Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Representing Presbyterians for Earth Care at the Bonn Climate Change Conference

 

(All photos courtesy Fred Milligan)



Representing Presbyterians for Earth Care at the Bonn Climate Change Conference 

by Fred Milligan

 

The SB 56 Climate Change Conference took place in Bonn, Germany, June 6-16 as the U.S. suffered through yet another record-setting heat wave and Yellowstone National park was hit by a “Thousand year flood” that closed a great part of that wilderness area to tourism for the entire summer holiday season.  At the “Global Stocktake” session of the meeting, Hoesung Lee, Chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC) reported that human activities have warmed the planet at a rate not seen in the past 2,000 years, putting the world on a path towards global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades. The increase currently stands at 1.1 degrees.

 

Climate policy negotiators were convened by the United Nations Secretariat for Climate Change (UNFCCC) for ten days, to seek consensus on documents to be presented to the policy makers from 197 countries (officially titled “parties”) and additional hundreds of other interested persons  who will convene in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November of this year.

Yet there was very little progress in agreeing on how to manage (and pay for) the 50% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 that the scientists tell us is imperative in order to have any hope of avoiding a warming of the planet’s surface temperatures greater than pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. This lack of progress around mitigation, is matched by their failures in providing for adaptation in the face of current temperature increases and the irretrievable losses and damage all living things increasingly continue to suffer.  

 

In part due to the outcry at the 2021 Conference of Partners (COP 26) held in Glasgow last November, commitments have been made on behalf of the UNFCCC Secretariat (leadership) to listen more respectfully and inclusively to the concerns being expressed by civil society. Marianne Karlsen, the Chair of SBI wrote: “  . . . .[W]e have seen unprecedented engagement on the part of non-Party stakeholders who have a key role to play in helping governments achieve their climate goals.”

It was in this spirit that I had eagerly joined the ACT Alliance advocacy team efforts during the COP 26 in Glasgow last year where I represented Presbyterians for Earth Care in Official Observer status. ACT (Action by Churches Together) Alliance, is a global faith-based coalition of more than 140 faith-based member organizations working in long-term development, advocacy and humanitarian assistance in more than 120 countries. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is organizationally affiliated with ACT Alliance through the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program.  As the date for the Bonn Conference approached, I inquired whether I might be of assistance as I would be in Europe at the time. The ACT leadership offered to provide me with official credentials and Presbyterians for Earth Care agreed to provide some financial support so that I could join their team in Bonn.

 

But the outcome there was, to say the least, disappointing. The United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of all agreements under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development. UNFCCC partners at the most recent COP 26 in Glasgow last year, committed to the goal to “keep 1.5 [degrees centigrade] alive.” But there seemed to be a palpable lack of urgency around this goal as well as concerns for adaptation or loss and damage on the part of the developed country negotiators at the conference.

 

The designation “SB 56” refers to this being the 56th time such deliberations of what are referred to as “Subsidiary [decision-making] Bodies” have been held as part of (UNFCCC) process which began in 1992 at the now historic conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (The two Subsidiary Bodies are SBI, the body that oversees implementation of prior decisions and the SBSTA, the Subsidiary Body on Scientific Research and Statistics.) Thus, 2022 is the 30th anniversary of this effort to document and reign in the destruction of the planet resulting from human activities about which scientists have been warning us with increasing precision and urgency since the 1970’s and before.

 

Before arrival I reached out to the U.S. Department of State’s negotiating team and received an invitation to participate in an open dialogue being offered to representatives of U.S. based civil society representatives. There were around 20 or so in attendance at the quite intimate meeting. The Head of Delegation, along with several others who were present from their team, very open to questions posed by attendees. The most active and knowledgeable participants came from the Climate Action Network. (I would highly recommend that PCUSA and/or PEC become a member of U.S. C.A.N.)

There may be opportunities between now and the next COP 27 to engage with the U.S. negotiating team. If that occurs I will certainly keep all informed. And yet, they were clear that apart from the political will of the American people expressed through pressure on our elected leaders, their options for productive action is quite limited. This is why the active engagement of Civil Society with these processes is crucial.

