Thursday, July 25, 2019

Can Climate Change Affect Mental Health?

An Unspoken Effect of Climate Change

Dr. Susan Clayton will speak about how climate change can affect our emotional well-being at PEC’s Conference on August 7, 7-8 PM EDT. You may watch her talk live by registering in advance. Below is an excerpt from Mental Health and Climate Change: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance that Dr. Clayton co-authored.

The ability to process information and make decisions without being disabled by extreme emotional responses is threatened by climate change. Some emotional response is normal, and even negative emotions are a necessary part of a fulfilling life. In the extreme case, however, they can interfere with our ability to think rationally, plan our behavior, and consider alternative actions. An extreme weather event can be a source of trauma, and the experience can cause disabling emotions. More subtle and indirect effects of climate change can add stress to people’s lives in varying degrees. Whether experienced indirectly or directly, stressors to our climate translate into impaired mental health that can result in depression and anxiety (USGCRP, 2016). Although everyone is able to cope with a certain amount of stress, the accumulated effects of compound stress can tip a person from mentally healthy to mentally ill. Even uncertainty can be a source of stress and a risk factor for psychological distress (Greco & Roger, 2003). People can be negatively affected by hearing about the negative experiences of others, and by fears—founded or unfounded—about their own potential vulnerability.

Compromised physical health can be a source of stress that threatens psychological well-being. Conversely, mental health problems can also threaten physical health, for example, by changing patterns of sleep, eating, or exercise and by reducing immune system function.

Although residents’ mental and physical health affect communities, the impacts of climate on community health can have a particularly strong effect on community fabric and interpersonal relationships. Altered environmental conditions due to climate change can shift the opportunities people have for social interaction, the ways in which they relate to each other, and their connections to the natural world.”

Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman, K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica. 

Dr. Susan Clayton is Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology at the College of Wooster in Ohio. She has written or edited six books, including most recently Psychology and Climate Change (2018; co-edited with Christie Manning).

Monday, July 15, 2019

On the cutting edge of 21st century agriculture

A Farm Grows in Chicago

by Eric Diekhans

“Like a seed, good things grow with nourishment and encouragement.”

Rows of seedlings sprout from rich, black loam. Farmers with dirt-encrusted nails survey the bounty harvested from the land. City folks line up at a farm stand to fill bags with fresh, nutritious produce. These aren’t scenes out of Norman Rockwell’s oeuvre. They take place every week against a backdrop of concrete and skyscrapers on Chicago’s near north side at the Chicago Lights Urban Farm.

Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church is on the cutting edge of 21st century agriculture. Its Urban Farm ministry began in 2003 as a community garden on an abandoned basketball and tennis court. Vicky Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission at Fourth Church, said, “The land was originally bought by the church for a community center connecting neighbor to neighbor in a gentrifying community. When the church couldn’t get funding, the plan shifted to a vision of neighbors from different backgrounds working side by side.”

Chicago Lights Urban Farm
Located near what was once a large public housing complex, the area around the Urban Farm has rapidly gentrified over the last two decades, bringing low income and middle class residents in close proximity. Where there was once a food desert, a large grocery store has opened. But, according to Rev. Curtiss, people of color often don’t feel comfortable shopping there because of lingering racism. That makes healthy produce from the Urban Farm a valuable resource.

The original garden quickly expanded to become a multifaceted mission program that is, according to Director Natasha Holbert, “dedicated to cultivating an engaged community of youth and adults.” Teens from the surrounding neighborhoods learn all the essentials of urban agriculture, including watering, seeding, pruning, and harvesting. Young adults work at the on-site farm stand, which offers everything from greens and cucumbers to beets and flower bouquets.

“The garden teaches life skills,” said Rev. Curtiss, “and trains youth so they can find jobs in other urban agriculture endeavors, or in the food and hospitality industries.”

Adults also benefit from the Farm. Neighbors and organizations in a five-block radius around the Farm can tend their own plots. Being part of the Farm community is an essential part of the Urban Farm’s mission, so gardeners are expected to volunteer throughout the growing season.

