Planet of Slums

29 June 08 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Social Justice

Mark Davis, a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, is a self-described Marxist environmentalist. His work has stirred both controversy and acclaim. mike-davis.jpg

His 2006 book, Planet of Slums, examines the current state of global cities, using a recent U.N. habitat report, The Challenge of Slums, as its starting point. planetoftheslums_.jpg

“By the report’s conservative accounting,” Davis explains, “a billion people currently live in slums and more than a billion people are informal workers, struggling for survival…the entire future growth of humanity will occur in cities, overwhelmingly poor cities, and the majority of it in slums.”

According to Davis, progressive urban planners advocate “hazard zoning” to exclude development and population from dangerous floodplains, swamps, unstable hillsides, fire-prone brush lands, and liquefaction zones.

“Capitalist urbanization in the Third World  works exactly by the opposite principle: concentrating huge densities of poor, vulnerable people in the most unstable and hazardous sites.”

Nevertheless, he sees cities as the solution to the global environmental crisis: “Urban density can translate into great efficiencies in land, energy and resource use, whlie democratic public spaces and cultural institutions likewise provide qualitatively higher standards of enjoyment than individualized consumption and commodified leisure.”

David has often criticized well-to-do environmentalists for ignoring the problems of working people. To that end, he argues that activists should link every environmental demand to a specific proposal that improves quality of life in working class areas, whether this be higher employment or more park space.

Flow – For Love of Water

27 June 08 | Posted in Events

Last weekend, a top female rep for Nestle pitched a fit at the Nantucket Film Festival, which Nestle co-sponsored, during a screening of Flow – a documentary clobbering Nestle Waters as harming the environment.

The film, distributed by Brooklyn-born Adam Yauch (best known as Beastie Boys rapper MCA) and his Oscilloscope Pictures, probes the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh-water supply. It blames the crisis on Nestle along with Pepsi and Coca-Cola. “It takes a good look at Nestle pumping communities around the United States and how they pull water out in order to bottle it and sell it. It depletes the water for farms and irrigation,” said one insider.

Yauch said the problem is that Nestle is “promoting bottled water in general. It’s the bottles themselves, the amount of pollution they create and then disposing them are problems.” adam-yauch.bmp

“They put pretty pictures of springs and forests on bottles, but in this movie they’re getting called out. I think it’s great. They lock down water as a commodity they can buy and sell. It’s terrifying.”

The movie, directed by Irena Salina, will be shown in New York this September.

An Tairseach, Dominican Farm & Ecology Centre

24 June 08 | Posted in Events, Food, Global Catholic, Stewardship

The Dominican Sisters established An Tairseach, the Dominican Farm and Ecology Centre, in 1998 on their 70-acres of land in County Wicklow, Ireland.  It is an organic/biodynamic farm and Centre for Ecology and Spirituality. greensisters-705735.jpg

In addition to running the farm and shop, the sisters encourage field studies on the property, and also sponsor courses and retreats. Many of these events are inspired by Celtic Christianity.

A ten-week sabbatical programme is being offered September 7-November 14, 2008 and March 22-May 29, 2009. “Exploring Spirituality in the Context of – An Expanding Universe – An Endangered Earth – The Christian Tradition.” Contact Sr. Marian O’Sullivan for more information.

An Tairseach is the Irish word for threshold. It suggests a new beginning, an alternative and more sustainable way of working with the land as well as a renewed relationship with the whole community of life, human and non-human.

(Sigh…I’m so sorry I didn’t know about An Tairsearch when I was in Ireland in April.  Next trip.)

The Oil Price Conundrum

23 June 08 | Posted in Social Justice, Stewardship, U.S. Catholic

Oil prices have gone up dramatically, impacting the cost of everything: filling up the gas tank, the cost of food, heating your home, airline travel.

It has impacted food in another way–farmers, especially agribusiness, are opting to plant crops for fuel rather than food production. Those choices are felt hard now in countries like Haiti. Some protests ended in food riots.

Why have oil prices gone up so much in the last year? Part of it is speculation. Oil and energy traders have driven up the price, betting that oil prices will continue to rise. Because regulatory measures are ineffective, government can’t intervene to stop the cycle. gas-prices.jpg

There is also supply and demand. China, India and other developing countries have developed a thirst for oil to rival that of the U.S. Demand for cheap Asian goods has fueled explosive growth in factories and a new consumer class. Now that transportation costs have risen, that growth may slow down a hair.

More oil and refined products are needed, but the supply isn’t easily or cheaply available. Iraq produces one million barrels a day less in 2008 than it did in 1990. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Range and off the coasts of California and Florida will supply millions of barrels, but it will be costly given legal challenges by homeowners, municipalities, environmental groups and others. Anyway, coastal and wilderness drilling is not a long-term solution as much as a short-term political fix.

Food, energy, land use, allocation and consumption of resources–are global as well as U.S. social justice issues.  The oil price conundrum is far more complex than a simple statement on the evils of abortion.

What about the evils of no food, no heat and not enough money to pay for them; oil slick birds, dirty shoreline, filthy water–weighed against Exxon Mobil setting an annual profit record by earning $40.61 billion last year.  Is it time for the bishops to speak up?

Catholicism in the U.S. especially the hierarchy, seems stuck on abortion and same-sex marriage. Should abortion continue to be the #1 issue on the bishops’ political agenda, or should it be natural resources management? Which impacts the “dignity of the human person” more? Which kills more innocent children–abortion; or starvation, malnutrition, and lack of clean water?

As a start, I suggest we support our bishops if they call on all Catholics to do the following:

– Conserve energy by driving less, and walking or taking public transportation more. This includes bishops, their staff, and diocesan managers.

– Pressure legislators to reduce unnecessary tax advantages and credits for oil companies; and initiate oversight into unregulated energy markets. Publicize these efforts in Diocesan papers and parish bulletins.

-Study and develop teaching on the interconnecting issues of food and fuel and how they impact the most vulnerable–children, poor people, the elderly, people on public assistance or disability payments, immigrants–through price increases and increased pollution.

Expand this working group beyond bishops to include laity, including energy traders, oil company executives, small scale farmers, social workers, and environmentalists. Many perspectives “from the ground” are needed to develop a realistic and positive solution.

Tess Ward’s Celtic & Christian Seasonal Prayer Book

18 June 08 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Spirituality

The Celtic Wheel of the Year is a book of new and original prayers by Tess Ward and published by O Books.  It intertwines the two strands of Celtic Christian and Celtic pre-Christian traditions in a single pattern of prayer. tess-ward-book.jpg

Tess Ward was a psychiatric nurse and is now an Anglican priest and spiritual director and counselor. She has been a chaplain at an arts center, alternative worship leader, leads retreats and spirituality groups, and has been “road testing” her prayers for eight years. She lives in Oxford, England, where she is now a hospital chaplain.