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UN Webinar on Climate Change March 2022

March 25, 2022, New York, New York – Women around the world are on the front lines of global climate change and, in many cases, are especially suffering because of it. Yet, in many ways, their voices still need to be heard. 

That was one of the messages of a March 14, 2022, webinar, Climate Change and Environmental Injustice: Empowering Women, offered by the Dominican Sisters Conference as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) parallel event of the United Nations’ 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). CSW66 was held March 14-25, 2022. 

“The world is a web of relationships where everything is connected,” said Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, in her introduction. Sister Durstyne is the NGO Dominican Representative to the United Nations.

Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP
Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP

Sister Durstyne noted Pope Francis’ urgent appeal in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, for a new dialogue among people throughout Earth as humanity works to combat global climate change. “We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environmental challenges affect us all,” she said. 

The webinar was an opportunity for about 100 participants from throughout the world to listen to four women speak about the challenges their countries face and the efforts – especially of women – to heal Earth.

South Africa

Ndivile Mokoena, a committed Catholic lay woman from South Africa, said Africa has experienced many effects of climate change, such as floods and droughts, that have “already caused enormous damage and displaced thousands of people.” She said Africa is also challenged by competition for land, deforestation, and activities such as coal mining, which threaten the biodiversity of many areas.

Ndivile is involved in the social justice movement for the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and works on social justice with women’s cooperatives. She spoke of the challenges faced by African women and of their involvement in sustainable practices and environmental issues. African women and girls “carry the brunt” of climate change yet are often “pushed aside” from conversations about the issue, she said.

Ndivile described climate change as an equity issue. “If you are poor, female, or otherwise marginalized, you are at great risk of losing your already limited assets, livelihood, and life from climate change impacts,” she said.  

But Ndivile focused her presentation on the many ways that African women are working to build sustainability and combat climate change. Working from their traditional and indigenous knowledge, they are involved in food processing, preserving food through jams and sauces, and growing herbs and medicines to generate income for their families, Ndivile said. Because of the struggle to obtain land for this work, she added, women often approach local schools and churches and receive permission to use their land as a community farm. 

Ndivile also spoke of the challenges of energy access and transition. “Electricity and [other forms of] energy are critical for driving development, but sub-Saharan Africa remains the most electricity-poor region,” she said. “Addressing this issue through the use of renewable resources provides the opportunity to support immediate development objectives to improve lives.”

United States

Sister Corinne Sanders, OP
Sister Corinne Sanders, OP

Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Office of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, spoke on the variety of ways the Congregation is addressing climate change. 

One way to make the Motherhouse campus sustainable is through permaculture, a system of land use that follows the patterns of nature and works with natural systems, Sister Corinne said. “We understand our ministry is to care for the Earth, the same as caring for others,” she said. “We strive to live in balance, reciprocity, and simplicity with Earth.” 

Through permaculture, the Adrian Dominican Sisters engage in a number of healing policies, including:

  • Building soil health: While traditional agriculture depletes the soil, the Sisters add nutrients to the soil through the use of composting and no-till farming. Sister Corinne said one focus is to hold carbon in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere and adding to global warming.
  • Attending to water’s story: Sister Corinne spoke of the importance of noticing the flow of water during a rainy day and working with the land through such means as raingardens to “slow down, spread out, and allow the water to sink into the ground.” This process also purifies the water naturally and produces a healthier watershed, she added.
  • Lowering the carbon footprint of new and existing buildings: Through a number of strategies, the Adrian Dominican Sisters reduced their use of electricity by 30%. The strategies included sustainable purchasing practices, the installation of a solar array and solar carport, and changes in personal behavior.

Solomon Islands

Sister Mary Tahu Paia, a lecturer on climate change and biodiversity at Solomon Islands National University, focused on the role of women and young girls in sustainability efforts. 

Women and young girls “are heavily dependent on climate-sensitive livelihoods,” she noted. Climate change affects their daily lives. With less rain and dry rivers, they have to travel farther to collect water for their family’s use. Yet, Sister Mary added, “their voices are always missing, especially in decision-making. Their realities and perspectives are mostly ignored.”

Sister Mary focuses on training and empowering women to help build resilient communities and to deal with the challenges brought about by climate change. Women in the Solomon Islands and the Pacific Island Region are already involved in a number of initiatives. For example, she said, women are leading the efforts to restore the mangrove, a shrub or tree that grows in coastal waters. The mangrove attracts fish to the area, providing more food for the people, and can trap carbon dioxide and keep it out of the atmosphere 10 times faster than land trees, she explained.

Sister Mary advocated for the combined efforts of entire communities to combat climate change, and for equal access to climate finance for all people. “Climate change should provide us with a new lens to charter a new, efficient way of life in a more sustainable manner,” she said. “Women tend to have local knowledge. They should be equally participating in decisions, especially in areas that deal with the environment.”

Colombia

Sister Olga Maria Botia, OP, of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation, spoke from her experience as a social worker and as a Justice and Peace Promoter in the Dominican family of the many challenges facing Colombia. These include extreme weather conditions, a collapse of ecosystems, natural disasters such as mudslides, deforestation, and a lack of government presence in their country. 

