Dreaming those Dreams of the Earth

Posted December 20th, 2013 in Blog, Featured, Zine Comments Off on Dreaming those Dreams of the Earth

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish
[Dream with us in 2014. To make it real, it must be a collective dream. If we see it together, we can create it together. If you can help us play our part in that by making an end of the year donation, please go to this page. Contributions to the Center for New Creation are tax-deductible.]

I have them. I’ll bet you have them. There are those dreams that come out of the depths of the relationship we have with the life that vibrates and resonates through Gaia at all moments in time and space, this space, this home. How can that resonance not invade our dreams? FAMILYSpirits of animal life, of forests, oceans, rivers, and deserts. Memories – of sunrises and sunsets over the Pecos Mountains of New Mexico,the volcanoes towering over Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the moonlit nights over the Athabasca River in Brule, Alberta, or the way that Jupiter chased the moon across the sky the other night, disappearing one after the other over the horizon in the early morning.

There are other dreams – of pain and torment, the gaping wounds from the violence of our domestic abuse of our loved ones, these living beings, this living Earth that only gave birth to us, holds us, nurtures us, carries us in its embrace because there is no way to escape that embrace, no way to completely tear ourselves apart from it, no matter how much damage we try to do to this Gaia Mother.

Our lack of gratitude and reverence is appalling.

We tear and rip and shred and drill at the flesh and blood of our Mother. We do this out of what great dysfunction, what intolerable but buried pain within us? We do this out of fear and disconnection and this sense that we are always under threat – from what?TRAVEL

Friends, this is likely to be my last post before the new year simply because I’m tired and have a lot to ponder. I, like so many others I know, need some contemplative space to rethink what I’m doing, what this project is, how it and I can best contribute toward the cultural shifts that have become necessary and urgent.

If you follow this project, you know that one of the things that I and many others believe is that underneath the ecological crises of our times is a crisis of “spirit,” of soul, a crisis of meaning and purpose. The crisis is not brought about by tar sands and fracking, it’s not brought about by the military industrial complex and the endless war in Afghanistan. It’s not even brought about by the Koch brothers or the NRA. All of those things are results, not causes, manifestations of the symptoms that this culture has created, like the high fever or vomiting brought on by the flu.

What lies underneath all that are belief systems, frameworks of meaning, what people value and what they do not value. It’s one of the reasons the work of social change often seems so ineffective. You may win a battle here and there, but unless those underlying fundamentals are altered, these basic patterns of behavior will continue and the manifestations of the pathology will continue to arise.

Fear underlies them. Profound insecurity. Meaning that has been placed outside us as measure of our badly damaged, even destroyed egos, whether that meaning is in what we possess, what we think we “own,” what looks like success within a dysfunctional society whose values are most obvious by the state the world is in.

The culture beats to death any sense of our own dignity and self-worth, along with that of others. Money, power, guns, shooting the other guy before he shoots you, humiliating your opponent, claims of racial or religious superiority, the perception of competition and aggression as natural, but not love, generosity, kindness, and compassion… These things are choices we have made. Not innate, they are what we have chosen, and the results of those choices are obvious. There is a reason why the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has become so popular, especially with young men, along with “reality” shows that have no resemblance to reality at all.

We vent some pent up energy engaging these things, while absorbing more and more of the despair, the void in depth and meaning that this market economy, this consumer culture offers us. Why wouldn’t we project our loss of meaning and depth of life and wisdom by getting our thrills from watching violence or competitions in which some people are humiliated, left weeping or raging or bloodied in front of a national audience!


River and boreal forest of Alberta

And this is the culture that we expect to give up consuming things for the sake of the boreal forests or the climate that creates our weather, or to save species they’ve never seen or care about from extinction!?

My trip to Alberta, to the tars sands and First Nation people, showed me some of the very worst we humans can do to the planet and to one another. White people are still handing out blankets to the tribes contaminated with small pox, this time in the form of contaminated water and air, encircling their communities and destroying their lands so that they cannot live on them anymore. We’re still killing off the buffalo, the animals they need for life, this time in the form of deformed and poisoned fish, or the moose, a major source of meat, whose population is plummeting in the ecological violence of the tar sands industry.

The real values of this culture, what it really believes underneath all that rhetoric about freedom and justice and the “goodness” of America, is obvious from the fruits that we have produced from our labor. We have done a lot of damage.


Heather, one of my companions on the Alberta pilgrimage

But there are those other Dreams, those Dreams of an enchanted, ensouled Gaia, the ones that float across the sky in the graceful dance of moon and Jupiter and invade our consciousness as we sleep. They are dreams from our real Mother, the Earth that created for us the perception of magnificent blue sky, even though that is in truth only an optical illusion, the Gaia that gives food and drink, the one that visits us in the coyote that sauntered down my street one day (I think it’s the same one that appeared in my headlights in a blizzard at the Grand Canyon many years before and that visits my dreams from time to time), or in this year’s magical migration of the Snowy Owl, or in the black bear that stood up along the side of the road to see who these four humans were hiking around her part of the world there in Alberta.

…the Gaia that pierces the dark of night with the cry of the loon on a lake in the north woods.

What will humans do if we lose this soul? Where will we go to find the magic, the mystery, the meaning of ourselves?

logo at 217 x 157 jpegFriends, I have to acknowledge that to continue on with this project, I need a stronger donor base than the one I have. We’re coming on the end of the year, and we have all been flooded with requests for donations. I’m just going to say this: I want to keep doing this work, even though it is time to rethink it. The times invite us to a deeper reflection on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. By the end of 2014, I would like to see this project become a living presence within the Great Turning that is part of our mission now – to be able to help make that turn.

This is not just a local or state project. We are connected with amazing groups and communities in many parts of the country. It may or may not make sense to stay rooted here. And yet, the Upper Midwest faces unique challenges and profound threats right now to its lands and its soul because of extractive industries. There is reason to be here, and there are reasons why it is so hard.

So I make one more appeal for this year to help put in the coffers what can make it possible for us to continue our contribution to the work of shifting this culture from an obviously destructive path to one that can help renew the Earth and the human within it – to push away the nightmares that invade our nights and allow the dreams of wonder and mystery that remind us of who we really are.TRAVEL

Blessings for the solstice, for Christmas and all that means at its heart (not what the culture has done to it), and for a New Year full of hope and transformation.


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From beauty to horror and back again: the Athabasca River Pilgrimage

Posted October 10th, 2013 in Featured, Zine Comments Off on From beauty to horror and back again: the Athabasca River Pilgrimage
Photos, video, text by Margaret Swedish

From September 3 – 18, six of us, five Canadians and me, traveled from the headwaters of the Athabasca River in the Columbia Icefield of Jasper National Park to Ft. McMurray and the tar sands region of Alberta. What we saw was stunning. What we learned was a lot. I have been forever changed by what we witnessed there, what broke open our hearts, the message we received from this place we call home, our precious Earth.


