- U.S Faith Leaders Urge President Obama and U.S. Congress to Act Boldly on Climate Change
- U.S Faith Leaders Urge President Obama and U.S. Congress to Act Boldly on Climate Change
- Noah: It’s Time for Righteous Anger About the Silent Genocide of Species
- “A Call to Mothers: Time to be Up in Arms to Protect Your Children!” The EPA’s Clean Air Act Threatened by the U.S. Congress and Industry
- United States Religious Leaders Honor the Moral Ascendancy of the Environmental Protection Agency
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The National Religious Coalition on Creation Care (NRCCC) sends letter to President Obama urging him to take executive actions to avert a climate catastrophe. Executive actions include becoming an advocate for the carbon tax, modifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership, rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline, and rejecting new coal leases on public lands.
Washington, DC September 22, 2015 — The National Coalition on Creation Care (NRCCC.org) sends letter to President Obama urging him to take executive actions to avert a climate catastrophe. The National Religious Coalition on Creation Care (NRCCC) is composed of members of all the major religious groups in America, including Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Muslims, Evangelicals and Orthodox Christians. They call climate change an urgent issue. The U.S. faith-based leaders speak to President Obama from a faith-rooted conviction that it is their God-given task to care for the earth by exercising a loving responsibility as stewards and guardians. They referenced President Obama’s speech when he introduced the Clean Power Plan where he stated, “no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations that a changing climate.”
Rabbi Warren Stone, co-chair of the NRCCC.org states, “As we all face a common future knowing the grave challenges of climate change impacting ours and future generations, let us know that we acted boldly with prescience to do what we could to protect the earth our home. Now is the time for sacred action. We as faith leaders of the United States have called upon President Obama and the U.S. Congress and our world community to act with expediency!”
Executive Actions include becoming an advocate for the carbon tax, modifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership, rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline, and rejecting new coal leases on public lands. To review the letter to President Obama which outlines the executive actions the NRCCC.org would like President Obama to take to save our planet, please click here. A similar letter was sent to Congress.
President Barack Obama The White House Washington, D.C.
Dear President Obama,
September 22, 2015
National Religious Coalition on Creation Care
We wish to thank you for the steps that you and your team have taken to address climate
change. We recognize that you face one of the most obstructionist Congresses in U.S. history, but we urge to you to use your Executive powers and moral authority to exercise bold, visionary, and consistent leadership to avert climate catastrophe. Every CO2 emission causes additional damage and creates additional risk.1 Extracting and burning fossil fuels is no longer an ethical choice. The world as we know it cannot survive with an “all of the above” energy policy.
We speak to you from a faith-rooted conviction that it is our God-given task to care for the earth by exercising a loving responsibility as stewards and guardians. The National Religious Coalition for Creation Care (NRCCC) is composed of members of all the major religious groups in America, including Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Muslims, Evangelicals and Orthodox
Christians. Joined in prayer, and united with people of every religious tradition, we advocate for a right relationship to God’s creation.
Many forces now converge to threaten our planet’s well-being – including, among others, a rising population, ocean acidification, deforestation, habitat loss, and pollution – but we are particularly concerned about the climate crisis, which threatens to unravel the web of life and to destroy the world that God created.
You understand that today’s choices will have enormously significant consequences for the
future. As you said in your speech introducing the Clean Power Plan, “no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate.” Existing reserves of fossil fuels are more than sufficient to carry us through a rapid global transition to clean, safe, renewable energy. It is deeply unethical to continue to search for and to extract additional carbon-based fuels.
Therefore, we specifically urge you to take the following Executive actions, which do not require Congressional approval:
1. Communicate to the American public in a special nationally televised address the following: • The level of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere is higher today than it has been for 3
million years, when sea levels were between 50 and 80 feet higher than they are today.
• Six glaciers on the huge West Antarctic ice sheet are in a process of unstoppable melt that
will lead to an eventual sea-level rise of 1.2 meters (4 feet), which means that we have already condemned to destruction Charleston, New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Saint Petersburg, and
• The transition to a more arid climate in the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico may
already be under way,2 and if we continue on our present path, we increase the risk of locking in permanent dust bowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest, as well as in southern Europe, northern Africa, southern Africa, and Western Australia.3
It is crucial that the language of “emergency” be adopted in this speech and in all your statements about climate change. Because of this country’s dependence on fossil fuels, Americans have been subsidizing the destruction of our own cities. Our nation must change course.
