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Faith Based Conservation

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

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green agriculture crops food The following article was found through an e-mail newsletter from the Santa Monica Unitarian Church. It is fascinating, inspiring and a perceptive overview of what a community of caring people think about, how they act, and how they can act together as a community to make an impact on the greening and survival of our earth, our everyday life support system.

Following are six talks given on Sunday, July 1, on The Unitarian Universalists' seventh principle: "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

Rev. Ernie Pipes

A few months ago those of us you see on this chancel met to discuss Lester Brown's provocative book "Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress." The book is arguably the most authoritative scientifically based survey of the causes and consequences of global warming and climate change. This morning we want to share with you what we discovered. Let me begin by putting in some perspective the crisis we face.

Across human history our species has impacted the biosphere, the interconnected web of life, in at least three ways. Put more pointedly, our species has triggered three global revolutions in the environment. The first was the shift from a nomadic lifestyle based on hunting and gathering, where we humans very little affected the ecological systems of the earth, to an agricultural revolution - which eventually cleared one tenth of the earth's land surface so that it could be plowed and planted. At this juncture we began to impact the worldwide web of life by invading the habitat of many other species, cutting down forests and plowing grasslands. These impacts deepened as human populations expanded. There followed next the industrial revolution which set the stage for an unprecedented expansion of consumption, harnessing the vast amounts of solar energy stored within the earth as fossil fuels and sending it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, radically warming the planet and adding to climate volatility. Whereas the agricultural revolution was, from the environmental perspective, relatively benign, the industrial revolution, combined with the human population explosion it made possible, assaulted the delicate balance of earth's ecological systems to the point of collapse, raising global temperatures, bringing about radical climate change, disrupting the habitats and migration patterns and survival potentials of countless other species - from butterflies and birds to polar bears.

Which brings us to the imperative call for a fourth revolution - an environmental revolution for a sustainable world - namely the call for an urgent reversal of the industrial revolution's destructive effects on global climate, the call to make peace with nature, to roll back our carbon emissions, to protect and sustain the interdependent web of life which we have heedlessly damaged. It is to outline the elements and requirements of this fourth and urgent revolution that brings this group of speakers before you.

As you listen to us, keep foremost in mind two things. The vast damage we humans have inflicted on our planetary home over the generations must be responded to by THIS present, living generation. Not because this generation did it all, but because we are the first generation to become inescapably aware of the crisis that our species has created and, second, because the clean-up and remedial measures cannot be put off to others in the future. We have reached a fulcrum point, a turning point, a point for action before the damage becomes irreversible. As Joanna Macy put it: "If there is to BE a livable world for those who come after us, it will be because WE have managed to make the transition from an Industrial Growth Society to a Life-Sustaining Society. When the people of the future look back at this historical moment, they will see, perhaps more clearly than we can now, how revolutionary it was. They may call it the time of the Great Turning." We will be talking with you dur ing this hour about some of the things we humans are doing to the planet that must be turned around. Please lend an attentive ear.

Rebecca Crawford

. . . And the greatest of these is water.

Several years ago, when California was having its brown-outs, the local chapter of an organization to which I belong - the American Chemical Society - invited the Chair of the State Senate Energy and Utilities Committee - then Senator Debra Bowen, a member of our church - to speak. At the last moment she sent someone else, but I was sure to go to the meeting.

The speaker began by pointing out that water, not energy, was going to be our biggest concern. That put water on my radar screen and I've been noting its importance ever since.

The world has been working at a "water deficit" since about 1950 (the time of the Green Revolution), and it has been growing fast. Analogous to petroleum, the earth has stored fresh water - in our glaciers, snow pack and lakes - and aquifers. Rivers bring us the run-off - or we pump it from the water table. Numerous news reports tell us of the disappearing above-ground sources - some due to global warming (glaciers). Others due to direct removal or damming of the source rivers - the Nile, the Colorado. Less visible is our draining of aquifers. There are two types of aquifers: replenishable and non-replenishable (fossil) aquifers. When the first is depleted, the maximum rate of pumping goes to the rate of recharge. For fossil aquifers - when they are gone, they are gone.

