As COP21 Paris closed this past December with a historic agreement between nations, its non-legally-binding measures conjuring feelings of uncertainty. Who would be accountable for 195 countries to hold rising global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius? How would they achieve these standards, and to what end? Many countries, including the United States, proposed plans to reduce carbon emissions months before the gathering, but even those fell victim to an elaborate legal system, locking progress in mechanisms far beyond the scope of the everyday citizen.
While the Paris Agreement measures have jumped ahead of schedule with planned implementation by 2018, finalized with an official signing of 130 nations in New York on Earth Day, people of faith are taking a proactive approach. Organizations such as Blessed Tomorrow's partner, Interfaith Power and Light have designed a plan for both congregations and individuals to enact the Paris Agreement in the midst of ambiguity…and it begins with you.
IPL is encouraging all people of faith to take the ‘Paris Pledge,’ committing to reduce fossil fuel use by 50% before 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, in faith facilities and homes across the U.S. Interfaith Power & Light will provide pledged congregations and individuals with helpful resources and tools to achieve these commitments without straining their congregation.
Why should a faith leaders sign the Paris Pledge?
IPL explains that "by living as examples, we will show our world leaders that we believe change is not only possible, but happening now." It’s worth noting that nine out of ten U.S. house representatives identify as Christian, with the remaining claiming religious affiliation in Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim communities, according to the Pew Research Center. That leaves only nine members of congress who do not maintain some level of public religiosity.
For years, U.S. houses of worship, faith-based institutions of higher education, and various religious orders have divested and transformed their organizations to achieve carbon neutrality, in turn, influencing leaders who glean some level of inspiration from these faithful institutions. Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, New Jersey, for example, voted to move to a fossil-free investment portfolio, and Blessed Tomorrow's partner organization, Sojourners (including founder Jim Wallis) vowed to do the same – joined by hundreds of other faith communities.
Divesting financial holdings from fossil fuel corporations is perhaps the most impactful approach to combating climate change, but it is far from the only method available. Investing in renewable energy sources is another means of decreasing carbon emissions in your faith facility, and leaders across America are beginning to actualize the power of solar. Not only are solar panels a cost-saving technology, they allow houses of worship to publically promote their concern for God's creation to the world, inspiring others to do the same.
And for congregations that go above and beyond, Interfaith Power and Light holds an annual contest, Cool Congregations, awarding centers which have become “energy efficient and sustainable role models within their communities.”
If your faith facility isn't quite ready to implement these changes, there are still ways to act on climate. Interfaith Power and Light's 25 Steps Under $25 is an excellent place to begin for smaller congregations. Steps as simple as turning off the lights in unused rooms will spare the air 380 pounds of CO2 per year. And, weather-stripping around doors and windows will stop 1,350 pounds of CO2 from damaging the climate annually.
While these changes are a great place to start, we need leadership, and we need it now. We need every faith leader to unite under one umbrella and call for true reform to the way we approach climate change and collectively generate solutions that glorify the creation God has given us.
This past week, one hundred and twenty faith leaders did just that when they penned a letter to Congress encouraging the approval of $750 million allocated toward the Green Climate Fund. The GCF works toward supporting the poorest regions of the world through climate change mitigation and preparedness. Instances such as these demonstrate the potential of faith leadership and the power generated by a resounding chorus of moral guidance.
For Faith Climate Action Week, will you care for God's creation and take the Paris Pledge today?
Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside. Email him at [email protected].