Monday, March 29, 2010

Climate Justice, A Lenten Journey of Discovery

Climate Change, Faith and Hope - A Prayer

Palm Sunday
Eco-Palms: A Climate-Friendly Alternative

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”- John 12:12-13

Harvesting palm leaves and palm products is an important source of supplemental income for many indigenous families and communities in Guatemala and Mexico. However, over-harvesting can threaten the livelihood of these communities as well as the forests where the palm trees thrive. On the global level, such deforestation in tropical regions currently accounts for about 20 percent of all climate change emissions.

Palm-producing areas in these countries are home to some of the poorer segments of rural populations. These communities rely heavily on the palm harvest for their modest income. But, although purchases of palm leaves in the U.S. may reach as high as $4.5 million each year, the palm harvesters themselves earn very little. Typically, palm harvesters are hired by local contractors, who then sell palms to large floral export firms. Payment is based on volume, motivating harvesters to gather a large number of palms without regard for their quality. This method contributes to rapid depletion of the forest's rich biodiversity, including many bird species that migrate to these regions during the winter.

Eco-Palms are harvested in a more sustainable way, paying the harvesters based on the quality of the palms they harvest rather than the quantity, which helps to limit the amount of palms taken from the forest. These communities have adopted better harvesting practices that minimize impact on the natural forest and helps to protect wild palm species.
In Guatemala the palm harvesters have received SmartWood certification from the Rainforest Alliance. The certification is a “seal of approval” that ensures consumers the wood products they purchase come from forests managed to conserve biodiversity and support local communities. In areas where the waste ratio used to reach 50% or more, the discarded palms now count for only 5-7% of the harvested volume.

And, rather than sending the harvested palms off to a distant warehouse for sorting and packaging, the community members complete those tasks themselves and sell their palms directly to Continental Floral, the floral company, rather than relying on middlemen. This ensures that more of the money paid for the palms actually goes to those who worked the hardest to provide them.

When done in a socially and environmentally just way, palm gathering protects valuable natural forests. Steady markets for these palms prevent the forest from being destroyed for other uses. This program is a great example of climate change mitigation and how communities can preserve natural resources for the future. The importance of forest conservation is passed along to the next generation of palm harvesters, along with the hope of a better and brighter life.

Last year alone, 644,000 palms were sold through the Eco-Palm program. It is a practical and easy way for churches in the United States to be socially conscious and help out the planet. People can collectively stand up in celebration of justice and the environment and share the jubilation of Palm Sunday with the people who harvest the palms they wave.
Lutheran World Relief is in its fifth year supporting Eco-Palms, and is now working with the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Episcopal churches on this project. To find out more about this program and how to order Eco-Palms for your congregation’s Palm Sunday service in 2011, click here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Climate Justice, A Lenten Journey of Discovery - Week 6

Climate Change and Faith and Hope - A Prayer

As we prepare for Holy Week, here is a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi praising God and his creation:

Canticle of the Creatures
St. Francis of Assisi

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory and the honor and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.

Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day and
through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
From whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in You most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Climate Justice, A Lenten Journey of Discovery - Week 4

Climate Change and Development – An Action

This week has highlighted the ways that climate change is having devastating impacts on those in the world’s less industrialized nations. Yet as we learned in last Wednesday’s reflection, leaders around the world cannot agree on how to address this crisis. This has been the “climate challenge” for more than a decade and will remain the central focus of this issue in the near future – how do we get the world to agree on a unified response to climate change?

There are a number of small steps that each of us can take to help push this process forward. First, the U.S. must engage in the climate conversation in a helpful and meaningful way. Ideally, the U.S. would establish a comprehensive climate system that, over time, reduces our own carbon emissions. You can help make this a reality by signing our letter to the Senate. This letter calls for swift action that protects God’s people and God’s Creation.

Click here to read the letter and add your name.

Another way you can help is by giving your support to relief and development organizations that are helping communities and families around the world cope with the impacts of climate change while continuing to develop economically.

In Uganda, Lutheran World Relief works directly with Rosemary to support her and her community in their efforts to become more productive and successful farmers. This type of support helps people living in poverty around the world who are already dealing with drought, flooding, more severe storms and other climate change impacts.

