Climate Change and Severe Weather: Al Gore in Scotland

Al Gore spoke yesterday at the Scottish Low Carbon Investment conference in Edinburgh, and once again made claims that are questionable. For what he said see a BBC article here, and Guardian here. The gist of it is that the recent severe weather events are a proof of the need to act promptly on climate change, and that all serious scientists back this up. Well… some say that this is not the case, as was clear in the debate about hurricane Irene. Roger Pielke has another take here.  The issue is so unclear, that Pielke doesn’t think its worth talking about, and if you follow the threads, you will see he can back it up with data, and supporting information from others. It doesn’t deny climate change has an impact on weather, but it certainly doesn’t prove it.  Below the Guardian article title:

Al Gore: clear proof that climate change causes extreme weather

Former US vice president tells Scottish green conference that evidence from floods in Pakistan and China is compelling

Wildlife on Camera

There are some interesting websites which show wildlife on camera, I came to know of this one at Leuser Park in Sumatra in Indonesia, through this post. Many years ago I went on a very unofficial tour of the jungle in Sumatra invited by local kids, and we got caught in an afternoon storm so had to spend the night in a hut. We saw wild monkeys, buffalo, plenty of birds, and most impressively the double billed toucan. Now, we can see that, and a lot more on video.  There are other websites as well, such as the camera trap in Banff National Park or the one suggested by Revkin at the Smithsonian Wild. Have fun.

The Spirituality of Bees

The Vatican Newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano” has recently published an article “Sentinels of Creation” on the Pope’s farm in Castel Gandolfo and the new addition to their stewardship projects: half a million bees. The bees are a gift from Coldiretti, the largest farming group, and the words of the President stress the stewardship aspect for which he seeks to honor the Pope. The Vatican farm is a model farm with hens, cows, cockerels and ancient olive groves, see more here. 

“Our gift”, Sergio Marini, President of Coldiretti, toldL’Osservatore Romano, “is first and foremost a sign of Coldiretti’s gratitude to the Pope for his constant encouragement of the daily work of those who cultivate the earth, in which it is easy to recognize the respect and love of one who knows that the preservation of creation is the best investment for the future”  and at the same time also wishes to be a proper recognition of the examplarity “of the Vatican farm at Castel Gandolfo”, deemed “the most satisfactory natural environment to give a strong sign of how, together with the modern technologies, the characteristic of rusticity and purity proper to the genuine countryside may be preserved intact”.

Bees have for a long time been an important symbol and reality for the spiritual life, especially in the Christian tradition. Monasteries are credited for spreading bees throughout Europe, perhaps leading to much of their agricultural success. Many monks are famous beekeepers, as was Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel who is the father of genetics. St. Francis de Sales in his classic spiritual book, “Introduction to the Devout Life”, speaks of bees as a metaphor for spiritual matters, numerous times. And there’s me… not famous or successful, but I have kept bees for 3 years now in the high Colorado Rockies. More on that later…

American Identity and Environmentalism

Catherine Albanese published an interesting book many years ago, “Nature Religion in America”, where she shows the relationship of the religious status of nature in the American context. She has some provocative and insightful quotes like the ones below, that make the case of how distinctively Americans view nature:

“Americans learned to understand the sublimity of what they saw as a sign of the destiny and stature of a new nation. Even nature had smiled her beneficence on the grand political experiment the patriots had begun” (58).

“Nature provided a theological frame on which to a hang civil religion of the American republic… if any new popular religion arose in New World America, it was a nature religion of radical empiricism, with the aim of that religion to conflate spirit with matter, and in the process, turn human beings into gods” (63-65).

Roderick Nash‘s “Wilderness and the American Mind” also has a classic study on the distinctive American perspective of wilderness. In that sense it is interesting to examine the history, values, traits, influences, etc. of the American people and see how it has forged the current environmental debate of our time. For an example of distinctive American values, see a classic example here.

Now, what happens when American culture starts to change? It is implied that the view of the environment will change as well. One of the boldest, most recent challenges for redefining American culture has been expressed in a talk given by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles. He explicitly engages the theory of Samuel Huntington, that America is fundamentally a country shaped by Protestant values and identity. In Huntington’s book he explains how Catholics were persecuted until they assimilated, and basically now Catholicism is a watered down version which conforms to the limits imposed on it by the American credo. Given this diagnosis, there are only two positions a Catholic bishop can take to engage America – assimilate Catholicism in some way or another into the American creed or redefine the nation to make room for Catholicism. Gomez does the latter.

The speech “Immigration and the Next America” and commentary can be read here. Below some of the highlights. If Archbishop Gomez is right, and we must begin to reverence Blessed Junipero Serra side by side with Thomas Jefferson, then the American environmental ethic is bound to find its “next” expression as well.

The American story that most of us know is set in New England. It is the story of the pilgrims and the Mayflower, the first Thanksgiving, and John Winthrop’s sermon about a “city upon a hill”.

