Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Staying Empowered

By Mikaila Gawryn
Outreach Associate

Learning about environmental issues can be disheartening. I often wonder how people can devote their lives to difficult issues such as poverty or environmental degradation and not end up entirely depressed, unable to act. As I studied at school I found two things empowered me: The first was getting outside and actually taking action on environmental issues, and the second was hearing about other people who were doing the same.

I'd like to share with you one of the most empowering resources I came across in my studies. There are literally thousands of people all over the world working against great odds to protect and restore God's creation. Too often these hard working individuals go unrecognized. Thankfully that is changing. I give you...

The Goldman Environmental Prize

The prize was created by Richard and Rhoda Goldman when they realized that no environmental equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize existed. The prize honors a handful of grassroots environmental leaders around the world every year by awarding each $150,000 toward their work to heal environmental degradation in their own communities.

The prize has historically gone to environmental heroes such as Wangari Maathai of Kenya in 1991 who went on to receive the first Nobel Peace Prize given to an environmentalist in 2004. After receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996 Marina Silva was named Minister of Environment in Brazil in 2003.

This year's recipients are carrying out ground breaking work. Six environmental champions were chosen from Mexico, Mozambique, Russia, Ecuador, Belgium and Puerto Rico. This group is working on issues as diverse as protection of wetlands to reducing erosion through indigenous soil practices. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce two of this year's recipients.

For years Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and Luis Yanza have been fighting an uphill battle against some of the most powerful and well financed corporations on the planet. Oil exploration, drilling, production and consumption cause long lasting environmental damage to the most delicate ecosystems on the planet. Often the petroleum industry leaves indigenous populations to bear the burden through polluted homes and failing health. The photo to the left shows wildlife from the Ecuadorian Amazon. The following excerpt describes what these two men have done to stand up for the communities and environments at risk in the Amazon region of Ecuador.

Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and Luis Yanza Ecuador

"Fighting for justice after what has been called one of the most catastrophic environmental disasters in history, Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo are leading in unprecedented community-driven legal battle against a global oil giant. According to the plaintiffs, beginning in 1964 and through 1990, Texaco dumped nearly 17 million gallons of crude oil and 20 billion gallons of drilling waste water directly into the Ecuadorian Amazon. Allegedly suffering from the health affects of the pollution, the region's inhabitants are demanding a complete cleanup in potentially the largest environmental lawsuit ever filed in the world. Yanza co-founded the Amazon Defense Front to organize 30,000 inhabitants of the norther Ecuadorian Amazon in a class-action lawsuit against Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001. The lead lawyer, Pablo Fajardo, a resident of one of the affected communities, has become the public voice of the plaintiffs." The image below shows left over debris from the petroleum industry in the Amazon.

Thank the Lord we have people like Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and Luis Yanza! To learn more about the history of Mendoza and Yanza's case and the role that oil has played in the lives of Ecuadorians living in the Amazon check out the information provided by Amnesty International USA and Oxfam. You can also read more about what the other six Goldman Prize recipients are doing in their home nations.

Pablo Fajardo once said "In this battle I have understood that working for a clean environment today is working towards peace for humanity tomorrow - facing the future. That is what I intend to do." As we celebrate Fajardo and Yanza, we can all make a choice to face the future. With the support of one another taking on hard issues is possible.

Excerpts from http://www.goldmanprize.org/

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shop Less, Give More

By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

Deanna started a great topic. Alternative giving is one of my favorite subjects. The decision to give from the heart instead of from the department store is a change where I feel I have truly made a difference. In terms of individual action blossoming into a larger collective action, this is probably the most influential choice I have ever made. Three years ago I reached a tipping point where I felt overwhelmed as a young person by the pressure to A) buy meaningful gifts for family members while on a limited, student budget and B) come up with lists of things for people to buy me that I didn't actually need or want. The drive to follow the social norms of the holiday season stressed me out, depleted my limited funds, and filled my apartment and the houses of my loved with unnecessary clutter. Something needed to change. That's when I was introduced to the practice of alternative giving by a teacher in an environmental studies class. She had been donating to the Seva Foundation in the name of her family for years. "What a genius idea!", I thought. That semester I did some research and decided that I wanted to donate $50 in the name of the Olson Family to Seva for Christmas.

