(Handout for a workshop at Ferry Beach Religious Education Week)
ECOLOGY + JUSTICE = ECOJUSTICE
Ecology means making sure all living things are in balance
Justice means making sure humans treat each other, and other organisms, fairly
Learning category — Sample camp activity
8 Core Ecological Concepts
Diversity — Tide pool field trip to look at marine invertebrates and other organisms
Energy Flow — Food Chain Game; “Energy from the Sun” song
Interdependence — Web of Life game; “Every Living Thing” song
Change — Lynxes Hares Plants game; “Ballad of Adobe Creek” song
Community — Field trips to 3 ecological communities: redwood forest, marshlands, beach
Adaptation — Bird Beak game; “The Adaptation Song”
Sensory awareness activities — Wary Wolf; Cautious Coyote; One Fish Two Fish; listening to concert of bird song
Focusing or narrowing perception — Insect observation; Giant magnifier (water lens); binoculars
Recording observations — Field notebooks
Group cooperation — various group building initiatives (Project Adventure games)
Ability to be alone — Alone Time Hike
Food — cooking on overnight; cooking with solar ovens, rocket stoves, open fires
Shelter — learn to set up tent; camping overnight
Travel — hiking; map and compass skills
For photos and more information, visit the Ecojustice Camp Web site.
From “Forget Shorter Showers” by Derrick Jensen (Orion Magazine, 2009), excerpted in the zine “Know Your Shit,” UC Santa Cruz, 2018:
Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would ahve gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal ‘solutions’?
“Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal comsumption — changing light bulbs, inflating tires, dirving half as much — and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent world wide….
“I want to be clear. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.”
Couldn’t’ve said it better myself.
Our personal consumption profiles are not going to stop all the global environmental justice crises. What is going to save us is a combination of political activism and change in the global economic structure; some moral technological innovation (as opposed to the now-dominant amoral technological innovation driven by the profit motive) may help, but only if coupled with political activism and economic change.
Friday was the last day of Ecojustice Camp. This is the fourth year our congregation has sponsored this camp, and each year has been more fun than the last (from the adult leader point of view).
On the plus side, the overnight camping trip went far more smoothly this year; we firmed up the curriculum and added some new camp songs that both campers and adults loved; and we were better about integrating age groups. For the finances, I’m still waiting for all expenses to be submitted but I’m projecting that we’ll run a modest surplus again this year (the surplus provides start-up funds for the following year).
On the negative side, camp took it out of me this year: camp typically means a ten-hour day for me, and my regular duties as a minister get piled on top of that; that’s usually not a problem for just one week, but this year I haven’t fully recovered from some health issues, so I’m pretty well tuckered out. Having said all that, I felt it was completely worth it — it wasn’t just the campers who had a great camp experience, we adults did too.
Above all, it feels like this kind of camp is critically important in today’s world. It’s important to teach kids to enjoy the outdoors, while not shying away from the intertwined issues of environmental justice, racism, sexism, consumerism, etc. I don’t think there’s much hope for the world unless we teach First World kids how to love Nature, and how to save it from ruin.
Above: 6 a.m hike on the Ecojustice Camp overnight. Not many of the campers got up to go on this hike, but those who did had a blast.
In the Winter, 1981, issue, the editors of the magazine Coevolution Quarterly published “Where You At? A Bioregional Quiz,” developed by Leonard Charles, Jim Dodge, Lynn Milliman, and Vitoria Stockley (you can find this quiz online here). The quiz was later republished in the book Home: A Bioregional Reader (New Society, 1990). Since then, others have modified the quiz; most notably, in 2006 Kevin Kelly posted a revised version of this quiz titled “The Big Here” on his blog.
As much as I like the original version of the quiz, some of the questions are specific only to certain bioregions, such as “What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?” — if you live in a region where flowers bloom year-round, there is no good answer to that question. And some of the questions are maybe too difficult, such as “Name five grasses in your area” — I’ve been trying to learn how to identify grasses down to the species level, and it’s very challenging. A couple more things bother me about the quiz. First, the quiz focuses too much on book knowledge; you are merely asked to “Name five resident and five migratory birds,” you are not asked to identify them in the field. Second, the quiz ignores whole clades of organisms that would have been familiar to indigenous peoples, such as invertebrates and non-vascular plants.
