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Environmental Justice in Rubbertown
By Sarah Caine, UUMFE Young Adult Board member and Starr King seminarian
Louisville is an honest and proud city. There are markers for historical events and places throughout the Downtown area, some marking moments of enlightenment, some marking darker parts of history such as a former slave auction site. I was in Louisville during the Final Four and the Championship NCAA games and everywhere I went people were sporting the bright red denoting their loyalty to the University of Louisville. When Louisville won the car horns could be heard all night long.
I came to Louisville with the UU Ministry for Earth Board of Directors in order to meet the local activists and religious leaders in preparation for the upcoming General Assembly in June. The UUMFE and other social action branches of the UU community are coming together to offer a plethora of environmental justice centered workshops and a tour of the areas of Louisville disproportionately affected by environmental injustice. Once in Louisville the immediacy of the environmental inequity gets in your very lungs, though how much depends on where you are in the city.
This geographical variable is a textbook example of environmental inequity/racism/classism/injustice. How does environmental justice vary from environmentalism? Environmentalism was started by people of privilege and tends to focus on conservation and preservation of non-human animals and the non-animal world. Sometimes, at the oppression of native peoples or the oversight of communities of lower income's needs for survival. Environmental justice focuses on the needs of traditionally oppressed communities and the ways that immediate environmental concerns negatively effect them – for example, toxic dumping in lower income areas, traditionally communities of color. The EJ movement started back in the 60's with a sanitation workers strike and was picked up by the United Church of Christ as a social witness process. Ecological Justice is another movement that looks at the health of systems, including human, but often lumps humans into one group and misses the politics within the human community. I like to mix both EcoJustice and EJ for my own personal outlook and mission in this work. As part of this interdependent web (Principle Seven, one of my personal favorites!), I believe that when one part of the web is weakened we all feel it, and we must be able to examine the smaller and bigger details of such.
Back to Kentucky.
The air in Rubbertown (the area of Louisville next to the Ohio River that came to be an industrial and residential mix during WWII) is so heavy you can feel it as you inhale. On a clear day, like the one during which we took our Environmental Justice tour, it takes a little longer for you to notice. You have to start walking. Within a few feet your breathing is heavier than normal. This is thanks to the particulate and ash in the air from the plants that synthesize rubber--for PVC, for shoes, for tires, so much of our lives are wrapped in plastic. Rubbertown was created because rubber production needed to be faster than importation of the plant from Southeast Asia would allow. This “town” was built between the river and the freeway, houses built between the factories and the freeway.
At one point in the tour, we came to a pile of coal ash thirteen stories high. It’s packed beyond a publicly maintained cemetery, behind a screen meant to stop erosion from destroying riverbanks but not capable of keeping the toxic ash from blowing around and over it. This ash is toxic and has caused health problems for the community neighboring it. Local activists are working hard, against powerful opposition, to better contain the ash.
Near Rubbertown, there is a community called Lake Dreamland, which was originally built as a resort in the 1930s but is now a lower income area with an unlined dump hidden beneath the green of the area before the tree line. This community is right on the river, and the water table is being affected in unknown ways. The soil has who knows what in it, and the "lake" that was originally the center of the community is a sludgy looking pond with nasty in it.
Both of these communities have houses beyond the flood protection walls and levies, they are set up to be underwater if the river raises above its banks. What does that say about the "disposability" of some people? First, their communities are poisoned, and then their homes are ruined in floods. This is looking like injustice. Luckily, groups like Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light are working with the community councils of the area to try and bring help to these neighborhoods. It's trickier to address the issue of the coal powered plant across the river in Indiana, one that is only fired up during peak electricity months (like the upcoming Summer) and whose noxious fumes get blown over to Louisville from the eastward winds. The communities in closest proximity to the plant? … those of low-income, mostly people of color. Issues like these do not stop at borders. That interdependent web, it extends past neighborhoods.
We are all on one planet. The pollution in Indiana affects Kentucky. The pollution in China affects the US. Spreading it out doesn't change that it's still there. We need Eco and Environmental Justice.
Our first (“The inherent worth and dignity of every person”), second (“Justice, equity and compassion in human relations”), fifth (“The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large”), sixth (“The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all”), and seventh (“Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part”) principles circle around justice work. Our faith is one of action. The people in Kentucky are connected to us, to the planet, and deserve justice and equity. As UUs, we are called to stand with the people fighting for their voices to be heard because we believe that all people have worth and dignity and should be able to participate in their own governance. Let’s join the struggle for Environmental and Ecological Justice!
Here is an article that quite aptly discusses the evolution and necessity of the EJ movement – James Cone's "Whose Earth is it Anyway?" from Sojourners Magazine 2007.