For Rev. Curtiss, the Urban Farm is about economic, social, and environmental justice. “It’s about promoting health and nutritious eating. It teaches care for our bodies and for the earth.” The farm fully connects with Fourth Church’s mission focus on care for creation. When the church session recently approved a composting initiative, it was the perfect extension of Urban Farm’s genesis when compost was laid over the original asphalt.

Rev. Curtiss sees inspiration for this hands-on care for creation in Psalm 8 . “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.”

Eric Diekhans is editor of Earth.

The Unlikely Story of a Small Presbyterian Church

Going Solar: The Little Congregation that Could

By Gary Simpson

“Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my Lord, brother sun who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor. Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.” ~ Saint Francis of Assisi

Conversion. For many Christians the term conjures up the vision of a “come to Jesus” supernatural moment of personal salvation. On the road to Damascus, Saul, the persecutor of Christians, looks to the heavens and is blinded by the Son. In this single close encounter with the Son of God, Saul the Pharisee is converted into Paul the Apostle. 

But for congregants of the diminutive old Pittsboro Presbyterian Churchin Pittsboro, NC, conversion has also taken on another meaning. Conversion at the church is a daily natural occurrence, at least on days when the sun is shining.

Pittsboro Presbyterian Church
Nowadays, when folks lift their gaze to the heavens above the church, they are apt to catch a glimpse of brother sun shining down on an aesthetically appealing array of dark solar panels constantly converting sunbeams into electrical current. The panels nestled against the black shingled roof are so inconspicuous that they almost negate one of the purposes for their existence: to serve as a shining witness to all that this congregation is striving to become a leader in their denomination's mandate of Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice.

The unlikely story of a small Presbyterian church located in the heart of the historic district of a quaint little North Carolina town becoming the first congregation in the entire county to go solar, began six years ago. At the time, environmental ministry was not yet a blip on Pittsboro Presbyterian's mission radar and the term Eco-Justice would never have appeared in a game of congregational Scrabble. But a handful of environmentally conscious members emerged from the study of Carol Johnston's primer, And the Leaves of the Tree are for the Healing of the Nations: Biblical and Theological Foundations for Eco-Justicewith a desire to put discussion into action.

The seeds of environmental activism were sown into congregational soil not unlike that encountered by the sower in Jesus' parable (Luke 8:4-15). Chatham County is known for its rocky red clay soil that is worked first, not with a shovel, but with a pick. But once tilled, there is great potential for growth and fruition. The persistent handful of sowers in the church worked the soil of ideas, suggestions, and proposals that, over months and years, found fertile ground. By 2016, after much tilling and keeping, they chose to embark on a bold project to determine if their dream of installing solar panels on the church had a chance to see the light of day.

Members of the eco-justice group participated in a Solarize Chatham workshop presented by the local community college in partnership with NC Interfaith Power and Lightand NC WARN. This led to a rooftop assessment by Southern Energy Management(whose representative just happened to be a Presbyterian elder). His verdict? “You're good to go!” And so we did. We set out in search of churches whose solar dream had borne fruit in order to glean from their harvest. We were impressed by the work done by United Church of Chapel Hill. In 2015 they installed 326 rooftop solar panels including a solar trellis at their church entrance, a shining example of a faithful local response to a global crisis.
I was personally enthused by a section of the report presented by their United Earth Ministries (UEM) team that defined the ultimate rationale for such an ambitious project: 

After many months of research and discussion UEM realized that a return on investment (ROI) calculus was the wrong metric to prioritize and that care of God’s creation was/is part of their congregation’s call to faith and mission. As a congregation, UCCH’s decisions on mission work has always been based on what is right to do. Once the church discerns what is right, they figure out how to fund the mission. UEM realized they needed to think of the solar project in the same way. UEM proposed a large-scale project that would reduce the church’s carbon footprint substantially and act as a billboard for care of God’s creation and hopefully as an inspiration for other churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples in the state… UEM hopes that this work will go viral and many other congregations will commit to help our world transition to truly clean, renewable, and sustainable energy, honoring God and preserving the world for future generations.
We grasped the solar baton that we felt had been handed us and created our own bold proposal to install rooftop solar for all the right reasons. Figuring out how to fund the project came down to an appeal to Session to “borrow” the money from a special bequest that the congregation had received some years earlier. Since the panels would eventually pay for themselves, this could be a perfect “win-win” situation. We used Matthew 25: 14-30, the parable of the talents given to three servants, to illustrate our reasoning. 

