“We Don’t Do Fair Trade”

As part of the 40/40/40 for the Earth campaign, I’ve resolved to drink only fairly traded coffee for 40 days. Admittedly, I knew it would not a be huge stretch since most of the places I frequently drink coffee already use or offer fair trade options:  the office (we use Equal Exchange) , my school (Wesley Theological Seminary’s Dining Services Company, Meriwether-Godsey, has great fair/local/green commitments), and my home (we buy from Zeke’s, a Baltimore-based company owned by an old family friend that produces amazing coffee).

My Coffee Cup (a lovely gift from my friend Jen)

Feeling adventuresome,  I took my ceramic, it’s-reusable-but-it-looks-like-a-to-go cup for a survey tour of the four coffee shops within one block of our office. None of the options (two national chains, one regional chain, and one independent shop) sold cups of fair trade coffee, although Starbucks sold bags of fairly-traded beans.  Disappointing, but not surprising.

The real challenge for me has come whilst eating breakfast in cafes and diners, which happens to be one of the things I enjoy most in this world.  The two places I go regularly are small, independent restaurants staffed by friendly people. I was not looking forward to the dynamic of being “that guy” who asks about the coffee. Nonetheless, I wanted to make good on my pledge–and I wanted caffeine–so I asked one of the cafe’s co-owners about their coffee.  “Our coffee is 100% Columbian” he responded. “We don’t do fair trade.”

I could have entered my lobbying phase, but I chose to leave it at that.  My sense is that the question expressed my desire well enough, and that any additional advocacy would simply have been annoying. Maybe I’ll bring it up again in the future, after we’ve both had time to think about it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did drink a cup of their coffee that morning–but it was the small cup of hot coffee that came free with my meal, rather than the large iced coffee I actually wanted.  Since it was already an extremely hot and humid day, the hot cup did feel like somewhat of a penalty.  For the rest of my 40 days, however, I will not buy or drink any java there. Even if they decide to give away large iced coffees. –Rob

40/40/40 Update – Day 8

We’re just over a week into our 40-day focus on Ethical Eating.  Many of us have picked specific actions to take for these forty days.  Here are some of our reflections:

Rob: Drinking Fair Trade Coffee
At the bagel shop this morning–which did not have fair trade coffee–I was thankful that I had already drank a cup of fair trade joe before I left home. I need to keep that in mind for the future if i’m going to eat somewhere else for breakfast. Fair trade coffee: don’t leave home without it!

Rowan: Saying Grace/Taking time to reflect on where my food comes from
The first couple days were really challenging for me. Five bites into eating, or worse–after I finished, I’d realize that I had forgotten to stop and gratefully reflect. I’d put down my fork and try and think about my food and where it came from. Though I’m passionate about food and food issues and could talk to you for an hour about bananas, the urgency of the moment made it difficult to think of anything meaningful. I decided to pick weekly themes to help me focus on different aspects of Ethical Eating, starting with a focus on labor.

I’ve gotten better at remembering to stop before I start eating, and the theme is really helping me focus. I can’t believe how many people it took to get me my breakfast cereal! All the people involved in saving and planting the seeds, growing/harvesting/storing the crops, processing/packaging/marketing the cereal, shipping/storage/selling the product, and not to mention all the people involved in making the packaging, logging the trees, designing the font, mining the materials to make the machinery, the fuel, etc. I’m done with my bowl of cereal before I could possibly think of everyone it took to get me this cereal (and the bowl, milk, and spoon). For their work, I am grateful. This increased awareness is pushing me toward buying simpler ingredients, in which I can know more about each step of the process.

Meg: Eliminating Cane Sugar
I’m doing it. The hardest was being at a long conference where all snacks involved sugar—luckily there was usually fruit, too. I’m proud of myself! It feels positive to do something with others. And I just made rhubarb with maple syrup—yum!

