I met Paul in 1970, while on trial in Rochester, N.Y. as part of the Catholic Left for a nonviolent raid on a federal building to destroy Selective Service draft files. We worked together in the early 70’s as part of the Peoples Coalition for Peace and Justice, and in 1979 he presided over the marriage ceremony that united me with Jane Califf, my soul mate for the last 35 years.
But it is over the last 10 years that we’ve worked most closely together. In late 2003 we discovered that we had both come to the same point of view regarding the urgency of the deepening climate crisis, and in early 2004, with Connie Hogarth and others, co-founded the Climate Crisis Coalition, which is still active today under the able and dedicated leadership of Tom Stokes. And for the last two and a half years Paul and I have worked closely together as co-founders and leaders of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate which, I’m sure Paul would want me to say, is organizing its second annual interfaith service on January 15th, Martin Luther King, Jr’s 85th birthday, in front of the American Petroleum Institute and the White House in DC, calling for strong leadership from religious and political leaders on this urgent crisis. There is also an action that day in NYC at the Canadian Consulate at 6th Avenue and 49th St.
Paul’s concern with and activism in defense of our wounded natural environment went back over 20 years. He attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and considered himself to be an “Earth Guardian.” As he explained in an interview a couple of years ago, “That’s been my priority since having worked on peace and justice issues all my life. I feel that is now of the greatest importance, the issue that incorporates all other issues and we must make our priority.”
In this work to prevent the catastrophic disruption of human society and the ecosystems we and all life forms depend upon, Paul was a warrior. He gave of himself, of his time, his energies, his emotions and his very limited financial resources to build the strongest possible movement in defense of the earth. He worked to build a movement that was inclusive and broadly-based but also truth-telling and willing to risk arrest. He helped us all to never forget that it is “the least of these,” those of low income, predominantly people of color, who are least responsible for the fossil fuel burning and deforestation that are the primary drivers of climate change but who are the most impacted by the more damaging storms, floods, droughts, fires and sea level rise we are seeing as the climate is disrupted.
He was very clear that it is the fossil fuel industry, the oil, coal and gas companies, whose power over our government and economy must be broken if we are to get to a world powered by the wind, the sun, the currents and tides and the earth’s inner heat, and a world of justice and peace.
I had some concluding words prepared, but something happened just this morning that has led me to change what I intended to say.
I was leaving my house in Bloomfield, N.J., walking to our car to journey to this event, when I heard the very loud sound of many wild geese up above. I looked up, and after 10-15 seconds saw what seemed like 100 to 150 geese flying in several V-shaped formations over our house. There is a city pond behind us where geese live, and as I have seen smaller numbers of them do before, this large collection of geese circled around after going over me to land in the pond.
I immediately thought, “this is a sign.” Perhaps it is a sign from Paul that all is well and he is with us, knowing that I was to be speaking about his deep connection to and commitment to defending the natural world. Perhaps it is a sign that we all need to be doing the same. Or maybe it means something else, I don’t know. But it was a sign, I believe.
Thank you Paul; you are indeed present with us today.