Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina

Last week to register for the Winter Retreat & Symposium!

This week marks the last week to register for our February 6th and 7th winter retreat and symposium. We hope you’ll join us then! 

Led by faith leaders, activists, counselors, nonprofit professionals, scientists, and artists, this event will provide meaningful learning and community building opportunities as we gather to discern what it means to care for creation, love our neighbor, and build resilience during this time of climate and ecological crisis. Here is the agenda for both days of our gathering. Below you’ll find additional information to help you consider and/or plan your attendance. 

More about Monday’s retreat (2/6): Our gathering on 2/6 is designed with clergy and faith leaders (non-ordained congregational staff/leaders, faith-based nonprofit professionals, faith leaders working in nontraditional contexts, chaplains, and teachers/students of theology and religion) in mind. Our time together will be led by our keynote speaker, Avery Davis Lamb of Creation Justice Ministries, and will focus on what it means to practice radical welcome within a climate-changed world. We will consider the question: how can we build beloved community and lead with courage and hope during this particular moment in history? Read more about Avery’s keynote addresses here. Though formal programming will not begin on Monday until 1:00 pm, Rev. Kevin Bates of the Way in the Wilderness Community will lead an optional hike for attendees beginning at 9 am. This morning saunter will focus on restoration and filling one’s spirit in preparation for the day. 

More about Tuesday’s symposium (2/7): Our full-day gathering on 2/7 is open to all community members and creation care/ecological justice advocates. In addition to community building opportunities and a keynote address from Avery (which you can read more about here), participants will have the chance to attend a variety of workshops covering topics of importance—from solidarity with Indigenous communities to creative land stewardship, children’s activities, organizing a movement, and more. Learn more about our Tuesday workshop offerings here.

Registration closes on January 30th. The cost to attend Monday’s retreat is $50 per person. The cost to attend Tuesday’s symposium is $75 per person. Scholarships and student discounts are available for both days of the conference. Group rates are available for Tuesday. To inquire about a scholarship, please email Sarah at sarah@creationcarealliance.org. To inquire about Tuesday group rates, please email Susan at susan@mountaintrue.org. For those traveling from out of town, a limited number of rooms remain available at the Montreat Conference Center. To learn more, click the registration link below. We hope to see you soon!

REGISTER HERE.

We’re hiring: Interim CCAWNC Coordinator

Creation Care Alliance of WNC & MountainTrue: 

The Creation Care Alliance of WNC (CCAWNC) is the faith-based program of MountainTrue. MountainTrue is a non-profit organization that works with communities across 26 mountain counties in western North Carolina and in Towns and Union counties in north Georgia championing resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. For more information: mountaintrue.org. CCAWNC is a network of people of faith and congregations who have united around a moral and spiritual call to preserve the integrity, beauty, and health of God’s creation. For more information: https://creationcarealliance.org/.

Position Description:

The interim CCAWNC coordinator will aid CCAWNC volunteers, the CCAWNC steering team, and MountainTrue staff in completing the mandatory tasks of the CCAWNC director while she is on maternity leave. This will include planning, promoting, and facilitating various programmatic offerings of CCAWNC, overseeing organizational social media pages, completing administrative tasks (email correspondence/phone calls), attending internal staff meetings, writing the monthly organizational newsletter, and helping with community outreach. The interim director will report to MountainTrue Deputy Director of Strategy & Communications.  

Qualifications: 

  • Experience: Administrative experience, whether formal or informal, is necessary. A background in faith-based work/congregational life, knowledge of and sensitivity/openness to different faith communities, and a general understanding of the environmental issues facing our communities (such as climate change, species loss, and environmental injustice) are heavily preferred.
  • Education: Applicants with degrees or experience in fields related to communications, administration, ecology/biology, religious studies/theology, or social work could all be well-suited for this position. 
  • Skills/Framework: Excellent organizational skills, excellent people skills, strong written/verbal communication skills, strong critical thinking skills, social media ability, the ability to work well in a team, and the ability to learn quickly and jump into a fast-moving environment required. 