As with the COP, our ACT team was comprised of on-site as well as off-site participants so we began each day with an 8:00 a.m. check-in on-line Teams Meeting to go over the schedule to see who would be attending and reporting back on what meetings.



The top areas of concern are still: Mitigation, (stopping and sequestering emissions, which are the root cause of climate change), Adaptation, (adjusting patterns of agriculture, livelihoods, housing stocks, early storm warning systems, etc.) and Loss and Damage, (replacing fish stocks decimated by bleaching coral, moving populations out of land being overwhelmed by sea water, etc.). But the biggest elephant in the room is how this will all be paid for. The structuring of an equitable and just system of finance. At the time of the Paris agreement, the developed nations committed to make $100 Billion per year available for just the first two categories of mitigation and adaptation. But for years, those in solidarity with the poor of the world have been insisting that there needs to be a separate fund that deals with L and D. But the developed nations, including the U.S. have persisted in dragging their feet to even discuss it.

I whole-heartily support the recommendations presented in our Act Alliance team’s closing press release which states:

“To restore trust in climate negotiations and ensure further progress in the climate talks we also urge developed country parties to arrive at COP27 with the following: 

·         Concrete finance pledges for loss and damage, so that the lack of these funds does not continue to block the negotiation process.   

·         Concrete finance pledges for adaptation. This would show they are keeping their Glasgow promise to double adaptation support. 

·         New and more ambitious positions for COP27 to ensure that negotiations can deliver a successful result. No one should be left behind when the world addresses the climate crisis.  

·         A commitment to ensure meaningful and effective participation of observer organizations in the UNFCCC climate conferences.”  (from Act Alliance Press Release)

 

Perhaps the most gratifying moment of my time in Bonn came on my first day in a casual conversation with a staff person for one of the negotiating teams. Upon learning that I am a minister, the young woman asked, “How do you deal with the fact that so many of those who are activists and civil servants in this cause of Climate Justice seem to be non-religious?” She then proceeded to confide in me that she is a devout Christian and had been, in fact, reading her bible that very morning, but that she has not revealed this to any of her colleagues for fear they will judge her negatively in some way. She said that she attempts to allow her faith to radiate through her actions and presence in ways that influence without dogmatizing. I assured her that I understood the discomfort she felt but that, I do not condemn her for her reticence to reveal her faith to those in her work setting. Given the bad reputation the word “Christian” has taken on in certain circles, especially among the educated and science affirming portion of the population, I told her I might make the same choice were I in her shoes. But that was my pastoral mode kicking in.

 

As I continue to reflect on this issue, it seems to me more imperative than ever for those who profess faith in a spiritual reality not only draw on that faith to endure the ravages of climate change-induced storms but engage with all the resources of our various traditions, to bring about the changes that will be needed to correct the course of history for the sake of life on earth.

 

This process of acquiring the tools for engaging the political power structures requires a lot of effort. As I have learned in my experiences at COP 26 and now the Bonn Climate Conference, it requires learning a new language and a huge vocabulary of acronyms, each with its own history. It also requires walking among the “natives” of that rarified world of diplomacy where we are the novices and yet not lose our voice of prophecy to cut through the prevarications and foot-dragging and at times perhaps, even risk screaming out for action like Greta Thunberg.



 

It may require us to shout that it doesn’t matter if every comma and sentence is perfect because God’s creatures are drowning and starving and burning and dying while such debates over who pays and how much they pay, continue. Some would argue that our world would be much worse off than it currently is if these meetings had not been going on for the last 30 years. But slowing the boiling isn’t enough. And the church must stand with all people of faith and call our leaders to action.

 

So, as difficult and frightening as it may be, we must be present there, as people of faith, and demand the changes come and come quickly for the sake of the world we know God loves and calls us to serve.

 

Grace and peace,

Fred Milligan





Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation

 



Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation

by Rev. Sue Smith

 

From The Power to Speak Truth to Power (1981) to Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice (1990) to The Power to Save (2008), the PCUSA has a long history of environmental policy providing us with guidance in caring for all of God’s creation. The 223rd General Assembly (2018) directed the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) to develop a policy to respond to the increasing impacts of climate change. Building on our existing policies, Investing in a Green Future: A Vision for a Renewed Creation lifts up the intersection of environmental, economic and racial justice, to ensure that actions address how a warming planet affects all creation.

