Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Environmental Hope: A Better Approach for a Tougher Climate

Intro­duc­ing the Unbound Nov 2012–Jan 2013 issue “Hope for Eco-Activists: Dis­cov­er­ing an Envi­ron­men­tal Faith” - A col­lab­o­ra­tive issue of Unbound and Pres­by­te­ri­ans for Earth Care exam­in­ing the rela­tional and spir­i­tual foun­da­tion of a life devoted to sus­tain­abil­ity and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice. This issue will “roll out” over a period of sev­eral weeks and we will be highlighting articles by PEC leaders as they become available! Check out the introduction to the issue and stay connected for more!
By Patrick David Heery, Man­ag­ing Editor

hurricane sandy
Hur­ri­cane Sandy left many feel­ing doubt­ful about the
via­bil­ity of envi­ron­men­tal hope

This is an arti­cle about envi­ron­mental hope. These days, in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Sandy, the words “envi­ron­men­tal” and “hope” do not often go together. But actu­ally, they’ve been divorced for many years. I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s hear­ing about the destruc­tion of rain­forests, species extinction, and any number of apocalyptic visions due to cli­mate change. As a child, I plastered drawings around my neigh­bor­hood with great spi­rals of smoke con­sum­ing the earth (I had recently seen the films Fer­n­Gully and Med­i­cine Man). I scared my par­ents by telling them that the earth would be bet­ter off if the human race were eliminated—logical, though cer­tainly not the voca­tion par­ents dream of for their child. I hon­estly wanted to make things bet­ter, but that just didn’t seem likely.