Additional requirements: Access to a personal computer and reliable internet service. Flexible schedule and flexibility around start date. 

Start date/end date: Training for this position will take place in mid-late February 2023. The start date will rely upon when the CCAWNC director begins maternity leave (likely beginning in late March). Maternity leave will last 14 weeks. The end date for this position will be 14 weeks from the first day of the director’s maternity leave. 

Work schedule: Approximately 20 hours per week. Flexibility in work schedule, though events and staff meetings will require availability on the scheduled day (sometimes including weekends). Staff meetings are held every other Monday of the month from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm (virtual or in-person). Steering team meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month from 10:30 am – 12:00 pm (virtual). 

Location: This position will focus on communities throughout Western North Carolina and living in Western North Carolina is necessary for this position. 

Compensation: $20 per hour. Mileage is reimbursed at approximately $0.47 per mile.

To learn more about the position and current openings/discuss this opportunity: Contact CCAWNC Director Sarah Ogletree at sarah@creationcarealliance.org or by phone at 828-506-9467.

Application deadline: Friday, January 27th, 2023 

To Apply: Please submit a resume and cover letter to CCAWNC Director (sarah@creationcarealliance.org) and MountainTrue Deputy Director of Strategy & Communications (karim@mountaintrue.org) with “Creation Care Coordinator” in the subject line. 

Join us for the 2023 Winter Retreat and Symposium!

After a break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our winter retreat and symposium are back! We’re so excited to gather this winter and hope you will join us. This time is designed with creation care professionals, volunteers, lay leaders, and clergy in mind. Whether you’re new to creation care or a long-time advocate, you’ll gain new language and tools to inspire your congregation and community to care for the environment (people, non-human creatures, and the planet) interwoven with space for rest, relationship, and prayer.

The clergy retreat will begin on Monday, February 6th, with workshops designed specifically for clergy and faith leaders. This portion will run from 1:00pm – 5:30pm and will include presentations from our keynote speaker specifically tailored to how congregations can create more climate-resilient communities and practice climate hospitality in an effort to better care for their communities and love their human and non-human neighbors. There will also be time for those gathered to converse, build relationships, share their experiences, and learn from each other. An optional hike and centering time will be offered the morning of the 6th to those who are interested, led by Rev. Kevin Bates of the Way in the Wilderness Community. 

We will open the symposium on Tuesday, February 7th, to all creation care advocates and leaders. Workshops that day will run from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm. Workshop titles/topics are listed below. We will also hear from our keynote speaker regarding climate resilience and hospitality, and have time to discuss our learnings through community conversation with an eye toward praxis. 

Monday & Tuesday agenda located here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DW420y8GQ2Kl40t5x2juQIK_9x0zCCya/preview?fbclid=IwAR0x-DpPMNaQGGexElVxAzLNyDakO2eWqSM_irncONGbqZR4VnSdrljm2Bw

Snacks on both days and Tuesday lunch will be provided. Please indicate on the registration form (linked below) if you have any dietary preferences or restrictions. We will be hosted at the Montreat Conference Center in Black Mountain. If you would like to stay on-site at the Conference Center, we have a limited number of rooms reserved that you can book through a separate registration form found here: ROOM RESERVATION FORM HERE.  

Our last in-person retreat and symposium sold out in 2020, so we encourage you to register early to ensure you can attend! Early bird registration closes on December 9th, 2022. Registration will close entirely on Monday, January 30th.

We are offering a group discount if 3 or more people from the same congregation will be attending the Symposium on Tuesday, February 7th. If you are coming with a group, the cost is $50 per person at the early bird rate, and after early registration closes on December 9th, the cost will be $65 per person. To register a group at the group rate, please contact Susan Bean at susan@mountaintrue.org.

 If you would like to pay by check, please contact Susan Bean at susan@mountaintrue.org.

