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 #50: Christmas for CreationKeepers - Places of Hope!  

December 23, 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
Christmas is the feast of love and hope, encouraging us to walk in the light of Christ during moments of spiritual darkness. Light is much needed, I find. Across Europe we seem to be drowning again in bad news on skyrocketing Corona infection rates, overflowing hospitals and lock-downs. Elsewhere, the news seem to not be much better; inflation in Turkey, natural disasters in the US, fears in the Ukraine, and the list goes on. Even my BBC morning fix, the Global News podcast, announced this morning that they’d have a “good news special” on the 25th, seemingly finding it necessary to single out moments that show us rays of hope. Also amongst those of us caring for God’s Creation, the list of defeats and losses seems to be dominating conversations, and it’s easy to go into the Christmas days with a feeling of doom and gloom!
This week, though, I saw many rays of love and hope when taking a trip through local history as I visited the exhibition Danube. A journey into the past. It’s a small exhibition - set right in the middle of one of my favorite museums, the State Hall (Prunksaal) of the Austrian National Library. It tells the story of a magnificent part of local nature - the mighty River Danube - and how people interacted with her over the centuries. Mostly an untamed natural space, the Danube was both friend and foe, offering water to drink, fish to eat, and opportunities for transport, but also threatening livelihoods through dangerous floods and currents. Over the centuries, man found many ways to tame the river, turning the Danube into a waterway that was both safer to ship and less prone to unmanageable floods. And just in case you were wondering why that mattered: It turns out that Vienna alone has seen 450 floods, both smaller and larger ones, in the past 1000 years. That means we have, on average, nearly every other year a flood to deal with here. 
Where is the good environmental news, you might ask? Well, one of the exhibits in the Museum documents what was at the time a monumental disagreement between the city’s and the country’s leadership on one side and those in the environmental movement on the other: The planned construction of a major hydropower plant in Hainburg, about an hour south of Vienna. It was supposed to bring jobs and low-carbon energy - but there was also a serious downside to consider as it would involve the destruction of a major and unique habitat, the Donau Au. The disagreements lasted for years and culminated in December 1984 when construction was about to begin. About 8000 protesters had come for a demonstration and many decided spontaneously to stay. They wanted to disturb and slow down the bush clearing and construction work through peaceful passive resistance. Many stayed for days, day after day, night after night, in the bitter cold and snow. When eventually police were asked to remove them, pictures of peaceful  protesters being carried away by police - sometimes with force - created a major national uproar, with 40,000 demonstrating in Vienna’s streets on December 21st, 1984. The subsequent canceling of the construction, and the eventual preservation of the area as a National Park, are directly attributed to these days of peaceful protest. In short: The Hainburg protests marked a complete turning-point for Austrian politics and the role of the environment in political decision-making. The exhibit in the Museum tells the story briefly but beautifully.

Foto: A picture from Friedrich Hundertwasser, inspired by the Hainburg protests, as shown at the Exhibition in the Museum

Today, the DonauAuen area is a National Park and a unique space for wildlife and people; it protects the last remaining major wetland environment in Central Europe. Here, along 36 kilometers, the Danube flows feely, and the wetlands form a green ribbon between Vienna and Bratislava. As the water levels rise and fall quite dynamically here - up to 7 meters - nothing stays the same and the landscape is shaped and re-shaped again and again. The Park itself was formally set up only in 1996, 12 years after the protests at Hainburg opened up the possibility for creating and preserving such a unique habitat and international refuge. By now it is recognized as as a Riverine Wetlands National Park by IUCN, hosting 800 kinds of vascular plants, more than 30 mammalian species,100 breeding bird species, 8 reptilian and 13 amphibian species, and around 60 species of fish. What abundance!

Foto: A spectacular 44-meter long reproduction of the famous Pasetti map of 1857 shows the Danube from Passau to the Iron Gate, including flora and fauna.

