Friday, January 30, 2009

Setting Goals: My Environmental Manifesto

By Mikaila Gawryn
Earth Ministry Outreach Associate

"Learn about mangrove swamps -- shrimp." These words were scrawled across the page in bright orange pencil. Various other random statements swam in my mind as I sat on the wood floor. Dust particles swirled heavily in the lemon colored light of early summer, and I looked out across the mess of a bedroom that I had grown up in. Old t-shirts and a boom box lay slumped atop an uneven pile of papers. I was packing for the move my parents were making to Nevada.

After my first year of college, a year full of studying environmental issues (read: lots of talking, little doing) the need to take personal action had hit a souring pitch. Inconveniently, the height of my restlessness arrived at the exact moment I had to clean out my old bedroom. So of course, I didn't clean. Instead, I began writing.

I wrote in big letters, fast and unwieldy scribbles, simply to express the hunger for what felt like my first environmental manifesto: "Become comfortable with public transportation. Try eating less meat. Learn about mangrove swamps -- shrimp. Does sustainable sushi even exist?" The list went on.

I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to live differently. It felt electrifying.

As the daylight hours sifted into evening I continued to ignore my room until finally I had filled the page . . . my manifesto. Fighting the urge to book a flight to Germany and nail my announcement to a door, I surveyed my work. I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to live differently. It felt electrifying.

Since writing this first manifesto I have had the opportunity to check off a number of items from the list. I was given the opportunity to study the impact of the sushi industry on Blue Fin tuna populations. I have taken the Seattle metro in snow, rain and even sun. I have also not completed many of my goals. Calling my legislator on a weekly basis has never come easily, but I'm still working on it. (This angry leaf suggest calling your legislator too.)

Over time I have written more manifestos. Added to my lists have been less tangible items, such as "Don't try to be perfect" and "Seek sources of empowerment." Other ideas, like making that phone call, stay on the list.

A mentor of mine once said that there is power in writing down a goal, tacking it to the wall and simply looking at it every day. He said that this helps him to keep his objective clear in mind. Have you ever created an environmental manifesto of your own, or perhaps a justice manifesto or a peace manifesto? What are you passionate about? Write it down and tape it to your wall. Keep it around and in time rewrite it if you need to. If you haven't ever done this I encourage you to consider it. And who knows? Maybe your manifesto will start a revolution.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Green Thumb on the White House lawn

By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

In early October of last year, as the Presidential election was entering is final and most heated stage, Michael Pollen, organic food advocate and author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto", wrote an article for The New York Times Magazine. The article was a letter to the soon to be elected President, whichever candidate that was to be, about the state of our American food system. He gave a number of policy suggestions on ways to move our nation's focus away from corporate, global agribusiness and instead towards healthy, local community farms. His last suggestion in his list was to create the position of White House farmer, much like the White House chef.
"Finally, there is the power of the example you set in the White House," Pollan writes, "If what’s needed is a change of culture in America’s thinking about food, then how America’s first household organizes its eating will set the national tone, focusing the light of public attention on the issue and communicating a simple set of values that can guide Americans toward sun-based foods and away from eating oil... Since enhancing the prestige of farming as an occupation is critical to developing the sun-based regional agriculture we need, the White House should appoint, in addition to a White House chef, a White House farmer. This new post would be charged with implementing what could turn out to be your most symbolically resonant step in building a new American food culture. And that is this: tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden."
He goes on to describe how Eleanor Roosevelt's example helped create the Victory Garden movement in 1943, which ended up contributing nearly 40 percent of the nations food during the WWII. That's incredible. People from around the nation agreed with Pollan's suggested change and a website,, was created to help spur the movement. Seventy five farmers from 23 states and the District of Columbia have been nominated in the past few months and anyone who visits the website can read their biographies and vote for who they would like to be the first White House Farmer.

As of today, the leading contenders are Carrie Anne Little and Claire Strader. During my time at the University of Wisonsin-Madison, I did a project where I had to work on an organic farm for a day (I think I even wrote about that experience in my first blog post!). The farm I worked on was Troy Gardens Community Farm and Claire was the farmer who worked with us all day, planting potatoes, picking invasive mustard plants, and giving us a tour of the grounds. I voted for her because of my personal experience working with her. That being said, the other leading nominee is Carrie and she is from Washington state. I don't know her personally but I bet she is a wonderful farmer as well. A number of both Wisconsin and Washington farmers have been nominated. Whether or not you vote for anyone, you should at least check out the website ( and see if you know any of those nominated or read Michael Pollan's article. Hopefully in the coming months we will hear news from DC about the new farmer reshaping the White House lawn!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Theology & Nature

