Creation Time Day 8 – Pope Francis

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Pope Francis (Source: gofossilfree.org)

It feels appropriate today 8th September, when Catholic Christians celebrate the birthday of Mary, blessed Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, to feature Pope Francis as a champion of the environment.

Even before the publication of his “green” encyclical, Laudate Si’, (Praise Be to You!) Pope Francis had become known for his advocacy of care for the earth and for speaking out on climate change. His chosen papal name, Francis, after Saint Francis of Assisi famously in tune with all creatures and with the poor, was an early indication of the Pope’s concerns and interpretation of the Christian ethos.

The Pope’s 2015 encyclical Laudate Si’: On Care for our Common Home is a call, not only to the Christian community but also to all the people of the world, “to hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.  It sets forward a challenge to ecological conversion, through changes in lifestyle and in society, and through strong political action.

“The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”.  Pope Francis.

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Creation Time Day 7 – Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva

Dr Vandana Shiva (Source: vandanashiva.com)

Dr. Vandana Shiva is an Indian environmental activist, prolific author and philosopher who gained her doctorate in quantum theory.  Her work now encompasses concerns for justice   for the poorest victims of environmental degradation, particularly as a result of climate change, and for the resilience of the environment, with a focus on empowering women. She advocates strongly for diversity in cultural and ecological terms as the key to future sustainability especially in relation to food security on the Indian sub-continent. She campaigns for the protection of indigenous ecological knowledge, and the right to save and share seeds. To promote these aims she founded the Navdanya Research Foundation which supports a network of seed keepers and organic producers across India.

Vandana Shiva has received strong criticism from governmental and commercial organisations, including character assassination to impugn her moral integrity, because she resists technocratic and narrowly utilitarian solutions to food security.  The main issue on which this criticism has been focused is that of her opposition to Golden Rice, which has been engineered to produce vitamin A, a deficiency found in nearly 3 million children across the world. Vandana Shiva argues that it is an illusory solution with harmful cultural impacts  and unintended environmental consequences which ultimately undermines the food security and resilience of the farming societies that  come to rely on it.

Vandana Shiva’s work raises important questions about the kind of global community as well as environment that we want to see. It addresses ethical and spiritual  issues of power, justice and long-term global resilience, which the spheres of the market and politics, and even science in its own terms, are ill-equipped to engage with.

Creation Time Day 6 – Chico Mendes

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Chico Mendes in 1988

Chico Mendes (1944-1988) was a Brazilian environmental activist who paid with his life for his commitment to protecting the rainforest and the rights of its indigenous people. He was murdered in 1988 by a rancher, Darly Alves da Silva, and accomplices, after Mendes had succeeded in stopping da Silva’s proposal to clear-cut an area of forest which had been designated a nature preserve. In the same year, 18 other activists were murdered in Brazil. Da Silva and his two accomplices were prosecuted successfully and convicted for the murder of Mendes.

As a result of Mendes’ campaigns , and the international outcry following his murder, the Brazilian government no longer subsidies logging and ranching in the rainforest, and has designated many more nature reserves, including one named after the activist: Parque Chico Mendes. However, clear-cutting of the rainforest has not completely stopped and many more activists have lost their lives since 1988 in Brazil.

“At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rain forest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.” Chico Mendes

Creation Time Day 5 – Kenneth Watkins

Kenneth Watkins

Kenneth Watkins OBE (Source: The Woodland Trust; photo M. Lewis/WTML)

Today’s champion of the environment is a person hidden from wide public consciousness even though the charity he founded, The Woodland Trust, has grown in size and impact throughout the United Kingdom and consistently acknowledges its debt to the vision of its founder. Kenneth “Ken” Watkins OBE (1909 – 1996) founded  The Woodland Trust in 1972 and chaired it for 21 years. The Trust has grown from its small beginnings to be the United Kingdom’s largest woodland conservation charity.

Watkins had a deep commitment to conservation especially of trees and woodlands. In an obituary in 1996 colleague Ian Mercer described him as “the driving force of the Devon Naturalists’ Trust, which began in the early sixties” (1). He was then running the Devon Trust’s acquisitions programme.   His successful business, a leading producer of agricultural machinery in Devon, south-west England, provided funds for much of the conservation work. He also made films about woodlands in the early  1960s and was a runner-up in the BBC’s  Natural History Film Awards in 1962. Watkins became increasingly concerned at the decline of woodlands in the countryside. Many woods and copses had been cleared to increase agricultural production. There was a need for a wider conservation body specifically for woodlands.

“Woodland was under threat. I thought there should be a trust which would buy up land and manage it properly” (Ken Watkins in interview with The Observer, 1992) (2)

With his wife Mary Clayton he drew together a small team consisting of friends Oliver Rossetti, Henry Hurrell, MBE, and Stanley Edgcumbe, and they set about purchasing woods to conserve and protect them. Within 5 years they had acquired 22 woods in six counties of south-west England.

