Living Light
Welcome! You have found the site of the CreationKeepers team (Christ Church's Eco Church Committee), which shares ideas and experiences about how we can all lighten our environmental footprint. We do this because we see our planet and its resources at a breaking point and believe in the power of personal examples. Most weeks, we will reflect on some aspect of living, working, shopping, consuming, reading, learning, etc. These are all local experiences and can easily be adopted by others in our community. Our authors (Rosie and Monika) look forward to any comments or ideas that you may also have and want to share. Send us your ideas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Blog #135: Mr and Mrs River?!

September 28, 2023
Monika Weber-Fahr
Last Sunday, on September 24, the world (or rather: some 100+ countries) celebrated World Rivers Day. Taking place annually, on the fourth Sunday of September,  it’s not one of those days formally adopted by the United Nations who, in fact, today celebrate World Maritime Day and tomorrow International Day of Awarness of Food Loss and Waste Reduction, both of them days that could have well been the theme of today’s blog. Nevertheless, I will invite you to join me on a short tour of reflecting - and learning about - rivers in Austria and the world, inspired by the mighty river that is this year’s symbol of Creationtide, the period in the annual church calendar dedicated to God as Creator and Sustainer of all life, themed with the call to “Let Justice and Peace flow".
What is there to know about rivers - other than the need to make sure they don’t get polluted? A quick look into Statista - which tells us that only around 40% of rivers in Austria are in a good ecological state - gives a hint: Rivers are much more than water that goes from a to b. Yes, we do speak of them as waterways, but they really are complex eco-systems, providing food and water, space and shelter, diversity in temperature and nourishment and so much more to living creatures around them. Humankind has made use of rivers for centuries - for nourishment, of course, but also for transport, irrigation, and, more recently, for tourism and adventure, and we have also done well in figuring out how to  protect ourselves from their seasonal ups and downs by shaping their pathways, re-directing them, building dams and embankments. Europe has only one river left that conservationists consider free of human intervention: The Vjosa in Albania. With its main tributaries, the Vjosa is allowed to run freely over 400 kilometers - creating a home for over 1100 animal species, including 13 that are considered globally threatened. This is how the Rhine valley must have looked like - before humankind began taming it, a story that David Blackbourne, a British historian, has documented superbly in his captivating account The Conquest of Nature.

Foto: This year's logo for CreationTide is a Mighty River - reason enough to reflect on the state of rivers in the world and here in Austria. Creationtide concludes next week, on October 4, St. Francis' day.   

It seems true with all of nature, and so also in regard to rivers: Our needs and wants in using nature are in direct competition with nature’s need to sustain itself in the long term. Don’t get me wrong - I am well aware of the benefits of human intervention here and many I would not want to miss. The Danube is a great example - had the riverbanks not gone through massive changes and adjustments, we would still have thousands of people at risk of perishing in floods and could not have built beautiful cities such as Vienna along its way. But it’s worthwhile to reflect on how the cards are dealt for rivers. We humans are strong advocates of our interests and when expressing ourselves well enough we tend to get our way. Who advocates on behalf of rivers? Maybe a few conservationists. But is this enough to get us to the balance we need?
A few countries have noticed the imbalance created by the fact that our societies use legal systems to take decisions - and that rivers are an object here, not a subject. Nearly 10 years ago, in 2014, the Whanganui River in New Zealand became the first river in the world to be granted legal personhood. Others followed. In 2016, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ordered for legal rights to be granted to the river Atrato, in 2017, the highest court in the state of Uttarakhanda declared for the rivers Ganga and Yamuna to be rights-bearing living entities (an appeal is pending), and in 2019 the High Court of Bangladesh followed suit. Does this help the rivers, and are conversations about use and overuse more balanced and considerate as a result? Some studies of the situation in New Zealand seem to indicate so - but clearly, it will take more time to properly figure out cost and benefits of the changes in the legal system. 
In the meantime, if you want to do your bit to help protect local rivers here in Austria, why not start with a visit at the Danube National Park. Getting there by public transport is fairly easy: You take the ÖBB Post Bus 550, 552 or 553 (head for the Schloss Orth National Park Centre); alternatively you take the S7 departing from Vienna (direction Wolfsthal) and get out for example in Petronell or Hainburg. Or you go to the Lobau National Park House, taking Route 92B from U2/Donaustadtbrücke. Check out their website - they offer tours on water and on land, and you can of course go and explore yourself. I’m sure you’ll come back with lots of ideas and new energy for helping protect our rivers - whether they do or don’t have legal personality (yet).
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Blog #134: Stuff you can do - yourself and today!