Nicole: Eating locally in Boston, MA
So, in that Murphy’s Law kind of way, I’ve found my first week difficult, but not unsuccessful overall. One issue has been that the official farmer’s market season doesn’t start till mid-May here in Boston; my first shipment of Boston Organics arrives only today, and I opted for the “Dogma Box,” which promises at least 8 locally-grown items in it (excitement!). But in the meantime it’s been hummus (local), some more fiddlehead ferns (not sure if I love or loathe them), locally made bread, eggs, butter, and locally grown tomatoes. And accidentally, some food at a restaurant that was not local (I’m becoming such a pain in the butt to my friends).

The other (personal-life issue) has been that I’ve been bumbling around with a herniated disc for almost week, making cooking, shopping, standing, and often-times consciousness kind of a bummer. I think I’ve had Ben & Jerry’s every single day since it started (it’s from Vermont, that’s within my challenge constraints at least).

Life on the go and/or life temporarily impaired/immobilized, makes it really tough to have convenience, variety, and locally produced foodstuffs in this challenge; can’t have it all, I suppose. Lugging around bags of food like a hermit crab (because they lug around bags of food, of course) is also a tough one. I’m seeing that my lifestyle choices (some by necessity, though) definitely impact the way I eat, and make this challenge all the more…challenging. At least it has me thinking (constantly).

Orelia: Humane & Sustainably-raised Meat
My resolution was to only eat meat that is locally produced and sustainably farmed. I got some great sausage at the farmers’ market last week, and I found myself talking to the vendors more than I would have otherwise about their animals and their farms. I’m privileged to live in an area where there are many farmers’ markets, and when I want to buy meat and can afford it, I have a lot of options.

I’m finding that in social situations, when I’m eating at an event or potluck, it feels uncomfortable to ask people where they got the meat that they used to prepare their dishes. In these situations, I will probably just tell people that I’m a vegetarian and deal with their confusion if and when they ever see me eating meat. Sometimes it works to share my resolution with people, and sometimes it feels less awkward if I keep it to myself. I know that I’m not doing this so that I can shout it from the mountaintops, I’m doing it because I think it’s a way that I can live sustainably that makes sense for me. My decision might not work for someone else whose geographic, health or economic situation differs from mine. After the past week, I feel more aware of the fact that others might have their own ways of living sustainably that are equally valid and meaningful for them.

Alida: Saying Grace
At the dinner table we now follow our routine moment of silence with spoken observations about the sources of our food, the workers who helped bring it to our table and the animals whose lives have been sacrificed for us. Last night we observed the cultural influences in the particular foods. Our 9 year old son is way into it. We give thanks for the “efforts and sacrifices that have made this food available for us”. It has really made us more aware and grateful. Good new practice!

40 Days Without Sugar

Written on April 22, 2010.

That’s a mean plant, my Granny explained to me when I was ten, pointing out the car window as we drove through North Carolina. It’s mean to the folks who try to grow it and sell it. It’s mean to the folks who use it. And it’s mean to the earth.

She was talking about commercially grown tobacco, but it could have been sugar as well. I’ve read enough to know that many of the people growing cane sugar and corn are slaves to the corporations who are mass producing these foods. And I can tell you firsthand that sugar is no friend to me, one of its most devoted users.

But I only suspected that sugar was also not a friend of the earth when I decided to give it up for 40 days as part of the UUA’s 40/40/40 campaign. Preliminary research tells me I was right.

I’m thinking of 40/40/40 as a kind of UU lent. After all, while we honor many theologies and spiritual paths, all of us who are committed to deeds, not creeds, understand that life is lived on a home planet—that would be earth. And we honor that we are part of that planet’s life. As environmentalist John Seed once said, “If you don’t think you are part of the ecosystem, hold your breath right now and see how long you last.”

When the staff in the Washington DC office began to envision what it might mean to commit to a personal change in eating for 40/40/40, I blurted out, “I am going to stop eating processed sugars” before I could stop myself. The earth did not stop spinning on its axis. Even the meeting didn’t slow down. My commitment was simply noted along with others.

