Blog #40: Naming Names for Nature
|October 14, 2021
|Children, a newspaper article tells me this morning, know to recognize commercial firms’ logos better than plants or trees. Baffled, I am searching online for evidence for this claim, and indeed, research seems to indicate that pre-schoolers in the US can identify up to 100 brand logos; by age 10, they already know some 400. What about plants and trees? While I could not find anything online that would substantiate how many plants the average child can recognize, it does turn out that kids, at least in the UK, struggle naming not only fauna such as bumblebees and woodpeckers, but also flora such as oak trees or dandelionsl
|Should we care? Well, for starters it seems that being able to recognize visual cues is probably a sign of the kids’ smartness, no matter whether commercial logos or nature’s beauties, so we should take a moment and be proud of all these smart little people. On the other hand, though, I do wonder what it means that our ability to recognize trees, flowers, or animals is declining - right at a time when so many are disappearing from the face of the earth. Since John Stewart Mill, philosophers have reflected on the meaning of names, and to what degree having a name for something would allows us to interact with it. Many of us may remember how Smilla, a character in Smilla’s Sense of Snow, observes that the Inuits she grew up amongst had many many more names for snow than her other native language, Danish, and how she worried that she might loose the connection with her environment when forgetting the language (or vice versa, I can’t remember). As it were, the number of names for snow in Inuit languages appears to be a hotly debated topic. Yet, there seems to be some truth here: Whatever is part of your daily experience will be something you have (many) names for, perhaps even various and nuanced ones.
|And its true: Our planet is losing species at a rate of between 24 to 150 per day, every day, at least that’s what the researchers are telling us. The numbers are based on computer modeling and on the fact that that there are some 1.9 million recorded current or recent species on the planet. Losing 150 a day - or some 50,000 a year - clearly seems alarming and is on the global political agenda. Even here in Austria, we see many plants and animals on the “red list” of endangered species. Right now, between October 11 and 15, the first part of the UN Biodiversity Conference - taking place online rather than in Kunming in China as originally planned - is seeking to remedy what a report launched in May this year had confirmed: That despite unprecedented species extinction todate, its not too late to make a difference - if we start now at every level, from local to global.
|Right around the corner from Christ Church, we have our very own bastion of defense in the battle against species extinction: The Botanical Garden. The garden is not only a beautiful location for a walk and positive inspirations - it’s also part of the University of Vienna’s faculty of LIfe Science, home to 11,500 plant species from six continents, and a place where cutting edge research and a lot of public education happens. Last week, Frank, one of Rose’s colleagues, gave us a tour and we took time out of our busy week(end) to learn, breathe and even take a moment for prayer. Gabe had selected St. Francis’ Canticle of Brother Son and E.E. Cummings’ most amazing day for inspiration, and thus accompanied by good thoughts and fellowship we learned about the University’s work in bringing together, sustaining and learning from plants from all over the world. We found out about Maria Theresia who had the gardens set up in the 1750s, for the education of medical doctors; we found out about interesting research projects - such as the work in creating a planetary inventory of life, in understanding the impacts of climate change, and in cultivating endangered species; and mostly we learned about beautiful and sometimes odd plants. My personal favorite: Zanthoxylum simulans, Chinese-pepper or Täuschende Stachelesche: It produces little fruits with a positively wild taste.
|Which gets us back to names: At the Botanical Garden you will find plants that you think you know - and then you don’t - and then there are plants that you had no clue existed. All of them have names, and oddly enough pretty much all seem to have both Latin and German names, in addition to the names presumably given in their home countries but perhaps not recorded here. It’s wild! If you want to learn a few more names of species you did or did not know - check out the Botanical Garden. In fact, do it in the next weeks, throughout October. They have a fun exhibition going - the “New Wild Ones” - until October 31st; check-out the website, I think it requires registration and a small fee. Do go and find new names for nature’s treasures!
Foto: The exhibition on traveling plants is still on - throughout the end of October - go check it out!!