The Creation Care Alliance is also able to offer scholarships to folks. Please contact Sarah Ogletree at sarah@creationcarealliance.org for more information about scholarships. Put “scholarship” in the subject line of your email.

We’re pleased to announce that our keynote speaker for both Monday and Tuesday will be Avery Davis Lamb, Co-Director of Creation Justice Ministries! Avery is a theologian and activist with a breadth of experience aiding faith communities as they take action for the sake of creation. He has previously worked for Sojourners and Interfaith Power & Light. He serves on the board of The Center for Spirituality in Nature and is a Fellow of the Re:Generate Program at Wake Forest Divinity School and the Foundations of Christian Leadership Program at Duke Divinity School. Avery’s research focuses on the role of religious communities in building climate resilience and adaptation, with emphasis on the virtue of “climate hospitality.”

Monday retreat presentations: 

  • How to Practice Climate Hospitality
  • Climate Resilience for Congregations

Tuesday symposium workshops:

  • Climate Hospitality & Resilience
  • Justice & Solidarity with Indigenous Communities
  • Energy Efficiency and Solar 101
  • Organizing for Change
  • Bringing the Lawn Back to Life
  • Finding Support in Eco-Grief
  • Telling our Story for Eco-Justice 
  • Discerning Next (or First) Steps for Creation Care
  • Children & Youth Caring for Creation

Tuesday workshop descriptions available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jy4ucoiI6d6bcEwgx1N7CRVvnqvpEAh_/preview?fbclid=IwAR3h4SCfvP3Hil7-1sEqdMYvi6RsArFLMWH6ql_EwcwZDl_WaHdtLIkpF7o

REGISTER HERE.

Lamenting & Doing Good: Lessons from Jeremiah for Confronting Ecological Crisis

This sermon was offered by CCA director, Sarah Ogletree, on Sunday, September 11th, at St. Mary in the Hills Episcopal Church in Blowing Rock. The lectionary passage for the day was Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28.

 

Written during one of the most critical times in the history of Israel–a time ridden with conflict and marked by the downfall of Judah and eventual exile–the book of Jeremiah can be harsh. Jeremiah himself is heartbroken and enraged by his people’s refusal to repent and turn to God. He sees the worst coming, an army knocking at the door, and yet, God’s people will not hear him. They continue to walk toward destruction while Jeremiah watches and warns. In today’s passage, he declares the consequence of their inaction and failure to change their ways. 

 

At this point, he’s had it. He is not kind. But prophets rarely are. 

 

In this passage, Jeremiah speaks truth about what happens when we forget God and our calling to goodness. He says: [God’s] people do not know [God]… They are skilled in doing evil and do not know how to do good.” And it is true that when we forget that we belong to God and each other, that we are made to create God’s kingdom here and now through radical goodness, the consequences are often monumental and catastrophic. And that’s exactly what Jeremiah describes. 

 

In his vision, the earth is a wasteland. The mountains are quaking. The fruit lands become a desert. The birds have vanished. The city is in ruins. The heavens are growing black… 

 

Meant to be cosmic and unfathomable in proportions, Jeremiah’s message of disaster is not unfamiliar. In fact, it’s one we hear on the news nearly every week as we live in this time of climate and ecological crisis… A time of fruit lands becoming literal deserts through rapid desertification and birds vanishing at unprecedented extinction rates… A time when the heavens are turning black with wildfire smoke as super storms darken the skies… A time in which the stakes are so very high, and yet, like those in our scripture, we have often failed to act.

 

Like in the days of Jeremiah, it is hard to stare the world’s problems in the face. It’s hard to really look at what is happening to our planet, and our neighbors, due to our societal addiction to convenience and the bottom line. And if it’s hard to look at, it’s even harder to feel. More often than we might like to admit, we distract ourselves with platitudes and change the channel when the story about the most recent 1,000-year flooding event, or how ⅓ of Pakistan remains underwater, flashes across our TV or phone screens.