As I listened to someone else talk about only eating local and organic meats, which I mostly already do and could without suffering commit myself to doing more, I heard a scream inside my head responding to what I had just said out loud. The scream said, and I quote, “NOOOOOOOOO!” I blurted out, interrupting someone else’s commitment, “That does NOT include local maple syrup and unpasteurized honey, by the way!” People were kind when I said this, but I could tell they were a little bewildered and annoyed, too. Like, sure, whatever, Meg, but stop interrupting! They could not hear that scream, obviously—it was mine.

In the week between making that commitment and now, I have been preparing myself for this journey. No, not by deep reflection and learning about how sugar production impacts the earth. Not by looking up recipes for healthful alternatives, nor by purchasing them at the local co-op. Nope, I’ve been preparing by overeating processed sugar. I think you get my drift. I’m a junkie. I’m scared to admit how challenging this is going to be, and what a wimp I feel like having my soul co-sponsored by something as infantile as Good and Plenty.

I’ll keep you posted on this one. I’m grateful for the opportunity to match my behavior with my values, even though I’m afraid about it. I am grateful for the staff in the Washington Office for being a support system. And I’m grateful that I’ve got enough courage and life-force to be willing to tackle this sugar monster.

It’s interesting how much my fear re-affirms that I am part of the ecosystem. What is not good for me is also not good for the rest of the planet. Allowing myself to know this opens up the support of the earth as I face my fear. When I do that, I become excited to take these next steps towards affirmation of life!

For Heaven’s Sake–and Ours–STOP GLOBAL WARMING!

mailing a postcard
Joelle "mails" a postcard to her Senator.

Yesterday was the Earth Day Climate Rally in honor of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day.  I worked with the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light to organize a multi-faith contingency at the rally, bringing together six different faith traditions to celebrate Earth and to cry out together for the need for climate change action.  It was great to hear the dialogue between different congregations and faiths about climate change, how we can be more involved as people of faith, and what’s working/not working for congregations.  I’m inspired to see congregations work together toward real climate solutions.  I was really glad we’d brought postcards and address labels for people to write “and mail” messages to the Senators right at the rally, so that our faith community could send a clear message that climate change is a priority to us and that we want to see legislative action now.

The UUA banner attracted people from near and far!  UUs from at least 10 different congregations came by, from as far away as Portland, Oregon and Littleton, Massachusetts, and from several of the more local congregations in the District, Maryland, and Virginia.  UU banner at rallySeveral more folks came by our banner, saying that they had grown up UU and recently moved to the area and were wondering about how to get involved.  People seemed to appreciate us being there, showing that as Unitarian Universalists, we are called to care for our planet and get legislation passed that makes Earth more livable for all people, both now and into the future.  So all-in-all, we had a good presence at the rally and I’d like to thank everyone who came out for it!

I was frustrated to hear that the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill, scheduled to be unveiled today, has been postponed indefinitely.  Senator Graham announced that he will abandon climate legislation if it isn’t moved ahead of immigration on the Senate calendar.  writing postcards to SenatorsI am particularly concerned that according to a Washington Post article, Senators aren’t hearing that climate change legislation is a priority for their constituents.  Let us make sure they know that climate change is not only a priority for Unitarian Universalists, but it is a moral and ethical imperative that action is taken on climate change.  We are polluting the very planet that sustains us and allows us to live, and the first people to experience the impacts are often the poor and people of color.  Farmers, for example, rely directly on the weather and the earth for growing their crops, and a changing climate impacts their livelihood.  While the changes we can make in our own lives are important,  legislation must be passed to enable the institutional changes necessary to tackle climate change.  Please call your Senators NOW and tell them we need strong and just climate legislation now!

Earth Day 40/40/40: Locavore Challenge

Guest post from Nicole McConvery, from the International Office.

I, admittedly naively, have decided to commit myself to foraging for local food only, over the next 40 days.  This was inspired by the realization that almost everything I eat comes from pretty far away; I’d never really pondered that fact until now. Much of this food has seen more of the world than I have, traversing the globe via planes, trains, and automobiles, leaving quite the carbon trail in its wake. I’m not so sure I can continue to consume blindly without committing some cognitive energy, and a little conscientious action, towards making decisions that are a little easier on the planet.

