[Sayma-Discuss] Is Earthcare a Quaker Value?

Roy H Taylor III wrldpeas at mindspring.com
Tue May 15 12:13:47 EDT 2018

This will be a topic of discussion during the committee report of SAYMA Earthcare Action Network during our June yearly meeting.

Published by Western Friend Online (2018)

Is Earthcare a Quaker Value?

by Shelley Tanenbaum

I believe that the Society of Friends is going through a transition in our relationship with

Earthcare. In the mid-1980’s, many Friends felt a strong leading to lives their lives in

harmony with nature and to support policies and programs that supported these lifestyles.

In addition to thousands of light bulbs switched to compact fluorescents and now light emitting

diodes (LEDs),  and generating tons of recycling and home-grown veggies, we also

created Quaker institutions that pushed for broader societal change: Quaker Earthcare

Witness, then called “Friends Committee on Unity with Nature,” was formed in 1987 to

connect Friends with an Earthcare leading and to advocate for a sustainable world. Most

yearly meetings and some monthly meetings formed Unity with Nature committees.

However, Quakers did not become leaders in the environmental movement; there was no

sea change among the Society of Friends. Since then, the number of Quaker organizations

working on environmental issues has increased only slightly. Quaker Institute for the

Future was created in 2004 to support research and produce publications on environment

and environmental economics and justice. Friends Committee on National Legislation

adopted their fourth “We seek” calling for “An Earth Restored.” Quaker United Nations

Office in Geneva initiated ‘quiet diplomacy’ on climate change. Most recently, the Earth

Quaker Action Team is calling for green energy and jobs in Philadelphia and Friends World

Committee on Consultation called upon each of us and each of our Meetings to take two

actions in response to our changing climate. These institutions serve Friends as well as

they can and Earthcare has started to register as a Quaker value. However, we have not

been able to keep up with the pace that is required.

We find ourselves in 2018 facing an existential crisis: Will our civilizations survive climate

change and resource depletion? How many people will be at extreme risk from climate

weirding, either directly from extreme weather or indirectly through long-term drought?

How many generations will suffer due to our lack of awareness and action today? How

many species will not be here in 100 years? Those of us doing this work are pedaling faster

up steeper and steeper hills. How can the Religious Society of Friends shift into a higher

gear to meet this existential challenge?

Friends pride ourselves with being on the forefront of social change. We are rightly pleased

to have supported abolition of slavery, as well as women’s rights and civil rights, long

before these were socially acceptable. When we support something, we do more than

mouth the words. We act, whether that is promoting government policies, spreading

information or agitating in the streets. With Earthcare, we are woefully behind.

What are Our Quaker Values?

 We can all agree that the testimonies on peace and equality, along with respecting all

people are values that Friends embrace. But don’t these values call on us to fully embrace

Earthcare if we are to make significant progress in creating a peaceful, fair and just world?

Most Quaker activists I know share my concern for the environment and find ways in their

personal lives to reduce their carbon footprint, yet they do not see Earthcare as part of

their peace and justice witness in the world. In my travels among Friends across North

America, I have also noticed this disconnect.


We sum up our Peace testimony with the words “Take away the occasion for all war.” Yet

ignoring the consequences of resource depletion and climate change would seriously limit

how much we actually can take away the occasion for war. The civil war in Syria is a prime

example of how climate change triggers violence. Syria was hit with an especially long

drought. With failing crops several years running, farmers and their families fled to the

cities. More internal refugees led to crowded cities with limited resources to absorb the

newcomers. The already-existing authoritarian regime imposed rules that were resisted;

political unrest increased and people were jailed. Ultimately, civil war broke out, with the

loss of 480,000 lives and 5 million people have fled the country. Climate change is not the

only cause of this war, but it served as a trigger in a resource-poor and authoritarian

political hierarchy. This is one of several current examples of climate disruption sparking

violence. More will surely follow as climate impacts become more severe.