We urge you to conclude your speech with a call to mobilize the nation with the same focus and determination with which we mobilized during World War II, so that we reach 100 percent renewable energy in two or three decades;4
2. Become a staunch and vocal advocate for placing a rising price on carbon, using a fee structure. 100% of the fees would be returned to households as dividends, and a tariff would be imposed on goods imported from countries that don’t price carbon;5
3. Modify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union so that they contain no language that would prevent a future Administration from putting a price on carbon emissions and from imposing a tariff on countries that don’t price carbon;
4. Stop all fossil fuel exploration and extraction in the Arctic and on all Federal public land. Stop all drilling and all fracking on Federal public land. Call for an immediate end to governmental subsidies and tax deductions that support the exploration, extraction, delivery and consumption of fossil fuels, and call for increased subsidies for renewable energy;
5. Reject the Keystone XL, Sandpiper and other pipelines, and reject proposals for expanding refining operations. Do everything in your power to ensure that Canadian tar sands stay in the ground;
6. Reject new coal leases on public lands, starting with current proposals to use BLM land. Opening public lands to coal mining would release 3 times the carbon dioxide that your Clean Power Plan would save by 2030;6
4 Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030,” Scientific American, November 2009, pp. 58-65; Jacobson, M.Z., Delucchi, M.A., “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials.” Energy Policy (2010), doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2010.11.040; Delucchi, M.A., Jacobson, M.Z., “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies.” Energy Policy (2010), doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2010.11.045
6 http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/06/01/3664633/blm-coal-lease-decision/; http://www.sierraclub.org/compass/2015/06/massive-new-proposed-federal-coal-leases-sound- alarm-bells/
7. Ban logging and privatization of our National Forests, both green and post-fire. Our National Forests sequester a tremendous amount of carbon and should be left standing. Veto logging bills HR 2647 and S 1691, and any other compromise logging bill that reaches your desk. Launch a major tree-planting program, support protection of tropical forests, and encourage world reforestation;
8. Modify The Methane Challenge Program emission goal to: “Cut methane emissions from this sector by 40-45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025, including limiting leakage to less than 1% at any wellhead, in any timeframe and in total”;
10. Support and personally promote an ambitious COP-21 agreement in Paris that includes clear and convincing short-term and long-term goals, and charts a course to a world based on clean, safe, renewable energy.
We are in the midst of a planetary emergency. With increasing alarm, scientists declare that we have only a very short period of time in which to avert an escalating, unmanageable cascade of changes that would render the planet ungovernable and possibly uninhabitable. The coal, oil, and gas industries already possess five times the amount of fossil fuel that, if burned, would propel the world into runaway climate change. If we continue with business as usual, scientists tell us that within two, three, or four generations we risk raising average global temperatures to a level that would destroy life as we know it on earth.
Until now humanity has seemed paralyzed by what U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has denounced as a “global suicide pact.” But a wave of religious protest and activism is rising up around the world. Religious leaders and institutions are proclaiming with one voice that climate change is a spiritual and moral issue that must be tackled without delay. Pope Francis’ powerful encyclical, Laudato Si, draws from the best of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and is gaining ringing endorsements from religious leaders. Evangelical leaders have expressed strong support,7 and over 400 rabbis have signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis.8 Islamic leaders from 20 countries recently released the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, urging action based on a religious imperative to protect the planet.9 Anglican bishops just issued a fresh call for action on climate justice.10
As people of faith, we agree with your statements that it is unethical to leave a ruined world to our children and grandchildren and to generations yet unborn. We have a moral responsibility to stop
9 http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/muslim-leaders-support-islamic-declaration-on- climate-change/2015/08/18/661490d4-45df-11e5-9f53-d1e3ddfd0cda_story.html
10 http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2015/08/anglican-bishops-call-for-climate-justice-action-in- new-video-series.aspx
9. Urge the EPA in its calculation of U.S. fossil fuel emissions to include emissions from
fossil fuels that are sold to or refined for other countries;
the surge of extinctions now underway because of climate change. These extinctions threaten the viability of humanity’s food supply. We refuse to stand idly by while the lives of the poor are devastated, suffering first and most grievously from the effects of climate change.
