Sunday, January 31, 2016

Justice and Balance

Environmental Values and Ethics

Reading today’s political commentary in the news one finds that there is a divide where “Christians” are supposed to be anti-environmental, deniers of science and facts. This is even though there are many environmental organizations that identify themselves as Christian. For example the Evangelical Environmental Network and Restoring Eden are broad based organizations that are very active in the political process of environmental protection.

So let us ask the following questions:

In what ways has Christianity been considered problematic environmentally?  What are for Christians possible responses to that charge?

Using a brief description for ethics as the branch of philosophy that deals with good and bad, and these defined within the framework of our cultural values. Western Culture is based on the philosophical framework stablished by the Greeks such as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. So looking at The Republic by Plato one finds the beginning of the idea of balance in our society. This idea of balance has been described since as “justice” and we need to see the implications of this justice when dealing with the environment.     

Then when we look at the way that Christianity supported progress during the modern era, we find passages in the Bible that speak to the superiority of humans over the rest of creation, some would say that the creation was to support human life and therefore humans have all the right to subdue the earth as stated in Genesis. [Genesis 1:28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominium over the fish of the sea and over the birds if the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” NRSV Bible]. One may argue, based on this reading that we have absolute power over nature. On top of this there are economic pressures to use natural resources in order to support the rapid pace of our progress. When progress is good just because makes life for humans better, more convenient, and secure. Being the center of creation has some advantages, right?

So how can we respond to the second question? Looking at the creation not from the anthropocentric point of view but from an ecocentric point of view as stated by Withgott and Laposata in their book Environment: The Science Behind The Stories we find also in the Bible references to our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation. In Ecclesiastes 1:1-4 we can clearly see that humans are vane and not the center of creation. “The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.”

There you have it!

For sure it is imperative that we learn more about justice and balance so we can see how to deal with the environment.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why Liberal Arts?

As we start a new semester at WPC in the environmental studies class called "Earthkeeping" we asked the question: Why is this class within Liberal Arts? The answer of course is not simple and will take many sessions to get to some kind of unified statement. But, one thing is for sure, "liberal Arts" are addressing the relationships between our 'human nature' and our 'human activities.' For instance: what is our sense of place? How do we relate to the environment that surround us based on our knowledge of it. This analysis includes the development of a language, with proper vocabulary and nomenclature. Words, like 'bioregion', 'biocommunity', and 'biodiversity' have become vernacular but in many ways our society use them without proper rigor. Thus, it is necessary to produce proper definitions for these terms. 

Next we have to make the connection to all aspects of our humanity. Not only we are or should be interested on our biological nature but also (and I believe, most importantly) with our spiritual nature. Questions like: How does 'sacredness' applies to our relationship with the Earth? Do we have to develop a sense of reverence when dealing with natural resources? What would be the guiding principles to do this?
As humans we share a unique sense of being, but it is critical that we also understand the variety of sensibilities as developed by cultures around the globe. Becoming aware of how different cultures like the Japanese, and other Asian cultures, Native-Americans, and other primitive cultures, and Western cultures starting with the Greeks from antiquity is critical for the understanding of our modern relationship with the environment.
In order to do this in class we have seen videos like Kurosawa's 'Dreams' that reflect a deep sense of reverence to nature. Bible verses like Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; Leviticus 25:4-19, and Exodus 3: 1-12 (Moses and the Burning Bush) that bring a sense of 'moral' landscape to our daily life.

On the other hand, we have to address the notion of scientific knowledge. Also, as a human endeavor the natural sciences, from physics to biology are the practical tools we have to develop technologies that will help us to use natural resources without compromising the needs of future generations. Which by the way is how the UN defines sustainability. We can think of 'sustainability as a 'friendly relationship' with the environment. Where the word friendly would indicate that is this relationship there is no harm but beyond that we need a more accurate definition of the word sustainability or of the idea of sustainable development. That is if we agree that our society has to be in perpetual development as some of us think as we do not see how can we as a society live without change. 

As we create a language to address our survival in relation with the use of natural resources, words like ecological, environmental, and resources will need to be defined and used in a precise way.

Many times definitions use the negative as when we mention what it is not in the clarification of what it is! For example conservation is not in general about keeping things as they are, as many practices today in the extraction of natural resources can't be kept for ever, these resources will diminish and eventually cease to exist.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year 2016

Portland OR is starting 2016 with a couple of beautiful sunny days and.. snow!
As last year's main event related to the environment was the United Nations meeting on climate change in Paris we are looking forward to see how around the world this accord will make things different. We will see if the momentum gained during the conference is maintained and how countries will use the momentum to enable new policies toward improving the conditions to develop new technologies and implement the technologies that we already have that will move our economies away from carbon, or to use carbon in a more efficient way that will not cause harm to the environment. To find out more about the conference link UN's November 2015 Framework Convention on Climate Change. The conference under the leadership of Christiana Figueres was a success. Born in Costa Rica and trained in the London School of Economics and Georgetown University, Ms Figueres has been involved in sustainable development for a long time. You can read her blog clicking here and twitts @CFigueres.

Even though every day is like every other day, there is something special about the beginning days of the new year. We go around in circles, some are seasonal like winter, spring, summer, and fall but we never get back to the same spot. It could be winter as the winter before but is a different winter, dah! This is what makes working for the environment so precious and important, changes are coming and we are part of the change. In some ways we are inducing negative changes sometimes they are positive. Even though there is little we can do individually to affect the worlds climate, there is a lot we can do by doing it together. Kind of a paradox.

For me it is about education, and this blog is part of my effort to share with the world what is going on and what can be done. As a paradox there is little we can do and it is a lot. Having the correct attitude produces a change not only in our perspective but most importantly in our actions. Being able to stay at home (like today when the weather is not proper to go out if not necessary) and not feeling guilty is a gain we can all get. Using the time to learn, read, write, and enjoy life as it unfolds is the thing to do in this case. Learning about cultures around the world and finding out what their struggles are and how they as society are finding ways to prosper and thrive is uplifting and satisfying. Not everyone has to have the same answer or the same solution for a particular problem such as transportation.

In the USA we have developed a system that looks highly individualistic but relies on a strong social network that sustains each individual. We in general are used to drive our own cars but we rely on streets being open for transit. The common good is necessary for the individual good, that was articulated many years ago by Kropotkin in his book "Mutual Aid" where he makes the argument that evolution has made it necessary for commonality. Kropotkin became one of the most influential writers of the XX century due to his clear systematic and solid way of arguing his ideas based on scientific evidence. Being an activist for the environment has to be done al several levels from local like the classroom to global, going through school, city, region, and country. At the classroom level Warner Pacific College is committed to the formation of students that are well prepared for the challenges of a constantly changing world and, among other classes, offers classes in Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, and Earthkeeping.

At the city level Portland OR is an active place for environmentalism, from US Congressman Earl Blumenauer who has been an advocate for public transportation to local organization you can find on MeetupBill Bradbury in particular has been working at the grassroots level to organize the citizenry.
Oregon is and will be a leading place in this new era, I am glad to be here at this time to be part of this change and to witness how as a society we can come together working for the benefit of the commons. 

 I am very optimistic.