Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Earth Ministry Leads Eco-Justice Tour of Lower Duwamish River

By Jessie Dye

There is one river in the City of Seattle. It runs through an industrial and low-income minority neighborhood, and it’s a superfund site.

On August 14th, Earth Ministry led an environmental justice boat tour of the last five miles of the Duwamish River, before it flows into Puget Sound at Harbor Island. While most of the 60 or so people of faith on the boat that day had driven over the Duwamish River on the West Seattle Freeway, or seen it from the air on flights landing at SeaTac Airport, almost no one had traveled by boat on the river before.

Nor did we understand the tremendous pressure on the natural and human ecosystems of the river from changing its channel, altering its source, dumping toxic chemicals into its water, and industrializing its banks. The Duwamish Tribe of Native Americans still fish in the river, though some of the catch have a dangerous toxic load. Herons, eagles, otters and salmon live by a concrete plant and pier that prevents the salmon runs from swimming up river and shellfish from finding purchase on the banks. Low-income communities of color fish in the river, too, and suffer a high level of asthma from pollution from the concrete plants and other emitters by the river.

As we plied the river, we stopped at four stations for information, prayer and reflection. LeeAnne Beres of Earth Ministry began the trip with a welcome and call to prayer over the waters. The first stop on the trip was at the Duwamish/Diagonal early action area. Thea Levkovitz of the Duwamish River Clean-up Coalition talked about the site and Bruce Shilling of Plymouth UCC led the group in a prayer acknowledging environmental sin and denial. At the second stop at Gateway Park North, Carolyn White of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral read a reflection and lament by the peoples damaged by toxins in the Duwamish. Patty Bowman of St. James Catholic Cathedral raised our voices in atonement for our sins upon the Earth, and last Rev. Marcia Patton of the Evergreen Association of American Baptists acknowledged the possibility of redemption while Thea told the wonderful story of the Vietnam veteran who led the restoration of Hamm Creek during his decades-long recovery from PTSD.

On the return trip, after a time for quiet and reflection, I talked about the power of advocacy by the faith community to protect and restore the river and the watershed of Puget Sound.

If you are interested in advocacy efforts on behalf of God’s creation, click here to learn about upcoming opportunities to raise your voice.

Click here for a blog by Davis Winslow, Sustainability Intern at Seattle Pacific University who joined the Duwamish River trip and wrote about his experience.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"We belong to the Earth"

By Dana Swanson

While waiting for my flight from Chicago to Seattle last week, I glanced down at the collection of buttons pinned to my backpack. The gentle profile of an Indian chief caught my eye. Next to him it read, “The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth.” I smiled when I realized to whom such noble words were attributed—Chief Seattle. Not only did the pin comfort me as I prepared to move 2,000 miles from home, the message affirmed the reason for the relocation.

I recently graduated from Augustana College (Rock Island, IL), with a degree is Sociology and English with an interest in Environmental Studies. Now that I’m done with college, I want to contribute, to engage with the world through more than exams and research papers. Therefore, I decided to venture out from the Midwest and complete a year of service with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. I’ll be spending my LVC year in Seattle, WA, living in community with other volunteers, prioritizing simplicity and sustainability while working for social justice. As part of the justice component, I’ll be serving as the Outreach Coordinator at Earth Ministry. I’m thrilled to be a part of an organization like Earth Ministry that encourages environmental stewardship, mobilizing the faith community to act against the issues that are threatening creation.

Speaking of creation, I’d like to share a recent experience: the other morning, I thought I’d go for a run to check out the new neighborhood. After a few miles of running through blocks closely lined with houses, having to stop at intersections and with cars sporting “go green” bumper stickers zooming by, I stepped into a dense forest. In order to travel down the bluffs to the water, I jogged through the dusty pine needles, amongst the intensely green plants and beneath a thick canopy of trees. It was an odd sensation, to literally step from an urban environment into what could have been the depths of a wilderness preserve. When I came out of the forest into a clearing, I was affronted by the Olympic Mountains, jetting up into the clear morning sky, hovering amongst the clouds. The scene’s natural beauty—I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the stint of athletic activity—simply took my breath away.

As I retreated, I kept glancing over my shoulder, as if to check that the mountains were still there. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my lips, even as I ascended up the stairs. I look forward to a year of soaking up—in more ways than one, I’m told—all that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. In addition, I am excited to enter into the conversation regarding the role of the faith community in shaping a sustainable future so that future generations can marvel at the jagged mountain ridges. For, in fact, the “Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moving Washington Beyond Coal

by LeeAnne Beres

In the last few months, Jessie and I have made several trips over to Spokane to host events educating and empowering faith communities to advocate for clean energy. We partnered in this work with Spokane's Faith & Environment Network. On one of our visits, FEN's Felicia Reilly interviewed me about the impact of coal as an energy source, the alternatives that lie before us, and opportunities for the faith community to be involved. Below is her blog, posted recently on the Faith & Environment Network's website:

Most of us realize that burning coal is not a clean or environmentally friendly way to produce energy. But many believe we need the energy coal produces at the cheap price it provides. I have to admit that until recently my knowledge on the subject was limited to the knee-jerk reaction of ‘Coal Bad, Renewable Energy Good’.

