On April 27 we welcomed Karenna Gore, founder and director of the Center for Earth Ethics to give the keynote address at Mariandale’s third annual St. Catherine of Siena Environmental Summit.  Dominican Sister of Hope Pat Magee, O.P. gave opening remarks, citing the “unique relevance” of St. Catherine’s life in the face of our current climate crisis. She drew connections between current events and natural disasters in 14th century Europe, including the little ice age, torrential rain, and famine, which led to rising poverty, political instability, religious polarization, and bubonic plague in Catherine’s time.

Gore responded with words of praise for Dominican sisters’ commitment to care of Earth. Inspired by St. Catherine’s crusade for personal transformation as well as systemic reform, Gore says she keeps an icon of St. Catherine on her desk to remind her of that call. She cautioned against thinking that we can engineer our way out of the problem, saying “it is not the Earth that needs fixing, it is us.”

In the spirit of St. Catherine’s commitment to Truth, Gore talked about the need to “bring light and look clearly” at the issues. Quoting The Dialogue, “the soul is in God, and God in the soul, just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish,” she said that it is an “illusion” that humans are separate from nature. “We all have the capacity to feel oneness with life.” she said.

Gore also stressed the importance of including the perspective of those who are most impacted by climate change and least likely to have a say, namely poor and marginalized people, future generations, and non-human life. She shared wisdom from a representative of the Church of Sweden, who says there should always be “three empty seats” in any room where decisions are being made to represent these groups.

She ended her talk with action steps for ecological restoration, encouraging everyone to “hear and heed Nature’s voice” in the form of rising waters and heat, wildfires, and other events related to climate change. She also promoted “witness work” by sharing our personal stories and carefully considering our consumer choices as communities and institutions. She cautioned against striving for perfection, quoting the Talmud, “you are not required to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” Referencing the writing of Robin Wall Kimerer, Gore also emphasized the importance of nurturing people’s relationship with land as “medicine for Earth” and a key to land restoration. Ending on the subject of climate migration, Gore urged faith communities to plan ahead, look for partners, and prepare to help the increasing number of people most impacted by climate change.

The event was attended by around 60 people, including representatives of local environmental groups including Friends of Buttonhook, Westchester Alliance for Sustainable Solutions, and Federated Conservationists of Westchester County.