The journey begins at a Franciscan Retreat Center in Cochrane, a half hour outside Calgary. We meet for an evening of sharing our hopes and expectations, to get to know one another, to prepare for the journey. On the horizon, the mountains beckon.TRAVEL






We encounter our first contradiction between Nature and industrial society not long after leaving the next morning. Across this river, a mountain is being dismantled for industrial use, mostly road construction. The placard reads:  “These mountains are moving! They’re being turned into products…” A perfectly apt description of what the human economy is doing to Mother Earth. Worst thing, they are so proud of it!TRAVEL




And then the beauty – stunning, stark, magnificent.








Peyto Lake – we stopped here not because we planned to but because it called us to.








Glaciers mean waterfalls.








We arrive at the Columbia Icefields, the glacier that is the headwaters of the Athabasca River. What we see stuns us – or at least it does me – because I had been to this place in 1969 and could not believe what I was seeing – an enormous glacier, the source of one of the continent’s great rivers, melting away, receding before our eyes, leaving this vast space of rocky debris.








And the markers to show exactly how dramatic and accelerated the receding has become. The park service is not shy about the message. They say the glacier is disappearing because of climate change. A few decades ago, my fellow pilgrims here would be under many feet of glacial ice.



















The Columbia Icefield glacier – going, going…








How the river begins…








How the ice keeps on collapsing…








Someone before us left some thoughts on what’s happening on the wall above the pit toilet at the park. For clarity, Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada.








Then to Sunwapta Falls. The river joins the Athabasca farther downstream.






Meeting up with the Athabasca River, this beautiful, beautiful river.







TRAVELSome critters had come down to the river before us for a drink.







Like this guy.TRAVEL







And these guys.








Then to the breathtaking Athabasca Falls, one of Alberta’s natural wonders.TRAVEL















The lower end of the falls…TRAVEL








TRAVELAnd when the river leaves the mountains, it becomes this…






TRAVELAnd this…







And in my heart, as we traveled along the river, this voice from deep within kept saying within me, “River, don’t go there!”


On one side of hwy 63, the 2-lane highway to Ft. McMurray is being made into a mega-super-freeway, a huge tear through the boreal forest.


On the other side, more wounds being dug for pipelines, pipelines everywhere.

And then it went there…







Makes driving up there an interesting experience… I have never shared the road with such enormous pieces of machinery, a sign of the frenzy of industry expansion.









And finally, we come upon Mordor, or Dante’s Inferno. We drive into the heart of the tar sands industry.


























































[Sorry for the noise in the background. I’m holding the camera out the van window, the only way to get this film.]

The video continues along a Syncrude tailings pond, a massive body of stored toxic water.


All of this was once forest and the hunting grounds for the First Nation Cree community downriver from this site.

Then we drive 40-minutes downriver to Ft. McKay, center for a First Nation community of Cree and Métis people. They are surrounded by the industry, their water poisoned and undrinkable, the air toxic to breathe. Elder Celina Harpe welcomes us into her home and serves a meal of moose  stew and banik bread. Delicious!! For the next three hours she shares stories of the old ways, the coming of the oil men, the sicknesses, the struggle to survive even as their way of life is being destroyed. “We used to die of old age…”








Sr. Maureen Wild, SC, who did incredible work to coordinate our journey, is working with Celina on her memoir.TRAVEL







Celina’s house sits right on the river. They used to bring buckets to collect water for drinking and washing. Now they drink bottled water only and taking a hot shower for more than a few minutes causes rashes and sores. She showed me her scarred hands and arms.TRAVEL







One afternoon, Celina takes us up a dirt road to a cliff in the woods overlooking a deep canyon, the Red River running far down below. It is a sacred place for them. It is a beautiful moment for us. TRAVEL







The day we leave Ft. McMurray is a hard one for all of us. We can leave the toxic river and air behind. We can leave behind this vast scene of ecological devastation. Celina and her sister Clara opened their homes, their hearts, their families to us. Yes, the day we left was hard for all of us. We stop by the river. We take time for a little ritual. We throw stones and branches into the water and send them downriver to Ft. McKay – with love, with our hearts broken open.








We return to Athabasca falls. And this is exactly how we are – overwhelmed, in need of inner stillness and rushing water, taking in all that we have seen and heard at one of the most destructive industrial projects on the face of the Earth.










The mountains call us back. I feel their power in a different way now, as refuge, as perspective. They will be here when we are long gone. Whatever we do now, they will still be here. I find that reassuring. I know that the Earth will live on, will recreate life over and over again long after this human species has vanished. It’s just a question of whether that vanishing happens sooner or later, of how long we want to be a part of this.TRAVEL







On our last night back on the Sunwapta River, at a wilderness hostel, the air grows chilly, cold. It begins to rain. The temperature plummets. In the morning when we awaken, the mountains come out of the clouds. A little snow has fallen. With the sorrow and grief, now comes this indescribable delight, sheer wonder at it all.








Back to the origins of the Athabasca River.








…where the ice is still collapsing in the record warmth. One of our days in the town of Jasper, the temperature was 87 degrees. And on one of the mornings in Ft. McMurray, the CBC weather report included this news, that temperatures records had been shattered all across western Canada while we were there.








Finally, a quick stop at Lake Louise – because we had to.TRAVEL I’d been wanting to go back to this place for 44 years.




The world is still so beautiful. How is it possible that we are doing so much damage to such a beautiful planet. What will stop us?

Do you know?




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Articulating a Spirituality of Ecological Hope #2

Posted December 14th, 2009 in Zine 5 Comments

Vol. 1, No. 2 – December 2009


I. Thermodynamics and Everyday Life, Parts I & II – Prof. Michael J. Swedish

II. Faith, Ecology, and Economy


[Editor’s introduction: why on a website entitled Spirituality and Ecological Hope should we care about the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics? Well, the main reason is this: we are subject to them. Indeed, I have found few more compelling explanations for why our industrial and post-industrial expansion across the globe cannot go on like this any longer, how it is that we have gone beyond the planet’s limits, because these limits are, in part, the laws of physics at work. We cannot change them, no matter how hard we try. The attempt to live beyond the limits of these laws is leading us towards some pretty serious crises, as described on this website.

Cosmic microwave fluctuations from remnant glow of Big Bang - NASA image

Cosmic microwave fluctuations from remnant glow of Big Bang - NASA image

One fundamental aspect of this crisis has to do with energy. The laws of physics tell us that ever since the Big Bang there is only a certain amount of energy in the universe. That amount remains stable, never increases or decreases. However, humans can change energy – from energy that is useful to energy that becomes useless waste, burned up, as it were, no longer available for use. One example is the pile of ashes left after burning wood in your fireplace. Same amount of energy in what’s left, but no longer usable to burn and create warmth.

This is what we are doing with fossil fuels – taking potential or useful energy buried in the earth over millions and millions of years, burning them to support our industrial and technological way of life, and turning it into waste, as, for example, the CO2 that is causing the atmosphere to heat up.

Now, some innovative thinkers are bringing these laws into other parts of our lives, not just physical energy, but also the energy of empires, economies based on consumption of stuff, endless war, the causes of social unrest and destabilization or fragmentation of once cohesive societies. I ‘get’ this, but turn to scientific and technical experts to help explain it. I am fortunate to have in my family a brother who can do this. Prof. Michael Swedish is a mechanical engineer at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, specializing in heat transfer and energy systems. He has taken to teaching a session on the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics to his students. I went to one of his lectures, took five pages of notes, and was excited that I understood what he was saying!! So, I invited him to contribute to the website with essays that can help us understand why the Laws of Thermodynamics matter to our lives. The following two essays are his first contributions.]