By Deanna Matzen, Operations Manager

I have been reading for the last couple of years a book by Philip Yancey entitled, "Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church". I remember reading with delight that Annie Dillard, a Christian nature writer and Pulitzer Prize winner was included. I wanted to read that chapter first but I restrained myself starting at the beginning where there were many other wonderful profiles. But a few weeks ago I cracked and I decided to jump ahead and I want to share some reflections on what I read. But first, an excerpt from Yancey’s book:

"Dillard acknowledges the world as the Creator’s work and then considers the consequences. What joke is this Creator playing on us? she asks…what lesson can we draw from such a work? The problem, as always, is that nature gives off mixed signals. Like the unruly child, the natural world both reveals and obscures God; creation groans, to use apostle Paul’s term….She says, ‘I alternate between thinking of the planet as home – dear and familiar stone heart and garden – and as a hard land of exile in which we are all sojourners.’ God must prefer working with one hand tied behind his back, she concludes.”

Yancey goes on to describe how Dillard’s writings are punctuated with images of contradiction, that in the midst of describing the beauty of nature, the horror of nature is not far behind - like the illness that claimed her brother-in-law’s life ("Pilgrim at Tinker Creek") or a tragic plane accident ("Holy the Firm"). He then recalls a conversation he had with Dillard about these matters.

"We discussed C.S. Lewis’s notion that we must not go to nature to construct theology; she will fail us every time. Rather we go to nature once we have our theology and let her fill the words – awe, glory, beauty, terror – with meaning. ‘I like that,’ she said. ‘But you see, I’m trained as a literary critic, and I approach the whole chaos of nature as if it were God’s book. For many of my readers, that’s the only book of God they will read. I must start there.’”
After reading those words, I spent some time with the questions: Do we create our theology and then take it to nature? Or do we draw our theology from nature?

These are not new questions to me as I have pondered the connections between faith and caring for the environment for many years. But this time I had clarity. It is not either/or. It is both. It reminds me of the story of the four blind people who feel an elephant and describe it as “trunk-like,” “ear-like,” “leg-like,” or “tail-like,” each is describing a part of the whole, holding a piece of truth. In the same way, I believe that every denomination, every theology holds a piece of the truth of God and if we put it all together we have more of the truth, but God is ultimately still a mystery.

Let us not hold too tightly to our dogma as the one and only truth. Nor hold too tightly to one characteristic about nature and say that it is the most representative characteristic of God. There is benefit in starting from nature to inform theology and in forming theology and enriching it with examples from nature. We gain something unique in both exercises and we create a more complex picture of God. A song sung with one line of music or one voice is much less rich and invigorating than a song sung with four lines of music by room full of people melded in perfect harmony.
"Plunge into matter by means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagine it as a distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers." ~Teilhard de Chardin

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Safe Baby Bottle Act

Beth Anderson, Outreach Associate

After successfully passing the Children’s Safe Products Act during the 2008 legislative session, Washington’s environmental health community is now backing legislation to ban bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles & children’s food containers.

BPA is a chemical that was originally developed as a synthetic form of estrogen. It is now used in a variety of industrial applications, most commonly as an additive to harden plastic and in the epoxy resin which lines many canned food containers.

Because of the prevalence of BPA in our lives,“Testing in 2007 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found 93 percent of Americans age 6 and up were exposed to BPA. Children in the study had the highest levels of BPA, followed by teens and adults.”[1]

Companies like Nalgene (maker of the ubiquitous plastic sport bottles) and Playtex (a large distributor of baby bottles) have already made the switch to BPA-free alternative materials. Last year the Canadian government banned BPA in baby bottles, and some European nations are considering BPA bans, as well. Click here for a list of safer BPA-free baby bottles.

However, not all people have the means to locate and purchase safer alternatives, and in some cases BPA-free products are not available. As people of faith, we are called to give voice to the voiceless and protect the most vulnerable members of our community.

I urge you to contact your state legislators in support of the Safe Baby Bottle Act. The phone number for the legislative hotline is 1-800-562-6000, or you can contact your legislators via e-mail (addresses can be found using the “Find Your Legislator” tool on Remember to let them know that you are advocating for this legislation on behalf of the faith community!

[1] Safe Baby Bottle Act of 2009 Fact Sheet, published by the Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Avoid Toxics in the New Year

Mikaila Gawryn
Outreach Associate

You may wonder what exactly an outreach associate does. This Outreach Associate is involved in editing and expanding Earth Ministry publications. That basically means I spend a lot of time researching various topics, and then writing and compiling information about those topics for our Caring for All Creation booklet series. Most recently I have been researching toxics and environmental health and I would like to take this opportunity to share some of what I've learned about the toxins found in our homes. One of the most pervasive sources of dangerous toxins in our homes is vinyl. First, here is a quick explanation of the concerns associated with this product.

