Saturday, December 21, 2013

Attitudes and Behaviors

          The natural world doesn’t care what humans think. But it responds forcefully to what we actually do. Climate change was no threat for the first million years of human existence, not because we paid more attention then to the atmosphere’s carbon level, but because we hadn’t discovered fossil fuels and their energy potential. We hadn’t started burning them.

Conversely, as the Stanford surveys show, people can have positive environmental attitudes, and even strong worries, without changing their own behaviors. The U.S. EPA has 87,050 Facebook “likes,” and “Environmental Working Group” has 249,252 likes. “Ecology” has 183,751. (Are those a lot? Colts: 1,700,000 likes. The Beatles: 37 million.) Who knows how clicking “like” corresponds to other behaviors? I’m guessing it corresponds mostly to the likelihood of  “liking” other Facebook sites.

I’m reading a new book called Navigating Environmental Attitudesby Thomas A. Heberlein, an environmental sociologist retired from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He uses the metaphor of whitewater rafting (pictured on the cover) to describe such problems as the obstacles under the surface, the ones you can’t see, that affect the swirling waters the most; the slow changes that happen to rocks in the river over the course of eons; the need to “go with the flow” of attitudes, and so on.

He tells fascinating research stories showing that attitudes

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kentucky Holy Land Energy Vision

Sister Claire McGowan, an Energy Vision statement author
Hooray for central Kentucky nuns! This past Tuesday, the 45th anniversary of Thomas Merton's death, the Dominican Sisters and Associates of Peace, the Loretto Community, and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and Associates hosted an interfaith prayer ritual to publicize the Energy Vision statement written in response to the proposed construction of a natural gas pipeline across central Kentucky (see my Nov 11 entry). More than sixty people from many religious traditions attended, and Wendell Berry was there in message and spirit. Here is the story from WFPL public radio in Louisville. It's encouraging that churches and communities even in Mitch McConnell's state raise their voices so often.  

And on a related note, WFPL's Erica Peterson reported this week on the future of coal mining, and coal miners, in eastern Kentucky ("Hollowed Mountains, Now Hollowed Towns: Coal in Eastern Kentucky"). Though the coal situation is bleak, the story ends with a hopeful twist. Perhaps one day there will be a story about HALLOWED mountains and towns. For both the powerful centers of the natural world and the powerful human centers to be held holy--set apart from profane use--would certainly be biblical. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ministering to the Marginalized in Nepal

For those who follow my daughter Claire's adventures and work in Pokhara, Nepal, here is a link to
Claire at Kopila Nepal
Prof. Brad Wigger's interview of her in the latest Louisville Seminary Mosaic
. It begins on page 10. Needless to say--but I'll say it anyway--I am endlessly impressed with her and with all six of our children, who as teachers, social workers, and volunteers contribute tremendously, each in their own way, to human welfare on the planet. 

Street Scene in Pokhara

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Help of Doubters

Sleet and snow all day yesterday. By mid-morning, every twig of every tree was a crystal
shaft. It’s an enforced Sabbath. No lamps are lit today—the sunlight, unobstructed by foliage, refracts from the snow into every window. Bread is rising over the woodstove. I’m thinking of mixing pesto from last summer’s basil and garlic.

          Tomorrow, unless it snows again too hard, I’ll host a small group of Presbyterians to thank them for reading each chapter of my then-unnamed book in first draft. Every month or two (or six), I would feed them dinner. Then I’d listen and take notes as they discussed what they had read, which never precisely matched what I thought I’d written, but came close.

As beginners in both Bible and ecology, some hesitated at first to speak, and I’m sure no one said all that they thought. They told me what they liked, what they questioned, what they objected to. They saved me from many bad arguments and inelegant paragraphs. Though I alone edited, I hoped all would see their handprints on each revision.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Checking the Math

5 pounds of coal--
two hours of electricity per person
I wanted to make a table display, an un-powerpoint visual to take when I’m speaking, a reminder that what flows invisibly from the wall as electricity begins as burning rocks. I recalled that the basement of an old house where I once lived in Georgia still had a large pile of coal. A friend lives there now, so on a recent visit he let me excavate and carry a few pounds home.