I. Thermodynamics and Everyday Life: Part 1

Written by: Professor Michael J. Swedish, Milwaukee School of Engineering

Michael Swedish

Michael Swedish

What do the Laws of Thermodynamics tell us about the way we live our lives?

The First Law of Thermodynamics talks about energy, that amorphous stuff that is scattered throughout the universe. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it does come in different forms, which is a good thing for us because we can invent machines to convert energy from one form to another as we wish (converting the chemical energy in gasoline to kinetic energy of motion of an automobile, for example).

The Second Law of Thermodynamics speaks of exergy, a strange word that means ‘useful energy,’ or usefulness. While the First Law says that energy cannot be created or destroyed, the Second Law says that energy can be degraded, that is, made less useful. In fact, the Second Law says that it is inevitable that energy will be degraded. This has to do with the concept of efficiency; no process is 100% efficient. Further, once energy has lost its usefulness, has been ‘degraded,’ that usefulness cannot return spontaneously. Exergy is destroyed in any real process, and cannot be created.

Our sun - NASA photo

Our sun - NASA photo

Now, useful energy (exergy) comes to us from three sources. One is the sun, which bathes this planet with useful energy. Another source is a leftover from the formation of our planet, its hot core. It is from this second source that we get high-intensity geothermal energy. The third source is the exergy locked in the elements themselves, directly connected to the stars. These last two sources provide a relatively minor contribution to our inventory of useful energy (or at least we haven’t yet learned to tap them in large amounts), so let’s focus on the first: useful solar energy.

Natural systems can concentrate exergy. Plants do it by photosynthesis, as they convert solar energy to sugars. The folding of earth over eons has further concentrated the exergy of former plant material into what we know of as coal, oil, and natural gas (fossil fuels). Why are these fuels valuable to us? Precisely because they are highly concentrated sources of exergy.

When humans started tinkering with fire, it didn’t take them long to discover that they could do more than cook meat and scare away animals. They found that they could make ‘useful’ things, for example by smelting ores to make refined metals. At first they used wood and peat for their fires, materials that had stored solar exergy that had reached earth in the recent past. But humans are very clever; they were constantly thinking of new and ingenious things to do with concentrated exergy. Since they can’t create exergy, they needed to find new supplies. Eventually they uncovered (quite literally) the storehouse of solar exergy that the planet had accumulated over millions of years: the fossil fuels. Next in line was the exergy contained in very heavy elements (nuclear fission) or in very light elements (nuclear fusion).

Here’s the problem. As we utilize exergy, useful energy, we degrade that energy until very little of it is useful. This is serious business. There is a finite amount of concentrated exergy, and a finite rate at which exergy arrives from the sun. But there’s more. According to the First Law, the degraded energy is still around. This is essentially ‘junk.’ Whether it is CO2, rusting cars, or old cell phones, the leftovers keep accumulating as long as we keep doing things.

Natural systems, over time, balance all of these processes. Right now, they are out of balance. We are doing too many things, and doing them too inefficiently. We are using up tens of millions of years worth of accumulated exergy, and dumping the waste. The earth will reach a balance point again, a new equilibrium. Where will we fit into this balance?


Thermodynamics and Everyday Life: Part 2

The Solar Still

By: Professor Michael J. Swedish, Milwaukee School of Engineering

Faroe Islands - by user Bjarki S, Wikipedia

Faroe Islands - by user Bjarki S, Wikipedia

This past summer [2009] I spent time in the Faroe Islands, 300 miles north of Scotland in the North Atlantic. While there, I was witness to one of the great miracles of the natural world: the generation of fresh water. From atop one of the 2,000 foot peaks, I could watch as water was evaporated off the ocean’s surface, the moist air rose and drifted over the land, cooled, and the water condensed into droplets that fell on my head, forming freshets that cascaded down the hillside.

The oceans are salty because liquid water dissolves minerals. As long as sufficient water leaves as runoff, the body of water will remain fresh. The Great Lakes discharge water through the St. Lawrence River, a massive flow of liquid water. This is why the Great Lakes remain fresh. If a body of water loses mass only by evaporation, then the salt content will increase. The oceans, as well as inland lakes like Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea, are of this sort.

Fog over St Johns River FL by Moni3 - Wikimedia Commons

Fog over St Johns River FL by Moni3 - Wikimedia Commons

Evaporation transfers only pure water to the air. Any dissolved minerals are left behind. This process is called distillation. In nature, the distillation of fresh water is solar-powered. Rising warm air over the ocean (or lake) carries water vapor-laden air upwards, away from the liquid surface. This humid air is replaced at the surface by drier air, so that the process continues. If the lift of the warm humid air is great enough, the air will cool, the water vapor will condense, and the liquid will fall as rain or snow.

Of all the liquid or solid surface water that exists on the planet, only about 5% has a low enough salt content to be called “fresh”. Half of this is locked in ice caps, mainly in Greenland and Antarctica. It is one of the ironies of life on this planet that although very little of the water is fresh, almost all plants and animals require fresh water. It is clear that clean fresh water is a precious commodity, it is highly “useful”, and therefore valuable.

In nature, fresh water is stored in one of three ways: snow pack/glaciers, underground aquifers, and lakes. Each of these has the ability to level out the supply of fresh water to account for seasonal and weather-related variations in rainfall. Snow pack melts in the Spring. Groundwater is replenished when surface water percolates down into the earth. Lakes will retain water, for a while, during dry spells.

Historically, humans have not treated fresh water with respect. Flowing waters have been used to carry away all manner of waste. In some parts of the world, even today, the same river that is used as a sewer is also used to supply drinking water. The earth, of course, is finite, and all of this waste has ended up somewhere. Nature has the ability to purify waste in water, up to a point.

US high plains aquifer is being depleted at a rapid rate - USGS map, May 2007

US high plains aquifer is being depleted at a rapid rate - USGS map, May 2007

54% of global fresh water is currently appropriated by humans, including aquifers, and this percentage is increasing. Worse than that, in a situation that is very similar to that of fossil fuels, humans are using stored reserves of fresh water faster than nature can replenish them. At some point, the competition between human and non-human users of water (plants and other animals) will become critical. So far, at least in this country, we have made the choice to continue to make fresh water available to other living things. As fresh water becomes less abundant, will we continue to make that choice?

There is some good news on this front. Humans have been extremely wasteful in their use of fresh water. There are many opportunities to reduce human consumption. Some examples: matching agriculture to the water resources available, using drip irrigation techniques, planting natural foliage that is evolved to tolerate the wet and dry cycles of the environment. Fresh water is renewed by nature. With all of the room for improvement, it should be possible to match the planet’s use of fresh water with the rate at which it is renewed.


