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Report from the San Diego Adventist Forum Conference: Creation Care and Sustainability

Jared Wright, La Sierra University M.Div student and creator of the Adventist Environmental Advocacy blog attended the recent San Diego Adventist Forum conference on Sustainability.


May 2-4, Pine Springs Ranch — The San Diego chapter of the Association of Adventists convened to take part in a give and take weekend gathering focusing on the intersections between Adventism and the environment.

The retreat featured distinguished guests Robert Ford, Ph.D., Professor of International Sustainable Development and Social Policy at Loma Linda University’s School of Science and Technology, and Lee F. Greer, Ph.D., Professor of Evolutionary Biology at La Sierra University. Alexander Carpenter, Blog Editor of Spectrum Magazine and graduate student at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California shared thoughts from the leading edge of America’s religious response to climate change during a Saturday afternoon session.

The conference offered three main presentations on Friday Evening and Saturday morning, followed by a panel discussion with Bob Ford, Lee Greer, Bonnie Dwyer (Editor of Spectrum Magazine), Alex Carpenter, Maxine Nicola (long time member of San Diego Forum and licensed nurse), and John Perumal, Ph.D. (Professor of Plant Ecology and Physiology at La Sierra University).

The report below highlights the content and materials of the presenters as well as snippets from the panel discussion, complete with photos. Because I was unable to attend the first meeting on Friday evening, that session is omitted.

Saturday Morning, Session 2

Presenter: Dr. Robert Ford

Topic: Philosophical, Historical, and Social Roots of the Sustainability Concept

One of Dr. Ford’s current projects involves aiding in the establishment an Environmental Agency in Abu Dabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Dr. Ford discussed the precursors of the Sustainable Development (development + environmentalism = sustainable development).

An illuminating part of Ford’s discussion took aim at human impact on the earth. Ford noted that in the last 10 years, scientists have detected more wobble in the Earth’s rotation than could be accounted for in predictive computer models. The extra wobble has been attributed to the huge amounts of water stockaded behind dams throughout North America. Human impact includes the very motion of the Earth itself!

Human impact also includes accelerated soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and rapid extinction of species, and an undisputed correlation between climate change and increasing CO2 since the Industrial Revolution.

A noteworthy impact of climate change on poor, developing nations: Many varieties of rice grown in places like Southeast Asia are non-native, hybrid rices. Such hybrids show high sensitivity to rise in temperatures. Rice output could decrease as much as 80% with an increase in temperature as small as 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit!

Ford also noted the impending water crisis – already in the Middle East, water is more expensive than oil!

More on Dr. Ford’s presentation available at the following link:

Saturday Morning, Session 3

Presenter: Dr. Lee F. Greer

Topic: Evolving Thoughts and Options for the Future

Dr. Greer brought his background in Biology to bear on the issue of environmental concerns and sustainable options.

Greer pointed out several factors that have created the present ecological crises: an addiction to oil, carbon emissions that cause climate change (Greer was careful to note the controversy surrounding climate change is political in nature, not scientific – the science is not disputed among peer-reviewed researchers), the stress placed on life’s support systems that cause mass extinction.

Greer raised a key question for the weekend: Where is the Church on all of these issues?

The answer he proposed is that the Church comes down on both sides – the Church is both perpetrator of environmental damage and an instrument of environmental healing, part of the problem as well as part of the solution.

Greer went on to propose 9 practices by which we all can positively impact the environment.

1. Respect for the commons in life. This means an emphasis on what we share in common with other humanity. Greer suggested a need for a fundamental shift in perspective from ownership to stewardship (I am a caretaker rather than permanent owner).

2. Don’t say “nothing can be done.” This is taking a moral stance, Greer contended, and a morally reprehensible stance at that. He pointed out a tremendous rise in levels of lead present in the atmosphere from the Industrial Revolution to the 1990’s. When the government banned leaded gasoline, the levels of lead fell almost below levels at the start of the Industrial Revolution. The same can be done in the case of climate change if action is taken right away.

3. Stand resolutely for peace – oppose war and violence. Rejecting tribalism and sectarianism, Greer notes that all humanity shares a common ancestry in the African diaspora, and therefore we share a common humanity.

