Last week, my husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. This marker prompted fond memories of when Jim and I met. At the time, I was living and working in the mountains of rural western Pennsylvania, directing Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s first field program, in the Sideling Hill Creek watershed. The Conservancy had been active in the science of land conservation in the area for over 20 years due to the concentration of rare, threatened, and endangered species, exceptional water quality, and forest cover. Yet the Conservancy had not established meaningful relationships within the community, hampering its ability to fulfill its conservation goals.
As someone new to life in a rural community, I was especially struck by how caring my neighbors were for each other. Their kindness and generosity extended to me as well. I had neighbors mow my hayfield and provide me with food from their gardens. One neighbor brought me a rooster for my hens. Another brought his family over to build a sheep shed for my two Jacob sheep and installed the fencing for their pasture. As well, I noticed that the conservation values that originally brought me to the area weren’t necessarily top concerns for most of the community. Some were generally suspicious of “environmentalists,” of which I was considered one. So I sought a new approach.
At the time, my friend and colleague Susan Emmerich was undertaking participatory research with watermen on Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, which is downstream – literally – from the community I was working in. Susan and I arranged for the watermen to host the landowners on Tangier Island. The Sideling Hill Creek landowners reciprocated by welcoming the watermen and their families into their homes and churches in Pennsylvania. As an expression of their commitment to their neighbors downstream, the farmers and landowners committed to a stewardship covenant to be faithful stewards of God’s creation for which they had a responsibility and set a high standard of obedience to pollution laws and other regulations.
The connections between conservation values and the core ethic to love thy neighbor was so beautifully present in that community. Building on it by connecting my neighbors with their neighbors downstream fostered new friendships and relationships. In doing so, conservation outcomes were strengthened beyond what the Conservancy would have achieved with a more traditional approach.
Connecting on core values aligns with the findings of ecoAmerica’s Let’s Talk Climate research and other reports which finds that persuadable Americans express a significant shift to higher urgency and support for climate action when it is framed and discussed in terms of core values such as a moral responsibility to future generations.
I see similarly strengthened outcomes in the work and witness of the partners and leaders I work with now who are connecting creation care and climate leadership with their core values. At Disciples of Christ, Sharon Watkins (Blessed Tomorrow leader), Ron Degges, Carol Devine, and Scott Hardin-Nieri are engaging new congregations in creation care and climate to put their passion for justice into action through the Disciples’ Green Chalice program. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs recently passed a climate resolution reinstating the Jewish commitment to clean energy solutions as a way to fight global warming and increase independence from foreign oil. And Blessed Tomorrow Leadership Council members Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe and John Hill (of the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society) are reaching leaders and raising support for those impacted by climate change by telling their stories and connecting climate solutions to core values of stewardship and justice.
As the impacts of climate change are becoming ever more apparent, the next two years will offer pivotal new opportunities to engage more faithful leaders in securing the climate solutions we need by connecting the dots between climate solutions and the values of protecting the vulnerable, our families and communities, and the planet on which we all depend. Join other climate leaders to broaden and coalesce support for climate solutions at the American Climate Leadership Summit September 14-15, 2016 in Washington D.C. Learn more here.
Kara Ball is the Program Director of our Blessed Tomorrow initiative.