Local Climate Leadership Starts at the Pulpit

Your church, mosque, or synagogue may be small and far from Washington D.C., but it just became a vital component in climate solutions.

As the tug of war between Trump and the climate rages on in our nation’s capital, faith communities across the U.S. find themselves at a loss when it comes to taking action on meaningful solutions. People of faith want to do more than express their frustrations on Twitter, but many people struggle to find significant footing in what is routinely seen as a national, or global issue. As it turns out, our representatives in Washington not only recognize the power of local level climate leadership but depend on it.

Addressing the congregation at the Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Petersburg, VA, U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D) explained, "The environment has yet to rise to the level of Democratic orthodoxy. And it's not going to rise to the level of Democratic orthodoxy until we have a broader coalition, and we're not going to get a broader coalition…until you start preaching environmental justice issues from the pulpit."

The freshman representative of Virginia's 4th District has quickly positioned climate change and environmental issues as a priority during the early stages of his tenure. For McEachin, an ordained minister, his deeply held commitment to “creation care” is about more than a responsibility to protect God’s gift; it presents the greatest opportunity for “the religious left and the religious right to meet.” But McEachin warns against the intervention of fossil fuel companies in manipulating this process.

Last December, fossil fuel tycoons the Koch Brothers hosted a gospel concert in Richmond, Virginia, called Fueling U.S. Forward. The event expounded the “economic benefits” of fossil fuels while offering to pay for a few electricity bills from the low-income neighborhood — a manipulation that McEachin likened “to the 30 pieces of silver Judas took to betray Jesus.”

The fossil fuel industry has worked at the local level for decades, convincing underprivileged communities that their livelihoods depend on the existence of fossil fuels and offering small tokens to entice their audiences. Often that persuasion comes on the back of faith messages, cleverly disguised by organizations such as Cornwall Alliance or the Heartland Institute. These fossil fuel-funded organizations have shaped the local conversation on climate change since the early 1990s, but faith leaders are taking charge by developing their own unique solutions.

Interfaith Power and Light’s recently awarded five faith communities their Cool Congregations Award to highlight some of these solutions. Recipients of the award were honored for their creative and impactful commitment to climate solutions, which include:

  • Community United Church of Christ (CUCC) of Raleigh, NC installed solar panels and weatherized community homes.
  • Temple Shalom’s of Chevy Chase, MD launched their Bright Idea Project to reduce their yearly carbon emissions by 48,733 lbs. and save their community $6,400 in the process.
  • Congregational Church in Cumberland, ME found “creative financing to lower their carbon footprint and create momentum for community members and other local groups and governments to take their own climate reducing actions.”
  • Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood, NY built on their responsibility to God’s creation by further protecting land trust and affirming a Land Ethic Statement to help guide Brentwood toward further solutions.
  • Manchester United Methodist Church (MUMC) in Manchester, MO conducted an energy audit and “installed newer high-efficiency equipment, converted constant volume systems to variable air volume systems, upgraded to high efficiency condensing boilers, re-designed the chiller plant for thermal ice storage, and installed a building automation system.” These changes have reduced their carbon emissions 35 percent.

Learn more about these exciting initiatives and how you can get started on your own project at Interfaith Power and Light. The Cool Congregations program offers some exciting possibilities and assistance in achieving your creation care goals. With Spring just around the corner, now is the time for your congregation to prepare for next year’s selection.

Not only could this reduce your facility’s overhead costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions, but it will send a clear message to Washington that people of faith care about climate change. But to achieve this, we need everyone. As McEachin shared, "We need you all, not just rural preachers, but all preachers, to stand in the pulpit … and remind people that creation care is a tenet of our beliefs.”

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.

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