The Forum on Religion and Ecology Newsletter
2.3 (March 2008)
1. Editorial: “Renewing Hope” by Whitney Bauman
2. From the Field: “Religious Communities and the Climate Crisis” by Elizabeth Allison
3. Focus on the Web: Resources for Educators
4. GreenFaith Fellowship
5. Yale School of Forestry Launches New Website
6. Worldviews and other journals
7. Call for Papers/Upcoming Events
1. Editorial, “Renewing Hope”
By Whitney Bauman
From Thursday February 28-Sunday, March 2, 2007, about 300 scholars met at Yale Divinity School for a conference entitled “Renewing Hope: Pathways of Religious Environmentalism.” For those of you who were unable to make it and are interested in pod-casts of some of the sessions, visit: http://www.yale.edu/divinity/news/080306_news_hope.shtml.The conference was sponsored by (among others): The Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale Divnity School, Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, and the Food Farming and Faith Program of the Humane Society of the United States. As is reflected by its inter-disciplinary sponsorship, the conference brought together academics, religious, activists, students, media professionals and others. The expertise of people involved included community organizing, environmental studies, philosophy, and religious studies, just to name a few. In this brief editorial, I just want to highlight a three-step process that ran throughout the conference: Celebration of the history of Religion and Ecology (Collecting), Re-assessment of the present state of the world (Deliberation), and Renewing commitments for the future of the planet (Imagining).
The conference was kicked off by an excellent keynote by Sallie McFague on “God, the World, and Global Warming.” This keynote was both a symbolic honoring of her pioneering efforts in eco-theology and a celebration of her latest book, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (Fortress, 2008). There was also a panel reflecting on the last 20 years of Religion and Ecology. Both of these events gave grounding and context for “where we are” and subsequently “where we might go” in the field of religion and ecology. This historical grounding, or collecting was a crucial piece of the conference. I, for one, was left with the feeling that “Religion and Ecology” has moved from the fringes of the academy and has really come into its own. This places religion and ecology in a whole new position from which to move forward: the less one has to justify one’s place in the academy, the more energy one has for creatively imagining where the field might go next. The academic community is finally starting to “get it.”
Moving from “where we have come from” to “where we are”, our present, earthly context was a second underlying theme of the conference. A keynote speech by Gus Speth on the “state of the world” and two documentaries, “When Heaven Meets Earth: Faith and Environment in the Chesapeake Bay” and “Renewal: Inspiring Stories from America’s Religious Environmental Movement,” both provided views of what is going on at the ground level in “religion and ecology.” The latter documentary really highlights several different success stories of religiously based environmental activism in the US. In other words, rather than mere reflection on the academic field, the conference was also focused on activism at the grassroots level and how “religion and ecology” has been taking place in the world over the last 20 or so years. A concert by Grammy winning Paul Winters also grounded conference attendees in the present moment through the musical exercise of becoming a part of “the song” of the earth. Finally, there were of breakout sessions on various issues from specific religious traditions to animals and food that one could attend. These breakout sessions were very useful in bringing one into the contemporary discussion on the given topic. From these contemporary locations, these deliberations, we also began reflecting on what needs to be done and where we might go from here.
The third theme running through the conference, then, was “future directions” or ecological imaginings. A Panel on the newly initiated “Green Seminary” project and a panel on “Future Directions,” directly addressed this third theme of the conference. However, it ran through all other aspects of the conference as well. One could not attend any of the sessions without thinking about possible future steps forward. From learning about how to get involved with new legislation protecting “factory farmed” animals, to learning how to “green” one’s own seminary or congregation, to discussing with others in informal settings—such as the vegetarian and organic meals we were served or the vegan banquet we were served on the final night of the conference—new ideas in “religion and ecology,” the conference really delivered on its title: “Renewing Hope.”
Through this three-fold process of collecting, deliberating, and moving toward new future horizons, this conference modeled how future research and action might proceed in various ecological/social contexts. Learn the history of where you are, the present state of the place in which you live, and from this location, think about the most effective way of moving forward. Too often, ideals move too far beyond where it is possible to act from in the present; on the other hand, without a vision of where we want to go, we can be stifled by the past and present situation. Renewing hope in the face of ecological and social despair, is then perhaps one of the greatest tasks ahead for the field of religion and ecology. In constructing and imagining hope-full futures, however, we must not forget the eco-social contexts for which these futures are needed in the first place. It is this form of material hope, an ecologically based hope, that religion and ecology could help foster in the world. Hopefully, you will find in this newsletter and others, especially the “From the Field” pieces, reasons for ecologically-informed-hope in the future of this planet.
