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Leonardo Boff: Nature -- our access to God's revelation

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Leonardo Boff is professor emeritus of ethics, philosophy of religion and ecology at Rio de Janeiro State University.

Many people wonder why, as a theologian and a philosopher by training, I should address topics that are alien to these disciplines, such as ecology, politics, global warming and others.

I always reply: I do pure theology, but I also deal with other topics
simply because I am a theologian. "The job of a theologian," as Thomas Aquinas, the master theologian of them all, explained in the first question of the Summa Theologica, "is to study God and divine revelation, and after that, everything else 'in the light of God'(sub ratione Dei), because God is the beginning and the end of everything."

The poor need justice, not charity

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My wife’s career for many years was in social work. Among other jobs, she staffed a downtown day center for the homeless and later ran an inner-city food pantry. She finally retired from such endeavors, weary of what she called the “charity game.”

At the pantry, for example, her clients, most of whom were working but employed at minimum-wage jobs, ran a bureaucratic gauntlet that demanded proof of income, expenditure records and other documentation before they could a receive a couple of bags of macaroni and cheese dinners, a jar of peanut butter, cans of corn and peas and maybe, if they were lucky, a frozen chicken.

The documentation, of course, was to allay concerns that someone might be scamming the system out of a few bags of stale, donated food.

In the 1980s, President Reagan cited a Chicago “welfare queen” who had ripped off $150,000 from the government, using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards and four fictional dead husbands. The country was outraged; Reagan dutifully promised to roll back welfare, and ever since, the “welfare queen” driving her Cadillac has been a key figure in American political folklore.

World's coral reefs could all be gone by 2050, report says

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A recent study has found that all of the world's coral reefs could be gone by 2050. If lost, 500 million people's livelihoods worldwide would be threatened.

The World Resources Institute report, "Reefs at Risk Revisited," suggests that by 2030, over 90 percent of coral reefs will be threatened. If action isn't taken soon, nearly all reefs will be threatened by 2050. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states, "Threats on land, along the coast and in the water are converging in a perfect storm of threats to reefs."

The report is intended to raise awareness about the location and severity of threats to coral reefs. "These results can also catalyze opportunities for changes in policy and practice that could safeguard coral reefs and the benefits they provide to people for future generations."

Climate refugees plight will be in Oscar spotlight

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Carteret Islanders have been called the world's first climate refugees. Their homeland, a remote chain of six small islands in the South Pacific, is fast losing ground to rising sea levels. The 1,000 or so people whose families have lived there for dozens of generations have made an agonizing decision to relocate their entire community before it disappears beneath the rising waves.

In June of 2008, filmmakers Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger learned of the refugees' plight and headed to the Carteret Islands, video equipment in tow, hoping to share their story with the world. Their documentary, "Sun Come Up," was released last year. Sunday night, it’s up for an Academy Award in the best documentary short category.

Read more on the On Earth blog from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Tracing the history of the Milky Way

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We all – even those of us who live in rural areas – live in a great city, one made of stars, our Milky Way galaxy. You can even see it on a dark night away from city lights, a vast, dense cloud of billions of stars that arches from horizon to horizon.

It wasn’t until 1923 when astronomer Edwin Hubble and others discovered that hazy nebulae that observers had been looking at for hundreds of years were not actually within our own galaxy, but were galaxies in their own right. Now we know there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe.

Our own was born some 12.3 billion years ago, about one to three billion years after the Big Bang itself.

We are learning more and more, especially in the last ten years or so, about how the Milky Way formed and evolves. Like other spiral galaxies, our Milky Way has several distinct structural components that probably appeared at different stages in its formation process. The stars belonging to each component have distinct chemical compositions, and they move through the galaxy in distinctive ways. Such differences hold important clues about how the Milky Way formed and develops.

The Green U. S. Chamber of Commerce

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has not been a friend of environmental legislation or regulation. The Chamber, which represents more than 3 million U.S. businesses, spent millions to lead the successful fight against carbon cap-and-trade legislation, along with health care reform and most of President Obama's other legislative goals. It remains an implacable opponent of EPA environmental regulations — of greenhouse gases or just about anything else, arguing that they raise costs and hurt job creation.

A group of progressive businesses in California is working to provide an alternative to the Chamber. It's called the Green Chamber of Commerce, and it offers a place for businesses that want to embrace sustainability, not fight it. "There are businesses out there that want their voices heard," says David Steel, the president of the U.S. Green Chamber of commerce. "They don't feel represented by the positions that the U.S. Chamber might have."

Arctic fever

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In the far north of Alaska, the fragile food web that supports polar bears and humans alike may be starting to unravel

Bruce Barcott, on the Natural Resources Defense Council's On Earth blog talks about the impact of melting sea ice on the delicate food web in the Arctic and its implications for the rest of the world.

BP oil spill's health effects will be felt for generations, scientist warns

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Months after diving in Gulf of Mexico waters fouled by BP crude oil and the oil dispersant Corexit, a man in his 40s has more than five times the normal amount of ethylbenzene in his blood.

The bloodstream of a 3-year-old, exposed to the oil spill when his family visited the Gulf Coast, contains at least three times the normal level of the same organic hydrocarbon, which is toxic in certain quantities.

Such numbers, according to Wilma Subra, a New Iberia biochemist and environmental activist, are increasingly common in a region that continues to grapple with the consequences of the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Bill Barros of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on a forum held in February at which Subra was the guest speaker.

NCR interviewed Wilma Subra last June as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continued, threatening the livelihood of thousands in the Gulf and the wetland environment of the coast.

'The great leap backward'

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Elizabeth Grossman, author of Chasing Molecules and High-Tech Trash, writes on the Huffington Post blog about the current effort in Congress to roll back environmental and occupational health and safety regulations in order to make American industry competitive with those in China.

"Seeking to lower production costs and boost per dollar productivity, U.S. companies have routinely sought locations with lower wages and less stringent environmental and occupational health and safety regulations. This has been true for some time, but now House Republicans are pushing to rollback standards ostensibly to make us more competitive with China. As we listen to these arguments, it's worth considering what environmental and working conditions in China actually are."

Caritas supports team working to make gold mining safer in Peru jungle

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By Barbara J. Fraser Catholic News Service

PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru (CNS) -- In a small warehouse on the edge of this jungle town, three young men tinker with a system of pumps, hoses and bright blue plastic dishes mounted on metal bars.

They hope the odd-looking apparatus, designed to separate sand from flecks of gold, will reduce the impact of wildcat mining that is fouling rivers and streams in Peru's southeastern Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region, one of the most biologically diverse places in the world.

Richard Villavicencio, 22, pours sediment into a metal chute, and small jets of water force it around spirals cut into the bottom of the dishes. The lighter gold flecks wash into the next dish, leaving the heavier sand behind.

The principle is the same one used by the '49ers who panned for gold during the California Gold Rush.

It is based on a model developed in Canada, but Villavicencio, his brother Walter, 31, and Henry Arbex, 33, are working with the local office of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church's aid and development agency, to fine-tune the design.

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