Then our friends at Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light informed me that the coal plant in Centralia causes mercury pollution that is especially dangerous to pregnant women and babies! Being a mother of two beautiful boys this was outrageous to me. I was aware of the scary statistic that newborns are, on average, born with over 300 contaminants from pesticides to industrial contaminants but until now I was unaware that among those contaminants were pollutants from things like, you guessed it, coal-burning power plants.

Learning this prompted me to find out how I can help stop coal pollution from harming God’s amazing creation and our future generations. So, I asked LeeAnne Beres of Earth Ministry some questions and she gave me some very thoughtful and encouraging answers:

Q: What are the health impacts of burning coal?

A: Every step of the coal-fired process is dangerous to human health, from mining and processing to burning and storage of waste ash. Those most often impacted by these dangerous processes are the most vulnerable members of our communities: the poor, the elderly, and children.

The TransAlta plant in Centralia is Washington’s only coal plant, but it is our #1 source of mercury pollution, which is causes neurological damage and developmental delays in babies and children. It’s also the #1 source of nitrogen oxide pollution, which causes haze and worsens asthma. The National Park Service has identified TransAlta as one of the 3 worst plants in the entire country for damaging visibility in national parks and wilderness areas.

Last but not least, it’s #1 for global warming pollution – which flies in the face of the religious community’s call for immediate action on climate change. The TransAlta plant has been spewing out unregulated pollutants for nearly 40 years and it’s time to put the health of our children and communities before profits. We need to transition this coal plant to cleaner fuels by 2015.

Q: How can we replace the electricity generated by coal-fired power plants?

A: The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which is a government agency responsible for planning and oversight of the region’s electrical systems, says that all 5,000 Megawatts of coal power in the entire Northwest can be replaced at minimal cost to consumers while delivering extensive public health and environmental benefits.

The NW Energy Coalition’s Bright Future report agrees: the Northwest has ample, affordable energy conservation and renewable energy resources (wind, solar, and geothermal power) to serve future power needs, slow climate change, and revive our economy. For negligible costs compared to continued reliance on dirty power sources, we can cover future electric demands, help salmon survive both climate change and the hydrosystem, shut down the highly polluting coal plants and meet state and regional greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Q: What is the religious community doing to help move Washington beyond coal?

A: Earth Ministry and the Faith & Environment Network are partnering on a statewide Beyond Coal campaign. Together, we are educating people of faith on both sides of the state about the danger of coal-fired plants and the need to transition to cleaner energy sources. We’re organizing meetings with elected officials to ensure that our values of stewardship, sustainability, and justice are incorporated into decision-making about the TransAlta plant. It’s important for Governor Gregoire and state legislators to hear that the faith community supports transitioning the TransAlta coal plant by 2015 and an end to the $5 million annual tax subsidy given to this Canadian corporation.

The religious community has historically spoken up for the “least of these” among us, and caring about creation and the health of our neighbors is an important part of putting our faith into action. Other organizations, such as the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Cool Mom are also involved in the Beyond Coal campaign.
LeeAnne’s responses encouraged me that change can happen but it will take all of us working together to get it done. So, write your representatives, Governor Gregoire, pray for a solution and speak of for the least of these among us. I for one know who I will be speaking up for my two little boys who I hope one day will be able to live in a world that is Beyond Coal.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Anacondas, Waterfalls, and Christ

by Clare Brauer-Rieke

When my family recently went on a two-week vacation to Brazil, I felt the tension of what it means for me to have this privilege. As a middle-class American in a globalizing world, doors are open to me that were not open to my predecessors and that are still not open to much of the world. These opportunities shape my experience of the world in significant ways.

Experience changes us. I've seen anacondas in encyclopedias or in pictures online; I assure you, it's an entirely different experience to be draped in one, even one as young as the snake in the photo. I can read about Iguassu Falls, the beautiful natural phenomenon consisting of 26 city blocks of cascading water; but to be there, to stand at the precipice, to feel the spray, to hear the roaring of the Devil's Throat - the waterfall through which 50% of the falls' water tumbles - is different.

The first two legs of our trip in Brazil were like this. We traveled through the savanna-like Pantanal region, where we saw snakes, birds, caiman, capybara, monkeys, crab-eating foxes, and more. We fished for piranha in the lake. Then we went to Iguassu. Our guide talked about the national park surrounding the falls and the forestation that cut the thriving rainforest to a tiny percentage of what it once was. He spoke, we listened.

Experience changes us, but for me, this has always been the struggle - how to I transform my experience into action?

The last leg of my family's journey was in Rio de Janiero, where the famous Christ the Redeemer statue is located. Whether from within the city, to see the figure high on the hill, or whether at the base of the statue itself, the presence is impressive. Standing and looking at him, I considered his tender gaze and open arms. Christ is, after all, perhaps the clearest example of what it means to take experience and turn it into action. He lived among us, became us, and was profoundly changed. Despite the terrible things he witnessed and experienced, it was love that overpowered all else. In his actions, he redeemed us.

Of course, I can't redeem anyone. But I have my own opportunity for loving action - like those in Christ's company, I can be a witness to what I've seen. I can be a witness to the beauty of Brazil and to the great work being done by Brazilian individuals and grassroots organizations to preserve and restore creation. I can share that story, and it's a start.