Faith, Ecology, and Economy

Last May I had the privilege of participating in a first-time gathering in Washington DC, the Faith, Ecology and Economy Forum. Some 65 representatives of religious and environmental groups met to exchange resources and experience, knowledge and information about the ecological crisis facing the planet. From this forum emerged an effort to articulate a common platform of concerns and commitments about the new life we must learn to live if we are to get through this great transition – from one mode of life to another, one that this precious planet can support with abundance and beauty. The statement below is the result of this effort:

A Call to Integrate Faith, Ecology and the Global Economy

Introduction by Kathy McNeely, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns: Let’s face it, while many people in North America talk about sustainability some of them secretly believe that the whole world should and could look like New York City. Sustainability is a buzz word inserted into radio and television ads boasting to us of the virtues of energy, fertilizer, seed, car, you-name-it companies and their “sustainable” products. The illusion is cast that it will be easy, that great change is not necessary – as if someone merely has to say the magic words and we will all become more responsible towards Earth and its limits.

If we continue to base our economy on unlimited growth we will certainly destroy Earth. In the North we are already living in such a way that it would require 4 more planet Earth’s to survive. As Earth cries out in agony and people continue to writhe under the continuing economic crisis our faith calls us to bring together what we had thought were the separate issues of economy, global warming and moral and religious cosmology. A Call to Integrate Faith, Ecology and the Global Economyis an invitation for organizations, communities and individuals to commit to working towards a new way of being in the world. Take a look and consider signing on.

Earth's atmosphere from space - NASA photo

Earth's atmosphere from space - NASA photo

As hope-filled people, we stand in awe of Earth’s goodness and its capacity to provide abundant life for all God’s creation. We recognize our interconnection with Earth — with air, water, land, plants and other creatures. We recognize the dignity of the human person as an individual and as part of a community. We embrace our power and responsibility to create a human economy that fits within Earth’s ecological boundaries, more authentically serves human needs and builds community.

We envision:

  • A new economic model that embodies social and ecological values bound by Earth’s biophysical limits.
  • A sufficiency-based economy where all people, regardless of gender, race or other characteristics, equitably share access to Earth’s gifts that nourish and sustain them: nutritious food, clean water, suitable shelter; where “development” is measured by a society’s success in increasing human well being while preserving ecological balance rather than by its gross domestic product.
  • A just global distribution of resources, knowledge and technology such that well-being flourishes in communities of less industrialized nations that have experienced “underdevelopment” – and “de-growth,” or downsizing occurs in communities in industrialized nations that use a disproportionate share of Earth’s resources.
  • A world where all have secure, meaningful, and ecologically responsible livelihoods and where human activity, based on cooperation, promotes ecological regeneration, the preservation of beauty and the restoration of previous damage.
  • A “closed loop” real economy where recycling and reuse are maximized.
  • People with sufficient resources, opportunities, freedom, and time to care for one another, engage in civic life, expand their creativity, and deepen their spirituality.
  • Communities living in peace with sufficient public resources and freely shared knowledge to ensure health and wholeness for Earth and all its inhabitants.
  • Governance that is participatory and transparent, through which policy decisions are made as locally as possible, consistent with the reality that every locality is part of a global society.

Yet we witness:

  • The destructive power of a growth-driven economic model that ignores Earth’s limits and its need to rest and regenerate.
  • The valuing of money and material goods more than humans and ecosystems.
  • The inherent violence of an economy that grows along with the wealth of a few individuals and corporations while the natural world and human well being – the clearest signs of God’s bounty – suffer and deteriorate.
  • The use of international financial institutions, corporate lobbying and marketing, think tanks, major media and military force to secure the wealth and power of a small part of society while a great many others, especially women and people of color are often excluded.
  • “Free trade” and economic globalization that increase ecological depletion and leave masses of people vulnerable through deeper poverty and insufficient access to food, water, education and health care.
  • The loss of people, cultures, species and traditional knowledge forced aside as our lives are dominated by a world view that seeks economic growth regardless of the consequences;
  • Soul-deadening over-consumption and the endless quest for “more” that paralyzes far too many people in wealthier societies.

We also witness the sheer increase in throughput of material and energy in the economy due to expanding consumer demand and economic growth that contribute to climate change, species extinctions, loss of biodiversity, depletion of freshwater and other resources, ocean dead zones, topsoil degradation, deforestation, dying coral reefs and the decimation of ocean fish stocks.

NASA photo

NASA photo

We stand firm in our commitment to a new way of life and a different economy, based on the integrity and dignity of all creation, the common good, ecological health and resilience, sufficiency, equality, solidarity, caring for the most vulnerable and impoverished, and decision-making at the most local level possible. This will require innumerable inter-related changes; among them, the four that follow will serve to guide our work:

1) Paradigm Shift in Mindset and Values: A shift from an ethic of exploitation to an ethic of right relationship is essential for individuals and for society. This will entail change from a focus on material goods to holistic well-being; from excess to sufficiency; from exclusion to inclusion; from competition to cooperation; from pursuing privilege to serving the common good; from the pre-eminence of humanity to the reverence for all life.

Toward this end we will be guided by the wisdom of our sacred scriptures and religious traditions, especially Sabbath traditions of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and the inclusive table of Jesus, which

  • provides enough for everyone, with no one storing up more than is needed;
  • cares for the widow, orphan, stranger and traveler;
  • honors a weekly Sabbath, providing rest and human restraint from busy, frenetic economic activities;
  • allows the land to rest every seven years;
  • decrees a Jubilee every 50 years, when slaves are freed, debts cancelled and families have their land restored to them; and
  • models the breaking of bread, by creating strong communities built on care for one another.

2) Public policies for an Economy of Right Relationship: Starting from the deep recognition that the economy must fit within Earth’s limits – where resources are not used faster than they can be regenerated and wastes are not deposited faster than they can be safely assimilated. Policies must change to move toward a steady state economy in overdeveloped industrial countries and sustainable development in impoverished countries. Current institutions and rules must change so that individuals, communities and whole societies can participate equitably in the economy and share in Earth’s bounty. Financial institutions should embrace the principle of subsidiarity, allowing decisions to be made at the most local level possible. Priority should be given to policies that distribute wealth widely and decentralize economic power.

Toward this end we will seek to understand more fully what transformations are required to attain economic right relationship. We will promote a serious reorientation of the global economy away from growth and toward human development. We will pursue changes in laws, policies, international agreements, and institutions to create a more durable, resilient and fair economy. We will examine our lifestyles and decrease consumption. We will advocate for sustainable levels of resource use and safe quantities of waste production, including equitably assigned reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

refugees of desertification in Horn of Africa

environmental refugees, Horn of Africa

3) An Economy of Thriving and Resilient Communities: In living the new paradigm and strengthening its hold on society we will shift from a perception of ourselves as independent individuals to ourselves as interdependent members of thriving communities. All have something to contribute as we give and receive gifts and talents among neighbors through barter systems, cooperatives and worker-owned businesses. Community-based investment and economic development will help individuals to deepen their connection with the place where they live and will keep resources circulating locally. This will build community assets and strengthen social ties. We will embrace subsidiarity – decisions will be made at the local level by the very people whose lives are impacted most.

