Compassion in Action for Mother Earth

This service – celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – will focus on the need for compassion and heart-based approaches to solve the climate and larger environmental crisis. It will include three mini-homilies on different aspects of this topic (including linkages to the current COVID-19 pandemic), along with a selection of related inspiring music. Now is the opportunity for conscious and transformational change!

“The path to solving the climate crisis… runs through the heart.”

Good morning dear sisters, brothers, kinfolk. My name is Sheldon Cohen. I go by the pronouns him, he and his. 

Homo sapiens have walked this Earth for 200,000 years. How we respond to the climate crisis in this next 10 years could well determine the future of our species. You and I are now living during the most consequential decade in human history. 

Today, our hearts are heavy, as humanity battles a global pandemic. Our airwaves, conversations, and thought streams are consumed with fear, anxiety, sickness, death. But there is also a burgeoning new awareness. For the first time since WWII, most of humanity is paying attention to a common enemy and paying attention to the undeniable need to work together—as one human family—to defeat this invisible scourge. 

Once this nightmare is over, we will hold in our hands a template—not a perfect one—of how the world’s governments, companies, communities, and individuals can mobilize at lightning speed to conquer a common global threat. We will make the connection between global threats to human health and global threats to the health of our only planet. Drawing on this template and powered by the growing youth climate movement, we will soon have an unexpected opportunity. A once in a generation opportunity to achieve a quantum leap forward in defeating the most important existential threat facing our planet today—climate change. How can we capitalize on this opportunity? Is it by framing the climate crisis as we have done in the past—economic arguments, scientific rationales, head-based appeals? Or will it be by framing the response to the climate crisis around heart, empathy, and compassion, around the moral duty to our children, future generations, and all life on Earth? This is the question I have been pondering and researching for over a year, and I have reached the following conclusion: The path to solving the climate crisis… runs through the heart.

History is a powerful teacher. Abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, marriage equality… all of these success stories required massive public support driven by a grassroots movement demanding action. For climate change, that movement is building day by day, inspired by youth activists like our own Sophia Geiger and of course Greta Thunberg. But it is not enough. Two-thirds of Americans are not yet alarmed by the looming climate catastrophe. History also teaches us that successful social movements are based on a simple and clear moral case. Social science teaches us that people form opinions and make decisions based primarily on emotional appeals and emotional responses rather than logic and scientific facts. The path to solving the climate crisis… runs through the heart.

How do we stir the hearts of those who are still in the two-thirds of Americans who do not see that our house is on fire? We speak out through powerful, emotion-packed messages. Here are three messages.

The first message: Climate suffering has arrived, and it’s impacting all of us. Today, natural disasters exacerbated by climate change are causing suffering across our country, across the world. In 2017 in Texas and Puerto Rico, we heard the cries of those who drowned or lost everything in the flooding from Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, the season ending with ten hurricanes and 3,364 deaths. In 2018, in California, we heard the cries of people whose lives went up in flames as 103 people died, 80 more were injured,17,000 homes were destroyed, and 1.9 million acres burned. In 2019 in the Midwest, we heard the cries of farmers devastated by record-setting Missouri and Mississippi River flooding that affected 5 states, 14 million people and lasted 7 months in places. In Baltimore, where hospitalization rates for asthma are twice the state average and three times the national average, we hear the cries of children with respiratory illnesses living near the two coal-fired power plants and the BRESCO incinerator —most of who come from low-income communities of color. 

The message triggers compassion: climate suffering has arrived, and it’s impacting all of us. The path to solving the climate crisis… runs through the heart.

The second message: We must prevent the suffering from getting much worse. Without bold and urgent action, we will bestow upon our children, grandchildren and future generations a trashed planet and an irreversible future filled with pain and misery: unrelenting heat waves, droughts, flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, famine, water shortages, spread of deadly tropical diseases, and economic ruin. These are not faceless strangers who will suffer. They are our children, our loved ones, our neighbors, kindred species. The message triggers compassion: We must prevent the suffering from getting worse. The path to solving the climate crisis… runs through the heart.

The third and most important message: We have a clear moral duty. Our children are terrified, disgusted, and ashamed of the inaction to date. As our children plead for us to save their futures, the moral choice could not be more clear. This generation has a moral calling to ensure the survival and well-being of humanity and all life on Earth. The message triggers compassion: we have a clear moral duty. The path to solving the climate crisis… runs through the heart.

A broad Climate Change of Heart Movement is sprouting from the soils of Spring, led by churches such as ours and the broader interfaith community. It is a movement fueled by compassion, empathy, caring, and love. We are all part of this movement now. We can—and we must—stand up, speak out, change our own behavior, and recruit others to join this movement. Remember, the path to solving the climate crisis… runs through the heart.

Homily – Tricia Hansen

Allow me to thank you today, for taking time to join us from wherever you are tuning in, to celebrate together and commit to taking action to protect the wondrous awe and power of our natural world, this Earth Day, in the historic year of 2020. 

I introduced myself earlier and my name again is Tricia Hanson and I (pause) am a farmer’s daughter. I claim this title proudly, though I confess, I have not always. Caring about the earth, respecting her cycles and infinite power is, however, in my DNA, under my fingernails, and a major force in my spiritual practice as many of you know. 