As you saw two weeks ago in Alaska, climate change is intensifying. We urge you to respond to this emergency with the conviction, consistency, and comprehensiveness that the situation
requires. We urge you to exercise your Executive powers and moral authority as President to accelerate our nation’s transition to an economy based on clean, safe, renewable energy, such as sun and wind, and to protect the poorest and most vulnerable. We need you to educate the public that fossil fuels are an increasingly immoral — even suicidal — option for our nation.
We ask you to act decisively and consistently, so that future generations will look back with gratitude on your legacy of hope. With our best regards, please accept a copy of NRCCC’s book, Religion and Global Climate Change. We are upholding you in prayer, asking God to bless your efforts to inspire and mobilize this country to choose a life-sustaining path.
Rabbi Warren Stone, Washington, DC
Rev. Owen Owens Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Dr. Richard Miller Omaha, Nebraska
Frederick Krueger, Santa Rosa, California
Sr. Carlos Agnesi, San Antonio, Texas
Dr. Deborah Hopkinson, Tampa, Florida
Dr. Thomas English San Diego, California
Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas Springfield, Massachusetts
Imam Sayyid M. Syeed Washington, DC
Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley Atlanta, Georgia
Rev. Dr. Olin Ivey Chattanooga, Tennessee
Allen Johnson Dunmore, West Virginia
Rev. Peter Sawtell Denver, Colorado
I once was hiking in the Sahara desert and arrived at a mountaintop Berber village. A little boy approached me and opened his palm to show me something he had found in a cave in the upper reaches of the desert: to my wonder, it was a fossilized shell completely crystallized within. It had survived hundreds of millions of years since the time that this desert was an ocean. I keep that shell on my rabbi’s desk. I show it to children to remind them of the Noah story and how we are on this earth to protect all life — the interconnected life of every other species and our own. The recently released film Noah likewise is a call to all viewers to tread gently on the earth and to treat our environment with care, raising a moral parallel between the flood and the continuing onslaught of climate change on our earth. One of the most powerful moments in the film for me as a rabbi was when all the world’s species were racing toward the ark. Each group of animals came with its own kind, from slithering reptiles, to amphibians and larger mammals and ultimately Noah and his family, representing the last people on earth. Witnessing this unity represents to me what we must do — people of different backgrounds must all move swiftly. Together, we must make of our daily actions and choices an ark. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), along with some of the world’s eminent climate scientists are warning us of the dire consequences we all face as a result of the currently shifting climate. All continents are now experiencing extremely unusual weather from droughts to arctic conditions to record rainfall. Consequently, we are in the midst of a silent genocide of the world’s species, from coral to polar bear, North Atlantic Cod to quiver trees. Species that have been resilient, even thriving, for thousands of years cannot cope with climactic disruptions. Among all assessed animal groups, 37 percent of freshwater fish species, 35 percent of invertebrates, 30 percent of amphibians, and 28 percent of reptiles are gravely threatened by climate change and the loss of their habitats. In addition, 21 percent percent of known mammals and 12 percent of known birds live under that same threat. For some, like the golden toad, it is too late; but for so many others, we still have a chance to preserve their lives. E.O. Wilson calls this die-off “the sixth extinction” — such a crisis, he explains, has occurred only five other times in the last half billion years. Nonetheless, he urges: “It is not too late to stem and then halt the extinction of species and the ecosystem they compose. We are certainly too late to save some of them, but global action now can keep the final loss to a minimum.” Ecologist Paul Ehrlich reminds us of our intricate interconnectedness on this earth: “In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.” Wilson notes the epic and unforeseen potential losses: “Vast potential biological wealth will be destroyed. Still undeveloped medicines, crops, pharmaceuticals, timber fibers, pulp, soil-restoring vegetation, petroleum substitutes, and other products and amenities will never come to light.” Indeed, the tiniest creatures, so readily forgotten, are precious. Wilson tells of “the rosy periwinkle that provided the cure for Hodgkin’s disease and childhood lymphocytic leukemia, and the bark of the Pacific yew