LIVING LIGHT
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 #62: Big Bold Steps to End Plastic Pollution

March 17, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
Quietly and nearly unnoticed something really big happened two weeks ago: On March 2nd in Nairobi, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted a resolution to open negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty. And if this sounds very legalistic - it’s meant to do so: What the 175 countries agreed to is to begin negotiating what eventually will be a legally binding treaty about reducing if not eliminating plastic waste. Before signing a treaty like this, the countries involved have to negotiate, and before negotiating they must have a moment to decide to begin negotiations - and that’s exactly what happened two weeks ago. And it gets better. The big and bold agreement that countries will negotiate throughout the coming two years will cover the whole life cycle of plastic pollution - from creation, to use and on to recycling or disposal.
Normally, we don't discuss global agreements or global politics in the LivingLight blog - unless they directly touch our lives here at Christ Church Vienna or in the city we live in. So why bring up this particular agreement now? Well, even though I find it yet hard to imagine how precisely the Global Plastics Treaty will touch our lives, it is very clear that it will lead to big and substantive shifts for everyone. Firstly, avoiding or eliminating plastics from our lives will be about everything we consume: Ranging from apples to mobile phones, pretty much all we use - or eat - involves some kind of a plastic container or plastic wrapping. Secondly, plastic’s pathways into our lives go much further than just our everyday consumer decisions. Try finding a car or a train or a bicycle that does not use ample amounts of plastic for interiors and exteriors; try finding medical equipment not featuring plastics; or check out industrial production processes. Plastics are literally everywhere. The agreement that the delegates in Nairobi committed to negotiate is to be signed two years from now - in 2024 - and it will then be implemented, step by step. Thinking about alternatives will start earlier, and we can all try to be supportive.
When paying attention, we can already see how things are shifting, albeit in small small steps. Laws to eliminate single-use plastics have become reality in a number of countries. As of last year, single-use plastics for which non-plastic alternatives exist are formally banned across the EU. If you see someone giving out plastic straws or plastic cutlery, you know they are not doing what’s right. And even though there are still plenty of exceptions - such as for plastic cups that are sofar deemed to have no alternatives - things are on the move. Last week when on the InterCity between Vienna and Munich I was pleased to find that the train’s restaurant is giving me a wooden forks and knives set rather than the customary plastic one. At the time, I did not even know that they were legally obliged to do so.
What makes me so happy about the upcoming Global Plastics Treaty is that finally, finally things seem to be moving away from holding the consumer accountable. So much discussion has focused over the last years on individual choices we are to make, so much energy is spent by everyone by themselves feeling they had to look for better pathways. So many of us are constantly scouting out products that come with a low plastic footprint, whether these are soaps in paper wrapping or veggies in recyclable bags. We look for shops that allow us to bring our own containers. And we look for alternative solutions to become part of our lives. Once the Global Plastics Treaty is in place, we can finally hand back these responsibilities to where they belong: The politicians we have entrusted with organizing the collective parts of how we want to live, and the organizations that serve us in our daily lives.
The Global Plastics Treaty is still a few years away. In the meantime our planet is aching under the weight of the plastics we leave behind. Right now, we produce about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year - nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. In the oceans, seabirds and fish literally choke on plastic waste. And as plastic waste transforms into micro-plastics it ends up in our own bodies: On average humans are estimated to ingest about 5 grams of micro-plastics every week - the equivalent of a credit card. At current rates, plastic production is expected to grow by 40% over the coming decade. So, let’s not kid ourselves: Many battles will need to be fought for this to be a good treaty.  By 2050, plastics will be where some 20% of global oil production go towards. That’s not a small share, and the oil industry will want to put up a fight, arguing that recycling is a better solution than outright bans. Some countries are siding with the industry.  On the other hand, politicians from across the EU and many of the countries in the Global South argue that avoidance is cheaper and faster than recycling or clean-up.  The negotiations, says the UN Environmental Program’s chief Inger Anderson,  will be one of the most complex ones ever seen. And the negotiators will need our prayers. So let’s get on with it!
Inspired? Thoughts or reactions? Or ideas for forthcoming blogs?  We look forward to hearing from you - best via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Blog #61: Women Guardians of the Planet

