Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Search
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?
Backtrack
Sierra Main
In This Section
  November/December 1998 Features:
Paradise Found
Songs of the Seri
The Second Creation
On Sacred Ground
Redwood Rabbis
 
  Departments:
Letters
Field Guide
Ways & Means
Good Going
Way to Go
Hearth & Home
Lay of the Land
Sierra Club Bulletin
Natural Resources
Last Words
 

Sierra Magazine
Natural Resources

Books | Video | Web

BOOKS: Sacred Groves

From the Redwood Forest
By Joan Dunning
photos by Doug Thron
Chelsea Green, $24.95

Camping 200 feet up in the limbs of ancient redwoods, trespassing, suing, sitting in, lobbying, praying, and defying pepper-spraying police, defenders of Headwaters Forest have done it all in a 12-year battle to save this Northern California ecosystem. To tell the story of these people and the trees, Joan Dunning spent months roaming the woods and towns with photographer Doug Thron. She talked to dozens of activists, loggers, farmers, lawyers, and naturalists, whose personal accounts she blends with descriptions of the forest habitat, from its canopy "veiled in lichens" down to the dark floor, where "mycorrhizal fungi reach their root-extending filaments out of sight beneath the soil."

These descriptions are often tinged with an elegiac sense of what has been lost and outrage at the greed that would exterminate species we hardly know. We don't even understand the habits of the famous spotted owl, says Dunning, let alone the myriad other biological mysteries in these groves.

Providing a useful rebuke to those who claim enviros care only for nature, Dunning chronicles the human cost of industrial forestry: orchards and ranches flooded, houses buried in mudslides, fishing ruined, jobs lost. Indeed, her celebration of the bond between people and nature is the book's greatest strength. The ecosystem depends on the courage of those who struggle to save what remains: 16-year-old Spring, her eyes scorched with pepper spray during a peaceful protest; tree-sitter Butterfly, riding out violent windstorms; and Thron himself, who secretly wanders the forest, evading corporate security while photographing the beauty and destruction.

"They stand, in my mind, with the majesty of old-growth redwoods," Dunning says. By telling their story she hopes to inspire folks everywhere: "For each of us, regardless of where we live, there is a river, a mountain range, a beach, a whale, a peregrine, a gnatcatcher that, if we merely give our time as a witness to loss, will gradually unite the veins of its existence with our own . . . will empower us when we speak out in defense of the powerless." —Bob Schildgen

Yahweh's World

Ecology and the Jewish Spirit
Edited by Ellen Bernstein
Jewish Light, $23.95

The oft-repeated notion that disrespect for nature stems from Judeo-Christian anthropocentrism is sharply challenged in this collection of fresh insights by Jewish writers, educators, and rabbis. "One might even point out that the unprecedented exploitation of the earth's resources of the past few hundred years coincides with a real decrease in the power and influence of religion in public life," argues Neal Joseph Loevenger in "Misreading Genesis."

Loevenger suggests that critics exaggerate the influence of biblical exhortations to "subdue" the earth because they forget that for many centuries the Bible was not interpreted so literally, but with a quest for multiple levels of meaning. Numerous readings of Scripture such as those of medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides demanded homage to God's creation rather than human domination of it.

Various authors explore this theme, demonstrating that the link between a reverence for the land and Judaism is more profound than commonly realized, and that, in Bernstein's words, "Judaism can provide a broad framework in which to address the moral issues of modern environmentalists." In "A Blessing of Holiness," Rabbi Lawrence Troster traces the concept of holiness, or kedushah, which he sees as a system of blessings, back to reverence for the earth. "A Jewish environmental ethic," says Troster, "must begin with a sense of active communion with all life."

In examining the Mishnah, Judaism's earliest codification of its oral law, Rabbi Larry Freundel discovers elements of a complicated system of environmental ethics, sensibilities, and controls that he contends "should become a part of every Jew's knowledge and identity." Such readings are important steps toward uncovering Judaism's long-hidden ecological message. To their credit, the authors do so in a manner that can be appreciated by people from every school of thought and ethnicity.—Emily Gilels

Shorttakes: Sunday Reading

Ecospirituality has many dimensions, as can be seen in the overviews of Max Oelschlaeger (Caring for Creation), the cosmology of Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth), the ecofeminist spirituality of Rosemary Ruether (Gaia & God), or the liberation theology of Brazilian Leonardo Boff (Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor). For yet other perspectives, see:

  • Caring for Creation: Responsible Stewardship of God's Handiwork by Calvin B. DeWitt (Baker Books, $11.99). Evangelical Christians are often stereotyped as fundamentalists for whom Charles Darwin is the anti-Christ. But evangelical environmental studies professor DeWitt celebrates evolution, contending that it's a grievous sin to spoil that magnificent work of the Creator.

    We've become such spoilers, he warns, that human activity is causing the sixth major extinction of species in the history of life (the fifth took place 65 million years ago, well outside the fundamentalist time frame). His fellow Christians are targets of harsh criticism: "Praising God, from whom all blessings flow, they diminish and destroy God's creatures here below," DeWitt says, reminding us that "God's command to Noah [was] perhaps the first endangered species act on record."