offer[ing] hope for victims of ovarian and breast cancer.” These creatures are also precious in and of themselves, separate from human use. In an article this week in the Guardian, Rebecca Solnit asks us to “just picture the tiny bivalves: scallops, oysters, Arctic sea snails that can’t form shells in acidifying oceans right now.” In a poem called “Prayer,” the masterful poet Jorie Graham insists on our close seeing, decentering the human self: “Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl/ themselves each a miniscule muscle.” During this festive season when Jews celebrate Passover and Christians celebrate Easter, let me share an ancient Passover Seder ritual that reminds us of our commitment to the natural world. It is traditional to say a blessing over greens in honor of spring. After the blessing, the greens are dipped into salt waters. This salt water is a catalyst for life: it is like the water of our oceans, from which all being emerged. It is also a catalyst for change: symbolizing tears to remind us of our responsibility to alleviate suffering in our world. Faith communities around our world deeply believe we are all connected in a web of Creation. It is time to use our righteous anger to ensure that our world leaders hear us and catalyze governments to work more diligently to protect life as we know it. We must each do our part and speak up to protect our fragile planet. The desert sand, where once water rushed, sieves through our fingers. We hold in our hands artifacts of loss and change. Like that shell, I offer this prayer, these lines from Jorie Graham: “More and more by each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself, also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is what I have saved, take this, hurry.”
“A Call to Mothers: Time to be Up in Arms to Protect Your Children!” The EPA’s Clean Air Act Threatened by the U.S. Congress and Industry
Mothers: it is time to be up in arms. The laws that protect the health of our children are under direct assault by industry. Three insidious bills are now pending before a shamefully receptive Congress to gut the Clean Air Act and to sideline its vigilant enforcer, the Environmental Protection Agency. How many more children are we willing to see suffer from asthma, cancer and other diseases through increased exposure of harmful air toxins? Is this a cost we are willing to have our children and our children’s children bear?
One of these bills, the HR 2250, misleadingly named the EPA Regulatory Relief Act, would void standards for industrial boilers and solid waste incinerators and delay industry compliance for 3.5 years. These delays have immediate and profound health consequences, allowing more lead, benzene, mercury and other cancer-causing dioxins into the atmosphere. The expected impact? According to Sustainable Business News, some 100,000 tons of toxic air pollution and up to 22,750 premature deaths, 143,000 more asthma attacks, and more than one million missed days of work or school
Another bill, the HR 2401, the TRAIN Act, (Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation), would block the cross-state air pollution rule, which curbs power plant smog and soot pollution, and the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, which limit mercury and other air pollutants from power plants.
The third bill, H.R. 2681 the so-called Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act, would void standards for cement plants and would give the industry freedom to pollute the air for years with high levels of mercury, soot and smog, acids and metals.
According to Pediatrician Dr. Cynthia Bearer, Professor of Pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University, children’s biological sensitivity (the capacity to be easily harmed) “places them at special risk for harm from a toxic exposure. Because a child is a growing, developing organism, she is especially vulnerable to the effects of exposure. Her metabolic reactions-the body’s way of processing and excreting toxic substances-are not as developed as those of an adult.” According to a major symposium study by the Children’s Environmental Health Network: “Children are not just “little adults.” Their biological sensitivity, exploratory behavior, and a diet very different from that of adults make children particularly vulnerable to environmental exposures.”
More broadly, the latter two bills seek to restrict the EPA’s regulatory authority. They are part of an all-out assault on the agency’s mandate to enact regulations that protect the atmosphere and the air that all of us, including our most vulnerable, children, the most vulnerable among us – breathe. There is enormous industry pressure and lobbying to try to overturn the 2007 Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to authorize our EPA to protect family health with the Clean Air Act.