 

This paper was recommended to the 224th General Assembly (2020). In 2020 we were celebrating the 30th anniversary of Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice and designed a poster celebrating over 50 years of environmental advocacy in the PCUSA. In an in-person Assembly, we would have celebrated in style. But it was not an in-person Assembly and the paper was referred to this year’s 225th General Assembly.

 

Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice called for the 1990’s to be the turnaround decade for ecological restoration. We did not respond to the cry of creation then – we need to recommit to a turnaround decade now. It is not enough to be the turnaround decade outlined in 1990. Today we need to be intentional about addressing the intersection of environmental, economic and racial justice, aligning with the Church’s focus on Matthew 25 and dismantling systemic racism.

 

Overtures to General Assembly tend to recognize that we need to keep the needs of “the least of these” as a focus in our work and then go on to promote market solutions that favor those that profit from capitalism. We know that BIPOC folx (black, Indigenous and people of color) and women are most vulnerable to climate change and the least likely to profit from capitalism. How might the Church address these needs? Here are some of the recommendations:

 

·         Support policies and regulations that rigorously reduce air pollution, not only carbon pollution, but also particulate matter and other carcinogenic air pollutants that disproportionately affect low-income, vulnerable communities of color living near regulated facilities and power plants. (8B)

·         Ensure that communities affected by environmental racism are included at the table and have the opportunity to provide leadership in the movement to find solutions to the current ecological crisis. (8Ca)

·         Affirm those who suffer most have the strongest moral claim in shaping restorative policy and practice. (8Cc)

·         Reiterate that the goal of a “green economy” cannot be limited strictly to ecological concerns or environmental policy, but must address concerns of racial and economic justice in the marketplace, including a living wage; access to safe, affordable housing, health care, and food; rigorous regulation of high-polluting sectors and industries; programs to replace and retrofit aging buildings and infrastructure; access to jobs and job training in sustainable industries; and workforce development programs for workers who will transition from the fossil fuel industry to sectors with renewable and sustainable practices. Recognize that economic justice is important especially for women, who bear the brunt of many climate impacts. (8F)

 

Will the recommendations made be easy? No. One of the final recommendations: Recognize that transitioning to a more just, restored, and sustainable world will be difficult, but possible. While it is hard for us to imagine a low-carbon / zero-carbon economy without fossil fuels, where environmental care comes before profit, in which racism and poverty are functionally eliminated, we must do all of these things. Instead of focusing on the difficulties or expense, we must lift up our vision and actions to create a revived environment, better health outcomes, employment opportunities that provide a living wage, clean air and water, wilderness preserved for its own sake, universal access to healthy food, and the reconciliation of broken relationships. (9)

May it be so.

 

Sue Smith put her MBA to work in the global financial services industry for 30 years. She is an ordained minister and Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Coastlands (NJ). She is the co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. She serves on the boards of Clean Water Action (NJ) and Waterspirit and was a former steering committee member of Presbyterians for Earth Care.


The Time is Now to Cherish Creation

 


The Time is Now to Cherish Creation

by Rev. Bruce Gillette

“The Time is Now to Cherish Creation, Cut Carbon and Speak Up” overture (shorthand “Cherish Creation”) to our PCUSA 225th (2022) General Assembly gives a hint about the origins of the overture in its title. A reader needs to go to the final sentence of the overture to realize that the title comes from a webinar led by an Anglican bishop at COP 26: “…Bishop Hugh Nelson of the Church of England who so aptly put it in his address to the COP 26 (2021 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland).”

Two of the PEC representatives to the COP26 reported after the meeting on a number of climate change-related concerns from that recent international meeting that they hoped American Presbyterians would consider and act on. The draft of the overture went through a variety of revisions involving many people, with ideas being exchanged over emails, phone calls and Zoom meetings. Some Zoom meetings included people in nine time zones, from the European continent to the American West Coast. The hope is not only that the General Assembly will approve the overture, but also that as many sessions and presbyteries as possible will discuss climate change as they consider the overture. Such discussions can move more people to action.