September 21, 2023
Monika Weber-Fahr
If you watch or read the news these days, or if you walk around with open eyes through Vienna’s streets, you may feel that September is the month of protests and declarations, acknowledging rapid and often threatening changes in the climate and urging politicians and people to act in ways that would slow down or reverse the path on which we seem to be on. Last weekend, some 20,000 people demonstrated in Vienna alone, demanding rapid changes of Austrian laws so as to curb carbon emissions did set a strong signal for a low-carbon future, as part of European wide protests and actions. In New York, amid street protests calling to end fossil fuels, the UN, as part of its General Assmebly, used yesterday’s Climate Ambition Summit to challenge its member states to commit to far-reaching actions to mitigate climate change while also preparing for and adjusting its impacts. So much is going on out there that I wonder what it is that I can do myself? Where are we here in Austria with our own contribution, however small, to reducing our carbon footprints?
A visit to Vienna’s Technology and Science Museum helps to find answers for such questions: The Energy Turn-Around - Can we get it done (Energiewende - Schaffen wir das?) is the title of an exhibition that, across five levels, takes visitors from causes to consequences of our society’s dependency of and thirst for (fossil) fuels. Why do we need so much more and more energy? Which industries have scope to use less and still achieve more? How can ordinary citizens reduce their own consumption? And what’s behind the talk about so many innovations - in infrastructure, networks and technology? At the Technology Museum - throughout December, when the exhibition ends - you can find answers, at your own pace or with a guided tour.

Foto: The Museum of Science and Technology in Vienna right now has a fabulously interesting exhibition about drivers for and options involved in the upcoming Energy transition or turn-around, including what we might want to consider doing, in terms of very practical choices, here in Vienna.  Yes, it's about technology - but it's fun to learn!  

The exhibition is quite extraordinary - not just in terms of the depths to which it goes ito explain in quite a hands-on manner what got us into the predicament we are in - but also because it does not take a moralistic route when illustrating our options going forward. Yes: The curators are clear in their assertion that the Time to Act has arrived, in fact is overdue, simply based on scientific predictions of the progressively higher planetary temperatures. However, in terms of how to act and what to do, the exhibition offers multiple ways to think about the choices ahead.  By 2040 - 15 plus years from now - the turn-around in our energy systems should have been accomplished - and the fun part of the exhibition is that they interactively guide you to various future scenarios on how they might have been achieved.  In fact, as a visitor, you get the opportunity to hold the reins of power yourself, choose a mix of measures and learn about how far they will get you. What might the world of tomorrow look like? Here we can learn how to think about new visions for the future.
In the meantime, progress toward the Energiewende is on its way also here in Vienna. The introduction of Smart Metering is a good example: Most experts have concluded that introducing these meters in all households will offer new and large opportunities for energy savings, mainly because it allows the service organizations to manage their grid better but also because it helps consumers take decisions about their energy provider and the tariffs they choose. The EU thus requires at least 80 percent of electricity meters to be converted to digital meters by the end of 2024. The Austrian government took it a stop further, quiring 95% of households to be equipped to do so.  In Vienna, 1.6 million households will need such meters, and the Museum of Technology a few days ago became customer No 1,000,000 to do so.  You might want to check whether your household already has one or not, and if yes, see whether it has translated into more accuracy in your bill, helping you take decisions about your service provider. 
Got curious? Do check out the exhibition - you might actually find there is stuff to learn and do!
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Blog #133: Vespa Velutina - no TLC for you!

September 14, 2023
Monika Weber-Fahr
They are yellow and black, they are large (yet somewhat smaller than their European cousins) and they are frightening - at least for bees, notably for honey bees, whom they- literally! - eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and perhaps even for fun: The Yellow-Legged Asian Hornets.  I had not paid too much attention to these little buggers, mostly out of ignorance and because France - where this Asian species was accidentally introduced nearly 20 years ago - seemed kind of far away. But a few weeks ago AGES - the Austrian Agency for Health Food and Safety - raised alarm bells when reporting Vespa Velutina sightings in Hungary, close to the Austrian Border. They warned Beekeepers across the country, asking them to spend extra time observing their hives, and to document and to report any Velutina sightings, so that fighting back would be easier. And fighting - namely search and destruction of nests - is indeed what we are being called to do, and, of course, work to prevent the further spread of populations.
But is this the right thing to do? Is not Creationtide the time of the year that reminds us to love all of God’s creation?  Or, put differently: Should we not let nature take its course, letting the strongest win, and all that? As it were, precisely these questions have been asked and answered - by the International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, or in short, IPBS,  a membership organization that brings together some 144 governments to improve the coordination between science and governments on topics related to biodiversity and nature. Their Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control, issued only 10 days ago, points to more than 3,500 out of the 37,000 alien species that have been introduced by a variety of human activities to regions and biomes around the world and who pose major global threats to nature, economy, food security and human health. The report’s messages are short and clear: ​​Invasive Alien Spcies are a real threat to nature and people, and the threat is worsening. The threat is costly also in economic terms. And we can do something about it.

Foto: The Vespa Velutina is an invasive alien species that has just been sighted for the first time close to Austria's borders in Hungary. This little harmless-looking Yellow-Legged Asian Hornet feeds on honeybees and presents a real threat for native bee species, and by extension for agriculture and biodiversity.  Beekeepers have been called to be on the lookout and report sightings - just one of many examples of how we need to actively work together to keep harmful Invasive Alien Species at bay.  