70% of the world's water use is for crop irrigation. In some parts of the world, the water table is now more than 1,000 feet below-ground - setting these locations up for the classic overshoot-and-decline scenario.

One way for a nation to decrease its water usage is to provide it to cities and short the farmers. Since it takes 1,000 tons of water to grow 1 ton of grain, nations can save water by importing grain. Egypt, Mexico and China have become net grain importers for this reason. In California, farmers have been selling water rights to the cities - it is more lucrative than growing crops.

The seventh U.U. principle is "respect for the interdependent web of all existence - of which we are a part. Human water use patterns affect much more of the global ecosystems than we realize. Several of the books that the Science Non-Fiction group has discussed have touch on the impact of water use. In Collapse, Jared Diamond discusses how the Fertile Crescent in Iraq became a salty desert through improper irrigation. Deforestation affects water cycling. One recent book - Chasing Spring, a very engaging travelogue - included the effects that decreasing water habitat has on birds and fisheries. The author's visit to Biosphere II, the failed experiment in independent ecosystem development, seemed to stand as a monument for how little we know about the connectedness of the web of life.

But we don't have to know all the dimensions of a problem to be able to foresee dire consequences down the road. Historically, there have been two types of successful approaches to reversing ecological slides: the top-down approach - where a government steps in and mandates change-and bottom-up-where individuals try various solutions and communicate successes to others. Bottom-up is more successful when small groups are involved. The scale of the water problem means that the top-down approach is necessary. The Chinese government is a model for making strides to reverse or delay the classic overshoot-and-decline model. Our own government (not so much recently) has taken some steps - for example, mandating the restoration of water flow in the Sacramento-San Joaquin rivers has had a big effect on wetlands and fisheries, the source of a tremendous amount of food. Of course this has meant that farmers have lost irrigation water.

So what can be done. Subsidies that encourage water use need to be eliminated. This leads to an increase in water prices. Just as with gasoline, high prices promote efficiency. Several countries have invested in developing more water-efficient irrigation and provide incentives for farmers to adopt them. The development of crops needing less water will also help. This requires government leadership - but grassroots momentum has a big effect.

If we view grain as water, then agriculture and food sources that require a lot of grain use a lot of water. Beef requires 7 pounds of grain for each pound of weight gain, poultry requires 2 pounds, herbivorous fish (carp, tilapia, catfish) require even less. What people decide to eat is an example of the bottom-up approach. We drink 4 liters of water a day - but our food requires 500 liters a day!

Conservation of water in the city takes various forms (which we will hear about shortly) including recycling of water. For Los Angeles, I was very encouraged when I attended a lecture at my university - given by a student, who had a part-time job with the Metropolitan Water District. She discussed how a large proportion of the water treated by the city is pumped back into the ground near the coast. This means that - as our wells pull water from the local aquifer, fresh water percolates in - instead of contaminating the replenishable aquifer with sea water. There is hope.

Ned Wright

Energy - in physics, the capacity to do work.

The US uses about 30 trillion kilowatt-hours of energy per year, or about 10 kilowatts per person continuously. At LADWP prices that is about $9000 per year per person spent on energy, far more than your typical electric bill. But energy costs figure into almost everything we do or buy. Transportation uses about 27% of the US energy consumption.

And the liquid petroleum products we depend on for transportation are already in short supply, so the first crisis in energy will be at the gas pumps. US oil production has been in decline for 30 years, so we import about 2/3 of the petroleum we use. The peak of world oil production appears to be right now: 2005 was the highest year, 2006 is a tiny bit lower. We can expect the prices of increasingly scarce oil and natural gas to rise in the future, and the current $3+ per gallon for gasoline will seem like the good old days.

So what's Plan B?

Short-term: don't drive alone. Carpool, use public transportation, bike or walk. Trains and airplanes get about 100 seat-miles per gallon, and so does your car, but it helps only if the seats are filled. Hybrid cars help but still need liquid petroleum based fuels, and thus provide only a modest improvement.