United States religious leaders oppose this immoral attempt to undermine the health regulations that protect our families. The Conference of Bishops, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Evangelical leadership, the United Church of Christ, as well as the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and the URJ Religious Action Center all concur on the critical importance of the Clean Air Act and have supported the moral vision and work of the Environmental Protection Agency, under the stewardship of Administrator Lisa Jackson, in upholding these protections.
The need is urgent now. It is time for mothers, all concerned parents, and all who care for our children’s future, to call upon their representatives to speak out for the critical importance of clean air for their families and to ask them to vote against these bills. Congress and industry should never underestimate the power of mothers to act to protect their children and the children of future generations.
National Religious Coalition on Creation Care Awards EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson “Steward of Creation Award” for progress on clean air, clean water and atmospheric pollution reduction in the midst of several attempts by congress to erode EPA authority.
Washington, DC (PRWEB) May 20, 2011
United States religious leaders, attending the annual meeting of the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care in Washington, D.C., applauded the work of the EPA and its administrator Lisa P. Jackson. In a May event at the historic Willard Hotel, the NRCCC recognized Jackson with its “Steward of Creation Award,” for clean water and clean air initiatives and for having forcefully moved forward under the Clean Air Act to help regulate the atmospheric pollution of CO2 emissions and mitigate the impact of climate change.
Rabbi Warren Stone, NRCCC co-chair stated: “The EPA under Lisa P. Jackson’s strong moral leadership is the most significant voice in our country acting in our interest to mitigate the devastation the atmospheric pollution of climate change and its impact on public health upon the families of our country and our world as well as all creation. We have been hit of late with so-called ‘Black Swan’ disasters — so described because of their magnitude but also because of our surprise when they occur. These recent unanticipated ‘Black Swan” disasters include the tsunami and related nuclear devastation and harmful radiation released from the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants rivaling Chernobyl to the major massive tornadoes destroying 1000’s of homes in Alabama and throughout the Southeast as well as the current historic flooding of the Mississippi impacting and uprooting tens of 1000’s of families. But with the onset of climate change, the severity and increased frequency of at least some of these events is predictable unlike the so-called ‘Black Swan’ devastation and in all cases, the environmental fallout is certain. These events point to our common future, a future in which climate challenges creating devastating food and water shortages will most likely challenge the public health and wellbeing of our all our country and throughout our global community.”
Against this backdrop, the EPA has adopted regulations under the Clean Air Act to put limits on greenhouse-gas emissions. Jackson has said that she and President Obama would have preferred that the limits come through legislation. But efforts to pass such a bill fell apart in the Senate last year several months after the House passed cap-and-trade legislation: “So now we’re left with the Clean Air Act. It’s not the ideal tool, but it is a tool, and according to the Supreme Court it is a tool,” Jackson said, referring to a landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision holding that the EPA can regulate greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act upon a finding that the emissions endanger public health and welfare (theHill.com, 4/26/11).
Jackson’s moves have come under sharp attack in Congress, with the coal industry particularly up in arms. In April, the House of Representatives passed a measure trying to prevent the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate the atmospheric pollution of climate change. The same bill failed in the Senate in a 50-50 vote. Aides to President Obama said they would recommend he veto the legislation if it passes. (theHill.com 4/26/11).
The EPA sees faith and neighborhood communities as key to these objectives, announcing in April: “In the history of this nation, faith communities and neighborhood groups have been instrumental in efforts to open new opportunities and improve the world we live in. We are initiating today an effort to connect the talent, energy and enthusiasm we see in faith groups and communities across the nation with the work we are doing at EPA.” At its May meeting and in related meetings with Congressional staffers, the NRCCC welcomed Jackson’s outreach to their communities and heralded her courage and vision.
Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, Episcopal Bishop of Maryland: “Lisa Jackson is the first African American to serve as the head of the national government’s agency charged with protecting our air, land and water resources for the benefit of everyone. She has made it a priority to focus on vulnerable groups including children, the elderly, and low-income communities that are particularly susceptible to environmental and health threats. In addressing these and other issues, she has promised all stakeholders a place at the decision-making table. Lisa Jackson is doing God’s work in the world. Her drive, energy and vision for a sustainable earth is a modern testament of the truth that everything is connected, and we all belong to each other.”
