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Book review: Eaarth, by Bill McKibben

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EAARTH
MAKING A LIFE ON A TOUGH NEW PLANET
By Bill McKibben
Published by Times Books, $16.95

No, it’s not a typo. McKibben spells it “Eaarth” to emphasize that we are not living on the same planet as we used to, thus its new name. It’s quite a sobering idea, but one you’ll find almost irrefutable after reading all of McKibben’s facts, figures, and stories. If you are new to McKibben, he is a journalist and the author of more than 12 books, including The End of Nature and Deep Economy, and is the founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and 350.org.

In my zeal and enthusiasm for this book, I’d like to tell you every great thing I learned, but mostly I just want you to read it yourself. In fact, I’m begging you to PLEASE read this book, because we all need to get up to speed on the real state of the planet’s health, the factors at work, and what can be done about it. As an avid environmentalist, I thought I knew a lot about the planet’s woes. I was wrong. I had no idea how serious it is.

'We have forgotten who we are'

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I learned after we had chosen the title for this blog that Eco Catholic can also mean “Easter and Christmas Only Catholic.” Oh well, such is life. We early on decided that we would include on this blog regular updates on the seasons as they pass, on the night skies that present themselves to us when we look up, as the Earth makes its journey around the Sun, even including a “star” of the month. We wanted to include a hefty dose of the bioregional vision -- that notion that the task of preserving the Earth is doable if we begin in our own backyards, neighborhoods and bio-regions -- those natural boundaries of the planet that provide us our food, water, weather, animal neighbors, plants and trees.

The purpose of these updates and reflections is to situate us solidly within the holy seasons of the planet on which we live and within the vast cosmos of which we are a part. Mindful of Fr. Thomas Berry’s warning that we have sorely neglected the ages-old conversation the human has always had with the rivers, the oceans, the forests and the skies, I also think of the prayer that was included in the United Nations Environmental Sabbath Programme some years ago:

March night skies

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Aldebaran, the star that represents the "eye" of the constellation Taurus, the bull, is to the lower left of the Moon in early March. The star shines bright orange, indicating that its surface is thousands of degrees cooler than the surface of the Sun. Cancer, the crab, is well up in the east at nightfall and passes high overhead later on. Although it is part of the zodiac, its stars are dim. The brightest, Beta Cancri, is so faint you may not be able to see it from a suburb, let alone a city.

Virgo, the constellation most identified with spring, is entering prime evening viewing time. Most of its stars are relatively faint. But Virgo's brightest star, blue-white Spica, is easy to pick out. It rises in the east in mid-evening.

The largest and smallest planets in the solar system slide past each other the week of March 14. . Jupiter is the larger and brighter of the two. Mercury, the smallest planet, creeps up toward Jupiter, passes it , and pulls away later on.

Wendell Berry receives award at the White House

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Poet and Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry was honored at the White House Wednesday for his writings and conservation advocacy, receiving the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.

Berry, 76, shook hands with Obama, and the two whispered to one another briefly. The president then draped the red ribbon and medal around Berry’s neck. “The author of more than 40 books, Mr. Berry has spent his career exploring our relationship with the land and community,” said the citation that was read aloud during the White House East Room ceremony, attended by Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and heads of federal arts agencies.

'Can a tree make you happy?' and \"I was a victim of the peanut butter recall'

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Kathleen Wolf, a social scientist at both the University of Washington’s School of Forest Resources and at the U.S. Forest Service, studies how trees and green spaces can make urban dwellers healthier and happier.

Scott Dodd, food columnist, writes about his experience with the food giant Unilever's recall of its Skippy reduced fat peanut butter products across the Northeast and Midwest because of possible contamination with salmonella.

Both of these pieces appear on the Natural Resources Defense Council's On Earth blog.

Listening to your life

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There is widespread fascination today with elements of Native American spirituality. A central component of these spiritualities is the vision quest, that part of a person’s development in which she goes out into the wilderness for a period of time to fast and pray, to nourish an intimacy with her inner life, and to find direction for life.

40 day carbon fast for Lent

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The Church of England several years ago organized a 40 Day Carbon Fast for Lent. The Fast lists an action that can be taken each day during Lent that will reduce one’s carbon footprint and impact on the local landfill. I’ve adapted the Fast for churches in the United States. It’s a good way to observe Lent with an eye toward making permanent changes in our lifestyles and living in order to benefit the planet and to pave the way for the celebration of Easter.

Day 1: (Ash Wednesday): Remove one light bulb from your residence or office and live without it for the next 40 days.

Day 2: Check your house for drafts with a ribbon or a feather held near doors and windows. If it flutters, buy a draft excluder and install it.

Day 3: Tread lightly, whether that’s by foot, by bike, on the gas as you drive. Find some way to reduce your carbon dioxide emissions when you travel today.

Day 4: Are you recycling everything that it’s possible to recycle? Look into it today; see if you can find additional materials that can be recycled.

Savor the miracle of spring

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“Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment,” says Ellis Peters. Yes, most of us relish this season, especially after a cold and snowy winter like the one we’ve had, but it’s still easy to bypass its gifts out of busyness or complacency. So I invite you to enter into a deeper love affair with spring this year. Do it out of appreciation for the Creator’s genius, for the joy it sparks, and for your soul’s development.

Here’s what I most love about spring. The purple and light green colors of bud and blossom are a feast for my eyes. I know exactly where the dogwoods are on my street, and can’t wait to see the white and pink flowers burst forth. I get to look out my office window and see my redbud tree smiling at me with colorful delight. Forsythia branches, tulips, and crocuses adorn every room in my house. That magical time when color is fresh, new and vivid is brief, so I try to soak it in as fully as possible.

A Lent that matters

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What would make your Lent the best ever? It’s worth pondering because it’s not going to happen unless you decide that is your goal.

We’ve got the advantage of a collective spiritual energy in Lent that can support our efforts, so it’s a perfect time to get more serious. And we never know when it’s our last Lent, so let’s seize the 40 days while we can.

Life reveals in us the impulse and the intuition to welcome God

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When I was young, my family lived on Olive Street in Kansas City. Milk was delivered in glass bottles onto the porch. Our mothers bought vegetables out of the back of a pickup truck parked on the corner, from an Italian with a Panama hat and a moustache.

Summer evenings all of us kids on the block played outside together, on the sidewalk and even in the street. Kick the Can, Red Rover, cowboys and Indians, Inch me and Pinch me were our pursuits -- my brother, Bob, and Buck and Jake Smith, Rita Bunting, Al Wendell, Roland Pease, Bill Dosier, Sid Gold, Martha Schuster and Mary Kleinbach.

Sid we called “Perch Breath,” because his family was poor and ate fish that his uncle caught in the city park’s lake. Roland was nicknamed (behind his back) “Bumpy” because he was always leaning into you hard, trying to pick a fight. He smelled funny too. Bill was “Willy Scared Silly” because he wouldn’t stay overnight with us at the abandoned Schuster house, an abode of spooky noises.

Mostly we had fun together, except for our run-ins with the Gruesome Two.

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August 15-28, 2014

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