--Whitney A. Bauman
FORE, 2007-2008 Research Associate
2. From the Field: Religious Communities and the Climate Crisis
By Elizabeth Allison
In the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, a mountainous developing country where the economy is based on tourism and hydropower sales to nearby India, officials are concerned about the effect of climate change on the glaciers that supply the rivers. An adviser to Bhutan’s National Environment Commission recently announced that climate change could affect India’s power supply, along with much else, because the Himalayan glaciers are predicted to decline precipitously by 2030. In a country that began modern economic development only 40 years ago, climate change could have a catastrophic effect on the well-being of Bhutan’s people, along with the myriad wildlife and vast forests that make Bhutan one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.
The Himalayan region is predicted to be one of the areas hardest hit by climate change. In addition to the loss of water and hydroelectricity supply following glacial shrinkage, the Himalayas are expected to experience sudden and catastrophic flooding resulting from glacial lakes overwhelming their gravel moraine dams; decreased crop production resulting from erratic weather conditions; and the loss of numerous high altitude species unable to adapt to warmer conditions. Just one of these effects – decreased water available for downstream communities – could affect billions of people in India, China and South Asia, where water supply is dependent on rivers that originate in the Himalaya. If weather patterns change and the glaciers decline, so does the water supply, fundamental to human health and sanitation, agriculture, and industry, not to mention the lives of countless other living beings. The future prospects of Bhutan illustrate the interconnections of economics, ethics, and ecology. In the face such a global crisis, the global religious community has a unique role to play in lending its moral voice to encourage action to mitigate climate change.
Climate change will affect everyone, and is likely to have the greatest effects in the poor countries least able to adapt. A concern for the poor and marginalized – a preferential option for the poor, in Christian terminology – is found in many religious traditions. As climate change mitigation policies and treaties move forward, religious communities can contribute their moral authority by calling for justice for the poor and marginalized, and insisting that those least responsible for climate change do not bear the brunt of its impact.
The specter of anthropogenic climate change forces us to consider what sort of people we are, what sort of people we’d like to be, and what we believe about the appropriate role of human beings in planetary life. These questions are fundamentally theological. Slowing climate change requires not only reducing our fossil fuel consumption, but also rethinking how we want to live on and with the planet. As sources of the prophetic voice, that can call people to a future as yet unseen, religions have a special role in articulating and shaping a world that provides for the flourishing of all. Increasingly, it is apparent that this flourishing – or peace, or enlightenment, or justice – is impossible if present trends of fossil fuel use continue.
More than other sectors of society, religions emphasize the long view, taking into account a significant lag time between cause and effect. Christians awaiting the Judgment Day, and Buddhists seeking enlightenment know that actions performed today may have consequences in distant times and places. This patient long view is essential for understanding that current emissions will continue to have effects decades into the future, and that changes in resource use practice will be rewarded only in the distant future.
Inherent in the long view is the patience, perseverance, and forbearance necessary to seek long-term change, and to adapt to the new conditions that may arise in an unstable climate. Another aspect of a long-term view is the awareness that means shape ends. In bringing about a new relationship between human beings and the earth we inhabit, the way in which this relationship develops will significantly affect future life on earth. Relationship is all about process. Every religious tradition has its own way of guiding and promoting ethical relations among its adherents. Religions value process, and instruct their adherents in appropriate relationships – among humans, between humans and their surroundings, and between humans and their God or gods. In the context of such relationships, people can maintain their faith and focus even in the face of overwhelming odds.
The moral authority of religions is inescapable, and has been perhaps the most pronounced aspects of the religions’ role in combating climate change so far. Religious leaders have used their moral authority to petition governments for action on climate change through the issuance of statements and proclamations. Roman Catholic bishops issued a statement calling for immediate action on climate change in 2001. The National Religious Partnership for the Environment, a convener of members of faith community on environmental issues, facilitated a declaration by senior religious leaders and scientists on climate and air pollution in 2004.
At the recent climate summit in Bali, the World Council of Churches (WCC) issued a statement calling for a “change of paradigm,” led by the faith traditions. Rejecting the dominant paradigm of endless economic growth and consumption that treats the earth as a commodity, the statement called for a new paradigm that emphasizes “ethics, justice, equity, solidarity, human development and environmental conservation.” In the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which begins in 2012, WCC called for principles of equality in the use of the atmosphere and in the right to development; of historic and prospective responsibility; of priority for the poor and weakest; and of maximum risk reduction.
