Posted by: mariannedc | April 3, 2013

From Fear of Austerity to Faith in God’s Abundance

We’re told that these are lean times. The United States no longer can afford to guarantee a secure retirement for the elderly, safety-net supports for low-income Americans nor assistance to impoverished nations, the message goes.

But as people of faith, we believe in a God of abundance. And as we look around, we see incredible riches in our midst.

Consider the concentration of wealth on Wall Street, even following the Great Recession: In 2010, the assets of the six largest U.S. banks equaled 62% of U.S. gross domestic product – up from 18% in 1995, according to members of the Senate Banking Committee.

What if the United States implemented a tiny tax on the most risky, high-volume transactions in this financial sector?

This type of tax has been recommended by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which has called on governments “to consider…taxation measures on financial transactions through fair but modulated rates with charges proportionate to the complexity of the operations, especially those made on the ‘secondary’ market.”

Pope Benedict XVI also prophetically taught in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate that “economic growth has been and continues to be weighed down by malfunctions and dramatic problems. The technical forces in play…the damaging effects on the real economy of badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing…leads us today to reflect on the measures that would be necessary to provide a solution.”

Such a solution is being proposed in the U.S. the form of a financial transaction tax (FTT) of less than 0.5% on the buying and selling of stocks, bonds, derivatives, futures, options and currencies. Some economists estimate it could generate hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

On April 17, two days after Tax Day, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) will reintroduce a bill which is being called a tax for the people, rather than on the people. The bill would create tax on transactions over $300,000, ensuring that low- and middle-income households would not be impacted. Those who would be affected are a new type of investor called high frequency traders. These traders use complex computer programs to buy and sell thousands or even millions of times every second.

The FTT would not only raise lots of money. It also could slow down such high-volume trading, which has had destabilizing effects that played a role in the recent recession, foreclosure crises, unemployment rates, and government bailout money. Around the world, this type of trading has played a role in food price spikes, resulting in starvation and conflict.

Dozens of faith groups have signed onto a coalition promoting the FTT called the Robin Hood Campaign. For Catholics, the campaign’s name evokes not theft from individuals but a conviction to uphold the priority for the poor and marginalized by addressing a core set of habits contributing to the increasing inequity between the rich and poor.

The Scriptures speak out against excessive accumulation of wealth. When the Israelites wandered the desert, the manna provided to them lasted only one day:  “Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed” (Ex 16:18), and when they collected more than they needed, it began to rot. The Jubilee prescriptions in Lev 25 and elsewhere sought to limit economic inequities through the forgiveness of debts. The Robin Hood Campaign advocates a provision which seeks to limit increasing inequity in society in the spirit of these prescriptions of the Scriptures.

The burden of our nation’s financial problems should not be placed on the most vulnerable through cuts to vital safety net programs. The FTT could help alleviate the financial burden of global crises and contribute to a healthy future for humanity and the planet.

Advocate for the FTT with other faith-based groups here.

Posted by: mariannedc | March 20, 2013

Climate Justice as the Ultimate Human Rights Issue

By Pamela Haines, Quaker social justice educator with a concern for economics and the environment

I was delighted recently to hear a talk by Mary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and now an activist on climate justice, which she characterizes as the ultimate human rights issue.  Her humanity and her lifelong commitment to women and global human rights are impressive and heartening.  You may want to check out her website.  I’ve excerpted some of the principles below.  But just think for a moment:  climate justice as the ultimate human rights issue.

Respect and Protect Human Rights

The idea of human rights point societies towards internationally agreed-upon values around which common action can be negotiated and then acted upon. The guarantee of basic rights rooted in respect for the dignity of the person, which is at the core of this approach, makes it an indispensable foundation for action on climate justice.

Support the right to development

Climate change highlights our true interdependence and must lead to a new and respectful paradigm of sustainable development, based on the urgent need to scale up and transfer green technologies and to support low-carbon, climate resilient strategies for the poorest so that they become part of the combined effort in mitigation and adaptation.

Share Benefits and Burdens Equitably

Those who have most responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and most capacity to act must cut emissions first [and] have an ethical obligation to share benefits with those who are today suffering from the effects of these emissions. People in low-income countries must have access to opportunities to adapt to the impacts of climate change and embrace low-carbon development to avoid future environmental damage.

