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Episode 41 Stewards, Priests, and Parasites

Climate Stew host Peterson Toscano recently sunny himself in Arizona

Climate Stew host Peterson Toscano recently sunning himself in Arizona

As a follow up to the popular Reeking of Faith episode (28), we revisit the concept of stewardship. Lots of people of faith insist we need to refocus our relationship with the natural world and take on the role of stewards. I present Father Joe Schwab with a different view of this stewardship model. After hearing him speak in Arizona last month, I feel I have new insights to share: Blessed are the parasites? The folks at Yale Climate Connection talk to us about Christmas trees on a changing planet. Marvin Bloom is back to gloat over Exxon-Mobil getting caught for underhanded sneaky tactics. But he doesn’t stay there. He offers a wacky yet educational chat about how to break the petroleum habit.

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Flintstones Cigarette Commercial

What Exxon-Mobil Knew about Climate Change





Hello. You have found me. This is Peterson Toscano. Welcome to Climate Stew. Today in our main section we revisit the concept of stewardship. Are we stewards of this planet with a charge to care for it? What are limitations to this stewardship world view? We hear from a Franciscan priest, Father Joe Schwab, who in a rally in the Arizona desert weighs in on the question. He gets me thinking. Marvin is back with another segment of Your Moment with Marvin. But first Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz joins us to talk briefly about Christmas trees.

Yale Climate Connections: Christmas Trees

Do you buy a real Christmas tree each year? North Carolina pine trees, a major source of Christmas trees and timber, are increasingly at risk.

Pine tree farm

A changing climate is making the trees more vulnerable to insects, drought, and extreme weather. Chip Miller, timberlands manager for Jordan Lumber & Supply, says managing the growing threats from changing climate conditions is like battling a wildfire…

MILLER: “. . . if you jump on it real quick you can manage the losses, but if it gets a good head start you could lose a lot of trees, a lot of timber in a short period of time.”

In a business that plans its harvests decades in advance, foresters have already started to adapt to climate changes that others have not even begun to notice – such as shifts in temperature, precipitation, and the onset of spring.

Foresters, planning harvests decades in advance, and adapting to #climatechange. CLICK TO TWEET

The North Carolina Agriculture and Forestry Adaptation group is working on ways to cope with increasingly erratic weather. New best practices that include moving seedlings into cold storage to mimic winter weather and genetically modifying trees to better suit the state’s changing climate are helping growers adjust.

That’s good news for those of us who love the sight and smell of a pine tree at home during the holidays!

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Pam Memmott.
Photo: Copyright protected.

Main Section: Stewardship Revisited

As part of my epic tour of the the American Southwest earlier this fall, I attended a climate change rally in Phoenix Arizona. The organizers, mostly faith-based groups, focused on the moral imperatives to act to address climate change. I recorded most of the speakers, and in future episodes will share some of what they had to say. But for this episode I have for you the public comments of Father Joe Schwab of the Franciscan Renewal Center, which you can visit at

Father Joe Schwab

Father Joe Schwab

I admit that when the priest approached the microphone wearing his flowing brown Franciscan robe, similar to the one my childhood parish priest wore, I did not expect too much. At best I thought I would hear the same old talking points about how we are required to be good stewards of the planet. Instead Father Joe surprised me with his twist on the stewardship message. I’ll play you what I recorded and then share the thoughts it dislodged in my head the following day in Quaker meeting.

Here is some of Fr. Joe’s message:
Inspired by Pope Francis, the Franciscan Renewal Center decided to amplify his call for decisive action at the United Nations Paris Climate Talks in December. To this end, we invited a variety of organization to join together to speak with one voice on the moral imperative that we act NOW to address global climate change. For Franciscans and Franciscan- hearted people this is not a new focus. We have been dedicated for the last 800 years to understanding St. Francis’ call to be brothers and sister to all of creation. St. Francis saw himself in a kinship relationship with the rest of creation. This kinship relationship is like the workings of a family. He did not see himself as something separate, like a steward standing outside the created world striving to guard it. Rather he saw himself on the inside, one of the created world and protecting it as he would protect his own mother, sister or brother. This stance of St. Francis created a different relationship with the rest of the world, a more humble one. As in a family, he saw his relationship with the rest of the world as being mutual, with each being having something to offer and each having something to learn.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word, Steward, no concrete image comes to mind. Well, other than Stewie from the Family Guy. I can’t think of a person I know who is a steward.. A friend of mine for a time was the warden of the Friends Meeting in Oxford England. In America we would call that person a Caretaker or a Super or Manager of Buildings and Grounds. But I don’t anyone who is a steward.

Steward is an archaic word like covenant and kinship. These old timey words have a formal weight to them but do not resonate like the words barista, guidance counselor, or caretaker. A caretaker is in charge of things and land. But when we are talking about being stewards of the earth we know that also includes looking after many living things, animals and people. Some words that might apply then are Caregiver or the British term, Carer, for someone who assists a person with medical needs. We also have the word attendant and assistant.

All these terms though I find problematic when talking about climate change and the earth. There is a distance, an othering about them. I care for you. You need me. But is that really the relationship we have to the natural world and the atmosphere?

I am not a touchy feeling granola new age environmentalist, but even I can see that there is an interconnectedness. When I breath out, I release a little bit of carbon dioxide and a lot of nitrogen. The carbon dioxide is in turn absorbed by plants and ultimately gets transformed and released as oxygen.

I am not a distant other caring for a needy planet. Rather I am part of a system, one that I need for food, air, and life.