    The book includes brief essays by other evangelicals who dispute DeWitt's strict construction of biblical ecology. But DeWitt's sermon is inspiring enough to withstand the quibbles. After all, though evangelicals tend to interpret the Bible literally, it's the most compelling preacher who wins over the flock.

  • The Timbered Choir by Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, $22). The idea of a quiet Sabbath sounds quaint in an era when the day of rest is often consecrated to the God of Economy with trips to hallowed malls. But Wendell Berry manages to spend the Sabbath ecstatically doing nothing, a practice he says benefits both the environment and the soul. The poems in this collection sum up 18 years' worth of Sabbaths in the woods and fields, where Berry contemplates the miracles and mysteries of God, nature, and our place in the cosmic choir.

    Finding wonder in "the blessed conviviality" of Creation, Berry says the trees that "reclaim the land" are both preachers and cathedrals:

    Slowly, slowly, they return/To the small woodland let alone:/Great trees, outspreading and upright,/Apostles of the living light.

    From psalm to dark prophecy, from prayer to satire, there's a range of passion in these simple verses, accessible even for folks who don't usually look to poetry for inspiration.

  • Beast and Saints by Helen Waddell (William B. Eerdmans, $12). Animals that talk, emote, and express moral ideas are usually exiled to children's literature, but there was a time when beasts were respected characters in spiritual reading. Some ancient Christian saints had an astonishing rapport with wildlife, and exemplary tales about them arose as early as the third century in Africa and the Middle East.

    The ability to love wildlife and commune with it was a revered manifestation of sanctity among these hardy practitioners of desert solitaire and low-impact living. Typical of the legends is that of St. Gerasimus, who removed a thorn from the paw of a lion, which then "would not leave the old man, but followed after him wherever he went . . . so that the old man marvelled at the gratitude of a wild beast." Another saint "watched over the very reptiles and creatures of the earth," and would warm a suffering animal in his armpit to help it recover "with all the healing art he had." Such tales offer insight into an ancient religious spirit less burdened by anthropocentrism. This welcome reprint includes the graceful original woodcuts by Robert Giddings of animals once included in the communion of saints.

  • This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, and the Environment by Roger Gottlieb (Routledge, $27.99) is a provocative, ecumenical, and immensely useful collection of essays ancient and modern. A solid introduction to eco-theology, it leads off with essays from the canon of American nature writing and then goes through early Buddhist and Hindu views to Judeo-Christian and Native American spirituality, on to environmental ideas from Lao Tzu, Albert Schweitzer, and Black Elk, and finally to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. "African Views of the Universe," "What Is Eco-Kosher?" and "Gaia Meditations" are among the titles that jostle for attention with "The Greening of Religion" and "Ecofeminism and Canon." There are even essays with suggestions for environmental liturgies and a resource list of religion-based environmental groups.—B.S.

Mythbuster: Back to the Landowners

Proponents of the "wise-use" agenda claim that American landowners live in fear of environmentalists and government bureaucrats eager to restrict their property rights. It turns out that most landowners are far more moderate. A recent survey of 1,729 farm, ranch, and forest owners throughout the United States by the farmland-conservation lobbying group American Farmland Trust found that few property owners are unhappy with government regulations.

The overwhelming majority-71 percent-say their property value has not been reduced by government efforts to protect the environment. Most, in fact, favor some government role in natural-resource conservation (from 70 to 95 percent, depending on the issue). Three out of four reject the idea of compensating landowners when regulations lower their property values, and nearly 60 percent favor zoning to protect farmland from residential development.

Stop to chat with a farmer, and he probably won't rail against unseen "urban elites" -unless they're land developers threatening to turn his way of life into a suburban tract development. The survey found that most landowners are in favor of "hybrid" programs that combine reasonable regulations with cost-sharing payments to encourage good land stewardship. For more information, contact the American Farmland Trust, 1920 N. St. N.W., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 659-5170; Web site www.farmland.org.

New from Sierra Club Books

  • At the Cutting Edge: The Crisis in Canada's Forests by Elizabeth May. An explosive report on how industry is destroying Canadian forests for short-term profits.
  • Rachel Carson-The Writer at Work by Paul Brooks. A collection of excerpts from published and unpublished work, and recollections from those who knew her.
  • Annapurna: A Woman's Place by Arlene Blum. The 20th-anniversary edition of the best-selling account of the historic women's ascent of Nepal's Annapurna, written by the expedition's leader.

Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (800) 935-1056, through our Web site, www.sierraclub.org/books, or by writing 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.

Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (800) 935-1056, through our Web site, www.sierraclub.org/books, or by writing 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.


VIDEOS: Clearcut Hell

Falling Giants
The Video Project, $29.95 (800) 4-PLANET

The fight for Headwaters Forest has come to symbolize the struggle between activists determined to protect living ecosystems and timber giants set on converting commodities into cold cash. But instead of exploiting the drama of this often bitter conflict, filmmaker Bill Reifenberger lets the facts and images-including activist Doug Thron's aerial shots of mountainsides clearcut by Pacific Lumber-speak for themselves in this short but powerful documentary.