4. Support alternative transportation. This includes cycling, walking, public transportation, hybrid vehicles. Greer advocates insistence that public officials be held to utilizing alternative transportation as well. Economic pressure can and should be applied toward that end.

5. Purchase local food, supporting local economies. This dramatically reduces the energy needed for long-range shipping of imported produce, etc. Furthermore, local produce is often less expensive and is fresher.

6. Support alternative power. Here, Greer cited two honors projects at La Sierra University which he supervises. La Sierra University is working on converting used cooking oil into biodiesel and another project focuses on installing solar panels on the La Sierra campus that will eventually supply the vast majority of the school’s electricity.

7. Use alternative, sustainable housing. Greer provided examples of housing that is both environmentally sound and economically viable. These values need not be in conflict.

8. Support Reforestation. There is no such thing as sustainable use of old growth forests, according to Greer. Any cutting down of old growth forests does permanent damage to ecosystems and by extension, to the planet. Instead, replanting is needed. Greer also recommends planting trees that produce food as a sustainable way to get produce and make friends with the neighbors (you can’t eat all those oranges yourself).

9. Theology must emphasize immanence of God. Christianity has often grappled with metaphysical dualism, a split between physical and spiritual realms. Making this distinction has devastating ecological consequences, Greer argues. If God is outside nature, nature is outside God. What we need to do is “detoxify” religion, according to Greer. Part of this is a focus on the immanence of God, not merely God’s transcendence.

Other noteworthy tidbits from Dr. Greer’s presentation – charts with numerous data sets that corroborate one another and validate (unequivocally) the link between anthropogenic CO2 and rising global temperatures.

The second portion of the San Deigo forum retreat on Global Sustainability and Creation Care (see part one below) provided opportunities for audience participation and Alex Carpenter’s up-to-date information from the front lines of the Religious response to climate change.

San Diego Adventist Forum: Creation Care and Global Sustainability (Part 2)

Bonnie Dwyer, the Editor of Spectrum Magazine gave a few words of introduction to Carpenter (who really needs no introduction among the Adventist Forum crowd) followed by Alex’s presentation on contemporary responses from religious communities to today’s most pressing ecological challenges.

Carpenter highlighted his involvement with The Regeneration Project, an interfaith ministry devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith. Part of the Regeneration project is the Interfaith Power and Light campaign, which helps faith communities address local ecological concerns. Some upcoming projects include a congregation carbon calculator that will allow congregations to assess their impact on the environment, find ways to reduce their “footprint” and set congregational goals.

Here is a video of Alex’s boss, the Rev. Sally Bingham who heads the Regeneration Project.

Sabbath Afternoon Session

Panelists: Dr. Robert Ford, Dr. Lee Greer, Bonnie Dwyer, Alexander Carpenter, Dr. John Perumal, Maxine Nicola

Topic: What does Sustainabilit for Me as an SDA Christian?

The panel discussion provided attendees an opportunity to sound off (which they did!), and for panelists to share their collective wisdom (they also did). The conversation was cordial, but there were raw moments as well, honest moments…

Here are a few quotable quotes from the conversation (moderated by Bob Ford):

Bonnie Dwyer: “…Grow your own food! Let’s hear it for homegrown tomatoes!”

Alexander Carpenter: “We didn’t leave the stone age because we ran out of stones.”

(commenting on the use of coal)

Lee Greer: “A conscious consumer can do a lot!”

(commenting on ways individuals can act on behelf of the environment)

Bonnie: “We can be critical of the church, but the church is us.”

Alexander: “We don’t want to bring the proof text method to new issues.”

(commenting on the risk of turning contemporary issues into a neo-fundamentalism)

Bob Ford commented on the quality of our waiting in relation to the expectaion of the second coming.

Bonnie Dwyer wants to see the Pathfinders club become an environmental group for a new generation of Adventists.

Alexander Carpenter suggests that we start thinking about our relationship with each other as a relationship with Jesus.

See more about what Adventists are going to connect their faith to ecological action here at Adventist Environmental Advocacy.

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