Politically the increase in the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency or CAFE rules that has passed the Senate would be a good idea if it is actually enacted. This would force Americans to pay more for smaller and more fuel efficient cars than they would have otherwise wanted. Hence the new hybrid SUVs . . . .

A more efficient solution would be to levy a large gas and diesel fuel tax. In the U.K. gas prices are a pound a liter, nearly $8 per gallon. In this plan you would pay more at the pump instead of in the new car showroom. While this solution seems unlikely to occur, recall that the Bush administration has already imposed a dollar per gallon tax on gasoline. Except as usual Bush made a mistake and is letting the Saudis collect it.

Biofuels might help a little but remember that only one percent of the energy used in the US is in the form of food, so agricultural energy production will always be quite limited. Corn-based ethanol production now provides a very small fraction of transport fuel and is already driving up the cost of food.

But the long-term solution is electric vehicles. This gets away from petroleum, which is in short supply, and allows large efficient power plants to produce all the energy we need from abundant sources. Of course the abundant sources are coal and nuclear and they both have waste disposal problems.

Burning a gallon of gasoline releases a lot of heat: about 38 kilowatt-hours. But your car will use only a small fraction of this, while electric motors are very efficient. Thus 5 to 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity are equivalent to a gallon of gas: only 50 cents to a dollar or even less if you get time of day metering and recharge at night. It makes me wish I had purchased a Toyota RAV-4 EV when they were available. That's an SUV a UU could be proud to drive.

from Plan B 2.0, by Lester Brown
A review by Joe Engleman

The world is in trouble due to mass poverty and over-population - among other things. That?s the bad news. The good news is that we can do something about it - and do it without much sweat.

First, how bad is it? A third of the world?s population is poor. They cannot afford basic necessities of life, and suffer from hunger, malnutrition, lack of clean water, and treatable but untreated diseases. And in addition to this absolute poverty, there is severe relative poverty; that is, huge income gaps between the rich and the poor. Poverty is concentrated in China, India, sub-Saharan Africa, and pockets of Latin America and central Asia

As for population, there are now 6.7 billion of us. (Remember just recently when it was only 6 billion?) The United Nation?s latest projection is 9.2 billion by 2050. This is their median projection. Essentially all of the increase will come from the poor countries. The rich, or developed countries are leveling off or shrinking, except for the effect of immigration from the poor countries. Californians in particular are aware of this.

The UN (not the US, unfortunately) is leading the charge against these problems, with the focus being on poverty rather than population, but the two go together. The UN has set the goal of reducing world poverty by one half by 2015 - 8 years from now. Happily, it is ahead of schedule. How is it being done? Directly, with micro-loans for small businesses. Indirectly, with education, birth control, and economic development. There?s something called the demographic bonus here. Educate girls and women and they learn about birth control, have fewer children, and earn more money. Teach adults to read and they get better jobs, and have more money to spend on fewer kids.

China is pulling itself out of poverty with more jobs to meet its export demands, and with education to provide better jobs. So they provide hope to other countries.

As for birth control, there is a country that can serve as a model for the rest of the world. It has free condoms and free sterilization, and requires a course in birth control to get a marriage license. The country: Iran! If Iran can do it, every one can.

There are two other effective weapons against poverty. Many poor countries are saddled with debt and may never pull themselves up unless that debt is forgiven. Secondly, farm subsidies in the rich countries hurt small farmers in the poor countries. These need to be addressed and acted upon.

As you can see, reducing poverty has the effect of reducing population growth. Even improving health care can reduce population. A couple with poor health care may need to have four children in order for two to survive until adulthood.

Without adequate health care, disease reduces population, but in a bad way. Millions die each year from treatable diseases: AIDS, respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, TB, malaria, and measles. Many more die from starvation, malnutrition, and a shortage of clean water. Even tobacco kills 5 million people per year.

The cost to remedy these lacks of health and education: $68 billion per year worldwide. This is about 10 cents a day per person in the rich countries!

So we do have problems, but we can solve them. Write your congressman today!

