Posted by: Chloe Schwabe | December 13, 2011

Can a child’s toy harm her development? The results are in

Jesus asked his disciples, “How many of you would give your child a snake when they ask for fish?” (Luke 11:11)

Today, we might very well ask how many people would give a child a toy with chemicals that can interfere with their neurological, reproductive, or hormone development when they ask for a rattle or a plastic building set.

ImageA new report out today by Safer Chermicals Healthy Families, SAFER States, and Maine’s Environmental Health Strategy Center found that 280 toys had bisphenol-a (BPA) in them and 291 paints had nonylphenol ethoxolates (NPEs). Additionally, BPA was used in almost all baby bottles until the last year or two and NPEs are also found in detergents and personal care products.

Both chemicals are endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the endocrine system, which regulates neurological, reproductive and hormonal activity in the body. These chemicals are particularly damaging to children and a fetus. NPEs are also persistent in the environment, bioaccumulate of the food chain (becoming more toxic as they move through Creation) and are toxic.

As people of faith we are called to care for the health of all God’s children. Right now the federal law that is supposed to protect us from toxic chemicals is badly broken. This past summer and fall Senators Inhofe (R-OK) and Lautenberg (D-NJ) held bipartisan talks to discuss ways to improve the federal Toxic Substances Control Act to protect the most vulnerable. In this season of Advent, I am hopeful that Congress can do the right thing in 2012 and make chemicals safe for children, workers, and all God’s Creation.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, you can call for protection of all God’s children from toxic chemicals here.

Posted by: NCC Poverty Initiative Director | December 8, 2011

Environmental Justice and Loving Neighbors as Ourselves

This blog post is featured from the Presbyterians for Earth Care Advent devotional. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I hope you do! There are some wonderful reflections on caring for God’s Creation and God’s people in the series.

* * *

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: „You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NRSV)

I saw a lone fir tree last week, looking like it was ready to be decorated for the Christmas season. But it is not. It is planted in soil covering a cement cap that shields soil so contaminated by dioxin, it could not be remediated. This is the former manufacturing home of DDT and Agent Orange.

I saw this on a tour of the Ironbound section of Newark, NJ, named because it developed inside the railroad tracks crossing the city. Today the majority of the population is African American, Latino and foreign born, moderate to low income, and approximately 75% of the population has less than a high school education. People who don’t live there know this section as having the best Portuguese restaurants in the state, yet it is a food desert. On this tour, what I saw was environmental racism. This is not the reflection of a person who has experienced the injustice in this community, but of a white, middle-class person who toured it one day and saw circumstances that would not be tolerated in my neighborhood.

What I saw is a community that suffers from the cumulative impacts of multiple injustices:

  • The dioxin-laden site, along with other pollutants from numerous old industrial sites, contaminated a 13 mile stretch of the Passaic River. In many neighborhoods, the rivers play a large part in the community, this river does not. The Ironbound abuts Newark Airport and is surrounded by five major New Jersey highways – its air is polluted by emissions and noise.
  • Port Newark is also adjacent to the Ironbound and 7,000 trucks regularly service the port. Trucks idle for hours at the port waiting to load cargo and drive through the Ironbound. Community members did a truck count once for 2 hours at 6 intersections and counted over 2,000 trucks.
  • Port Newark is also a visual reminder of the US trade deficit, with towering piles of empty shipping containers (a visual eyesore as well).
  • There is a lack of recreational opportunities – not many parks, others closed because of contamination. One chemical company, as part of restitution, built a recreational center. The pool had to be suspended above ground because of the contamination in the soil at that location. Covanta operates the largest incinerator in the state here (over half of the trash comes from New York City). And the air scrubbing equipment is not as advanced as the other installations in the state.

In this season of anticipation of the birth of Jesus, I am drawn to his commandments. If we love God, we need to love all of God’s creation. Can we do this and tolerate multiple injustices to the earth in one place? Can we love our neighbor and tolerate multiple injustices to our neighbor’s community?

