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Faith and Hope for a New Conservation Economy

The Presbyterian Church 2009 PRC National Eco-justice Conference was held at Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina, this past week. The conference organizers were clearly focusing on sustainability through attention to links between topics such as global warming, human health, and food. Particularly significant from a conservation marketplace perspective were discussions that touched on the future of our economy. Highlights included:

Pat Watkins, an ordained minister in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Executive Director of Caretakers of God’s Creation presented a video from Oxfam, Sisters on the Planet, on the ways in which climate change affects women all over the globe. During the discussion, Pat made the point that for the first time, the church’s mission to aid developing countries rises from the belief that we, in the industrialized world, may be causing or exacerbating recent climate trends, and therefore, are hurting other people and their culture. Discussion ensued about our industrial economy and its export to other countries.

Dr. John Brock, an Environmental Science professor at Warren Wilson College, and former toxicologist with the CDC, discussed relationships between products we use and how we live with our human health.

Andrew Kang Bartlett, national associate for the Presbyterian Hunger Program of the PC (USA) led a presentation and discussion on the movement toward a more sustainable food system.

Other sessions included The Green Walkabout, by Stan Cross, around the campus of Warren Wilson College (video links below),

Warren Wilson Ecodorm Video

Warren Wilson The Farm Video

and a discussion on carbon offsets and the zero carbon economy by Richard Fireman, Western Regional Coordinator of NC Interfaith Power & Light and editor of

Conference organizers also showed Home, a haunting video about human impact on our planet and our climate.

From the Virginia Tech Department of Forestry (just renamed to Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation), doctoral student Courtney Kimmel discussed Landcare, a fascinating community framework for conservation that began in Australia. Landcare is now springing up in the U.S., sometimes with the support of Virginia Tech students and staff. Noteworthy about landcare is not so much it’s focus on stream restoration, for example, but rather two other unique dimensions;

  • conservation practiced in community as a social activity, and
  • watershed based implementation.

These two themes were evident in three projects profiled; Catawba Landcare, Grayson Landcare, and Montreat Landcare. Courtney noted however, that the third leg of the classic sustainability triangle, the economy, is not currently included in the landcare model, although adjunct sustainable economic development programs are growing, such as the nearby Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative and Grayson Natural Foods.

One of the highlights of the conference was commentary provided by Dr. Ellen Davis, professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School, who spoke about excerpts from her new book, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. Working with Shady Grove Band singer/songwriter Charles Pettee,

Shady Grove Band Audio (Flash 8 required)

Charles Pettee latest song – Let Your Dreams Hold You!

Ellen provided glimpses of her “agrarian reading” of the Old Testament. According to Wendell Berry,

Ellen Davis’s premise is that “the message of the earliest prophetic writers of the Bible was distinctly  ‘agrarian’”…the Exodus was a movement from the flat, easily tillable land of Egypt to “the narrow and pecariously balanced ecological niche that is the hill country of ancient Judah and Samaria.”…Local adaptation, then, is authentically a scriptural issue and so an issue of religion. It is also the issue most catastrophically ignored in the economic colonization of American landscapes and in the industrialization of agriculture…What would America be now if we white people had managed to bring with us, not just a Holy Land spirituality, but also the elaborate land ethic, land reverence, and agrarian practice meant to safeguard the holiness of the land?

Hallway discussions noted the relationship between conference presentations and the recent publication of Yes! magazine’s 2009 summer edition, focusing on The New Economy Starts Here.


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