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Caring about workers through our food choices


I wrote a previous blog about how we can opt out of factory farm animal cruelty by becoming a vegan. We can also opt out of cruelty to slaughterhouse workers by this choice. Cruelty may be a strong word, but when you look at the facts, that is truly what it is. In spite of the extreme secretiveness of slaughterhouse practices, the stories and data have leaked out anyway. And as Christians who are taught that what is done to the least of our brothers and sisters is done to Christ, we should care deeply about the welfare of the workers there. And especially when we are benefiting from their exploitation by eating cheap meat.

How I met God in a baby mouse


I had taken a bucket of mulch from my compost pile and was putting it around plants when I found a small newborn creature in it. I held it in my hand for a long time and studied it with awe. About the size of a pecan, it lay in the fetal position, eyes still unopened, its smooth skin translucent. The long tail was the only clue to what it was. It was so absolutely vulnerable and precious, I almost wanted to cry. I felt a deep sense of love, protection, and oneness with this sacred innocent being.

February's night skies


On a clear February night, even with the moon up, one can see what is called the Winter Hexagon in the southern sky. These seven stars might be called “beacon stars,” since they are very bright and most of them are very far away.

The band of the Milky Way runs through the center of the Hexagon, consisting of (listing clockwise) Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, Procyon, Castor and Pollux almost together, and Capella. Betelgeuse is at the center, while Praesepe, also known as the Beehive cluster and the Pleiades cluster lie outside.

It is entirely a winter spectacle. Within little more than a month the Hexagon will be gone as the sky gives way to spring.

But the Milky Way, that gigantic cloud of several hundred billion stars that form our galaxy, will never be gone from our nights. Perhaps it will become more visible than in the last decade. As more and more lights are switched off after midnight for environmental and economic reasons, it may reappear in all its glory.

Cool the Earth school program tackles climate change


They did it for smoking. Now they’re doing it for pollution. Kids are confronting their parents’ destructive behavior and showing them how to live cool, in an earth-saving sort of way that is.

A new school program called Cool the Earth is teaching kids in kindergarten through grade 8 how and why it’s important to reduce their carbon emissions. It’s a free and adaptable extra-curricular program. Since launching in 2007 Cool the Earth has reached 59,654 students in 297 schools and Girl Scout troops across the U.S. and saved close to a billion pounds of heat-trapping carbon from being emitted.

Cool the Earth is a grassroots nonprofit based in Marin County, California that was created by Carleen and Jeff Cullen, two concerned parents eager to find practical ways to tackle climate change and encourage others to do the same.

Holy altruism: An instinct for self-sacrifice is evident in animal evolution


One day years ago in early spring I took a walk with my 10-year-old niece through the forest and pastures surrounding our houses. At one point, we surprised a whippoorwill that was nesting on the ground in the midst of a grove of wild plum trees. Abandoning its lone nestling, the bird flew around us in circles, then landed on a nearby sapling. We could see that it was dragging one wing, trying to make us think it had been injured so that, if we happened to be hungry predators, we would go after the “easy prey” that was the parent rather than the newly hatched, more vulnerable child.

It gave us the opportunity to get a close look at a mysterious neighbor, often heard in the early evenings but seldom seen. About the size of a robin, the bird wore mottled feathers of about a dozen shades of grey, brown and black. Its oversized mouth bordered by whiskers, one could see it was well equipped for night hawking in the forest for moths. It perched on weak, spindly feet on the branch, teetering back and forth in uneasy equilibrium.

Two Catholic colleges leading the way


Seattle University has removed all bottled water from their campus. Instead students obtain reusable bottles in the campus bookstore. To duplicate this action in your locale, contact Corporate Accountability International

Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. is the first Catholic college to become a certified Fair Trade College, meaning fair trade products replace their counterparts in all the school's dining areas in order to promote decent conditions for agricultural workers in Latin America and Africa. Other schools and parishes interested in this endeavor can contact Catholic Relief Services,

Give the gift of going offline


We've all been there: At the dinner table with family, grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend, when, in an instant, your companion's attention is diverted to their device of choice. "How many times has it happened to you," asks Eric Yaverbaum, "when you're in a conversation with someone and suddenly you want to ask, 'How many of us are there here? Me, you, and who else?"

Yaverbaum and his business partner, Mark DiMassimo, are the founders of Offlining, a site devoted to getting people to unplug at least once in a while in favor of interacting with the world right in front of them. The duo uses clever ad campaigns and online pledges to encourage people to put devices and screens aside.

Are we hardwired for extinction?


Are our brains -- specifically our physiological fear responses -- wired in ways that will lead to our extinction as a species? Natural Resources Defense Council columnist George Black explores this question, looking at the reasons why Americans aren't more alarmed about the climate change news. His column is titled "Humans with Antlers."

"Our evolutionary development," Black writes, "has not yet caught up with the change in our circumstances. More specifically, the problem is our brain’s fear triggers. Our instincts are still paleolithic; our fear reflexes respond to all the wrong things. They lie dormant in the face of climate change, no matter how ominously scientists predict its probable consequences. But we’re programmed to pump adrenalin at the sight of spiders, snakes, and other mortal threats slithering into our caves."

More about the 'holy fool'


Iurodstvo is the Russian word for the idea of “holy foolishness” for Christ’s sake. It’s a form of asceticism that has been practiced within the Russian Orthodox church for centuries.

Its practitioners feign madness in order to provide the public with spiritual guidance. The aim too is to avoid praise and acclaim for perceived holiness. It’s a radical form of humility as well.

According to Russian Orthodox scholar Svetlana Kobets: “The holy fool’s exploit is that of secret sanctity, which above all promotes the non-ontological understanding that all of God’s created world is a sacred place. By his feigned madness the holy fool opts to say that the lowliest of the low can be not the poor wretch he appears to be, but a holy one and God’s prophet. He shares his power and authority with all the weak, mocked and despised thus symbolically destroying clear-cut distinctions between the profane and the sacred.”

In the Russian church it is regarded as the most difficult and controversial of all spiritual practices. Thirty-six holy fools have been canonized by the Orthodox church.

Storms of My Grandchildren, by James Hansen


By James Hansen
Published by Bloomsbury Books, $16

Several years ago I volunteered my Honda Civic Hybrid for a local EPA project that measured the exhaust gasses from its tailpipe. A team of technicians installed a measuring device in the trunk with a tube leading out to the exhaust pipe. I drove the car for a week with this gizmo in place as it qualified and quantified the emissions.

The statistic you most often hear from reputable sources is that, for the average car, every mile driven produces about a pound of carbon dioxide through engine combustion processes. I’ve got 79,000 miles on my car, so I’ve contributed that many pounds to the atmosphere – almost 400 tons -- in the last 7 years. Muliply me by millions and millions. The science -- at least at the tailpipe -- is pretty straightforward.


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