Karenna Gore will be speaking at Earth Day Texas on Friday, April 24, at 5 pm. Her presentation is titled: 'Integrity and Earth: Honoring Our Roots While Enhancing Progress.'
April 15, 2015
Karenna Gore is director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and the eldest daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, a longtime environmental activist. She will be speaking at Earth Day Texas on Friday, April 24, at 5 p.m. Green Source DFW interviewed her via email:
GSDFW: WHEN DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT?
KG: Although I have been around environmentalism all my life, I suppose I first got involved in the movement per se just last year. Like lots of others, I had been doing work that was not technically called environmentalism but is actually very much connected to the harm we are doing to the earth— advocating for poor children with asthma in Harlem, for instance. But it was around the gatherings in New York this past fall— the People’s Climate March and the Religions for the Earth conference – that I first felt that I actually joined a movement.
GSDFW: ARE ANY OF YOUR OTHER SIBLINGS INVOLVED IN ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES?
KG: My siblings don’t do environmental work professionally but we share a lot of values and concerns.
GSDFW: WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO TAKE UP THE CAUSE, FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF YOUR FATHER, AL GORE?
KG: For a long time, I felt like this was a concern but that it wasn’t really my role to do something about it. A few things changed. One is that I had children and I do not want to leave them with a degraded place to live. I mean that in terms of the air and the atmosphere for sure, but also in terms of healthy forests and oceans, rivers that are pure for swimming and growing great fish to eat. I have always found a great deal of soulfulness in spending time in the natural world and as life went on, I have come to value it more and more. No museum or cathedral or skyscraper can compete with the Caney Fork River by my grandparents house in Tennessee or coast line in the Carolinas that we enjoyed every August.
I suppose the truth is that when a lot of things in my life did not turn out the way I expected and I experienced disappointment, disillusionment and self-doubt, I also realized that you just can’t take the sustenance that this land provides for granted. It is our responsibility to be protectors, not just consumers.
GSDFW: YOU ARE TAKING A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT APPROACH TO ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE THAN YOUR FATHER; WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO APPROACH IT FROM A RELIGIOUS/SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE?
KG: To be honest, I didn’t feel connected emotionally to the science or the economic analysis the way that some others do. Those facts convinced me but didn’t move me deeply. It was when I felt like I needed to reconnect to my roots and my identity and feel grounded in life, that I started to think about this issue in a new way. I found myself in New York City with children I loved but a lot of other things in my life proving to be really challenging. And I was not financially needy at all so I really noticed that our culture responds to people who are looking for some deeper purpose and meaning by trying to sell them stuff.
I found an oasis in the wonderful community at Union Theological Seminary because it was a space to ask hard questions. What is all this productivity actually for? What is so much better about the world we are creating with technology than the word my grandparents left for me? Or even perhaps the world that was created at a much earlier time.
GSDFW: YOU ARE THE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR EARTH ETHICS AT UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY – HOW IS THE CENTER INVOLVED IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT?
KG: The Center will be convening, educating and modeling — we can bring people together to have discussions about our public priorities. I think it is healthy for us to start doing more of this rather than relying on the commentators on TV. They really do not know more than we know in our own communities. That’s another thing I have learned — let’s beware of experts and start relying on our own common sense.
So the Center is not for academic elites — we believe in a different sort of knowledge and wisdom that comes with knowing the land and the community. We have four priority areas — Original Caretakers (meaning partnerships with indigenous peoples, mainly Native Americans), Eco-ministry (providing a space for people to learn and train for a vocation in caring for the natural world and helping others connect to it and find fulfillment and joy in the interconnectedness and mutuality that can be found in what is freely given to us by our earth), Sustainability (this includes working towards better measurements than GDP, finding ways to change the culture of consumerism and transitioning to new practices that do less harm) and Environmental and Climate Justice (this includes partnerships with local communities who are trying to stand up to the big powerful distant companies that use them as dumping grounds. It happens a lot in places that are not as visible. I saw it just a couple weekends ago in Curtis Bay in Baltimore.
So with the four focus areas and the strategies of convening, educating and modeling, the Center for Earth Ethics will work towards environmental justice and a culture that honors the earth and our interdependence with the air, land and water we all share.
GSDFW: YOUR PRESENTATION FOR EARTH DAY TEXAS ON APRIL 24 IN DALLAS IS ‘HONORING OUR ROOTS BY ENHANCING PROGRESS’, WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?
KG: Honoring our roots — let’s think how our ancestors lived in Tennessee and Texas. I am not sure all this technology and all these manufactured goods and gadgets are making us stronger and better. Even electricity — it’s a good thing but we are using way too much of it while we take the sun for granted and do not even take advantage of what the heavens freely bestow upon us (sunshine, rain).
What has real value, what are we made of? The land made us who we are. Thinking in terms generations is healthy and good. A lot of people seem to hate getting older and fear old age above all but that is putting out of our minds a very important aspect of who we are— we need to be ancestors one day. What will they say about us? That we kept up economic growth by buying a lot of stuff? Or that we sacrificed and worked to make a beautiful strong place and that we taught our children and grandchildren how to live well.
Enhancing progress means placing value of the important things that cannot be measured by money— clean air, happy childhoods, home-cooked meals, love. The more love you have and give, the more there is. It behaves in the opposite way than a commodity is supposed to. I think that tells us something.
GSDFW: IN AN INTERVIEW WITH HUFFINGTON POST YOU ARE QUOTED AS SAYING MATERIALISM IS THE ROOT CAUSE OF CLIMATE CHANGE. HOW DO YOU PROPOSE THAT PEOPLE, PARTICULARY AMERICANS, CHANGE THEIR MATERIALISTIC WAYS?
KG: Remember he who knows he has enough is rich. Think of liberation from material things. Simplicity, giving, love, restraint, choosing relationships over things and others over oneself – these are all paths to honor our roots and enhance progress. It is an exciting time to live because we are figuring this out together.