But in this season of hope –I saw great hope. The Ironbound Community Corporation is very engaged in helping residents organize and advocate to remediate the current problems, and prevent further cumulative impacts. They provide awareness tours. They advocated keeping a medical waste facility from being built. They are involved with the planning process for the restoration of the river banks. They are saving the few parks they have.
In this season of anticipation of the birth of Jesus, I am drawn to his commandments. If we love God, we need to love all of God’s creation. Can we do this and tolerate multiple injustices to the earth in one place? Can we love our neighbor and tolerate multiple injustices to our neighbor’s community?

What can we do?

  • Always respect a community suffering from environmental injustice and how they are working to make their situation better.
  • Provide support by writing letters and standing with the community when asked.
  • When you throw out your trash, think about how to create less going to incinerators.

More Information:

Read the Environmental Justice Principles:

Look at the web to see if your state posts DEP environmental mapping tools. Read the Executive Summary of the United Church of Christ’s report on Toxic Waste and Race: 20Summary.pdf

Gracious God, in this season of anticipation and hope, care for those who are impacted by environmental injustice; keep them safe from further injustices; give them strength in their work for justice. Open the eyes of the unaware. Help us all to tend your wondrous creation, working towards a healthy earth that will lift everyone. Amen

Sue Smith is the Treasurer of Presbyterians for Earth Care, a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Rumson, NJ, a GreenFaith Fellow, and a student at New Brunswick Theological Seminary. Photo courtesy of the author.

Posted by: tylere108 | December 1, 2011

Durban: Not a Single Congressman at the Climate Negotiations?

While there is a lot happening at the climate negotiations as people settle into a 2 week stint of negotiations, conversations and dialogue, one thing stands out, at least for the groups from the US.

There is not a single member of Congress at the meetings or who plans to attend. Had members of Congress not attended in the past, this wouldn’t be so surprising but for the last few big negotiating meetings the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee have attended these events as well as their staff.

This year = no members and only a small handful of staff.

Unfortunately, this reflects the apparent lack of interest that we see on Capitol Hill for addressing climate change in a way that recognizes the impacts it is already having on vulnerable families and communities around the world. Can we ignore the floods and droughts and increasingly intense weather that are happening around the world as well as here in the US.

Just 2 examples:

– 13 million people are starving in the horn of Africa

– just days before the climate negotiations began, floods destroyed 700 homes in Durban 


Should members of Congress be in attendance? How can the US do a better job of engaging in the global effort to address climate change?

Posted by: tylere108 | November 29, 2011

Update: New Link for China Article

Many thanks to Brian who caught the problems with the link.

Click here to read the article about China’s proposed emissions reductions:,+India+mulls+support

Posted by: tylere108 | November 29, 2011

Update from Durban: China Offers Legally Binding Reductions?

Big news from Durban!

Besides the fact that we know everyone has arrived safe and sound and is in full swing at the climate negotiations, it looks like China has prepared a set of legally binding commitments that would force the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions after 2020. As the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, this is a potential breakthrough in the negotiations.

Now the question is – what will India do? India is the fourth largest emitter and has not put a similar proposal on the table.

Also, how will the US respond?

Let the negotiations begin!

Posted by: tylere108 | November 28, 2011

It’s Time to Do iT in Durban!!!

This week begins the annual United Nations Climate Conference and this year its in Durban, South Africa. Many of you have joined in our effort to encourage President Obama and Secretary Clinton to stay engaged in this conference by signing our Do iT in Durban postcard! Thank you for your support and continued ministry.

We had thousands of individuals and congregations from all over the country take the time to sign postcards. One story in particular is inspiring. Rock Spring Congregational (UCC) in Arlington, VA found out about the Do it in Durban campaign with only a few weeks left. By the time everyone had signed the postcards there was very little time left before colleagues left for Durban so Rev. Janet Parker, determined to get the postcards in with the rest sent her postcards overnight to us in our office! Many thanks to Janet (picture below) and Rock Spring Congregational Church for their time and effort!! 

We will be keeping folks up to date on what is happening in Durban over the next 2 weeks through blog posts and facebook messages. If you have any questions, feel free to be in touch so we can let you know what is happening. We will also be sharing the experiences and stories of 3 colleagues who are attending the conference to represent the US faith community and their denominations. The participants are:

  • John Hill from the United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society
  • Mike Schut from the Episcopal Church
  • Bill Somplatsky-Jarman from the PCUSA

will all be attending the climate negotiations at some point over the next 2 weeks. They will be sharing their experiences with us and we will make sure to get share them with you!