Toward this end we will learn more from the sustainable community-level examples known well by indigenous peoples and already functioning in our local communities in the United States and around the world, spread those ideas, participate in them ourselves and express our solidarity by supporting their efforts.

4) Return of Corporations to their proper place in society: In order to achieve the changes described above, it is clear that we must decrease the amount of influence that corporations wield in government and society in general. The reigning forces in our world should serve the interests of the common good, rather than the private interests of a wealthy few. Corporations should be accountable not only to shareholders, but also to, their workers, regulatory bodies, the communities in which they are embedded, and the natural world.

Toward this end we will study the history and design of the corporation to better understand its proper role in a just world. We will declare a separation of corporation and state and work for initiatives to decrease corporate influence in government, the media and our lives. We will work to stop reckless financial practices that exploit natural resources and people. We will help cultivate financial institutions that respect Earth’s limits and ensure economic participation with dignity for all people.

Our call to others: Grounded in our faith and speaking from our core principles and values, we call on people of good will to join us in re-examining the false panacea of a development model dependent on over-consumption. We seek a new understanding of the proper place for humans in the created world and right relationships within the human community and between the human and Earth communities. We place our hope in God’s grace and the human capacity to face all these challenges with innovation, faithfulness, and creativity and to ensure the common good so that all living things might flourish.

November 12, 2009

Endorsements as of November 30, 2009:

Adorers of the Blood of Christ, United States Region
Bartimaeus Cooperative
Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy
Center of Concern
Collaborative Center for Justice
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Congregation of Divine Providence, Leadership Council
Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes – Fond du Lac, WI
Congregation of the Humility of Mary
Daughters of Charity, St. Louis, Provincial Council
Dominican Sisters, Grand Rapids, MI
Dominicans of Sinsinawa Leadership
Franciscan Action Network
Franciscan Sisters and Associates of Little Falls, Minnesota
Franciscan Sisters of Allegany
Holy Cross International Justice Office
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Loretto Community
Loretto Earth Network
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Medical Mission Sisters Alliance for Justice
Medical Mission Sisters, Sector North India
Mercy International Association
NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
PLANT (Partners for the Land and Agricultural Needs of Traditional Peoples)
Presentation Peace and Justice Center
Provincial Council of School Sisters of Notre Dame—Milwaukee Province
Racine Dominican Sisters
ROAR (Religious Orders Along the River)
ROW (Religious on Water)
School Sisters of Notre Dame Shalom North America Coordinating Committee
School Sisters of St. Francis, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – International & U.S. Province Leadership Teams
Servants of Mary (Servite Sisters), Ladysmith, WI
Sisters of Charity Federation
Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Leadership Council
Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Central Leadership
Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul
Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Leadership Team
Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sisters of Mercy Northeast Community Justice Office
Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross – USA Province
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Justice and Peace Network
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, US National Team
Sisters of Providence
St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN Leadership Team
Sisters of Providence, Holyoke, MA Leadership Team
Sisters of St Joseph of Chambery/West Hartford, Justice and Peace Committee
Sisters of St. Francis leadership team, Tiffin, Ohio
Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, Iowa Leadership Team
Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, Iowa Leadership
Sisters of St. Francis, Savannah, MO
Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, Leadership Team
Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis Leadership
Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres District USA
Sisters of the Divine Compassion
Sisters of the Divine Savior, North American Province Leadership Team
Sisters of the Holy Cross- Congregation Justice Committee
Sisters of the Holy Family, Fremont, California
Sisters of the Presentation – Dubuque Leadership Team
Spirituality and Ecological Hope
St. Joseph of Cluny, Province of USA and Canada
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland
Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union, Central Province

Photo: ISS astronauts

Photo: ISS astronauts

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Articulating a Spirituality of Ecological Hope

Posted November 25th, 2008 in Zine 4 Comments

Living Beyond the End of the World

Online Zine of the project, Spirituality and Ecological Hope

Vol. 1, No. 1 – November 2008


I. Seeking a Spirituality of Ecological Hope, by Margaret Swedish
II. Abolishing Intensive Livestock Agriculture: A Global Imperative, by Dr. Richard H. Schwartz
III. Our mistakes are abundant, our responsibilities great, by Maya Rose Goldman


We have named this first issue our of our online Zine for the book I wrote, published earlier this year by Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY: Living Beyond the ‘End of the World:’ A Spirituality of Hope. In many ways, the book provides the framework for how we approach the topic of ecological crisis and ecological hope – except for one thing. In the book, I return to my Christian roots and traditions to draw out the themes and insights that can help us begin to articulate a spirituality of ecological hope. On this website and in this project, we try to glean from many faiths and traditions to help enlighten us, to clarify the predicament in which we find ourselves and to illuminate the path that can get us out of this predicament.

What is our predicament? We are living far beyond the means of the Earth to support current levels of human consumption. Right now we need 1.4 planets to support the human project.

To support the lifestyles of U.S. Americans for all the people of the world would require 4-5 planets.

We have only one, one magnificent, precious planet, and it is in grave trouble.

We insist in the book that we are not speaking of optimism, but of hope, even hope against hope, hope in the face of evidence to the contrary. The journey through crisis to hope in ecological terms rests with how honest we are about the ˜end of the world’ that is coming, indeed the end times already begun.

We are not speaking here in religious apocalyptic terms, about ˜end times’ as many evangelical and fundamentalists believers would proclaim, of raptures and an exclusive salvation for the born-again. Rather we speak here of the end of a particular world, the world in which we all grew up, the world that shaped our expectations and identities here in U.S. America. It is a completely unsustainable illusion that our way of life, built as it is upon consumption and endless wealth generation (for the few of our world, of course), can go on forever. It is the fate of our generation that we have come upon the planet’s limits.

We are depleting the planet of all we need to live, to have abundant life now and for generations to come. We are spending down the Earth’s capital, as it were, and are in danger of pushing its vital ecosystems towards collapse – in our lifetime.

We believe this to be the defining moral and spiritual challenge of our time. How we rise to that challenge will determine the kind of future we leave to our children and our children’s children.

Three articles are included in Volume One. In the first, Seeking a Spirituality of Ecological Hope, we attempt to articulate the crisis we face and the kind of spiritual response required to address it. It is written by website editor, Margaret Swedish.

In each Zine issue, we will probe specific aspects of our way of life that are a threat to the planet.  This month we have a special focus on industrial livestock agriculture, one of the most devastating industries on Earth in terms of the damage it does to our biosphere, atmosphere, and to our bodies and spirits. Life does not come from such cruelty as is described here; it is diminished by it. And when that cruelty extends to harm to the whole planet, it is past time to change this aspect of how we live. How we eat will also determine the future of life on Earth.

Our guest writer on this topic is Dr. Richard H. Schwartz, Professor Emeritus at College of Staten Island and president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America.  After reading his article, we hope you will take time to view the film, A Sacred Duty (see below), and order a copy for your community. You can request a free DVD by clicking here.  It is disturbing and powerful. You may think twice before biting into that next hamburger or piece of fried chicken.