So I’ve been thinking about how to revise the quiz. I wanted to create a quiz that would prompt me to learn more about my watershed, and to encourage me to get outdoors and explore that watershed. The first draft of my quiz appears below. How many answers did you get? What did I leave off that I should have included?
Continue reading “Bioregional quiz”
The poet Lew Welch wrote: “I like the idea of giving my readers a text they can perform, themselves. Far too many of our pleasures are spectator sports already…” (introduction to Ring of Bone). The way I like to perform poetry is to write out a fair copy of the poem.
A couple of weeks ago, Carol and I went to the city and stopped in at City Lights Bookstore. I sat in the Poetry Room leafing through books and found the poem “Global Warming Blues” by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, in The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015). I almost bought the book, but I just got rid of four hundred books so we could fit into our new apartment; no way I could justify buying a new book for just one poem. So I performed the poem by writing out a fair copy on some watercolor paper. I tucked the poem into my coat pocket and forgot about it.
I carried the poem around in my coat pocket. The paper got wrinkled, and the poem got smudged though it was still perfectly legible. Maybe that’s a metaphor for what’s supposed to happen to poetry: poems aren’t supposed to remain captive inside the pristine covers of a book sitting on a bookshelf; poems are supposed to be out in the world: objects of use rather than useless objets d’art. I re-read the last paragraph:
now my town is just a river
bodies floatin, water’s high
my town is just a river
but I’m too damn mad to cry
seem like for Big Men’s living
little folks has got to die
In the United States, there’s this stereotype that different human populations worry about different environmental catastrophes. College-educated white suburbanites, so the stereotype goes, worry more about global climate change — perhaps because they are more aware of how much energy it takes to power their many automobiles, and to heat their large homes. Communities of color and working class whites, so it is said, worry more about toxics in the environment — perhaps because people of color and working class people are more likely to be exposed to more toxic substances in the places they live and work.
College-educated white people have tended to be dismissive of the threat of toxics in the environment, at least in comparison to the threat of global climate change. Global climate change has the potential to cause another “great extinction” and to decrease human chances of survival, whereas toxics in the environment don’t have the potential to do as much damage.
But I think we all should start worrying more about toxics in the environment.
According to a BBC article titled “Pesticides linked to bee deaths found in most honey samples,” a recent study published in Science shows that neonicotinoids have been found in three quarters of honey samples from around the world (from every continent except Antarctica). The widespread presence of neonicotinoids is especially troubling, because they were found in places where the chemicals have been banned for several years.
When asked by the BBC to comment on the article, Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, said: “Entire landscapes all over the world are now permeated with highly potent neurotoxins, undoubtedly contributing to the global collapse of biodiversity.”
The collapse of biodiversity is bad enough. But consider, too, that if we humans kill off major pollinators, there’s a potential cascade effect that could drive many flowering plants towards extinction. So if you’re looking for a cause of the next “great extinction,” or if you’re just looking for another reason to lie awake at night and worry — look no farther than toxics in the environment.
George Mackerron, lecturer at the University of Sussex, England, studies links between environment and human happiness. In 2010, he developed an iPhone app called Mappiness which pinged users to ask them where they were and how happy they felt. Based on his unpublished analysis of the data gathered, he found that happiness does not correlate with being in a city.
“We find that people are happier in the moment in natural environments, and all natural environments are happier than cities,” Mackerron said in an interview with a BBC reporter.
An obvious conclusion follows. Human population continues to climb. At the same time, the internal logic of consumer capitalism is reshaping the landscape, through resource extraction, commodification, the reduction of everything to information, etc. The combination of these and other forces is driving more and more humans to find themselves in urban and suburban environments dominated by human-made objects (buildings, roads, housing developments, etc.); or rural environments dominated by resource extraction (corn and soybean farms, wind farms, mines, etc.); or digital environments (computers, smartphones, virtual reality, etc.). And while the global elites are able buy themselves happiness by purchasing one or more vacation homes in natural settings, the general trend will be that non-white people, and lower income people will be driven into areas that provide less happiness: into cities and less attractive suburbs; into rural areas dominated by resource extraction; into low-paying jobs in digital environments cut off from the natural environment.
Carol and I wanted to put together a rain barrel for the middle school Sunday school class in eco-justice. Of course we waited until the last minute to purchase materials, and so when I saw the “DIY Rain Barrel Diverter & Parts Kit,” it seemed like the perfect solution. The packaging proclaimed, “Works with Plastic Barrels, Wooden Barrels and Garbage Cans.” So on a Saturday evening we purchased one of the kits and a 32-gallon trash barrel, and brought everything to Sunday school the next morning.
