Erin Lothes, College of St. Elizabeth, NJ
I’m a faith-based environmentalist. This is a hard place to stand these days. Lately my theme song has been “And She Was,” by The Talking Heads. “Missing enough to feel all right” keeps running through my head as I try be conscious enough to know how bad the news is, and missing enough to feel all right.
Then a new media shock hits, and my anger and stress rebuild. Consciousness seems to be a battle between reacting to the series of shocks (outrageous government appointments, dismantled legislation, and vanishing webpages) and submitting to numbness under this onslaught of insults to reasonable and prudential care for the earth, her people, and living communities. And yet, submerged under this numbing tide, hiding from the anger, I find that it is the heartfelt witness of those already suffering the desecration of climate change that makes me cry in a way that absolves me from anger and draws me into decision. It is the resolve of those relentlessly forging new lifeways that makes me take heart.
Recently, I re-read a series of energy ethics essays I had the privilege to edit. The series, called Light For a New Day, was convened by GreenFaith and myself, and published for presentation at the November UNFCCC climate treaty conference in Marrakech, COP 22. Its fifteen authors represent the world’s major faith traditions and geographic regions, and they address diverse and particular energy issues. All of the essays powerfully illustrate the nexus of climate, policy, suffering, and ethics, providing a spiritual and religious lens upon the crisis and its solutions.
Here’s an editor’s guide to this symposium of solidarity, which I think sets forth equal opportunities for encounter, outrage, inspiration, hopefulness, research, and most of all, new spiritual and moral paradigms for framing our outlook on energy.
The concrete details about local struggles, like the explosive conflicts in the oil fields of Nigeria recounted by Fr. Edward Osang Obi, are excellent for classroom use as well as impetus for our further research. Rabbi Yonatan Neril and Daniel Weber share Sabbath wisdom that teaches humanity to moderate its mastery of the world, and urge Jewish communities to advocate for wise energy policies. Pankaj Jain reveals the massive levels of hidden emissions from the meat industry and calls for a mandate for transparent, governmental-level documentation of all emissions. Which energy policies are needed, in which concrete form, for which community? An excellent question for classes, parishes, seminaries, and community groups.
When the unreality that the titan of economic investment in fossil fuel extraction was confirmed as the captain of the ship of state hits me in the gut again, returning me to a now-familiar breathlessness, I recall the advice, “don’t mourn; organize.” Here are passionate and intelligent calls for divestment from Buddhist philosopher David Loy and South African Anglican activist Ncumisa Ukeweva Magadla. A profound exploration of Islamic scholarship and environmental leadership by Imam Saffet Catovic is worth careful attention. This study articulates the moral resolve and intellectual foundations that led to the statement of divestment by the Islamic Society of North America.
Three of the essays that move me the most are direct witnesses to the losses that their people are experiencing. Beata Tsosie-Pena implores all to recover the reverence for mother earth and preserves the earth and the waters that give life. Pausa Kaio Thompson witnesses to the pleas of a sinking Oceania, sharing the prayers of “Sa-Moana” theology for a worldwide response of faith and conversion to the way of living that will sustain our earth. And Henrik Grape speaks for the Arctic peoples, sharing their appeal to halt the melting of the Arctic, to draw on our transcendent sources for inspiration and change.
Creative theological interpretations from diverse traditions are here. Buddhist David R. Loy also awakens our consciousness to the reality of social dukkha: suffering that is caused by institutional structures. Hindu writer Mat McDermot conceives asteya, theft, as actions that rob others of the ecological conditions for wellbeing. Luis Aránguiz Kahn advances Latin American Pentecostal eco-theology, calling for “ecological political holiness” that invites Pentecostals to acknowledge their power in the Spirit and power in society to protest environmental exploitation. Teresia Hinga articulates the impact of energy on food and water access in Africa, calling for an Afro-theo-ethics and a social ministry of the granary. Rev. Claudio de Oliveira Ribeiro’s pastoral reflections on ecological spirituality connect powerfully with a critique of societies like his native Brazil, marked by individualism, exclusion, and conflict.
Through this collection, I experience an amazing linking of arms with activists, theologians, and religious thinkers of all traditions, an ongoing memory of the power of being in Marrakech with so many passionate leaders resolved to frame implementation mechanisms for a hard-fought global treaty. I’m encouraged by the clarity of their witness, a united front of resistance thrown up against the mendacity of climate change denial and its ecocidal policies.
Newly inspired, I investigated my TIAA CREF retirement fund and found that since I last checked, a fossil free fund was created. Light in the darkness! Perhaps if we cannot always sing as we go, as Pope Francis urges, at least we can choke on our tears and set our teeth and resolve to imitate those who are building new ways forward. We can look at the energy cooperatives in Mexico built on fair trade principles that insist on ownership rights for the indigenous whose land hosts the wind farms, as described by entrepreneur Paulette Laurent Caire; the Japanese temples run on renewable energy, as described by Rev. Hidehito Okochi; the protest movements for divestment; the resistance of indigenous leaders everywhere: we can join them. We can draw inspiration, solidarity, and grit from their work. Their reflections cast a bit of light ahead through the wilderness we are still, still fighting through on the way to a renewed future.
Erin Lothes is an Earth Institute Fellow at Columbia University, in addition to being an assistant professor of Theology at the College of St. Elizabeth, NJ. She is the recent author of Inspired Sustainability: Planting Seeds for Action (Orbis, 2016).