Dear Friends: I believe that the Society of Friends is going through a transition in our relationship with Earthcare. In the mid-1980’s, many Friends felt a strong leading to live their lives in harmony with nature and to work for policies and programs that supported these lifestyles. In addition to thousands of lightbulbs switched to compact fluorescents and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and generating tons of recycling and home-grown veggies, we also created Quaker institutions that pushed for broader societal change. One of these was Quaker Earthcare Witness, then called “Friends Committee on Unity with Nature,” which was formed in 1987 to connect Friends with an Earthcare leading and to advocate for a sustainable world.
However, Quakers did not become leaders in the environmental movement. Since the 1980s, the number of Quaker organizations working on environmental issues has increased only slightly. We find ourselves in 2018 facing an existential crisis: Will our civilizations survive climate change and resource depletion? I wonder whether the Religious Society of Friends can shift into a higher gear to meet this existential challenge.
Friends pride ourselves with being on the forefront of social change. We are rightly pleased to have supported abolition of slavery, as well as women’s rights and civil rights, long before these were socially acceptable. When we support something, we do more than mouth the words. We act, whether that is promoting government policies, spreading information, or agitating in the streets. With Earthcare, we are woefully behind.
Most Quaker activists I know share my concern for the environment and find ways in their personal lives to reduce their carbon footprints, yet they do not see Earthcare as part of their peace and justice witness in the world.
We sum up our Peace testimony with the words, “Take away the occasion for all war,” yet we ignore the consequences of resource depletion and climate change as serious occasions for war. We value equality among all people, yet we know little about environmental justice and the threats that many communities of color suffer from dirty water, polluted air, and limited food resources.
I see Earthcare as a spiritual transformation within the Society of Friends. Quakers acknowledge that we see that of God in everyone. Earthcare calls us to extend that value to see that of God in everything. This is not nature worship; it is more like worship in kinship with nature. It is time to embrace our spiritual connection to all things, ask for guidance, and live as if we are part of the universe, not as dominators.
You might feel like you are the only one who cares about the environment in your meeting. Well, you are not alone. I have found joy and strength in the network of Friends that is Quaker Earthcare Witness. Our organization connects a steadfast group of Friends who have faithfully reoriented their lives and positively impacted their local towns and national politics. I am looking to them for wisdom, insight, and inspiration as the climate crisis worsens. I am also looking toward many younger Friends who are more often taking the lead.
As a Quaker and a scientist, I am also heartened by recent advances in energy technology. Climate change is predominantly caused by the burning of fossil fuel. We now know that it is possible for renewable energy to fill most of our energy needs. The development of those technologies is advancing at an enormous pace.
This is a Quaker wake-up call to recognize all the environmental threats we are facing. In addition to climate weirding, our world is experiencing depleted fisheries, decreasing biodiversity, soil erosion, declining water resources, and growing human population. Technology will not solve all these problems. Let us build on our tremendous history of faithful action and amplify our faith to include all that surrounds us. Embracing Earthcare is how we can remove the occasion for war and inequity, and create a thriving world.
– Shelley Tanenbaum, General Secretary of Quaker Earthcare Witness and member of Strawberry Creek Meeting (PYM)
[This letter was excerpted from a much longer epistle, which is published in Western Friend’s online library at: westernfriend.org/media/earthcare-quaker-value. Read more from Shelley at: www.quakerearthcare.org.]
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