Remembering Sister Paula

Sister Paula Gonzalez, SC, the visionary founder of EarthConnection as a center for learning and reflection about living lightly on Earth, died peacefully on July 31, 2016. She opted for a green burial and was laid to rest in the cemetery of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati on August 2nd. A Memorial Mass will be celebrated in the Motherhouse chapel on August 4th at 3:00 PM. Her death is difficult for all those who have known and loved her, but the memory of the legacy she left behind will continue for years to come.

One cannot think of Paula without becoming immersed in the universe story. Paula would always say that her transformation into an advocate for her beloved Pachamama (Mother Earth) began the moment in 1969 when she saw the first photos of Planet Earth from space. In that moment she saw the interconnectedness of all of creation and made it her life’s work to share that understanding through example, word, and work. Paula co-founded, with Keith Mills, Ohio Interfaith Power & Light in 2007. Paula moved from founder to active board member to inspirational advisory council member during her time with OhIPL.

In these past few months, Paula has talked often about how she was 25 years ahead of time, but how grateful she is that so many throughout the world are coming to the realization of creation’s interdependence. She was especially delighted with Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.

The following testimonials to Paula speak far more eloquently than I can of the effect Paula had on the lives of so many:

“We each received many gifts from Sister Paula Gonzalez. I would like to mention just one. She was a phenomenal pioneer and by her example demonstrated that we only live up to our calling as children of God when we reach outside our limits to create something new and wonderful. Sister Paula was continually reaching out and creating something new and wonderful and she has inspired me to do the best I can to do the same. May we all be inspired by her to do great things.”  – Jim Rogers (Ohio Interfaith Power and Light board member (OHIPL)

“I first met Paula about 20 years ago, during my first visit to the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse. We (participants in a program) had the wonderful experience of spending time at EarthConnection… She was light years ahead of her time in her recognition of the need to preserve our earth.  She was passionate about ecology and preached her message to all, long before it became popular to do so. Paula seemed to radiate a light of love and warmth and it was a pleasure to be in her company…Paula was such a gift to my life, and I will forever be grateful for having known her. I know she’s with God, and taking a major role in looking out for our earth, recruiting others to join her in this important project!”   -Lee Hemminger (Sister of Charity Associate)

“She was a horizon buster and great soul for Earth and all her community…She mentored so many of us into reverence for our common home and inspired religious women to be forerunners for ecology and eco-spirituality. She was proud of the house built of recycled material and the community such an effort led to. She will be missed, but the rest of us will carry on.  Peace now for her.”  -Gemma Doll, OP

“Paula’s expression of sacred activism was spread wherever she spoke, gathered, taught and lived. For such a tiny person in stature, her voice was sure and strong, full of the story of the Universe and our Oneness with all of creation.  She was a mentor to me, a courageous role model and full of the presence of the Holy Spirit…I know for certain that it will be her voice echoing in my soul that will give me the strength, courage and hope for our future. Sister Paula, the beloved “solar nun”, embodied Power and Light and enriched the lives of so many. We have heavy hearts but we are so grateful for her life and the inspiration she offered.” – Sara Ward (Director, OHIPL)

“Paula was so important to our ecological community here in Chile.  Paula gave us a retreat here in the mid-1990s to our Maryknoll Ecological Committee and our invitees that changed our lives.  She spent two weeks with us—first in the rural area of Chile along a river in the mountainous region of Vilches and then in Santiago to various groups where she gave her ecological version of the Lord`s Prayer.  Her energy and commitment to the earth and a new way of living in connection with her inspired us all…Most of all, we will remember Paula for her tremendous enthusiasm for what is possible—for her Great Heart so full of practical compassion. We thought she would be with us forever… Now she has joined the ancestors.  We are convinced that she will be even more supportive on the other side.  Paula presente, ahora y siempre!” -Judy Ress (for the ecological committee in Chile) 

“Paula was on a Global Awareness through Experience (GATE) program in Mexico…The most wonderful thing was: That when she saw the squalor of the indigenous people living around Ixmiquilpan she immediately did something that resulted in the biggest project Habitat for Humanity had ever supported.  It was during the years that GATE brought groups to the villages to learn from the people, that we’d see all these simple one-room dwellings that provided a roof over hundreds of families. This project also became supported by the Heifer Project which brought in cows and smaller animals to help the people provide a more nutritious diet for their people.”             -Cecilia Corcoran, FSPA (former director of GATE)

“She lived a life that was one exemplifying the brightness of life and the call to shine for the entire Sacred Earth Community in these times when we face many challenges. Creativity and enthusiasm were her special gifts that touched so many.” –Joan Brown, OSF (NM Interfaith Power and Light)

“We loved Paula and so deeply valued what her life brought to all of us and to the whole world. She made a difference. My grief is tempered by thoughts of what she accomplished–she lived an amazing life–and also I take some comfort in what I know she believed in and what motivated her life, the knowledge that God is with us here, and now she’s moved on to be with him.”  –Karl Zuelke (Mt. St. Joseph University Environmental Action Committee)

“We believe that Paula continues to bring life to our evolving Universe and will continue to enlighten our minds and hearts for Earth’s healing.” Ann Lynch and Roberta Mulcahy (Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield)

“She was truly a prophet to all of us.  She is now in a new heaven and a new earth.” -Elaine Biollo, SC (Halifax)

“She was a woman ahead of her time and taught all of us to see things differently.” – Fran Repka, rsm