Congregants of Pittsboro Presbyterian could also experience the kind of joy and satisfaction that the two faithful servants felt by putting the talents to use for the Kingdom. It came because of the faithful decision to invest a small portion of the bequest to further the work of the Kingdom through a local response to the critical environmental mandate to transition to renewable energy. It would honor God and help to preserve the world for future generations.

In the spring of 2017, the Solar Project proposal was accepted by Session. By year's end, 43 solar panels were converting light from brother sun into electrical energy for a little congregation that found a way.

Gary Simpson is a member of Pittsboro Presbyterian Church.

This way of life - farming

Farming is an Act of Faith

by Terry and Linda Lauby

We are affectionately referred to as “Southsiders” by neighbors, family and friends. That’s because our home, farm, and commercial cattle feeding business is located on the south side of the Platte River in the heart of Nebraska.

Linda ant Terry Lauby
We are the third generation to farm this land, which was originally purchased in the early 1900s by Michael J. Lauby, Terry’s granddad. We currently farm about 600 acres of corn, and lease, share crop, or own another 600 acres of alfalfa.

All the corn and alfalfa produced on the Lauby farm is used to feed the cattle in the feedlot. Since we do not produce enough crops to sustain the feedlot cattle, additional corn is purchased from our neighbors.

Lauby Co. Inc. is permitted by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for 6,500 head of cattle. It’s is a small operation by feedlot standards, but it works for us. Farming and operating our commercial cattle feeding business isn’t a job, it’s a way of life. The hours are long, the work is hard and it must be done in all kinds of weather.

This way of life—farming—is also a family affair. We have two married daughters: Heidi and husband Edwin, and Jessica and husband Michael. The farm is also a favorite place for their four grandchildren: Ellery, Adelyn, Terrence and Freya, who affectionately call their grandparents Ma and Pa.
The good Lord only created so much land, so we try our best to be good stewards. Farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists. We apply “natural” fertilizer to our soil and limit the use of pesticides. Healthy soil is vital to growing ample food to feed an increasing world population.

Each spring, Terry is excited to get back into the fields, plant the seeds and pray for a successful crop. Linda handles all of the office work for the commercial cattle feeding business and the farm. Each year we are also reminded of I Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plant, but it was God who made the plant grow. The one who plants and the one who waters really do not matter. It is God who matters because he makes the plant grow.”

Once the crops are planted, we usually pray for rain. But this spring we received above normal amounts of rainfall. Many farmers were unable to even plant their fields because they remained flooded.

When the storm clouds appear, we pray for no hail and just the right amount of rainfall because we also manage a feedlot. Cattle do not perform well in muddy, sloppy lots.

We are blessed to own irrigated cropland so we can supplement the moisture in times of drought. Laying out pipe was a family affair when the girls were young. After the pipe was laid, it was a nightly ritual for all four Laubys to climb into the pickup and go irrigate. The temperature was hot, the bugs were bad, and the girls always managed to get muddy. But there was such a feeling of peace and sense of accomplishment in those green fields of corn against the vibrant, blue Nebraska sky. Today, most of the pipe has been replaced with pivots and the helpers are now our grandchildren, but the feelings of peace and accomplishment are the same.

“Who plants a Seed beneath the Sod
And waits to see Believes in God.”

During the months of June, July and August, Terry and our two hired men keep busy windrowing and baling the alfalfa. The perfect bale of hay is made when there is no rain and low humidity. Three to four thousand big round bales are put up each year to meet the needs of the feedlot.

