On April 10, 2015, Halida Hatic with the Center for Interfaith Relations had the privilege of giving the opening remarks for the Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission Earth Day Awards Ceremony. In addition to sharing her selfie with a penguin who made a special appearence at the event, we are excited to offer her inspiring sacred journey with our audience this Earth Day.

2015 Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission
Earth Day Awards Ceremony
Friday, April 10, 2015
Remarks by, Halida Hatic

Let me begin by saying thank you. Thank you to Dr. Peters for his kind introduction. Thank you to Ms. Gadson for the invitation to provide remarks. And my deep and profound thanks to each and every one of you for your commitment to protecting public health and the environment.

HH Earth Day Penguin

I am inspired by the work that you are doing, and delighted to see a few familiar faces and names on the list of award winners this year.

I am truly humbled by the opportunity to be here with you on this auspicious day to celebrate your individual and collective achievements.

I want to talk to you about love.

Love is powerful and transformative. Love gives life and meaning to everything. Love is vulnerability and strength. Love is kind. Love is fierce. Love heals. And Love inspires action.

My story begins in Bosnia and Appalachia. I am a first generation Bosnian-American. My father immigrated to this country with his parents in 1952.

I was raised in what was once a rural part of Cincinnati, Ohio on twenty-two acres of land that my grandfather purchased in 1955, and which is still in my family today.

My mother’s family is from Rowan County Kentucky.

My roots are deep.

I was encouraged by my parents to spend time outside. My brother and I explored the land that was our home, playing in the dirt, hiding in the woods, and gazing at the stars that, in my childhood, were still visible.

We watched meteor showers from our deck, looked through a telescope in sheer wonderment of the universe, planted trees, flew kites in the field, and caught fire flies in the yard.

As long as I can remember, I have had a deep connection to the Earth. I have always loved the Earth.

I enjoy the feeling of the grass beneath my feet, dirt in my fingernails, and the sights and sounds of nature all around me.
I experience the changing seasons with gratitude, appreciation and awe.

I was taught by my parents to treat myself and others with compassion, respect, kindness and understanding, and for me, that message was not limited to people, but extended to all living things, to nature itself.

It was hard for me, as a child, as it is now, to separate myself from the natural world.

I experience my surroundings as life giving energy, and it is this energy that guides my work and commitment to protect the health and well-being of our planet and all living things.

Suffice it to say that the Earth is in my bones, in my very DNA.

As a child, I didn’t need anyone to tell me that, and I wouldn’t have believed you if you had told me otherwise. I knew this to be true then and I know this to be true now.

I am here to tell you, if you don’t already know, it is also, in your bones, and in your DNA.

My sacred journey took me from Ohio to New Hampshire, and then to Massachusetts. I spent nearly twelve years living, learning and working in the Northeast.

After six years at the New England Office of the Environmental Protection Agency, I moved to Louisville…you guessed it, for love.

If I know anything, I know that love propels us forward, and it moves us to act in surprising ways!

My husband, as a native Louisvillian, was coming home, and little did I know at the time, so was I.

Not long after moving to Louisville, I began working with public school districts in eastern Kentucky.

As a Regional Coordinator for the Kentucky Energy Efficiency Program for Schools, I worked directly with thirty K-12 public school districts in eastern Kentucky to reduce their energy consumption and help them save money.

KEEPS is no longer active in the state; however, it remains a national model for assisting school districts with the development and implementation of sustainable energy management programs.

I have consulted with for profit and nonprofit organizations, helping them to adopt sustainable business practices.

I have helped organizations build cultures that support shared values and promote environmental stewardship.

I am active in my community as the Chair of the Green Convene and the Vice-Chair of the Louisville Sustainability Council.

The Green Convene is a grassroots organization working to raise awareness locally around issues of environmental sustainability and community health.

The LSC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to harnessing the collective impact of the region’s corporate, nonprofit and governmental community to position Louisville and Kentucky, as a green leader.

In my current role as director of community relations and development at the Center for Interfaith Relations, I am responsible for building partnerships and supporting programs that further the mission and values of the Center, which include environmental stewardship, celebrating our interconnectedness, and working to create a happier, healthier, and stronger society through respect for the sacredness of all life.

In May, we are hosting our 20th annual Festival of Faiths, Sacred Journeys and the Legacy of Thomas Merton. The five-day event, held at Actors Theatre of Louisville, will be a zero-waste event.

In 2014, we collected and diverted 875 pounds of compostable material and 225 pounds of recyclable material from the landfill.

In addition, as a result of printing on 100% recycled, 100% post-consumer waste, processed chlorine free paper, the festival used 38,000 fewer gallons of water, 23,000 fewer pounds of CO2, nearly 4,000 pounds of solid waste was saved from going into landfills, and we cut down on 71 million BTUs of purchased energy.

Even more important, in my opinion, than these numbers is that we took a leadership role in our community, and raised awareness among festival attendees, and our partnering organizations.

Prior to the 2014 Festival of Faiths, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the location of our weeklong festival, did not have a recycling program in place.

