I have written before about the Quaker practice of considering a set of questions or queries as a group, to explore various subjects related to how we are living our lives. There are twelve sets of queries, so the usual practice is to consider one set each month. A written response, representing the group discussion is then approved by the meeting.
Some of us at Bear Creek had some suggestions for additions to the advice and queries related to environmental responsibility, which we will be discussing next. Please note that these changes have not been officially approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).
I’ve also mentioned Bear Creek’s practice of inviting members of the meeting who cannot be present for the discussion because they live away from the meeting, to send their responses prior to the meeting’s discussion. My response to these queries is included below.
10. ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY AND ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE
All of creation is divine and interdependent: air, water, soil, and all that lives and grows. Since human beings are part of this fragile and mysterious web, whenever we pollute or neglect the earth we pollute and neglect our own wellsprings. Developing a keen awareness of our role in the universe is essential if we are to live peacefully within creation.
Modification: The environmental damage occurring to the earth and the environment is significantly greater than most of us understand or witness directly. Numerous conditions are creating dramatic changes in air and water temperatures, rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans, changing precipitation patterns with floods, droughts and massive fires, scarce clean water supplies, and a cascade of other such consequences.
The way we choose to live each day‑‑as we manufacture, package, purchase and recycle goods, use resources, dispose of water, -‑design homes, plan families and travel‑-affects the present and future of life on the planet. The thought and effort we give to replenishing what we receive from the earth, to keeping informed and promoting beneficial legislation on issues which affect the earth, to envisioning community with environmental conscience, (insert) to ending our reliance on fossil-fuel cars immediately are ways in which we contribute to the ongoing health of the planet we inhabit.
Preserving the quality of life on Earth calls forth all of our spiritual resources. Listening to and heeding the leadings of the Holy Spirit can help us develop qualities which enable us to become more sensitive to all life
- What are we doing about our disproportionate use of the world’s resources?
- Do we see unreasonable exploitation in our relationship ‑with the rest of creation?
- How can we nurture reverence and respect for life? How I can we become more fully aware of our interdependent relationship with the rest of creation?
- To what extent are we aware of all life and the role we play? What can we do in our own lives and communities to address environmental concerns?
- Are we willing to commit ourselves to addressing climate change immediately?
- How can we “be patterns, be examples” in implementing the immediate cessation of the use of fossil fuels? How can we offer meaningful, tangible support for the rapid development of locally owned and operated renewable energy systems?
- How do we build local, just, self-sufficient, resilient, Beloved communities? How do we invite, encourage, train, and send out into the wider world a nonviolent collective of spiritual visionaries, truthtellers, organizers, and change-makers in order to protect the Earth? Are we willing to be sent out ourselves with this message?
It is interesting to consider these queries while I am in Rocky Mountain National Park. One of the main reasons I became concerned about environmental damage from cars as a teenager was my fear that the mountains (that I’m looking at now) that I had seen during our family camping trips, would be obscured by smog. I was raised during the time before catalytic converters when cities were enveloped in smog. I almost wish catalytic converters had not been developed. I think people would have realized the damage auto exhaust was doing.
It was a great spiritual experience for me to have Bear Creek meeting take up my concern about fossil fuel transportation, leading to the approval of a minute on ethical transportation. That minute was taken up by the Yearly Meeting this year, and a modified version was approved (see below). The last part of the minutes discusses the visible witness of using bicycles. I recently rode my bicycle 40 miles from Des Moines (where I was participating in an environmental justice event) to Bear Creek meetinghouse. While at the meetinghouse, we had an event related to the national StopETP (Energy Transfer Partners) actions that weekend, where we discussed the musical activism of Nahko and Medicine for the People and their support for the water protectors at Standing Rock.
I have come to the conclusion that the damage we have done to Mother Earth is so severe and irreversible that it will become uninhabitable for humans in the not so distant future. What I pray about these days is how we will live, and help others live, through the changes in climate we will be experiencing until then.
I’ve been concerned that many systems we rely on will be breaking down, mainly as a result of a number of consequences of the environmental damage that has occurred and will continue to occur.
More hurricanes like the ones we’ve seen this summer, rising oceans flooding major coastal cities and changing precipitation patterns with increasing desertification will, I think, begin to overwhelm Federal, state and local governments’ ability to continue to provide services. And all of that plus the death of life in the oceans from acidification from absorbing CO2 will create massive numbers of climate refugees.
It would seem the Midwest would be one of the bright spots in the future, which would likely mean many refugees would be coming here for food, water and shelter.
If that will be happening, how can we plan ahead to try to deal with it?
- Energy. It would seem important to have local sources of renewable energy. Is now the time to think about solar panels for the meetinghouse, for example? And a group of solar panels for community power?
- Housing. What would be the best type of shelter to provide? Multitenant structures, or very small family/personal structures, like straw bale houses?
- Water. I don’t know how many water wells there are in the Bear Creek area. It would seem to drill more might be important. And to create more ponds. I think we have to plan for the situation where we would no longer have municipal supplies of water.
- Community planning. How best to lay out housing and cultivated land for the time when we may not have fossil fuel for mechanized farming any longer?
- Food storage. It would seem building food cellars would be a good idea. And places to do food preservation. Electrically powered refrigeration is likely to be limited or nonexistent.
A new book I’m reading that is an excellent source of information about climate change is Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know by Joseph Romm.
Ethical Transportation Minute
Approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2017
Radically reducing fossil fuel use has long been a concern of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). A previously approved Minute urged us to reduce our use of personal automobiles. We have continued to be challenged by the design of our communities that makes this difficult. This is even more challenging in rural areas. But our environmental crisis means we must find ways to address this issue quickly.
Friends are encouraged to challenge themselves and to simplify their lives in ways that can enhance their spiritual environmental integrity. One of our meetings uses the term “ethical transportation,” which is a helpful way to be mindful of this.
Long term, we need to encourage ways to make our communities “walkable”, and to expand public transportation systems. These will require major changes in infrastructure and urban planning.
Carpooling and community shared vehicles would help. We can develop ways to coordinate neighbors needing to travel to shop for food, attend meetings, visit doctors, etc. We could explore using existing school buses or shared vehicles to provide intercity transportation.
One immediately available step would be to promote the use of bicycles as a visible witness for non-fossil fuel transportation. Friends may forget how easy and fun it can be to travel miles on bicycles. Neighbors seeing families riding their bicycles to Quaker meetings would have an impact on community awareness. This is a way for our children to be involved in this shared witness. We should encourage the expansion of bicycle lanes and paths. We can repair and recycle unused bicycles, and make them available to those who have the need.