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!"
~ from How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

I was nervous going into Christmas night. What if my family thought it was silly? What if they didn't think it was "enough" money for a real gift? I didn't get anyone anything else. Would they feel slighted? Unloved? To be honest, when they opened the single envelop under the tree that read "To the Olson Family, Love Chris" I don't think they knew how to react. A donation in the name of our family to help provide eye exams for impoverished populations in central Asia was not what they expected. I explained what it was I had given them and then about alternative giving. By the end of the evening each of them were excited and enthusiastic about the gift. The next year I donated a hive of honeybees and a flock of chicks to my family through Heifer International. This past year my brother's family gave a gift donation to a wind-power project and my sister's family donated to Heifer. In the next few weeks we are going to talk as a family and decided which organization we would like to donate to this year as an ENTIRE family and forgo all other gifts. This practice has also caught on with my cousins, aunts, and uncles who decided to skip the "stuff" this year and try alternative gifts. Less stress, less hassle, more intentionality, more meaning. Alternative giving has reshaped Christmas at my house and the ripple effect is beginning to shake the branches in the rest of our family "Christmas" tree (ho, ho, ho! Get it!).

Deanna provided a number of ideas of organizations to which to give this holiday season and to that I'm going to add a few more of my favorite:

Heifer International
Choose a meaningful gift to give a loved one and help children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant.

Seva Foundation
Seva (say-va) is a Sanskrit word for service. Working in nine countries in addition to the United States, Seva Foundation supports projects in the area of health and wellness, community development, environmental protection and cultural preservation.

WIDECAST Sea Turtle Conservation in the Caribbean
The WIDECAST Latin American program mission is to improve the conservation status of the marine turtles in Costa Rica, with emphasis on the Caribbean region through research, political lobbying, planning, training, creation of socio-economic alternatives and public awareness.

Grounds for Change
Grounds for Change is a certified organic coffee roaster specializing in 100% Fair Trade Coffee. They roast Organic Fair Trade Coffee that is grown in shade conditions.

Fair Trade Chocolate
Lutheran World Relief supports the Fair Trade cocoa farmers of Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana through its of Divine Chocolate products — the first farmer-owned brand of chocolate in the world.

Other links:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

37 Shopping Days Left to Christmas

by Deanna Matzen

I can't believe it. We're only a little over a month away from Christmas. I don't know about you, but no matter how early I try to start thinking about buying or making gifts for Christmas, the time always flies too fast. All of a sudden we're just a week before Thanksgiving and it feels like crunch-time.

For years, my husband and I have tried to reframe Christmas and move away from spending a lot of money, with some success. This year, however, with the economic troubles our nation finds itself in, we are more determined than ever to refocus our Christmas mindset. Christmas is not supposed to be about spending tons of money, though Wall Street would like the economic boost. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. While I understand that giving gifts at Christmas is a visceral reminder of the greatest and most lavish gift we ever received - Jesus - we should also balance gift giving with honoring the other gifts God has given us - creation, time, talents, creativity, etc. So for today's blog, I'd like to pass on some resources and new ideas for holiday gift giving.

Inexpensive, Creative and Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas from the New American Dream.

Waste Free Holidays: Give Experiences instead of Stuff - while this site is specific to the Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia area of Washington State, anyone can give gift certificates for experiences instead of stuff.

Buy Nothing Christmas - gift ideas that require little or no purchase.

Hundred Dollar Holiday is Bill McKibben's aria to the end of stuff (based on his book).

And if you still need an idea or two, how about giving a gift membership to an organization that reflects that person's value, like Earth Ministry! Or give the gift of knowledge...a book, whether new or used, would make a great gift. Money & Faith: The Search for Enough is a new addition to the Earth Ministry collection and a very timely one at that. Or how about a regifting Christmas or a thrift store Christmas or a Craigslist Christmas. Who said that gifts have to be brand-spanken new and fresh out of the wrapper to be meaningful?

