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 #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..

 

Blog #57: What green Christ Church Vienna reads...  

February 10, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
Just over a year ago - in early January 2021 - the first LivingLight Blog appeared on this site. At the time, Patrick had warned us: You are taking on too much, it will be hard to write a weekly blog. And Robert chimed in: Keep an eye on your readers! Will they read what you write? Rosie, Daniel and I took the advice as a challenge, giddily putting together an editorial plan, with neatly organized categories, dates and ideas. And we simply began writing. We did not really know what interested Christ Church Vienna readers. But based on meetings that we had convened we sensed that people were looking for positive ideas, practical and local in nature, perhaps with a global dimension. Everyone we spoke to told us that they already had a lot of information; in fact, many were struggling to make sense of the avalanche of - mostly bad - news that they saw coming at them. Looking back at the last 12+ months: How did we do? Did Christ Church Vienna members even read the blogs - and what did they read most of?
Reviewing the blogs as a portfolio offers interesting insights. Readership - counted in “hits” as of early this week - runs between zero and 444. A total of 26 blogs, nearly half of the whole lot, were read over 200 times. Three blogs were (sofar) not seen by anybody.  The blog attracting the highest number of “hits” contemplated the relative merits of non-meat meat (Meatless in Vienna) - fairly at the beginning, in February 2021, followed with some distance by a blog on beekeeping (Bee careful) and a blog on no-plastic options available when buying toothbrushes and toothpaste (White and Shiney). The most recent blogs - coming out in the last three weeks - had attracted the least readership: Zero.  Good things come to those who wait?

 

Graph: The first LivingLight Blogs attracted most attention - either interest in the Blogs goes down over time or Blogs receive more "hits" the longer they have been posted....The Blog with the most "hits" was "Meatless in Vienna", and also the Summer-Haiku series got a lot of attention.  

So now we know that meat and honey attract attention. What else? What do Christ Church Vienna parishioners caring for creation like to read? In planning our blogs, we had created broad categories of topics - to make sure that the series does not become boring and offers something of interest to many types of people. Our nine categories included educational (book or exhibition reviews), food (ideas for sustainable food sources), lifestyle choices (information on new local options for lowering one’s footprint), outdoorsy (tips and ideas for enjoying God’s creation), shopping (references to low-plastic or low-carbon buying experiences), political (suggestions on where or how to mobilize action in town), community (discussions of Christchurch’s own events and experiences in CreationKeeping) and - importantly - spiritual (a wider range of faith-based considerations towards environmental stewardship). An additional category then had emerged over the summer: Haiku - small verses put together by parishioners, celebrating nature in whatever way they saw fit. A quick analysis revealed clearly: As a group, we like food, and we enjoy community, poems and spirituality. Not that the other topics were irrelevant - but the blogs in those particular categories simply were read by most people or more frequently.
 
Did we cater to what our readership is looking to read? Also here a quick look into the statistics helps: We had not foreseen the great interest in food-related topics (only #4 on the list of topics most frequently covered) but indeed the highest number of blogs created in any given category included those involving haikus and spiritual topics. 

 

Graph: The LivingLight blogs cover a variety of topic categories - but some feature more frequently than others.  Most blogs were written on topics relating to shopping and food options that are particularly considerate of the environment, here in Vienna.  And then, of course, the Blog featured 11 beautiful Haiku contributions from across the Christ Church community.  

Where to go from here? Sometimes when we send him a new blog, Patrick sighs: You aren’t leaving any stone unturned. Well, that’s what CreationKeepers do. There is so much more to find out and to reflect on. In the end, where our planet goes will be in God’s hands. In the meantime, we must do what is in our hands, moving minds and hearts, reducing the depth of our footprints and shaping choices, taking many small steps, so that altogether they can help restore balance. On this, I am with Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
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 #56: Wetlands in Vienna?!   