Ensure that Decisions on Climate Change are Participatory, Transparent and Accountable

It must be possible to ensure that policy developments and policy implementation in this field are seen to be informed by an understanding of the needs of low-income countries in relation to climate justice, and that these needs are adequately understood and addressed.

Highlight Gender Equality and Equity

In many countries and cultures, women are at the forefront of living with the reality of the injustices caused by climate change. They are critically aware of the importance of climate justice in contributing to the right to development being recognized and can play a vital role as agents of change within their communities.

Harness the Transformative Power of Education for climate stewardship

Achieving climate stabilization will necessitate radical changes in lifestyle and behavior, and education has the power to equip future generations with the skills and knowledge they will need to thrive and survive. Done well, it invites reflection on ethics and justice that make the well-educated also good citizens, both of their home state and (in these global times) of the world as well.

Use Effective Partnerships to Secure Climate Justice

The principle of partnership points in the direction of solutions to climate change that are integrated both within states and across state boundaries… this must also involve partnership with those most affected by climate change and least able adequately to deal with it – the poor and under-resourced.

These principles are rooted in the frameworks of international and regional human rights law and do not require the breaking of any new ground on the part of those who ought to, in the name of climate justice, be willing to take them on.

Posted by: kathymcneely | March 13, 2013

Stations of the Cross with John Paul II:

On the path of ecological conversion

Drawing on the legacy of Bl. John Paul II, the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) offers again this year “Stations of the Cross with John Paul II: On the path of ecological conversion” in English and Spanish.

Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM developed this resource in collaboration with FAN staff. The Stations and other Lenten resources are available on FAN’s homepage.

Posted by: jennsvetlik | March 7, 2013

Free Trade Accelerates Land Grabs

By Jennifer Svetlik, Program Associate, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Land as gift is a prominent theme in the biblical narrative. In Genesis, the earth’s first inhabitants are charged with tending the land, a home offered to them by God. Land is promised to Abraham and his descendants as a covenantal inheritance (c.f. Gen 12), not a commodity. The Israelites are instructed not to sell the land permanently, because it is God’s; humans are the land’s tenants (c.f. Lev 25).

Uganda-Remembering Home

According to Oxfam’s Grow Campaign, at least 22,500 people have lost their land to make way for a timber company in Uganda.  
CC Image courtesy of Oxfam International on Flickr and made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives 2.0 license.

“Land grabs,” which have received increasing media attention in recent years, should be of particular concern to people of faith. Land grabs are “large-scale purchases or leases of agricultural or forested land on terms that violate the rights of the people who live on or near that land,” as defined in Land Grabs and Fragile Food Systems: The Role of Globalization, a report released by The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

The report released this month, authored by Sophia Murphy of the IATP, focuses on how the trade system accelerates land grabs.

Murphy examines the relationship of globalization, specifically “the deregulation of trade and foreign investment laws, which has greatly eased cross-border capital flows; relaxed the limits on foreign land ownership; and opened markets to agricultural imports,” to land grabs. She contends that globalization has driven land grabs by making land an appealing asset for global investors and increasing the risk that international markets might not provide food for importing countries.

Murphy argues that “the globalization of food production, distribution, and finance contributed significantly to the food price crisis of 2007-08.” The crisis revealed that international trade cannot guarantee food security. Less predictable agricultural production due to destabilized weather patterns caused by climate change has only intensified this loss of confidence in the global food system. Murphy notes that in 2012 the U.S. “lost 40 percent of a record large number of acres planted with corn to drought.”

As a result, there is a sense of both scarcity and fragility within the global food system. This has driven food-importing countries without arable land, such as Saudi Arabia, to grab land in African countries. Local communities whose land is leased or purchased are often threatened in the process.

Murphy argues that investment in agriculture is crucial, but that without examining “what kind of investment, in what kind of agriculture, and in whose interests… the investment does more harm than good.” IATP suggests four related policy changes to the international food system:

  • reformed trade rules that ensure export restrictions in times of crisis contain transparency and predictability requirements;
  • publicly-managed grain reserves to diminish the effects of supply shocks;
  • funding for the poorest food importers triggered automatically when international market prices sharply increase;
  • strong national and international laws to govern investment in land, respecting the Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure.

