simply not sustainable—environmentally or socially. Not even spiritually.

There’s a new world view coming over the horizon – and odd as it may seem, it’s coming from science. Actually in some ways it’s not new, because it reflects something known by indigenous people in both the past and the present – that we are all one, we are all interconnected, in relationship, accountable for the impact we have on one another.  The difference is that today this worldview is rooted in scientific inquiry – including the realization that everything in the universe comes from the same single origin, and that we all are connected with and influencing each other.  We are all in a very real way kin.

Those of a Judeao-Christian heritage will recognize the resonance with the Wisdom Tradition in the Bible.  God’s wisdom (usually portrayed as feminine), who was with God before anything came to be, was present for the whole work of creation, and delights in being in the world with human children. The same theme is echoed in John’s Gospel:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…through [whom] all things came to be, not one thing had its being except through [the Word]. “  I suspect that most religious traditions can find passages which explore humans’ relationship with the universe and each other in similar ways.

Today, literally millions of groups around the world are striving to learn how to live, in a vast diversity of ways, out of that reality that we are all interdependent:  through protecting and renewing creation, living compassionate lives, embracing spirituality, re-inventing small scale economies, restoring collaborative relationships, working to create a socially just society and much more.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has so wisely said, “Each of us can do something. You can, you can, you can– I can!

Each of us can make changes in our priorities and our lifestyles. We can consume less, drive less, make wise consumer choices that support responsible companies, etc., etc.  We can talk with others about our concerns and work to change daily practices where we live, work and worship.  We can build a sustainable, resilient world based on relationships rather than large financial institutions.

We can attend an Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium and follow up with like minded participants.  We can connect with local and national groups and movements, and spend a few minutes or even an hour or so a week doing electronic advocacy, writing letters or making phone calls to help change public policy.  Not infrequently, I get emails from   (“because the earth needs a good lawyer!”) saying “We won!  You submitted 50,000 comments about this regulation and they had to listen to the public voice! We couldn’t have done it without you.”

For a plethora of do-able ideas, ranging from the individual to the institutional, I recommend The Better World Handbook: Small Changes that make a Big Difference. To join up with a faith-based metro organization that supports “greening” faith communities, connect through

The human future is in our hands. Let’s not blow it. If we get it right, generations yet to come will bless us and thank us for our wisdom, courage and committed action.


1 “Anthropocene” is the term for the new geologic era we have already entered, which is characterized by the impact of human activity on the planet.  Another relatively new term is “climate refugee” which refers to millions of people who are already fleeing their native lands because of extreme drought and unpredictable weather patterns which make it virtually impossible to grow food.



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Country’s debate over Keystone XL pipeline is far from over

January 27, 2012

By Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service, and online at National Catholic Reporter

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s decision to deny a permit for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian crude oil to Gulf Coast refineries should have surprised no one, not even the project’s staunchest supporters.

The president promised he would nix the permit after Congress inserted a deadline for his decision in the bill extending the middle class tax cut passed just before Christmas. In denying the permit, Obama said it was not because the project wasn’t needed but rather that the 60 days he was given to make up his mind was far too short to complete a second environmental review of the pipeline route, including a 92-mile stretch through the ecologically sensitive Nebraska Sandhills.

The first review by the State Department was called into question when the Environmental Protection Agency cited several shortcomings in the findings and critics of the process complained that officials rammed approval through with little consideration for environmental concerns.

Obama’s Jan. 18 decision for all intents and purposes pushes the issue into 2013, after the Nov. 6 election. The deadline from Congress came in response to Obama’s pre-Thanksgiving announcement that he was delaying a decision for a year to allow for further study.

Environmentalists, religious activists, grass-roots community groups and indigenous communities cheered Obama’s denial, while construction trade unions joined the oil and gas industry and key business associations in flaying the action.

A group of Democrats in Congress also believe Obama was wrong, citing the country’s need for jobs and the need to reduce oil imports from less dependable foreign sources.

And Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, the country’s largest oil and gas lobbying group, said Obama will face serious political consequences because of his decision as the presidential campaign unfolds.

Obama’s denial set the project back but isn’t expected to derail it altogether. TransCanada Corp., the Canadian company contracted to build the project, has promised that it will submit a new plan bypassing the Sandhills and its important wetlands.

“By agreeing to move the route out of the Nebraska Sandhills, we have been able to address many of their (local) concerns,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told Catholic News Service in an email. “As we go forward with a new route, we will need to engage with new landowners and we will continue to listen to their concerns.”