As a young woman, after several crazy years of Mad-Men Madison Avenue marketing and advertising in New York City (definitely NOT a compassionate heart-based place nor industry!), I was able to transition this knowledge to the activism non- profit work of the international environmental group Greenpeace. With my handsome and willing husband in tow, off we flew to Madrid Spain, where I had a steep and thrilling learning curve working for Greenpeace International. When we returned to the US a year later, I was pregnant, barefoot, and worked the following year with Greenpeace here in Washington DC. 

Because of this experience – transforming scientific activist-manager data, metrics and passion into accessible and motivating language in order to be able to raise funds and public awareness – I was an immediate convert to the global warming drawdown efforts of the Pachamama Project Drawdown Alliance. 

Based on author and environmentalist Paul Hawken’s work and his 2017 publication, “Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming”, Project Drawdown is an international coalition of more than 200 researchers and experts who have identified the “80 most substantive solutions to global warming.” These 80 solutions are segmented by rank. FOR example the top solution is refrigerant management; think for a moment about the many uses of refrigeration in our world era of food and comfort. Through phasing out the use of HFCs ALONE, it will reduce global warming by nearly one degree F. The solutions are also broken into sectors which include: Land use; Women & Girls (which includes family planning and education for girls); Buildings & Cities; Food; Materials; Electricity Generation; and Transport.

The program created by Mr Hawken and the Pachamama Alliance is highly accessible, interactive, and designed to empower individual and community action. To be sure we all share understanding, 

“Drawdown”, is defined as ‘the point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peaks and begins to decline on a year-to-year basis.’ 

The uniqueness of Project Drawdown is the fact that the book and the nonprofit organization come at the problem from four unique angles:

  • First, Mr Hawken based his work on the idea that we can believe global warming is happening TO us, or that it is happening FOR us. Think about that for a moment: Global Warming is feedback. 

It touches our hearts, feeds our imagination, our sense of compassion, inspires creativity, resilience and the desire to live a meaningful life. As he says, our ancestors had no idea what they were creating in the name of progress. However, quoting Mr. Hawken, “An atmospheric transformation that inspires us to change and reimagine everything we make and do is possible, allowing us to reverse the buildup of atmospheric carbon within thirty years”;

  • Second, the project evaluated hundreds of currently available solutions across eight sectors for their viability, then used data and modeling to project their potential impacts over the next 30 years. The result is a list of 80 solutions that already exist and are proving their value;
  • Third, it is ongoing. The coalition of researchers and writers who produced the plan continue to update, expand and share their findings to remain current with solutions as they develop and become more viable over time; 
  • Fourth, it empowers change at all levels of society. It reminds us that decisions and actions by individuals, corporations and communities in every corner of the globe can positively impact the future of our planet. 

Their workshops, such as the ones I attended and will encourage you to explore and attend, are on-going and available in the DC metro area. I invite you to see global warming as feedback and creating your role in reversing it. 

Project Drawdown Pachamama – Doneby Smith

Sheldon has spoken about the need for heart.  Trish just described the work of some of the best minds in analyzing the situation and finding solutions. I’m Doneby Smith; I’m the chair of our UUCSS Green Sanctuary committee. My pronouns are she, her, hers.

 I want to talk to you about hands. We need the heart in order to care about the suffering that climate change is causing.  We need the mind in order to understand what to do. But in the end, it is the hands—the doing—that will count. We must work as individuals and collectively if we are to save ourselves and the many species whose survival we have put at risk and on whom our survival also depends. 

As the letter from Covid read earlier asked— Stop! Just stop!   This imposed hiatus gives us a moment to re-assess our actions. Let us pledge now to ACT, to change our behavior.  For too long, the excuse has been that we can’t— can’t tamp down our endless consuming, can’t end our addiction to fossil fuels, can’t renounce our love affair with the automobile— because our economy needs all that and there is no other way and besides even if we could, we can’t do it soon or quickly.  Well, this pandemic has shown us that there are things we can do if we have to and that we can even make huge changes quickly when we have to. Let us at long last see that to avert climate catastrophe, WE HAVE TO make huge changes quickly. We can’t go back to normal because “normal” is killing us—not so quickly or so obviously as the virus, but just as surely. Do we really need a daily body count to make it real? Those of us with privilege must leverage that privilege where we can and hold awareness that both the toxic status quo and the changes that will be needed hit black and brown people and other marginalized people hardest, so as we make the transition off fossil fuels, we need to keep issues of justice at the forefront. 

So now Green Sanctuary challenges you to act.  We have selected six high impact actions. We ask you to go to homepage of the church website and sign up for at least one challenge to take up over the next four weeks.  We will post the list of challenges there along with information on resource people and materials. As the weeks go along, we encourage you to post about what you’re doing and how it’s going on the internal church FaceBook page. You may not succeed—that’s OK.  This is not about perfection or winning. We’re leaving that mindset behind. This is about effort, doing our part, knowing that alone, it will not be enough but having the courage to do it anyway and the faith that if we work together, we CAN make a difference. So choose a challenge and pick up your shovel or your pen or your wallet or your bucket. Heart, mind and hands— we can bring our wholeness, our whole selves to this work and that’s exactly what it will take.