Congregations and Climate Change
By Rev. Robert F. Murphy, UU Fellowship of Falmouth
Brace yourself for another long, hot summer. At the end of May 2013, the Oklahoma tornado was a recent memory. Thunderstorms were firing up over the Middle West. Major storms were reported from New York and Pennsylvania to New England. Community leaders were studying the hurricane forecast developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A very difficult season is anticipated and the NOAA people usually get things right.
In past years, many congregations have waited for natural disasters to happen. This year, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth, Massachusetts, decided to take the initiative. The Falmouth fellowship is located on Cape Cod and coastal residents know that they live in harm's way. Cape Cod has a large population of senior citizens. Instead of waiting for tragedies to occur, why not encourage emergency preparations?
The Falmouth fellowship organized several events for the end of May and the start of June.
On May 24th, the congregation presented a community program on climate change and emergency preparations, with special attention given to congregations. All religious organizations in the area were invited to send representatives to a strategy session. The interfaith Falmouth Clergy Association and the Cape Cod Council of Churches provided support. More than forty people participated in the May 24th program. Special attention was given to pastoral care, emergency communications, environmental justice concerns, and cooperation with community agencies like the Red Cross.
On May 25th, the Falmouth fellowship hosted an emergency services training program for volunteers. The county health department provided the trainers and the local Sierra Club group provided refreshments and additional support. At the beginning of June, the Falmouth fellowship worked with the Cape Cod Council of Churches and other religious organizations to encourage all religious organizations to pause for a time of reflection at the start of hurricane season. The Unitarian Universalists emphasized the importance of "deeds not creeds." All religious organizations, in all religious traditions, have opportunities to support emergency services and reconstruction activities.
In an era of climate change, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth is developing new strategies for consciousness raising and community organizing. By responding to immediate problems, the Falmouth fellowship hopes to involve more people in long-term work for managing climate change. Congregation leaders say that they're working with the basics of Community Organizing 101.
Listen to people, build some trust, and try to be useful in the here and now. If climate change activists can't save their neighbors from today's storms – well, why and how will the activists be helpful during future emergencies?
An Off-grid, Off-road UU in Alaska
By Laura Emerson – email@example.com
One night, while preparing a labor-intensive risotto for dinner in our Houston high-rise, my husband ambled into the kitchen and asked, with studied casualness, “Honey, if I could buy a piece of undeveloped land in Alaska, under market value, would that be OK with you?” Who knew that five years later, we would be living full time in a two room log cabin with an outhouse, forty-two miles from the nearest road, having sold our high-rise and given away most of our belongings.
Obviously there are a number of “why?” and “how?” and “why?” again, questions raised by that paragraph, but for this Reflections piece, I'd like to focus on three things I appreciate more because of these changes. But first, the setting:
Since there are no roads, the only transport here is by floatplane, ski plane, or, in winter, a seven-hour snow machine (snowmobile) round trip commute to the nearest town. At this remove, we receive no community services whatsoever: no electricity, roads, or plumbing. Anything we need, we have to grow, make, or do without. Such a situation is like one of those lifeboat group dynamic exercises. What do you really need? What can you do without? The first thing my husband did after clearing space in the woods several years ago (while I sat down and cried, “What on earth are we doing here?”) was to build a 120 foot power tower for wind and solar power, a satellite system for Internet, and a phone booster. You see, we are not retired. He needed to first determine whether he could run his business from the middle of nowhere, with modern communications technology. (He can, and most clients don't know where he is.)
Over the course of the day, we seem to straddle several centuries. In the mornings, he reads the Internet and engages in long distance conversations about high finance. Meanwhile, I'm washing clothes in a bucket after melting snow on the wood stove, collecting eggs from cold-hardy chickens, and monitoring the fermentation of our beer, bread, and wine. Later, he goes out to chop wood while I sit down to a laptop to write business articles or future sermons. When things go smoothly, I feel a bit like Laura Ingalls Wilder (although their house looks cleaner). Other times, particularly for the first few years, I felt like somebody in a mistaken time warp scenario or Eva Gabor on Green Acres (without the high heels).
By shifting so completely from living in a city to living on our own out in the boonies, I am very appreciative of what I have but also of what I left behind. Here are three:
First, living on our own, every single item on Maslow's hierarchy, from water to heat to food to shelter depends on our own efforts. We had to climb a steep learning curve and drop a lot of expectations along the way. As a result, rather than demonize city life, I am immensely impressed by all the inventors, businesses, resources, and infrastructure that enable populations of 10,000 to 10 million people to live in close proximity to each other. Most rely on mysterious wires, pipes, materials, and delivery systems for both creature comforts and necessities without having to know how these things work. When I visit a city now, I love noticing on a restaurant menu all the items from remote longitudes and latitudes, like wine from Chile and lobster from Maine. I adore a bath with hot, running water. I'm amazed by how fast one can get from here to there thanks to highways through forests and bridges over rivers. Suggestion: be grateful next time you flip that switch or buy that strawberry.