Blog #39: Saying Thanks
|October 7, 2021
|Last Sunday, here in Christchurch, we celebrated our very own Harvest Festival - Erntedank for our Austrian Host Country German - Thanksgiving for others. Creating a moment of gratitude for the food that was harvested, and considering that it was not just hard labor, farmers’ ingenuity, and various forms of technology (and chemistry) that created them, is an age old tradition around the world. Whether its Lammas Day in the UK, the Pongal Festival in Sri Lanka, the Argungu Festival in Northern Nigeria - the list of harvest festivals around the world is very very long, varying in dates, depending on harvest times. Canadian Thanksgiving is coming up this Sunday, October 11, and while not technically part of the church year, the the Church of England creates space for celebrating harvests according to the agricultural year in one’s location. Everywhere around the world, it seems, people feel the same, wanting to say thanks - to God, deities, higher powers. What we have harvested, we seem to feel, we have been given, gained not entirely on our own merit, a grace from God. And everywhere this thanks is related to the weather, the rains, the sun, the winds, and so many other things in nature that are out of our direct control!
|And yet, it is the weather that we have been influencing so unexpectedly dramatically ourselves over the past century. This week’s the Nobel Committee told us that they awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex systems, with one half going jointly to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming, and the other half to Giorgio Parisi for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.
Picture: This shot from the Nobel Prize committee's website introduces the three Physicians that won this yea'rs prize for Physics - for researching the causes of climate change.
|While I found the Nobel Committee’s statement somewhat difficult to comprehend, in searching what their work means, I found great explanations in the Nature Magazine who interviewed climate scientist Bjorn Stevens, at the Hamburg Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. Stevens summed up the award by saying: Manabe showed us how and why increasing CO2 leads to global warming. Hasselmann showed that it is happening. Reading further on the Nobel Committee’s Popular Information site (a worthwhile read), I found an even more catching explanation, noting that Hasselmann developed methods for identifying specific signals, fingerprints, that both natural phenomena and human activities imprint in the climate. So here it is, scientifically proven: Our - humanity’s - fingerprints are on how the climate changes.
|So, yes, on Harvest Day we do say thanks for the fruits and grains and veggies we have harvested and have been given. At the same time, we also want to think about the unpredictability that our and our recent forefathers’ behaviors have brought to our climate, causing havoc to harvests in so many ways and so many places. Harvest Day for me has become a festival of gratitude and a call for action. Many centuries of custom and tradition have made it a beautiful and inspiring day! And so I am also grateful for my church, and for people like Melinda and the kids in her group, who make sure that we actually do say thanks - for the food we have, and for what we learn about how we need to live so that we may keep harvesting also in the years to come!
Blog #38: Concluding Creationtide - What's next?!
|September 30, 2021
|So here we are, concluding Creationtide this week, and I ask myself what’s next?!
|Over these past five weeks, we took good time - in church and beyond - for prayers and reflections that celebrate God’s creation, and also for those that reflect our concerns and hopes. We appealed to our parishioners to exercise their rights as consumers and to shop and consume with environmental sense. Some of us participated in practical action by supporting a Danube clean up event, and along with many other churches in Austria we sought to mobilize participation for last week’s Climate Strike march.
|Picture: The “Religions for Future in Austria” coalition of Austria-based churches had appealed to Christians to join the climate movement and demonstrate at the September 24 climate strike in Vienna. Christ Church is not a formal member (perhaps: yet), but we keep in mind their appeals and actions. Foto from the Religions-for-Future-in-Austria site.
|Personally, I will look for inspiration and strength in prayers and reflections. How otherwise to find motivation and fight moments of despair and waning hope? There are great resources around. The Anglican Church’s Creationtide website has a specific space for collecting and sharing faith-based resources; these include things such as Daily Reflections, Prayers, and Going through the Daily Reflections, I was particularly struck that the text reserved for the last day of the last week (week 5, day 7), points the reader to John 1:1,14 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….and the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The suggestion there is to draw inspiration from Jesus and his life as directly as possible. Some such scope can be found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (1:18:20) where he wrote that through Jesus, “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
|Similarly, also the Episcopal Church’s CreationCare commitment charts the path ahead as anchored in Jesus: We follow Jesus, so we love the world God loves. And they describe the commitment as one to form and restore loving, liberating, life-giving relationships with all of Creation. The faith-centred resources offered there are grouped in Loving Formation, Liberating Advocacy, and Life-Giving Conservation. Lots of inspiration there.
