We Gathered America’s Most Influential Climate Leaders: Here’s What We Found

For almost 20 years, the Milken Institute School of Public Health has provided a platform for cutting edge solutions to the world's most pressing health issues. With climate change impacting the welfare of all Americans, it seemed only suiting to host ecoAmerica's American Climate Leadership Summit at their beautiful Georgetown University location. On September 14th and 15th, ecoAmerica and Blessed Tomorrow welcomed nearly 300 leaders of business, health, faith, higher education, communities, government, culture, philanthropy, and climate to discuss precisely what we mean when we talk about "climate solutions" – this year's theme – and to consider productive paths forward in our responsibility to act on climate.

Comments by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D–RI) at this year’s leadership summit have never been more important than they are now, with his encouragement to increase (counter) lobbying efforts to demand that Congress address climate change immediately. In the wake of president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to “bring back coal,” and appoint climate denier, Myron Ebell to head the EPA transition team, many Americans are wondering how they might still lead on climate.

With a conservative upset of senate and house seats, the often neglected legislative branch has quickly become the focal point of the climate movement. Luckily, leaders such as Senator Whitehouse have maintained outspoken leadership for the climate over the years but he needs help from all leaders to combat the onslaught of fossil fuel lobbyists.

Fossil fuel lobbyists hold an enormous amount of sway on Capitol Hill, but their influence reaches far beyond Washington, all the way to the United Nations. This past week, a multinational petition signed by 500,000 people was given to the COP22 US delegation in Marrakech calling for a ban of fossil fuel lobbyist who have swayed UNFCCC negotiations for years.

Fossil fuel lobbyists receive their funds from special interest conglomerates that funnel millions of dollars annually into persuasive tactics that promote climate denial and inaction at the world’s highest regulatory negotiations – efforts that many small nations simply cannot compete against. Considering Senator Whitehouse's remarks at this year’s leadership summit, perhaps people of faith should focus 2017 on getting rid of fossil fuel special interests on Capitol Hill by starting their own petition or simply phoning their representatives to demand swift action on climate solutions.

Senator Whitehouse was joined at this year’s summit by Senator Brian Schatz (D–HI), who echoed his sentiments and explained ten ways in which Americans are collectively winning on climate, reminding us that effective climate leadership can come from anywhere. Read both Senators remarks in ecoAmerica's full report.

Politicians weren’t the only leaders forging solutions at this year’s event with Blessed Tomorrow leader Shantha Ready Alonso of Creation Justice Ministries sharing her excitement over the mingling of health and faith leadership: “As faith communities, we talk to each other quite a bit, but opportunities to interact with the health sector are so rare and important."

For many people of faith, their concern for God’s creation and the health of those who inhabit it are inseparable – particularly concerning the health impacts that climate change is having on “the least of these” domestically and internationally.

The proceeding was also a time to welcome one of Blessed Tomorrow’s  newest partners, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The AME church has been an outspoken leader of social justice in America for over 200 years, earning their leaders’ heavy political influence in Washington – so much so that Hilary Clinton made the AMEC’s Philadelphia headquarters a campaign stop to hear the concerns of Bishops who were in the middle of voting in the church’s first climate resolution.

The American Climate Leadership Summit also welcomed Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, Rev. Jim Wallis, Rabbi Steve Gutow, Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Brian McLaren, and many more to tackle three critical questions in the faith and climate community:

  1. How can faith communities be engaged with climate solutions?
  2. How can faith communities engage society with climate solutions?
  3. How can ecoAmerica help faith communities engage with society on climate solutions?

Read their full responses by downloading ecoAmerica’s free report today!

Earlier in the summer, ecoAmerica hosted another summit focused on climate leadership specifically within the Latino community, and ways to engage the growing number of Latino-Americans concerned with climate change. Among Latino leaders in health, business, faith, and politics, Blessed Tomorrow leader Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero, President of National Latino Evangelical Coalition, helped navigate a strong path forward on engagement in the broader Latino community. The findings from this event have been compiled into a special report, Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate U.S. Latinos, which will be shared via a free webinar on Thursday, December 1st. From 1pm to 2pm ET, ecoAmerica’s research team will offer an in-depth look at the results from this multi-phase research project, which leaders can use to successfully engage Latino audiences on climate, and create the optimism and intensity needed to inspire action.

Join the discussion by reserving your spot in the webinar today. You won't want to miss it!

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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