Next, we are pleased to introduce a very special friend, Maya Rose Goldman. Maya is 15 years old, a high school student in Manhattan, and very passionate about the Earth, about being a vegan, and about our precarious future. I have known Maya since she was one. I asked her to write something for this first issue, to tell us what’s on her mind about our planet and our way of life, and she produced a thoughtful, challenging piece. I hope this is only the first of her contributions to our Zine.

We are still new at this so let us know what you think. We invite you to share your comments, reflections, and insights with us, because it is in the community of ideas, dialogue, and shared creativity that we can search our way through and beyond the end of the world.

Margaret Swedish, editor


I. Seeking a spirituality of ecological hope

by Margaret Swedish

We are in denial if we do not look at the crises overwhelming our world just now and appreciate that we are coming to the end of an era – the end of a world, an ˜end times.’

Over the past couple of centuries, the human species has driven the ecosystems of the planet to the brink of collapse. We have done this with our rapid population growth, voracious industrialization, economies of growth, addiction to accumulation of capital and goods, our endless seeking for more and more, and the misplaced belief that the measure of our goodness is related to whether or not the generation that comes after us is ˜better off,’ able to consume and accumulate more on a never-ending ladder of increasing affluence and comfort.

The Blue Marble - NASA photo

The Blue Marble - NASA photo

Our Earth is round, a Blue Marble, as they call it at NASA. Circles are finite. Circles are closed. Circles have limits. If you continue to take from the circle, or destroy within the circle, eventually there is nothing left in the circle to be had.

We are sucking from this poor damaged planet everything it had to offer us for rich and abundant life. It is running out of the means to continue offering that to us, until we are now seeing the beginning of the ˜end of the world.’ Everywhere the planet is in crisis, from its poles to its equators, from its mountains to its plains, from its oceans to its soils, from its plant life to its animal life.

And that means we’re in trouble.

We are living in a state of ecological overshoot. We have overshot the means of the planet to renew, replace, or regenerate what we take from it to support our human way of life; and we are spewing more waste from our lifestyles into its atmosphere and biosphere than it can absorb. And we are doing this at an ever-accelerating rate.

From melting glaciers to expanding drought to increasing natural disasters to depleted soils to changing climate to rising seas to diminishing fisheries to bee colony collapse to bark beetles deforesting the entire mountain west of the United States to depleted aquifers to toxic air, food, and water to rising cancer rates and asthma – the signs are clear.

When you violate Nature to the extent we have, Nature will have the last word.

We’re in trouble.

But this is more than a natural catastrophe. This is also a spiritual catastrophe, a loss of soul or spirit, a diminishment of the meaning of the human. We have lost our way. We have lost our place within the scheme of life, our place within the sacred unfolding of the Earth story within the cosmos. We have thought ourselves gods, or at least created gods that made all this possible, approved our power grab over Nature. We created gods that are outside this world, over and above our universe someplace, saving a spot for us in a disembodied heaven where this world hardly matters, because, after all, Nature embodies sin in the form of Earth, bodies, dirt, mortality. In many of our Western religious traditions, these are the products of a break with God, of disobedience and faithlessness, rather than being of the very nature of the divine itself.

In creating these forms of religiosity, we have cut ourselves off from our very being, our source of life, our sustenance, all that makes this Earth sacred – what, from the vantage point of Earth-based spiritualities, holds the divine within it.

Our power grab over Nature, our alienation from the evolutionary story from which we emerged, has not connected us with the divine but rather cut us off, ˜de-natured’ us, hidden our true identities from ourselves, our purpose and our meaning within this story.

Whirlpool galaxy - Hubble Space Telescope

Whirlpool galaxy - Hubble Space Telescope

If we appreciated how infused this Earth within this solar system within this galaxy within this cosmos is with the creative generative energy of the divine from the moment of the Big Bang, rather than ravage the Earth for our human wealth and consumption, we would bow down to it and treat it with the humility, dignity, and reverence it deserves, along with every creature that has its necessary place within the scheme of life.

But this alienation, or cutting-off, is proving to be a not-very-successful way of life on this planet. The evidence – not just research anymore, but experiential – is becoming clear that we are heading swiftly towards an ecological crisis unprecedented in the human experience. It is stunning to see how many people – scientists, enlightened religious leaders, environmentalists, journalists – are starting to talk about mass die-offs as part of our future. Sadly, humans will not escape this fate. It would be sad indeed if this is how we learn the lesson of our profound connections, our embeddedness, within the natural processes of the living systems of the planet.

Bee colony collapse; Homo sapiens sapiens collapse.

This is still not necessarily our fate; but we are running out of time to prevent it. What is required of us now is a new human mission – to create a new way of human life based on values that can sustain life, ease up the devastating human footprint on the Earth’s life-giving processes, reconnect us, our bodies, to the living planet, foster reverence for the long history of evolution that gave birth to us and for the milieu of life in which we exist, and reshape the meaning of the human story.

We have in our hands not only the ability to destroy this era of life on the planet; we also have in our hands the ability to turn this whole sad story around, to work with the planet towards the regeneration of the ecosystems now so seriously degraded and compromised.

We have in our hands the ability to give this story a much more promising future.

What we need in order to do this is to begin to get serious about the nature of the changes required of us. So far, much of what is asked of us barely scratches the surface – changing a few light bulbs, buying a hybrid car, getting more energy efficient, eating home-cooked meals, recycling as much trash as our cities and towns allow (still far from what is needed). These are all crucial steps, if for no other reason than sensitizing us to the need to be less wasteful.

Demand v. world biocapacity - Global Footprint Network

Demand v. world biocapacity - Global Footprint Network

But the crisis asks more of us than all these things. What is needed is a change in how we live that is commensurate with the level of crisis and urgency. If rapid population growth, rampaging industrialization, rising CO2 emissions, consumption of throw-away goods, burning of fossil fuels, over-development in areas that are water-short and ecologically fragile and magnificent, covering over wetlands for more development, fragmenting animal, bird and plant migration routes with highways, shopping malls and suburbs, overuse of water and fisheries, contamination of soils and waterways, etc., etc. – if these are the patterns of our lives that are creating the crisis, then these are the aspects of our way of life that must be reversed. We must address the crisis at its source, not around its periphery.

Don’t let anyone tell you that we can’t do this. We can.

At the same time, don’t let anyone tell you that we can do this without a lot of upheaval, turmoil, and discomfort. This will be a hard work. But it will be a whole lot easier if we begin to do this as one enormous human community, in a spirit of selflessness, sharing-of-burdens, and a sense of mutual responsibility for the human future within the fabric of life.

The challenge of justice

For those of us who live in the United States and the other wealthy industrial and post-industrial societies, we have a further challenge – the challenge of justice. The U.S., with just five percent of global population, consumes more that a quarter of all goods produced in the world and spews a similar proportion of waste into the atmosphere and biosphere. While it is true that China now spews more CO2 into the atmosphere than the U.S., at a per capita rate, it is not even close.

According to an article in the New York Times, the average U.S. American is responsible for 19.4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. That compares with 5.1 tons for the average Chinese person, and 1.8 in India. Even Europe is significantly lower at 8.6 tons.

