Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.- Ralph Bicknese

Graffiti artist Mauro Palotta says Pope Francis is the only world leader who stands on the side of the people.


The Connection between Sustainability and Faith: Lines of Approach and Action (Part 3)

This is the final entry in a three part reflection on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.

The first and second posts in this series discuss growing ecological problems and some characteristics of solutions that are needed to combat those problems. This post includes more specific lines of actions, specifically for Christians. The following is a list compiled in the encyclical of ways to address the issue of our changing environment:

  • Dialogue on the Environment in the International Community
  • Dialogue for New National and Local Policies
  • Dialogue and Transparency in Decision-Making
  • Politics and Economy in Dialogue for Human Fulfilment
  • Religions in Dialogue with Science

It is clear that the first step in changing our world on a large scale is talking about it, and talking to the right people. Some of these conversations will be happening at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in December. This is at a global level, but the US Congress is in the position to make national conversations. Conversations can also take place within our churches and schools about the changes that need to be made to be better stewards of the planet. Yet, it is also possible to begin making changes on a smaller scale that starts with the concerned individual and moves outward as they educate and encourage others around them about their concerns.

There are people who oppose this conversation and change as being too difficult or not really important, and often Christians are among those people. “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.” This to me is devastating, because I feel that in the belief in Christ and his teachings, there is a strong theme of connection and restoration, and accepting those themes but rejecting their practical application is not seeing those themes for the true value that they have in the Christian story. It is not that these themes are separate from the saving grace of Christ, but that they are integral and that redemption is not only for humanity, but all of Creation. Continue reading


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The Connection between Sustainability and Faith: Stewardship and Solutions (Part 2)

This is part two of a three part reflection on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.

In part one of this reflection, I touched on how we need to focus on stewardship and not ownership. The idea of being a steward of the earth and its resources is not only why I want to contribute to solutions for ecological issues, it also informs other areas of my faith. I truly believe the statement the Pope uses about our role in restoring the planet: “Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator.” At the same time, these values are not self-sacrificing; as a steward, my efforts to protect the earth are in essence caring for myself and other humans on the earth. The Pope affirms this care as a clear aim of the church, stating that, “The work of the Church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time ‘she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction’.” This is no easy task though, and it’s clear from the extensive list of woes outlined that this will be a long process of problem solving and collaboration. This list of problems challenges us to thoughtful in the way we fulfill our roles as stewards on the earth. We have to be aware of our limits to solve the problems we’ve created. For some people, this may mean reintroducing the idea of limits being there for our own good and not as a punishment from God. There are limits on how much food we can produce currently and there is a limit on the fossil fuels that exist–these are limits that can spur us on to be creative problem solvers.

What kind of solutions do we need?

The solutions outlined in the letter aren’t specifics, but more guidelines of characteristics that the solutions should include. The Pope uses the term “integral ecology” to include environmental, economical, and social ecology. This is to say that any solution we come up with needs to be multi-faceted and inclusive of different areas of life. Because everything is so interconnected, solutions have to address the realms of business, ecology, and cultures around the world. “Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals related to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.” These solutions also cannot just be for ourselves, but must be inclusive of the future generations and in thoughtful reflection of those who have come before us and what we can do to change the current patterns.

“The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity.”

Photo Credit to CNN.


The Connection between Sustainability and Faith: A reflection in regards to Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter (Part 1)

Following up on the release of the Papal encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home  earlier this year, Pope Francis designated September 1 within the Catholic Church as “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” (shout out to the Orthodox Church, which has been observing this day of prayer since 1989). While Seattle Pacific’s roots are distinctively Wesleyan, we also consider ourselves whole-heartedly ecumenical, believing that our faith can be enriched and our learning increased when we listen to voices from a variety of denominations. And indeed here, in relation to the Pope’s emphasis on environmental stewardship, there is much to be gleaned.

For you non-Catholic, non-theology majors, a papal encyclical is a written teaching focusing on a particular doctrinal issue, usually addressed to leaders within the Catholic Church. Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be to You”) is unique because it is addressed to the entire world, not just bishops or Catholics. It’s also unique because it is unheard of for a major religious leader to place care for creation so centrally to what it means to be Christian, or for that matter, what it means to be human. That Pope Francis chose this topic for his first encyclical speaks volumes.[1]

There are a number of fantastic summaries of Laudato Si’—and in fact, this post was inspired by one of them—but there’s enough content in the encyclical that I thought it was worth spending a few posts summarizing and reflecting on it.

Current Problems

The Pope’s list of current problems includes pollution and climate change, the issue of water (is it clean? who has access?), loss of biodiversity, decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society, global inequality, and weak responses. This is just all in chapter one, and it is really sobering and difficult to read. There are just so many problems to tackle and taking a step back and letting them sink in is tough. The Pope also takes aim at economics-centered thinking, stating that “when nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society,” consequences that are evident in the current issues we face.

What gives me the most hope though is that, as a Christian, the tenants of my faith provide both deep motivation to change these issues and direction on how to go about bringing change. The Pope notes this when he comments on “the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity.” He goes on to state that, “Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated. Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.” As a nursing major, I am particularly fond of science, so these statements are powerful to encouraging me and others to include both faith and science in our dialogue about change. Continue reading


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Ride Sharing: Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and others–are they good for the environment?