I had looked up the figures here. In coal-dependent Indiana,1133.312 tons of coal are burned for electricity per year for every 100 people. So I did the math and put it in chapter 3, page 40: 62 pounds per person per day of coal, an astounding figure.

I rechecked it. How could 62 pounds of coal mined, transported, ground into powder, burned to boil water into steam to power turbines, and then disposed of as coal ash every day—and this is a bare simplification of the process’s many steps—how can all that cost so little?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Book Is Out....

Here is a news article on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) website about Inhabiting Eden...

New Book from Presbyterian Author Offers Biblical Guidance on Today's Ecological Crisis

I am delighted with the many invitations to speak and teach coming up. Please do contact me if you would like me to speak, preach, lead a retreat, or introduce the book to your church or another group. 

Next...on the problem of mistakes...! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Energy Independence, Energy Dependence

The Louisville Festival of Faiths Fall Forum met at Bellarmine U. Friday. Titled “The
Energy Independence Boom: A Call for Religious Leadership,” it was planned by several local Catholic orders, including the Dominican sisters, the Sisters of Loretto, and the Sisters of Charity. My friend Robbie Pentecost, a Franciscan sister in Appalachia, was front and center in the planning and I was proud to know her. 

The controversial Bluegrass Pipeline ignited the event. It rose to local fame in August when the Sisters of Loretto, accompanied by the Trappist brothers of Gethsemani, denied access to their property in central Kentucky for surveying for a new flammable, pressurized, natural gas liquids pipeline. The pipeline is intended to reach the gulf coast, and its contents to be processed into plastic and other products, but religious leaders and others are opposing it publicly.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cold Day, Hot Breakfast, Warm Hearts

It’s 27 degrees outside. I didn’t want to leave the cozy stove to make breakfast. So,
after a little inspirational reading, I tried an experiment I should have tried long ago.

The eggs and bread came from Esther and David Miller at the Jeffersonville Farmers’ Market (Winter Market is in our church’s gym). Butter came from an Amish farm nearby. I sliced a tomato from our garden to slip between toast and eggs, and added a dollop of applesauce on the side, made from apples from an abandoned tree three blocks away. Don chopped the fuel from our own fallen trees, the last of the ones that Hurricane Ike blew over in 2008. That fan, by the way, runs on the stove's own heat, and the catalytic combustor reburns the smoke so the stove's emission is no more than that of a cigarette, or so we are told. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Things Never to Doubt

Yesterday I was leading a Sunday school discussion of environmental justice. A social worker pointed out the high incidence of cancer in neighbors of the industrial area known as Rubbertown in west Louisville. Others brought up radiation poisoning in Afghanistan from U.S. weapons, the problem of products (classically, lead paint, asbestos, and DDT) becoming widely used before their dangers are known, the deregulation pressure from industries that profit from pollution, the difficulty of knowing the sources of what we purchase.

Everyone was concerned; everyone felt helpless. What we knew, based on Scripture’s many calls to justice, was that the poor should not bear the burden of pollution in their bodies so that consumers can enjoy cheap products and investors can increase wealth they don’t need.

Friday, November 8, 2013

How Inhabiting Eden Came To Be

Soon after college, I wanted to build an earth-sheltered house with skills I didn’t possess, on land I didn’t own, in a place I’d never lived. Having been surprised to learn that Campbell’s had not actually invented soup, I would research prices at the grocery, and write little essays on the economics, and the joys, of actual cooking, and on how transubstantiation works: with a bit of salt, butter, and practice, flour becomes crust; peaches become pie.

I think I was absorbing my landlords’ unspoken ethics. She was a serene virtuoso in cotton prints, her grand piano flowing with Tchaikovsky and Brahms. He wore a Lincoln beard and walked to the university to teach engineering. We woke to his whistling and hammering every Saturday, and in the afternoon we smelled his bread. He sent us out with their children to pick beans, and taught us to refurbish windows.