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Help the grown-ups of tomorrow understand earth's peril

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When today's children grow up, will they be more effective than we grown-ups have been in transforming this current earth-unfriendly paradigm into one that is more positive, sustainable and beautiful?

Awakening the Dreamer, an international environmental education project sponsored by The Pachamama Alliance in San Francisco, believes it is possible. Heidi Pohl, a workshop facilitator in Colombia, has posted a letter on the organization's website describing how certified coaches there are adapting Dreamer workshop material for the kindergarten set.

Pohl said a group of 4- and 5-year-olds who have gone through the process are quite aware of the earth's plight.

"They know that animals are dying, that woods are disappearing, that big environmental disasters are happening, that people are suffering -- and somehow they have the sense that everything is connected," she writes.

Coaches worked with the kids using three concepts:

  • Pachamama is our mother, who is worthy of love, who is ill right now and who needs us.

What's to be done about pollutants that travel across the country?

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A recent government study showed that about 75 percent of the polluting nitrates in the Gulf of Mexico come from manure runoff that travels down the Mississippi River from farms in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

These pollutants make it economically difficult for people who make their living by fishing in the gulf, especially those who gather things such as shrimp and only make enough money to live on the margin. These people were already reeling from the effects of the British Petroleum oil spill in 2010.

Rio+20 concludes with disappointment

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Catholic groups see positive aspects, weaknesses in final Rio document
By Catholic News Service

RIO DE JANEIRO (CNS) -- Representatives of some Catholic nongovernmental organizations expressed disappointment at what they described as weak wording in the final document of Rio+20, the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, but others found positive aspects.

"If this is the future our leaders want, today and tomorrow's poor and marginalized people certainly aren't part of it. Their right to live in dignity and in harmony with nature has once more been denied," said Denise Auclair, a policy expert with CIDSE, an international alliance of 16 Catholic development agencies.

The final U.N. document, "The Future We Want," included 700 voluntary commitments by social groups, businesses and governments in addition to those commitments negotiated among country delegates. The volume of investments in these commitments was more than $513 billion.

Green burials offer ecological, ancient way to say goodbye to loved ones

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On Oct. 17, 2009, I received a call from my maintenance man at St. Elizabeth in Wyandotte, Mich. A woman wanted to talk with me. Since I was on my way to a wedding rehearsal at a parish 30 miles away, I told myself that I had a few minutes. Little did I realize how powerful that encounter with Jeanne Ingram would become. Jeanne's mother, Bereth, had just died and Jeanne was literally searching high and low for a cemetery that would honor her mother's wishes to be interred without any kind of chemicals or vaults.

'Deep ecologist' finds laughter and beauty in nature

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The late Fr. Thomas Berry, renowned geologist, was not the only environmentalist who believed we need a new creation story. Brenda Peterson, novelist and essayist, is of like mind.

While Berry believes we must regain our sense of gratitude and courtesy toward the earth and its inhabitants and recognize the sacred character of habitat, Peterson proposes that we also need large doses of humor and hope to neutralize the often fundamental, tragic doom-gloom-guilt and shame attitudes from some environmentalists who cast the earth in a crucifixion mode.

"I never saw a stand up environmental comic," Peterson, a fallen-away Southern Baptist who became a deep ecologist, writes in her delightfully funny and affectionate 2010 family memoir, I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth.

Even as a kid, Brenda Peterson was deemed "lost" by her Southern Baptist kin. By the time she had reached the ripe old age of 9 or 10, Peterson had carved out a permanent place for herself at the top of their prayer list.

Those who govern should be required to be eco-literate

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Political candidates, economists and business school graduates should be required to take eco-literacy tests to determine if they are qualified to govern and make earth-friendly policy decisions, recommends The World Future Council, an international public advocacy organization based in Hamburg, Germany.

"Ecological literacy is vital for those in positions of power and influence," states the council's founder and chair, Jakob von Uexküll.

The island president: real consequences to climate change

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After years of torture and imprisonment, Mohamed Nasheed was, at 41, democratically elected to the presidency of the Maldives. The critically acclaimed documentary "The Island President" (98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) tells that story. More centrally, it tells President Nasheed's heroic story of putting a human face on this low-lying island nation, which faces inundation through climate change. The Maldives lie in the middle of the Indian Ocean and represent more than 1,200 coral islands, of which about 200 are inhabited. The Maldives' people have developed their culture over centuries. The challenge is that the elevation is at most a few feet above sea level.

Flight over Canada's destruction of nature inspires environmental musician

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In 2009, Jennifer Berezan took a plane ride with two friends over Edmondton, Alberta, Canada, the place where she grew up. Vast expanses of the area she loved so very much had once thrived as an ancient green boreal forest. But now it had been industrially raped and turned into a wasteland.

Berezan, an environmental musician, composer and social justice activist living in Berkeley, Calif., thought she had braced herself to withstand emotionally the ruinous devastation she would see, but the reality was soul-chilling. Remembering the ancient trees that used to roll "in green waves of motion," she now looked down at "a world on fire. No light. No land. Just black tar and sand."

Berezan was viewing the Canada's Athabasca tar sands operation in Fort McMurray, which help make Canada's oil reserves the second-largest in the world after Saudi Arabia's. Almost as large as the state of Florida, the area supplies approximately 1 million barrels of oil to the United States every day.

Biophilia and the barcode of life

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Last month, I had the privilege of attending a Wege lecture at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Daniel Janzen, the world-renowned biologist, was the presenter.

Professor Janzen, of the University of Pennsylvania and the Guanacaste Conservation Area in Costa Rica, and his wife, biologist Winnie Hallwachs, have witnessed how the incredibly biologically diverse area of Costa Rica was becoming gobbled up to development. Rather than lament and throw up their hands, Daniel and Winnie acted.

They partnered with the Costa Rican government, other governments and friendly foundations to launch the Guanacaste National Park Project. The restoration of this northwestern part of Costa Rica, known as the Area de Conservación Guanacaste, has been one of the great miracles of modern-day biology. There are now 190,000 hectares of restored land in this region. (The entire country is about 151,000 square kilometers, about the same size as the state of Michigan.)

Rio+20 to seek a sustainable, global future

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Rio+20: Still trying to map a sustainable future for the world
By Catholic News Service
LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Twenty years ago, a 12-year-old girl stood before government officials from most of the world's countries and pleaded for her future. Worried about pollution and overuse of natural resources on her finite planet, she begged, "If you don't know how to fix it, please don't break it."

The occasion was the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which ended with the world's countries committing -- at least on paper -- to make environmental concerns a priority and eliminate unsustainable forms of production and consumption. Above all, delegates agreed that development must not jeopardize the welfare of future generations.

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April 11-24, 2014

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