Leslie Reuter

Good morning. We have heard about many of the things we can do from the other speakers. For example, I have brought a compact fluorescent light bulb with me; I use these throughout my house. And one of my dreams is to install solar to power an electric car - which will then make the solar economical for me, since the CFLs don't use that much electricity, but the car will, saving me money on gas while producing no greenhouse gases.

I am going to speak briefly on Livable/Sustainable Communities. What do I mean, you ask? A community of people organized purposefully to reduce the impact of all of them.

Sit back and relax. Close your eyes if you like while I share what that looks like.

Imagine waking up, getting ready for the day, and only having to walk 2 or 3 blocks to your office. You get exercise and commute at the same time!

On your lunch hour the street across from your office is lined with stalls - a farmer's market just a short walk away. You can buy organic produce, locally grown. You can get a quick lunch from a local vendor. You can shop for food by yourself or with colleagues from work. You may even run into friends who work nearby. This is community.

After work you head down to the gym in the underground mall located under your building. On your way back from the gym you pick up a quick bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the same mall before walking back to your nearby apartment, which is lighted with compact fluorescent lightbulbs - like this one I am holding, which the church sells. This one is actually a dead one; I have brought it to church since we also collect and recycle them.

Also nearby within walking distance is your bank, another mall (where you can buy more, or less . . .), your car wash (for that electric car), museums, the library, the post office, a wonderful concert hall and even a sports arena.

And another block past your apartment is the subway, which connects you to the airport, the ocean, or the train. And then to any place in the world.

Sound far-fetched? It's not. It's downtown Los Angeles where I work. Unfortunately, I don't own one of the nearby condo/apartments so I can't fully benefit from the convenience of living where I work. But I know people who do.

And there are many more of these communities in the planning stages, including along the Orange busway in the San Fernando Valley.

And here in Santa Monica, with homes and apartments so close to shopping and offices, plus the Big Blue Bus, it is possible to live here sustainably - reducing our footprint.

How so?

  • Walking, biking or using mass transit to reduce the need for a car and its resulting greenhouse gases.
  • Living in smaller homes - which take fewer resources to build and less energy to heat, cool and light.
  • Using electric cars powered by solar.
  • Buying items produced locally, to reduce the impact of transporting food and other items long distances, while also supporting local producers.
  • Eating sustainably produced foods.
  • Even better is to buy less and reduce the amount of trash and landfill in our community.
  • Recycle - For example, there is a transfer station downtown that receives construction waste, and it is able to recycle 75-80% of it.
  • Plastic can never be returned to the earth, so think twice before anything plastic, including water encased in plastic bottles, for example.
  • Converting our large roofs to green oases or planting a garden has multiple benefits: it reduces the air temperature in the summer (so we need less air conditioning), reduces runoff after it rains (fewer pollutants going into our water), converts carbon dioxide into oxygen (reducing those greenhouse gases) and provides a welcoming place to sit and commune with nature. Even better to use native plants to provide a home and food for local birds and insects. Or even grow some of your own food.
All of these are possible, here today, in Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

Sustainable Communities are usually planned since they require special zoning for mixed use (commercial and residential together). Plus, without planning, key attributes might be overlooked. For example, downtown LA has no sizeable grocery store (although a major chain has indicated they are considering locating there).

Together we can make it happen. Thanks for doing your part.

Rev. Ernie Pipes

Never before in our history has a generation been faced with a challenge of such magnitude and moral consequence. Every major religious community has called on its members to be faithful stewards of Creation, the web of life that surrounds, sustains and binds us to each other and to our planet. We have a moral responsibility, as the predominant species, to protect the delicate balances of nature and ensure a healthy and sustainable future for life in its many forms.

In the Christian scriptures there is one image of God as judge of humankind's actions, sometimes an angry God calling on us to repent and change our sinful ways. Well, I don't know very much about God, but I do know that Mother Nature is upset with us for messing up her marvelous web of life and presuming to become atmospheric engineers, heedlessly and even arrogantly playing with the chemistry of the atmosphere and the harmonies of the biosphere. And it is now clear that she is prepared to smite us hip and thigh unless we mend our errant ways. I do not invoke this imagery lightly; I fear that it realistically and accurately reflects our condition. As a species we have been blind, unheeding and ignorant regarding our footprint on this planet, running around our house like unthinking and unsupervised children, breaking and dirtying precious things. And, just in the nick of time, before the house is irreversibly torn up, we are getting climatically punished and told to wake up and shape up. And rightly so.