March 10, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
This week we celebrated International Women’s Day, and as much as my heart is with the men and women and children in Ukraine, I would nevertheless want to dedicate today’s LivingLight Blog to taking a quick look at the who is who amongst women working to support our environment. Why? You may not have noticed - but women do tend to play a somewhat outsized role in mobilizing for the environmental care our planet’s needs…And why is that? Well, I can only speculate. For many years, and still today, caring for environmental topics was not something that one could make a career with, earn a lot of money through, or otherwise gain substantive respect from.  And it always seems to me that women tend to either be attracted by “looser causes” - things that come without prestige or billions of income - or that perhaps these are the causes that the gentlemen leave for us women to clean up, who knows. Whatever the reason: Women have made and are making substantial contributions to the changes we need if we want to keep our earth going - and in celebrating International Women’s Day, here are a few interesting factoids.
We can start our little journey right here, in our own Diocese where Elizabeth Bussman has been the Diocesen Environment Officer for coming up to seven years. Also, over on the mother ship, Jo Chamberlain is National Environment Officer for the Church of England, working closely with the Open and Sustainable Churches Officer, Catherine Ross, who offers advice and support for church buildings to improve their environmental footprint.  And beyond those doing the earthly work, in our churches we also have women saints and faith leaders to look to for inspiration: There is Kateri Tekakawita, the first native american saint in the Catholic church; and there is St. Gobnait, one of the patron saints of bees. I personally also draw inspiration from St. Hildegard, an abbess and mystic who saw harmony in God’s creation and whose work in mobilizing nature’s powers for healing is much sought after still today.
On the international scene, women have helped launch key environmental topics and are visibly engaged in leadership roles. Let’s start with Gro Harlem Bundtland who - in addition to her many achievements - also led the UN’s Commission on the Environment that in 1987 defined sustainability as Meeting the Needs of the Present without Compromising the Ability of Future Generations to meet their own Needs. Other women leaders include Patricia Espinosa, the current head of the UN’s Climate Change agency, Christiana Figueres who preceded her in this role and negotiated the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, and Inger Andersen who heads UNEP and just negotiated the groundwork for what will be a legally binding international agreement on plastic pollution by 2024. There are many others, perhaps not as visible but nonetheless influential, such as Paula Caballero, a Colombian Diplomat, who came up with the idea to create Sustainable Development Goals that all countries would commit to; or there is Sunitra Narain, an advocate and researcher - who through the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found new ways for rainwater use in water scarce places. I had the fortune to have met both of them personally, but there are many others, of course, and if you are interested in lists of women fighting climate change or badass women fighting climate change, google will help you find more.
Then there are the women activists.  Today, everyone knows Greta Thunberg, of course.  When I grew up, the environmental activist I came to see as the epitome of green activism was Petra Kelly, co-founder of the German Greens. Later, when moving abroad, I learned about women activists such as Erin Brockovich, legal aid and force behind one of the first and very large lawsuits in the US against environmental pollution on behalf of the victims, many will know her through a Julia Roberts film. We have much to look up to also in Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Prize recipient. In the meantime, Greenpeace International is led by two women, Jennifer Morgan and Bunny McDiarmid. And the list goes on: It is as inspiring as it is long. You can find more green women activists amongst the guardians of the planet or on other lists online.
Much environmental thought has also been brought forward by women scientists. Most formidable among them is of course Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom who researched and found solutions for what we economists call the problem of the commons, studying the interaction between people and ecosystems. There are many others following her footsteps, including Leena Srivastava, a climate change scientist and longtime TERI Executive Director, now here at IAASA in Vienna.  And since our thoughts are with Ukraine, let’s also celebrate the many women scientists over there who have been working - and are working - on environmental protection. This includes Svitlana Krakovska, a climate scientist and member of the IPCC.  Overall, though barriers for women scientists seem to still be high, in climate science as in many other places, but things are set to be improving..
Here in Austria, of course, environmental policies are being made by women, and today’s lady in charge is Leonore Gewessler, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change.  Another formidable woman, Katharina Rogenhofer runs the activism around the Klimavolksbegehren (climate referendum) and brought Fridays for Future to Austria. Are green politics female, one might want to ask? Perhaps.  Indeed, a recent Austrian study of voting behaviors in the European Parliament was conclusive: Women Parliamentarians vote more often in favor of environmental legislation than men - and this result holds even when taking into account the somewhat higher proportion of women parliamentarians in the parties with a green mandates.
International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. I wish we would not need it any more, a (woman) friend of mine sighed quietly on the phone this morning. Well, I take any opportunity to celebrate. There is nothing quite as helpful as a good celebratory thought in these days of darkness
Inspired? Thoughts or reactions? Or ideas for forthcoming blogs?  We look forward to hearing from you - best via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Blog #60: Miracles in Ukraine ...