You can take part in this important work by supporting the ELCA World Hunger program, which works with international partners including Lutheran World Relief and The Lutheran World Federation to address root causes of hunger and poverty, including climate change, through relief, development, education and advocacy. Take part in this important work by supporting ELCA World Hunger.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Climate Justice, A Lenten Journey of Discover - Week 4

Climate Change and Development – A Story
Written by Tyler Edgar
Climate and Energy Program Manager
National Council of Churches

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” - Psalm 22:24

Rosemary Mayiga is a rural Ugandan farmer who has been working to develop sustainable local agriculture in her community for more than a decade. Over the last few years, Rosemary has developed a cooperative group of farmers who support each other. She has worked hard to support the farmers in her community, coordinating seed purchases and trips to the local market to help reduce costs. Until 2007, she had been wildly successful: most families in the community grew enough food to feed their families with a little left over to sell for income. That income allowed them to send their children to school, travel into the nearby town more frequently and raise their standard of living.

Like farmers all around the world, every year is a little bit different for Rosemary and her community. The weather a little warmer or cooler, the rains coming a bit earlier or later, but generally, the climate each year remained the same with only mild variations. Then in 2007 everything started to change. That year, the rains were dramatically different—the fall rains came almost two months late. By that time, most farmers in the community who were unable to water their land had lost all their seeds and with them their opportunity to grow a crop. Families struggled to get by and some left the village temporarily to find other work. Many thought it would all go back to normal the next year.

However in 2008, the rains, again, arrived late. The farmers had used most of their savings the previous year to help their families survive and this year there was little money to buy new seeds or food when the crops died. As a result, this community is investing its time and energy in preparing for erratic rain cycles and life for many in the community has changed. Instead of receiving an education, children are now focused on helping their parents and their communities survive. In addition, Rosemary has turned her attention to ensuring her own crops are productive and doesn’t have as much time to help the community collaborate and grow.

Stories like this are growing more common in Africa, Asia and subsistence farming communities around the world. Even here in the U.S., farmers are struggling to recover from the unusual winter of 2010 – for example, thousands of Florida orange groves were lost to freezing temperatures. If we fail to address climate change, this will only become more and more prevalent, threatening the ability of our farmers to feed their families, their communities and the world while pushing families and communities like Rosemary’s further into poverty and limiting their ability to develop and prosper.

A Prayer for the Journey
From Episcopal Relief and Development

Let us pray for all nations and people who already enjoy the abundance of creation and the blessings of prosperity, that their hearts may be lifted up to the needs of the poor and afflicted, and partnerships between rich and poor for the reconciliation of the world may flourish and grow.

Almighty God, you created the world and gave it into our care so that, in obedience to you, we might serve all people: Inspire us to use the riches of creation with wisdom, and to ensure that their blessings are shared by all; that, trusting in your bounty, all people may be empowered to seek freedom from poverty, famine, and oppression. Amen.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Climate Justice - A Lenten Journey of Discovery, Week 3

Climate Change and Health - An Action

As climate change continues to unfold, the impacts on communities and creation alike are and will be devastating. The story of the Yupik in Alaska and the indirect impacts that climate change is having on their health and well being is an example of the interconnectedness of all of God’s Creation and an example of the challenging situation that we have created through our patterns of consumption and dependence on fossil fuels.

There are many changes that will need to be made in order to prevent some of the worst impacts of climate change from taking place. One of these changes can protect both God's creation and God's people. We need to shift to renewable, sustainable and clean energy. This includes wind power, solar power, and geothermal power along with new emerging technologies such as tidal power and cellulosic ethanol.

Shifting our dependence to these forms of energy not only reduces air pollution creating healthier communities but it also reduces our impact on God's Creation. The process through which we obtain wind power is much less devastating than the oil and gas exploration that are currently devastating Mountains in Appalachia and Wyoming plains.

In addition, renewable energy and energy efficiency are the key to a successful green jobs future for all of the U.S. A recent study showed that a 25% renewable energy standard by 2025 would create more than 274,000 new jobs just from energy production alone. This does not include many of the indirect jobs that would result from this developing industry.

We have the resources to power our homes and congregations with renewable and sustainable energy forms and we must be willing to make the transition. Please urge your Senators to enact a strong Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) that will prioritize wind and solar over coal and oil.

