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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Catholic Worker as Environmentalist

I want to pass along another interesting website for a community organization based in Austin, TX. The Rhizome Collective is working to create models for urban sustainability. (Emphasis mine.)

"The Rhizosphere focuses on the design and display of functioning ecological tools and technologies. Our goal is to create environmentally sustainable systems that provide for people's basic needs: food, water, waste management, energy, and shelter. By having these systems on display, we hope to educate and inspire others to continue the work of building sustainable infrastructures.

Our design criteria include: affordability, simplicity, space efficiency, beauty, and the utilization of recycled and low energy materials. Special attention is given to forming a closed loop system, where the yields of one system provide for the needs of another. The systems of the Rhizosphere are based on the design principles of permaculture.

We encourage the development of systems which are decentralized and locally based, that empower individuals, villages and communities with greater self-reliance. When our needs are provided for in a small, intensively cultivated space, we reduce the impact we have on the environment at large, as well as our reliance upon systems of oppression.

These techniques can be applied in the global north or south, and while our design focus is on urban environments, they can easily be adapted to rural spaces."

They also run a program that distributes books to inmates, a freecycle-style store, an independent media outlet and a child center is in the works. If you are near Austin or Albany, NY be sure to check out their upcoming weekend intensives where you can learn about rainwater harvesting, biofuels, microlivestock or discuss social justice and anarchy. It's seems like a natural gathering for any Catholic Worker envisioning the agrarian lifestyle Maurin and Day strived for on their farms. Groups like the Rhizome Collective and Path to Freedom prove that self sufficiency isn't only for those located on 40 rolling acres. We can help feed people in the city with food from the city. Small neighborhoods and close knit neighbors are the best defense against hunger, homelessness and despair.
They're pretty much doing everything I want to do, the only thing that's missing is any mention of God. That is where the Catholic Worker vision and the environmentalist's mission differ. The Earth is a gift from God to be treasured; the earth is not the god to be worshiped. We don't need to get into specifics like global warming or pollutants in our water, yet, we need to be mindful of how our actions damage the precious planet we've been given as an earthly home. Christian principals dictate good stewardship of all of God's creation. Contrary to popular belief, today's media, advertising and society at large, doesn't. People say they give a damn about the Earth but they drive a gas guzzling car 30 minutes to Starbucks while Lawndoctor swings by their 3,300 sqft McMansion and douses the lawn with Agent Orange lite. But they're doing "their part" by installing compact fluorescents in all 172 of their indoor and outdoor landscaping lights. Plus, they buy organic cereal and free range beef flown in from across the country at their local Mega Grocery.
It's an inconvenient truth people; it's not just the big companies. It's you and me who are heating things up around here. You know what would be fabulous for the planet? If everyone took their suburban plot and turned it into a homestead and stopped driving a hour to work everyday. Can't afford your McMansion without the daily 9 to 5? Then move to a smaller home. You know, houses under 2,000 sqft. They do exist and people made do with them until near the end of the 20th century. We're not just loosing rainforests we're loosing open space across America to sprawl. Try growing your own food and raise your own animals on your lawn so we don't need to ship in food from Communist China. Plus, you'll get all the free fertilizer you need with a couple cows, bunnies or chickens. Or at least shop the local farm stands in your town. Keep buying those compact fluorescents but maybe get rid of half of your decorator fixtures. City dwellers can adopt the principles of Rhizome or PtoF.
I guess the problem is, doing these things is hard. We want to feel like we're helping the planet without having to change our daily routine. Picking up environmentally friendly disposable diapers is easy. Using, washing and air drying cloth diapers is harder. Leasing a Prius is easy, biking to work or accepting less pay to work at home is harder. Buying organic produce at Wal-Mart is easy, growing your own is harder. We want accountability for large corporations that pollute, and rightly so, but why should we expect change from them when we continue to buy their products and live our own reckless lifestyles?
The Catholic Worker Movement and Distributism both offer an environmentally friendly and spiritually sound solution to the moral and environmental decline of modern society. One is a mirror of the other. But doesn't that make sense? For if we follow the teaching of Christ we cannot bring ourselves to recklessly destroy anything created by God. Until the environmentalist's merge their thinking with that of the Church, I foresee much more destruction.