Rabbi Warren Stone asserted: “Faith communities in the United States represent the voices of hundreds of millions of persons of faith. National faith leadership including the U.S. Conference of Bishops, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and The National Religious Partnership for the Environment and a broad array of Christian leadership have recognized the urgent need for bold action on clean air, clean water and climate change. The very health of children, families and elders will be impacted as well. Yet despite congressional testimony as early as 1988 from preeminent climate scientist James Hansen, recipient of last year’s NRCCC award, and urgent pleas from environmental and religious leaders to push forward on an issue of critical importance to humanity’s future, Congress has yet to pass meaningful climate legislation.”
Imam Nasim Mahdi: “We must not despair or give up our efforts to stop and turn back environmental damage despite how difficult the task may seem.”
Rabbi Fred Dobb, active board member of Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light: “People of faith have rich traditions which should place us among Creation’s most passionate defenders. Somehow, despite strong statements from religious leaders and much scholarship at the intersection of religion and ecology, the message hasn’t sufficiently gotten through. Let us care for Creation because Earth and all its inhabitants, human and non-human, today and in the future, deserve no less.”
Rev. Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good: “One tool in convincing Evangelicals to lobby for climate change — and Christian politicians to listen to them — is to encourage them to think about judgment day: that this is in their best interest, the best interest of the country, of the planet, and importantly the best interest of themselves eternally. Because we will be held accountable.”
Eminent Environmental Leader, Lester Brown, Urges Religious Leaders to Act Now on Threats to Food, Water and Security
New Orleans, LA-April 6, 2011- Lester Brown, President of Earth Policy Institute and described by the Washington Post as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers,” has urged Rabbis, American Jews and the interfaith world community to take bold action now on issues of food, water, and family planning. Speaking to a national gathering of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in New Orleans, Brown warned that climate change and population growth will mean widespread, worldwide food and water shortages. Urging the religious community to engage fully to help prevent widespread environmental and economic collapse, Brown asked: “if we continue business as usual, how much time do we have left before our global civilization unravels? And how do we save civilization?”
Brown’s visionary Plan 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization warns that the “perfect storm” or the ultimate recession” could come at any time: “It will likely be triggered by an unprecedented harvest shortfall, one caused by a combination of crop-withering heat waves and emerging water shortages as aquifers are depleted.” Calling for religious leaders to engage in world action on these issues, Brown pointed to the challenges faced by our country in preparing for the Second World War. Some eighty years ago, the United States mobilized Detroit and transformed the auto industry in order to prepare for World War Two, a three-year effort that enabled the country to build the planes and armaments that defeated the Nazis. Evoking that heroic mobilization, Brown called for the urgent preparation needed to mitigate and adapt to the now inevitable impact of climate change. Brown also noted the nuclear challenge at Fukushima and the new ban on rice planting in a significant agricultural area of Japan.
Rabbinical leaders on environmental issues, speaking at the Conference’s Forum on Judaism and Sustainability, concurred.
Rabbi Warren Stone, Washington DC rabbi and noted leader on climate issues, who attended the UN climate talks in Kyoto and Copenhagen, contended: “Climate change has become the most significant moral and spiritual issue facing humanity. We have been hit of late with so-called ‘Black Swan’ disasters — from Katrina to Haiti and Japan — so described because of their magnitude but also because of our surprise when they occur. But with the onset of climate change, the severity and increased frequency of at least some of these events is predictable and in all cases, the environmental fallout is certain. These events point to our common future, a future in which food and water shortages will most likely challenge the global community.” Stone noted that the Micronesian nations are on the front lines of climate change; the islets of the tiny nation of Kiribati are already facing a grave food and water crisis, and its inhabitants are becoming the world’s first environmental refugees. We have been duly warned and now let us act boldly, with courage and due prescience to protect future generations.”
