On Friday, February 19, HNU hosted attendees for the Sixth Annual Bay Area Social Justice Forum, which focused on issues of ecological sustainability. The forum included a keynote address by Sister Linda Haydock, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and the founding executive director of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle, Washington. Sr. Linda is the co-author of two books of prayer, spirituality, and women’s empowerment, We Are Sisters, and Stand Up Sisters: Prayer and Ritual for Women’s Spirituality and Empowerment.
In her speech, entitled “Just Sustainability: For All to Thrive,” Sr. Linda spoke about the ways in which the dominant systems of the world—economic, political, ecological, social, and ecclesial—are broken and in need of urgent realignment. “This necessitates a new story,” Sr. Linda said. “In this time in our history, when we have taller buildings and shorter tempers; when we have wider freeways and narrower viewpoints; when we live in a country that has multiplied its possessions but reduced its values; when we pollute more than we protect; when we have conquered outer space, but not our inner space; when we have grand plans for going to Mars, but we really have trouble crossing the street to greet our neighbor and the immigrant—rise up. Rise up and tell a new story.”
The purpose of Sr. Linda’s talk, as she explained it, was to explore the concept of sustainability as the foundation for new and radically different systems. “Sustainability encompasses everything and everyone, from the soil to the water and all our human interactions. Sustainability crosses multiple disciplines, and just sustainability is about reuniting the people and the planet. We can define sustainability as patterns and processes that are able to operate and persist over a long period of time. A hemlock forest gives you a good idea of what I’m talking about. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Step deeper into that same forest and we see that there isn’t waste. Energy and materials go around in a closed loop for thousands of years.”
Sr. Linda said that she believes sustainable development—which accounts for both current and future needs—offers the best method for safeguarding both the planet’s wellbeing and ours. “There are three pillars of sustainable development,” she said. “Ecological: living within our means, and the caring capacity of the ecosystem. Economic: a fair distribution of resources so that everyone is able to meet their basic needs. In this paradigm, unlimited growth is not sustainable. And equity: social equity includes equal access to education and employment, housing, etc., as well as the freedom from unhealthy living conditions. We can visualize these as nested systems.”
According to Sr. Linda, there is a clearly urgent need to make the shift to a sustainable economy. “The neoclassical economic model characterized by supply and demand, dependency on growth, using nature as a supply depot and a waste deposit, and based on quantitative growth, must now give way to ecological economics, where the macro-economy is a subsystem nested in our biosphere—[in which] the ecological and economic systems are interdependent and development is qualitative,” she said. “In other words, we need a new story to counteract our current economic system that is challenged by inequities, doesn’t account for the real cost, doesn’t value the ecosystems, and often manifests itself in a big waste-and-use-briefly pattern. Ecological economics strives to create an equitable distribution of goods, reconfigure the consumer and products cycle, replace fossil fuel, create policy change, and redirect to local production and consumption. This is the story that’s just emerging.”
Sr. Linda offered the recent actions of the United Nations (UN) as proof that this new story was beginning in earnest. “This fall, in an historic moment, the UN sustainable development goals slated for 2015-2030 were unanimously adopted by 193 countries. Never before have leaders made a common commitment across the board to such a broad and universal agenda. It is with this hope that we now embrace these new ambitious goals that call not only on governments, but on all of us to be responsible for the common good—individuals, churches, temples, mosques, NGOs, corporations, grassroots communities, and not just the governments. If we were to achieve or even come close to meeting the sustainable development goals, we would have, it seems, a pretty close to perfect world.”
At the end of her address, Sr. Linda spoke about the ways in which people can contribute to the widespread adoption of sustainability. “Practice compassion in every visit, meeting, and encounter with those on the margins, and in the meetings with people of power. Live the story. Ask what’s possible. Start conversations that matter and be intrigued by what you hear. Be prophets. Call the community’s attention to the stories of the vulnerable and the plight of the environment in our neighborhoods. And then build communities of support and solidarity that stretch and liberate us all. Be advocates for justice. Walk the two feet of charity and justice. What you encounter in Oakland, share with elected officials. We need your stories to change the systems of poverty and injustice to prevent those who are poor and vulnerable from being made whole and thriving. Bring hope to our world. My friends, for the sake of those on the margins, for the sake of justice, for the sake of the whole community, the whole earth community, this is our moment in history, to tell the story, to live the story of just sustainability and thrivability for the common good.”
The forum also included a panel discussion that featured representatives from Pachamama Alliance, which empowers indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture; Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project, which creates a safe and creative outdoor space for children and youth to learn about food production; and the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, which educates people about the impact of factory farming on animals, workers, the environment, and public health.