Since the 2014 festival, they have implemented one, repurposing waste bins as recycling receptacles and clearly labeling trash cans with the word LANDFILL.

In addition to all this, I am also the mother of an amazing three-year old boy who reminds me every day that love is enough.

My greatest joy and responsibility is helping Bodhi to cultivate a deep love for, and connection to, the Earth.

This is a snapshot of my journey so far, and the experiences that have led me to this moment, standing before you today, with feelings of both optimism and despair.

My desire to talk about love, is, in fact, my desire to share my hope with you; however, first, we must acknowledge the fact that collectively, we remain asleep.

What do I mean by this? In other words, we make choices every day that impact our health and the health of our planet, yet we do so unconsciously. We do so without thought or consideration for the true cost of these choices.

It can be as simple as turning off a light when we leave the room, or taking our own reusable bags to the store with us.

It can also mean considering the environmental cost of our food choices, or how we choose to transport ourselves from one place to the next.

Our challenges are not born from a lack of scientific evidence, innovative solutions, financial resources, or the capacity to transition to a sustainable future, we already have everything we need in each of these areas.

Our challenges stem from our inability to heal, with our whole heart, the broken relationship that we have with our Earth.

Last week, California Governor, Jerry Brown, announced unprecedented measures to compel people to reduce water consumption. In an executive order, Governor Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to impose a 25 percent reduction on the state’s 400 local water supply agencies. This comes as the state’s four-year drought has reached near-crisis proportions after a winter of record-low snowfalls.

At the same time, storms swept across Kentucky, causing flash flooding in Louisville and resulting in combined sewer overflows that have left flood waters, creeks and rivers bacteria-laden with sewage.

Between 2008 and 2012, four weather-related disasters were declared for Louisville, two for Southern Indiana and 11 total for Kentucky, costing the Federal Emergency Management Agency more than $700 million in damage reimbursements and mitigation grants.

Business as usual for Kentucky means increased frequency and intensity of severe weather events, including tornadoes, wind storms, crippling ice, torrential downpours, unrelenting heat waves, and flash flooding.

A 2015 study published in the leading journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that a record drought that ravaged Syria from 2006 to 2010 was likely stoked by ongoing manmade climate change, and furthermore, suggests that the drought helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising, which killed at least 200,000 people and displaced millions.

The take away, studies are now linking extreme weather caused by climate change to increased chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars.

All of this alone should be enough to galvanize state and national policy action to mitigate further impacts of climate change…yet, we wait, and we continue to debate and question the science.

So what is missing from our current discourse on climate change?

Could it be love? Could it be a lack of interconnection?

Here is what we know to be true based on scientific consensus.

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate warming trends over the past century are due to human activities.

The effects of climate change include rising temperatures, melting ice sheets, sea level rise, changing patterns of rainfall and drought, increased intensity of heat waves, extreme precipitation, and acidifying oceans.

The current rate of warming we are experiencing is unprecedented. While the effects are real and certain, their impact will be felt, disproportionately, by those least responsible for the problem, including poor and minority communities.

Here is what we think to be true based on current discourse on climate change in the media.

In 2013, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, only 42% of American adults understood that “most scientists think global warming is happening.”

Thirty-three percent said, “There is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening.”

And twenty percent said they “don’t know enough to say.”

After decades of research, and scientific consensus, what we know to be true and what we think to be true are very different.

The lesson appears to be that scientific evidence is not sufficient to ignite a movement, to spur policy, or even encourage individuals who understand the facts, to shift their habits.

If it were, we would be having a much different conversation.

Our discourse is missing a critical message.

Climate change is not a scientific debate, which lacks sufficient evidence.

Climate change is a moral issue, it is a social justice issue, and it is, at its heart, a crises of connection.

We know this. And now that we know this, we cannot un-know it.

The data is in, and under the current scenario of business as usual, our future is grim.

UNLESS, as Dr. Seuss so wonderfully put it, “Someone like you cares a whole awful lot.”

We cannot hope that future generations will solve our problems. We cannot wait and see if there is a silver bullet.

There is NO silver bullet, and we are the future.

The good news, though, we already have everything we need.

The solutions exist. The possibilities are endless. And we have the capacity, the resources, and the knowledge to take action.

Now, we just need the heart.

We can make a difference, individually and collectively, and when we lead with our hearts, the rest of us finds a way.

A healthy future requires a new perspective, a new paradigm, and it is up to us, all of us, to change the discourse, and reimagine our future.

And so, we must return to the heart of the matter. We must reconnect, and reestablish our relationship with the Earth, with our communities, with our neighborhoods, with the landscape of our regions, and ultimately, with ourselves and with each other.

We must accept that the Earth has limitations, and that we must live within these limitations.

And we must fall in love with the Earth, with our surroundings, and with a sense of place that binds us together.

Only then, can we summon the will necessary to change the dream, transform our culture, and heal the Earth.

The choice is ours, and we must be conscious of this choice each and every day.

No, it won’t be easy, and yes, change is difficult.

It will take dedication, commitment, and the will to break down all the boundaries that separate us from our Earth and each other.