Both sides are mobilizing for a long fight. Representatives of faith-based groups joined environmental organizations outside of the Capitol Jan. 24 to call upon congressional representatives to stop efforts to change how the permit on the pipeline is issued and end their ties with the oil industry by turning down its campaign contributions.

“The battle is not over yet,” said Kathy McNeely, interim director of the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, explained to CNS shortly after the White House announced Obama’s decision. “It just feels like this really important decision about the heartland of America is a political game right now, especially since the consequences are so high and it’s such a huge threat to the earth as we know it in the Midwest.”

McNeely and her counterparts have two fears:

— A possible oil spill polluting underground aquifers used by farmers and residents should the pipe fail anywhere along its route through the country’s heartland.

— The process of recovering the oil from the soil in Alberta’s arboreal forests spews high amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, hastening climate change.

Even so, construction labor unions representing pipefitters, truck drivers, laborers and equipment operators are planning their own strategy to build wider support for the pipeline. Their focus is on the need for jobs in an industry where unemployment stood at 16 percent in December, almost double the national average of 8.5 percent.

TransCanada has said the $7 billion pipeline project would generate up to 20,000 U.S. jobs over the two years of construction. The total includes 13,000 in construction and 7,000 in manufacturing. TransCanada’s Howard said the estimates are based on the company’s 60-year history of pipeline construction.

Such projections indicate that the sooner the pipeline can be built, the better, said Tom Owens Jr., director of marketing and communications for the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. He downplayed environmental concerns in favor of jobs.

“Whether it’s 20,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 or whatever, we’re looking at 16 percent unemployment in the construction industry. Any little bit helps,” he said. “The opportunity to get a job like this is a godsend for this industry. That’s the prism through which we’re looking at it.

“We’re concerned because the president said we can’t wait for jobs. He put forth a pretty strong jobs package to Congress. Here’s the one thing sitting on his desk, shovel ready project and it’s not approved,” Owens said.

Despite labor’s concerns, it’s unlikely that union members will withhold their support of Obama’s re-election bid. The same cannot be said for the grass-roots coalition opposing the project. The activists are more likely to throw their support behind third-party candidates or not vote at all to voice their disapproval if the pipeline permit had been granted. And Obama will need every vote he can get if he wants to win a second term.

Meanwhile, a report by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute released in September asserted that TransCanada’s job claims are overblown and that the estimated cost of the project includes both its Canadian and U.S. sections.

Lara Skinner, the institute’s associate director for research, said TransCanada’s data provided to the State Department — which was charged with reviewing the permit application because the pipeline crosses an international boundary — indicates that the project will create between 2,500 and 4,650 temporary construction jobs for two years.

“They’re not substantiating where they’re getting the 20,000 jobs, so when we look at the data they provided we come up with 2,500 to 4,650 direct construction jobs. That’s not going to substantially lower the current unemployment rate,” Skinner said.

“Of course, we’ve said right along for the people getting those jobs, they’re very significant,” she added. “What we’re pointing to is that TransCanada is misinforming the public in the whole debate by vastly over estimating them. That’s not fair because we’re facing a real unemployment problem in the country.”

Let the debate continue.

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What is Ethical Consumption?

This is the third in the series on consumption. We hope you have found the first two in the series informative and helpful.

This time, we consider ethical consumption.  Ethical consumption stresses the role of the consumer in preventing the exploitation of women and children in sweatshop factories overseas and in the U.S. It also considers the environmental costs of production. These costs include the depletion of natural resources, as well as human costs. For example, when a corporation like Unilever, producer of Dove and Lever soaps, Vaseline Intensive Care lotion, Finesse shampoo, Surf detergent, and Mentadent toothpaste, employs women in the jungle areas of Bihar, India to collect seeds from the sal tree for use in lipstick, the women are deprived of control over what was formerly a resource for their own use.

Consumption in North America today will eventually destroy the environment and is in general hazardous to human health. According to the 1998 United Nations Development Report, 20% of the world’s population consumes 86% of the world’s resources, while the poorest 20% consume only 1.3%. “Not everyone has been invited to the party,” said U.N. administrator James Gustave. “Expectations have gone global but affluence has not.”

