Monday, June 4, 2012

Creation Corner Column, June 2012: Interfaith Advocacy of Environmental Responsibility; 'Silent Spring' at 50; David Brower's Centennial

Interfaith Advocacy of Environmental Responsibility;
'Silent Spring' at 50;
David Brower's Centennial

An amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to promote environmental and social responsibility, is being advanced by the Network of Spiritual Progressives (, an affiliate of Tikkun magazine (

"Tikkun olam" is a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world" (synonyms: healing, restoring, transform), and the quarterly magazine has been published since 1986.  The practice of 'tikkun' is our shared responsibility with our Creator, and should be followed, not necessarily because it is required by Biblical law, but because it helps avoid social chaos.

The Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) is the interfaith advocacy arm of Tikkun magazine, and seeks to transform our materialistic and corporate-dominated society through consciousness-raising, advocacy, and public awareness campaigns that emphasize generosity, peace and social transformation.  The NSP was founded in 2005 by Rabbi Michael Lerner, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister and Princeton University Professor Cornel West. 

One of their campaigns is for an Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the U.S. Constitution. Essentially the proposal is to have chartered organizations pledge to exercise responsibility in promoting the ethical, environmental and social well-being of planetary life.  Corporations with receipts of over $100 million would need to be rechartered every five years, and they would be evaluated according to several criteria by a jury.  Governmental offices of a certain level would also be required to submit an Environmental and Social Responsibility Impact Report.

The over-arching goal, to enhance human community and environmental sustainability, would be assessed yearly in a Congressional report to the American people.  Among the objectives would be alleviating global warming, reducing all forms of pollution, restoring the ecological balance of the oceans, and assuring the well-being of all forests and animal life.

Educational initiatives would be implemented to prepare persons to live as environmental and socially responsible citizens.  Specific skills and capacities would be taught on K-College levels.

Economic components of the proposed ESRA include defining the First and Fourteenth Amendments as applicable only to human beings; that financial currency would not be considered as a form of speech; that political campaign costs would be Congressionally-funded; and chartering factors would include considering payment of a living wage to employees, a 1:10 pay scale ratio, the value of employee benefits, etc.

For fuller details of the ESRA, see the web sites noted in the first paragraph above.  A second NSP campaign is to implement a Global Marshall Plan, calling upon the U.S. to donate two percent of its GDP to end poverty and hunger.

'Silent Spring' at 50

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring began its serialization in The New Yorker magazine 50 years ago in June 1962, and was published as a book later that year.  The title alluded to a springtime devoid of song birds.

Since then, it seems appropriate to ask "have we learned anything?", as one writer does this month in a magazine cover page article, "Our Silent Spring" by Molly Bennet  (

One lesson may be that we have learned to apply the "precautionary principle" in our relationship to chemicals---that unless they have been proven to be innocent, we ought to be very cautious toward them.  Thus we ought to have a "right-to-know" (RTK) about their environmental impacts.

A second lesson, or reminder, (as in "repetition is the key to all learning) is the ecological one---the interconnectedness of all nature.  Recall the quotation attributed to Chief Seattle, that we live in the great web of all-being, and "whatever we do the web of life, we do to ourselves."  Thus, as another writer this month notes in her article "Happy Anniversary, 'Silent Spring'" by Carol Carson in The Progressive Populist of June 15, 2012, vol. 18, no. 11, p. 6 (, "Carson described how DDT not only killed insects but also entered the food chain, so that even though DDT did not harm (for example) brown pelicans directly, the birds were becoming extinct because the toxins caused their shells to thin.  Whenever they tried to nest, their eggs shattered beneath them.  (DDT was discharged by chemical companies into waterways, where it was absorbed by fish that were eventually eaten by pelicans).

A contemporary question thus arises:  Inasmuch as bees have a significant economic impact worldwide as they play a major role in reproducing wild and domestic plant communities, what is causing honeybee colony collapse disorder (CCD), and could a cause of pesticides/insecticides (the neonicotinoids/clothianidins) become the primary theory?  The chemical is in a seed treatment that works its way up through the plant to flowers and leaves a residue on the nectar.

A third lesson, or perhaps better said, a third question, arises.  And this has personal meaning for many readers, and it also has a wider societal meaning,  Less than two years after Silent Spring was published, Rachel Carson died of breast cancer.  Has the environmental movement she helped launch, to stop the poisoning of our air, land, and water, remained unfinished, so that we cannot rule out environmental toxins as cancer-causing triggers?
                    David Brower Centennial (born July 1, 1912)      

Many tributes to David Brower will occur on the 2012 centennial anniversary of his birth, July 1, 1912.  A prominent 20th century conservationist (and a friend of Rachel Carson), Brower helped to found the Friends of the Earth (1969), the League of Conservation Voters (1970), the Earth Island Institute (1982) and other groups, but he is probably best well-known and remembered in his association with the Sierra Club, which he began as its first executive director in 1952.

His place in history may not yet be secure, but he may eventually be recalled along with such 19th century conservation advocates as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and George Perkins Marsh, or early 20th century preservationists as Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and Aldo Leopold.  He is among the late 20th century environmental heroes such as Carson, Edward Abbey, and Wendell Berry.  Perhaps the reader would also include the likes of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Dave Foreman, Bill McKibben, Amory Lovins, Jeremy Rifkin,  Jane Goodall, Wangari Matthai, and Lester Brown among others.  Or Francis Moore Lappe, Lois Gibbs, Vandana Shiva, Judi Bari, Julia Butterfly Hill and Dian Fossey?

Among his achievements were helping win passage of the national Wilderness (preservation) Act of 1964; issuing (writing, editing) many publications, facilitating many environmental campaigns, and starting various groups.  He was a mountaineer and an outspoken critic of overpopulation.  The day before he died, November 5, 2000, he cast his absentee ballot for Ralph Nader, the Green Party environmentalist presidential candidate.

Some quotes for consideration from David Brower:

"Environmentalists make terrible neighbors, but great ancestors."

"When vultures watching your civilization begin dropping dead, it is time to pause and wonder."

"Polite conservationists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground."

"Politicians are like weather vanes.  Our job is to make the winds blow."

"I'm not blindly opposed to progress.  I'm opposed to blind progress."

"All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent."

(See summer 2012 issue for other remarks on Brower).
This column was posted June 4, 2012, a day before the United Nations World Environment Day, June 5 ( and a day after the U.N. Environmental Sabbath "Earth Rest Day" celebrated on the weekend closest to the World Environment Day.