A well known example of what happens when one lets Invasive Alien Species expand unchecked is the story of the Kiwi in New Zealand. Once numbering in the millions, this bird had developed earthbound, unable to fly, mainly because New Zealand originally had no earthbound predators. With the arrival of western ships came many mammals, notably ferrets and rats, and they developed into a hitherto new threat to this lovely fuzzy bird, reducing its population to less than 70,000. Not just the Kiwi is under threat since then but many other bird species native to the country, and so, a few years ago, New Zealand embarked on an ambitious  journey that aims to rid the country of possums, stoats and rats by 2050. Meanwhile, over here in Europe, the EU has become the main driver of active engagement, regularly monitoring and mobilizing action against harmful Invasive Alien Species, coordinating laws and initiative across boundaries.
Fighting invasive alien species is something that beekeepers spend much time on already: The Varroa Destructor (no joke: that’s its actual name), a parasite that feeds on honeybees, came to Europe from Asia only in the late 1970s, destroying thousands of beehives within a few months. Since thenl, Beekeepers have developed many strategies to limit its destructive impact but we have not been able (yet) to either eliminate it or to help our honey bees to become resistant. Let’s see how we will do in the fight against the Vespa Velutina. Austria’s AGES has issued comprehensive instructions on how to detect them and where to inform the authorities of any sightings; since many of you may not read German, do check out the UK’s resources, including helpful visuals
I myself have no TLC for the Vespa Velutina - or any other harmful Invasive Alien Species! Stewardship in my view is all about responsible care, and that means being active and engaged in maintaining the biodiversity we have!
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Blog #132: Life Choices that Make a Difference

September 7, 2023
Monika Weber-Fahr
Today is September 7, and we are seven days into this year’s Creationtide, the period in the annual church calendar, from September 1st through October 4th, that is “dedicated to God as Creator and Sustainer of all life”. I have always marveled at the wisdom of the Christian churches to celebrate this season as part of our calendar: Introduced in 1989 as a concept by the late Patriarch Demetrios I, it was initially up to individual parishes to set a focus on God’s Creation and shine a light on our responsibility addressing, halting and reversing the perils of the planet, through learning, action, and prayer. Then, on September 1, 2015, the “Green Patriarch” Bartholomew I issued an encyclica to mark the occasion, and in an “ecumencial gesture of global significance”, Pope Francis announced also the Catholics’ recognition of September 1 as the World Day of Prayer for Creation.  The Archbishop of Canterbury followed suit, and since then we are part of a truely global community of people of  Christian faith who re-commit themselves every year to environmental stewardship, in thoughts, words, and deeds.
So what are we to do with the responsibility for Creation that God has bestowed in us? Well, there is always prayer we may think, and indeed, prayers center and connect us with Good, spoken in appreciation they can say thanks for what we have, prayers of awe can express how we marvel at the world around us, and prayers of fear or desperation can ask for help when we do not see a way forward in addressing the many environmental challenges that surround us. Of course, we also have the choice to do something concrete and practical about the pathways of resource overuse and environmental destruction that have been unfolding over the past decades. It’s a choice we have, and we are not the first or only ones to make such choices - even if they feel uncomfortable or may take us off the beaten path.

Foto: Reason for Hope is the title of the most recent documentary about and by Jane Goodall. I saw it a few weeks in a cinema in Boston. It's worthwhile checking out when it comes to museums or cinemas over here

I was reminded of this when I saw a new film about and by 89 year old Jane Goodall, the world-renowned researcher and primatologist. After 30 years of first-class research and  pathbreaking discoveries, realizing that the loss of nature that unfolded around her needed addressing, she stepped out of her career and became an activist, lobbyist, and educator. She set up a Foundation - the Jane Goodall Institute - mobilizing action, money and decisions for nature conservation. She also set up something called Roots and Shoots as a platform for awareness raising, educating and mobilizing among youth around the world. Adding to that books, lectures and films, Dr. Goodall’s influence has grown tremendously - and she was not leaving anything to chance. How did she do it? In the film, Dr. Goodall explains, quoting her mother, “if you are going to do a thing, give it all you have”. 
Next week, we will have the opportunity to meet someone up close and personal who also has made such a choice, stepping out of a career in business and dedicating herself to Nature Conservation. Nina Perrin is a member of the Austrian branch of the Jane Goodall Foundation, and she will join us for a Soundings on Tuesday, September 12, at 19:00 at the Church Centre. Nina will talk to us about the work she and her colleagues do here, in Austria, in awareness raising locally, in particular with youth, and in fundraising for conservation projects around the world. And she will reflect on the personal story of Jane Goodall - the Institute’s founder whom she knows well from her many visits to Vienna in pre-pandemic days. Do come along - Nina’s perspectives should be inspiring, if only because also she has made a choice several years ago that changed an otherwise somewhat predetermined path.
What will you choose - as you reflect about God’s ask to us during these days of Creationcare? Will there be life(style) choices, or will there even be life choices?
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