Ahimsa Grove

Ahimsa Grove is a resource for vegan pagan living. It will include personal experiences and musings, recipes, shopping tips, vegan ethical and dietary considerations, and ideas for pagan practice including spells, rituals, and herbcraft.

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Ahimsa Grove: Light that Heals, Light that Burns: A Yule Blog on Climate Change


I always look forward to Yule as a celebration of both metaphoric and literal “light” returning to my world. In Downeast Maine, it has been dark by 4PM for a while now. And when I say dark, I mean in-the-country-dark. As a recent import said, “I’ve never seen dark like this! It’s like someone put a sack over my head!” As far as I know, no one has. So the lengthening of the days really means something here.


Then there is the metaphoric. After the recent terror attacks and ongoing social violence of all kinds, it seems like a year when we all really need some spiritual light. I consider this to mean the light of love, insight, compassion, connection, patience, and even humor. I’m sure you have some other items to add to the list. The metaphor of “light” for our species has always been an important one.


So how do we wrap our heads around the real risk to survival of our planet? To most of us, it remains surreal. What are we to think when the light that we rely on for life and safety threatens to burn our ecosystem down? This quandary seems to be a very serious lesson in cause and consequence. The actions of our species have set events into motion that we and future generations will have to deal with, and attempt to fix. It doesn’t seem fair to reap a bitter harvest that our ancestors unwittingly planted for us. But that is the case with every form of injustice. And when we act in the present, we act for our children and grandchildren; in hopes that they can survive to have children of their own. This hope is another form of “light.”


Many of us that fall somewhere under the banner of Paganism believe in oneness; meaning our connection to all other life. This oneness goes beyond the Coke commercials. It includes other species and even the planet. Due to obvious connotations of birth and nurturance, the earth has long been known as our mother. Of course, there is plenty of room for fatherhood on earth, as well as “in heaven.” The metaphor of the young god as the corn or the “green man,” the vegetation that dies and is reborn in the service of all life, is a powerful and ancient example. The vegetation god who lives, dies, and is reborn (and sustains us all as our food and our breath like all plants do) is the precursor to the salvific birth, death, and rebirth of Christ. The “reason for the season,” and some folks like to say.


Some think of “climate change” as something you can ascribe to or not, as if it was an eschatological concept. Ultimately, I don’t have the answer either. But the impact of human activity on the planet seems to be getting harder and harder to look away from. And this is what a recent climate conference took on for us.


Many of us have been following the Paris climate conference. Perhaps it wouldn’t have received much attention if it hadn’t happened only days after the terrorist shootings. But the fate of our Mother Earth/Father Corn (and all of us who depend on them for life) hangs in the balance. So this has definitely been on my mind. As islands like the Marshall Islands or Kiribati are literally about to sink into the ocean, international ambassadors talked about the need for immediate cessation of hostility to the climate. In the mix, other nations demanded their right to use fossil fuels to the same extent that more developed nations like ours (number two of the top ten carbon emitters) had already done in the centuries of build-up to this crisis. So in the end, to keep the whole conference from breaking down (as had happened in the past), the nations present agreed to compromise and to work toward lessening carbon emissions. Many say that the final agreement was not enough to save us. But on the plus side, all the nations stayed at the table and made some commitments.


BBC news has released a summary that I will provide the link to, but a quick quote is:


It was agreed by 195 nations. They will attempt to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will limit the global average temperature to a rise "well below" 2C (3.6F) compared to pre-industrial levels - a level of warming deemed to be the point when dangerous climate change could threaten life on Earth. (http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35092127).


I’m not a scientist so you will have to root up more info on this, but everyone seemed to concede that more should be done, although this was the only compromise that kept everyone at the table. Will it save us from a catastrophic ecosystem collapse? No one is sure. Also, no one seems particularly optimistic. It is easy to just shrug and hope that everything (somehow) works out for the best. But those of us who have explored vegetarianism and veganism can come up with a couple more ideas. These have the potential to add more empowerment, and more hope. This seems like a good thing to do on the solstice.


Across the board, the discussion of our need to reduce carbon emissions seems to be going on exclusively around the issue of fossil fuel use. Plant trees, don’t cut trees, ride a bike, carpool, get a hybrid car. Is this rather like trying to stave off a tidal wave with a measuring cup? It can feel that way. Many people would not feel motivated or obligated to take part. Others might feel that middle class, developed world solutions are unrealistic or exclusionary.