The onus of moral responsibility on the affluent of the U.S. could not be clearer. The moral, economic, and political responsibility of U.S. society is apparent. Life as we know it on this planet cannot survive if this society does not commit to a radically new way of life, one that ratchets down our consumption a whole lot.

The moral imperative of justice lies within this reality: over the next four decades, we will add 2-3 billion more people to a planet already in overshoot. Demographers say that the numerical population of the affluent will not change – it will hold at some 1.5 billion. That means that most of this additional population will be poor.

From a faith perspective, and if Christian a gospel perspective, the justice conundrum is this: we must lower our levels of consumption and waste to a level at which the poor of our world can rise out of poverty without depleting the planet further, without taking from the planet the resilience it needs in order to regenerate its degraded living systems. And we must do this as we add 2-3 billion more humans to the planet.

That is our stark, our most sobering challenge – to save the planet’s living systems, within which we exist and outside of which we don’t, by reducing our human footprint at the same time as we increase our population by at least 30 percent.

Right now, we require 1.4 Earths to sustain current levels of human consumption and waste. This can’t go on much longer. We cannot continue to steal from the future to support an unsupportable way of life.

What can we do? What does it mean to create a new way of life? Is it possible? How do we begin to envision this life?

If we approach it as individuals trying to figure out how to make it all by ourselves, then the task is indeed daunting and impossible. In any case, this is not how Nature works. If we study our magnificent Earth community, we find that Nature is more than anything else a community of creatures, a dynamism within and among the ecosystems in which everything is connected, communicating with one another, sharing spaces and energies, at its healthiest taking no more than is needed, moving through the cycle of life and death and life that is the hallmark of the evolutionary story.

If we can re-immerse ourselves in that story that is our own biography and geography, we can begin to relearn what it means to live within the balance of Nature without upsetting it in ways that undermine the networks and connections that keep it vibrant and alive. We can in our own social life begin to mimic this balance in how we live – how we eat, how we get energy to stay warm, how we work, what jobs we create, our economic priorities, how we live within our neighborhoods and towns, what we create and how we create, what gives meaning to our lives when we get out of bed in the morning.

We seek here an ecological spirituality, a spirituality that mimics, vivifies, enhances the life story of the planet, that informs, articulates, and envisions the meaning of the human within that story. We seek here the true spiritual meaning of the human at this point in our evolutionary story. We further believe that discovering that meaning and living into it is essential to finding our way through this crisis, to living through and beyond the ˜end of the world’ that is the defining reality of our generation.


II. Abolishing Intensive Livestock Agriculture:

A Global Imperative

by Richard H. Schwartz

Modern livestock agriculture and animal-centered diets not only contribute to the cruel treatment of billions of animals annually and an epidemic of heart disease, cancer and many more diseases. They also have devastating consequences for the environment, and for scarce resources. Non-vegetarian diets are a major factor behind the present widespread hunger that results in an estimated 20 million people dying each year due to lack of adequate nutrition. Seventy percent of the grain grown in the United States and 40 percent of the grain grown worldwide are fed to animals destined for slaughter, while hundreds of millions of the world’s people are chronically hungry. To make matters worse, the United States is one of the world’s largest importers of meat, much of which comes from countries where there is extensive hunger.

Animal waste flows into river from Thai pig farm - photo FAO

Animal waste flows into river from Thai pig farm - photo FAO

Intensive livestock agriculture is a substantial contributor to many environmental problems. Livestock in the United States produce an incredible 86,000 pounds of manure per second, and much of it ends up in rivers, lakes, streams, and underground water sources. The amount of waste produced by 10,000 cattle in a feedlot equals that of a city of 110,000 people. In addition, huge amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in the production of animal feed crops end up in surface and ground waters.

Current livestock agriculture contributes greatly to all four major global warming gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons. Every year millions of acres of tropical forest are burned, primarily to raise livestock, releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The highly mechanized agricultural sector uses a significant amount of fossil fuel energy, and this also contributes to carbon dioxide emissions. Cattle emit methane as part of their digestive and excretory processes, as do termites who feast on the charred remains of trees. The large amounts of petrochemical fertilizers used to produce feed crops for grain-fed animals create significant amounts of nitrous oxides. Also, the increased refrigeration necessary to prevent animal products from spoiling adds chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere.

Industrial dairy farm - Iowa State University Extension

Industrial dairy farm - Iowa State University Extension

According to a 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (in carbon dioxide equivalents) than all the cars, planes, ships and other means of transportation combined (18 percent versus 13.5 percent). Making the situation still worse, the UN report projects that the number of farmed animals will double in the next 50 years. If that increase occurs, the resulting increase in greenhouse gas emissions would negate reductions from increased efficiencies and reductions in other areas, making avoiding the most serious effects of global warming very difficult. Since we are already seeing many examples of droughts, heat waves, major storms, widespread wildfires, the rapid melting of glaciers and polar icecaps, while some climate scientists are warning that global warming may soon reach a tipping point and spin out of control if major changes do not soon occur, a shift toward plant-based diets is essential.

Causes of deforestation in the Amazon 2000-2005 - Mongabay.com

Causes of deforestation in the Amazon 2000-2005 - Mongabay.com

Cattle ranching is a major cause of deforestation in Latin America. Since 1970, more than 25 percent of Central American forests have been destroyed in order to create pasture land for cattle. The production of just one imported quarter-pound hamburger requires the clearing of up to 55 square feet of rain forest.

Livestock overgrazing causes erosion and the creation of deserts throughout the world. Cattle production is a prime component of the causes that lead to desertification: overcultivation of the land, improper irrigation techniques, and deforestation. According to the Worldwatch Institute, each pound of feedlot steak “costs” about 35 pounds of eroded American topsoil.

U.S. cattle production has resulted in significant bio-diversity losses. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, more plant species in the United States have been threatened or eliminated by livestock agriculture than by any other cause. The number of wild animals on the American range has dropped sharply, largely due to their inability to compete with cattle for food. Many species of plants and animals are disappearing annually because of the rapid destruction of rain forests.

Animal-based agriculture is also extremely wasteful of resources. A meat- and dairy-centered diet requires about 17 times as much land, 14 times as much water, and more than ten times as much energy as a completely plant-based diet. More than half the water consumed in the United States is used to raise livestock, primarily to irrigate land growing livestock feed. While a typical meat-eater’s diet requires 4,200 gallons of water daily, a pure vegetarian’s diet only uses 300 gallons. In California, the production of just one edible pound of beef uses up to 5,000 gallons of water, while only 23 gallons are needed to produce a pound of tomatoes. It takes about a hundred times more water to produce a pound a meat than it does to produce a pound of grain. Another important resource issue today is energy, and livestock agriculture requires far more of it than does the production of vegetarian foods. The production of one pound of steak (500 calories of food energy) uses 20,000 calories of fossil fuels, most of which is used to produce feed crops. The annual beef consumption of a typical American family of four requires more than 260 gallons of fuel, as much as the average car uses in six months.

