According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Are We Dead Already? Looking for a "Can-Do" Eco-Sustainability Message beyond the Many Eco-Messages of Doom

Walking Through a Rice Paddy, Bali, Indonesia

The Merchants of Doom

By Keith Kloor | March 17, 2014 11:54 am

Paul Ehrlich and Ann Ehrlich, two long-time prominent voices in the environmental community, often speculate about the future of humanity. They recently shared this anecdote:
A few years ago we had a disagreement with our friend Jim Brown, a leading ecologist.  We told him we thought there was about a 10 percent chance of avoiding a collapse of civilization but, because of concern for our grandchildren and great grandchildren, we were willing to struggle to make it 11 percent.  He said his estimate of the chance of avoiding collapse was only 1 percent, but he was working to make it 1.1 percent.  Sadly, recent trends and events make us think Jim might have been optimistic.  Perhaps now it’s time to talk about preparing for some form of collapse soon, hopefully to make a relatively soft “landing.”
If you want to know why the Ehrlichs think it’s essentially game over for civilization, read their 2013 paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. Their diagnosis:
The human predicament is driven by overpopulation, overconsumption of natural resources and the use of unnecessarily environmentally damaging technologies and socio-economic-political arrangements to service Homo sapiens’ aggregate consumption.
Translation: Too many damn people on the earth, driving cars, buying too much crap, all made possible by a globalized, industrialized, capitalistic system. Or something like that. Unsurprisingly, the Ehrlichs don’t agree with those who paint a sunnier view of humanity’s current trajectory. (What might a model sustainable society look like? Paul Ehrlich recently pointed to Australia’s Aboriginal culture.)

Now I’m not the only one to observe that the environmental community, as a whole, has a bleak view of the future.

But is the near-future collapse of civilization virtually guaranteed, as the Ehrlichs seem to think? Is there no reversing this collision course? Here’s what UK environmentalist Jonathan Porritt said last week in an interview:
A lot of people in my community of sustainability professionals have basically come to the conclusion it’s too late.
This strikes me as a self-defeating outlook, as I hinted the other day. It lends itself to the fatalism that has already infected environmental discourse, as I have previously discussed:
If you are a regular consumer of environmental news and commentary, you are familiar with the narrative of humanity’s downfall.
In the current issue of The New York Review Of Books, the novelist Zadie Smith is conflicted about this eco-doomsday narrative. On the one hand, she is bothered that most people aren’t taking seriously “the visions of apocalypse conjured by climate scientists and movie directors,” which she refers to as “the coming emergency.” But she also seems to get the futility of this storyline:
Sometimes the global, repetitive nature of this elegy is so exhaustively sad—and so divorced from any attempts at meaningful action—that you can’t fail to detect in the elegists a fatalist liberal consciousness that has, when you get right down to it, as much of a perverse desire for the apocalypse as the evangelicals we supposedly scorn.
Indeed, the merchants of eco-doom who peddle their vision of apocalypse to a secular choir are just as self-rightous and scornful of humanity as the fundamentalist preachers who hawk their hellfire and brimstone sermons. And like the most warped fundamentalists who exploit tragedy, the merchants of eco-doom also cynically seize on current events. On this score, nobody rivals Nafeez Ahmed (the UK Left’s faux-scholarly equivalent to Glenn Beck), who has an unquenchable appetite for peak-everything porn. (For commentary on his latest connect-the-collapse dots, see this post.)

Not all greens have a fetish for doomsday scenarios. Some are are trying to chart a more empowering vision for environmentalism. Porritt belongs to this group. He has a new book that appears hopeful about the future.

If only more environmentalists could snap out of their endless mourning for the planet and offer the rest of us something to look forward to [or to work towards in preventive scenarios] other than imminent eco-collapse.

* * * * * * * * *

Rethinking Environmentalism:
Beyond Doom and Gloom

pp. 108-113

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Readers of this journal are familiar enough with the environmental facts: human demand for resources and production of wastes exceeds the planet’s sustainable capacity, which portends future scarcity and potential calamity as resource stocks are depleted and pollution accumulates beyond dangerous thresholds.

Deforestation decimates species habitats, industrialization intensifies patterns of resource depletion and pollution, [population] sprawl pushes the urban-wildland interface ever deeper into remaining undeveloped areas, and climate change threatens to exacerbate all these problems and more.