|In scanning through what is out there, I remain impressed by the richness of thought and the energy in action visible online. I am inspired by the many many people across our church worldwide engaged in the work we have cut out for ourselves as we seek to protect and be in peace with God’s creation. And I go back to St Francis’ prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
|Picture: A St Francis Statute in Lombardy. On October 4, the day we also are reminded of St Francis’ life, the Season of Creation concludes this year. Source: Free from Pixabay
Blog #37: Fridays for Future in Vienna - Let’s Join them!
|September 23, 2021
Rosie Evans (with greetings from Durham)
|Tomorrow, Friday 24th September, the Global Climate Strike will be taking place across the world, and it’s happening in Vienna too! It is part of the Fridays For Future Movement, which began in August 2018, when Swedish teen Greta Thunberg and other young activists sat outside the Swedish parliament as a protest against the lack of action to fight the climate crisis. Since then, the movement has grown, and now more people than ever are joining in with the strikes.
Foto: A shot of the fridays for future grou's Austrian website. Join them on Friday, at 12pm noon on Friday, 24th, at Praterstern, or somewhat later at the Heldenplatz. www.fridaysforfuture.at.
|The aim of the strike this time is to demand for intersectional climate justice. The information on the climate strike webpage talks about the need for the unheard voices of Most Affected Peoples and Areas (MAPA) to be heard and taken seriously. In a previous blog, I wrote about the emotional video from the exhibition at the Hundertwasser museum, which showed communities scooping up mud with their hands to create flood barriers because of the devastating effects of climate change. This was, for me, a wake-up-call when I saw how climate change affects Most Affected Peoples and Areas. According to the Future for Fridays campaign, “MAPA voices must be amplified and centered in our fight for climate justice, otherwise even if we succeeded in limiting global warming to safe levels for life on Earth, marginalized communities would still be sacrificed and left behind, thus only part of the problem would be solved.” This is why there is a particular focus during tomorrow’s strike on the need for intersectional climate justice.
Foto: The Message that Climate Strike organizers and participants are sending is clear: Our planet is on fire, and we want to see change. We are all in this together! www.FridaysforFuture.at.
|I also spoke to Christ Church’s Local Environmental Officer, Monika, to ask why she felt it is important to strike, particularly in Vienna. This was her response:
|“What are we demonstrating for, here in Vienna? In Vienna, it seems, environmental mindfulness already is everywhere, from the incredibly effective waste collection through to bike paths, public transport and district heating. Digging a little deeper, tough, reveals an astounding policy gap in our host country Austria. The Climate Change Performance Index, an international comparisons of policies suitable to slow down Climate Change puts Austria on #35, well behind the UK (#5), India (#10), or even Germany (#19). Last year’s Climate Referendum, supported by over 380,000 signatures, led to a parliamentary hearing in February during which it became amply clear that not only is Austrian legislation way behind, but also that target setting and tax reform are direly needed. Interestingly, right after, in April, the Austrian Court of Auditors bashed the government for poor policies in addressing climate change, pointing to the looming cost of fixing things too late, and also demanding target setting. On the upside, policy action is now beginning to be visible, for example with the Renewable Energy Expansion law, passed by parliament in July. The new law sets the country on a very ambitious course of aiming for 100% of electricity sourced from renewables by 2030. Plenty more remains to be done, though - in housing, mobility, industry, and so on. So, yes, we have good reasons to join the Fridays for Future demonstrations tomorrow...!"
|If you feel inspired to take part in the strike, the meeting point is Praterstern at 12 noon, tomorrow and then the final rally will be held at Heldenplatz. You can find more information about the demonstration on the Fridays For Future Wien page, with the information in German.
|Of course, not everyone feels able or comfortable to join demonstrations in person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still play your part!
Foto: Locations of Fridays for Future activities tomorrow all across Austria. www.FridaysforFuture.at.
Unable to attend the climate strike on Friday? Luckily, there are other things that you can do to get involved! Here are a few suggestions:
So however you feel you can help, I hope you will join in with the many people around the world wanting to do our bit to care for God’s creation.