 

It’s easier that way and I’m guilty of it. But this kind of behavior is exactly what drove Jeremiah mad.  The people’s refusal to see the problem, to feel the impending reality of conflict in their bones, was essential to their failure to take action or repent. This is what led to Jeremiah’s prophetic condemnation of his community.

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

 

We can come back to ourselves and to God. We can respond to the needs of this world, to the groaning of creation, and to our neighbors facing heatwaves, floods, and displacement as a result of climate change. There are ways for us to act with love, generosity, and courage in this time; we need only remember how. Jeremiah’s community was at a tipping point when he addressed them, and so are we. This moment holds within it a multitude of possibilities and listening to the words of Jeremiah, can help us walk the path of righteousness again. That is what I’d like us to consider today.

 

The first lesson of Jeremiah is the power of lament. In our passage, Jeremiah writes that the “earth will mourn” its destruction. I believe we should read this as an invitation into mourning. Because mourning is important. Mourning means that we aren’t changing the channel. That we aren’t distracting ourselves and that instead, we are encountering the problems of the world honestly–with open hearts and open eyes. We are letting those problems change us. Alchemizing them into the tears in our eyes and the pain in our gut. This is what Jeremiah desired for his people and it is what we have an opportunity to do now. The first step toward action and repentance is seeing clearly and being moved by what we see. I know this first hand.

 

When I first began environmental work, I was a student of sustainable development just over the mountain at Appalachian State University. After learning that it was the poor and systemically oppressed who bear the brunt of climate change and ecological collapse, I felt called to work in the environmental sector. My upbringing within the Chrisitan church taught me that the greatest commandments were to love God and my neighbor–and my neighbors couldn’t breathe the air in their communities, eat the food grown in their local soil, or drink the water coming from their faucet. To me, this was a clear issue of faith. And so, I threw myself into learning. But I was overwhelmed by my studies, and rather quickly, I found myself racked with anxiety and depression.

 

My story is not unique. Though I didn’t know it at the time, there are terms for what I was experiencing: eco-anxiety and climate grief. And many people are experiencing these complex and often misunderstood emotions. They are feeling the weight of the world that they love in pain. And they are moved by the pain that they are witnessing. Ultimately, as a college student, I attempted to silence my disquiet by turning to my faith–reminding myself that there is always hope in God. But what I didn’t understand at the time, and I thankfully have come to understand now, is that hope is not the only faithful response to a world in crisis. One of the greatest gifts that faith can offer the movement to care for people and planet are tools for lament.

 

In recognition of this need, the organization I direct, the Creation Care Alliance, began offering 7-week eco-grief groups in 2020. These offerings have been transformative. I have witnessed people come back from the brink of burnout and utter despair because they have a community that can be present with them. Friends, we need each other. 

 

As a college student, I needed help feeling what I was learning. I couldn’t process the scale of the loss that I was reading about in my classes intellectually in the same way that it is nearly impossible to process the many tragedies that we scroll across on our Facebook feeds in any given day. I needed community for that. I needed the witness of the prophets and their permission to cry out. I needed someone to sit with me in the pain and tell me that God was there in that brokenness. I needed to be told that my tears were faithful and that my worry was a sign of my love…  When we see our neighbors suffering, it is right to be heartbroken. This shows us that we still remember what it is to do good; that we have a finger on the pulse on the heartbeat of God. 

 

This brings us to the second lesson of Jeremiah: the actual good-doing. In today’s passage, Jeremiah says that the people “do not know how to do good.” In order to respond to the needs of the world, we must act in response to those needs. In other words, we must remember how to “do good” and then do it. We have already identified that the first step in this process is taking time to feel, mourning the pain of all who have been harmed, and processing the loss of that which cannot be recovered. But from this place of heartbreak comes another offering–that of our time, resources, and gifts. 

