Friday, June 26, 2015

Laudato Si, Fracking, and Air Conditioning

Pope Francis’s new encyclical Laudato Si is, as expected, making a lot of waves. Though it maintains the criticism of market ideology found in both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (the latter even once called for a “New World Order” capable of restraining the destructive effects of unfettered economics), Laudato Si is unambiguous about what needs to change. Even conservative commentators are noticing there is little wiggle room, opting for outright critique of the document rather than simple domestication. Laudato Si addresses, however, the undeniable situation of humanity today, one in which humans can and do actually change the environments we find ourselves in—and Pope Francis recognizes that we can no longer afford to ignore the increasingly toxic environment we are actively producing.

Pope Francis recognizes that we can no longer afford to ignore the increasingly toxic environment we are actively producing.

In a recent article published in Rolling Stone, Paul Solotaroff tells the story of a fracking town, Vernal, Utah, where infant mortality rates are rising at an alarming rate. The discovery of this tragedy was made not by the EPA, and certainly not by those in the fracking business, but by a midwife, Donna Young, for whom infant mortality rates are not a statistic but a lived reality. As Solotaroff narrates, the conditions of Vernal are hardly inviting for the fragile development of new lives. Fracking, which injects high-pressured fluid into the ground in order to force the gas underneath to the surface, produces a variety of derivative environmental effects—perhaps most troubling are the carcinogenic gases that populate both the air and the ground. Vernal’s location in a basin only compounds the problems, since the bowl traps the gases producing a thick haze of contaminants. 

When Young began to investigate the unusually high numbers of infant deaths and troubled pregnancies she was encountering, her reputation and position were quickly maligned—for a town that depends on fracking to exist, calling its adverse effects to the fore is a dangerous political move. Young’s story is heartbreaking, a classic case of someone trying desperately to speak the truth for the common good but being squelched for the sake of deep pockets. But Solotaroff’s article brings another important question to the fore, namely, the general problem of atmospheric conditions. Vernal is a town where the environment is literally becoming unsuitable for life.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Justice, Interfaith, and Bathrooms

by Allyson Carr

It’s funny how something as ordinary as the need to use the washroom can spark a profound moment of solidarity.

This past week, I spoke at a conference in Ottawa and attended a community forum as part of our Justice and Faith project. Both of these events featured a performance of Just Faith?, the one-act play that was developed out of the research for that project. Since the play was in many ways a product of our research, it was intended for a Christian audience (the community upon which the research was based). And yet, the way that MT Space (the theatre company we engaged to write and perform the script) works draws on their own life experience, and so there were multifaith elements present throughout the play. The actors’ lives woven into the scenes set it in an interfaith context, even as a play that focuses on Christians struggling to understand Scripture’s call to pursue social justice.

This time around, MT Space introduced a new scene, replacing one that had originally been written by an actor who could not attend the Ottawa performance. In the new scene, a woman recounts the story of her mother and her grandmother opening up their doors to an unexpected swarm of strangers who appeared one day, walking through their small home village in India. The strangers were from all over the world—different ages, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds — but it turns out that in that particular moment these hundreds of people were all united in their need for one thing: a bathroom. While there was only one toilet in the home, the women told us how her mother and grandmother welcomed these hundreds of strangers into their house, fed them what they could, and allowed them to rest for a bit from their travels. She recounted how there were people covering every possible surface in the home and yard, exhausted, but content—now that they had been able to get to that bathroom.

In the new scene, a woman recounts the story of her mother and her grandmother opening up their doors to an unexpected swarm of strangers who appeared one day, walking through their small home village in India.


As the strangers left again a few hours later, they profusely thanked the mother and grandmother, explaining that they were on a walk marking the 75th anniversary of the Salt March—the 1930 protest against British rule led by Gandhi. The actor closed her scene by asking, “I wonder what the world would be like if we all just…opened our doors to each other?” Watching that scene and thinking it over, I wondered too.