 In our Quaker community, we value equality, or even more, we value equity in social

situations. We strive to balance our committees by gender and sexual orientation, by

diversity, and by age. We search for better ways to fully welcome Friends of Color into the

Society of Friends, even though we often fall short. We are examining the role that white

privilege has played in all of society, including our faith. We support policies and programs

that will create a more equitable world. There is much we can do better, but we all

recognize equality/equity as a value.


Yet, how many of us fully understand environmental justice? Friends were outraged to

learn about the water crisis in Flint, but do we understand that many communities, mostly

communities of color, have similar problems with dirty water, polluted air, and limited food

resources? Do we notice that poorer people are most often located next to major sources of

pollution, such as the fence-line communities adjacent to petrochemical industries in

Louisiana, just to name one example? Do we know that climate-induced sea level rise is

already changing the lives of Floridians and other coastal dwellers?

 One way we express respect for all individuals is to worship together in a way that allows

any person in attendance to minister during a Meeting for Worship. Another way we

express this is to listen deeply and respectfully during discernment and decision-making,

often holding listening meetings or worship-sharing before making any important

decisions. How is this value reflected in Earthcare?

 I see Earthcare as a spiritual transformation within the Society of Friends. Quakers

acknowledge that we see that of God in everyone. Earthcare calls us to extend that value to

see that of God in everything. This is not nature worship; it is more like worship in kinship

with nature. Do we live our lives as if we are all connected? Or do we see nature as

something to be exploited and used up, and then move on to the next opportunity? Well, it

turns out there are no more opportunities. It is time to embrace our spiritual connection to

all things, ask for guidance, and live as if we are part of the universe, not as dominators. 

How do we Live if we Value Earthcare?

What are our assumptions about environmental concerns? Why isn't this prioritized in our

lives as much as our traditional "peace and justice work?" We understand that climate

change poses a mortal threat, but when do we start taking action? Why haven't we? What

needs to change in our assumptions, lifestyle, worship and in our Meetinghouses to

embrace Earthcare as a core part of our faith and practice as a Friend?

Here is the good news. First of all, there is tremendous joy in embracing our oneness with

the universe. We are made of stardust and the stars are us – how beautiful is that! Many of

us find our deepest connection with spirit when we are in nature. We are facing an

existential crisis. We need to embrace as much spiritual guidance as we can get.

Some of you might feel like you are the only one who cares about the environment in your

meeting. Well, you are not alone. I have found joy and strength in the network of Friends

that is Quaker Earthcare Witness. Alone and reading the news, I can easily feel distraught

and frozen. When I travel to Quaker Earthcare Witness’ biannual meetings, talk on the

phone, read BeFriending Creation, or share stories over our listserve, I am uplifted and

empowered. Our organization connects a steadfast group of Friends who have faithfully

reoriented their lives and positively impacted their local towns and national politics. I am

looking to them for wisdom, insight, and inspiration as the climate crisis worsens. I am also

looking toward many younger Friends who are more often taking the lead.

As a Quaker and a scientist, I am also heartened by recent advances in energy technology.

Climate change is predominantly caused by using fossil fuel. We now know that it is

possible for renewable energy to fill most of our energy needs. The development of those

technologies is advancing at an enormous pace. These times have been compared to major

technology shifts in the past. For example, in the early decades of the Twentieth Century,

transportation in the United States shifted from horses to motor vehicles. In the first 15

years of the 21st century, cell phone usage rose from around 700 million to 7 billion. Many

visionaries and scientists see us on the brink of such a change when it comes to energy use.

This is a Quaker wake-up call for all the environmental threats we are facing. In addition to

climate weirding, our world is experiencing depleted fisheries, decreasing biodiversity, soil

erosion, declining water resources and growing human population. Technology will not

solve all these problems. Let us build on our tremendous history of faithful action and

amplify our faith to include all that surrounds us. Embracing Earthcare will help us find a

way to live in harmony with nature, instead of facing one environmental crisis after

another. This is how we remove the occasion for war and inequity, and create a thriving


Shelley Tanenbaum is the General Secretary of Quaker Earthcare Witness and a member of

Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley, CA (PYM).
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