Obviously, consuming less on a personal level in the United States does not directly ensure that people in other parts of the world will immediately be able to meet their basic needs.  Changing social patterns of consumption, however, will eventually make a difference.   Once individuals begin to understand how their purchases are connected within a global framework, they can demand new, sustainable methods of production.  Living with fewer “things” and assuring that all resources, including labor, are used wisely and fairly will help create a more equitable and ecological world.

By consuming consciously and ethically we can realistically create change. Being aware of current issues in labor exploitation, environmental conservation, and human rights is the best way to spend ethically. Before buying anything ask: Who makes it? Who needs it? And who profits from it?

Website Source:

An outstanding link for additional information is the Center for the New American Dream.  This site covers topics such as Redefining the Dream, Beyond Consumerism, and Collaborative Communities.  It includes an excellent video, “Visualizing a Plenitude Economy.”    Your attention is held by an artist drawing as the speaker presents a new dream, an alternative to our consumerist culture.


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Facing the Future: Hunger and Climate Change

Briefing Paper by Maria Riley, OP

As we approach Thanksgiving and World Food Day, let us reflect on pervasive hunger that haunts many in our global community.  The Global Women’s Project at the Center of Concern in Washington, D.C. has just issued a briefing paper for our consideration.  In “Facing the Future: Hunger and Climate Change” by Maria Riley, OP, we learn that the 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Statistics identifies multiple causes of persistence of hunger in the world. Poverty is the principal cause and harmful economic conditions and systems drive poverty and hunger. Conflict compounds hunger and poverty among refugees and internally displaced populations. Climate change is increasingly identified as a current and future cause of hunger and poverty. Add to these immediate causes the fact that governments and international agencies have neglected agriculture relevant to people in poverty for the past 20 to 30 years with the advent of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment programs in the Global South.

Maria Riley considers hunger and poverty reduction, environmental issues, agroecology and organic food movements, future sustainability, and actions others can undertake.  She provides resources from which she drew her information.  To read her complete briefing paper, go here.  Click on Briefing Paper 8 World Food PDF contained in the attachment box on this page.

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Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai — “The best tribute we can pay to this great woman of Africa is to continue to organize so that we can gain higher levels of spiritual awareness and build the shared values for peace and social justice across the planet.”  Horace Campbell.

Wangari Maathai:  “In the process of helping the earth to heal, we help ourselves.”

By Jone Johnson Lewis, in

Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt movement in Kenya in 1977, which has planted more than 10 million trees to prevent soil erosion and provide firewood for cooking fires. A 1989 United Nations report noted that only 9 trees were being replanted in Africa for every 100 that were cut down, causing serious problems with deforestation: soil runoff, water pollution, difficulty finding firewood, lack of animal nutrition, etc.

The program has been carried out primarily by women in the villages of Kenya, who through protecting their environment and through the paid employment for planting the trees are able to better care for their children and their children’s future.

Born in 1940 in Nyeri, Wangari Maathai was able to pursue higher education, a rarity for girls in rural areas of Kenya. She earned her biology degree from Mount St. Scholastica College in Kansas and a master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh.

When she returned to Kenya, Wangari Maathai worked in veterinary medicine research at the University of Nairobi, and eventually, despite the skepticism and even opposition of the male students and faculty, was able to earn a Ph.D. there. She worked her way up through the academic ranks, becoming head of the veterinary medicine faculty, a first for a woman at any department at that university.

Wangari Maathai’s husband ran for Parliament in the 1970s, and Wangari Maathai became involved in organizing work for poor people and eventually this became a national grass-roots organization, providing work and improving the environment at the same time. The project has made significant headway against Kenya’s deforestation.

Wangari Maathai continued her work with the Green Belt Movement, and working for environmental and women’s causes. She also served as national chairperson for the National Council of Women of Kenya.

In 1997 Wangari Maathai ran for the presidency of Kenya, though the party withdrew her candidacy a few days before the election without letting her know; she was defeated for a seat in Parliament in the same election.

In 1998, Wangari Maathai gained worldwide attention when the Kenyan President backed development of a luxury housing project and building began by clearing hundreds of acres of Kenya forest.

In 1991, Wangari Maathai was arrested and imprisoned; an Amnesty International letter-writing campaign helped free her. In 1999 she suffered head injuries when attacked while planting trees in the Karura Public Forest in Nairobi, part of a protest against continuing deforestation. She was arrested numerous times by the government of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi.

In January, 2002, Wangari Maathai accepted a position as Visiting Fellow at Yale University’s Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry.

