Skip navigation

IONA College Logo | Go to Home Page

Thomas Berry Forum Presents at Yale


The Jeanie Graustein Lecture on Environmental Justice: "Thomas Berry: Prophet of the Ecozoic Earth Era"

Sr. Kathleen Deignan and Br. Kevin Cawley delivered the Jeanie Graustein Lecture at the St. Thomas More Catholic Center at Yale University in New Haven Connecticut on Sunday, April 28, 2019. The Graustein Lecture is an annual event at Yale to celebrate care of Earth.

Sr. Kathleen had given a full day Retreat on Saturday to the Campus Ministry staff at the Center and concluded the weekend with the Graustein lecture at the closing dinner.

Br. Kevin and Sr. Kathleen offered a glimpse of the wisdom of Thomas Berry in light of the climate crisis facing the planet. The program began with a summary of the predicaments that threaten the continued conditions to life on the Earth such as carbon emissions passing the limits agreed to in the Paris climate accord, the loss of ice caps and glaciers leading to sea level rise, food insecurity, heat impacts on health, spread of disease vectors, wealth inequality, extreme weather events, and displacement of populations fleeing these impacts, all received early attention.

The program was accompanied by images and texts with emphasis on the human toll of these challenges along with a link to global inequality that threatens current efforts at solutions. Participants were brought to see that the goals for carbon reduction set by the Paris accords were not within reach under current practice. We still need to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 in order to achieve a safe environment. Even if all countries kept their promises to reduce their carbon output, the Paris target of holding world temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius was not within reach. Current trends show a likely increase of 4.3 degrees leading to a cascade of catastrophic outcomes as the land-based ice cover melts and enters the oceans. Dr. Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute at Columbia University has warned that even if we were to end all carbon emissions immediately, the planet still faces centuries of warming due to the impacts already "baked in".

The work of Pope Francis in Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on Climate and the deep wisdom of Thomas Berry all formed a backdrop to the catalog of planetary degradation that remains ongoing and unabated in the business-as-usual model.

Thomas Berry had the foresight decades ago to frame the human-earth relationship more gracefully. His principles for a mutually enhancing human-earth relationship are the foundation for moving the human project from its devastating exploitation to a benign presence. It is especially important that we give young people some indication of how the next generation can fulfill this work in an effective manner.

The program included a brief video of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager, who has been on school strike for climate action in her country. Greta has subsequently inspired more than a million young people worldwide to take to the streets in 120 cities on March 15, to share their dismay about the lack of action by political leaders on climate change.

Paul Hawken's project "Drawdown" was also noted. He has supervised a large group of young scientists and activists to publish the 100 best practices for removing carbon from the atmosphere and preventing further damage. Both Paul and Greta push back against the language of "hope". Greta tells leaders we don’t want your hope, we want you to act. And Paul Hawken notes that often: “…hope is the pretty mask of fear. You can’t have hope without fear, whether you’re aware of it or it’s subconscious. What we need to be is fearless, not hopeful.”

Br. Kevin Cawley and Sr. Kathleen Deignan From left: Br. Kevin Cawley and Sr. Kathleen Deignan
(Photo: Sr. Jenn Schaffer, O.P.)