Presbyterians for Earth Care supports many of the overtures on creation care coming to this General Assembly (see list in “Cherish Creation”). Some of the unique things contained in “Cherish Creation” are the biblical support for it provided by Dr. William Brown, an outstanding biblical scholar at Columbia Seminary, and the latest scientific findings of Dr. Mark Eakin, an award-winning oceanographer, contributor to past IPCC reports, and a Presbyterian ruling elder. The overture also calls on the Church, congregations and church-related educational institutions to be more faithful in creation care. Other overtures focus on businesses and governmental policies, which “Cherish Creation” also supports.

The overture calls on the church to take a variety of actions: First, repent of our role in driving the “planetary ecosystem to the tipping point of unsustainability for humans and mass extinction of other species.”

Second, “direct that all financial investments of the PC(USA) be withdrawn from industries that contribute to the production of the two major greenhouse gasses (CO2 and methane); this broader list (“all”) will accelerate the timeline of the MRTI proposal as well as effectively end our investment in the production and use of plastics.

The third action directs the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation to increase investment in sources of low-carbon renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage, and it sensitively supports “policies that transition workers in our present fossil fuel industry into employment in green and sustainable energy sectors.”

Fourth, members and congregations are encouraged to study past GA papers and current overtures.

Fifth, churches, educational institutions and individuals are urged to “walk the talk” by doing “the needed, faithful change we seek by being carbon neutral, net-zero, or even climate positive by 2030.”

Sixth, our advocacy offices (OPW in DC and UN) are called to work in partnership with ecumenical and international groups, to “assist economically developing and emerging countries* with carbon use mitigation and adaptation.”

The seventh action item is related, recognizing “climate debt.”

The eighth action item calls on the church to support the carbon dividend (as the 2018 GA did). Finally, the overture urges all major church offices and ecumenical partners to develop a 10-year coordinating strategy for accompaniment and advocacy before, during, and after major governmental and ecumenical meetings, and to collaborate with PEC and other creation care groups.

PEC’s webinar on the “Cherish Now” overture is now posted on YouTube and was reported on by the Presbyterian News Service. https://presbyearthcare.org/climate-overture/

 

Bruce Gillette is the current PEC Moderator, pastor of the First Presbyterian Union Church in Owego, NY, and author of the overture approved by the 2016 PC(USA) General Assembly and Presbyteries to amend the Book of Order (G-1.0304), by adding the phrase caring for Gods creationas a responsibility of all church members.


Going Carbon Neutral

 

Westminster’s Eco-Justice Team on the church’s green roof


Going Carbon Neutral

by Eric Diekhans

 In 2006 the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly adopted a policy urging all Presbyterians to “…take the results of our energy consumption seriously, to pray asking for Gods forgiveness and guidance, to reduce energy consumption, and to calculate carbon emissions and offset their negative impact.

 Two Minnesota Presbyterians churches have fully embraced this call to action and offer a shining example of how faith and determination can lead to big changes in a churchs carbon footprint.

 At Westminster Church, located in downtown Minneapolis, discussion of carbon neutrality began in 2011, when the church was planning a new addition. Carbon neutrality occurs when emissions of carbon dioxide, in this case by a church building, are offset by its removal (often through carbon offsetting), or by eliminating emissions.

 Carbon neutrality is probably the most important aspect of environmental justice these days,says Jeff Hill, a member of Westminsters Eco-Justice Ministry Team.

 Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Minnesota began having the same discussions in 2013. “We came up with a long-range plan to sequester as much carbon as we could either through what we do with our building and grounds, or through our investments,” says John Crampton, part of the church’s Green Committee.

 Both churches began to make changes most casual church-goers wouldnt notice, but that made a big difference in their carbon footprint.

 We cut our energy by a third just by converting to LED lights,says Crampton. We got rooftop solar that generates 20 kilowatts, and a membership in a community solar garden that provides about 50 kilowatts. In addition we get 100 kilowatts from wind power, so we actually produce more renewable electricity than we consume.

 Oak Grove also targets emissions produced by people driving to church. We've sponsored annual EV expos at our church,says Crampton. The expos have drawn people from throughout the community, where they learn about the personal and environmental benefits of electric vehicles and bikes.

