Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Ecological Virtues, Non-violent Direct Action and Prayer to Mother Earth

The Ecological Virtues

In this New Year, as environmental activism becomes as necessary as activism was for the Civil Rights movement, it becomes equally necessary to touch the spiritual foundation of this work.

While Quakers have been interpreting the Testimonies in ecological terms and Buddhists are doing the same in terms of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, here's one Catholic nun who's articulating this new sensibility in terms of the Christian Virtues:

As Christians, looking for spiritual grounding in the face of so much quickening collapse, how might we reclaim the legacy of the four primary Christian virtues as ‘spiritual tools’ for an ecologically sensitive Christian orientation? Here’s a beginning at new definitions within an ecological framework:

Ecological Prudence: growing in a biocentric philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium; the ability to judge between ecologically virtuous and vicious actions, not only in a general sense, but with regard to appropriate actions at a given time and place; 'joining together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace' (4)

Interspecies Justice* (Earth Jurisprudence): 'advocating for healthy ecosystems and exploring the role of humans as integral members of a comprehensive Earth community; creating legal norms and dispute resolutions that foster mutual human-Earth relationships, and encouraging a fundamental rethinking of the basis of law' (5); 'strengthening local communities, enabling them to care for their environments' (6)

Greening our Fortitude: mental and emotional strength while facing ecological threats, loss and collapse (i.e. resolving to move through our fear, anger, apathy, despair, grief to a new place of strength and action on behalf of life); humility and courage to face conflicting worldviews as related to relationship with the Earth; alertness, courage, presence and service in the face of danger; honestly facing one’s own temptations and addictions to over consume so as to disarm their power

Eco-Temperance – moderation in our use of energy and water; limiting and reducing waste; limiting food choices that use large amounts of water and energy to produce and transport; abstaining from ecologically destructive and unethical behaviour; 'preventing harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, applying a precautionary approach' (7)

— Maureen Wild,

* For a further discussion of this ecological virtue, see Thomas Berry's Schumacher Lecture:
Every Being Has Rights

Rosalie Bertell expresses her thoughts on Ecological Fortitude in her essay, In What Do I Place My Trust.

Friends and Non-Violent Direct Action

The recent training at Brooklyn Meetinghouse in non-violent direct action campaigning to end hydraulic fracturing (co-sponsored by Friends in Unity with Nature and the 15th St Peace Committee) will be the subject of the lead article in the forthcoming issue of Befriending Creation. The program was an outgrowth of this developing virtue among modern Friends, specifically in response to hydraulic fracturing, the newest form of extreme fossil fuel extraction, taking its place alongside deep-water oil drilling, mountaintop removal coal mining, and tar sands extraction.

There is no doubt this capacity and understanding needs to be developed and understood in greater depth among contemporary Friends. Quaker activist George Lakey goes to the root of Quaker action and inaction in his current article in Quaker Eco-Bulletin, "Quaker Eco-Justice Strategy: Equality and the Experiment of the Earth Quaker Action Team." For more about the Earth Quaker Action Team, please to to their website:

An incredible resource for building momentum and non-violent campaigns is the Global Non-violent Database. After years of researching, the team at Swarthmore College has unearthed nonviolent campaigns in nearly every country. Browse the hundreds of cases to learn more about the power of nonviolent action. For targeted environmental campaigns, enter “environment” into the search box or just click here

Another major resource is Doing Democracy by Bill Moyer, a Quaker who served on Dr. Martin Luther King's national staff, was the leading strategic brains behind the 1970s victory of environmentalists over the nuclear power industry, plus many other achievements in grassroots movements.

Thanks to George Lakey for the rest of the description on this incredibly valuable resource:

“[Moyer] summed up lessons learned in this short, impactful book not long before he died. He created a model for strategizing based on the stages that successful social movements have gone through.  In his book he gives specific guidance on how the canny organizer can negotiate the early stages (which the anti-fracking people are in) in such a way as to lay the groundwork for the later stages in which the movement actually has a chance to win.”

Published in 2001, this book is highly recommended --  mandatory reading -- for Friends who have a leading to pursue non-violent direct action on behalf of the Earth.

Prayer to Mother Earth

Lastly, here are two simple and powerful lines from the Prayer to Mother Earth, offered by the community at Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY on the eve of the New Year, that close the disparity between humans and the Earth:

“We have seen that to protect you is to protect ourselves, and that your care for us is your care for yourself. There is no boundary between our lives, between our-well-being, and between our pain and sorrow.” 

May this perception grow among Friends and all homo sapiens in this New Year.