Fall is Linda’s favorite time of the year, when we gather the fruits of our summer labor. At harvest time, we pray for good weather (no rain), safety for all harvesters, no equipment breaking down, great yields, and a good price for our crop.

Farmers only get paid once a year. Even though we look at farming as a way of life, the reality is, farming is a business. The operating note at the bank has to be addressed, and taxes and other bills paid ,with enough left over for our daily livelihood. Each year we pray for a profit on the farm, but most years we are happy just to break even.

The good Lord has guided us through 49 years of up and down, roller coaster cycles of farming. It is our prayer that we are able to enjoy several more years on the farm—our way of Life! Because…

Farming is an Act of Faith!

Terry and Linda Lauby are members of First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, NE. They were named 2018 Lexington Area Chamber of Commerce Farm Family of Year.

John Muir: influential naturalist and conservationist

Full Conversion to the Glorious Light 
John Muir (1838-1914)

by Nancy Corson Carter         

John Muir helped found the Sierra Club in 1892 to “do something for wildness and make the mountains glad.” He was president of the club from its founding until his death. A Sierra Club bookmark celebrating his 150thbirthday in April 1988 describes some of his amazingly diverse credentials:

John Muir—farmer, inventor, sheepherder, explorer, and writer –was perhaps this country’s most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. In his lifetime, he published more than 300 articles and 10 major books which eloquently express his deep love and understanding of nature and wilderness. He has taught people of his time and ours the important of experiencing and protecting our natural heritage.

John Muir

In one of his journals he wrote:  “Light. I know not a single word fine enough for Light…holy, beamless, bodiless, inaudible floods of Light.” 

And yet, when in his mid-twenties, he almost lost his ability to see. He had just returned from an extended botanizing journey in Canada to work in an Indianapolis carriage shop. Although the job meant leaving nature for the “rush and roar and whirl of the factory,” he was highly successful as a mechanical inventor. But one day, when Muir was preparing to adjust the drive belt of a machine, the nail-like end of a file slipped and jabbed deep into his eye. 

Tom Melham dramatizes the story in his book, John Muir’s Wild America:

“My right eye is gone!” he gasped, “closed forever on all God’s beauty.” Muir’s anguish later deepened when his good eye also failed. His mind reeled. He would have to give up inventing, botanizing, everything!
He was blind, tormented by despair and by thoughts of a wasted life. He pondered his dual loves—inventing and “the inventions of God”—and reached a pivotal decision: He would devote himself totally to nature. In the wilderness he had always sensed “a plain, simple relationship to the Cosmos.” Now he longed more than ever to see it.

His doctor had predicted permanent blindness, but during four weeks of convalescence in a darkened room, vision slowly returned to both eyes. He felt he had risen from the grave. “God has nearly to kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.” From then on, he shunned the world of factories, although his former employers promised him a raise and an eventual partnership. 

Almost as soon as his sight was recovered, in 1867 at age 29, he left for the adventures to be published much later as A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. “I might have become a millionaire,” he recalled, “but I chose to become a tramp!”

As Edwin Way Teale writes in his introduction toThe Wilderness World of John Muir:

He was the spearhead of the western movement to preserve wild beauty, a prime mover in the national park system so valued today. Beside a campfire at Soda Springs on the Tuolumne Meadows in 1889, he and Robert Underwood Johnson mapped the seventeen-year battle that preserved Yosemite as a national park. Beside other campfires under sequoias, while on a three-day outing with Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, he presented the case for the preservation of numerous wilderness areas with moving effect. Major credit for saving the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest in Arizona is ascribed to John Muir.
The light always shown bright for John Muir. In notes collected by Teale about “The Philosophy of John Muir” we read:

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is every rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.
Dr. Nancy Corson Carter is a teacher-writer-pilgrim. Her most recent book is the memoir, The Never-Quite-Ending War: A WWII GI Daughter's Stories