On the eve of my personal challenge, I realized with comical dread that I hadn’t yet purchased anything to feed myself over the next couple of days.  (The weekend is a much easier time to visit local farms/farmstands).  So, I decided to hit up the local Whole Foods. As I roamed the immaculately kept aisles, my eyes darted up to the tops of every food sign, which mark the origin of each product. I kind of balked at the dearth of local produce; all I could find in the veggie area were a bunch of run-down looking fiddlehead ferns, which don’t sound particularly edible.  Ever the crusader of comestibles, I grabbed a modest bunch despite my reservations. We don’t grow carrots here (in MA)? Cucumbers? Lettuce? What’s with that?! — I know that’s not true, but wow, it’s really that much cheaper to ship food from the other side of the planet than to grow some of it here?

I was equally disheartened to find only locally-made apple cider available in the fruit aisle.  Everything that I would normally gravitate towards seemed to come from California (note to self). That set the tone for my purposeful ambling; I didn’t come across much that would fulfill the constraints of my personal challenge and still provide for my dietary restrictions, but what I did find fit the bill for the next few days: locally made hummus, wraps, eggs, cheese, and those crazy ferns.

My inner monologue was pretty amusing as I examined packaging and started to question everything when I realized food distributors are not necessarily where the food/ingredients originate.  I kept arguing with myself about how I was defining “local.”  Whole Foods seemed to define it as MA, NH, VT, and ME.  That’s fine with me.  I was astonished, though, to see that the local products often cost significantly more than their from-far-away counterparts.  I decided to keep pushing the issue with myself, and widened my “local” net to include CT and NY, only if I had to.  At least the pricing forced me to keep asking myself do I really need this?

However, I needed to be honest about any exceptions I had to make with this challenge (so far): soy/tofu, spices (that I already have in my kitchen), and rice (though I will try to cut back).  I am really reliant on soy as I don’t eat much meat; luckily local fish isn’t too hard to come by.  I can’t stand milk but I am big on yogurt and cheese; thankfully Cabot and Stonyfield fall within my regional constraints. Fruit juice I can do without (I tend towards water anyways).  I don’t drink coffee (don’t look at me that way!), but sometimes tea.  And spices! For me, essential.  But what about all that wonderful ethnic food I love to eat?  By default, most of it breaches my personal contract.  How long can I go without kimchi, soba, wakame, curry, boba?  Time will tell.

I have to be completely forthcoming about one particular fact: I will need to break out the Asian sauces every so often.  To that end, I’m grateful for the discovery of Chef Myron’s delicious, locally made ponzu and szechuan. The need for these flavors does call into question the origin of ingredients in some of these locally made products; though the sauces are assembled here in MA, I know full-well that sake and cane juice are not indigenous to this part of the country (correct me if I’m wrong?).  I’ve decided to not torture myself too much about this and will evaluate items on a case-by-case basis.

Next up: getting set up with a Boston Organics account.  Whole Foods will work in a pinch (sort of), but if I’m really going to succeed with this challenge, I’ll need to dig deeper.

40/40/40 for the Earth!

Unitarian Universalists across the continent are expanding Earth Day’s 40th anniversary on April 22, 2010 to last 40 days.  They are committing to small and large daily actions over the 40 days for the sake of the Earth and all who live here.  We eat every day, giving us a new opportunity, time and time again, both to shape the lives of the those who grow, process, and transport our food and to determine how the world’s natural resources are used.  Our personal choices affect many aspects of global environmental justice.

Several of us at from Advocacy and Witness and the Washington Center have decided to take on the challenge and will report back throughout the 40 days about our experiences.

Please join us! Write your comments at the end of this post with your own commitments, or log into Facebook and search for the “40/40/40 For the Earth!” group “40/40/40 For the Earth!” group.  Learn more information about the 40/40/40 Campaign.