And finally, I'd like to encourage you to participate in Buy Nothing Day on November 28th. It's a simple stand you can take against consumerism. Afterall, you won't need to buy anything on the day of post-turkey mega-sales because you're simplifying Christmas this year!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Healthy Thanksgiving Choices

by Beth Anderson
Thanksgiving dinner is one of those special times during the year when many of us get together with family or friends to celebrate our connections to one another and to our Creator. I have a few tips to pass along that will help you create a blessed and healthy gathering for your loved ones...

CLEANING PRODUCTS: Whether you’re preparing your house to host a dinner for 20, or simply doing your normal weekly chores, use the safest cleaners possible. Need to remove the crust from inside your oven? Instead of using a hazardous commercial oven cleaner, try applying a paste of baking soda and water and using good
old-fashioned elbow grease to remove the mess.
Click here for more information
about safe and healthy home cleaning solutions.

FOOD: Buy organic and locally-produced items whenever possible. In some cases, that may mean adapting a traditional recipe to include vegetables that are currently in season or paying a bit more for a sustainably-raised turkey.

Here’s a link to a resource for making environmentally-conscious food choices while still staying within your financial means and another link to ideas for a local, organic Thanksgiving.

COOKWARE: This tip requires a long-term commitment, and perhaps a bit of an upfront investment, but this seems like an appropriate time of year to consider switching from Teflon-coated cookware to a less toxic option. Our friends at Washington Toxics Coalition just put together some great information on this topic in the article, “What’s cookin'? Make it safe!” They advise switching from non-stick cookware to glass, stainless steel, or cast iron.

Many blessings for a healthy and holy Thanksgiving holiday!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Yes We Can

By Kevin Raymond

I don’t intend it in anything even remotely approaching a partisan way, but “Yes We Can” just has to be our mantra as we measure our responses to the urgent threat of climate change.

In just the past couple of years, climate change has moved from the province of theory to accepted fact, and what the scientists and our own senses are telling us is happening to the planet is sobering, to say the very least. We can already expect global temperatures to increase for centuries no matter what we do to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The seasons are changing, sea levels are rising, severe weather events are increasing in their intensity and duration (and apparently their frequency), and we are losing plant and animal species at a crushing rate the planet hasn’t seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs tens of millions of years ago.

We are right up against it. What is happening is heartbreaking, and the task before us daunting. At the same time, our faith tells us that we are not alone with this work, that God is with us, that all of creation is waiting with “eager longing” for us to get about the business of beating back the worst of climate change, and that Yes We Can.

A couple of weeks ago, two dozen religious leaders – including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Baha’is to name just a few – met here at Earth Ministry to brainstorm the future of Washington Interfaith Power & Light, our newest program.

It became clear right away that climate change is not just an environmental crisis, but also a human justice crisis – because it’s the poor and most vulnerable who are already being hit first and the hardest by climate change. It also became clear right away that all of our religious traditions have something important to say about these things, and that the path we are on right now is not the path that God, the Creator, the Ground of our Being, hopes for us.

At the same time, we were struck by a few other things. First, that people of faith lifting up an impatient, unified voice for change – for new climate and energy policies that protect the planet and our neighbors – can become an irresistible force for change that finally tips the balance in the right direction. Second, that the air is pregnant with the possibility of healthy change and an awareness that it’s overdue. Third, that interfaith climate and energy work in Washington is something we feel urgently called to through our traditions. And fourth, and despite the challenges, that Yes We Can.

Does any of this make your heart beat faster? Is this work you could get excited about? It’s going to take all of us. People of faith in Washington are setting out now to build a bigger table where there’s plenty of room and all are welcome. And we believe that we won’t ever be alone, and that Yes We Can.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Boldometer

by Jessie Dye

A “Boldometer” (pronounced bowl-dahm-uh-ter) is an imaginary tool for measuring boldness. It tells us if we are brave and wise and strong enough for our time. We want to be on the green end of the boldometer, not the wimpy red end (timidity alert!).

