Thursday, October 10, 2013

Despair and Do Something

Karin Frank
Outreach Coordinator, Washington Interfaith Power and Light

If you would rather skip despair and just do something, scroll to the bottom of this post.

In the Jewish tradition, God created the world and calls it good, placing humans to “till and to tend” it (Genesis 2:15). Humans are the beneficiaries of creation, fully dependent upon it for their own well-being. They are also, however, placed as caretakers of a world that is not their own and that is called “good” by the creator in its own right. The Rabbis tell the story that when God led Adam around the Garden of Eden, God said, "Look at my works. See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy my world—for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.13) One of the first things God told us was “this is good – do not mess it up!”

It will not be news to you that we are really, really messing it up. Nothing more needs to be said on the undeniability of the facts on global climate change and the accompanying catastrophic ecological destruction. Climate change is far beyond an economic issue, or a social justice issue. It is the most basic moral issue humans have ever been faced with. It is, quite simply, destruction of a magnitude that would take the earth many thousands of years to recover from.

Last year, Governor Inslee signed into law the Climate Action Bill, saying “I believe we ought to be optimistic about our ability to defeat climate change.”* I am not so optimistic. I am young. I do not know what kind of world awaits my potential children twenty years from now. How much will it still resemble the world that God called good?

Just this morning the New York Times is reporting that a group of scientists have come out with new models predicting that within the next few decades even our coldest years will be warmer than the hottest ones on record today. If we do nothing to curb our greenhouse pollutants, the planet could easily see a rise of over 7°C. MIT’s Center for Global Climate Change predicts that such a rise could lead to the deaths of billions of people worldwide and will cause global economic and ecological collapse. We would be looking at 50% species extinction, similar to the mass extinction that marked the end of the dinosaurs.

But Governor Inslee is right that we have “no other option but action.” Living in a rapidly industrializing England, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

If we can radically reduce our carbon emissions by the year 2020 and continue doing so through the following decades, the rise in temperature might top off beneath 4°C. We would still be looking at 30-50% species extinction, but CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere may be able to begin to stabilize and warming may level off by the end of the century. I cannot, and you cannot, and Washington Interfaith Power and Light cannot achieve this, but it is not a pipe dream. Approximately 150 of 550 of the coal plants in the US have been closed in the last five years. This is good news for our climate.

But the truth is that we have a rough century ahead of us now and it is a long, tedious slog that can’t be fixed by catchy words or numbers - only by the genuine effort of each one of us. This is an issue that all faiths are in solidarity on. The earth is sacred and of infinite value and we cannot morally stand back while harm is done to it. This is the time we are given: climate change is the most important issue that humans have ever faced, and the preservation of our sacred world depends on our actions today.

One thing we are doing right now that you should do too:

In Washington State we are looking at how we can regulate greenhouse pollution, to ensure achievement of state carbon emissions levels set by the legislature in 2007. This is your chance to speak directly to Governor Jay Inslee and the other members of the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup (CLEW) in support of strong climate action.

CLEW was established through an environmental and Governor’s priority bill passed in the 2013 legislative session. It is tasked to recommend policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet the state’s emissions limits. Over the next four months we have a chance to make our voices heard in support of large, meaningful actions on climate that will revitalize our economy with green energy jobs and join other west coast states in leading the way in reducing global warming pollution.

You can help by coming to one of the hearings and talking with Governor Inslee and the Climate Workgroup and by submitting written comments. The hearing in Seattle is October 23rd from 4-8pm and there are also hearings in Spokane and Olympia.

For more information on CLEW, the hearings, and other ways you can help click here.

*You can hear Governor Jay Inslee’s speech here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Resisting Structural Evil with Justice-Making Love

Written by Jessica Zimmerle
Outreach Coordinator for Earth Ministry
Dear friends,

At Earth Ministry's 19th annual Celebration of St. Francis, Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda addressed the Christian calling to resist structural evil by unlocking our power for justice-making love. The talk resonated with the values of St. Francis, the Patron Saint of Ecology, who preached about the intersection of the goodness of the world with human sin and called for people to identify as part of God's good creation that requires responsible stewardship.

So, who are we anyways?

Dr. Moe-Lobeda started with this grand existential question, framing her talk in the reality that we are paradoxically structural sinners as well as bearers of justice-making love. Wait, what? Don't worry, we'll break this down.

We considered Luther's definition of sin as the self curved in on the self to understand the magnetic pull inward of our sinful nature. This self-centered mindset far too often acts as a blinder to larger structural sin and social injustice, such as environmental racism/classism and climate imperialism. Structural sin is especially dangerous because it is easily invisible to to those not suffering from it and it continues operating unaffected by the moral standing of the people involved.

For example, as Americans we comprise 5% of the worlds population, yet we are responsible for 25% of the world's energy consumption. The dangers are found in how we seldom stop to think about how the developing world suffers the consequences when we get in our car or turn on our lights. Perhaps more daunting is the reality that we can be individually striving to be morally sound, yet this structural sin remains embedded in our society and functions regardless of individual perceptions of good or bad.

I know it is tempting to get up right now and walk away, despairing in a sense of powerless insignificance. We all feel like this from time to time. But before you lose hope lets take a look at the other side of the situation, one filled with the promise of hope!

Dr. Moe-Lobeda shared the good news that, while we are inherently subject to sin, we are simultaneously lovers! Love acts as the most powerful counterpart to structural sin; and it is this force that reminds us that, as bearers of God's divine loving spirit of justice, we will prevail as God works through, among, and with us.

Two promises assure us of this outcome. First is the belief that God's will for abundant life for all creation will ultimately be fulfilled. In a powerful personal story, Cynthia shared a quote from a pastor who reassured her with his conviction that "I know the end of the story," which is life raised up out of death and destruction. Second, we must remember that justice-making love is truer and deeper than our sin and that it will ultimately prevail. This can be seen in the original grammar of the commandment to love your neighbor in which the verb form of this "love" is the future indicative, expressing finite assurance in its fulfillment.

So with this hope in mind, how do we free ourselves from sin? Referencing the wisdom of a famous resister to social evil, Dietrich Bonheoffer, we must not simply "bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself." Dr. Moe-Lobeda provided the following steps to do just that:
1. Remember who we are! We were created from this Earth and our survival remains dependent on the web of life.
2. Strive to acknowledge our entanglement in structural sin, recognize and repent while we lament collectively.
3. Feed and water the part of ourselves that is the bearer of God's divine loving spirit, the life force that will overcome death.
4. Create practices that feed our being as justice making lovers, especially as communities gathering and working together.
Therefore friends, do not despair! But also do not be complacent! Instead, focus on embracing your identity as a justice-making lover through take action to battle the structural injustice in our world. We thank you for doing just this by supporting Earth Ministry and joining us in the fight.

In peace,

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, I highly recommend Cynthia Moe-Lobeda's book Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. If you purchase the book here or from the link to amazon on the right of this page some of the proceeds will go to Earth Ministry!