Meg Riley
I’ve decided (gulp!) to give up refined sugar for 40 days.  First of all, because it doesn’t benefit me in any way.  But, more importantly, I’ve read enough about the conditions of sugarcane workers to know that neither they, nor the land where sugars are mass produced, are getting a bit of sweetness from its production.  I’m going to blog about this as I go, and I’ll share more with you as I learn more.

Orelia Busch
For the next forty days, and hopefully for the rest of my life, I will only eat meat that comes from farms with sustainable and humane practices, preferably located near where I live.  I want to know exactly where my meat is coming from and be assured that the animals I’m eating have not been pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals or lived under the conditions of factory farming, which is inhumane not only to the animals but also the workers involved.  Sometime during or after the forty days, I will probably expand these criteria to all animal products that I consume, but for now, I’ll start with meat.

Rowan Van Ness
I’m going to say grace before each meal and be more mindful about and grateful for my food and the journey it takes from field to the table. I’m curious to see how taking a few moments each day to recognize all of the people; the sun, rain, and soil; the spirit of life—all involved in getting me the food I eat every day—changes my relationship with food and decisions around what I eat.

Eric Cherry
My Earth Day commitment is to 40 days of “intentional gardening”.  Every year in mid-April, like many people, I’m excited to be getting my hands dirty in the soil that will nurture the most delicious food I’ll eat this summer.  But, every year after the initial excitement has worn off… caring for the plants and seedlings often starts to feel like a chore.  Over the next 40 days I’m committing to only entering the garden prayerfully and with joy and not leaving the garden until I’m centered and at peace (to some degree).  I hope that this will have a positive impact on my relationship to the food I eat.

Rob Keithan
I am going to only drinking fair trade coffee.  I think that will be challenging but not too challenging!

Nicole McConvery
I’m taking on the challenge of eating only local food, defining “local” as food grown in MA, VT, NH, and RI. Rather than eating food imported from elsewhere (realizing all the energy – human, chemical – involved), I want to subsist on food that essentially has a lower carbon footprint, when traveling from the field to my mouth. I want to see how challenging it is to eat only food I can buy at farmer’s markets and local grocers and am interested in the impact on: my health and eating decisions, my relationship with my community, and the effect on regional industry.

Alida DeCoster
We usually begin our family dinner with a moment of silence.  For the 40 days we will verbalize our gratitude and name the sources of our food and give thanks for the efforts and sacrifices that have brought it to our table.

Taquiena Boston
I commit to not eating a meal in front of a TV or computer monitor in the room for 40 days so that I can pay more attention to the food.

Earth Day Updates!

As congregations have been registering their Earth Day events, I have become totally inspired by the great work Unitarian Universalists are doing right now!

Plans for lifting up and celebrating Ethical Eating this Earth Day are underway in at least 14 states.  The Second Unitarian Church of Omaha in Nebraska will have a booth at a community Earth Day event, giving away shopping and gardening tips, seed packets with church info on them, and are selling fair trade coffee and teas.  The UU Congregation at Rock Tavern in New York will clean up trash in local wetlands, including a portion which flows through one of the few remaining dairy farms in the region which produces and sells milk locally.   The Accotink UU Church in Virginia will follow their Earth Day Service with tastings from the “Cooking—All Things Considered” class and plan to kick off the 40/40/40 Campaign, getting 40 members to commit to an Ethical Eating action for 40 days in honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.  See a list of events planned (PDF), as of March 30th.

Join the movement!
Information and suggestions on issues ranging from the field to the table, with links to congregational stories, worship materials, ideas for actions in your own community are available on the UUMFE Earth Day website.  Go a step further by participating in the 40/40/40 Campaign, and get 40 people from your congregation (or 40%) to commit to take action.  Register your Earth Day event to be included in a national press release and the final count of participating UU congregations, and check out resources on media and messaging to share your message beyond church walls.  If you register your congregation’s event, you will be entered in a raffle to win a $50 gift certificate to the UUA Bookstore.  Share the story of your event afterward to be entered a second time!