It’s time to change the rules that make land grabs possible. To learn more, read the report.

Posted by: jennsvetlik | March 4, 2013

2013 Economic and Ecological Way of the Cross

Each year preceding Easter, Christian communities around the world gather in public places to recreate the story of Jesus’ passion. The observance of the Passion is an opportunity to reflect on the ways we have broken our covenant with God at the expense of other persons and creation. In the suffering of the earth & its creatures, we have crucified Divinity in our midst. Way of Cross Group

In dramatic public liturgies, we remember who we are as people of faith and why we believe that even the greatest of evils will not have the last word.

For over 15 years, Christian communities across the Washington D.C. area  have  gathered on Good Friday for a Way of the Cross among D.C. institutions.  At each station we  focus on a different economic or ecological challenge or sign of hope for our times.

The Economic and Ecological Way of the Cross Script was prepared this year by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns with support from other planning organizations. We will be using this version in Washington D.C. on Good Friday, March 29, 2013, beginning at noon at First St. NW and Constitution Ave. NW near the Capitol Building. If you’re in the area, please join us. We encourage local communities to edit and use this resource in your own geographical context. Also see the Faith Economy Ecology Resource page to download a copy.

Posted by: jennsvetlik | February 21, 2013

Slowing Climate Change by Working Less

CC Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes on Flickr and made available under a Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives 2.0 license.

CC Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes on Flickr and made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives 2.0 license.

By Jennifer Svetlik, Program Associate, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

To adequately address the climate crisis, a vast global mobilization is needed to urgently and radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This effort, according to economist David Rosnick at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, could include reducing work hours.

In the report released this month, Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change, Rosnick estimates that a reduction in work hours by .05 percent annually through the rest of the century “would eliminate one-quarter to one-half of the global warming that is not already locked in.”

Productivity is increasing in many parts of the world, and Rosnick demarcates the response of Europe (shorter work weeks and more vacation days) and that of the U.S. (increased consumption) over the past thirty years.

While stating that the variables are complex and the association not fully understood, previous studies also “have found that shorter work hours are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and therefore less global climate change,” Rosnick notes.

A 0.5 percent decrease in work hours annually from 2013 to 2100 would mean that, beginning at a baseline of 40 hours per week for 50 weeks annually, by 2100 the work week would be 30 hours per week with seven additional weeks of vacation.

He suggests that the negative economic effects of reduced work hours are minimal because of their additional positive effects. For example, reducing work hours may increase hourly productivity and the employed percent of the population. Higher levels of employment can in turn reduce the cost of unemployment benefits. At the same time, lower levels of production will reduce greenhouse gas emissions through keeping factories and office buildings open less.

The report offers calculations based on four scenarios included by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 assessment which describe various projected progressions of the global economy. Rosnick’s calculations seek to determine the climate’s response when increased leisure time is introduced into the various scenarios. He suggests that while 40-70 percent of future warming is already locked in, reducing work hours, alongside other policy changes, would have a substantial effect on the amount of warming humans can still influence.

The way workers spend additional leisure time is a significant variable not addressed in the report. Leisure time dedicated to biking rather than driving, gardening and purchasing from the farmers market, for example, would further contribute to reducing emissions. Leisure involving increased airplane travel, of course, would have the opposite effect.

Rosnick asserts that reducing work hours would be difficult in countries with high levels of inequality, where such policies would mean that the majority of workers would face reduced living standards as a result. In the U.S. “just shy of two-thirds of all income gains from 1973-2007 went to the top 1 percent of households,” he notes. Those households could easily absorb a reduction in wages associated with reduced work hours, but many households could not.

The problems with economic inequality, those moral and related to social and economic stability, have received more media attention in recent years, but have yet to be addressed meaningfully through policy efforts. The challenges of enacting a reduced work hours policy in a highly unequal society only further highlight that economic inequality in the U.S. must be urgently addressed.

Furthermore, for people of faith, increased leisure for workers should be of concern. The command to honor the Sabbath seeks to limit work and provides both an opportunity and an obligation to rest, reflect, and offer thanks. A rhythm of life which includes rest, prayer, time with loved ones, and participation in community life is a God-ordained right to which every worker should be entitled. Jesus’ practices of going away for reflection and enjoying frequent meals with friends should be an example that each worker has an opportunity to emulate.