 

I cannot tell you exactly what your offering will be because it will be dictated by who you are. But this is an invitation. If you are a writer, use your gifts of writing. If you are someone who loves to be outside, get your hands dirty. If you are a teacher, teach wisdom and discernment. If you are an artist, make art. If you are a caretaker of children, shape your children to be loving. If you have financial resources, give generously, spend sustainably, and divest when necessary. The one thing that is certain is that all of us are called to act from that well of compassion that springs up in us when we encounter the need of our neighbors–human or non-human. And we are called to act as ourselves. With our particular gifts in our particular contexts. All of our gifts, in all their diversity, are needed. 

 

For Jeremiah, doing good and knowing God were inextricably connected. And so, if ever there is a time when we don’t know what we should do, when the heartbreak of fires and flood and species loss is too much and we are unsure how to act, I think his sound advice would be to turn toward God through prayer. Pope Francis has said that “the one who listens attentively to the Word of God, and truly prays, always asks the Lord: what is your will for me?” I believe that this practice is wise and particularly useful in times of uncertainty about how to create change. If we continually take stock of our lives and the needs around us, and openly ask God what God’s will is for us, then we will likely find our path forward. Walking in faith in this time of ecological and social upheaval requires openness to the radical love of God–and all the unexpected places that God might lead us. 

 

It is said that the task of the preacher is to preach good news. So let me say this. Later in the book of Jeremiah, after the people have been driven into exile in Babylon, Jeremiah tells them to: “[b]uild houses and live in them. Settle in the land. Plant gardens and eat the food you grow. Get married and have children.” Even after the world as the people have known it has ended, Jeremiah calls for them to start again. To grow food. To become acquainted with a new place. To be in community with one another. To become family. As the world around us shifts and changes, as we mourn and respond to the needs of the grieving, may we also plant our gardens and eat their fruit. Exile felt like the end of the world to the people of Israel. Wildfires, floods, and other climate impacts can feel the same. But if we have the courage to be community in these times–to show up for each other emotionally and physically–then we can weather the storms together. 

 

And so, beloved, remember that your tears are holy. Try not to turn away. Allow yourselves to be fully awake. Be present with each other. And through your presence, offer the gifts of your heart to a world in need. Remember that what this particular moment needs most is you.

 

Amen.

Eco-Grief Circle starting soon

Join us on September 21st at 12:00 pm for our first meeting of our fall eco-grief group. Meeting weekly on Wednesdays, this seven-week online experience will be offered in sessions that last about 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Together we will explore grief and sorrow, anxiety and fear, guilt and shame, anger, and despair. This experience is designed to offer mutual support, healing, insight, and love but is not a grief therapy experience. Past participants expressed profound gratitude for being among people who could talk honestly about grief, suffering, and the ecological and social challenges of our time. The leadership team includes counselors, pastors, and environmental advocates. All times are Eastern time. There is limited space for this online experience. Sign up to let us know you are interested in joining us. Read about Climate Change and Mental Health in the Mountain Xpress Sustainability Issue here. Register here.

Book Study of Making Peace with the Land beginning this fall

Join us in reading Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation by Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba this fall!

We will offer two reading groups for this study: one virtual and one in-person. Each group will meet weekly for seven weeks. Our virtual group will be led by Sarah Ogletree and will begin meeting on Monday, September 26th (7-8 pm). Our in-person group will be led by Rev. Kevin Bates and will begin meeting at the WNC Outdoor Collective in Black Mountain on Tuesday, September 27th (6-7 pm). 

What is this book about? 

This theological read dives into what the Christian tradition has to say about the care of God’s world, encouraging Christians to engage in ecological care and wellbeing as a central tenet of living their faith. This is a beautiful book that will inspire Christians to look more closely at their tradition and discover the richness of their faith and its many implications for caring for all our neighbors–human and non-human.

Learn more and register at the links below. There is limited space for these studies, so we encourage you to register soon! 