The class had fun drilling holes in the trash barrel for the plumbing fittings. But when we tried to install the fittings — a faucet and a drain hole — into the holes, the class found it very difficult to screw the fittings in. Before people got too frustrated, class ended, and after class I figured I’d try putting the fittings in myself — but they just wouldn’t go. After a lot of fiddling, I finally managed to force them into place. It started raining, so I quickly put the trash barrel, er, rain barrel next to an existing rain barrel that was already full. I directed the overflow from the existing rain barrel into the new rain barrel. It started filling. And then I saw that it was leaking around the drain hole. I wound up having to plug the drain hole with threaded PVC fittings, gasket material, and pipe joint compound. I should have replaced the faucet fitting as well, because by the next day, it, too, had a very slow but noticeable leak where it went into the trash barrel. And now, after three weeks, the sides of the trash barrel are very definitely bulging — it simply isn’t strong enough to bear up under the weight of the water.
Instead of purchasing an expensive pre-packaged “DIY Rain Barrel Kit,” I should have gotten a couple of 3/4 inch bulkhead fittings, two sink faucets, and one of those blue plastic rain barrels. Live and learn.
This month, I’m overseeing ecology camps for three different age groups: Nature Camp for gr. 2-5, Ecojustice Camp for gr. 2-5, and Ecojustice Camp for gr. 6-8. The middle school camp is this week; Nature Camp and camp for gr. 2-5 are next week.
To give you a flavor of what we’re doing, below are a few photos from the first two days of the middle school camp. (We have media release forms from all campers and staff.)
Above: One camper’s field notes on arthropods. Yesterday, arthropod expert Jack Owicki visited and gave an overview of arthropods. Then we checked some insect pitfall traps we had set, checked bushes and plants for arthropods, and looked at spider webs.
Above: Some of the campers built a teepee yesterday. This is not a traditional teepee as built by the native peoples of the Great Plains. We used structural bamboo borrowed from Darrel DeBoer, an architect specializing in natural materials. Bamboo has good structural properties, and can be grown sustainably.
Above: Nancy Neff, an expert on native plants, came yesterday and gave us a guided tour of the native plant gardens on campus. She explained some of the adaptations native plants have to grow in our climate.
Above: Today we visited the Zeise place, up in the redwood forest near the Skyline to the Sea Trail. As you can see, some of the trails were pretty steep (and this was not the steepest trail we hiked!).
Above: Every camper got about 20 minutes of alone time in the redwoods.
Above: Talking together about the experience of being alone in the woods. Notice that some of us are wearing jackets. It was windy and cool today, and when we sat in the shade it got pretty chilly.
The 9 a.m. session on Tuesday, May 24, of the Sacred Texts Human Contexts conference, titled “Critical Approaches to Faith and Environment I,” included presentations by John Fadden, adjunct professor at St. John Fisher College, and Shalahudin Kafrawi, professor at Hobart and William Smith College.
In “The Apocalypse of John: Friend and/or Foe of the Environment?” Fadden gave an analysis of the book of Revelation. As a Biblical scholar, he said that we have to be careful about using a two thousand year old text to discuss contemporary issues. John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, was writing for a first century C.E. audience in the Roman Empire; he was not writing for a twenty-first century audience, and did not specifically address global climate change or other ecological concerns.
“He’s also not really concerned with the end of the world in the way we have perhaps come to associate with the apocalypse,” said Fadden, “especially what we have come to call dispensationalism,” a contemporary interpretive framework that inspired the Left Behind series of books. “That’s not really his interest,” said Fadden, and “as Biblical scholars, we have to be sympathetic to the first century audience.”
However, the intended audience of the Bible is often forgotten. For example, in 2005, during George W. Bush’s presidency, some observers believed that Bush was influenced by an apocalyptic attitude, and those observers believed this attitude had an impact on Bush’s environmental policies. Some of these observers went to far as to wish that Revelation had not been included in the Bible. But Fadden says you can’t really blame a first century text for George W. Bush’s environmental policies. “The problem is not the text so much as how you might interpret it,” he said.
Thus Fadden is interested in seeing if there is an alternative, “eco-friendly way of reading the text.”
Continue reading “Critical Approaches to Faith and Environment”