People of faith aren’t just waking up to the climate crisis, they’re leading the way. Across the country, people are bringing the wisdom of their faith traditions to their work on climate change because they know they’re better together. They know its not just about individual faith communities lowering their carbon footprints, its about collaborating around shared values, and building the world they know is possible in practical and systematic ways. Check out these five inspiring stories and then consider how you can be Better Together.
1. Standing Up for Socially just Solar
People of faith in Minneapolis were excited about promoting solar in their faith communities, but as they started to look at the details, it became clear that community solar gardens were not going to be accessible to low income communities. A team of solar developers, contractors, faith leaders, business owners, and college students, representing diverse faith traditions came together design a community solar garden that is accessible to all. Their work is rooted in a shared value of equity and justice. What started as small team interested in solar energy has blossomed into a community of leaders who are invested in one another, in their faith communities, and in working together to create ecoequity, not reinforce eco-apartheid by creating jobs in low income communities for historically marginalized populations. With 3,200% growth expected in the solar industry, this team is working to make sure everyone experiences the benefits.
Louis Alemayehu, Buddhist, poet, and community elder understands the devil is in the details. That's why he is serving on the Minneapolis Energy Partnership Board, and fighting to promote access to renewable power to all. Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries, Associate Minister at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ, said it best at a recent press conference launching the project, "I have come to believe fiercely in the capacity of the human spirit and the Holy Spirit to creatively break us out of colonial ways of relating, to one another and to the earth." The team is excited to support the development of a community solar array at Shiloh Temple in North Minneapolis, and hope to help to create several community solar gardens in the coming months. Learn more about their work and their stories here.
2. Faith Leaders Support Clean Energy
In Maryland, faith leaders are working together to support clean energy policy that will create significant reduction of carbon pollution. Seven Maryland bishops and senior ecumenical leaders joined over 230 faith leaders in delivering a letter to lawmakers, making a moral case for shifting the state to cleaner energy. These faith communities have also committed to using more clean energy in their own homes and facilities, working with Interfaith Power & Light to participate in Groundswell's group clean energy purchases. They are raising their voices on the policy changes we need, and implementing practical solutions in their own facilities as they build an interfaith community committed to climate action in Maryland.
3. People of Faith Divest from Fossil Fuel
Faith communities around the world are working to align their financial practices with their spiritual values by divesting from fossil fuels. This summer, the World Council of Churches, made up of 300 churches, representing 590 million people in 150 countries, announced that it will divest from fossil fuels and encouraged faith communities around the world to do the same. Last summer, Union Theological Seminary became the first seminary in the world to divest from fossil fuels. “Scripture tells us that all of the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to care for and respect the health of the whole,” said Union President Serene Jones. “As a seminary dedicated to social justice, we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”
At the local level individual faith communities across the country are committing to divestment from fossil fuels. Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light is launching a 50 for Our Faith & Future Campaign to encourage faith communities across the state to become active in the interfaith fossil-free movement by engaging their communities in one of many activities. Their goal? To free their churches' and faith communities' investments from fossil-fuel and the climate crisis.
4. Native Communities Call for an End of Extreme Extraction
Honor the Earth, a Native environmental organization, is working to transition away from fossil fuels towards a land-based economy that values intergenerational and inter-species equity, affirms cyclical systems, and respects indigenous knowledge and culture. Rooted in Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) spirituality, Honor the Earth works in partnership with grassroots organizations across the Great Lakes and Great Plains regions to protect Mother Earth and Anishinaabe Akiing (territory) in the face of extreme extraction and to lay the groundwork for restored Indigenous economies in Native American communities. Winona LaDuke, activist, author, and director of Honor the Earth, explains: “In our Anishinaabe prophecies this is called the time of the Seventh Fire. This is a time when our people will have two roads ahead of us: one miikina (or path) is well worn, but scorched. There is another path which is green. It will be our choice upon which path to embark. That is where we are.”
Last spring Honor the Earth joined the Cowboys and Indians Alliance in resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline and rode their horses on the Washington Mall and Last summer they rode horses along the proposed pipeline routes through their territory . They are committed to working with all their neighbors, as Winona said, “to work to keep these waters for wild rice, these trees for maple syrup, our lakes for fish, and our land and aquifers present for all of our relatives – whether they have fins, roots, wings, or paws.”
5. Young People Are Asking “What Do Our Faith Traditions Say?”
Young people know they will inherit a world ravaged by the effects of climate change. What they, and others, are less sure about is how the world’s faith traditions can help change attitudes and behaviors that have contributed to anthropogenic global warming. Students at Gustavus Adolphus College in St Peter, MN are engaging local faith communities in dialogues about climate change. A community survey conducted by students in “Religion & Ecology,” a course taught by Deborah Goodwin, determined last fall that 70% of local churchgoers were unaware of their denominations’ calls to act on climate issues. This spring, students have researched statements on climate change across faith traditions. At a community event in April, they will bring people together to respond to climate change as an interfaith community. “The bigger issue came not from the lack of denominational statements, but from the failure to talk about them in the individual churches where they can be implemented. This, ultimately, is what we have to fight to change,” said Clark Hickman, sophomore and a Presbyterian.
Junior Mahmoud Abu Eid, sees the challenge in terms of “trying to live up to the moderate environmental Islamic standards of conserving the environment and making it last for the future, as it is a gift from Allah to us and mistreating it is disrespectful to Allah.”
People of faith are finding creative, effective ways to not only lower their carbon footprints but to build the climate movement we need for a just and sustainable future. Shared values across faith traditions, along with a rich sense of community, is resulting in a robust interfaith climate movement that is bringing the best that faith traditions have to offer to addressing one of the great crises of our time. Whether confronting climate change or engaging other important issues, interfaith cooperation starts by talking to others about their religious values and traditions. There’s no better time to have this conversation than right now. Learn more, and join people of faith across the country this Better Together Day, April 14th.
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