It’s time for bold climate legislation. If our national and state congresses pass muscular and courageous laws in the session ahead, we can prevent the worst effects of climate change. If not, we solidify policies and infrastructure that lock us into the carbon and toxic economy that has brought so much distress to so many species and ecosystems. In short, we’re toast if America doesn’t score high on the boldometer in the coming year.

Ideas and value systems arc through history and time; most have a natural life cycle with a beginning, middle, and end. This applies to economic theory, civil liberties, scientific thought. What does not change over time is the Green Rule. Every religion teaches some version of this and every denomination states it: do unto the Earth as you would have it do unto you. If we stand in protection of Creation it responds with abundance and richness; if we abuse God’s Earth our species will be repaid in kind.
It’s time to get out the Boldometer and pass climate legislation that provides climate protection, mass transit and good land-use planning, energy efficiency, legislation that puts the kibosh on carbon fuels and makes polluters pay. It’s time for green jobs. It’s time to make the Green Rule into law and policy.

Stay tuned for Earth Ministry’s recommendations for bold legislation on behalf of All Creation!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Swimming Against the Current

By Mikaila Gawryn
Earth Ministry Outreach Associate

As I turned on the computer this morning the first thing I saw on my to do list was SUSHI. You might be surprised at how large a role sushi plays in my vocation. The truth is, I love sushi, and that love tends to creep into most areas of my life.

My sushi beginnings were humble. After a long day in the halls of my high school I would convince my friends to drive to the local QFC so that I could pick stale rolls of cucumber, rice and fish out of tiny plastic boxes. Surprisingly they were not as taken with this delicacy as I was. Looking back I assume I have either a stomach of steel or unimaginable good luck for having avoided food poisoning for so long.

I'll be honest, I've always had a small amount of indigestion, and as I increased the quality of my sushi purchases I realized it wasn't due to the gray lumps of wasabi from QFC. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a feeling that sushi wasn't a particularly neutral practice, environmentally speaking.

The first hint came in my sophomore year of college when I read about the clearing of coastal mangrove swamps in the tropics for shrimp farms. Mangrove forests house aquatic and terrestrial life in the zone between fresh and salt water. Human populations have co-existed with the mangrove swamps and reaped the benefits of diversity in these lively ecosystems. The Monterey Bay Aquarium states that over 3.7 million acres of the swamps have been converted to shrimp farms, an industry that requires farmers to move on after an area has been used because of the pollution left. This leaves a destroyed ecosystem and a transient population dependent on being able to find more untouched land.

Each time I sat down to enjoy a tuna role I realized that very fish had been swimming somewhere until relatively recently. I didn't know how healthy its population was, what continents it swam near, or how many flights it had taken to arrive on my dinner plate. I was disgusted. Sushi in Japanese tradition arose from an appreciation for simplicity and subtlety and yet it was overwrought by conflict and injustice.

No one seemed to know how to help. The seafood industry's transport maps look like bird's nests and sustainable harvesting methods are continually undermined by the fact that fishing laws have been created independently by countries. Everyone has a right to fish the oceans dry as they are not under the jurisdiction of any one governing body.

Although I felt alone in my seafood confusion thankfully far greater powers were at work creating change. Enter Seafood Watch. In 1999 The Monterey Bay Aquarium created a list of sustainable seafood for concerned visitors. From there an extensive program called Seafood Watch blossomed.

The Seafood Watch program provides information to "empower consumers and businesses to make choices for healthy oceans." The most recent addition to the extensive website is (drum roll please...) a Sushi Pocket Guide. The guide includes a list of best choices, good alternatives and seafood to avoid when enjoying your sushi. What is more it provides us with the information we need to be able to tell our chefs what we want. Communicating to sushi restaurants that we want sustainable seafood is one way that you and I can make a difference. Join me and swim against the current of unsustainable seafood culture.


Sources: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program www.mbayaq.org