It is the story of great men like Washington, Jefferson and Madison. It’s the story of great documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. It is a beautiful story. It is also true. Every American should know these characters and the ideals and principles they fought for. From this story we learn that our American identity and culture are rooted in essentially Christian beliefs about the dignity of the human person.

But the story of the founding fathers and the truths they held to be self-evident is not the whole story about America. The rest of the story starts more than a century before the pilgrims. It starts in the 1520s in Florida and in the 1540s here in California…

The 19th-century historian John Gilmary Shea said it beautifully. Before there were houses in this land, there were altars: “Mass was said to hallow the land and draw down the blessing of heaven before the first step was taken to rear a human habitation. The altar was older than the hearth”.

This is the missing piece of American history. And today more than ever, we need to know this heritage of holiness and service — especially as American Catholics. Along with Washington and Jefferson, we need to know the stories of these great apostles of America. We need to know the French missionaries like Mother Joseph and the Jesuits St Isaac Jogues and Father Jacques Marquette, who came down from Canada to bring the faith to the northern half of our country….

. That’s why it is essential that today we remember the missionary history of America — and rededicate ourselves to the vision of America’s founding “creed”.

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Stones into Bread

Since Lynn White crystallized the idea that Christianity is responsible for environmental problems in the late 60’s, the idea has achieved widespread credence in the context of an increasing agnosticism and atheism. There are two recent, indirect, responses from the Vatican on this issue. The first is a commentary by Pope Benedict XVI on the passage (Mt 4, 3) when the devil tempts Jesus to turn stone into bread. The Pope’s reflection centers on the temptation of mankind of trying to achieve his desires without God, surrendering to power and his own economic achievements. This leads to destruction, and environmental destruction. For bread, we need God, it is a gift, and so is life and most of what is most valuable. We have forgotten this dimension of gift, and we have forgotten God. Also key to this is the connection of a spiritual life and the care for the poor. Below the key passages:

man often falls into the illusion of being able to “transform the stones into bread.” After having put God aside, or having tolerated him as a private choice that must not interfere with public life, certain ideologies have aimed at organizing society with the force of power and the economy. History shows us, tragically, how the objective of ensuring development, material well-being and peace to all, doing without God and his revelation, has resulted in giving men stones instead of bread. Bread, dear brothers and sisters, is the “fruit of man’s work,” and enclosed in this truth is all the responsibility entrusted to our hands and to our ingeniousness; but bread is also, and even first “fruit of the earth,” which receives from on High sun and rain: It is a gift to be requested, which takes away all arrogance and makes us invoke with the trust of the humble: “Father (…), give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

The 2,000-year history of the Church is studded with men and women saints whose life is an eloquent sign of how in fact from communion with the Lord, from the Eucharist a new and intense assumption of responsibility is born at all levels of community life; born hence is a positive social development, which has the person at the center, especially the poor, the sick and the straitened. To be nourished by Christ is the way not to remain foreign and indifferent to the fortunes of our brothers, but to enter into the very logic of love and of gift of the sacrifice of the Cross; he who is able to kneel before the Eucharist, who receives the Lord’s body cannot fail to be attentive, in the ordinary course of the days, to situations unworthy of man, and is able to bend down personally to attend to need, is able to break his bread with the hungry, share water with the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned (cf. Matthew 25:34-36).

The other response is a document by  Archbishop Dominique Mamberti to the UN on religious freedom, and the attacks on religious liberty, not only in extreme versions, but on the mutilations in the West. Deep connections are drawn between the incompatibility of true religious liberty and the current ideologies of relativism and post-modernism.

religious freedom cannot be restricted to the simple freedom of worship, although the latter is obviously an important part of it. With due respect to the rights of all, religious freedom includes, among others, the right to preach, educate, convert, contribute to the political discourse and participate fully in public activities.

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The Shape of the World

There is an interesting article on the Time Atlas and its most recent update. The Atlas has redesigned the shape of Greenland, due to climate change. This is an interesting case of how the idea of climate change shapes our ideas of the world. There is a heated debate ensuing, as the BBC article:

The 13th edition of the “comprehensive” version of the atlas included a number of revisions made for reasons of environmental change since the previous one, published in 2007.The break-up of some Antarctic ice shelves due to climate change, the shrinking of inland waters such as the Dead and Aral Seas, and the drying up of rivers such as the Colorado River are all documented.

But the glossy publicity sheets begin with the contention that “for the first time, the new edition of the (atlas) has had to erase 15% of Greenland’s once permanent ice cover – turning an area the size of the United Kingdom and Ireland ‘green’ and ice-free.“This is concrete evidence of how climate change is altering the face of the planet forever – and doing so at an alarming and accelerating rate.”

The Scott Polar group, which includes director Julian Dowdeswell, says the claim of a 15% loss in just 12 years is wrong.