Readers are also familiar with social scientific analyses of the causes of such degradation and obstacles to its reform: the limited time horizons and regulatory incapacity of existing political institutions, social norms that encourage unsustainable consumption, collective action logic that undermines environmental responsibility, and the lack of reliable information concerning the environmental impacts of everyday choices all frustrate individual and collective efforts to live more sustainably.

From such dismal projections, environmental politics is often caught between the pessimistic defeatism of those recommending unpalatable and unheeded solutions as the only means for averting ecological collapse, the futile jeremiads of those warding off apocalypse with compact fluorescent bulbs, and the naïve optimism of the eco-pollyanna.

Readers cycle between hoping against reason that the latter are somehow right and fearing against better regard for humanity that the former might be. A middle way is desperately needed, wherein hard-nosed realism about current threats and obstacles to meaningful change meets constructive criticism about current social and political life, and generates creative and far-reaching but viable and efficacious solutions.

In three ambitious and impassioned books, Paul Wapner, Thomas Princen, and Juliet Schor (multiple book titles) offer what may at least begin to dislodge environmental politics from this paralyzing stalemate among competing rationalizations for inaction. Each tries in his or her own way to inject a guardedly hopeful and empowering narrative into contemporary environmentalism, seen by all three as in need of saving from itself.

For Princen and Schor, sustainability must be grounded in a compelling vision of the good life, rather than reasons for forswearing or feeling guilty about its pursuit, where living green can also mean living well. For Wapner it requires a new ontology that embraces ambiguity as liberating and informs a more enlightened and ultimately harmonious relationship between people and the places they live.

All three seek to inculcate an ethic of responsibility that balances prudence and possibility, together yielding the sense that we can make a difference, if we are willing to critically reflect on the ways that we think and aspire, and do so while acknowledging the practical and conceptual obstacles that stand in the way, seeking transformation and redemption through the creative destruction of ossified ideals and insidious assumptions.

While constructions of nature have in the past provided environmentalists with focal points and normative ideals, has the concept of nature outlived its usefulness? Wapner suggests in Living Through the End of Nature that it has, as environmentalists have reified nature, building their movement around its preservation in what he terms the “dream of naturalism” and describes as the proposition that “we live best when we align with the natural world” (pp. 54–55). Here, “nature” stands in for an ideal of a physical world untarnished by humanity, defined as unnatural and a threat to its pristine condition, and an impossible reference point for maintaining “natural” environments in the face of all-pervasive anthropogenic interference in what can thus no longer accurately be viewed as such.

For Wapner, Bill McKibben’s announcement of the “end of nature” comes not as a glum obituary or cause to lament the ubiquity of human influence, but “represents a profound opportunity” for the environmental movement to “liberate itself from a nature-centric perspective” (p. 12). Nature, he argues, “stands at the center” of the movement, but has become a distraction from the most pressing issues at hand.

Without “nature” obstructing our view of human settlements and affairs, concern for the environment can be reoriented toward the problems and possibilities that surround us (as in the German umwelt, or “surrounding world”) rather than being cast away from people as corrupting influences on that environment. As Wapner writes, this “postnature environmentalist trajectory” can address “urban sustainability, social justice...

* * * * * * * * *

Environmentalists have always worked to protect the wildness of nature but now must find a new direction. We have so tamed, colonized, and contaminated the natural world that safeguarding it from humans is no longer an option. Humanity's imprint is now everywhere and all efforts to "preserve" nature require extensive human intervention. At the same time, we are repeatedly told that there is no such thing as nature itself -- only our own conceptions of it. One person's endangered species is another's dinner or source of income. In Living Through the End of Nature, Paul Wapner probes the meaning of environmentalism in a postnature age.

Wapner argues that we can neither go back to a preindustrial Elysium nor forward to a technological utopia. He proposes a third way that takes seriously the breached boundary between humans and nature and charts a co-evolutionary path in which environmentalists exploit the tension between naturalism and mastery to build a more sustainable, ecologically vibrant, and socially just world.

Beautifully written and thoughtfully argued, Living Through the End of Nature provides a powerful vision for environmentalism's future.