“What can one say about the “loss” of Paula, now radiating into the Universe. She was a dynamo, a pioneer for Earth, one of a kind.” – Mary Lou Dolan

solar cart

Read more

The Environment and Elections

In a recent TED talk by Al Gore, he outlines clearly the challenges we face if we do not address climate change, but also gives hope by articulating the positive initiatives that are currently taking place to address the issue. He asks three questions. The first is “Do we really have to change?” He begins with the startling statistic that the amount of heat generated daily by manmade greenhouse gas pollution is equal to the same amount of heat energy that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs. This trapped heat, he notes, is the cause of warming oceans and the increased water vapor and energy in the atmosphere which have led to stronger storms, extreme floods, and longer droughts. Extreme temperature events used to cover 0.1% of the Earth. Now they cover 14.5%. Fourteen of the fifteen hottest years on record have occurred since 2001 with 2015 being the hottest year ever. January of 2016 was the hottest January on record. The answer to that question given the data is unequivocally yes.

His second question is “Can we change?” and here he shows how change is already taking place on multiple fronts. Renewable energy sources are growing exponentially. The cost of solar energy alone has come down almost 10 percent every year for the past 30 years. Scientists tell us that enough solar energy reaches earth every hour to fill all the world’s energy needs for a full year. In the United States alone during 2015 sources for new electric generation capacity came from wind (38.2%), solar (32.8%), hydro, biomass and geothermal (2.3%), coal (0.01%) and oil (0.07%). Yet the government continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry 40X more than renewables. Change can certainly happen if the political will is there.

The third question is “Will we change?” This question is up to us. In December of 2015, the United States was one of 195 countries who approved the Paris Agreement on climate change and agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is now our responsibility as citizens of a democracy to see that we keep our commitment to the world community.

The United States Department of Defense has issued the following statement: “Climate change will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic diseases, disputes over refugees and resources and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” In other words, climate change has geopolitical consequences. Syria, where 1.5 million people moved to the cities because their land was no longer capable of sustaining crops and livestock, is an excellent example of this. Those 1.5 million people crowded into cities doubling the population in a very short time creating conditions for the violence and unrest we see today.

Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ states that “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”  He goes on to say that “What is needed is a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis…if politics shows itself incapable of breaking such a perverse logic, and remains caught up in inconsequential discussions, we will continue to avoid facing the major problems of humanity.

We have not only the privilege, but also the responsibility to vote. Following are some of the questions to consider when reading about or listening to candidates for public office:

How does each candidate talk about climate change?

Does he or she have any policies for addressing this issue?

What is his/her position on transitioning from dependency on fossil fuels toward clean energy alternatives?

Does he/she plan to honor the emissions-reduction commitments our nation made at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris (the Paris Agreement)?

Will our nation honor its commitment to assist developing nations – who are least responsible for climate change but most impacted by it – in coping with threats such as increased droughts, floods, and sea-level rise by sharing clean energy technology and other support?

As Pope Francis has reminded us climate change is no longer open to debate. It is a reality which is “affecting millions of people daily and requires an examination of our lives and an acknowledgement of the ways in which we have harmed God’s creation through our actions and our failure to act”.

Read more

What is the Paris Agreement?

More than 170 countries signed the Paris Agreement at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Earth Day, April 22, 2016. According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “Paris will shape the lives of all future generations in a profound way – it is their future that is at stake.”

The Paris Agreement is a result of the 21st meeting of world leaders designed to address environmental sustainability. The four key points of the agreement are as follows:

  • To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century;
  • To keep global temperature increase “well below” 2 degrees C (3.6 F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 C.
  • To review progress every five years; and
  • To provide $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

One of the most significant outcomes of the Paris meeting is that the debate on climate change has shifted from whether scientific evidence is strong enough to warrant making aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to accepting the science and exploring how cutting emissions can be achieved without hurting economic growth. The world is now united on this issue and recognizes a moral imperative to act.

Prior to the Paris Meeting (also known as Conference of the Parties (COP) 21) 187 countries submitted Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs are what each country has committed to in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the key points are legally binding within the United Nations framework. The regular review and submission of emission reduction targets will be binding. So too will the $100bn fund from developed economies to help emerging and developing nations move away from burning fossil fuels to clean energy sources. What won’t be legally binding will be the emission targets. These will be determined by nations themselves. Since fiscal policy shapes economic activities, it is imperative that citizens hold their governments accountable for promises made.

What occurred in Paris at COP21 was the “adoption” of the Paris Agreement by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  Adoption is the formal act that establishes the form and content of an agreement. 

In addition to adopting the Paris Agreement, the Parties made a number of key decisions about what’s necessary for the Agreement to enter into force.  They also agreed on a process for how countries will finalize their current national climate plans and shift them from being Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) into Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  

The Paris Agreement will be in full legal force and effect when at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC that account for at least 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. At this point in time, it is not possible to accurately predict when this will occur, as it depends on how quickly individual countries are able to complete their domestic approval processes. Once the Agreement enters into force, the first meeting of the Parties to the Agreement will occur in conjunction with the next COP.

It is now in the hands of the people in each country to make sure that their governments honor the commitments they have made to the world community. This requires contacting national congresspersons to tell them we want them to honor the commitments the U.S. has made. It also requires asking questions of prospective Presidential candidates about their position on the Paris Agreement. In the words of Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a senior adviser to the U.N., “If the next President does not honor this agreement they would have to blow off the whole rest of the world and I don’t think the United States would find another partner to do that. You’d have to just be the renegade state.”

April 25, 2016

Read more