Why Delaware Faith Leaders Can’t “Live in a State of Denial” About Climate Change

By path2positive

Delaware is a beautiful and tiny state with a big impact on the United States. Known for its significant role in ratifying the U.S. constitution, Delaware was the first colony to sign it. While The First State, as it came to be known, has long been a leader in American history, it has recently been making a name for itself as a leader in climate solutions.

Delaware's mid-Atlantic river opens into the Delaware Bay which, according to the state’s climate impacts report, is rising at an alarming rate, with projected increases of 1.6 to 4.9 feet by 2100. In some cases, according to an Aljazeera report, major roadways have already been closed due to ocean sediment and water overflow. For Delaware’s residents, these impacts act as visible reminders of the consequence of inaction.

If the rising sea level persists as it has in Florida and Louisiana, it would effectively submerge up to 11 percent of the state’s land mass – but Delaware citizens aren’t wading around to find out. State and local officials, business leaders, and faith communities have all seen a recent uptick in climate action.

With years of successful climate leadership behind them, our partner organization Delaware Interfaith Power and Light (DIPL) is stepping up their efforts by teaming with Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility to “expand energy conservation resources for Delaware’s faith-based institutions.” These expanded efforts will provide “energy audits, remediation strategies, funding options, and ongoing cost-saving energy education” for the state’s many faith facilities.

One participant of the DIPL’s Faith Efficiencies program is John Mears, Green Team co-chair at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lewes, a seaside community that would undoubtedly be on the front line of coastal climate impacts. While the encroaching water level is motivation enough, the church's involvement is actually a response to “The Episcopal Church’s Genesis Covenant goal of reducing [their] carbon footprint by 50 percent in ten years.” Mears explained that the “Efficiency Program enabled [them] to establish a base year, identify reductions that have already been achieved and quantify costs, savings, and resources to support additional efficiency upgrades.”

But this isn’t DIPL’s first rodeo in the Delaware climate circuit. For years, they have worked closely with Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware, also in Lewes, to combat climate change and take action on Pope Francis’ call to 'care for our common home.' Together they helped initiate the Efficiency Program to help other Delaware faith communities reduce their carbon footprint.

Climate solutions and climate talk go hand-in-hand

Lisa Locke, Executive Director of Delaware Interfaith Power & Light, has had many successes under the Efficiency Program, but she also understands the importance of talking about climate change to provide insights on what she recently called the “defining moral challenge of our time.” Addressing national columnist Susan Stamper Brown’s article It's Time to Chill About Global Warming, Locke examines Brown’s parting question, “What if man has no control over what happens on the planet but the God who created it does?” Brown continues, “Maybe it’s time for alarmists to chill, stop guilting, and trust God more.”

Ideas like this may appear fringe in nature and isolated to faith outliers but the truth is that Brown isn’t alone in her thoughts. Earlier this year, the Yale Program On Climate Change Communications reported that “fifteen percent of Americans think God controls the climate, therefore people can’t be causing global warming.” Surveys conducted in March 2016 in Yale’s report, Global Warming, God, and the “End Times,” found that 11 percent of respondents expressed a belief that “the apocalypse will happen within their lifetime, therefore we don’t need to worry about global warming.”

While eschatological indifference is more of an American pastime than modern phenomena, there is a swelling number of faith leaders engaging those who perpetuate it. But, we need more!

Locke explains, “We do not believe that God will intervene to save us from our ill-informed and reckless mistakes,” continuing, “We cannot afford to live in a state of denial. Nor can our policy makers. We need a reality check for ourselves and we need to hold our leaders accountable.”

Talking about climate change has never been more important, but maintaining an optimistic approach is even more critical. As Locke says, “We need to believe that we can pull back from the brink of our own destructiveness. It will require inquiring minds, open hearts, helping hands and a certain leap of faith...”

Hats off to Delaware climate leaders like Locke for their persistent and long history of caring for God’s creation. They are a testament to the power of faith in climate solutions, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for 2017.

While Delaware has challenged itself to complete some amazing tasks for God’s creation, I have a challenge for you. In the first month of 2017, I am asking you to write one letter to an editor explaining why climate solutions are important to you. Write this from any perspective you like, submit it to any publication you like, and share it on social media. Who knows – we may just be writing a blog about you in the new year.

Need help getting started? Check out our many resources at Blessed Tomorrow.


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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