Through marketing (mostly radio ads and Facebook) and my friends, I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Lyft and Uber. Sidecar isn’t as popular here in Seattle, but it still got my attention while researching ridesharing applications. Former sustainability assistant and blogger extrodinaireTim wrote a post about Lyft two years ago when they first started becoming popular here in Seattle, and since then there has been a bit of controversy about the legality and regulation about these kind of application based vehicle services (dubbed Transportation Network Companies by the city). Although these services were legalized in Seattle about a year ago, there are still concerns about insurance and potential conflict between statewide and local legislation.

Image Credit: Jeff Blucher, Flickr

Image Credit: Jeff Blucher, Flickr

As a car owner, I know how bad traffic can be, especially during rush hour. I also know that I contribute to traffic, and I feel especially guilty when I’m driving a short distance I could be walking, or when I’m the only one in my car. With all the hype I’ve heard lately, I wanted to know more and know if the companies are helping to alleviate the use of personal vehicles for single occupants.

Photo Credit Rob Barrett, NY Times, 2008

Image Credit: Rob Barrett, NY Times, 2008

After reading a number of articles, I found some on the basics of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) and others relating to the politics and the environmental factors. These articles all helped me to better understand about the issues at hand.

What’s legal here in Seattle and what was all the controversy about?

The current regulations on TNCs were passed in July of 2014 and include:

  • Licensing and insurance requirements for drivers in the networks (there are specific requirements, but all listed pretty generally in news articles).
  • Removal of the cap on the number of drivers for each TNC, so there can be many drivers from Uber, Lyft, or other companies.
  • The creation of an Accessibility fund, which charges 10 cents per ride in vehicles not equipped for wheelchairs in order to create a wheelchair accessible taxi service.
  • Changes made to benefit taxis and for-hire drivers. The City will increase the number of taxi licenses they issue over the next four years, and for-hire drivers are now allowed to pick up passengers that hail them on the street instead of being restricted to arrange-in-advance rides only.Ridesharelogos

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Ways to Avoid Wasting Water

For those of you not in Seattle, this summer has been a bit hotter than normal, to the point where extra heat has had an effect on the typically conscientious water use of Seattleites, creating an increased demand and usage. The combination of heat and  record low river levels has put Seattle on edge, and as a precaution the city implemented the second stage of its water shortage plan  on August 11th, along with nearby cities Tacoma and Everett. This stage is voluntary, with the cities asking customers to reduce their water consumption by 10%. I have joined this voluntary stage by timing my shower this morning to cut back on my water use (Down to 7 minutes! My goal is 4 by the end of the week.).


There are so many tips out there for how to avoid wasting water, including some the city references specifically on their website, but I also found an awesome infographic that I wanted to share.  This infographic was last updated in 2013, so I’m hoping there has been some progress since then on our water conservation, but these are still shocking statistics. (Infographic found at greenerideal, originally created by elocal).

Seattle Pacific has already made some hardware upgrades to help reduce water, and we limit our watering to specific areas on campus during the summer. There are low flow shower heads in all of the residence halls and dual flush toilets in various locations across campus that use less than the average bathroom fixtures. In an effort to be a conscientious community member, the University is currently assessing different options to meet the City’s request, such as modifying and reducing irrigation schedules—more details to come. In addition, you can help SPU save water by reporting any leaks you notice on campus to the Building Maintenance line and by cutting down your personal usage of water. Continue reading


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Solutions to the Food Waste Fight

Food Waste Challenge –Launched 2 years ago

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is my go to source for what is officially happening here, and their website has a wealth of information. I particularly found the Food Waste Challenge launched in 2013 interesting, as well as the USDA’s Commitments and Deliverables through 2014. The Food Waste Challenge is a joint effort between the USDA and the EPA to call people along the food chain to help reduce, recover, and recycle (compost) more food so that it isn’t wasted, but instead used to its fullest potential. The specifics of the goal include 400 participants by 2015, and 1000 by 2020. Participants aren’t individuals, but schools, religious groups, businesses, or local government branches. Membership however is currently at 4,024, including 113 universities. Wow.

As part of this challenge there are also federal marketing orders that allow donations or alternate uses of fresh produce that don’t meet the federal marketing order requirements. These orders include crops of citrus fruits, avocados, kiwis, cherries, olives, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and dates. Since the launch of this program there have been fewer reports on food waste statistics, so we’ll see how effective it is. For tips and resources on how you can get involved, check out their Frequently Asked Questions page. Continue reading


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Food Waste Coming into the Limelight –Highlights from John Oliver

The issue of food waste is not just one here in Seattle—it’s a nationwide issue that starts with the way we produce food and only becomes more of a problem as food finds its way to consumers. John Oliver recently dedicated a segment of his show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to this growing problem (Warning: It’s John Oliver, so be prepared for your facts to come served with a sprinkling of obscenity and a hearty side portion of dark humor). This caught the attention of many media sites, which is great news! The more people who become aware of this problem, the more we can do to change it. Here are some of the highlights of his 17 minute segment.

The Stats

In 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported “40% of the food in the United States today goes uneaten.” The USDA’s (United States Department of Agriculture) Economic Research Service 2010 data puts the national percentage at a more conservative 31%. Roughly translated, this means that a third of all the food produced in America is wasted.


Food Waste in a landfill in California

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