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 #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..

 

Blog #58: The Environmentalist on Skis ...?  

February 17, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
The sun was bright, the skies were blue, the snow was crisp, and early in the mornings the slopes on the mountains in the Steiermark that saw me skiing this week were beautifully empty. What bliss! And while I am really not terribly fit nor greatly competent on skis, the combination of exercise, concentration, time spent outside, and sheer joy of movement make skiing one of the most relaxing sports I know. But. But. But. How can anyone still go skiing today - given the environmental impact of this sport?  Have we not all just seen the horrid pictures of the Olympic Ski Competitions in Beijing - with slopes made solely of artificial snow which to make required hundreds of millions of gallons of water in an already arid area of the country that has suffered decades-long water scarcity? On the other hand: We live in Vienna, in (relatively) close proximity to the Alps, skiing is practically a national sport here, and would it not be fair to assume that Austrians would know what they are doing when they are promoting both alpine and nordic skiing so much?
For starters: Austrian officials at least seem to be somewhat unaware - or are looking the other way - when it comes to the climate change dimensions of their sports.  Snow sports in particular in the Alps are much impacted by climate change - if only because average temperatures are rising here more than in other places. The Alps have seen an average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees in the last 100 years, and the altitude at which average temperatures were at zero or below in the winter months has increased by about 250 meters in the past 50 yearsSnowcovers are decreasing, and the length of winters is shortening. Yet, this troublesome news was considered largely irrelevant in a podcast released a few weeks ago by the Austrian Ministry of Sustainability of all places that featured Austrian ski legend Michael Walchofer and climate activist Moritz Nachtschatt discussing the climate change dimensions of skiing. Climate change has always been around, the ski legend touted, and while temperatures will always go up and down there are no worries ahead for lovers of snow sports. When researching these statements - clearly at odds with scientific research - I found similar perspectives offered by other Austrian officials involved in skiing or tourism, including on the website of the village where we spent our skiing holidays this week.  Maybe blissful ignorance to this end is not surprising in a country in which three of eight million inhabitants are active on the slopes.
But whatever the future of snow sports: How bad are the sports themselves in terms of their ecological footprint? In the big picture: Skiing barely makes it onto the list of sports that are bad for the environment, and even on that list it’s honorable mention is mainly driven by the energy used for various ski-supporting activities. 70% of Austria’s slopes, I learned, need artificial snow at least occasionally - requiring a lot of energy. Where energy for ski lifts and snow machines comes from renewable “clean” resources, though, the negative impact drops dramatically (Austria!).  Skydiving, aerobatics, and other air sports lead that list, closely followed by golfing (yes, greens are not green), and all kinds of car-related sports and water sports that use motor boats. Big arena professional sports are also not doing great in terms of environmental impact, mostly because of the impact of transporting thousands of people for a few hours to often remote locations (take that, Olympics!).

 

Picture: Nothing quite like a hot cup of hot cocoa with Schlagobers when taking a break between the slopes. 

Most analyses I have found identify Getting There as the cause for most of the climate impact of skiing: People drive long distances for a day or a weekend, and they do so frequently. The actual skiing part has much less of an impact; in terms of CO2, 50 days of skiing are the equivalent of a round-trip continental flight in the US. Not so bad, perhaps?  Hold on! There are broader environmental things to consider. The machine-prepared slopes can take away oxygen and put pressure on the soil below. De-forestation driven by expanding slopes and ski resorts has multiple negative impacts, well beyond the missing trees themselves. Wildlife is disturbed by skiers and the associated noise and activity around mass tourism. And the list goes on

Picture: Snow-Shoeing is a sport that weighs much less heavily on the environment than skiing.  Plus, you can do it close to Vienna - and within public transport reach. Just take the train to Payerbach and from there go up to the Semmering or the Rax mountains.   

Skiing without causing negative impacts on the environment clearly seems to be impossible.  However, there are a few things one can do to lessen the impact. Choose a location not too far from where you are, one that uses renewable energy sources and does not suffer from water scarcity. Get there by train or bus and stay for a week or longer. Choose accommodations that are sustainably managed. Purchase your food locally or frequent eateries that source locally.  Take your trash down the mountain. Get your gear second hand and use it for many years.  Stay on the designated slopes to protect wildlife beyond. Consider lower-impact forms of snow sports - such as snow-shoing or nordic skiing. One can take clues from Alpine Pearls, an association of 19 villages exclusively focusing low-impact snow sports..
Are we doing the wrong thing when going skiing, my 16-year old asks me. Well. We ticked practically all of the items on the doing-it-right-list. Except that it’s not really a doing-it-right-list - it’s a doing-it-less-badly list. But I am not a fan of eco-guilting. Skiing is an expensive sport, both in ecological terms and in monetary terms, there is no debating this fact. It is also one of the most joyous sports i know; other than water sports there are few activities that have people literally squeal (juchzen) for joy. So I am leaving it at that for now. Let’s be grateful we have a chance to enjoy the snow, I answer.
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..