Gretchen in eco-drag

Gretchen in eco-drag

If I were to be cynical about it though, the actual relationship I see that humans have with the planet is parasitical. A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. We have a negative connotation to the word parasite. It can be used as an insult in an argument, “I tell you Leonard, I can’t take any more. You are sucking the life out of you. You are an emotional and financial parasite!”

My husband is writing a novel that includes a character that is a tape worm, so over meals and before going to sleep, I have heard a far too much about parasites. Now there are actually good parasite, beneficial parasites. Researchers have begun to point out that many intestinal parasites actually help us.. These microbes swimming in our guts might be responsible for activating our immune system and staving off problems caused by intestinal inflammation. There is a give and take with these parasites in our systems. We benefit each other.

While it doesn’t sound terribly appealing, I believe that instead of seeing ourselves as stewards of the earth, we should think about how we can be downright neighborly beneficial parasites on this planet.

parasiteThe reality is we need the earth far more than it needs us. As we alter the chemistry of the atmosphere and harm multiple species, ultimately the earth will move on and reorganize itself to the new conditions it faces. It will adapt. If need be, it will do so without out, ejecting us from the system.

While I do not see us as stewards or caretakers or caregivers brought in to manage and save a sick planet and eco-system, I do think we have our part in undoing the damage that we have done, well as much as we can. If like St. Francis preached, the natural world and all in it is family to us, sisters, brothers, and others, kin, we can right the relationship where we have been cruel, selfish, or thoughtless. We can take our part.

As St. Francis said, Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in God’s sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.


Your Moment with Marvin

Hi everyone this is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this is your moment with Marvin. Oooooh Exxon-Mobil is in trouble. Did you hear the NY States Attorney is investigating the petroleum giant? The investigators insist that Exxon-Mobile knew fossil fuel pollution caused global warming but they intentionally hid that information from stock holders. Now in America you can lie about a lot of things—the health benefits of a granola bar, the birth certificate of our president, or why you can’t come home for the holidays, but about stocks? Oh, no. People go to jail for that stuff here. Even Martha Stewart.

interesting_things_you_dont_know_about_mad_men_640_25Seems some years ago companies like Exxon-Mobil took a page from the tobacco industry’s book, you know the one that for decades suppressed and massaged the known risks of cigarette smoking. Since the 50s big tobacco inserted doubt into the discussion. By doing so they created the appearance that there was some sort of serious scientific debate about the harms of cigarette smoking. Petroleum giants have been successfully using the same tactics to keep us hooked on the hose—the gas hose that is. But there is a way to break these nasty dangerous habits.

Back in the 1950s and 60s we have Don Draper like ad men creating slick campaigns for Lucky Strikes and other cigarette ads. A lot of Americans smoked. Eve Flintstones cartoon smoking spokesmen, spokescartoons? for Winston Cigarettes.. In 1955 56.9% of adult males in the USA smoked. Nearly 30% of women smoked. So much more than today. As of 2013 in the US 18 out of 100 Americans aged 18 or older smoke. 18% And that is a national average. In New York for instance only 14% of adults smoke and in California it gets as low as 12%.

1960s Flintstones Cartoon WINSTON CIGARETTES Vintage Advertisement Commercial Still DWhy are Americans smoking less? Well, it has had little to do with the disgusting pictures of diseased lungs they hurl at kids in school. Anti-tobacco people have learned that there is a better way. Instead of the health risks, talk to young people about the sneaky marketing efforts and unethical practices of the tobacco industry. That has been proven to actually curb smoking. Dr. Stanton A Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco heads their tobacco Control Research Education. He said, “We now have empirical evidence that people who don’t like the tobacco industry are about five times as likely to quit, and a third to a fifth as likely to start.”

Highlighting the creepy and unethical ways the tobacco industry does business does help, but that is not why our smoking rates dropped and continue to drop.Dr. Richard Hurt, who directs the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo clinic,points to two public policies most responsible for the decline in smoking among Americans— 1. The price of cigarettes. States place fees and taxes on the stuff. The price goes up. People buy less, particularly younger people, then they don’t get hooked. Then we see New markets, like those weird vape things I see people use, emerge. So raise the price, and lots of people move one. And the number two reason for the decrease in smoking? : We have created smoke-free spaces, particularly on the job. When it is harder to find places to smoke, well, you smoke less.

So, if we are going to address the dishonesty and trickery of those petroleum companies, whose products we love so much and can’t seem to live without, we need to of course expose their practices. Bring it to the light. Then we need to change policy. We need help to break our fossil fuel habits. Talk to your congress person to put a fee on petroleum and other fossil fuels. That will give businesses, yes, even big bad petroleum giants like Exxon-Mobile, incentive to invest in clean energy. Good bye bad oil, hello Big Renewables.

I am Marvin Bloom, and this has been your moment with Marvin.



Thank you for listening to Climate Stew. You can get a transcript of today’s show, including Father Joe’s full remarks, lots of links to the studies referenced by Marvin, music credits and more. Just visit our site

Have you told your friends about Climate Stew? We need your help to get the word. We want to show that there are positive ways to talk about our climate crisis, ways that motivate people to act. Help educate and inspire your friends and share us on Facebook and Twitter.

Special Thanks to Joe Schwab, Gretchen Reinhardt, the musician Moby for giving us permission to use his song Wait for Me in Marvin’s segment oh, and Joe G who in the late 1980’s as a boy invented the wildly popular and ultimately banned dance craze known as The Parasite. Thanks and come back soon more more Climate Stew

Peterson Toscano

Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is

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