More than 96 percent of ancient redwood forest in Northern California has been destroyed, yet the largest remaining redwood forest ecoystem is still under attack. (See "Redwood Rabbis," page 62, for update.) Since acquiring Pacific Lumber in a hostile takeover in 1986, Maxxam CEO Charles Hurwitz transformed a sustainable-harvest leader into a clearcutting machine. An NPR report tells us how Hurwitz liquidated Pacific Lumber's pension fund and tripled its logging rate, attacking ancient groves "with an enthusiasm that disturbed even former timber workers."

Pacific Lumber's Mary Bullwinkel tells us that her company balances logging and environmental needs. But with one Headwaters redwood bringing in more than $100,000 and Hurwitz still owing hundreds of millions from the buyout, the chances of its balancing act favoring the forest are slim.

After seeing caravans of trucks loaded with giant logs, Thron was moved to document the deforestation. "Pacific Lumber would say I'm trespassing," he says. But his photos make it clear who the real criminal is. A defensive Bullwinkel concedes, "You'll never sell a clearcut. But if you hold up a picture . . . 50 years later, and say, 'Remember that clearcut Doug Thron showed you? Well here's that same place,' and you've got a beautiful forest growing back."

Which goes to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. "The replanting of an ancient forest is a myth," Thron says. "What comes back . . . is nothing but brush, scrub. There's no indication of any type of forest." And he's got the pictures to prove it.

For information on the Sierra Club's Headwaters Forest campaign, contact the California/Nevada/Hawaii field office at (415) 977-5730.—Liza Gross

God's Country

Keeping the Earth
Union of Concerned Scientists, $17.95; (617) 547-5552

Science and religion have traditionally pursued parallel paths in struggling to decipher the mysteries of the universe. But growing concern about imminent environmental disaster has precipitated a convergence, brought to life in this engaging, thought-provoking documentary narrated by James Earl Jones and produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists with the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

The perspectives of luminaries from both worlds are skillfully interwoven-each segment opens with Scripture then segues into scientific and religious explications of the topic-exhorting us to mend our wanton ways or risk an apocalyptic fate of biblical proportions.

"Nature is God's textbook, God's gift to existence," says Jewish theologian Ismar Schorsch. Destroying a species of Creation is like tearing a page out of Scripture. Instead of protecting what we've been given, Jones chides with the imperious voice of the deity, we're squandering it, at an ever-accelerating pace. Images of human activity-miles-long traffic jams, plants spewing industrial emissions, logging, sprawling housing developments-show the extent of our handiwork.

"We could lose as much as twenty percent of the world's species in the next thirty years or so if we don't take stronger measures," says biologist E. O. Wilson flatly. His words linger as we see a tiny bird nesting in a stately cactus stranded in a giant parking lot, then cut to bulldozers in the blazing desert sun clearing towering saguaro cacti and everything else in their path, to make way for what? More parking lots? Strip malls?

"We have to scale back in our frenzied activity to reflect on who we are, why we're here, and where we're going," says Christian Environmental Council Chair Calvin DeWitt. "We as good stewards of the Creation are obligated not to destroy [it]."

While some technocrats claim that science will save us from our excesses, scientists here argue that such a view is not only naive but misses the point. "It's a question of values, a moral and ethical challenge as to how we treat the environment we so critically depend on," says physicist and Nobel laureate Henry Kendall. "We cannot be rescued by science and technology, because these problems ...are human problems and have to be dealt with as such."

Because we know how much we're damaging the planet, the situation is not just an environmental crisis but a moral one. This is where scientists and religious leaders hope their alliance can spark a new environmental activism, calling upon Earth's religious and secular citizens alike to become its missionaries.— L.G.


World on the Web

by Sierra Club Webmaster John Kealy

www.god'sgreenearth.org

Religious and environmental ethics are often complementary, but since you may not hear many sermons on, say, Christianity and toxic waste, tour these Web sites to fully explore your role as "steward of Creation":

The case of environmental integrity and justice must occupy a position of utmost priority for people of faith," says a 1991 proclamation by more than 250 religious leaders, including patriarchs, lamas, rabbis, cardinals, mullahs, archbishops, and theology professors from 83 countries. For the full text, a list of U.S. eco-congregations, and a calendar of events, check out the National Religious Partnership for the Environment at www.nrpe.org.

Another worthwhile site is the Christian Environmental Studies Center (cesc.montreat.edu).

The Web site of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (www.jtsa.edu/org/coej/) includes legislative updates and information on the group's campaign to protect biological diversity.

Take what these sites say to heart, and "the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, all the cattle, all the earth, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth" will breathe easier.

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact sierra.magazine@sierraclub.org for more information.


Up to Top


HOME | Email Signup | About Us | Contact Us | Terms of Use | © 2008 Sierra Club