Posted by: NCC Poverty Initiative Director | November 22, 2011

“A Peace of Bread: Faith, Food, and Future” to Debut on ABC

In the next few weeks, the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission will be showing a new documentary about ending hunger. Learn about creative solutions that provide both economic and eco-justice, including gleaning and reducing food waste. See NCC Media Specialist Philip Jenks‘ story about the film below.
Published: November 13, 2011 by NCC Media Specialist Philip Jenks
Posted in: Features
A Peace of Bread, Faith, Food and the Future, debuts on ABC

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This fall, on ABC affiliated stations, the three-time Emmy Award-winning filmmakers of Diva Communications bring you a new interfaith documentary – A Peace of Bread: Faith, Food, and the Future.

With a generous grant from Odyssey Networks and the support of the New York Board of Rabbis, the National Council of ChurchesMazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church in AmericaBread for the World, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Westside Campaign Against HungerA Peace of Bread hopes to restore a nation’s conviction that hunger can be eliminated. For local listings, check the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission webpage.

A Peace of Bread: Faith, Food and the Future is a compelling and heart-felt look at how young, and not so young, faith leaders are trying to finally make a dent in this country’s 36 million people (13 million of which are children) that are experiencing hunger.

With faiths’ enduring mandate to “feed the hungry,” A Peace of Bread: Faith, Food, and the Future explores the work not only of the steadfast caregivers in soup kitchens and food pantries, but also that of a new generation of anti-hunger activists – all of whom driven by faith in a brighter future.

Agricultural sustainability, social network community building, and advocacy to reshape food policy – these are just some of the ways in which faith based groups are bringing a new perspective to an old problem.

A Peace of Bread: Faith, Food, and the Future reminds us that we are “not obligated to finish the work (of perfecting the world) but neither are you allowed to desist from it.” ( Pirket Avot 2:16) And with 36 million people suffering from hunger in our nation, the issue requires the combined effort of us all.

A Peace of Bread – opening sequence from Diva Communications on Vimeo.

Among the segments:

  • As a young college student, Eli Winkelman founded Challah for Hunger to raise money and awareness for hunger through the production and sale of challah bread. The organization has since grown to over 40 chapters in schools across the nation and beyond.
  • The young men of Gonzaga’s College High School’s Campus Kitchen spend their summers cooking and delivering meals to the less fortunate in the shadow of the nation’s capitol.
  • At the Jewish Farm School in upstate New York, Nati Passow worked toward a long-held dream of agricultural sustainability. Participants connect to their faith by working the land and growing food for the cause.

Also featuring:

All it takes is a few creative solutions, a lot of big hearts and an unalterable will.

For more information contact

This special is are produced through the NCC’s partnership with Interfaith Broadcasting Commission (IBC), through which America’s faith community  provides television programming to the affiliates of the three major broadcast TV networks each year. You can find out more about the programs and check local listing at

Posted by: wjlayton | November 15, 2011

Much Work, Many Members

We can’t do everything.

I was thinking about that yesterday as I was listening to a conference call on clean water hosted by the EPA.  After an official finished talking about a few general points, he opened up the floor for questions. One woman had a question about Hydraulic Fracturing in her home state. Obviously she cared deeply about the issue, and when the EPA official responded to her question in a way that showed fracking was certainly not his particular area of expertise or interest, the asker of the question was noticeably a bit upset. The fact of the matter was, her passion was clearly protecting the forests of her state from the effects of natural gas extraction. To get a somewhat evasive response to her question from this official must have been frustrating. But one person, I suppose, can’t be expected to know or do everything.

I often wish that I could do more.  For example, I’m passionate about sustainable agriculture (it might have something to do with coming from Iowa),  and I wish I could work on farming issues. The thing is, that’s just not my job. I already have a full plate of issues.

When we get called to the work of caring for God’s creation, it’s hard not to want to do a little bit of everything, and easy to become passionate about so many issues. We want to do it all! Maybe some people can manage to do a hundred different things at once, but I certainly can’t.