So, yes, there is hope! Christmas is a good time to remind ourselves that hope and peace can inspire positive change. In researching about Hainburg, I found even more such stories, collected on Protestwanderung.at, listing examples where people have taken matters in their own hands over the past two centuries - if you speak German, a great resource! Not all of the protests were peaceful and not all ended as positively as the Hainburg protests.  But if you are looking for some inspiration, check out the National Library and the Danube exhibition. Contrary to what you see online on the Museum's English website, the German-speaking one will inform you properly: It is open until the end of January.  Maybe it’s even good for a last minute present to a loved-one: Get a ticket and enjoy!
Merry Christmas!
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 #49: Christmas for CreationKeepers - A time for giving, also to creation ...?!  

December 16, 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
Advent is a time for giving. Today’s Western Christians will know all about this, if only because every radio station, shop or advertisement is telling us what to buy for whom, amongst friends or family and beyond. But the mandate to give goes much further. If we had any doubt, last Sunday’s Gospel made this very clear (Luke 3:7-18): “‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”  Should this matter to those of us looking to find ways to protect God’s creation? Do flora and fauna fall under the definition of someone who has no shirt?  And if so, what shirt to give? Presumably we can take this figuratively?!
Personally, I have answered the first question - should we consider flora and fauna to count as someone - with a resounding Yes. In fact, in a growing number of countries the legal system has begun assigning to nature what is called environmental personhood. It means that a particular part of nature - a forrest, for example, or a river - is assigned rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities and legal liability of a legal personality. As a principle, this allows protecting nature for future human generations and it recognizes the relationship that many indigenous peoples have with natural entities. Nor surprise then that the legal frameworks in countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, New Zealand or Canada - where the rights of indigenous populations are increasingly recognized - know concepts of environmental personhood. For example, some of the rivers in these countries are considered legal persons, and where the rivers are being polluted, there is now a possibility to take legal action against the polluter - on behalf of the river. 
So if we consider God’s creation to be persons - in the meaning of Luke 3:7-18 - what should we give, at the occasion of Advent? The LivingLIght blog is always trying to keep a local - Vienna or Austria specific - focus, and so we reviewed a longer list of Austrian government approved environmental charities and organizations on two different websites. Indeed, we found many worthy organizations listed there that would be safe recipients of an Advent-inspired donation of yours. They range from multiple organizations protecting animals (bees,bird, dogs, strays, and so on), through organizations promoting the protection of rivers, mountains or natural habitats more generally, to political organizations looking to lobby and mobilize political action.  I am listing here my personal three favorites - just to get you inspired.
My first personal favorite is the Jane Goodall Institute Austria. Many will know Jane Goodall, the extraordinarily successful secretary-turned-anthropologist who famously confirmed the smartness of chimpanzees. The JG Institute Austria works with Austrian school children (and grown ups) on environmental education, awareness raising and mobilization, inspiring action both locally and globally, essentially teaching kids to take environmental matters in their own hands.  What I like about them most: Jane Goodall’s message - and the Institute’s message - is profoundly a message of hope, something that should sit well with us as a faith-based community.
Secondly, there are the Green Heroes Austria.  They are an environmental charity and organization that works on Waste Avoidance and Waste Management and focuses on awareness raising and public education, including through activities such as regular Danube Clean-Ups.  Yours truly participated in one such activity earlier this year - and Blog #36 Why clean up the Danube tells the story of what happened. Green Heroes Austria work locally and that may get your attention; they don’t really have a faith-based dimension, but they create ways of concretely making things better
Third on my personal list of environmental charities to give to is a bouquet of politically active organizations, starting with Greenpeace Austria, through Sea Sheperds Austria and through to Fridays for Future Austria.  If you want to contribute to the protection of God’s Creation by helping organizations that try to influence politics - right here in Austria as well as globally - these are a good place to start.
Other organizations are, of course, also great and worthy of your contributions. The Alpenverein. World Wildlife Fund. Arche Noah. Let’s explore - and let’s give.  Advent is a time for giving!
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..