Second, I love the silence here. Rather than wake up to a radio, I listen to the pulse inside my ears and feel the blood pump through my toes. It is a way of paying attention to that time-stamped battery in my chest. In the absence of “incoming” electronic entertainments, I spend more time with my thoughts and memories. As a result of our solitude and silence, I've processed some “woulda, coulda, shoulda” regrets that I had previously kept at bay with an array of city entertainments. This has brought some peace of mind. Suggestion: carve out extended periods of silence.
Third, because everything takes longer to do and is dependent on us, I have learned to enjoy the processes rather than rush through them. I've become a better cook. I've learned to staunch blood with yarrow leaves. I can distinguish the tracks of fox and coyote sniffing around our chicken coop. Being attentive and curious keeps me from getting bored. I think of the following anecdote: One time his followers asked the Buddha what to do until they gained enlightenment. He answered, “Tote water; chop wood.” And what, they asked, would they do after they achieved enlightenment? He answered, “Tote water, chop wood.” We do both every day. I'm certainly not enlightened, but I'm trying to become more aware. Oops, the fire has gone out and the cabin is getting cool. Enough navel-gazing – back to work.
For more information about Laura's life in the Alaska Bush, see: alaskauu1.blogspot.com. Comments and questions are welcome below any article.
A Prayer for the Gulf
Infinite Spirit of Life and Love, our hearts are heavy and our souls are troubled by the oil spill in the Gulf. All of us have felt a host of emotions these past weeks as we have watched the tragedy unfold over day after day. We have felt sorrow for those killed and injured and their families. We have felt heartache at the peril of the waters and wetlands, the beaches and marshes, and all the creatures of the Gulf. We have felt concern and compassion for all those whose livelihoods are dependent on the Gulf, many of whom are just now recovering from other disasters. We have felt anger that this happened and anger and frustration at the seeming inability to contain the spill and ameliorate the damage caused. We have felt helpless to do anything. And we have felt concern for those we know who work for BP, who are under such stress and scrutiny, who carry the weight of this tragedy more than we can know, and who feel all that we feel and more.
We pray for comfort and healing for those who are mourning losses and for those who are hurting. We pray for strength and resiliency, for ability and wisdom, for those working tirelessly to contain the spill and to protect the beaches, wetlands and marshes, to rescue the birds and other wildlife. We hold in our hearts all of this beautiful creation now despoiled.
And we pray also to acknowledge our complicity in this disaster. Though the threads be long and even obscure, we are all linked - all of us - in some way or another to this tragedy. We pray for all of us to find the wisdom and courage to live in ways that truly cherish our beautiful planet.
And we pray that, no matter our feelings of the moment, we will remember these feelings and use them to good ends - toward doing what we can to walk in right relationship with the earth, in right relationship with our fellow creatures, in right relationship with one another. As we are all linked with the earth, so all humanity is linked with one another.
Shalom. Blessed Be. Amen.
The Revs Becky and Mark Edmiston-Lange
For additional worship services and actions in response to the oil spill in the gulf, see Gulf Coast Supplement.
Earth, Our Deep-Home-Place
by Judy Moores, UU Church of Davis, California
We live in perilous times. The news from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change becomes increasingly dire with every scientific report that it issues. (1) Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already over 385 ppm and rising about 2 ppm per year. In June of 2008, Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies predicted that unless global emissions are reduced to 350ppm soon that we can expect a sea level rise of at least two meters within a century. Millions around the world will be displaced and increasing numbers of animal and plant species will go extinct. (2) As Claudia Kern, of the UU Ministry for Earth, writes, “If we are to heal our suffering planet and respond justly and compassionately to the inevitable chaos that climate change is bringing, it seems very clear that we need a rapid evolutionary leap in consciousness.” (3) Such a leap requires that we rethink our relationship to Earth. We need to develop a sense of gratitude so deep that we are willing to consider our every action – large or small, every day – and make critical positive decisions for the health of our planet.
We need to understand our direct dependence on Earth. If we continue on our current path, Descartes’ words, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” take on profound implications for our continued presence as a species on earth. Van Jones suggests in his article, “In Need of A Good Word” in Orion Magazine (Jan-Feb, 2008) the words environment, ecology, sustainability, conservation and green, neither help us understand that our grandchildren are more important than the bottom line and our personal comfort nor include people of all political persuasions, ethnicities, and nationalities. He says we need a terminology that invites everyone into the effort to transform the way we live on the planet.”
To address these concerns, I would like to suggest that we begin to refer to our planet as “Earth, Our Deep-Home-Place” to mean the unique location in the Universe that is our ancestral home, our current home, and the only home that we will ever have – a place deserving of reverence, gratitude, wonder, love and care. Deep – home – place – all simple words that we have used for centuries and perhaps, millennia.
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