And I think that what is required of us is three things. The first is to indeed wake up, acknowledge what we have allowed to happen, and accept responsibility for our collective misbehavior and set about in earnest to make amends - without delay. The scientific debate on global warming is over; the threat is real; the consequences of inaction will be devastating beyond anything in human history. The call is to become even more keenly aware of the crisis we are in.

The second requirement is no less important: to repent, to feel some contrition, to grieve over what we have collectively done. We must emotionally connect with the devastation we have collectively brought about. If we can't feel sad about it and grieve at least a little, we are not likely to find will and motivation for the inconvenient and perhaps radical changes we must collectively make. I'm not laying a guilt trip on us; I'm perfectly aware that we did not individually bring all this about. But you and I are part of a human family that DID bring this about. It is both appropriate and healthy to feel very sad about that. And the ultimate importance of appropriate and realistic grief and sadness is that these emotions just might spur us to passionate action - and, with luck, renew our feelings of reverence for this blue sphere circling the sun - our immeasurably beautiful and precious and irreplaceable home.

The third thing required of us is to act effectively to change course. And changing your light bulbs and otherwise greening your personal life ways, while necessary, is not sufficient. Each one of us must find a way to act PUBLICLY & POLITICALLY to change the values and beliefs of a society bent on endless consumption and unregulated industrial growth. That is a daunting challenge and there is no assurance that it can be brought about in time. But one thing is for sure, if environmentalists are not politically active, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The best summary statement for our efforts this morning is the UUA statement of conscience: "We will not acquiesce to the ongoing degradation and destruction of life that human actions are leaving to our children and grandchildren. We, as UU's, are called upon to join with others to halt practices that fuel global warming and climate change, to instigate sustainable alternatives, and to mitigate the impending effects of global warming and climate change with just and ethical responses. As a people of faith, we commit to a renewed reverence for life and respect for the interdependent web of life." May we begin to make it so.

Sandra Trutt

This is how our country accomplished a Wartime Mobilization, 1942

The United States was already gearing up for the war effort in 1940, helping our allies. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Pres. Roosevelt embarked on an ambitious arms production program.

Achieving these goals was possible only by converting existing industries and using materials that previously went into manufacturing civilian goods.

Our aircraft needs were enormous. They included not only fighters, bombers and reconnaissance planes, but also troop and cargo transports needed to fight a war on two fronts.

The auto industry stopped producing automobiles and instead supplied aircraft engines and propellers. Detroit assembly lines were retooled to build Sherman Tanks and B-24 Bombers.

Production and sale of cars and trucks for private use was banned, residential and highway construction was halted and driving for pleasure was banned.

  • A spark plug factory switched to the production of machine guns;
  • A manufacturer of stoves produced lifeboats;
  • A merry-go-round factory was making gun mounts;
  • A toy company was turning out compasses;
  • A corset manufacturer was producing grenade belts, and
  • A pinball machine plant began to make armor-piercing shells.

A rationing program was also introduced. Among other things there was a ban on the sale of tires, gasoline, fuel oil and sugar. Cutting back on consumption of these goods freed up resources to support the war.

This mobilization of resources within a matter of months demonstrates that our country and indeed the world can restructure its economy quickly IF we are convinced of the need to do so.

Imagine what we could do with a massive restructuring of our industries to manufacturing solar panels, windmills and production of alternative fuel sources.

Imagine restructuring our tax base by instituting a carbon tax and a landfill tax and using that money in an all out effort to restore our natural eco-systems, to stabilizing world population and to do all the other things we are talking about today.

We have the technologies, we have the economic instruments and we have the financial resources to do this. Business as usual is no longer an option. We CAN do this IF we have the will.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Monica
1260 18th St
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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