 Oak Grove served as a model and inspiration for Westminsters efforts. Westminster Church also looked at how their efforts towards sustainability could inspire and serve the wider community.

 “Westminster is a large downtown congregation,” says Sandy Wolfe Wood, Chair of the church’s Eco-Justice Ministry Team. “We draw from all over the twin cities, so we have the opportunity to become advocates as people start taking what they've learned at church and enacting it in their different communities. We would also love to take the extra energy we generate and and provide some of it to our local non-profits.”

 Oak Grove has also challenged its members to take sustainability home with them, asking them to take a family carbon pledge to cut their carbon footprint with small actions like using LED lights, driving less, and eating a more sustainable diet.

 For congregations who fear going carbon neutral might be expensive, Hill says Westminster has actually found they’ve saved some money. “We obtained partial ownership of a solar garden that will actually pay us back over time. Every year electric rates are going up, but our rates are fixed.”

 “The 20 kilowatts of solar that we have on Oak Grove’s rooftop will pay for themselves in 18 years,” adds Crampton. “They have a life of 30 years, so that's 12 years of free electricity from those panels.”

 But for Wood, the main reason to go carbon neutral isn’t about money. “If in a church you can’t lead with a moral imperative,” she says, “where can you do it?”

 For environmental activists in other churches wanting to create a carbon neutral plan, Crampton suggests getting other church committees involved. “Get their ideas,” he says. “ Our mission committee actually paid for the two level-two electric vehicle chargers we’ve installed.”

 Westminster and Oak Grove are two of ten churches in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area that are certified Earth Care Congregations. Rick Person, another member of the Eco-Justice Ministry Team at Westminster encourages other churches to get certified in this Presbyterian Church (USA) program. “As soon as you start certification, you’re going to be involved in improving your facilities carbon footprint as part of the program.”

Eric Diekhans is a fiction writer, a video producer with the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, and Editor of Earth News. He is a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

 


Thursday, March 31, 2022

Resources and Ideas for Celebrating Earth Day Sunday with Your Congregation


Resources and Ideas for Celebrating Earth Day Sunday with Your Congregation

by Mindy Hidenfelter and Jane Laping

Earth Day is April 22nd and you can celebrate Earth Day Sunday with your congregation any time in April, or throughout the year.  All Creation praises God’s name, and we can give thanks to God for the wonder and beauty of the world around us!

Here are some resources that may be helpful in planning an Earth Day or Creation Care Sunday at your church.  We know that many congregations have creative and original ideas of their own for how to celebrate.  It is our hope that we can share ideas in inspire discussion in the Comments Section of this Blog post.

Creation Justice Ministries 2022 Earth Day Resource, "Weathering the Storm: Faithful Climate Resilience" Download Document HERE

Interfaith Power and Light’s (IPL) Faith Climate Action Week is ten days in April (Earth Month)when IPL congregations focus on taking action to protect climate. The 2022 theme is “Sacred Trust: Our Children’s Right to a Livable Future.” https://www.faithclimateactionweek.org/

PEC's 2021 Online Conference Workshop with Janet Adair: Creation Care in Your Worship Service can be found on YouTube HERE

Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) Educational Resources for Children and Youth Lessons and activities from various faith-based and secular sources about the creation story, climate change, Native Americans, and related topics: interfaithpowerandlight.org/educational-resources/

Earth Day Resources from PC(USA), including helpful materials from past years' themes: presbyterianmission.org/ministries/environment/earth-day-sunday/

Christianity and Climate Change, a nine-part film series featuring Katharine Hayhoe, the internationally renowned Christian climate scientist tearfund.org/campaigns/christianity-and-climate-change-film-series

Don't forget that National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April each year.  This national holiday celebrates the benefits of trees, and typically involves planting trees.  Your church could incorporate tree planting into its Earth Care activities.  You can take a look at the recorded PEC workshop from 2021 for ideas on YouTube HERE

Please comment with projects, resources, and ideas YOUR church's congregation has enjoyed and found successful!