Jewish and Christian traditions, and particularly Catholic social teachings, have historically promoted a strong engagement with issues of social and economic justice, and have shown leadership on climate issues in the US. Faith-based groups have highlighted the connections between their scriptural traditions and the well-being of planetary earth, have provided education, information and outreach to support responsible stewardship, and have promoted changes in energy consumption patterns, toward renewable or “greener” energy sources. The Regeneration Project’s Interfaith Power and Light fields approximately 20 state-level initiatives that help individuals and congregations change their energy consumption patterns, through energy audits and purchase of energy efficient lights, appliances, and vehicles. IPL advocates for clean energy and energy conservation, along with responsible environmental stewardship.
Motivated by their faith, others have worked to influence the economic power structure, pressuring corporations and investors to recognize and address the risks posed by climate change. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an international coalition of 275 faith-based institutional investors, and the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, an alliance of Roman Catholic institutional investors in the New York City area, work with corporations in high GHG emissions industries to measure, monitor and reduce their greenhouse gases. ICCR has also led actions to encourage the top three mutual fund companies to respond to climate change.
These interfaith efforts, and others, such as Earth Ministry in the Pacific Northwest, Faith in Place in Chicago, Green Faith in New Jersey, and the Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign, in eighteen states, show how people from diverse traditions have come together to respond to a crisis that threatens everyone. The global challenge of climate change forces us to transcend ethnic, national, and religious boundaries and work toward integrated solutions that affirmatively emphasize the well-being of the least among us, within the human and nonhuman communities. Climate change presents an opportunity for diverse religious traditions to set aside doctrinal differences to work together on an issue with indisputable moral content and global importance, potentially establishing the foundation for future inter-religious efforts on intractable problems. A global religious summit on the moral aspects of climate change could increase the pressure on political leaders to enact powerful measures on emissions and mitigation.
If the most dramatic predicted consequences of climate change come to pass, the faith community may be called to feed the hungry and house the homeless, per biblical injunctions. Religious communities may be finding climate refugees, who have lost their livelihoods because of natural disaster, crop failure, or flooding, crowding their doorsteps, seeking help. Religious attitudes of tolerance, patience, and hope will be essential tools for dealing with “natural” calamities predicted if the atmosphere continues to warm. However, the worst effects may be averted as religious communities inspire their followers to personal and collective action, and bring their moral authority to sway in legislative and political processes.
Author Note: Elizabeth Allison is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been conducting research and working with the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement in Thimphu, Bhutan.
3. Focus on the Web: Education
Many of you may/may not know that we have a section of our web site devoted to helping people integrate “religion and ecology” into course-work: http://fore.research.yale.edu/education/.
In the section called “class resources” (http://fore.research.yale.edu/education/resources/index.html), you will find various sample syllabi and resources for use in a course such as CD Roms, Video Resources, a list of Guest Speakers, and links to other educational resources. In the section called “research” (http://fore.research.yale.edu/education/research/index.html), you will find an essay on eco-pedagogy by Chet Bowers as well as an annotated bibliography on that subject. Finally, in the section entitled professional development (http://fore.research.yale.edu/education/professionaldevelopment/index.html), you will find calls for papers, workshops, conferences, professional groups, and other things related to furthering the profession of “religion and ecology.”
4. GreenFaith Fellowship
GreenFaith’s National Fellowship Program Seeks New Applications Nationally Recognized Initiative to Train Ordained, Lay Leaders for Environmental Leadership
GreenFaith announced today that its GreenFaith Fellowship Program is seeking applications for its second class of Fellows. The Fellowship Program is the first comprehensive education and training program in the US to prepare lay and ordained leaders from interfaith religious traditions for religiously based environmental leadership.
The Fellowship Program consists of three three-day residential sessions in ecologically varied settings (one urban, one rural, and one suburban). The themes of the retreats are: eco-spirituality, environmental justice, and stewardship and consumption. There will also be monthly conference calls, mentoring sessions, an e-mail list serve, networking both within the program and at each fellow’s local/regional level and reading/writing assignments before and after each retreat. The second class of Fellows will consist of at least 25 people and will run from the fall of 2008 through the end of 2009.
Fellows will be selected through a competitive application process. GreenFaith is interested in attracting applications across a broad religious, geographic and ethnically diverse spectrum. African-American, Asian-American, Latino and Jewish applications for this year’s class are particularly welcome.
The first class of 18 fellows is a talented group from across the country and active in a wide variety of religious settings: congregations, campus ministry, NGO work and denominational organizations. Initial reactions of the Fellows towards the Program have been uniformly positive and enthusiastic.
Rabbi Lawrence Troster is the Fellowship Program Director. Rabbi Troster is a nationally recognized religious environmental leader who has worked with the Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), the Jewish Theological Seminary, Bard College, and as a rabbi of congregations in Toronto and New Jersey. A graduate of the University of Toronto and the Jewish Theological Seminary, has published and lectured widely on theology and environmentalism, and has led GreenFaith’s Meeting the Sacred in Creation retreats for religious leaders.