And yet, this is an arti­cle about hope. In fact, it’s an intro­duc­tion to an entire jour­nal issue about that hope.This issue asks a sim­ple ques­tion: What gets us out of bed every morn­ing and gives us the will to fight another day for sus­tain­abil­ity, earth care, and eco-justice?
The envi­ron­men­tal move­ment has, in large part, oper­ated from the assump­tion that if we tell peo­ple just how seri­ously threat­ened the future of our planet is, they will start to care and take action. This has cre­ated a strat­egy of “aware­ness rais­ing.” But new (and some old) the­o­ries of how peo­ple learn and develop identity-markers draw this assump­tion into ques­tion. More­over, the strat­egy can back­fire. Rather than more infor­ma­tion serv­ing as a cat­a­lyst, it has often over­whelmed and left many feel­ing powerless.
In his book, The Nature Prin­ci­ple, Richard Louv describes speak­ing to an audi­to­rium filled with two hun­dred high school students—a speaker’s night­mare. He expected the typ­i­cal blank stares, “gum pop­ping, and note pass­ing.” But what hap­pened next sur­prised him: the stu­dents were pay­ing atten­tion. In fact, they were down­right curi­ous and excited. Louv was baf­fled. After­ward, a sci­ence teacher explained: It’s “sim­ple. You said some­thing pos­i­tive about the future of the envi­ron­ment. They never hear that.”
Not long before Louv’s pre­sen­ta­tion, an expert on global cli­mate change had spo­ken to the same group of students—and had received a very dif­fer­ent reac­tion. They were bored; they couldn’t have cared less. What they heard was the typ­i­cal doom and gloom mes­sage: “the planet is in big trou­ble (but it’s too late to save it any­way).” Young peo­ple have heard this mes­sage all their lives. They get it: the world is dying.
But Louv said some­thing that they had not heard before. He spoke about them and “their health: a grow­ing body of evi­dence show­ing how out­door expe­ri­ences can enhance their abil­ity to learn and think, expand their senses, and improve their phys­i­cal and men­tal health.” While Louv named the dire threats to the envi­ron­ment, he pre­sented these dete­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions as a ral­ly­ing cry for “new sources of energy; new types of agri­cul­ture; new urban design and new kinds of schools, work­places, and health­care… whole new careers.”¹ With­out down­play­ing the seri­ous­ness of the earth’s envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems, Louv gave a mes­sage of hope that spelled out alter­na­tive prac­tices and poli­cies that are already being imple­mented in com­mu­ni­ties across the world.
“You said some­thing pos­i­tive about the envi­ron­ment. They never hear that.”
It is not enough to tell peo­ple how bad things are. That neg­a­tive moti­va­tion only goes so far. Peo­ple need more. And they need more than “aware­ness.” David Siegen­thaler, who writes in this issue about deep ecol­ogy, says that true moti­va­tion begins with “first-hand con­tact” or expe­ri­ence that elic­its awe and, yes, love. “Under­stand­ing,” he writes, “fol­lows love.” When you love some­thing, you are will­ing to fight for it.
In the spirit of that loy­alty to the earth, these arti­cles go beneath the “issues” (though they cer­tainly engage them) and exam­ine the rela­tional and spir­i­tual foun­da­tion of a life devoted to sus­tain­abil­ity and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice. They seek a coher­ent way of life and the­ol­ogy man­i­fest in all aspects of exis­tence: human rela­tion­ships, the sacra­ments and wor­ship, the read­ing of scrip­ture, re-connection with the earth, artis­tic expres­sion, our con­sumer deci­sions, and com­mu­ni­ties that rein­te­grate the social cat­e­gories of race, gen­der, age, and class.
The issue began as a project of UnboundPres­by­te­ri­ans for Earth Care, and Pres­by­ter­ian Envi­ron­men­tal Min­istries. But it soon grew and took on new ecu­meni­cal, and then inter­faith, dimen­sions. It turned out that peo­ple were excited to write on this sub­ject. In fact, we received so many sub­mis­sions that we have decided to roll out the issue over a period of sev­eral weeks, rather than post all the arti­cles at once and overwhelm.
You will get to hear from Green­Faith Fel­lows, trained in North America’s only com­pre­hen­sive inter­faith edu­ca­tion pro­gram designed to turn clergy and laity into religious-environmental lead­ers; from sci­en­tists and ecol­o­gists; from artists, musi­cians, and poets; from ecu­meni­cal young adult move­ments like the National Coun­cil of Churches’ Eco-Justice Pro­gram and the World Stu­dent Chris­t­ian Fed­er­a­tion; from par­tic­i­pants in the Rio+20 United Nations Con­fer­ence on Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment; from pas­tors and the­olo­gians; and from eco-justice com­mu­nity organizers.
We would claim that the range of arti­cles shows how hope becomes redemp­tive pos­si­bil­ity. We might say that a “burn­ing man” aes­thetic becomes a “green man”—and woman—ethic that is not con­sumed (or about con­sump­tion); and that coop­er­a­tion becomes part of the earth’s re-enchantment. And per­haps ulti­mately we pray that dis­as­ter recon­struc­tion helps redi­rect the human storms of vio­lence and wasted energy. Here is a sam­pling of the articles:
  • Shan­tha Ready Alonso of the NCC helps us under­stand what young peo­ple crave and how the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment could answer that need.
  • Larry Ras­mussen, the Rein­hold Niebuhr Pro­fes­sor of Social Ethics Emer­i­tus at Union The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in New York City, writes about the Eucharist and an envi­ron­men­tal sacra­men­tal the­ol­ogy, draw­ing upon his new book, Earth-Honoring Faith.
  • Rabbi Janet Mad­den describes how gar­den­ing offers a sacred space (even in pots and buck­ets) and a sacred time for being together, par­tic­u­larly, on Shabbat.
  • William Sea­man intro­duces us to the deep won­der of our world’s threat­ened oceans, and maps out pos­si­bil­i­ties for recovery.
  • Holly Hall­man and Abby Mohaupt lead the rally cry for eco-feminism, a move­ment and phi­los­o­phy that under­stands the oppres­sion and objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women and of the envi­ron­ment as inter­con­nected and mutu­ally supportive.
  • Com­mu­nity orga­nizer Clare But­ter­field exam­ines racial and class priv­i­lege embed­ded in the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment, and tells us how one urban inter­faith eco-justice orga­ni­za­tion in Chicago is work­ing to change that.
  • Genny Row­ley shares her research on con­gre­ga­tional envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions: how they hap­pen and why they work.
  • Neddy Astudillo reframes our under­stand­ing of cre­ation care from the per­spec­tive of her Latino/a min­istry and con­text, seek­ing to inte­grate and tran­scend the lim­i­ta­tions of stew­ard­ship, jus­tice, and spirituality.
  • Stan Adam­son intro­duces deep ecol­ogy and nature deficit dis­or­der, and tells us how immer­sion in the nat­ural world can become a spir­i­tual discipline.
  • Lau­ren Wright shares art inspired by her Young Adult Vol­un­teer (YAV) and eco-steward year in the wet­lands of south­ern Louisiana.
Together, these arti­cles reveal a chang­ing envi­ron­men­tal movement—one that is less about ward­ing off dis­as­ter or accru­ing ben­e­fits, and more about a vision of local, sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties gath­er­ing around farm­ers’ mar­kets, con­tem­pla­tive hikes and sea voy­ages, urban re-design, and cre­ative polit­i­cal action. It is a par­tic­i­pa­tory, rela­tional vision refram­ing old ques­tions like “How do we stop envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion?” into “How do we cre­ate a dif­fer­ent kind of soci­ety?” It is a move­ment based on hope and the pre­sen­ta­tion of prac­ticed alter­na­tives that go beyond mere stew­ard­ship of resources (e.g. recy­cling) and address sys­tems, root causes, and issues of priv­i­lege. That hope, for many, is based in a sacred expe­ri­ence of God’s creation.
The sys­tem­atic impli­ca­tions of move­ments like these remain to be seen, but if enough com­mu­ni­ties like these emerge—and if they connect—we may have more than hope. We may have liv­ing alter­na­tives that resist the momen­tum toward dev­as­ta­tion. Dis­as­ter still threatens—we will see increas­ing num­bers of grim storms—but we will also see more of a future that is not heart-breaking but hope-bearing.
Check out the Nov 2012–Jan 2013 Unbound issue, “Hope for Eco-Activists: Dis­cov­er­ing an Envi­ron­men­tal Faith
[1] Richard Louv, The Nature Prin­ci­ple: Human Restora­tion and the End of Nature-Deficit Dis­or­der. Chapel Hill, North Car­olina: Algo­nquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011: 282–3.

patrick heery on horseback
The Rev. Patrick David Heery is the Man­ag­ing Edi­tor of Unbound and an ordained Teach­ing Elder (for­merly Min­is­ter of Word and Sacra­ment) in the Pres­by­ter­ian Church (U.S.A.). He is a staff­per­son for the Advi­sory Com­mit­tee on Social Wit­ness Pol­icy. He earned his Mas­ter of Divin­ity from Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary (2011) and a Bach­e­lor of Arts in both Eng­lish and Clas­sics from Ohio Uni­ver­sity (2008). While at sem­i­nary, Patrick helped found ECOS: Envi­ron­men­tally Con­scious Orga­ni­za­tion of Seminarians.

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