Green Prime

Presented September 24th, 2017 

Last year the Canadian Unitarian Council created a vision to guide Unitarian Universalism into the future.
Our interdependence calls us to love and justice.

Our interdependence calls us to love and justice.

The current structure of western society is not founded on interdependence.
As scientist Rachel Carson said, all the way back in 1952: “humankind has gone very far into an artificial world of our own creation. We have sought to insulate ourselves, in cities of steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed.” (adapted).

Rachel is right, we live in an artificial world of our creation, even more so now with our lives increasingly being lived on-line.

One of my environmental studies professors, Neil Evernden, wrote a book called The Natural Alien.
This eco-philosophy text explored the challenges environmentalists face in seeking change within industrial capitalism.

Part of his argument is that modern humans have so distanced ourselves from the earth that we might as well be aliens from another galaxy.

We have made ourselves not belong to the earth. We are natural aliens.
I was really challenged by his argument.  I didn’t want to be an alien.
I don’t want to insulate myself from the reality of earth and water.
I want to be at home on this earth.

So I wrote my environmental studies thesis on the concept and experience of home, arguing that we can re-connect to the earth, anytime, anywhere through being present to ourselves and our environment.

When we stop and breathe,
when we pay attention to where we are,
when we experience sun and rain and wind, we are at home.
We are at home on the earth when we make connections with other people and other creatures.
Even though we live in an artificial world of our own creation, we can be at home on the earth.

This has been a guiding perspective for me, that we are at home here, and in being home, are part of the whole.

I became a Unitarian because of the seventh principle – respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

As a young mother, car free, vegetarian, trying to live more lightly on the earth, it was this principle that called me into the chalice community.
I wanted, and still want, a healthier, more ecological society for my son and all the children.

I want to leave this world knowing I tried my best to shift our thinking from alienated to belonging, from isolation to interdependence. To live interdependently.

Living now in Brampton, having to drive most places, and shop in big box stores, has made it harder for me to live the seventh principle.

Despite driving a prius, I often feel like a hypocrite. It is hard for to live our principles in a sprawling suburban city.
I do often feel alienated from nature as I live surrounded by trees failing to thrive amidst all the traffic.
I regret that most of my food comes from Longo’s, not the farmer’s market.

It’s why this chalice community is so important.
We are a sanctuary of hope.

I am grateful we are choosing to seek the Green Sanctuary designation.
It will help us clarify and live our principles with greater intention.
And we are not alone.

We are part of an ever growing network of congregations who work to green their buildings, encourage members to chose ecological practices and work for eco-justice.

Our own building already has many ecological design features from the south facing windows to our bio-filter septic system.

For us, this will be an opportunity to refine our own practices and consider some bold new steps.

In pursuit of the Green Sanctuary designation many UU churches have renovated or built sustainable buildings.

Here in Canada, at Neighbourhood over in the Beaches area of Toronto, they have added solar panels to their roof. At the same time, they retrofitted their older building to reduce electrical consumption.
The Kingston Fellowship also has roof top solar panels that feed into the local grid.

In Oregon, one Portland church is insulated with old jeans and recycled cotton, with countertops made from recycled shopping bags and carpets made out of recycled plastic bottles.
A Unitarian church in New England received an Energy Star rating from the Environmental Protection Agency after building a new, larger structure that reduced their utility costs by 50% and created a 40% reduction in their carbon footprint.

Their website notes: “The realization of our dream for a truly green building reflects a deep commitment … to the seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism — respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. That commitment is further embodied in the Green Sanctuary initiative, a congregation-wide effort to live mindfully on this precious planet.”

The Green Sanctuary designation isn’t just about green buildings, it is truly a congregation-wide effort to live mindfully on the planet. This effort involves all aspects of life at UCM, from recycling to spiritual exploration activities to worship. We will learn what we can do at home and as a community.

As one early step, we now have a spiritual practices blog, with a weekly practice that will often include a connection to nature.
This month we focus on experiencing the element of water in a healing way.

I look forward to our experiences as we work together for the Green Sanctuary designation.
We will be greening our community life, encouraging people to chose ecological practices and work towards eco-justice.

I believe the Green Sanctuary designation – publicly declaring our allegiance to the earth – is the most important action we can take right now.

We are living through climate change. This is the issue that impacts on all other concerns – from refugees to racism to poverty. I chose to do a Master’s in Environment Studies 20 years ago in part because I was worried about global warming. The concerns I wrote about at that time – that science was already predicting – are now a matter of daily life. Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, earthquakes – we’ve upset the global eco-system.

Weather events are happening more often at a higher intensity.
We are having a heat wave during the fall equinox. While I am happy to still be wearing my birkenstocks, it should not be 30c today.

And the damage wrought by these weather extremes are felt disproportionately by marginalized and disadvantaged people.
People in poverty often live in precarious environments, flood plains or by industry with toxic emissions. They are the least likely to have insurance and the most likely to lose everything.
Just think of who has been most impacted by the recent spate of hurricanes in the southern United States and the Caribbean.

Reducing carbon emissions needs to happen now.

This is a global issue, so we need to work together as a community, and work with other communities and organizations to advocate for systemic change.
It’s going to take a lot of groups speaking out with one voice to be heard.
Our global political and economic system is very hard of hearing.

In commitment to our seventh principle, congregations speak out for policies that promote earth healing and protect marginalized groups. Unitarian Universalists are a presence in the key advocacy movements of this decade.

The people of the chalice were present at Standing Rock.
They were present at the Climate Action marches last fall in New York.
They were at the Science March this spring in Washington.

I am a member of Commit2Respond, a climate justice movement founded by Unitarian Universalists. This group is committed to join together to shift to a low carbon future, advance the human rights of affected communities, and grow the climate justice movement.

In August, the American Unitarian Universalist Association and Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth signed on to the Lofoten Declaration for a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production around the World.

This wordy declaration was written in Lofotenn, Norway by a gathering of academics, analysts and activists who feel that globally we have a window of opportunity to limit the expansion of the oil and gas industry. This will help to to achieve the Paris Accord climate goals.

The oil industry is lobbying for the seas around Lofoten to be opened to oil drilling – which would be devastating to the climate and natural spaces of the area.

Activists there have successfully managed to block these plans for years.
The Declaration is one push for this strategy to go global. It reads in part: “The Lofoten Declaration affirms that it is the urgent responsibility and moral obligation of wealthy fossil fuel producers to lead in putting an end to fossil fuel development and to manage the decline of existing production.”

I think it’s important to note that this declaration makes it a moral obligation.
This matters.

The facts demonstrating the perils of climate change have been around for years, and haven’t mattered much.
Advocacy on the basis of facts isn’t going to change anything, as US politics so sadly demonstrates.

We need moral imperatives, emotional and spiritual reasons to act. When we hid away in our artificial world of steel and concrete, we turned the earth into a repository of resources. If we consider ourselves as belonging to a living earth, we are obliged to treat the earth with respect, and act with care.

The struggle for climate justice is about more than stopping the ice caps from melting.
It’s about honouring our collective humanity and acknowledging our interdependence.
It is doing the right thing.

For me it is about choosing a new way of being in the world, a way of being that declines the artificial world for the organic planet.

What we do now – or don’t do – as a society – will have a tremendous impact on life on earth for the next seven generations.

Our interdependence calls us to love and justice.

I’m delighted we are taking on the challenge of the Green Sanctuary.
It will help us live our principles more deeply and work for our mission to act for an equitable, sustainable world.

May we live more lightly on the earth.
May we work for climate justice.

So Say We All

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