March 3, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
Like most of us, I am spending many hours of the day glued to some sort of screen, trying to find out more about the situation in the Ukraine. And amid the horrors of the war we see unfolding in front of our eyes, the fear and pain of the Ukrainian people we witness, and the worries and questions we all have, I realize how little I know about this beautiful country to the east of us. This is the Living Light Blog and not a newscast, of course. Once a week, we reflect on God’s creation, on what we can and should do to cherish, safeguard and preserve it, from a very specific faith-based and Vienna-located perspective. So this week, I would like to invite you to join me on a little  journey to Ukraine and it’s environmental beauties - of which there are so many! And no, this is not to distract us from all the other things we should do right now, from praying, from preparing to host refugees, and from donating to the humanitarian care organizations that are so needed by so many. But amidst all of this, we can also honor the sacrifices made by so many as we appreciate some of what Ukraine may mean for them.
Here in Vienna, we do have a direct connection with the Ukraine: the Danube - in Ukrainian the Dunay. Ukraine is one of 10 countries touched by this mighty river, right at its very end when leading to the Black Sea. There, at the Black sea coast, lies Vylkove - otherwise known as the Venice of Ukraine - a small town of 9000 or so people. A network of streams and canals has been built to manage the marshy terrain of the Danube Delta, allowing residents to use boats for transportation more often than cars. Vylkove’s main attraction is the Danube Bioreserve, comprised of 50,000 hectares shared between Ukraine and neighbouring Romania. With its labyrinth of water and land, made up of countless lakes, channels and islands, this is Europe’s largest wetland, the Romanian part of which is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

 

Foto: Boats used for transport in Vylkove at the Danube Delta by the Black Sea.

The natural environment of Ukraine is also elsewhere in the country of such extraordinary beauty that wherever you look online you see words like miracle or wonder used when journalists or travel book writers are trying to find the right language. In fact, most tourist guides speak of the seven natural wonders of Ukraine. One of them is the Dniester Canyon, a masterpiece of nature on the Dniester River - memorable because of how close the mountains approach the river, creating a formidable Canyon, incredible 250 kilometers long, Europe’s longest Canyon. There is more to the area than just the Canyon, with prehistoric caves, waterfalls and healing springs dotting the vicinity. Going further to the south, there is the Southern Bug River, crossing a Regional Landscape Park with nearly 100 archaeological sites dating from Paleotlithic days to the Middle Age. The land in the Park is a granite-steppe, holding reserves of therapeutic radon water, and the Park itself invites both raters and alpine hikers.
Other national parks include Podilski Tovtry with its rolling hills and blue lakes; the Shatsky National Natural Park with Lake Svitiaz, large and deep, and with some 30 other lakes and dense pine forests; and there is the Askania-Nova Biosphere Reserve, a unique steppe in the south with an ecosystem comprised of 500 different kinds of plants and 3000 different kinds of animals. On the very other end of the spectrum of natural beauty there is Oleshky Sands, a 30 times 150 kilometer large area of dunes, sometimes called the Ukrainian Sahara. And then, of course, there are the Carpathian Mountains, with its pearl, Lake Synevir, high up on nearly 1000 meters above the sea.

 

Foto: The Buky Canyon in the heart of the Ukraine, stretches along five kilometers.

