Sustainability

'Praise God, All Creatures Here Below'

View from Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, Harrison B / Shutterstock.com
View from Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, Harrison B / Shutterstock.com

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise [God], all creatures here below;
Praise [God] above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen.

Words by Thomas Ken (1674)

The Doxology was my favorite hymn growing up. We would sing it every Sunday in church at the end of the service, mostly a cappella. I was amazed at the different harmonies and range in which the hymn could be sung. I loved how simple the words were. But I did not understand the words fully until well into my adult life. As a kid, I immediately disregarded things like animals, plants, insects, and fish as creatures that could praise God. Surely the act of praising God is only reserved for the sentient beings, with a conscience and the ability to say in words “praise God.” No way would God receive the praises of a mosquito, or fern or cat or pig.

It took the glory of creation itself for me to fully understand the words of the Doxology. A year out of college, I was sitting on a kayak in the middle of Doubtful Sound, New Zealand surrounded by snowcapped peaks that dropped right into the water. The sun was shining, dolphins were swimming nearby, and the birds were chirping. Then the song hit me “Praise God, all creatures here below.” I could hear the songs of praise from his non-human creatures. It finally dawned on me that my songs of praise paled in comparison to the winds that touch the peaks of mountains, the perfect songs of birds and the language of dolphins. They are all songs of praise!

Canada's Mining Dominance

WEAK LAWS AND empty regulations in Canada allow Canadian mining companies to flourish in every corner of the world: Papua New Guinea, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, all over Africa—anywhere local conditions are favorable for producing “low cost” metals; that is, any country where local government control mechanisms are weak or nonexistent.

Today, Canadian companies account for 75 percent of mining worldwide, and their practices are rife with abuse. The companies promise sustainability, responsibility, and a “win-win” situation for all, but there is a fundamental contradiction between their claims and the reality of massive open-pit, cyanide heap-leach mining, which devastates surrounding communities and the environment.

Mining companies dominate most areas of public discourse. In addition to accommodating laws and a friendly stock market, companies are heavily involved in Canadian pension funds in universities, NGOs, charities, and even arts and cultural groups. Canadians, for the most part, have become docile, uninformed participants in a global race for destruction, while quietly pocketing most of the gold. —ETS

Image: Big machinery in a mine, Paul Binet / Shutterstock.com

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Energy News: What’s Happening This Week

Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com
Green energy concept, CarpathianPrince / Shutterstock.com

David vs. Goliath: Residents in a Colorado city are fighting their local coal monopoly for the chance to move their city to clean energy. The coal company has more money – a LOT more money – but the organizers have more heart. This short 6-minute video is well worth watching

40,000 jobs sound pretty good: According to the new 2013 second quarter clean energy report form Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), clean energy and sustainable transportation projects launched this year created close to 40,000 green jobs in the U.S.

Built to Last

"SINCE I KNOW you guys are urban/city folks like me, I was pleasantly surprised to find that you didn't build some ugly house in the woods." Reading through thank-you letters from seventh graders who had come from Washington, D.C., to work with us, we smiled at this line written by a student we had known since kindergarten.

Having lived in the Washington, D.C. area for more than 30 years, it's true we were "urban folks," but our hearts were drawn to the woods. This crazy venture of ours began more than six years ago, when the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community, located south of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., was poised to build Woodhaven, a new staff home, in keeping with their deep respect for the earth and their mission of nurturing people and community. As Rolling Ridge members, we began building this home as a way to teach and learn about a different kind of architecture and to explore whether it is possible to create an energy-efficient, attractive home that will use fewer resources, last longer, and be gentler on the earth.

This project required discerning the time for humility and the time for hubris: the humility to know when it's crucial to call on experience and skill; the hubris to jump in and try things we've never done before. We could not have built this house without the brilliant work of our architect, Sigi, and building contractor, John, as well as skilled carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. Nor could we have done it without the enthusiastic work of numerous volunteers.

Ever eager to learn by rolling up their sleeves (or in the case of stamping cob, their pant legs), people have come during the past few years to help stack straw bales into strong walls, apply lime plaster on the outside and clay mix on the inside, and plant living roofs. They have filled the house not only with finished walls, but also with a spirit of joy.

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Why I Support Wind Energy

Wind turbine farm, © WDG Photo / Shutterstock.com
Wind turbine farm, © WDG Photo / Shutterstock.com

Nearly one-in-six people in the United States live in an area with unhealthful short-term levels of particle pollution. One in six. I was one of those one in six, growing up with moderate to severe asthma. I was hospitalized several times. My health was poor throughout my childhood and didn’t really show full significant improvement until after college.

It’s something I learned to deal with, not to focus on. Yet the truth is, I grew up in a part of the country with severe pollution. In our drive for cheap energy, society paid a social cost.

Luckily I grew up in a part of the world and during a time in history when medical advances kept pace with asthma, in my case just barely. My father also had asthma, as did his father before him. If I had grown up during my father’s time, I likely wouldn’t be here today. If I grew up in another part of the world I know I wouldn’t be here today.

Sustainability: God's Gift and Charge

Sustainability image, danymages / Shutterstock.com
Sustainability image, danymages / Shutterstock.com

God created the earth to produce every thing Adam and then Eve — and then their issue, and then all of us — would need. In the beginning, the garden needed little tending, but — due to a rather fortunate fall — eventually Adam and Eve, as his helpmate, and their children and the issue of generations had to toil the earth to pull from the garden those things God intended to meet their needs. 