Mindy Hidenfelter is the Presbyterians for Earth Care Coordinator and Jane Laping serves as the Vice Moderator of PEC.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

2021 Earth Care Award Winners Announced

 PEC Honors Three Award Winners at Membership Meeting

Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC) on January 30th celebrated 25 years of presenting its Annual Awards to Presbyterians making creation care a central concern of the church.  At the virtual membership meeting, PEC recognized two deserving individuals and one organization for their exceptional environmental achievements. The William Gibson Eco-Justice Award was presented to Dr. Mark Eakin, an Elder at Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, MD. Avery Davis Lamb received the Emerging Earth Care Leader Award for a young adult, and Earth Care Congregation Cherokee Park United Church of St. Paul MN received the Restoring Creation Award for an organization.

 

Dr. Mark Eakin, William Gibson Eco-Justice Award

Dr. C. Mark Eakin worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for over 25 years and directs Coral Reef Watch, a program that monitors coral reef ecosystems through satellite and in water observations. Dr. Eakin holds a Ph.D. from the University of Miami and publishes on coral reef ecology, especially the impact of climate change on coral reefs, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, and coral paleoclimatology. He formerly co-chaired the US Coral Reef Task Force’s Climate Change Working Group, has testified before Congress on the impacts of climate change, was a contributing author on the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report, and a Chief Scientific Advisor for the 2017 Sundance-winning film Chasing Coral.  Dr. Eakin taught the most well-attended seminar at the 2021 PEC Conference, did an evening program for PEC on the latest IPCC report and a program for PEC on the COP26 in November.

 


Avery Davis Lamb, Emerging Earth Care Leader Award

Avery Davis Lamb is an activist, ecologist, and public theologian working at the intersection of Christianity and environmental justice. He is co-executive director of Creation Justice Ministries, whose mission is to educate, equip and mobilize Christians to protect, restore, and rightly share God's creation.  Avery has a background in both ecological research and faith-based environmental organizing, studying ecology in various ecosystems and organizing faith communities across the country in support of action on environmental justice. He serves on the board for The Center for Spirituality in Nature and is a Fellow with the Re:Generate Program at Wake Forest Divinity School and Foundations of Christian Leadership Program at Duke Divinity School where is an environmental management and theology student.

 


Cherokee Park United Church, a joint PC(USA)/UCC Earth Care Congregation, Restoring Creation Award.  

As a small church in a resource-poor West Side neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota, CPUC has demonstrated creativity in advancing a Creation Care message in its congregation and community.  One example: to demonstrate how easy it is to contact one's legislator about issues of concern to the community, the pastor made a call to his representative in Congress during a worship service.  With tender care for our planet and fierce commitment to environmental justice, CPUC shares acts of prayers, from tending its rain garden, sharing solar energy, and advocating with Congress for socially just, effective climate action. 

·         Partnering with the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area and collaborating with the Covenant Presbytery of Texas, our TX & MN overtures were approved at the 2018 PC(USA) General Assembly, calling on our million+ members to encourage Congressional action on climate.

·         Installed rain garden for neighborhood water care.

·         Reducing energy use by 60%, e.g. conversion to 100% LED lighting.

·         Dedicated the largest solar array on any MN church at that time (2012) now meeting all our electricity needs and returning 16MWh of power to the grid every year.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Consider the Animals

 



Consider the Animals

by Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper

 As I started receiving texts and notices, and seeing Facebook posts, I realized something was horribly wrong in the area where I live. Boulder County was on fire. The largest urban fires in the history of the state. Most of us reached out to those we loved, asking if they needed help evacuating, getting animals safe, etc. Roads closed for support teams to get in to help. Helpless, we watched as the 100 mph winds, the heat, and the tinderbox conditions prohibited much to be done but to watch, cry, and pray. It was a devastating shock, yet one that was inevitable because of the climate changes we have been experiencing. For months, we have experienced too warm days and no snow—an equation for a firestorm and evidence of climate change.

 

We started hearing the statistics of the devastation:  6000 acres, 1100 homes, and 2 human deaths. There was always a vague acknowledgment of the numerous deaths of wildlife, pets, and animals. And yet, as we heard the specific statistics concerning land, houses, and human casualties, there was nothing but a generalized mention of the numbers of pets and wildlife lost. I wondered aloud why don't we count the animals? Is it too hard? Do we think, oh well, they are only animals? Do their lives not matter? 