Paul recognized that each of us has a different job to do, and none of us can do it all. This is as true about caring for creation and doing justice for our neighbor, as it is about the whole work of the church.

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?”

(1 Corinthians 12: 27-30 NRSV)

Thanks be to God that there are so many of us who can do the work of eco-justice! May we continue to work together as one body.

Posted by: Chloe Schwabe | November 9, 2011

New Reports Signal Need to Protect Children from Toxic Chemicals

As people of faith, we are called to care for children’s health. Some examples of this call in the Bible include when God makes and renews a covenant with Moses and later with Isaac to protect future generations (Genesis, Exodus). Jesus called his disciples to respect the little children (Matthew 18:2-4). Yet children are exposed to toxic chemicals from the womb and in their early years  during critical moments of development. Toxic exposures are linked to developmental and physical disabilities, early puberty in girls and other reproductive challenges; and they are linked to chronic conditions later in life such as obesity, type II diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Recognizing our call to bear witness to injustices facing the most vulnerable, the National Council of Churches is preparing a Congressional briefing next week to highlight the moral concerns related to our failed federal chemical policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

In the last few weeks, two peer reviewed reports from the environmental health community highlight the need for desperate reform of broken chemical regulations that endanger children’s health. The authors of Mattress Matters tested baby mattresses for chemicals of concern. Baby mattresses may contain chemicals in any part of the mattress structure: 1) the core, 2) padding, 3) flame retardant material and chemicals, and 4) a cover or “ticking,” which may also have chemicals added to make it waterproof. Women’s Voices for the Earth tested 28 crib mattresses for safety and found that 72 percent of the mattresses contained chemicals of concern. Nearly 40 percent of the companies refused to share information so they are keeping the chemicals and health impacts a secret.

The issue of flame retardants in children’s mattresses highlights the dire need for reform of TSCA. In the last few years many mattress companies have phased the toxic flame retardants, known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) out of children’s mattresses and baby products. They are linked to brain and thyroid cancer and developmental delays. They also build up in the environment and even end up in human breast milk. They are related to another group of persistent bioaccumulative chemicals called PCBs that were removed from commerce in the 1970s, but still found in penguins, polar bears and other species today.

However, PBDEs in baby products and mattresses were replaced by other toxic chemicals, such as Chlorinated Tris. Chlorinated Tris was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s as a suspected carcinogen and mutagen. States are already starting to pass policies phasing Chlorinated Tris out. New York passed the first ban in the country this year. California added it to their list of carcinogens, mutagens, and endocrine disrupting chemicals under proposition 65 too. Washington state is now considering a ban and momentum is building. Here is another great study that highlights flame retardants in children’s products.

Baby’s Tub is Still Toxic from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is a new report that highlights the brokenness of our cosmetics law. They did a  report in 2009 that found 82 percent of products contained formaldehyde and 67 percent contained 1,4 dioxane. Both are carcinogens and both were found in Johnson’s and Johnson’s products. The new report tested specifically Johnson’s and Johnson’s products and found that they still contain both chemicals. Since this report’s release, Johnson’s and Johnson’s has announced that they will be phasing both chemicals out of their products.

This is a small victory, but real reform of the Food Drug and Cosmetics Act is needed. Cosmetics include any personal care product we put on our bodies- from deodorant to lipstick. Currently ingredients in cosmetics go virtually unregulated and the industry self policies itself with a non-binding group made up of industry representatives. Conversations on reform are underway in both the House and the Senate right now. To learn more about chemicals in baby products, hair straighteners, and other products, and possible solutions, listen to a webinar we did with Stacy Malkan, author and coalition member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. I also discuss in the webinar why this is an issue of faith.

We need to know that chemicals are safe and we need to ensure that toxic chemicals are not used as replacements for other toxic chemicals in order to protect the most vulnerable members of our society- future generations. Unfortunately the policies in place that are supposed to protect us from toxic chemicals fail to do so.  Nor do they ensure that we replace toxic chemicals with safe ones. It is time for a serious conversation on reform that ensures all God’s people can live, work, play, and pray in healthy environments.