And in December, 2002, Wangari Maathai was elected to Parliament, as Mwai Kibabi defeated Maathai’s long-time political nemesis, Daniel arap Moi, for 24 years the President of Kenya. Kibabi named Maathai as Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife in January, 2003.

Wangari Maathai died in Nairobi in 2011 of cancer.

More About Wangari Maathai

  • ·Wangari Maathai and Jason Bock. The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience. 2003.
  • ·Wallace, Aubrey. Eco-Heroes: Twelve Tales of Environmental Victory. Mercury House. 1993.
  • ·Dianne Rocheleau, Barbara Thomas-Slayter and Esther Wangari, editors. Feminist Political Ecology: Global Issues and Local Experiences.

Editor’s note:  In 1977, Wangari Maathai started a movement — called the Green Belt Movement — to plant trees to solve societal woes. Known in her native Kenya as “The Tree Lady,” she was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is also first woman in central or eastern Africa to hold a Ph.D., and the first woman head of a university department in Kenya. She died after a long battle with cancer.  The article notes that she received her biology degree from Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, KS.  We share our Benedictine Sisters sorrow and loss.


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Connecting Eaters and Growers

Information taken from Kansas City Food Circle website.

Well into their second decade of service, the Kansas City Food Circle is an all-volunteer, grassroots organization created to connect eaters with local, organic food in order to promote the development of a permanently sustainable local food system in the Kansas City region. KCFC is a project of Heart of America Action Linkage, a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation in Missouri. The predecessor of the KCFC,
the Organic Connection, was originated by the Greater Kansas City Greens in 1988 at the urging of Ben Kjelshus who remains on KCFC’s Coordinating Committee.

The first few years were devoted to finding organic farmers in the region and holding conferences to introduce them to consumers (or preferably called “eaters). In 1994, again at Ben’s suggestion, the name was changed to the Kansas City Food Circle. They established a hotline phone number that people could call for information, and began publishing our Directory of Local Organic and Free Range Food

KCFC serves the greater Kansas City area (eaters and growers in Missouri, Kansas, and reaching out to nearby communities in Nebraska and Iowa) providing an alternative to the conventional agricultural system, which is dependent on practices that are neither good for our personal health nor for the health of the living world we are part of. Most of their work centers on making connections between area growers
who meet their organic produce or free-range animal standards and people who want to eat delicious, nutritious, locally-grown food.

The Kansas City Food Circle is building a community food system in which farmers, eaters, chefs, and grocers know and trust each other. Their network enables them to share their knowledge and experience while working together to promote the benefits of locally-grown organic and free-range foods. One of their goals is to cooperate in nourishing each other today while seeking to sustain the ability of future
generations to nourish themselves through healthy farming practices.

Since 1999, they have held nine Exhibitions of Farmers, and this year some 1100 people attended. The Exhibitions have grown from a few farmers showing off their products and processes to including workshops on food system themes, wide-ranging educational sessions, opportunities for networking.

Currently, The KC CSA Coalition, KCFC’s outreach project that is designed to educate the public and expand the Community Supported Agriculture options for the Greater Kansas City Area, is really taking off as more growers opt for this sort of marketing. In the final analysis, KCFC’s primary purpose remains to support farmers in the region who strive to produce delicious, nourishing food, use environmentally-
sound, organic methods that restore and preserve the health of the land and who treat their animals far more humanely than industrial animal factories do.

If you would like to more about KC Food Circle, schedule a speaker, learn about the benefits of eating locally grown foods, or find out where such foods can be purchased, visit their website.

Another source to check out is the KC Organics and Natural Market which is open May 7th through October 15th, 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 pm in Minor Park. It is sponsored in partnership with Kansas City Missouri Parks and Recreation. To learn more, visit here.

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JAPAN: Fukushima is a call to action in our work to stop nuclear weapons, nuclear power

Except of article by Bud Ryan, Pax Christi New Mexico co-coordinator

We have all seen the devastation caused to the people of northern Japan from the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th. As if that weren’t enough, they then suffered the failure of their nuclear power station at Fukushima. So the question to us is: how do we turn such a horrible tragedy into something good? The answer is that we work to make sure that NO new nuclear power plants are built in our country or around the world; that we work to invest heavily in true “green power” – solar, wind, geothermal, tidal power, etc; and that we begin to take our current nuclear power plants offline as true “clean energy” plants are built to replace them.

Read full article here.

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