February 3, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
There are fifteen verses (at least) in the Bible about marshes, swamps, moors, mire, … whatever you call it - wet spaces with mud. Some of the verses are comforting “Under the lotus plants he lies down / In the covert of the reeds and the marsh” (Job 40:21). Others offer insight “Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the rushes grow without water?” (Job 8:11).  And yet others warn of destruction “But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.” (Ezekiel 47:11). Why am I quoting from the bible about what technically ia called a wetland? Yesterday, February 2nd, was World Wetlands Days. Ok - but why is this worth taking note? In particular for those of us living in Vienna? My very same reaction - at least initially. I have grown up close to several moors - the Black Moor and the Red Moor in the Rhön in Germany, as well as other smaller ones - and going there for weekend walks always were highlights of family boredom. I really really did not care for swamps. What changed?
Well, I learned. That sometimes happens to all of us ;-). I learned that wetlands are the planet’s equivalent of vitamins. There are not a whole lot of them - anymore -  but without them, most of nature will get out of balance. And when used right, they can cure all sorts of ills. Some of the benefits of wetlands include  protection against the impacts of climate change - by protecting shorelines from erosion, improving water quality naturally, and reducing flood damage. They also act as critical carbon stores - by conserving and restoring high carbon wetlands, we can reduce carbon emissions. They offer much in terms of food - if not overfished, wetlands can feed many of their human neighbors. And, of course, remembering the many walks with my parents: They do support unique nature and freshwater biodiversity. Biodiversity that we need for all of our future, including for pest control, pollination, and fighting climate change.

 

Foto: Around the world, World Wetlands Days was celebrated yesterday. Moors, swamps, marshes - most of them have been destroyed around the world; in some places reconstruction is underway. Here in Vienna, we have a unique wetland - across the Danube National Park.  

There is also some fascinating history associated with wetlands. In the early 1600s, Native Americans took refuge in the Great Dismal Swamp in southeast Virginia and North Carolina, hiding away from the colonial forces. Until the 19th century, also enslaved Africans took refugethere, possibly up to thousands living in freedom in the swamps while around them slavery ruled. Still today, people in war zones take refuge in the swamps - such as in 2015 in South Sudan. Living conditions are not great, there are reasons why wetlands are mostly habitat to animals and aquatic plants and not to people: Swamp fevers of various types - in particular Malaria - have caused sickness and death in and around swamps for centuries. One of the reasons why removal of wetlands can be tempting.
The world’s wetlands are hanging on a thin life-line. While in the olden days, man and wetlands seemed to have figure out how to live together and benefit from each other, this changed when we discovered how to turn them into regular land, space for farming, housing, and traveling. Since the 1700s, some 90% of the world’s wetlands have been drained. A lot of the destruction of wetlands in this day and age is driven by agriculture seeking to gain land for cash crops such as palm oil or sugar cane. There is an international convention - the Ramsar Convention - seeking to stop the destruction, and there is Wetlands International, a well functioning global organization lobbying and orchestrating support for wetlands.  But it’s tough. So no wetlands anymore? Pooof. Gone. Or not? Around the world, people have begun working to restore wetlands.  Across the US the National Park Service and many others have begun such projects, and similar work is ongoing across the African continent, Asia,  and LatinAmerica. Ever heard about mangrove projects? These are all causes very much worth supporting. 

 

Foto: The wetlands in the Danube National Park are a great place also for winter walks... beavers or eagles are amongst the nature's amazements to discover. The park offers formal winter walks that one can book - or one simply enjoys things by oneself. The park is reachable via bicycle, public transport, and car.

Here in Vienna, we have the Danube Wetlands right around the corner, protected as a National Park after some hefty fighting by local civil society organizations (see blog #52). While the Danube Wetlands National Park stretches over 9300 hectares, extending from Vienna to the Slovakian border, I have myself only been at the Lobau part, across from the Danube island.  Its beautiful and easy to get there by bicycle as well as by public transport. The park is home to more than 800 plant species, more than 30 mammal species, 100 different breeding birds and - of course- a whole lot of different reptiles, amphibians and fish. The main entrance and visitor center is at Schloss Orth, about 45 to 60 minutes from here. Nicely enough, the Park is also quite accessible with public transport. There is an OeBB Post Bus (550,552 or 553) that will take you to Schloss Orth itself, but you can also take the S7 traveling in the direction of Wolfsthal. The Park is open daily and accessible for free.The visitor centers and tours are available mostly only between March or April and October. But there are programs - all through the winter - for interesting excursions also.
See you for a walk in the wetlands?!
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 #55: Got something Green in your ears?   