But there is a big missing piece of information here, about how we humans could easily reduce our carbon footprint in ways that would improve our health, stabilize our ecosystem, and not impede our technological development. This has to do with animal agriculture. Dollar-menu fast-food aside, plant foods are traditional is virtually every culture, are nutritionally sufficient, and can be affordable (if not compared to heavily subsidized animal products). Beans and rice, anyone? Oatmeal? Peanut butter and jelly? Boiled cabbage and potatoes? Pasta marinara? How about a fresh apple?


If you have not encountered this information before, you may be wondering about the connection. Therefore I’m going to put some info and links in here for further perusal.


This information is not new. The United Nations put out a report ten years ago called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” that summarized the issues and urged us all to reduce consumption of animals. I will summarize even farther by saying the following:


Animals poop. The methane from their poop and farts causes carbon emissions capable of the exact same types of problems associated with fuel use. The more animals we breed and maintain for our food, the more they poop. “Animal agriculture is responsible for at least 14.5 percent — and, according to some studies, as much as 51 percent — of human-induced global greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States cattle emit about 5.5 million metric tons of methane — a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide — accounting for 20 percent of the country’s methane emissions.” (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006. Livestock’s long shadow: Environmental issues and options. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM)


Animals need room to live. To make room for grazing animals, we have cut down way, way too many trees. We need all our trees to ameliorate the damage of our carbon emissions. A 2002 study from the Smithsonian Institution stated that every minute, seven football fields worth of land is bulldozed to make room for animal agriculture.


We use a lot of fossil fuels in animal agriculture. We have to cultivate, irrigate, and ship feed to livestock, we ship livestock to slaughter, we slaughter and render their bodies, and we ship these (refrigerated) products to market. All of this takes a huge amount of fuel. As one small example, to produce 2.2 pounds of beef burns enough energy to light a 100 watt bulb for twenty days (http://www.sustainabletable.org/982/agriculture-energy-climate-change). Eating the plant crops would cut a lot of that out. I’m not even talking veganism. Reduction would work for a start.


So, how do we begin? The Center for Biodiversity runs a website and campaign called “Take Extinction off Your Plate.” This gives tons of information about environmental impact of animal agriculture; they have decided to ask folks to reduce their meat consumption by one-third or more. They have pages of recipes, resources, and climate info. http://www.takeextinctionoffyourplate.com/


If you are more into films, there is a great one with the humorous title “Cowspiracy.” This has recently become available on Netflix. Despite the wacky name, it gives a lot of info similar to that found on the CBD website I mentioned above. Cowspiracy also has a much smaller, but informative website. http://www.cowspiracy.com/.


Unlike other major contributors to climate change, like the fossil fuels of transportation and commerce that the ambassadors in Paris were so concerned about; livestock and their methane emissions could be rapidly and effectually decreased if the human population stopped breeding these animals for food. Rather, reduced. It is genuinely important to embrace compromise on this type of issue. We will never get large groups of humans to agree to any all-or-nothing response. But, to quote, “reduction of animal agriculture promises to be a quick and efficient way to mitigate human impact on the climate ("Livestock and Climate Change," World Watch Magazine, 2009).”


You may be wondering how this is less of a “first world” (affluent West) solution. On a superficial level, it may be. But with the initiative and support of affluent countries, others could potentially access more ecologically and economically sustainable food that is both literally and figuratively green. One international agency that works on this issue is called A Well Fed World. As they say, “Mending our unjust food system is a critical part of solving the world’s most destructive and persistent problems. Fortunately, the plant-based foods that promote health and well-being are the same foods that conserve resources to better feed the world, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the environment. It’s a win-win-win situation.” Their website is very informative. http://awfw.org/. Donations to their cause are also great Yule gifts.


Moving back to plants in the forms of whole foods and meat or dairy replacements is one of the major ways our species can have any hope of preventing a catastrophic climactic event. This is what campaigns like Meatless Monday are about. Though this is a challenge, it is also a glimmer of hope.


Perhaps this is the first glimmer of light to return to us, this Yule. May there be many more. I wish us all en-light-enment and peace.


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Leslie earned her Master of Divinity Degree at Vanderbilt University and is a Wiccan Priestess, Ordained Interfaith and seeking ordination through the Temple of the Feminine Divine in Bangor. Her column in SageWoman, “Child of Artemis,” deals with women and our relationship with animals. Leslie considers herself a cultural worker, dealing with issues of violence and oppression as they impact humans and other species. She has worked at a rural domestic violence prevention program since 2001 and is a board member on VegME, Maine’s vegan advocacy group.  


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