A Salad Bar of Worship Ideas
Here are a number of activities you can do in a smaller group worship setting, whether it’s an RE class, a covenant group, a circle worship, or for a group meeting specifically for the event.  Feel free to pick and choose from these resources.

For additional resources around faith and ethical eating, please check out the Ethical Eating Supplemental Worship Resources page:

  • Select some quotes related to ethical eating.  Pick quotes from a variety of sources, such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, the Bible, and Thich Nhat Hanh.  Have people select a quote that appeals to them.  Go around the circle and have people read the quotes aloud and share their reactions to the quotes.
  • Lead a ritual to wash away the things that are preventing us for eating more ethically.  Have each person silently think of something that is blocking them from focusing on their faith or from making mindful decisions around food.  Have them write it on a dish with a washable marker.  Provide a pitcher and bowl for people to silently wash away these barriers to action.
  • Lead a guided meditation on tangerines (or some other food).  Thich Nhat Hanh has a short essay on this in his book, Peace in Every Step, which discusses this more.  Have people think about the origins of the fruit and all the people and natural resources involved in getting the tangerine to them.  Engage each of the senses in the fruit, one at a time.  Finish each bite before starting the next.  Truly focus on the fruit and be aware of the gift it is to us.
  • Have people write down what they ate in a recent meal.  Pose questions for people to think about, as they reflect on that meal.  Ask them to take notes, and to especially note questions to which they don’t know the answers.  Some examples of questions might be: Where did the food come from?  Were pesticides and fertilizers used in the production of the foods?  Were the workers paid fair wages?  How far away did it come from? Discuss the answers.  How might we move forward from here? Can we turn any of the “I don’t knows” into things we are aware of?  Being aware of how our food is produced reduces the chances that living beings are being exploited.
  • Give people an opportunity to meditate and consider what they’ve learned about ethical eating and food justice.  Have little containers filled with soil and seeds and let people plant seeds as they share a commitment to one change, big or small, they’d like to make in their lives, on their journey toward ethical eating.

Call an End to Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining!

Call your Representative today to ask her/him to support H.R. 1310, the Clean Water Protection Act, which would help to end mountaintop removal coal mining!

In 2002, President Bush expanded the legal definition in the Clean Water Act of material fill to include mining waste.  This new definition made it much easier for coal companies to engage in mountaintop removal coal mining across Appalachia, dumping the fill in the nearby valleys and streams, polluting the water.  Appalachian coalfield residents face frequent catastrophic flooding, pollution, health issues, and loss of drinking water as a result of this devastated landscape.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that close to 2000 miles of streams and rivers have been polluted and more than 450 mountains and 1.5 million acres of land have already been destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining. Everyone deserves access to a just economic system and a healthy environment, and this is not currently happening in Appalachia and the situation is getting worse.

This week, nearly 200 citizens from Appalachia and across the US are lobbying as part of the 5th Annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington – and hundreds more will show support by making a simple phone call today. The coal industry is also working overtime to block urgently needed legislation that would protect the mountains and its people.   UU congregations voted in a 2006 Action of Immediate Witness to “End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining.”  It’s time to put our faith into action and take a stand for the mountains and the people who live there.  Call your Representative today!

Hope For Our Administration: Clean Energy Economy Forum at the White House

When Barack Obama was campaigning for his presidency, hope was a clear theme. Now, over a year later, I had the privilege of going inside the White House complex and being filled with that hope he promised. Yesterday afternoon, I attended the Clean Energy Economy Forum, in the company of mayors and business people, non-profit directors and faith-based advocates.

The Forum was split into two parts, with an opportunity to hear both the federal perspectives on why action now is important as well as what community leaders are doing at local and regional levels. The focus was on “livability” and “sustainable communities,” with discussion around collaboration between groups with different interests and purposes striving for more comprehensive solutions, examining transportation, housing, energy, environmental, and health impacts.