Click here to send an email to your Senator calling for a strong RES that will protect God's Creation and God's children.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Climate Justice - A Lenten Journey of Discovery, week 3

Climate Change and Health - A Story
Written by Chloe Schwabe
nvironmental Health Program Director
National Council of Churches

Vi Waghiyi is from the native Arctic Yupik community of St Lawrence Island in Alaska. The Yupik communities on the island are members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and see their traditional diet of fish, seals, birds, and bird eggs as a form of physical and spiritual sustenance. But climate change and toxic chemicals produced and used in far away places threaten their spiritual and cultural traditions.

Vi and her family are suffering from the impacts of climate change – but not in the way that you might imagine. As temperatures warm and ice melts, indigenous communities are seeing increased exposure to toxic chemicals. Toxic chemicals emitted by industries around the globe are carried to the Artic by wind and water currents and locked away in the ice. As ice melts, these chemicals, known as PBTs - persistent, because they last in the environment for many years, bioaccumulative, because they can be stored in body fat, and toxic, because they are harmful to health - are seeping into Arctic waters and eventually the bodies of Alaska natives.
“The Indigenous Arctic peoples are suffering the most from these chemicals,” says Vi Waghiyi, “because the chemicals – pesticides, perfluorinated compounds and toxic flame retardants—are long lasting, and drift North on wind and water currents from where they are applied in the Southern latitudes. That means these chemicals are also in our traditional foods and affecting our health and the health of our children.”

As ice melts, levels of PBTs are on the rise in Arctic species such as polar bears, eagles, northern fur seals, and green-winged teals. Native peoples consume these species as part of their traditional diet. These chemicals, many linked to health conditions such as infertility, learning and developmental disabilities, and cancer, accumulate in fat and become more toxic as they move up the food chain. For example, Inuit women have higher levels of PBTs in their breast milk than most women, putting their children at risk for chemical contamination if they choose to breast feed.

For the Yupik residents of St. Lawrence, the addition of contaminants adds a greater burden of chemicals to already high exposures due to an abandoned U.S. Cold War military base that has not been cleaned up. Many community members have died from cancer or are fighting cancer. Children are more susceptible to immune deficiency diseases and developmental disabilities. Vi herself has had had three miscarriages.

The story of St. Lawrence reminds us of the interconnectedness of God’s web of creation and reminds us that the choices we make can impact the health of our brothers and sisters here and around the world and the health of all God’s creatures. We are all part of the body of Christ, and as one part of Creation suffers, we all suffer (Romans 12:5). When Arctic communities experience health challenges and other impacts of climate change we share in their suffering. We can respond to the suffering of others through individual choices and stronger climate change and chemical policies.
“The act and ritual of our subsistence food activities encompass who we are and is a vital source of our spirituality. I emphasize these things because I want you to know how much of an impact the threat of contaminants has on these things that are so sacred to us.” - Sally Smith, Chairperson, Alaska Native Health Board

Learn More Listen to a radio program about the Yupik communities in St Lawrence Island.

Read more about the St Lawrence community

Monday, March 8, 2010

Climate Justice - A Lenten Journey of Discovery - Week 3 - Action

Climate Change and Economics – An Action

Small changes in the way we manage our homes, our congregations and our communities can both reduce our contribution to climate change and save us money. These small changes, when taken collectively, can make a huge difference. Over time, they will also help us live in right relationships with God’s Creation and at the same time prevent challenges like those being experienced by the people of Houma, Louisiana, whose story was featured in last Friday’s reflection.

Studies have shown that the 300,000 houses of worship in the U.S. spend more than $2 billion on energy each year and consume 2 percent of all energy used in the United States.

This year for Earth Day, the National Council of Churches is focused on honoring our sacred worship spaces with practical solutions that will make congregations better stewards and more faithful and sustainable examples in our walk with God.

Here are some ways that you can reduce your congregation’s greenhouse gas emissions, save money and live out God’s call to be stewards of Creation and seek justice for all.
  • Install programmable thermostats
  • Weatherize church buildings to limit the loss of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer
  • Lower the temperature of your hot water heater
  • Replace broken and old appliances with energy efficient models
These simple changes will help save money while reducing carbon dioxide emissions, helping your congregation to live out God’s call to be good stewards of all Creation and our obligation to be good stewards of our financial resources.