Rabbi Everett Gendler, a longtime environmental activist and organic farmer, who walked arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Selma Voting Rights March, spoke about the spiritual wisdom gained from harvesting one’s food: “The seed represents life and death; we must learn its lessons. There is also a deep connection between soil and soul.” Rabbi Mike Comins, known as “the Wilderness Rabbi”, urged religious leaders to teach their communities about the spirituality of the natural world. He urged them to bring their communities to wilderness areas in order to raise awareness of the spiritual imperative to protect them. Rabbi Stephen Pearce, a California environmental leader, urged religious communities to serve as models to the faith community through sustainable practices, awareness and action. Congregation Emanu-El, the synagogue that Pearce serves, converted a parking lot to an urban farm. He and his congregants bring their abundant produce to the homeless pantries of San Francisco. Rachel Cohen, coordinator of environmental activism and the sustainability blog on behalf of the Washington, D.C. URJ Religious Action Center, engaged the religious leaders in an environmental justice tour of New Orleans, which examined the ongoing impact of Katrina.
As Cohen noted: “The most vulnerable and poorest of New Orleans and our global community are on the front lines of climate change, but we’re all on the line. With the one-year anniversary of the oil spill and Earth Day just around the corner, now is the time to act to build more sustainable and environmentally just communities, working with our rabbis and all of our community leaders. We have the tools for action and the leaders inspired to act. Now let’s get to work!” Sybil Sanchez, Director of COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life echoed: “religious voices need to speak out now in local communities, throughout the world, to mobilize to protect coming generations.”
Winter serves as a magnificent time to look through a deeper, more contemplative lens and delve into the inner meanings of our lives. The work world quiets a bit and the undercurrents of life surface. The cold, the snow, the bleak cycle of nature’s demise help us raise the existential questions: Why am I here? Does my life have a larger purpose? Why this universe, this time and place? We all need some sense of deeper meaning to sustain our lives. Deep down we all ask these questions no matter what our faith presupposes. Contemplative time in our lives gives us a chance to reflect upon the larger meaning of our life journeys, so often taken up with mundane lists of things to do.
The writers, poets, theologians and artists I have enjoyed have all accessed this inner life. The writer, Robert Walser wrote: “Upon the edge of the rock he sits and lets his soul fly out and down through the shining holy silent.” It takes the time of reflection to get to that deeper place — or as Walser calls it, “the shining holy silent.” One way to start developing a contemplative practice would be through reading writers who delve into these larger questions. They teach us to see anew, how to reach our own cores. Stephen Hawkings tells us: “It surprises me how disinterested we are today about things like physics, space, the universe and philosophy of our existence, our purpose, our final destination. It’s a crazy world out there. Be curious.” Anais Nin teaches us: “I postpone death by living, by suffering, by error, by risking, by giving, by losing.”
Another path to contemplative time is finding a daily spiritual practice anything as simple as a walk through the forest my own practice to time for meditation, reflection, yoga, tai chi or a jog. Robinson Jeffers summons us into such meditation and connection with the physical world: “ Love your eyes that you can see, your mind that can hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.” And one of my great spiritual teachers, Abraham Joshua Heschel also celebrates a spiritual practice which hinges on seeing: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
There are other “ways in” to a contemplative moment. Pablo Picasso tells us: “ The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” Take a very slow, reflective walk at a Museum Gallery and allow the great artists El Greco, Goya, Matisse, Renoir, Kandinsky, and Gauguin to tap your soul. Great artists have always delved deep and used their color, vision and own artistic intuition for reflection.
Diverse theaters also tap the soul. Most cities offer engaging performances of everything from Ibsen to Sondheim. Playwrights reach into our souls in provocative ways and stir things up for deeper reflection. If you enjoy music as much as I do, perhaps you will take time to reflect on a Bach cello etude or a mystic Scriabin prelude, jazz fusion or an evening of modern dance performances, symphony or a chamber performance. If you play an instrument, take time to use it as a vehicle for renewal. While we are listening our deeper psyche takes us to places beyond our knowing. Such is contemplation. The deepest places of our life needs to be nurtured in the same way that our extraordinary dreams gives us sustenance within our daily ordinary lives.
Daily spiritual practice and the arts help us to tap our souls, give us hope in the human spirit and connects us with the human family and all creation. Most of all the arts and spiritual life help us connect with ourselves as we continue our life journey, hopefully with an open face and a sense of well-being deep within.
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