Jesus of Nazareth II – Holy Week

I have commented before on Pope Benedict’s first private book “Jesus of Nazareth” and the environmentally relevant statements found there. In his second volume, there is less content than the first, but still relevant insights none-the-less. In general it is a book filled with spiritual insight on the inner life of Jesus during his Passion. Yet in this light is where words about creation and its place are given.

On speaking about the hour of Jesus, in pg. 54, the Pope explains the act of love of Christ, and how Christ choses, loves and embraces the creational dimension of humanity, and all creation. For Catholics, Creation is ultimately good.

“creation is not a fall, but a positive act of God’s will. It is thus a movement of love, which in the process of descending demonstrates its true nature – motivated by love for the creature, love for the lost sheep – and in so descending it reveals what God is really like. On returning, Jesus does not strip away his humanity again as if it were a source of impurity.”

In a section on Jesus’ high priestly prayer, the Pope explains the inner meaning of creation from God’s perspective. Creation has a greater meaning than itself, that dignifies it further:

“According to rabbinic theology, the idea of the covenant – the idea of establishing a holy people to be an interlocutor for God in union with him – is prior to the idea of the creation of the world and supplies its inner motive. The cosmos was created, not that there might be manifold things in heaven and earth, but that there might be a space for the “covenant”, for the loving “yes” between God and his human respondent.”

Finally, on the final section discussing the resurrection, the Pope mentions the idea that in “consequence of the “revolution in the sicentific image of the world… the traditional concepts of Jesus’Resurrection are to be considered outdated. The Pope contests this view with some interesting questions:

“But what exactly is this “scientific image of the world? How far can it be considered normative? Naturally there can be no contradiction of clear scientific data… What already exists is not called into quested. Rather we are told that there is a further dimension, beyond what was previously known. Does that contradict science? Can there really only ever be what there has always been?…” (246)

Drinking and Smoking Animal Edition

Recently there have been some somewhat humorous, one perhaps concerning, events involving the animal kingdom and some human vices. The first case is a drunk elk in Sweden. This one got stuck in a tree after stuffing itself with fermented apples. It took neighbours, a hunter and the fire brigade to pull him out. It took a while to recover, so he was quite drunk.

The second case involves Shirley, an orangutan in Malaysia, known for smoking cigarettes thrown to her by visitors. She is about 20 years old and is moving to Borneo to a ‘healthier’ environment. There are som claims that she is seriously addicted:

Nature Alert, a British-based activist group, had raised its concerns with Malaysian officials more than a year ago after conservationists shot footage of Shirley being thrown lit cigarettes.They claimed on their website at the time that she “appears to suffer severe mood swings, sometimes looking drowsy – as if drugged, other times without a cigarette she was very agitated, looking as if she could be suffering withdrawal symptoms”.

Environment, freedom and relativism

Recently Pope Benedict XVI received the new ambassador of the UK to the Holy See. In a similar spirit to his speech in England last year, the Pope mentioned the environment as one of the common causes that unites both States. The Pope also mentioned the riots that occurred in England this summer, almost exactly one year since the Pope’s visit, and made an interesting diagnosis of the situation: enduring and objective values must be promoted. In their absence, under the guise of an apparent freedom, moral relativism leads to many social ills. See the most relevant sections below:

  • The sustainable development of the world’s poorer peoples through well-targeted assistance remains a worthy goal, since the peoples of developing countries are our brothers and sisters, of equal dignity and worth and deserving of our respect in every way, and such assistance should always aim to improve their lives and their economic prospects… Promoting models of development which employ modern knowledge to husband natural resources will also have the benefit of better protecting the environment for emerging and developed countries alike.
  • your Government wishes to employ policies that are based on enduring values that cannot be simply expressed in legal terms. This is especially important in the light of events in England this summer. When policies do not presume or promote objective values, the resulting moral relativism, instead of leading to a society that is free, fair, just and compassionate, tends instead to produce frustration, despair, selfishness and a disregard for the life and liberty of others. 
  • Moreover, the active fostering of the essential values of a healthy society, through the defence of life and of the family, the sound moral education of the young, and a fraternal regard for the poor and the weak, will surely help to rebuild a positive sense of one’s duty, in charity, towards friends and strangers alike in the local community.

The comeback of wolves

Here is an interesting article on the comeback of wolves in France. As has been the case in the USA, while many appreciate the presence of these “mystical animals”: “Most people in France have welcomed the return of the wolf. It is a beautiful, mystical animal” says Remy Saunier, the chief wolf catcher for the area; others, especially sheep farmers who are losing their flock, have begun to complain.

Recently a group of 200 wolves has been causing damage in the Haut Alps of France, this pack apparently has its origins among wolves that crossed over from Italy. But since 2001 there have been reports, a protests of their presence, with a human attack in 2001.  Another farmer killed a wolf in 2003 and a row ensued.