Along the way, progress was made in the form of extensions of the garden bounds, the distribution of water and other nutrients, applications of healthful foods and herbs, techniques for every aspect of garden production. A community grew from a couple who worked hard as stewards, first out of penance and then, I think, out of love for the land provided to sustain them and for each other as they worked together. This is the story of how sustainability came to be. 

To simplify: God created the Heavens and Earth. He designed a glorious garden and put in it everything needed to make that garden productive: plants, water, clean air, soil, enrichers (bugs, worms, life, decay), animals, and the Sun, the first and last fuel. And, finally, He made man and woman. 

Three Numbers that Predict the Future of the Planet

Green alarm clock, Alex Staroseltsev / Shutterstock.com
Green alarm clock, Alex Staroseltsev / Shutterstock.com

The climate crisis is getting bad and we may be finally starting to notice. With increasingly crazy weather across America—scorching heat waves, massive fires, destructive derechos, devastating droughts—polls are starting to show a growing awareness of and concern for how our massive amounts of pollution are changing the weather and therefore changing our lives (mostly for the worse).

I know this is starting to sound alarmist and extreme. It should. Because reality is starting to get pretty desperate for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on a relatively stable and predictable climate. At the end of the day, that’s all of us. The first to get hit, however—and they are currently getting hit hard—are those who grow and raise our food (farmers, ranchers, fishermen, etc.), those who are economically and physically vulnerable (the elderly, sickly, homeless, etc.), and those who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (the victims of these storms and fires). And while we’re starting to feel the impact of climate change in the United States, our global neighbors in regions such as Africa have been the ones bearing the brunt of the suffering.

After decades of scientific studies and expert warnings, climate change is no longer something being debated; it is something being experienced. Let’s just hope we do what’s right to overcome this crisis before it is too late. Because “too late” may be coming a lot sooner than we realize, and “what’s right” may be a lot harder than we want to accept.

An Olive Agenda: Our Path to Economic Opportunity and Environmental Sustainability

World photo, Denis Cristo / Shutterstock.com
World photo, Denis Cristo / Shutterstock.com

An examination of current public debate reveals a divide between the “brown agenda” of economic opportunity and the “green agenda” of environmental sustainability. 

On the one hand, a “brown agenda” concerns economic opportunity, or in other words, the alleviation of poverty. In light of ongoing distress surrounding malnutrition, infant mortality, and unemployment, the brown agenda is important, urgent, and worthy of support. On the other hand, a “green agenda” relates to environmental sustainability and care for the Earth. As scientific reports affirm the reality of climate change, and in recognition of decreased access to clean water and biodiversity around the world, the green agenda is also deeply important, urgent, and worthy of support.

With the above thoughts in mind, one recognizes that both brown and green agendas are essential for the promotion of life. However, the proponents of each agenda seem to be at odds with the adherents of the other. For example, far too many with a “brown agenda” believe that the best way to reduce poverty is to reduce environmental controls, and to the contrary, those engaged with the “green agenda” too often place the needs of the Earth before the livelihoods of the poor and marginalized. As a result of this persistent struggle between “brown” and “green," progress on both agendas is limited, and our path toward economic opportunity and environmental sustainability is severely off course. 

A Catholic Nun, A Teenage Girl, and Climate Justice

Climate change illustration, red-feniks / Shutterstock.com
Climate change illustration, red-feniks / Shutterstock.com

Sister Kathy Long turned toward my 13-year-old daughter and asked one question: “What will you tell your friends about spending this month in Mexico?”

In a public park in Cuernavaca, Mexico, we sat on a concrete bench next to six women who chatted and stitched embroidery patterns with brightly colored thread.

I glanced toward the sewing group, realizing that Maya would have rolled her eyes if I had asked her that same question. An intrusive query from a mother seemed compelling coming from a Catholic nun who worked in Mexico, promoted justice amid poverty, and even spent three months in jail for protesting the military training of Latin American leaders in the U.S.

“I will tell them that rich people and poor people are all people in the end,” Maya responded. “If you have three cars and two houses, you are a person just like someone whose house is made of cardboard or metal.”

A Farm Grows in Motown

The city of Detroit has several thousand vacant houses, but Darryl Howard has at least as many worms. Howard is an intern with Earthworks Urban Farm, a program of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen on Detroit’s East Side. He dreams of running a small business that supplies worms to farms that dot the city landscape.

As Howard and his colleagues (invertebrate and vertebrate alike) know, worms work with materials that, from the outside, appear spent—and surprise us by producing rich, healthy soil. As he digs his hands into the dirt, still in the phase between food scraps and soil, a smile breaks across Howard’s face. “This is how I feed myself, my family, my community, and the world.”

Detroiters often use the phoenix rising from the ashes as a metaphor for the city’s resilience; in its 300-year history, Detroit has gone through several periods of bad times and has come back each time. Yet worms might be just as apt a symbol this time around.

Detroit could come very close to feeding itself. According to the Detroit Food Policy Council, farming less than half of the vacant publicly held land in the city could yield three-quarters of the vegetables and almost half of the fruit consumed by Detroit residents. In a city that bleeds money when buying food, that could be enormously stabilizing.

Furthermore, the economic impact is far from the only benefit. There is cultural and social power in growing food for your community.

The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network cultivates that power alongside the food it grows. Hanifa Adjuman roots herself deeply in this call to cultivation. As education coordinator for the network, she is steeped in the story of farming in Detroit, bringing elders with decades of experience together with youth for whom agricultural work carries reminders of their slave forebears.

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