Secretary Ray LaHood from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Secretary Shaun Donovan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) lifted up both the success of their collaboration with each other as well as the impact of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They talked about how greening public housing improves health conditions for people of lower incomes, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and saves the government money. Housing and transportation are two of the largest costs people pay for, and good planning can help reduce the personal and environmental impacts of long commutes for all people, especially people of lower incomes. Approximately $100 million will be available this year for funding regional integrated planning initiatives, and grant recipients will be selected by the partnership between HUD, DOT, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Secretary Donovan said that communities of color cannot be left behind in this movement, like they were in the tech boom of the 1990s. I hope to see policies reflect that!

A moderator led a question and answer session between the panel and the audience. It was incredibly powerful to witness the Administration’s commitment to working towards livable cities and their willingness to seek guidance and feedback from people on the ground. Sitting in that forum made me feel like I actually live in a democracy–one that cares about seeking input from a variety of sources.

The practitioners on the panel in the second section were quite sharp and full of good insights. Doris Koo, President & CEO of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. started off saying, “Smart growth is not smart unless it is equitable,” and quickly made clear her commitment to greening affordable housing. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director & Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke eloquently about the clear connections between religion and environmentalism (“creation care”), and the unique role that faith-based community organizing can play. Religious groups are concerned with a multitude of issues, which can bring into light the synergy between seemingly different issues, and at the core, carry a special responsibility to the poor. With some 400,000 congregations nation-wide and about 150 million members, churches can carry profound influence in public policy.

There is much work yet to be done, but this meeting has strengthened my faith that we’re on the right path and having some of the right conversations. To paraphrase Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of HUD, there are some people who say these things can’t happen. Then don’t do them! But don’t stand in the way of those who will make them happen. Rumi said, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” As a religious community, let us be the ones that seek love. Let us break down the barriers and make things happen.

After Copenhagen

Despite the great snow in DC last week that halted just about everything else, a talk on climate change was still held in downtown DC.  Of all meetings to be held amidst the record-breaking snowfall, it was appropriate that one discussing climate change would still be held.  Though individual weather events are not climate, as climate changes, more extreme weather events are predicted to happen.

Todd Stern, the Special Envoy on Climate Change who represented the US in UN negotiations in Copenhagen, spoke to a packed room at the Center for American Progress about what happened in Copenhagen, where we are now, and where we will go.

Essentially two narratives of Copenhagen have emerged.  Some people say that the COP15 was a failure, as they didn’t accomplish what they set out to do within the UN process.  No fair, ambitious, and binding treaty was signed.  Others call the climate change conference a last-minute success, as many countries agreed to the Copenhagen Accord, which is a politically–not legally–binding document.  The Accord quantifies climate change with the goal of limiting change to 2 degrees Celsius.  For the first time, countries agree to reduction targets, which they successfully submitted by the end of January.  Countries need to “sign on” or indication an association with the Accord.  Some people are concerned because this was accomplished outside of the UN process, though others applaud that something, anything, happened.

The reality is that countries came into the meeting with deep gaps in their positions on climate change within the UN process, and these gaps didn’t narrow prior to the meetings in Copenhagen.  There is clearly a difference in opinions about how much the developing countries should do in terms of their commitments to climate change in comparison with how much the developed countries should do.  This is partly based on the weight that is given to historic contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, as the US has contribute a significant proportion of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today.  Todd Stern made it clear that the US position is that both developing AND developed countries need to share the burden dealing with climate change.  He also made it clear that it is vital for congress to pass climate change legislation this year, both because of the need for emissions reductions but also so China doesn’t dominate the emerging green economy.

I think that is something that Todd Stern has right on.  We need climate legislation, and we need it now.  It gave me hope that that so many people turned out the meeting amidst all the snow in DC.  We need to continue these conversations and move them into action.  The Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice in the Greater Washington area are having a program called “After Copenhagen: How Should Our Chesapeake Region UU Community Take Action?” on March 6th.  If you’re in the area, come check it out!