P.S. I am glad to report that the our Church Council agreed, on one of its recent meetings, to include the Jane Goodall Institute Austria in the list charities that we, as a community, contribute to.

 

Blog #48: Christmas for CreationKeepers - Not all Christmas Trees were created equal!

December 9, 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
Sunday, December 12, is this year’s day when it all begins: Christmas Tree sales are opening up in Vienna! On many many corners across town, sales booths will welcome you and friendly tree people will advise you on which of the trees they have may be right for you.  Living in the US, we bought our tree much much earlier, right after Thanksgiving mostly, so that we could enjoy it to the max - but Vienna has its own ways. Estimates seem to vary, but from what I can gather I conclude that, here in the city alone, somewhere between 400,000 and 570,000 trees  find their way into one household or another, and most of them are bought local, at a Standler. But what’s the environmental impact of all of this?  Is this whole Christmas Tree Industry a good or a bad thing from a planetary footprint perspective?  We looked around and found three things to consider.!
Firstly: Buying local matters and is possible here in Vienna. Well over half of the Christmas Trees sold in the city hail from the countryside around Vienna, Niederoesterreich mostly. At 160 of the 270 sales places, you can buy a tree with what’s called Herkunftsgarantie (guaranteed local denomination), just ask your salesperson. If you don’t want to buy your tree in the streets, you can also drive out and buy it directly at one of the tree nurseries or even chop it down yourself. The Austrian Association of Christmas Tree producers (yes, something like that exists) has a beautiful website where you can find locations and options: weihnachtsbaum.at. Perusing through the site you will also see that you might be able to save yourself the journey - the same people where you can buy your tree on the farm are also the people that offer the trees in town.

Foto: The Austrian Umweltberatung publishes a list of locations where you can get a ecologically grown Christmas Tree - and make no mistake, it makes a difference. 

Secondly: You can go all in and buy a tree that has been grown in ecologically mindful ways. That’s where the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizer would have been avoided, and where the right growing and harvesting methods, as well as appropriate distances between the trees limit exposure to harmful insects or other pests. And yes, the Austrian Umweltberatung has a brochure with a list of places where you can get such Eco Trees. This is not a fancy or overly woke consideration: Most Christmas Trees, whether local or otherwise, come from large monocultures. And as a beekeeper I know how bad these can be, not just for other plants but also for the animals, the soil and the water. So: finding yourself an EcoTree could be something to try this year. You can easily recognize them based on various certificates being used, amongst them Bio-Siegel, Bioland-Siegel, Naturland-Siegel, Demeter-Siegel, FSC-Siegel.
Thirdly: Plastic trees, you might have guessed it, are not the solution. But don’t they help us to not purchase and use an actual natural tree?  Reduce the demand for natural trees?  Based on what I could gather, it seems that a plastic tree needs to be re-used at least 10 if not 20 years in order to come even close to the environmental impact from purchasing and using a natural tree. There is a lot of plastic involved, and since most of the plastic trees are produced in Asia, there is transport also to be considered. But on the other hand, if you start exploring alternative options, there are tree-like decorations, made from wood, cardboard, or other more natural materials, the list of options is rather long.  
In conclusion: Affording oneself a Christmasy Tree simply is not really fabulous for the environment.  Interestingly, it makes a difference how the trees are disposed of - via landfill or via incinerator. Interestingly, using incinerators for tree-disposal generates comparatively the lowest Green House Gas impact, so we should be on the better side of things here in Vienna where the city's incineration plants have a great reputation for their low emission profile. If you do choose to get a tree this year: Don’t forget to dispose of it properly, in early January, when the city-wide tree collecting is scheduled.
So what to do? A tree-in-a-pot is of course always a solution. Or make a compromise, between your tree this year and other things you are doing in managing your impact. A promise to planet earth, to God’s creation. No better gift to give!
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 #47: Christmas for CreationKeepers: Xmas gifts ...   

