Article in Orlando Sentinel: "Sister Pat, Spiritual and Legal Fighter for Environment, Retiring"

We want to share this article published in the Orlando Sentinel on May 7th, 2016, by journalist Kevin Spear, who interviewed our outgoing Director. Don't let it's title fool you-- Sr. Pat is far from retiring, but she is taking On a new role as Prioress of her Congregation in Adrian Michigan in July.

How do we change our way of being and our way of thinking so that we actually experience ourselves as a part of the rest of the web of life?
— Sr. Pat Siemen

Among many kinds of Florida environmentalists, from springs defenders to solar advocates, there is Sister Pat, a specialist in intellectual, moral, spiritual and legal aspects of fighting to keep the state green.

Patricia Siemen, 67, is a lawyer, Dominican sister and director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry University's law school in Orlando.

She recently was elected as president of her congregation in Michigan and is resigning from the center, which she founded a decade ago.

Sister Pat spoke to the Orlando Sentinel about the good, bad and hopeful in Florida's environment.

What makes you optimistic about Florida's environment?

I am optimistic about collaboration with different environmental groups, including the Florida Conservation Coalition and Floridians' Clean Water Declaration Campaign. This moves us beyond having just Sierra Club issues versus Friends of the Wekiva versus Audubon versus the springs groups. This unified front is needed given dire concerns in Florida.

What does CEJ bring to that collaboration?

The mission for Center for Earth Jurisprudence is to advance policies and laws from a nature perspective. We do that through education, including legal education, training future lawyers to at least consider this perspective in whatever area of practice they go into. It's also community education, showing up at public events. Whenever I speak publicly I often use the language of the inherent rights of nature to exist and flourish and fulfill its purpose and for the rest of us to live in harmony and balance with that. We also show up to do advocacy, whether most recently protection of Florida springs, and certainly we were engaged in trying to stop the bear hunt. We'll continue to work against fracking and engage in Florida's 2017 constitutional-revision process to advocate for protecting healthy ecosystems.

What worries you most?

Unlimited growth. We no longer have the Department of Community Affairs to provide support to local governments to give them backbone and protection to control growth. We have an increasing population in a fragile environment and an attitude that does not seem to recognize that Earth has restraints and certain capacities. At the same time, we have climate change upon us.

Unlimited growth doesn't sound as provoking as dead bears or dirty springs.

So many people are very good people who are so well intentioned and who would be the first ones to respond if there was some kind of calamity or natural disaster with their neighbors. But we don't see the nonhuman members of the community as our neighbors. We are asleep at the wheel when it comes to a lot of environmental issues because they seem not to be affecting us directly and right now.

Is part of Florida's problem that most residents aren't from the state?

Many people come in the later years of their life, having already faced a lot of challenges in their lives. They don't want to have to be bothered to be engaged. I don't know if I have a solution for that. Personally I would like to close the doors to the flood of retirees coming to Florida.

What environmental issue has trended in a positive direction?

I'm always a woman of hope, and my hope lies in the kind of building of relationships, collaboration and partnering among more and more people who are concerned, activists, artists and communicators. I think resilience and sustainability will come from local communities who network with each other and not just stand alone.

Speaking of an important factor that's not local, grade Barack Obama.

Oh my. He's a man caught in a system that politically marginalized him from his first day in office. Nevertheless, as for environmental issues, President Obama deserves high marks. He has exercised leadership on the most critical environmental issue facing the world: climate change. He raised the standards for eliminating air pollutants and he ruled in favor of killing the Keystone XXL pipeline, a symbolic victory for a huge number of environmentalists.

What question would you ask the director of CEJ?

How do we change our way of being and our way of thinking so that we actually experience ourselves as a part of the rest of the web of life?