Click here for more examples of how your congregation can improve your stewardship of God’s creation with the 2010 Earth Day resource on Sacred Spaces.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Climate Justice - a Lenten Journey of Discovery, Week 3

Climate Change and Economics - A Story
By Cory Sparks
Pastor of Faith Community United Methodist Church, Youngsville, LouisianaChair, Commission on Stewardship of the Environment, Louisiana Interchurch Conference
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water, you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers and blessing its growth. - Psalm 65:4, 9-10

South Louisiana is vanishing. An area the size of Rhode Island has disappeared since the mid-1950s. That’s a football field of land every thirty-eight minutes, but it’s hard to comprehend statistics on that scale. It’s easier to see the change with your own eyes as people point to pastures that have become fishing holes and fishing holes that have turned into open water. These stories used to come only from the older generation. Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, even children can tell you about change they’ve seen in their lifetimes.

The coast can no longer rebuild itself like it has over the centuries. Sediment that would restore the wetlands is channeled straight into the Gulf of Mexico by levees. Canals dug for navigation and oil and gas exploration break up the land and bring saltwater deep into coastal marsh, killing grasses that prevent erosion. And hurricanes have battered barrier islands and low, wooded ridges called cheniers. Now scientists are concerned that sea levels may rise a foot or more over the next fifty years because of global climate change. That increases the risk to the land and to the people and their vibrant culture. It also threatens the economy of the region and of the nation. South Louisiana ports host a 3.5 billion dollar seafood industry and vital thriving ports.

Because so much is at stake, major players from government, industry, and the environmental movement have mobilized to find solutions. But one significant response is coming from an unlikely source—a little white church on the bayou. Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church is located just inland, close to the city of Houma, Louisiana. Since Hurricane Rita, Bayou Blue’s members and their pastor, Rev. Kris Peterson, have hosted Presbyterian Disaster Assistance teams that have come to rebuild homes destroyed by the hurricane. The church members want volunteers to understand the story behind the hurricane, the story of their community. They give teams a taste of life on the bayou, throwing potluck dinners with home cooked Cajun food. After the meal, the members talk from the heart about how much their way of life means to them and about the threat that wetlands loss poses. Although they share the latest research gathered by scientists, they speak about what coastal erosion and climate change mean to their lives and to their livelihood, which have always been tied to the land.

In addition to educating visitors, Bayou Blue is addressing wetlands loss and climate change in another innovative way—by developing their own pilot project to fight erosion. Bayou Blue has partnered with Heifer Project International and the Jewish Fund for Justice to protect the coast by building artificial cheniers as storm protection. The cheniers offer sites for gardens and even oysters, not only protecting the coast but promoting the area’s traditional way of living with the land. It’s a model for a sustainable future that builds from the strength of the past.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Climate Justice - A Lenten Journey of Discovery, Week 3

Climate Change, Disaster and Migration - An Action

The reflection and story from this week have highlighted the impact that climate change is already having on cultures and communities around the world, impacts that are forcing people to leave their homes and communities. There are two ways that we can help those who are already suffering.

First, we can provide the funding and support to help communities adapt to the floods, droughts, intense storms, and other climate impacts that are changing the way they live and threatening livelihoods. This type of international aid, known as international adaptation assistance, can help to keep families and communities from having to make the difficult choice to move or migrate, and is usually targeted at the most vulnerable economically developing nations and small island nations around the world.

Click here for more information on adaptation assistance from Church World Service.
Second, we can provide support to those families who must leave their homes. There are many ways we can do this - through agencies that help climate migrants find new homes and new opportunities here in the US or other countries. Both of these will be vital as more and more communities are forced to migrate as a result of climate impacts.

Click here to read this statement by Pacific Church Leaders on resettlement that is caused by climate change.

An immediate action you can take is to advocate for international adaptation assistance to help those who are already suffering the impacts of climate change. President Obama's proposed 2011 budget for the federal government includes more than $330 million dollars in new funding for adaptation programs abroad. However, Congress will need to approve his budget request this spring.

Click here to send an email to Senator Conrad and Representative Spratt, the chairmen of the Senate and House budget committees and ask them to maintain the international climate budget proposed by the President.

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