Ukraine has also been blessed with an extraordinarily fertile soil - black chernozem rich in moisture, humus, phosphors, and so on  - explaining its reputation as Europe’s bread basket. Much of the harvests in wheat, barely, sunflower seeds and other grains and seeds are exported around the world. As a beekeeper myself, I know of Ukrainian honey and of the energy and passion that the country is putting into this sweet gold: About 700,000 people - 1,5% of the population - are involved in beekeeping, making Ukraine the country that produces the highest quantity of honey per capita. And from what I have been reading up on, agriculture could play an even more important role in the future, with agricultural and land market reforms promising further opportunities.
The natural environment has of course also suffered in the Ukraine over the years - through the industrial overuse and misuse that have characterized so much of the world’s economic development of the past century. Air pollution, the quality of water resources and land degradation top what is a fairly long list of environmental challenges. In terms of climate change, the country’s efforts to reduce its carbon impact had been rated insufficient for many years, but last November bold new commitments were made.
All of Ukraine's environmental beauties are now under siege, seeing warfare and destruction, terror and pain. Environmental assets have for centuries been part of warfare - including through strategies to poison a country’s wells, a means used in war and conflict that is still deployed today - as some of the OSCE’s work has attested to.
War does not stop at God's creation. But perhaps reflecting on Ukraine's environmental miracles, we can sense a stronger connection to the people and what they feel they are up to. In either case: We must keep praying for peace, and we must keep looking to help refugees as well as those suffering in Ukraine itself, contributing our time, treasure and talent.
Inspired? Thoughts or reactions? Or ideas for forthcoming blogs?  We look forward to hearing from you - best via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Blog #59: Let’s plan for a green Lent and get a fresh Start

February 24, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
Time flies. Lent is around the corner, starting with Ash Wednesday next week, March 2nd. Can we plan for a green Lent this year? Lent is a season of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, not altogether irreconcilable with taking inspiration from the challenges we see God’s creation exposed to. Lent is also - foremost for some - a time for repentance. And yes, repenting is not far away when we reflect on how humankind (mis)treats the treasures of creation. In immersing ourselves in the lenten season, in some ways as Christians we are looking to replicate Jesus’ sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days, preparing for the Easter joys and festivities. There should be plenty of deserts to walk into, spiritually, that consider the tasks ahead for stewardship for God’s creation.
Most of all, Lent is long.  Six Sundays (not counting Easter Sunday). 40 days. A lot of days for fasting, for doing things (truely) differently. Well over a month long!  What special thing do you want to do during Lent - that you don’t already do anyways - to make this time a green Lent?
A Rocha, a Christian Charity with whom the Anglican Church collaborates for its eco-church program, offers ideas for 15 actions to choose from to mark Lent. Initially, I was not convinced - should we not try to live ecologically appropriate every day of the year?  But then, when looking at the list more closely, I realized that indeed it is incredibly hard to do so.  Going completely plastic free is practically impossible on a daily basis, but maybe doable for six weeks?  Buying absolutely all my food locally might be too tall a call as a lifestyle change but could perhaps be done for 40 days, in particular when combined with some element of fasting.  The same would apply for switching one’s diet to being fully plant based. It’s a good list, check it out. And who knows: You may well benefit from the Fresh Start Effect - something that psychologists and behavior change scientists have identified as an important tool that can help us pursue our goals.
So what about prayer and reflection?  Here at Christ Church Vienna, we will have two beautiful lenten courses on offer: The Thursday Lent group - focusing on the penitential psalms, and the Tuesday Lent group, based on Acts: Catching up with the Spirit.  If you would like to go further and perhaps explore spiritual resources for lent that specifically relate to our responsibility for care for the environment, do check out the list published by the Diocese of Worcester: They have resources both for groups of any size and for individuals, respectively for self-study or for reflection and contemplation.  Also, Green Christians have a list of interesting resources for prayer and contemplation. Some of the references are a bit outdated, but does prayer ever get old?  I just downloaded Saying Yes to Life, a 2020 environmentally oriented Lenten Course on my audible and will report back how it went
The Anglican Church’s Lenten theme is #Live Lent: Embracing justice, and of course the broader theme of justice is also worthwhile considering for a green Lent this year if only because of the massive injustices involved in how environmental resources are being depleted.
Mindfully going through the next six weeks offers many opportunities to reflect on our responsibilities as stewards of God’s creation - and on the joys of creation - even without any special lenten resources. For example, March 8 is International Womens’ Day - and we can remember how women bear the brunt of environmental destruction while also being such a strong force of change in protecting natural resources. March 20th is the first day of spring in the Western Hemisphere - a beautiful moment to appreciate God’s creation. And March 22 is World Water Day, an opportunity to reflect on the connection we have as Christians with this special element.
So what will you be fasting on this lent - to green your lenten days?  What will you be praying and reflecting on, to keep God’s creation and our own actions in your thoughts and calls for God’s mercy?  Are you committing to something - for six weeks, for forty days? Or maybe even for getting a full Fresh Start?
Inspired? Thoughts or reactions? Or ideas for forthcoming blogs?  We look forward to hearing from you - best via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..