* * * * * * * * *

In this groundbreaking pamphlet, Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American, examines how Americans can begin making the shift away from a resource-destructive society to one that values the environment, community, and quality of life above business and profit. She a traces back how after W.W.II, Americans had hoped that technology and social investment would yield shorter work weeks, more pay, and complete healthcare. Instead, we work more, get paid less, and maintain an indecent adult minimum wage. Where did we go wrong?

Schor's pamphlet charts an economic vision based that aims to reduce work hours, increase leisure, create new work schedules that are not operating on a "male" model of employment, create green quotas and industry-wide environmental standards, alternative housing and transportation, raise minimum wage, restructure labor relations, change corporate culture, and promote social accountability. The pamphlet "sets the guideposts," writes Noam Chomsky, "for constructive thinking and action to save our country from becoming a plaything for investors and transnational corporations, and to place its fate in the hands of its citizens."

* * * * * * * * *

We are living beyond our means, running up debts both economic and ecological, consuming the planet's resources at rates not remotely sustainable. But it's hard to imagine a different way. How can we live without cheap goods and easy credit? How can we consume without consuming the systems that support life? How can we live well and live within our means? In Treading Softly, Thomas Princen helps us imagine an alternative. We need, he says, a new normal, an ecological order that is actually economical with resources, that embraces limits, that sees sustainable living not as a "lifestyle" but as a long-term connection to fresh, free-flowing water, fertile soil, and healthy food.

The goal would be to live well by living well within the capacities of our resources. Princen doesn't offer a quick fix -- there's no list of easy ways to save the planet to hang on the refrigerator. He gives us instead a positive, realistic sense of the possible, with an abundance of examples, concepts, and tools for imagining, then realizing, how to live within our biophysical means.

* * * * * * * * *

Sustainability 101: what's it about?
a short college premier

Sustainable Development that is:
- Attractive
- Positive
- Attainable

in a network of inter-relations that are:
- dependent
- impactful
- finite
- definable

What is The Crisis of Civilization?
a look at present social norms and collective action logic

* * * * * * * * *

Plane search hampered by ocean garbage problem

by Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014

(CNN) -- Another debris field, another new and so-far futile focus in the search for Flight MH370.

Two weeks after the Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared, one thing has been made clear: the ocean is full of garbage, literally.

"It isn't like looking for a needle in a haystack," Conservation International senior scientist M. Sanjayan said of the difficulty in finding the Boeing 777 aircraft. "It's like looking for a needle in a needle factory. It is one piece of debris among billions floating in the ocean."

"One piece of debris among billions"

Environmentalists like Sanjayan have warned for years that human abuse of the planet's largest ecosystem causes major problems for ocean life and people that depend on it.

With the world's eyes now scouring Asian waters for any trace of the plane that was more than 240 feet long and weighed more than 700,000 pounds, the magnitude of the ocean debris problem has become evident.

Two objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean, including one nearly 80 feet long, initially were called the best lead to date when a satellite detected them last week.

So far, though, search planes have yet to find them or any other plane debris, with speculation mounting that the larger item was a shipping container lost at sea.

No definitive records exist, but estimates for how many containers go overboard range from about 700 to as many as 10,000 of the roughly 100 million that the World Shipping Council says get shipped each year.

Most ocean garbage comes from land

Lost containers are only a minor part of the problem. While ship waste also adds to ocean pollution, most of the garbage comes from land, Sanjayan said.

More than a third of the world's 7 billion people live within 60 miles of an ocean coast, and their waste inevitably reaches the water -- either deliberately or indirectly.

Estimates from various sources, including the Japanese government, indicate that more than 10 million tons of debris -- including houses, tires, trees and appliances -- washed into the sea in the 2011 tsunami.

Treating the Ocean as a Toilet is Not the Answer

In addition, discarded plastics -- including countless bags like the kind routinely provided by retail stores and fast food restaurants until a movement in recent years to decrease their use -- form huge, churning garbage fields in the rotating currents of ocean gyres. One in the north Pacific is estimated to be at least 270,000 square miles, or an area larger than Texas.

Sanjayan cited Dhaka, Bangladesh, as an example. Considered the fastest growing city in the world, the capital of 15 million people could expand to more than 20 million people in the next decade, according to the United Nations.

Such growth far exceeds the capacity to deal with the garbage and sewage, Sanjayan said, adding: "All that waste in countries like that -- low-lying, prone to flooding -- periodically flushes into the ocean."

Meet the World's Smartest Kid and Hear What He Dreams

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