Ken Watkins’ story impresses me as an example of how one person with a passion for the environment who is prepared to dedicate time and resources and to persuade others to join the cause in support, can make a significant and lasting difference for good.

Watkins was honoured with an MBE in 1971 and an OBE in 1989 for services to conservation. He received the Sir Peter Scott Memorial Award from the British Naturalists’ Association in 1995.

 

  • (1) His obituary by colleague Ian Mercer

“Heart of the woodlands: Obituary of Kenneth Watkins.” Guardian [London, England], 9 Dec. 1996, p. 11. Infotrac Custom Newspapers Accessed 5 Sept. 2017.

 

  • (2) Bailey, M. (1992, Jul 05). Guardians of the woods who stop the chainsaw massacres. The Observer (1901- 2003) Retrieved 5th Sept 2017

Creation Time Day 4 – Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver photo by Annie Griffiths

Barbara Kingsolver: Photo by Annie Griffiths

My choice of champion of the environment for today is the American novelist, poet and essayist Barbara Kingsolver (b.1955).  She has many best-selling and prize-winning novels to her credit. Several of these, in particular The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer, and Flight Behavior,  highlight environmental themes. They reflect her intense interest in ecological issues and the relationship between human society and the natural world.

As a biological scientist,  – she studied ecology and evolutionary biology to Master’s degree level and also writes for science journals – Kingsolver sees her novels as an engaging way of informing and inspiring a wider public to share a love for the natural world and a concern for its protection.  Her rich descriptions of plant and animal life, and of wilderness landscapes, in her writing, evoke a sense of wonder and awe for all life that some have compared to the distinctive style of the well-known 19th century British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Kingsolver has said that she sees literature, and art generally, as inevitably linked to politics.

“I don’t understand how any good art could fail to be political. Literature is a powerful craft, so we have an obligation to take it seriously” Source: The Guardian

Her novels are for Kingsolver a way of bringing before the wider public political and moral questions about the environment, climate change and social justice. She has been described as an activist writer. In 2000, Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize, from her own resources, as a bi-annual literary prize “to encourage writers, publishers, and readers to consider how fiction engages visions of social change and human justice”. It is now the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides.” Barbara Kingsolver Animal Dreams (1990)

Creation Time Day 3 – Sir John Houghton

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Professor Sir John Houghton (Photo: CAT)

My chosen champion of the environment for Day 3 of this 30 day series of blogs for the season of Creation Time is Professor Sir John Houghton CBE FRS FLSW (born 1931), a leading expert on climate change from Wales. Houghton was co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scientific assessment working group. He was Director General of the UK Meteorological Office having been Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Oxford University.

Firmly rooted in the evangelical spirituality of Protestant Christianity Houghton is President of the John Ray Initiative, an educational charity which aims “to promote responsible environmental stewardship in accordance with Christian principles through Education, Research and Advocacy.” He is also a founder member of the International Society for Science and Religion.

He is a persuasive advocate for Christian engagement in environmental issues, and has had significant influence on the acceptance of human-induced climate change by conservative churches, including in the USA.

“We live in times when we are raping the Earth and exploiting the poor. The Bible, for instance, from its first chapters, through the prophets, the ministry of Jesus and to its last book, puts high priority on our responsibilities for caring for the Earth and caring for the poor.”  John Houghton 2009

Creation Time Day 2 – Wangari Maathai

Wangari-Maathai-Muta

Wangari Maathai . Photo: Green belt Movement website

In the second of my series of blog posts about champions of the environment I feature Wangari Maathai, Kenyan environmentalist, academic and politician, 1940 -2011.

Professor Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which she received in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.  As an environmental activist, Maathai is most well-known for founding the Green Belt Movement, which began encouraging rural Kenyan women to grow seedlings and to plants trees in their areas to prevent soil erosion, loss of water, and lack of fuel. Since its foundation in 1978 the Green Belt Movement (GBM) has supported the planting of over 51 million trees. Today GBM continues its work as an environmental organisation empowering communities, especially women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods.

After many years campaigning – despite opposition and vilification from the ruling party – for greater political freedom and constitutional reform in Kenya, in 2002 she was elected a Member of Parliament and served as Assistant Minister in the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources from 2003 to 2005.

In one of her books –  Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World (2010) – Maathai, who was rooted in the Christian faith tradition, explores how hope for healing for ourselves and the earth may be found in a re-dedication to the spiritual values common to many faiths:  respect, gratitude, love for the environment, self-improvement, and a commitment to service.

The Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies is now part of the University of Nairobi. It seeks to fulfil the vision of its founder to “To transfer knowledge and skills on sustainable use of natural resources from academic halls and laboratories to the citizenry in villages and rural communities throughout Africa. And, in doing so, encourage transformational leadership grounded and focused on improving people’s livelihoods and sharing cultures of peace.” (GBM website)

“When we plant trees we plant the seeds of peace and hope”

 Wangari Maathai