“I know of no more important religious work than the restoration of Creation,” said Rabbi Troster. “We look forward to working with our new class of Fellows to support their growth as religious-environmental leaders.”
“This program will offer these leaders the opportunity for educational, spiritual and vocational growth and skill development in religious environmentalism,” said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, GreenFaith’s Executive Director. “We believe these leaders will make a lasting contribution to the development of an environmentally just and sustainable world.”
Rabbi Troster and Rev. Harper co-chair the United Nations Environment Programme’s Interfaith Partnership for the Environment.
Each retreat will feature faculty members with extensive experience in a range of religious and environmental fields. These include Kurt Hoelting, an experienced leader of wilderness retreats for clergy, the staff from WEACT (West Harlem Environmental Action), a nationally-recognized environmental justice organization, and from a wide variety of theological seminaries including Auburn Theological Seminary. Fellows will develop relationships with these leading teachers and practitioners, will engage with the writings of the best religious-environmental authors, and will write a personal eco-theological statement, grounding their learning in their own religious self-understanding.
Later in the program Fellows will design and implement their own religious-environmental leadership plans, applying for up to $1,000 in matching funds through a Fellowship mini-grant program designed to support their work. Upon graduating, they will join the Fellowship’s alumni/ae network and mentor other emerging leaders, building and taking part in a community of support.
An advisory committee of nationally recognized religious and environmental leaders have shared their experience with past religious-environmental initiatives and offered strong support.
“The GreenFaith Fellowship Program is a critical initiative for the religious environmental movement,” said Drs. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, co-directors of the Forum on Religion and Ecology. “There is currently no such program of its kind and thus its potential contribution is clear. There is a dearth of religious leaders in the United States who are speaking out regarding key environmental issues we are facing. This interfaith effort is indispensable.”
Dr. Larry Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, said “The GreenFaith Fellowship Program meets a palpable need for a select group at a critical time. I applaud the substance and details of the program – if it didn’t exist, we would need to invent it.”
Rabbi William Lebeau, former Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, said “I believe that this kind of program will help to produce a cadre of clergy and lay leaders who will help to bring their communities to a new level of environmental knowledge and action.”
The Fellowship Program intends to play a major role in strengthening, broadening and deepening the impact of the religious-environmental movement. GreenFaith is excited to have the opportunity to launch this effort.
GreenFaith is grateful to the Richard Oram Charitable Trust, the Kendeda Fund, the Edgebrook Foundation, and to GreenFaith members fortheir support for the Fellowship Program
GreenFaith is a New Jersey based interfaith coalition for the environment. Founded in 1992, GreenFaith inspires, educates and mobilizes people of diverse spiritual backgrounds to deepen their relationship with nature and to take action for the earth.
5. Yale School of Forestry Launches New Website
As Congress prepares to debate new legislation to address the threat of climate change, opponents again claim that the costs of adopting the leading proposals would be ruinous to the U.S. economy. The world’s leading economists who have studied the issue say that’s wrong. And you can find out for yourself.
Today, Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies posted a new website developed by economics professor Robert Repetto. In a way that anybody can easily understand, it synthesizes the results of thousands of policy simulations from 25 economic models being used to predict the economic impacts of reducing U.S. carbon emissions. To try this new website, just click on http://www.climate.yale.edu/.
This website identifies the seven key assumptions accounting for most of the differences in the models’ predictions. It shows that even under the most unfavorable assumptions regarding costs, the U.S. economy is predicted to continue growing robustly as carbon emissions are reduced. Under more favorable assumptions, the economy would even grow more rapidly if emissions are reduced than if they are allowed to continue to increase as in the past.
Even better, this new website allows site visitors to decide how likely they think each of the seven key assumptions are, and on that basis see for themselves what economic impacts all the leading economic models would predict, if carbon emissions are reduced by specific percentages over the next two decades. If you visit this site, you can make your own assumptions about the key factors that will influence the costs of stopping climate change and see the results.
We urge you to click on and use this new analysis. Tell your associates and contacts about it and create links to it on your own website.
Dean, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
6. Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology
If your institution does not currently subscribe, please send an order request to your library with the following link: (http://www.brill.nl/wo). You will also find the current table of contents and information on individual subscriptions through that link. We hope that you will take part in the life of this journal!
7. Events and Calls for Papers
Due to the growing length of the newsletter, I am only going to insert here the links to calls for papers and other upcoming events. I invite you to visit the Forum web-site for this updated information.