When one considers the above facts, as well as the soaring health care costs associated with degenerative diseases caused by animal-based diets, it becomes increasingly clear that vegetarianism is not only an important individual choice, but also an imperative for national solvency and global survival. It is critical that people become aware of the far-reaching consequences of animal agriculture in order to shift away from a diet that is bankrupting the United States and the world, crippling and killing 1.5 million Americans annually with chronic diseases, threatening the world’s ecosystems, wasting scarce resources, contributing to world hunger, and cruelly exploiting animals.

You can contribute to a more humane, peaceful, and healthy planet by further educating yourself on this issue. Such books as Diet for a New America by John Robbins (Stillpoint), Beyond Beef by Jeremy Rifkin (Dutton), and Vegetarian Sourcebook by Keith Akers (G P Putnam’s) are excellent places to start. Enlighten others through personal conversations, meetings with opinion leaders in your community, letters and op-ed articles to newspapers and other publications, and calls to radio talk shows. There is a world to be saved, but global recovery is largely dependent on the demise of intensive animal agriculture. Within an individual’s daily choice of diet lies the power to create a better world.

Richard H. Schwartz is Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island, author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and Mathematics and Global Survivaland. He is also president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, and associate producer of A SACRED DUTY. Contact him at: president@JewishVeg.com

To view the film, A SACRED DUTY, click here.

III. Our mistakes are abundant, our responsibilities great

By Maya Rose Goldman

When I was in seventh grade, my science class focused a lot on health and pollution. We analyzed the pros and cons of the fossil fuels (coal, petroleum oil, natural gas) versus the renewable resources (water, wood, wind). Such renewable resources, however, can only replenish themselves if they are not consumed at a higher rate than they are produced. The United States currently consumes the largest amount of fossil fuels, all of which will be exhausted within the next two centuries.

One day during class, my science teacher showed us an instrument that measured the quality of the air in our lungs. This was done in percentages, out of one hundred, and most who used the machine before I did were getting ninety-eights and ninety-nines. I had just moved to New York City from a small town in Maryland, so I was expecting a percentage higher than everyone else’s. After all, wasn’t the air in New York dirty, while Maryland air was clean? When it was my turn to use the machine, I stepped up and breathed into its tube. My percentage was ninety-seven. Lower. I didn’t understand how that could be possible. Everything in Maryland was so green and quiet; how could the air in my lungs be dirtier than the air in these New Yorkers’ lungs?

Sligo Creek Parkway near Maya's old Maryland home

Sligo Creek Parkway near Maya's old home in Maryland

The reality is this: pollution is everywhere, and it is our collective responsibility to do what we can to improve our planet’s current situation. Each of our individual actions affects more than just our immediate living spaces. Our entire earth is being exhausted; no matter where you live, regardless of how small and isolated of a town it may seem, something is being done to damage our planet, and many things can be done to reduce the actions that cause this damage.

Our mistakes have been abundant, and as a result, our responsibilities are great, as well. Our country – and world – finds itself dependent on fossil fuels for energy during a time when windmills and solar panels are so well-developed that they can and should be installed wherever possible. Switching to a more dominant use of renewable resources will not only save us money in the long-run, but we will also be preparing ourselves for the eventual – and quickly approaching – loss of our planet’s coal, oil, and natural gas. Despite our severe need for windmills, however, many are strongly opposed to them. Their reason? They find the structures ugly. Apparently, a “pristine” environment with a shorter lifespan is more highly valued than a self-supporting world without disaster in sight.

The world’s environmental – and energy – crisis is much like the recent economic disaster that is enveloping so many countries. The cause for the economic situation is often attributed to greed and misguided use of money. Likewise, the decline of our environment is mostly due to human neglect for and apathy toward our natural surroundings. We have become so concerned with convenience and ease that we have reached a state in which we essentially depend on machines and unnatural creations to do our work for us. Furthermore, these machines tend to be used in excess to merely produce a greater human pleasure.

To put it bluntly, the human race as a whole has transformed into a superficial, selfish species that cannot seem to remember that we are animals, equal to bears, equal to ants, and we have no right to be lazy and rely on electricity for personal gain. As the saying goes, “Money can’t buy happiness;” dependence on manufactured energy may bring temporary contentment, but it also brings a short-lived natural habitat. If our habitat cannot thrive, neither can we.

Some are willing to go further than others to preserve what still remains of our planet. Although there is a difference between remembering to turn off lights, unplugging chargers when they are not being used, not leaving the water running when brushing your teeth, and recycling and composting whenever possible; and living in a home where there are few to no electronics, buying – or producing – only organic goods, and making sure those around you are doing what they can to slow the attack on the environment; a step is a step, regardless of size, and that is what is important. When a situation goes poorly, we tend to tell ourselves, “Things will get better.” In our minds, an eventual positive outcome is inevitable, even if eventual is past our lifetime.

The predicament we are in now, however, cannot just “get better.” No, we cannot return the earth to a state of prosperity; it is too late for that. We can, however, stop ourselves from plummeting so quickly. We need to remember what our surroundings were like when we were young. Already, our environment was deteriorating; it is much worse now. Humans cannot seem to learn from history; the mistakes are continuous, and the effort to make amends is surprisingly weak. Is this what we are leaving for the next generation? Are we satisfied with not doing our part, while criticizing President Bush for leaving a massive bundle of unresolved crises for President-Elect Obama?

I am a vegan. I have been told that although my beliefs may be on-track, my practices are too extreme. I completely disagree. My actions are not geared toward ensuring the comfort of those around me; I am concerned about the horrifying treatment and enslavement of the non-human animals of this planet and the disregard for their well-being and equal place in our shared environment.

photo-Colorado State Unversity - Integrated Livestock Management

photo-Colorado State Unversity - Integrated Livestock Management

As humans, we are no better than any other animal on this earth. It is not our place to determine the fates and living conditions of the creatures we mercilessly torture and slaughter. I am disgusted by the way factory farms artificially impregnate cows every ten months, confiscate their milk, whisk away their offspring for veal (though some males live a few years to be later killed for beef) and once she can no longer produce young, she, too, is slaughtered – all of this solely for the purpose of human consumption. Have morals completely disappeared?

Although I initially cut out all animal products from my diet because of my care for other creatures, I afterward realized that not supporting the actions of factory farms also had a way of benefitting the environment. Factory farms cause a great amount of pollution in air, land, and water: animal waste goes untreated, leaving it filled with chemicals and disease. This then becomes a part of the soil, and run-off rain brings it into bodies of water, poisoning them and thus killing creatures living there. According to goveg.com, “eating one pound of meat emits the same amount of greenhouse gasses as driving an SUV 40 miles.”

My intent is not to attack the human race as a whole. While it is true that I am both disappointed and slightly surprised by the ways in which we have been treating this planet for so many centuries, playing the blame-game will get us nowhere. We do, however, need to identify the problems in order to find ways to attempt reversing our damage. I am embarrassed by and afraid of passing our current circumstances down to the next generation; I do not want them to come into the world knowing only barren, destroyed habitats. I want them to know nature as I knew it when I couldn’t see past my backyard in my small hometown in Maryland. I want them to see the world as a beautiful place that does not need to be “improved” by machines. I want them to think of the end of everything as being when the Sun burns out billions of years from now, not as being only a few centuries into the future.

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