The Inaugural Women’s Session at the Parliament of the World’s Religions is giving me hope for the future.
The parliament is a conference of faith leaders. A brief history: the first Parliament in Chicago in 1893 brought together Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. The second Parliament in 1993 was significantly more diverse, and I was lucky enough to present at that conference as a member of a Pagan group, Covenant of the Goddess. There have been three other conferences since then; this weekend the 2015 conference is being held in Salt Lake City.
I caught the panel on “Community Resilience – Peace, Justice, Food and Water” as it streamed live. You can watch the video of the panel online. This discussion brought together Grove Harris, the UN delegate of the interfaith organization Temple of Understanding; Dr. Vandana Shiva; and Starhawk, a Pagan priestess, writer and leader.
Dr. Shiva spoke for seed freedom, farmers, and women feeding the world. She passionately defended the community of humans and the community of life as the source of life which sustains us physically and spiritually. “The earth’s gifts are a commons,” she said. To further this work she founded Navdanya, “Nine Seeds”, a woman-centered network of organic seed keepers spread across India. She called on us all to save seeds as a gift to the future. “Women feed the world, not corporations,” she said.
I was riveted by her declaration that “the real solution of climate change is care for the earth,” changing our mindset from extractors to caretakers, understanding we are part of the earth. She assesses that up to 50% of climate change is due to industrial agricultural practices: deforestation, moving food unnecessarily, the cruelty of CAFOs (concentrated animal food operations), and wasting food. The “developed” world wastes up to half the food we make. Half!
The solution, she says, is building soil. Returning two tons per hectare (2.4 acres) of organic matter to the soil would sequester greenhouse gases in five years. Navdanya produces that much through organic gardening practices which also feed the farmers and their community. So “anyone who panics with climate change should stop the panic” and work to re-establish a localized food system, starting with our own gardens.
This call for personal practice and hope cuts directly across the dominant narrative of despair. The discussion of climate change focuses on the damage that has been done, the massive scale of the industrial machinery causing those changes, and the sheer hopelessness of making a change to this system. Some voices claim that it is already too late, the process of destruction is irreversible, life on earth is doomed. This narrative is paralyzing an entire generation – I talk to people every day who are in suicidal despair, who have given up on trying to make a change to the system. I’ve passed through this despair myself. If we’ve already destroyed the beautiful earth how can I go on?
It occurred to me that despair aids the machinery of destruction. It may border on the paranoid to think that the narrative is engineered by the owners of the industrial world to manufacture that despair. On the other hand, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of US surveillance of private citizens seemed like paranoid suspicions only a few years ago. If we have already given up, why not just let the machines cut the forests and patent the seeds? Dr. Shiva calls on us to stand up to the newest wave of colonization, the theft of the world’s resources to benefit a privileged few. That colonization, she says, extends to our mindset, believing that there are no alternatives to the way we live.
Starhawk reminded us that mother trees feed young trees through a mycelium web; mushrooms live deep in the soil, purifying it and sustaining life above ground. When the panel discussed the destruction of resources centering on the need for human comfort, Starhawk spoke as a Pagan in defense of comfort, changing the narrative from acesticism, what we should give up, to the gain of genuine comfort. “We are inviting you into a world of more beauty and joy and balance and true comfort”, one in which we can all sleep at night knowing every child on earth has been fed. “That would be really comfortable,” she said.
The Parliament is still streaming live, and many presentations are available as videos at Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015. This weekend I’m not there. Instead, I am cleaning up my little garden. I’ve saved three seeds of plants adapted to my patch of earth, kale, cilantro and tomato. Dr. Shiva gave me a new spiritual goal: save six more seeds.