Catholics Lauded in Sierra Club Book

Catholics are prominently featured in a new Sierra Club book, Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet. The book highlights faith-led environmental action in each of the 50 states plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. sierra-club.jpg

Don Conklin and Ellen Buelow, members of Holy Rosary Parish in Albuquerque, NM, helped engineer a light-bulb swap–incandescent bulbs for energy-saving compact flurorescent bulbs. Before the program was over, 3,000 bulbs changed hands.

“We did this as a Lenten project,” said Conklin, a pastoral associate at the 2,700-household parish. “And it didn’t cost us a thing. It was sponsored by the Sierra Club and PNM,” the electric company serving the Albuquerque area.

The bulbs were distributed during an annual parish awareness weekend. “We’re planning our next awareness weekend and we’re coming up with the theme of helping families,” Buelow told Catholic News Service. “We’d like to get the concept of simple living in there. Economize and save the environment.”

The Faith in Action book also included these Catholic-led initiatives:

– In Colorado, Bishops Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs and Arthur N. Tafoya of Pueblo called for a unified response after sewerage spills threatened Fountain Creek, which runs through their communities. The bishops’ statement had a “significant impact” said Ross Vincent, vice chair of the Sangre de Cristo group of Sierra’s Rocky Mountain chapter. “People who wanted to believe things were OK with Fountain Creek began to pay attention and realize something needed to be done. The bishops’ statement came at a critical time and it was deeply appreciated.”

– In New Orleans, members of Mary, Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church and their pastor, Father Vien The Nguyen, were able to halt post-Hurricane Katrina operations at a landfill that was not only close to their neighborhood, but was adajacent to a protected wildlife sanctuary. More than 200,000 cubic yards of waste from Katrina had been dumped in the landfill, which still leaks toxins into a canal used by the Vietnamese community for irrigation and fishing.

– The Michigan Catholic Rural Life Coalition used the National Catholic Rural Life Conference’s “Eating Is A Moral Act” program to demonstrate the many ethical implications of consumers’ food purchases. The coalition also educates the public about the need to promote stewardship of the land and promotes a sustainable food system that nourishes people, local communities and the earth.

– In response to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ call for action on global warming, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis co-sponsored, “Global Warming: A Catholic Perspective.” One thousand people from 95 parishes attended the event to address the effects of global warming on the environment and the world’s poor communities.

Several parishes have now established their own “global warming action teams.” One of them, St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis, launched a Green Power Campaign to encourage parishioners to purchase wind-generated energy.

-In Caguas, Puerto Rico, Father Pedro Ortiz and the Catholic parish of Nuesta Senora de la Providencia formed the Alianza Comunitaria y Ambiental en Accion Solidaria (Community and Environmental Alliance in Solidarity) in April 2007. The parish sets aside portions of its liturgical calendar for reflection on relevant social issues. Now, 100 community organizations, nonprofits, churches and universities from across the island with common concern for the environment have joined the alliance.

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.

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.

Food and Fuel

15 June 08 | Posted in Food, Social Justice, U.S. Catholic

There is a lot of talk, now, about a food crisis in the world.  Croplands are being used to grow fuel for cars vs. food for people. That’s wrong. But if you also don’t want to support building new refineries, or drilling in wildnerness, the ocean or high risk areas, what do you do? With the price of gas going up, people are going to push for alternatives.

I don’t know what we can do about that, except to stop driving as much, and walk, bike or take mass transit. That works if people are willing to do without, are in good enough physical condition to do so, or don’t mind experiencing a lot of inconvenience. Given that, what kind of success rate can we expect? How many people will turn off their air conditioner in July?

I priced out Lori and I taking the train or bus to our weekend house vs. driving.  It costs us $40 a weekend for gas for our Toyota Coralla. It would cost us $80 to take the bus or a train.

Going from a starch and meat diet to a vegetables and a little chicken or fish diet has also seen our food bills go up.  A lot. Organic is great, but it is also priced a lot higher than vegetables in the bin.  Now, we are paying to put into practice environmental ethics, and we feel the pinch, even in our household.

People that are poor, unemployed, struggling or on a fixed income, can hardly afford to pay for the basics and necessities, much less enviromentally ethical products and services.

What is a Catholic environmentalist to do?  There are so many conflicting issues I don’t know what to think much less what to prioritize for Bill Griffin, CSX,  has researched the global food crisis for the Center of Concern.  His paper is designed to provide a clear overview of the current food crisis and the conflicting economic forces at work behind the scenes. I hope it will help me clarify what steps I can take to help on both the food and fuel fronts.

Catholic Environmentalism

28 May 08 | Posted in Animals, Social Justice, U.S. Catholic

Mark Stoll, a history professor at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas, argues that Catholics have not been prominent environmentalists in the past because their religious worldview encouraged a sense of sacredness among a community of people rather than with nature.

In a paper entitled The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Environmentalism, Stoll writes, “Religiously-minded Catholics dedicated themselves in service to the Church, or to the poor, or to the unconverted – to society, in other words…and by and large left nature writing to Protestants, alone in the woods with their God.” While Catholics have always appreciated the natural world, their passion for ecology has usually been an afterthought to their commitment to social concerns.

But, as Stoll points out, ecology is becoming a social concern. In his statement for the World Day of Peace in 1990, Pope John Paul II said, “the ecological crisis is a moral issue (that) has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone.” In response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued Renewing the Earth, in which they insist that “the ecological problem is intimately connected to justice for the poor.”

“How,” they ask, “may we apply our social teaching, with its emphasis on the life and dignity of the human person, to the challenge of protecting the earth, our common home?”america-cover.jpg