 

It's not a surprise because for decades, people of faith discussed climate change and environmental justice, but we often didn’t make the connection to the animals that share this planet with us. We don’t realize that God calls us to make a difference. Animals matter to us, and we are responsible for protecting species and providing them with conditions that bring forth their best living intentions.

 

As a person who for decades has been an animal advocate, a spokesperson for the endangered species act, and who built a business on what we can learn from animals, I often receive the same response. Well, isn't that cute? You have a tender heart for animals. My reaction is not as cute. Demonstrated throughout scripture,  we are called to protect the earth's species and challenged to consider our relationship with them as teachers and colleagues, not just objects that we exploit.

 

We are quick to focus on water, air, earth, trees, pollution, natural disasters, and the impact of climate change on humans. We often leave out another considerable component of our ecosystem and this earth. The animals. Those characters of the creation story were birthed on this earth before humans took their first breath. Those that:

 

~Creator God used the same matter to create us from that they were already created. 

 

~Loving God entrusted Adam and Eve to name, thus seeing, recognizing, and understanding they are a part of this beloved community. 

 

~Covenanting God commanded Noah to provide for the survival of the species.

~Inviting God shared with Job and us to consider the animals' healing wisdom and nature.

 

~Comical God used Balam's ass to vocalize human words of justice to confront harm and abuse and violence.

 

~Imaginative God chose to infuse the prophets with imagery from the animal world of what the beloved kin-dom would look like.

 

~That our beloved God, through Jesus, loved, illustrated, and engaged throughout his ministry on earth.

 

As much as we can easily see the through-line in scripture that brings forth an invitation for love, there is a through-line that says we are to care for this creation, which includes her creatures!

 

The animals are part of creation. We must grasp this reality. As a denomination, we are engaged in the Matthew 25 call that includes environmental justice. As an activist for environmental justice on many levels, I notice that there is a lightbulb moment when I speak to groups. Oh yes, we love animals, AND we are given a huge responsibility to support them in their existence, prevent exploitation and habitat destruction, recognize that pollution impacts them, and realize their survival is consequentially linked to our survival. So these days, as we have found such deep healing in being with our furry companions, learning from feathered friends in the air, and the finned creatures of the deep, consider this question. Might we expand our understanding of environmental justice to include their voices, to be their voices, in making a difference in this world? Might their lives matter and be counted in our awareness and in the practice of faithful stewardship?

 


Rev. Dr.
Dee Cooper is the Gap Presbyter of Coastlands Presbytery (New Jersey). She is also a Certified Coach through the Hendricks Institute. Dee serves on the Presbytery Mission Agency Board and is the moderator for the Presbyterian Mental Health Network.  Dee has her own business, Adventures for the Wild at Heart, where she connects people with animals in the wild or in rescue.

Finding the Good Wine is Also Good-for-the-Earth

 

Paul Slaikeu

Finding the Good Wine is also Good-for-the Earth

by Rev. Mary Beene

I thought 2021 was going to be all about coping with scarcity, instead it positively changed my engagement with, and my approach to, my vineyard, with unexpectedly positive results.” – Paul Slaikeu

 

Paul Slaikeu is the Vice-Moderator of the Presbytery of the Redwoods and an award-winning home winemaker in Californias Sonoma County. His home in Healdsburg, CA is surrounded by larger commercial vineyards and winery tasting rooms, but his annual 20-24 case output supplies not only his family and friends, but his home church with their communion wine.

Living in wine country, one of the small but noticeable sacrifices during COVID has been our shift from serving both wine and grape juice by intinction during the Lords Supper,” admits Rev. Mary Beene, pastor at Windsor Presbyterian Church. Pauls wine, often served with homemade bread, was a highlight of the service, truly demonstrating Gods goodness in the fruit of the vine. We could joke that Paul didnt save the good wine for last, waiting for Jesus to turn water into wine,” says Beene. Paul performed that miracle twice a month by sharing his bounty with us.”

But it is not really a miracle. It is hard work that turns nearly 500 gallons of water a week during growing season into beautiful grapes that can be fermented into great wines. In 2014, he even won a Gold Medal for his Zinfandel.