Our Love Led Us Here: A Reflection on the NCUC Carbon Plan Hearing

This post was written by CCA Director Sarah Ogletree. She is pictured here (right) beside CCA summer intern Liz Richardson (left). The posters being held by Sarah and Liz were made by volunteers Jan Williams Ritter and Kaete Syed. Thank you for helping us spread this message through the sharing of your artistic gifts! 

 

Not quite two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join our congregations and members of our community in calling for a more just and sustainable carbon plan during the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) hearing in Asheville. During the hearing, I heard from countless people from throughout western North Carolina. Each of them spoke from their hearts and all of them spoke about climate change. 

Grandparents, engineers, teachers, college students, lawyers, faith leaders, and more than a few self-identified “climate migrants” (folks who’ve made their home in western North Carolina after fleeing fire in California, flood in Florida, and drought in Montana)–all spoke about the severe dangers posed by climate inaction and the need for those in power to respond accordingly. In reference to the 4 potential carbon plans presented by Duke Energy, the consensus of the people was clear.

We need a plan that doesn’t invest in fossil fuels or nuclear. We need a plan that takes into account the impacts of methane as a greenhouse gas in addition to carbon. We need a plan that considers the needs of our neighbors and puts the cost on those who can afford a bill increase. We need a plan that moves at the speed of the problem and not politics. We need a plan that is shaped by marginalized communities and others on the frontlines. We need a plan that does the most, the quickest, in the most just way–and it doesn’t have to come from Duke Energy. In fact, it probably shouldn’t. 

Nearly all of the speakers reminded the NCUC that their responsbility is not to Duke but to the people. They don’t have to go with one of the 4 plans presented by Duke Energy. Instead, they can and should consider alternative plans from sustainable energy groups and other organizations rooted in justice. This was a clear point held by the vast majority of those who spoke during the hearing. And notably, no one spoke in favor of Duke’s presented plans. 

I’ve shared much of what I heard during the hearing, where I joined our neighbors in offering testimony on behalf of a better carbon plan. But what I havn’t shared just yet is the love that I felt in that room. Every single person who testified, spoke up on behalf of their love–their love for their children and grandchildren, love for their communities, love for non-human species, love for the planet and life itself. Behind every tear shed and ever waivering voice was the resounding sound of love. Because love it what brings us to halls of power. Love is what encouages us to sit through hours of jargon and legislative process. And love is what keeps us moving and breathing and striving for a better way. 

During the pre-hearing rally, I was lucky enough to lead those gathered in a time of prayer and grounding alongside CCA summer intern Liz Richardson. We centered our time around love, striving to help all present remember that their grief, rage, and hope all come from a place of love for each other and this world. I call this love holy.  In my faith tradition, I would argue, that this kind of love is a part of what it means to be made in the image of God and to strive to reflect that image in the world. 

Below I will share the litany that Liz and I read before the hearing. It is my hope, that in it, you can remember your own love for the world–your own “Holy Why” as to what keeps you going in this work of caring for creation. And if you were unable to testify during the NCUC hearing on the 27th but would still like to raise your voice, you can learn more about upcoming virtual NCUC public hearings here. These hearings will be held on August 23rd.

 

A litany of love from the July 27th Pre-Hearing Rally organized by Appalachian Voices and Asheville Sunrise Movement: 

 

Voice 1: 

We gather here because of our love. Love within us, and around us, before us, and after us. We gather to witness to our love for this world. 

 

Voice 2: 

For oceans, 

For rivers, 

For forests, 

For gardens, 

For clear night skies, 

For sunrises stretched across plains, 

And for mountains–ancient and alive,

we gather. 

 

Voice 1:
We gather because, as these places have held us, we long to hold each other… We gather in the spirit of neighbors who share sugar and bread and strangers who care for one another in sacred and beloved community. We gather in the spirit of family to witness to our love for one another. 

 

Voice 2: 

For those, we know

And those we don’t. 

For siblings near and far.

For friends,

And families,

For children

And elders, 

And all of us

yearning for and relying on,

Clean air to breathe 

and clear water to drink. 