“The people don’t receive any protection from the state,” she said. “It makes them vulnerable to being invaded by corporations. They become vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and drug trafficking.”   

Sister Olga said local communities need to work together against climate change. “It is necessary to join forces so that we can find solutions to these environmental and social problems,” she said, noting that women have always been effective in community efforts. 

Finally, paraphrasing Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, Sister Olga advocated for three movements: dialogue to listen to the cries of the poor, especially women; education to empower women with practical knowledge, so that they can fight for their rights; and work, the creation of jobs “not only as remuneration but also as a sign of dignity.”    

The webinar concluded with time for the presenters and audience members to discuss the challenges involved in sustainability, global climate change, women’s roles in efforts to heal Earth, and the need to work with young people. “There’s no doubt about it, we have to include everyone,” Sister Durstyne concluded. “This is our world, and we need to work together to help the world.” 

 


Zoom panalists at Climate Change Webinar of October 19, 2021

October 25, 2021, Livonia, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, was part of a panel of Catholic leaders who engaged in a dialogue with U.S. Representative Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) during an October 19, 2021, webinar on climate action. During the hour-long program, the faith leaders discussed their communities’ efforts to combat climate change and heard from Rep. Stevens about her own efforts in Congress to help pass a number of climate initiatives in the Build Back Better Bill.

“Many religious [women and men] have embraced the moral imperative to care for all of God’s creation,” said Sister Janet, co-founder of Detroit-based Voices for Earth Justice. “Climate change is, first and foremost, a moral issue for us. The human and non-human community is suffering. Tackling climate change is the right thing to do for future generations.”

Sister Nancy Jamroz, CSSF, Co-director of the Center for Catholic Studies and Interfaith Dialogue at Madonna University in Livonia, moderated the webinar, which was coordinated by Madonna University. Also on the panel were Sister Jane Herb, IHM, President of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) and President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), and Father Gilbert Sunghera, SJ, Superior of the Detroit Jesuit Community and Professor of Architecture at the University of Detroit Mercy. 

Father Gilbert provided background information on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, which challenges Catholics and all people of good will to be active in combatting the “existential crisis of global warming.” Father Gilbert said Laudato Si’ was written to challenge all people of faith, especially Catholics. The encyclical “positions the Catholic world view with the larger global trajectory toward finding a way to save the planet,” he said.

Sister Jane noted that the IHM Sisters and other congregations in LCWR – including the Adrian Dominican Sisters – have begun to announce their commitments to participate in the Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The seven-year plan – open to Catholic organizations such as dioceses, parishes, hospitals, universities, and religious congregations – is a “tool to adopt more sustainable practices,” Sister Jane said. The webinar is a “direct link” to the seventh of the seven goals – advocacy “to encourage the development of cultures and policies that will safeguard our Earth.”

Rep. Stevens joined in the dialogue, answering questions of the panelists and members of the audience and filling them in on the work of many in the U.S. Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act. The act includes policies and programs that would help in the fight against global climate change. “It’s an incredible opportunity for us to lower carbon emissions and get to Net Zero by 2030,” she said. “This is a perfect place for the United States of America to lead and for citizens to help lead.”

As a representative from Michigan, Rep. Stevens spoke particularly of the need for components of the act that would work toward safe infrastructure, clean air, and safe drinking water – especially in light of the recent news of the water crisis in Benton Harbor, Michigan, whose population is predominantly African American. 

In answer to Sister Janet’s concern about repeating the great injustice that people of color are affected disproportionately by environmental disasters and the economy, Rep. Stevens spoke of the need to learn from past mistakes. “We are reckoning with the challenges of a built environmental system” that needs to be renovated, she said. This includes replacing lead pipes and cleaning up contaminated Superfund sites such as landfills “that are disproportionately poisoning communities of color.”

Rep. Stevens said members of Congress have been working hard on legislation that would address many of those challenges. “We need a climate bill,” she said. “We experienced the worst [forest] fire season last year and this year. This is not going to be sustainable for us and we can take steps right now not to accept this as status quo.”

Rep. Stevens noted the importance not only of passing a climate bill, but also of empowering communities to work on environmental issues and working with people of faith.

“Now more than ever we need to hear more from our faith leaders and communities of faith,” she said. “I see them leading on a moral imperative, but also tap dancing in the political world.” Noting the country’s efforts to separate church and state, she said that the circles of faith and politics overlap in vital issues such as global climate change. “That’s what inspires me so much in terms of why I seek to elevate the voices of religious leaders and faith leaders in Washington.”

Asked how she responds to opposition to her efforts to address climate change, Rep. Stevens said, “When we talk about morality and we think about courage, we also have to do so with positivity, through light and love. We don’t need to be angry. We don’t need to be afraid. We need to create a vision like we did with the moon [landing] … Americans are capable of doing big things.”

Caption for feature photo at top: Participants in the panel included, clockwise from top left, Sister Jane Herb, IHM, Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, Sister Nancy Jamroz, CSSF, and Father Gilbert Sunghera, SJ.


 

 

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