Psychologist, green building manager, religious leader urge ecologists to move beyond their own scientific community

The Ecological Society of America’s 96th Annual Meeting is taking place in Austin, Texas and kicked off on Sunday, August 7 with an Opening Plenary Panel featuring Richard Morgan, Austin Energy’s Green Building and Sustainability Manager, social psychologist, Susan Clayton of the College of Wooster, and the Executive Director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Matthew Anderson-Stembridge.  Joining the trio, was ecologist Laura Huenneke, ESA Vice President for Public Affairs, who moderated the discussion.  The group explored the management, psychological, and religious and moral aspects of ensuring that Earth’s life support systems remain resilient in the face of human demands. In her opening remarks, Huennke said that the ecological community understands it has much to learn from other communities and that advancing the goal of stewardship of the planet will require multiple efforts by many different communities.  She said that ecologists should “listen very deeply” and work collaboratively with others. Richard Morgan explained that because Austin Energy is a city-owned electric utility, it must be responsive to its citizens, who want to see the utility take environmentally responsible actions.  Increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste are a key part of Earth stewardship, said Morgan.  The old fashioned way in which building permits are still issued, he said, are holding back the degree of progress that would be possible if these were updated.  The same prescriptive codes used in the 1980s are still in effect; if the real impact of a building in a community were taken fully into account, said Morgan, it would dramatically reduce energy consumption using already-existing technology. Matthew Anderson-Stembridge expressed his gratitude to ESA in inviting him to the Plenary and said that the open letter members of the scientific community send to religious leaders in 1990, set a course for many communities of faith to embrace care for the environment as part of their charge.  He said the term ‘steward’ is particularly meaningful to communities of faith and helps define our relationship to each other and to the environment.  Anderson-Stembridge encouraged ecologists to use the “universal human venue” of storytelling and then provide the facts. Susan Clayton recommended that ecological scientists be mindful of language choices in speaking about environmental issues.  She reminded the audience that because many people react negatively to well-known but politically affiliated people such as Al Gore, one should avoid associating such people with an issue because doing so can prevent an audience hostile to someone such as Gore from hearing your message.  It’s important to learn something about your audience and find a way to connect with their values, said Clayton; find language that resonates with where they...

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“Green Pope” says Environmental Stewardship is a Moral Obligation

This post was contributed by Piper Corp, ESA Science Policy Analyst.  Pope Benedict XVI has received his share of criticism from the scientific community, most recently because of his statement that condoms increase the risk of HIV transmission.  But in his December 15 message for the Catholic Church’s annual World Day of Peace, he gave ecological scientists and environmentalists something to celebrate, presenting environmental stewardship as a moral duty and calling for an international effort to embrace a more environmentally sustainable way of life: The environment must be seen as God’s gift to all people, and the use we make of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations. The theme of this year’s celebration “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation” speaks to the connection between ecological health and social justice, a matter of particular importance when, according to Benedict, “large numbers of people in different countries and areas of our planet are experiencing increased hardship because of the negligence or refusal of many others to exercise responsible stewardship over the environment.” Sustainable living was first positioned as a moral imperative by Pope John Paul II in the 1990s. Pope Benedict has been dubbed by some as “The Green Pope” by furthering this theme. In 2008, he named “polluting the environment” one of seven new sins now requiring repentance.  The Vatican recently outfitted its buildings with solar panels and is working to build Europe’s largest solar power plant. When the plant goes online in 2014, the Vatican will be the world’s first solar powered sovereign state (admittedly, its tiny size and population place it at something of an advantage). The country is already the first to go carbon-neutral-thanks to a donation from an eco-restoration firm, its emissions are offset by trees planted in a Hungarian national park.  In his World Day of Peace message, Benedict underscored the humanitarian aspects of current environmental problems, asking: Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of “environmental refugees”, people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it – and often their possessions as well – in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources? All these are issues with a profound impact on the...

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