Posted by: NCC Poverty Initiative Director | November 8, 2011

A Faithful Budget for Creation and Vulnerable People

At the National Council of Churches, I share my time between the eco-justice and poverty programs. With the latest Federal Budget negotiations, my worlds are converging.

A Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, more commonly known as the “Super Committee,” has been given immense power to make recommendations to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget. Every program under the sun, from programs that care for Women, Infants, and Children to programs that care for God’s Creation is under consideration for significant cuts. An interfaith coalition has come together with a sense of urgency around protecting the most vulnerable from severe cuts. We have come together to pray and work for a “Faithful Budget.” On the front lawn of the United Methodist building on Capitol Hill, we host regular public prayer vigils for a Faithful Budget. Now we’re inviting everybody to join us.

In the coming weeks surrounding the date Nov. 20th, faith communities across the nation will hold “Super Vigils,” praying for our nation’s leaders and their decision-making processes. We pray for a just and compassionate budget that protects the most vulnerable. Click here to join the November 20th Facebook event so you can participate in the vigils on the phone or online.

Click here to learn more about the faithful budget campaign.

Below is the Faithful Budget litany, which can also be accessed online here. Please join us in prayer:

A Litany for a Faithful National Budget
(Prepared by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns)

Leader: Let us pray…
All: Blessed be our God.
Leader I: Twenty percent of all children in the United States live in poverty. We cannot leave our children a legacy of rising debt, nor can we leave them a legacy of rising poverty.
All: We pray for a just and compassionate budget that protects all our children from hunger and homelessness, from inadequate education and healthcare, from poverty. Our God hears the cry of the children who are poor. Blessed be our God.

Leader: Many older adults in the United States live near or below the poverty line. Social Security and Medicare are their lifelines. We cannot neglect the very real needs of our senior citizens.
All: We pray for a just and compassionate budget that protects our elders from poverty, financial insecurity and inadequate healthcare. Our God hears the cry of our seniors who are poor or vulnerable. Blessed be our God.

Leader: Women in the United States are disproportionately served by the social safety net. Women rely on many of the programs facing drastic cuts – from Medicare and Medicaid to SNAP and TANF, from SSI and Pell grants to domestic violence prevention to nutrition and child care. We cannot ignore the real needs of women in our society or fail to address the systemic injustice that perpetuates their vulnerability.
All: We pray for a just and compassionate budget that protects women from poverty, financial insecurity, inadequate healthcare and physical danger. Our God hears the cry of the women.Blessed be our God.

Leader: With an official unemployment rate over nine percent, millions of U.S. Americans are struggling to meet their most basic needs. Yet an unjust federal budget could reduce or eliminate assistance for unemployed families.
All: We pray for a just and compassionate budget that responds to the needs of those who are unemployed, protecting them and their dependents as much as possible from the overwhelming anxiety of financial insecurity and lost self‐esteem. Our God hears the cry of those who are unemployed. Blessed be our God.

Leader: We live in a world that is intensely interconnected. Loving our neighbors requires that we promote the global common good. Yet, programs that respond to HIV and AIDS, extreme poverty, food insecurity, overwhelming debt, violence against women, natural disasters and other urgent needs are likely to be severely cut.
All: We pray for a just and compassionate budget that responds to the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world. Our God hears the cry of those who live on the margins of our world. Blessed be our God.

Leader: God’s good creation continues to suffer from our use and abuse of its precious gifts. The enforcement of laws that protect the integrity of creation could be severely compromised by unjust budgetary decisions.
All: We pray for a just and compassionate budget that respects and protects the integrity of creation. Our God hears the cry of Earth. Blessed be our God.

Leader: For the gift of vision to see a way forward that is just and compassionate.
All: Give us your vision.
Leader V: For the gift of conviction to work with vigor for a just solution to the crises we face.
All: Give us your courage.

Leader: Spirit of God, renew the hearts of all of us who are gathered here. Inspire Congress and the administration to act justly and to protect our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, here and around the world. Reinvigorate our nation’s vision of the common good.
All: May God, our Creator and parent, breathe into us new life and new meaning. May the Wisdom of God breathe into us new hope and a new awareness. May the Spirit of God breathe into us a new spirit and a new understanding of the world in which we live. AMEN.

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