Building a Framework for the Future

More than 200 people attended Imago’s Earth Spirit Rising conference at Xavier University this weekend, where they were challenged to rethink their actions and their effect on the planet.

Speaker Paula Gonzalez, a Dominican nun and futurist, cast the challenges ahead in stark terms: “We must realize the scale of our times, which is on the scale of transitions like going from hunter-gathering to agriculture, or industrialization. You must take the messages of this conference home in your heart, in your soul, in your gut, and get off your butt and act.” —-

Her message was echoed by author David Korten, environmental studies and politics professor David Orr of Oberlin College, and Miriam Therese MacGillis, founder of Genesis Farm in New Jersey.

The seventh annual conference began Friday morning with field trips, including a tour of the Enright Ridge Urban Eco-Village in Price Hill. Although Enright Avenue appears to be a typical Cincinnati street, bounded by the open space of a cemetery on one side and woodland on the other, its explicit emphasis on energy conservation and preserving greenspace makes Enright anything but typical. Enright's Eco-Village is a real-world commitment to local environmental change, with a food co-op, nature preserve, and community garden for its residents.

MacGillis presented Earth Spirit Rising’s opening talk Friday evening, advocating active participation in demanding environmental change. “We must be voices of moral outrage when we see evil and wrongdoing,” she stated.

Speakers on Saturday and Sunday explored how we can change behaviors that have driven the planet to the brink of profound crisis, building on philosophies that respect cyclic natural processes and human worth.

"Our financial crisis is, at heart, a spiritual crisis," Korten said, calling for Wall Street's destruction and a rebirth of Main Street businesses that serve society instead of absentee stakeholders. "No wall is too tall to fall," he noted.

Because the earth's climate is changing faster than our initial estimates, Orr announced that we need radical environmental changes more urgently than previously thought if we want to help our children and our grandchildren survive. "We’re turning the only paradise we’ve known into hell and evicting ourselves even from that," he said.

Small-group sessions on Saturday afternoon focused on a dozen topics, spanning abstract ideas (points of view, cultural critiques and the role of art in a new economy) to practical techniques (meditation and voluntary simplicity).

Larry Falkin, director of the Cincinnati Office of Environmental Quality, discussed how the city is implementing its Green Cincinnati Action Plan. Lisa Kagen of Melt, Dan Korman of Park Vine, Carl Adams of SunRock Solar and Eileen Frechette, who operates a native plant business off Winton Road in Wooden Shoe Hollow, shared successes and pitfalls of running local, environmentally-accountable businesses.

Gonzalez returned for closing remarks Sunday, noting how we are “alienated because of our cultural abuse of the sacred, the basic cycles and flows of the natural world we are of and part of.”

“Our economic, environmental and social crises are only an externalized sign of internal malaise,” she said. “We cannot change without spiritual rebirth.”

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