Vinyl, also known as PVC plastic, is used in many household products such as furniture, siding, shower curtains, and even carpets. Poisonous chemicals called dioxins are released during the production and use of vinyl and particularly in its incineration. The Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC) reports: "Dioxins pose a serious public health threat. They are known to cause cancer in humans and are among the most powerful carcinogens known. They also cause a whole range of other health effects on the reproductive, endocrine, and immune systems." The good news is that there are many inexpensive and easy ways to reduce the vinyl products in your home and community, thereby reducing your exposure to these harmful chemicals.

Below are five easy ways to avoid using vinyl in your home and to reduce the introduction of dioxins in our environment.
1. Shower Curtain: Switch from a vinyl shower curtain to a cotton curtain with a nylon or polyester liner.

2. Window coverings: Next time you need new blinds or window covers, consider choosing a natural fiber or material, such as bamboo, cotton or wood.

3. Outdoor Furniture: Look for non-plastic outdoor furniture whenever possible. Many outdoor items can be purchased in metal or wood. The Washington Toxics Coalition also suggests ask sales associates for products that are made with recycled rather than virgin plastics.

4. Plastic Containers: Plastic containers with the number 3 inside the recycling symbol are made with PVC plastic and should be avoided. Make sure to look on your personal care products, such as shampoo, to see if your company uses PVC. If they do, write them an email or call asking them to give up the poison. Never microwave plastics or plastic wrap of any kind.

5. Take Action:
Join the Center for Health, Environment & Justice in their campaign against PVC plastics. Find out about the newest updates on PVC use and manufacturing. Tell a friend about how to avoid PVC plastics and watch the informative and fun video Sam Suds and the Case of PVC, The Poison Plastic.

Center for Health, Environment & Justice
Eliminating PVC in Your Home Washington Toxics Coalition

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Getting Our Priorities Straight

By Chris Olson, Outreach Coordinator

On Sunday afternoon my roommate and I strolled through the Ballard Farmers Market on our way down to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. After five months of living in Ballard, we decided it was high time to check out this local attraction. We arrived at the perfect time to see both a large ship and a number of smaller boats pass through. Growing up in Wisconsin I was only a few hours from the Mississippi and had seen lock and dam systems before. It was fun explaining what was happening to my roommate though, as she had never encountered locks in Colorado. Moving over the dam itself, we made our way to the fish ladder and into the viewing chamber below the water level. If you haven't been down there I would definitely suggest it. Although we didn't see any salmon moving up the ladder, we could imagine hundreds of fish fighting their way against the current to get to the calm water above.

While we were reading the educational displays throughout the room, an automated tour guide began telling us all about the locks and how the fish ladder works to protect four salmon species. The guide also explained about the technological improvements that have been added to the impressive facility for the safety of the fish. I have to say I was quite enjoying myself. But then the automated guide lost me. He mentioned that there was a growing effort to protect the decreasing numbers of smolt from sea lions that wait at the bottom of the dam in the spring. While I admit I don't know much about the plight of the salmon or the conservation efforts surrounding them, this just didn't make any sense to me. I went home and did some research and found out that there were problems in the past with sea lions camping out at the base of the locks to eat the salmon that passed through. The whole experience got me thinking about the increasing multitude of hazards facing the salmon each year.

One of the 2009 Environmental Priorities in Washington is the Invest in Clean Water initiative. I wholeheartedly believe that this is the type of legislation that will help protect the future of the wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
2009 Environmental Priority: Invest in Clean Water
A polluter-pays fee levied directly on oil companies would fund critical water quality projects across the state. Oil companies should pay their fair share to clean up and prevent the pollution caused by their products. The fee would be based upon the quantity of petroleum products possessed by companies in Washington.This bill would raise over $100 million dollars every year for clean water, new jobs and healthier communities across the state. From the Spokane River to Puget Sound, it will fund the creation of new clean water infrastructure. By raising money directly from the polluting industry, the bill will provide financial relief to local governments and cash-strapped taxpayers who would otherwise be stuck footing the bill for these critical water quality projects.
We are at a point in our planet's history when we must examine, diagnose, and take action on the roots of our environmental problems. Sea lions may have some impact on the salmon population but increasingly across the region pollution, contamination from erosion, and habitat destruction are wreaking havoc on our native wildlife. Supporting the Invest in Clean Water priority is one way that we can take a proactive step toward ensuring that Washington's waters and waterways are a healthy place for generations of salmon to come. For an easy way to tell your legislators that you support the Invest in Clean Water priority and that they should too, please call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. Also, remember to join us in Olympia on February 19th for Environmental Lobby Day and March 17th for Faith Advocacy Day. Hope to see you there!