January 27, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
People often ask me where are you getting your information from? In these days of information overload, it’s a good question, often discussed among geeks and others curious about the world and where it may be going. I had stopped watching news on television when 9/11 happened, moved to online journals and newspapers, and more recently migrated to podcasts. BBC World Service is my first go-to source every morning, and throughout the week I add stories and features from the New York Times Daily, This American Life, The Moth, and The Economist.  I also have a few German-speaking go-to places to learn about Austrian current affairs, mainly the Falter podcast and ServusGrueziHallo. Podcasts are a growing source of information, finding more and more users every year. In the US, 40% of all internet users also listen to podcasts. Worldwide, there are some 500 million users, and every year there are more. For this blog, I dug a bit deeper into the depth of podcast resources - to find out where those of us interested specifically in God’s Creation, in Sustainability and faith based resources for safeguarding the planet, might find useful information.
If you are new to the world of podcasts, the first step is easy: Check out what app you have on your mobile phone for listening to podcasts. Most likely, your phone will have something called podcast pre-loaded; if not you can download it for free, or turn to spotify. Once downloaded, all you need to do is search by keywords or the name of a particular podcast to find what you might want to subscribe to. The next step, deciding what to subscribe to, can be daunting though: How to figure out what to choose? Don’t be frightened off by the sheer volume of what’s on offer. In a way, it’s like stepping into a bookstore when wanting to get something to read: You have to browse a bit, before you find what’s right for you. In terms of green podcasts, you will find country or region specifics, topic specifics, and podcasts that make different choices between facts and information on the one hand and advocacy on the other. Some choose storytelling as a medium, others offer interviews and make people speak, and then again others are more like journalistic essays. Good lists of “top 10” or “top 15” green or sustainability podcasts that can help you navigate the space have been put out by GreenChristian.orgEarth.org, Greenbiz.com and University College London. For this blog, I looked at where one can find green news from around the world, what can be enjoyable casual consumption, and where one can find inspiration as a faith-based person  

 

Foto:The podcast GreenPulse is great for getting news about environmental topics from Asia. Produced by the Singapore based Straits Times, GreenPulse is available for free, just like thousand of other audio programs.  It can be accessed through smartphone apps such as spotify or podcasts. 

For news from around the world, I find it best to go regional - actually looking at what matters in some of the broader continental groups. Amongst the policy and fact focused podcasts, GreenWave is a good starting point for those of us with a particular interest in sustainability topics with a European perspective. Put out by the Green European Journal, the podcast features a very eclectic and usually fascinating collection of articles that have appeared in the Journal itself, much like the Economist podcast. They have not shared anything new since September for some reason - but the series offers great listening material anyways. The caveat: The person doing the reading does not have the most pleasant of voices, but that may be a matter of taste. In the meantime, GreenPulse is a fabulous podcast series with an Asia focus, published by the Straits Times in Singapore: Every first and third Monday of the month, the two hosts, Audrey Tan and David Fogarty, take us through concise 20 minute sessions of information and interviews. Sustainability challenges across African countries are beautifully covered by AfricaClimateConversations. With some exceptions, all of the weekly podcasts feature environmental topics, explained by way of interviews. With a specific view on Vienna - caveat: resources are mostly in German - there are podcasts such as KlimaAktiv hosted by the Ministry for Sustainability, as well as several others that highlight selected aspects of the transformation to come over here.
On the more casual side, I found SustainaBabble. Offering one new podcast a week, the two hosts - Oliver Hayes and David Powell - have put together some 250+ pieces since they got started in 2015.  The podcast is very chatty, mixing banter, factoids, event information, jokes, and sometimes inspirational stories. The ads at the beginning are a bit lengthy, but you can always fast-forward. The language is colloquial, usually funny, sometimes sweary, and belongs more in the infotainment space, the kind of thing you let running while doing something else, like ironing, fixing a meal, or putting away your Christmas decoration. The list of topics reviewed by the two hosts is impressive, so you may want to consider it a companion to help through tedious tasks. 

 

Foto: Inspirational for those of us looking to take care of God's creation is Jane Goodall's HOPECAST. She hosts conversations with people working in or with environmental topics - always asking "what is your reason for hope?".

Most importantly, I have been looking to find faith-based and/or inspirational gems amongst the podcasts out there. My all time favorite is the HopeCast hosted by Jane Goodall and her Institute.  Very professionally done, the HopeCast is a series of conversations between Jane herself and various leaders in the sustainability and conservation world. The episodes have a very distinct personal touch and one learns both about Jane Goodall herself and the individual journeys of her guest, always touching upon reasons for hope. One may disagree with or dislike some of the speakers - but in terms of genuineness these sessions are really inspirational. Perhaps less faith-based and less global but also very uplifting is the Sustainable Mind: The hosts introduce listeners to some of the most successful environmental campaigns, organizations, and startups (in America); learning about these, through personal reflections of the people involved, can open new ways of thinking and offer a strong sense of courage and good reasons for hope.
What green information, debates and faith-based reflections do you have in your ear these days?  When do you listen? And how? Let us know - via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. so that we can offer your podcast tips for inspiration across our community!
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..