For all of us

we gather. 

 

Voice 1: 

Together with the fullness of creation, we gather. In this circle, we name our connection to and love for the salamander, bear, deer, fox, cardinal, luna moth, and firefly…

Voice 2: 

For cats curled on couches and minnows in the creek, 

For dogs announcing visitors and wolves howling on the ridgeline, 

We gather. 

 

Voice 1: 

We gather together grounded in love. Holy love that calls us to action and holds our leaders accountable. We gather here with love in our hearts and our hopes–however fragile they may sometimes feel. We each carry our stories, our reasons, our desires, our imaginings. 

 

Voice 2:
We invite you now to speak your love into this space. In a collective chorus, as we all speak at once, tell us: what do you love? How has love brought you here tonight? Speak now, quietly or loudly, in a whisper or a roar, and we will listen. 



(SPEAKING) 



Thank you.

What’s So Bad About Plastics?

It may be August, but this piece written by CCA steering team member and covenant partner congregation congregant is too good not to share again. Written by Enrique Sanchez, this article outlines the dangers of plastic and how we can find our way to a more just and sustainable life. Check it out and let us know how you’re lessening the plastic in your life!

In July, coinciding with the worldwide campaign against plastics, Trinity Presbyterian in Hendersonville had an ugly sight in the narthex: the Bag-Monster. The average American goes through 250 pounds of plastics every year. In the US, we use 100 billion plastic bags a year, and we barely use them for 12 minutes. This begs the question on the title: What’s so bad about plastics?

Without going into a treatise, let’s start from the basics, with an invitation to click on the hyperlinks if you want more information. Plastics have been mass-produced since the 1950s. Global production grew from 1.5 million tons in 1950 to 359 million tons in 2018, causing a global environmental catastrophe. In short, plastics are destroying our planet. Watch this 2-minutes video from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) .

From the early stages of production, plastic starts damaging the earth. Its main components are petrochemicals, and fossil fuels are used to extract, transport, refine and even try to dispose of plastics. But plastics are not easily disposable. It takes at least 500 years to biodegrade most plastics, and the lifespan of a styrofoam cup is estimated at 1,000,000 years. We are not even going to address the fact that most petrochemical refineries in the US are located in, or close to BIPOC neighborhoods (Blacks, Indigenous and People of Color), and cause severe impact on their health (think the “cancer alleys” in Newark, NJ and Louisiana).

Plastics break down into tiny little pieces known as “microplastics” –smaller than a micron–, that are transported by rainwater into our streams, rivers and oceans, and even fly in the air, damaging animals of all kinds, particularly fish and aquatic life. They’ve been found in Arctic and Antarctic fresh snow and in the deepest parts of the ocean. This one-hour PBS documentary provides more detail. Researchers have found microplastics in our lungs, in the bloodstream, and even in the bloodstream of unborn babies. According to this article on The Week, “studies have found that plastics contain chemicals that can act as ‘endocrine disruptors,’ meaning that they can affect and even mimic hormones; in theory, this means microplastics in the body may cause cancer, reproductive disorders, chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases, obesity, and neurological impairment in developing fetuses and children.” Research on this is in its infancy, yet quickly denied (without evidence) by the plastic and fossil fuels industries. We ingest 5 mg of plastics a week –the equivalent of one credit card! According to the World Economic Forum, at the current rate of use and recycling, by 2050, pound for pound, we’ll have more plastics than fish alive in all our oceans.