Reduced work hours and increased leisure can have positive benefits for families, communities, and, according to Rosnick’s report, the environment. Creative policy solutions such as reducing work hours should be brought to the forefront of the conversation on addressing climate change.

Posted by: mariannedc | February 2, 2013

What’s Wrong with Minting a $1 Trillion Coin?

By Pamela Haines, Quaker social justice educator with a concern for economics and the environment

On Friday, January 11, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman urged the White House to mint a platinum coin worth $1 trillion. He thought it was less silly—and less dangerous—than playing with the debt ceiling. The White House responded by saying the trillion dollar coin is off the table, because the Federal Reserve declared that it “wouldn’t view the coin as viable.”

Today, the Federal Reserve creates trillions of dollars on its books and lends them at near-zero interest to private banks, which then lend them back to the government and the people at market rates. We have been brainwashed into thinking that it makes more sense to do this than for the government to simply create the money itself, debt- and interest-free.

Some of our greatest leaders — including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln — realized that the freedom to print money offers a way to break the shackles of debt and free the nation to realize its full potential.  Our ignorance on these issues has played into the hands of the 1 percent, who are dependent on the current system for their wealth and power. We have the power to choose prosperity over austerity. But to do it, we must first restore the power to create money to the people.

Read more here about the historic roots of the $1 trillion coin.


Posted by: mariannedc | January 23, 2013

Catholic Bishops Share Stories of ‘Climate Refugees’

Writer William Bole attended a meeting of Catholic bishops recently and heard the alarming stories of people threatened by climate change in very real ways.

Bishop Donald Kettler of Fairbanks, Alaska, predicted that one village that he serves will be under water in 10 years. He was speaking of a coastal community populated by indigenous people—soon to be washed away by rising sea levels resulting from climate change.

“Yet the story Kettler tells is not nearly as alarming as what I heard from Bishop Bernard Unabali of Papua New Guinea,” Bole writes. “His diocese includes a raft of islands that are also vanishing under the sea, and many of the islanders have already fled. They have been called the world’s first climate-change refugees, although others (including some of Kettler’s flock) are not far behind.”

Bole goes on to talk about an organization the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, which is trying to connect the broad middle of American Catholic laity with faith-based social teaching on care for creation and, specifically, climate change.

“The presentations in Washington indicated that an official Catholic teaching on the environment is emerging—and its key principles revolve around concerns about the person, the poor, and the common good,” he writes. “For example, while modern-day environmentalism often exalts nature over people, the Church looks upon human beings as ‘the guardians of Creation, which God has entrusted to us,’ said Mary A. Ashley of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. ‘We have a vocation to care for every creature.’”

There’s hope when our religious institutions’ hierarchy begin connecting the dots for their members between faith, care for creation and the urgency of addressing climate change. You can read more about the meeting in Bole’s blog here.

Posted by: kathymcneely | January 17, 2013

A litany for ecological healing

President Obama’s second inauguration will held on Monday, January 21, the same day that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is observed. As we continue to observe the negative ecological impact our current economic, political and social systems inflict, the Faith Economy Ecology Transformation working group shares these excerpts of a litany for ecological healing prepared by Ibrahim Abdil-Mu’id Ramey for a multi-faith sunrise service that was held in April 2012 at the site of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial located at the Potomac River Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. This litany captures much of the urgency expressed in our founding statement and inspires us to continue to push the administration to put in place sustainable economic and ecological policies.

Leader: This morning, we gather in the light and the honored memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., both to give witness to his legacy, and to draw from the energy of his spirit and dedication to the cause of freedom and justice for all humanity. We know that, were Dr. King alive today, he also would be moved to take nonviolent, direct action to bring attention to the climate crisis that threatens the well-being of our world, and all living things that inhabit it. The “fierce urgency of now” of the struggle for civil and human rights in his time, is now the real danger of climate change that threatens us and future generations.

All: We ask the Creator of all life to fill us with compassion for all humanity, and to recognize the dignity and inherent worth of all people.

Leader: As we come together in a place by the Potomac, a mighty river, we are conscious of the water that gives life to our planet, and the tragedy of climate change that jeopardized the health of our oceans and rivers.