And it will take each and every one of us, working together, intimately connected, and caring for one another and the Earth.

Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, writes in his book, Love Letter to the Earth, “At this very moment, the Earth is above you, below you, all around you, and even inside you. The Earth is everywhere. You may be used to thinking of the Earth as only the ground beneath your feet. But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth. Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth. We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth. The Earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.”

Thich Nhat Hanh is not alone in his message of interconnection.

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales visited Louisville last month. I had the great pleasure of participating in some of the events related to his visit. His visit served to lift up the good work taking place in Louisville and across Kentucky in the areas of health and harmony. It was also meant to ignite a movement. His message was clear as he stated in his public remarks at the Cathedral of the Assumption, “No matter how sophisticated our technology has become, the simple fact is that we are not separate from nature – like everything else, we are nature.”

And bringing it even closer to home, Wendell Berry, one of Kentucky’s great authors, and a champion for the principles of health, justice and sustainability said during a talk he gave at the 2014 Festival of Faiths, “I would like you to show me, if you can, where the line can be drawn between an organism and its environment. The environment is in you. It’s passing through you. You’re breathing it in and out, you and every other creature.”

Their message is clear and simple…

We are already one and we have always been one with our environment, with the Earth. What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

As Thomas Merton, poet, hermit, activist, interfaith pioneer and adopted son of Kentucky, taught us, “My dear brothers and sisters, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. So what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”

His message applies not only to the relationship that we have with each other, but also the relationship we have with the Earth.

So here is the really good news…the climate movement is gaining traction, and a great transition is occurring.

I am, in fact, hopeful.

I had the honor of attending the People’s Climate March in New York last September, in addition to a series of climate meetings hosted at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and organized by Religions for Peace International.

More than 400,000 people from across the nation mobilized on September 21, 2014 to fill the streets of New York City. There were more than 2,000 rallies in 162 countries.

Our voices were gathered in a chorus that echoed a message of interconnection.

It was clear to me as I walked the streets with hundreds of thousands of people that the climate movement was gaining traction and that it was carrying a much different message.

The movement is building around issues of equity and justice. The climate crises is being framed, in the United States, for the first time, for what it really is, a moral issue.

If we are to transform society, and therefore, the history of humanity, we must first transform our relationship with the Earth.

And so, let us be clear in our resounding message of hope for humanity.

Let us be clear in our collective message of compassion, loving-kindness, affection and interconnectedness.

Let us wake up from our deep slumber, and from the illusion of separateness that we have created, and let us choose to love.

Let us choose to love the Earth.

Let us choose to love each other.

On this Earth Day celebration, I applaud the work that each of you is doing to care for our environment, protect public health, and improve the well-being of all Kentuckians.

You, inspire me.

I hope that you may you never underestimate your power to love and to change the world for the better.

Rachel Carson sounded the first alarms and launched the global environmental movement with her 1962 book, Silent Spring. Many credit Carson’s book, which brought environmental concerns to the forefront, with inspiring the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Wangari Matthai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, showed us that when we finally see that we are part of the problem, then we can become part of the solution. Since 1977, the Green Belt Movement has planted more than 51 million trees in Kenya.

Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say in Love Letter to the Earth, “Realizing this

[interconnection], we can see that the Earth is truly alive. We are a living, breathing manifestation of this beautiful and generous planet. Knowing this, we can begin to transform our relationship to the Earth. We can begin to walk differently and to care for her differently. We will fall completely in love with the Earth. When we are in love with someone or something, there is no separation between ourselves and the person or thing we love. We do whatever we can for them and this brings us great joy and nourishment. That is the relationship each of us can have with the Earth. That is the relationship each of us must have with the Earth if the Earth is to survive, and if we are to survive as well.”

Wendell Berry conveys a similar message in his Jefferson Lecture, “To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And in affection we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy.”

My wish for each and every one of you, my wish for the world, my wish for humanity is that we may fall completely in love with the Earth, that we may recognize the deep interconnectedness between the health of our planet and our own health, and through this love we may begin to recognize that we are one with the Earth.

As we heal, together, and reestablish our natural harmony, then we may begin to reimagine the world, we may begin to cultivate a healthier planet, and we may begin to do so through a lens of equity and justice for all.

We are the movement that we have been waiting for and love is the answer. It will reconnect us. It will inspire more good.

The choice is ours.

And we must choose with our whole heart to love the world again, each day, because the future of all life depends on our mindful steps.

Congratulations to each of you, keep up the good work, and thank you!




Halida Hatic is director of community relations and development at the Center for Interfaith Relations. In this capacity, she leads the Center’s fundraising efforts and collaborates with the managing director and communications and marketing team to promote CIR’s mission and programming. Before joining the CIR staff, Ms. Hatic, a native of Cincinnati, worked for ten years in the environmental sustainability field, including six years at the New England office of the Environmental Protection Agency. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in International and Development Economics from the University of New Hampshire and a Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University. Ms. Hatic currently serves on the boards of the Louisville Sustainability Council and the Green Convene, and has infused her passion and commitment to protecting the health and well-being of all living things into both her personal and professional life.