Paul planted his 116 vines on a steeply sloped yard next to his home. Always a connoisseur of fine wines, Paul had turned his husband Martin into a wine-lover on a wine club trip after their third date. Through the years, they had enjoyed exploring how to pair wines with food and unabashedly call themselves foodies” who love to experiment with great pairings.

When they moved to Healdsburg in 2005, Martin went back to school to become a wine professional. Since harvest and winemaking season keeps him busy at work, he mostly consults while Paul does the heavy lifting of caring for the vines, harvesting, and making the wine. Paul planted his first vines in 2008 and made his first wine in 2011.

This past year, however, was different than previous years. Healdsburg and much of the western United States faced a serious drought situation. Commercial vineyards often have older vines that can withstand severe drought; they actually use less water than many other agricultural uses. Even so, many lost vines and grapes as water supplies dried out.

Very little rain fell during the traditional rainy season, which was completely dry from November 2020 to April 2021. By seasons end, Lake Mendicino, which supplies much of Healdsburgs water had no more water than before the rainy season started. Through the long summer it only got worse, as the lake levels fell so much that towns flooded to form the lake decades before were suddenly visible again on the cracked, dry bottom.

Healdsburg placed a severe limit on all water uses inside and outside homes. The drought threatened not only agriculture, but homes, as the previous years fires had raged in the drought-stricken hills around Healdsburg. So the city of Healdsburg got serious about limiting water usage. They worked out a special program for residents to use recycled, non-potable wastewater in a bid to teach conservation in an area where drought is likely to become more common.

Another Healdsburg resident from the Windsor Church told Paul about the program that would provide up to 500 gallons of wastewater per week for residents. The city provided the transportation for free if residents could provide storage containers. Paul started calculating and found that his drip system for the vines used 116 gallons per hour for several hours per week, estimating about 500 gallons total. He jumped into motion, signing up for the program, securing first 250 gallons of storage and then a 500-gallon tank and a small electric pump to ensure the system worked.

His first goal was to just keep the vines alive through a draught-stricken summer, prioritizing the health of the vines over producing grapes. He cut back on watering to once per week, watering only the grapes and some fruit trees on the property and allowing the other ornamental landscaping to survive if it could without water.

As grapes started to appear, he pruned nearly half the clusters, allowing only one bunch at most per branch, rather than a typical two or more. He paid more attention close to harvest time to make sure the vines were surviving the dry, hot summer and fall. The dry year did bring some benefits, as he had fewer problems with disease and powdery mildew. And he found one more very unexpected benefit.

In pruning so carefully and paying more attention throughout the year to the vines, the grapes were superb. Because he was in the vineyard almost every day, they were picked at the most ideal time. When Paul and Martin tasted the wine after the grapesprimary fermentation, Martin told him that this year would be the best wine he had ever made.

Paul admitted, I thought 2021 was going to be all about coping with scarcity, instead it positively changed my engagement with, and my approach to my vineyard, with unexpectedly positive results.”

Although he made only 11 cases versus the usual 20-24 cases, he is very pleased with the years production. When theres a constraint, a limitation, it really makes me pay attention. I could have always been doing this; I could have had better vintages all along.”

Paul also noticed that this happened with electrical usage in past years as well. I never paid attention to my electricity until I got solar panels and started monitoring it.” This years drought and Healdsburgs water conservation programs made him more mindful of his water use, not only in the vineyard, but in the house, as well. I bought a Flume water monitor and we now take shorter showers and flush the toilet less, because we found out that we can.”

He lost only a few ornamental plants in his other landscaping, despite not watering there at all. It turns out that when he told his landscaper to put in draught tolerant plants, he could trust that they were truly well xeriscaped. He says he may never water that part of the yard again. These kinds of permanent changes can make a real difference in the community as we learn to live in greater harmony with Gods creation.

 

Rev. Mary Beene is pastor of Windsor Presbyterian Church in Windsor, CA. Mary grew up near Detroit, attended high school in Pennsylvania, majored in environmental science and German at Allegheny College, served in the Peace Corps in Hungary, earned a Masters in Public Administration at American University in Washington DC and worked for over 12 years for environmental non-profits in DC and Boston with an emphasis on board training and fundraising.