All: We ask the creator of all things to make us mindful of our need to preserve and define the health of our waters, and to prevent the climate change that threatens to flood islands and low-lying areas

Leader: Dr. King’s legendary courage, in the face of fierce and sometimes violent opposition, did not deter him from his quest for social justice.

All: We ask the Creator of all life for courage in the face of the forces that continue to desecrate our environment and harm our fragile climate.

Leader: Despite setbacks and defeats in his long struggle for human rights, Dr. King was committed to run the course of the entire race, and to continue this struggle until the end of the life.

All: We ask the Creator of all life to perseverance in the face of all obstacles, as we witness and work for the changes in our collective behavior, and our priorities, that will restore and protect our earth.

Leader: In the same way that he recognized racism and militaristic violence as moral cancers that endangered us all, Dr. King also saw materialism, and the worship of irresponsible and boundless consumption, as a great evil at the root of much human misery, and an evil that now threatens the survival of the very biosphere upon which we all depend.

All: We ask the Creator of all life to grant us the wisdom to preserve and conserve our natural resources, and to always promote the individual and collective use of renewable energy, responsible, earth-friendly technology, and the consumption of foods that do not damage our earth, our air, and the waters of our planet.

Leader: As a social movement-builder, Martin Luther King’s message was one of inclusion and engagement of all people for a common good. While he recognized the importance of the Black church in the struggle for civil and human rights, his social justice movement also embraced the energy, talent, and good will of people of all races, religious and ethnicities. Young and old, rich and poor, native-born and those from other lands, were all part of the mosaic of his struggle for freedom and positive change.

All: We ask the Creator of all life for the wisdom to recognize that, because all human beings inhabit one earth, we must work as one, unified human family to overcome our divisions and build mutual solidarity to restore our common habitation and protect the climate that surrounds us all.

Leader: Even when confronted by hatred, Dr. King held true to his principles of Christian love and active nonviolence. He refused to hate his adversaries, but instead, he called for us to love them, as he also called these adversaries to a higher moral plane as he sought to win them over as allies.

All: We ask the Creator of all life to help us to avoid demonizing and hating those whom we see as promoting the irresponsibility, and dangerous actions and policies that endanger our earth. Instead, empower us to win them over to our cause with positive perseverance and a genuine sense of caring.

Leader: Finally, we recognize the profound wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr., when we spoke of all people being inextricably bound by a single garment of mutuality. All women, men, and children live on this earth, and will either share its wonders and bounty, or will all share in the tragedy of its suffering.

All: We ask the Creator of all life to give us the spiritual strength, moral vision, and political will to continue this work of struggle, engagement, and prophetic witness as we respond to our climate crisis, and ultimately, to all forms of injustice in our world. Grant that we might continue to walk in the light of your servant, Martin Luther King, Jr., and work for the restoration of our climate and the protection of all life on our planet, until we, and our earth, are free at last.

Posted by: kathymcneely | January 14, 2013

Enough is Enough!

The faith economy ecology transformation working group has been focused on a number of issue that plague the world today. Basically, the drive to grow has caused us to outpace our planet. We recognize that the earth is showing signs of this wear and tear and we are committed to finding solutions that are sustainable, and that steer us away from the mad demand to grow and toward an economy of “enough.”

Enough is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill

Enough is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill

Our colleagues at The Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE) have taken a lead and thinking through such solutions which they explore in a new book called Enough Is Enough. Authors Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill focus on solutions that come from creating a prosperous and stable steady-state economy, exploring specific strategies to limit resource use, stabilize population, achieve a fair distribution of income and wealth, reform the financial system, reduce unemployment, and more—all with the aim of maximizing long-term well-being instead of short-term profits.

The book also provides some wisdom around changing consumer behavior and shifting the political conversation away from the misguided pursuit of economic growth and toward the things that really matter to people.  Enough Is Enough serves as a great primer for achieving genuine prosperity and a hopeful future for all.

Additionally, the first $5,000 in royalties will go directly to CASSE to support the grassroots effort to build a sustainable and fair economy; it’s been endorsed by Noam Chomsky and it moves beyond tired doom-and-gloom arguments. It’s got plenty of fresh ideas and surprising optimism, something like a primer for achieving genuine prosperity and a hopeful future for all.

Look for Enough is Enough at:

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