Here follows a dialogue between Ben Wisner and Ameen Benjamin around the role of faith communities in addressing current environmental problems, in light of Capitalism. Ameen Benjamin is a Regional Coordinator at SAFCEI. Ben Wesner is an environmental social scientist who has worked in Tanzania and many other parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America in applied and action research as well as teaching and training for the past 46 years. He is co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction, London, 2012 and lead author of At Risk, 2nd edition, London, 2004. He collaborates with the Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction.
On Tue, May 29, 2012 at 4:07 PM, Ben wrote:
Like pigs to a trough! Yet these are human beings, not pigs. Each one of the investors and oil and gas executives were tiny babies like my grandson, Kiran and little children like Ava, the granddaughter of a dear friend. They are educated, intelligent adults. So what is wrong with humanity? With global capitalism?
Even within the global capitalist logic, at least if one expanded its time horizon and engaged in what Hanna Arendt called ‘enlarged thinking’, the rational thing would be (a) for the nations with the oil and gas to hold much of it back for later use, especially as feed stocks for pharmaceuticals, etc. in an age of true petro shortage (see an old but excellent book, “The Wealth of Some Nations” by Caldwell); and (b) for the investors to put their money into new and renewable energy sources given the fact that climate change is going to knobble them and their loved ones and communities one way or another.
Is it that “we” don’t think like the native Americans are supposed to have, in terms of the “Seventh Generation”? There is an imperative with global capitalism for rapid circulation and quick profit. This seems to have been inoculated into the culture and personality of most people who are seldom challenged by their media, their political leaders, their co-workers, even their faith leaders to think in terms of generational well being and consequences of actions. I say ‘even faith leaders’ because the temporal reference point of most is ‘eternity’ which has zero implication for actions taken in Earth time. Or perhaps not: there is the notion in some religions that if you do ‘wrong’ on Earth you will suffer negative consequences after death — bad reincarnation, hot feet in one kind of hell or another, loss of eternal bliss, etc., etc. The problem with this is that culturally, ‘wrong’ and ‘sin’ generally don’t embrace Earth ethics or acting in ways that squander resources that one’s children’s children’s children will need to live a happy life. Indeed, most of our societies do not account ‘progress’ as a function of happiness but of economic growth and accumulation of things.
So, in short, the investors flock like vultures (not song birds or migrating butterflies) to Paris to snaffle up the oil and gas leases. The African leaders make deals like mad and stuff huge sums into their Swiss bank accounts.
Warmest regards from the climate adaptation conference in Tucson. (Ironic juxtaposition of this conference and the Paris African oil and gas meeting, no?)
With reference to your pointing out of faith leaders not challenging the conventional system and not taking action for the rights of earth, this should be read with caution. For it is true that the vast majority of faith leaders do not place emphasis on the importance of preserving and protecting earth. However, there are a growing number of faith leaders from multitudes of faiths who are recognising, acknowledging and beginning to actively engage in the environmental and climate change agenda.
Working within a multifaith organisation focusing on environmental and climate change issues, we can acknowledge the difficulty in creating a paradigm shift among faith leaders. However we also have to mention the positive responses and actions we are receiving from faith communities in becoming more proactive to environmental concerns.
There are a number of statements being made by significant figures within various faiths speaking out against the destruction of nature, particularly as a build up to Rio+20. Further, since COP17, the We Have Faith Campaign has really started a ground swell of support from the faith communities to include their voice and concerns to global environmental problems. The campaign has gained momentum and will be present at Rio+20, COP 18 and COP19.
Finally it is worth ending by saying that in every single faith in the world, despite some of their theological differences, none reject the concept of the importance of nature and the preservation thereof. In fact our current environmental crisis is precisely because of the disconnect between spiritualism in favour of materialism. The faith community therefore argues for placing the spiritual at the heart of sustainable development (and not simply to consider it as a new pillar to sustainable development). I therefore argue for the need for a spiritual ecological reawakening.
I agree completely about the minority push back by some faith communities. In fact, I have written about this in an end piece I provided for a theme issue on religious perceptions of natural hazards in the journal Religion a year or so ago. We also have a solid chapter on religion and disaster risk reduction in the Routledge Handbook of Hazard and Disaster Risk Reduction that came out in December. I, myself, am a member of my town’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which is very proactive on earth issues, but also social justice and interfaith inclusiveness.
What of the majority? They may have a theoretical (theological) commitment to respecting ‘creation’, but they do not confront worldly power in the form of the huge corporations and corrupt governments who will be doing the oil and gas deals in Paris in a few weeks. The reasons why they do not are multiple and complex.
One small thing that ALL faith communities could do is to disinvest their pension funds and whatever other equity they have in corporations that are promoting earth-destroying activities. Disinvestment campaigns have been effective as, for example, the campaign in Europe and the US by faith members and university students to disinvest in companies doing business in Apartheid South African in the day.
Warm regards to you and your colleagues. Also, can you zap me a web site and tell me a bit more about your organisation?
Rushing off back to the climate conference!
Thank you for your response. It is good to know that you are also engaging from a faith perspective. Could you forward the paper that appears in the journal Religion?
Indeed the challenge is to encourage the majority to take action. Our position is that the basis for mobilizing majority action is through the faith leaders. It is the faith leaders that need to be “re-trained” in their respective theology, where a more explicit focus on nature and earth stewardship be considered. Good leadership will ensure good followers. In this respect, there are some good work being done among some Christian and Muslim theologians where explicit emphasis on environmental teaching is placed. But again, this is not in the mainstream yet.
With respect to engaging with social, economic and political immoralities, in the Western Cape Province of S.A we are rather fortunate with our current faith-based structure. We have what is called the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, that is represented by the majority of faiths in the province. This forum meets monthly, and they are concerned with responding to both national and local political, economic and social immoralities. A similar forum exists in KZN and one or two other provinces with a national forum about to be formalized.
Our organization, SAFCEI (Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute), is an institute of people of many faiths in Southern Africa, united in our diversity through our common commitment to earthkeeping. Our aim is to support the faith communities in fulfilling their environmental and socio-economic responsibility. We focus on issues around Climate and Energy, Water, Biodiversity and Waste. Currently climate change and energy has received more attention. We also have a programme called Eco-congregations, which is focused on encouraging congregations to become members of SAFCEI, where we provide resources to registered congregations for initiating any environmental project within their respective congregation or community.
Currently I am acting as the regional coordinator for southern Africa.
Our website: www.safcei.org.za
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