How about recycling? Well, it’s not that simple. The article in The Week reveals “the dirty secret of the plastics industry”: it has transferred the responsibility for recycling to the consumers, and made the recycling process complicated, confusing and ineffective. The small triangle with the recycling symbol and a number from 1 to 7 in it, has led us to believe that every number can be recycled. Not true. In Henderson County we can only recycle #1, 2, 4, and 5 (rinsed and dry; lids and labels are O.K.). But, at the end only 33% of these are actually recycled at the recycling centers (mostly bottles). This means that #3, 6 and 7 cannot be recycled. Plus, all the other plastics without the recycling symbol and numbers, and all items smaller than 3 inches that cannot be processed by the recycling equipment. Visit this interactive NPR website to see visually how much cannot be recycled. According to The Week, in 2021 only 6% of plastics in the US were recycled, down from 9% in 2014. In addition, recycled plastic cannot be recycled more than two times. And what’s worse, some recyclers even burn plastics as fuel to generate electricity, thus emitting more noxious gasses into the environment. As a result of this, BeyondPlastics.org strongly argues that “Plastics Recycling Is a Big, Fat Lie.”

Bringing the problem to our own backyard in Western North Carolina: Over the past couple of years Mountain True has analyzed our Western NC rivers and streams, collecting water samples regularly and analyzing the local aquatic life in our “clean crystalline” waters we are proud of. They found that all contain alarming levels of plastics. Check this article and videos released in April. These studies have led Mountain True to create extensive programs to get rid of plastics in our environment and stop plastic pollution at its source. Read about making Plastic-free Western NC. Even Hendersonville is working on going plastic-free! Learn about it here and support the businesses that have already committed to it.

The problem is so large and urgent that in March 2022, 175 nations agreed to work on a global agreement and have it ready by 2024.

By now you must be raising the question: what can we do? In simple terms: educate ourselves on the severity of the problem, cut down consumption of single-use plastic, keep what we use out of the environment, and advocate for going plastic-free. At a personal level, at a community level (church, town, region, etc), and at a policy level.

So, at a personal level, we’ll need to change simple habits, one at a time. That’s a challenge, but it can be done. Here are concrete, simple actions that, when we act as a community, can make a difference. (Tip: print this list, post it on your refrigerator, give yourself a star every time that you do one of these actions, focus on 2-3 points every month, and keep adding 2-3 different ones the following month):

  • Keep a reusable bag in the car at all times. Use it and return it to the car right away.
  • Choose Paper: if you are asked “paper or plastic” at a check out, say “paper, please.” Recycle the paper bag. (Better yet, beat them to the punch: even before they ask. tell them “paper, please”)
  • Just say “no”: If the cashier asks you if “you need a bag?” Say, “no, thanks … and thanks for asking.”
  • Beat them to the punch: If you only have a few items that you can carry in your hand, tell the cashier: “No bagging, please.” (If they already put them in the bag…have them take them out and explain why.)
  • Reject straws when offered at a restaurant: if the waiter leaves it at the table, even if unused, they still have to toss it, and it’ll end up in the ocean.
  • Skip plastic utensils when ordering “take out”, and encourage restaurants not to give them out automatically.
  • Support the Hendo businesses that are working on going plastic free. See list here.
  • Endorse the Mountain True campaigns to go Plastic-Free in Western NC
  • Avoid plastic wraps to keep leftovers. Use beeswax wrapping or glass reusable containers instead.
  • Shop for sustainable and environmentally friendly products. Check out the Grove Collaborative.
  • Tell retailers why you want less plastic in what they sell to you.
  • Build these simple habits gradually, 2-3 in a month, then add others, and share new ideas with us in the comments. Join the millions of people across the globe who have gone plastic free in July.
  • Keep updated and work on building a future beyond plastics: by regularly visiting the BeyondPlastics.org website to sharply reduce the use of plastics, while, at the same time, we continue recycling as much as possible.

Finally, watch out for future articles and eco-tips in Trinity Tidings and on the Trinity blog; talk about the plastics crisis with friends and family members; take action, and share your experiences and eco-tips with us on the Trinity blog (send them to Nancy Williard or to me).

This is surely an Earth Caring matter! We must take care of Mother Earth (Genesis 2:15).

Enrique P. Sanchez

P.S. Many thanks to Barb T. for the initial draft and thoughts and to Cindy Ann B. for feedback and edits.