December 2, 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
Three weeks left ‘til Christmas eve: It’s time for some thoughts on Xmas presents - from a CreationKeepers' perspective, of course.  We have been brainstorming and looking around on behalf of our readers - to see what presents there may be that use little or no (excessive) environmental resources, or that may even make things better for creation & co. So: if you still have not figured out what to give to your loved ones, here are a few suggestions that would reflect your interest or wish to help keep our planet alive and enjoyable for future generations.
One big category on the list of CreationKeepers’ Xmas gifts is the category of the immaterial.  Immaterial gifts can include love, compliments, time, and probably many other things that do not or only barely involve the use of environmental resources. Giving time can be beautiful to give and to use - and such gifts might involve a card or voucher that can be creatively decorated.  The voucher or card would describe the gift - such as giving time to be spent together (five times going for a walk together), time to do something for someone else that they don’t particularly enjoy (voucher for three times doing the dishes for you, or a voucher for time to repair the bicycle), or even time to do something special or extraordinary (time to go to that special museum exhibition, time to take you on that famous hike).
A second category of great CreationKeeper gifts includes material gifts but only involves products that come with a sustainability background and/or a particularly low environmental footprint. This can include products found in green or fair trade stores just as much as products explicitly sourced locally or seasonally or in a thrift shop. One obvious choice for those of us here in Christ Church is, of course, the our Church shop - where anything you purchase has already been used by someone else. The 48er Tandler - normally my go-to place for purchasing used-and-re-covered items - would have been on my list, but with this season’s COVID restrictions, the shop is regrettably neither open nor ready to do click and collect. Beyond shops promoting re-use, you can also get interesting things if you focus for example on products from zero waste stores: There is a list of Austrian zero waste stores that sell online, but you can also shop at any of the multiple zero waste stores in Vienna.


Foto: You might want to choose a gift that promotes or supports sustainable behavior, and the socks from the WienerLinien Fan Shop are a great example: They are colorful and happy-looking, and they are a daily reminder that taking the metro (U-Bahn) can be fun. Check out the Fan Shop - great little things there. 

A third category - and for me the most fun amongst the three - are material or immaterial things that might incite the recipients to adopt more sustainable behaviors themselves. For this, you could venture into the area of bathroom products that allow the user to maintain a lower environmental footprint than the alternative: Anything avoiding plastic packaging would already qualify - starting with beautiful soap bars for hand or body, through shampoo bars, to tooth-paste powder or tablets none of which come in plastic containers. Our very own Blog#7 can walk you through the details. Another great area of options in this category includes gifts that might encourage the use of public transport: On the (very) upper price range, you could of course resort to gifting the Vienna annual ticket, on the lower (perhaps more reasonable) end of the spectrum would be any of the assorted products available in the Wiener Linien Fan Store, including a Wiener Linien coffee mug or even Wiener Linien socks. Lastly, in the category of the more pedagogical gifts would be things that might allow or even incite the recipient to avoid waste alltogether - such as tin or steel boxes, water or tea bottles or re-usable cutlery for your take-out lunch, or a voucher for a shopping trip to a zero-waste store.  If you want to get your loved one interested in nature, you might give them a voucher to sponsor/be godparent to a beehive, right here in Vienna, or you might just give them a membership for a nature conservation organization - possibly starting with a Zoo visitors’ pass.  Finally, you can of course venture into the world of cycling: Offering a bicycle as a gift might be a bit too much, but not all bikes are transport bikes or were otherwise borne on the upper end. And in the meantime, you can always simply resort to cool and useful things to wear on a bicycle in order to fight off the elements in this wet and cold season. Pick whatever you can do to encourage avoiding the use of a car ...
Last piece of advice: Don’t stop at getting such beautiful gifts for your loved ones - some of them may also be something that you yourself might like!  Make a personalized CreationKeepers' Xmas wish list and inspire those that love you to go out and get you one of them! Or just get them yourself!.
And if you want to know what’s topping my personal (CreationKeeper inspired) wish list: Time. Time. Time. And a stainless steel lunchbox. And yes: The little angels at our home have been told ;-).
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..