Local Catholics in the US take up action for the energy transition and a climate that provides life and flourishing for all

May 24, 2017

Editor: Catholic churches around the country are moving ahead with environmental action.  Deacon Mike Fletcher at Christ on the Mountain in Lakewood, Colorado spoke before Lakewood City Council on the importance of shifting our electricity to renewables (cities often have franchise agreements with utilities) more rapidly.  In and in cooperation with the Diocese of Monterey, California, a coalition of lay Catholics and interfaith groups are championing a 3-county wide shift to renewables using Community Choice Aggregation, which is available in 7 states.  The latter enables the local area to shift to 90% plus renewable energy in the next 10 years if they so choose.  In the meantime, parish-based work is proceeding as well; 25% of parishes in the San Diego diocese have added or are adding solar panels.  Another 25% are in process.  The remaining 50% are learning about it.  In South Bend, Indiana Catholic parishes also took the lead in convincing the city council to pass a resolution to call for 100% renewable energy.  In Catholics and people of faith are joining across organizational and party lines nationwide in “100%” efforts locally and for their states, while also considering how we can support our brothers and sisters abroad in making this shift.  It’s a dynamic time, on the local level!  Below see news from Kentucky, between the south and the Midwestern U.S.

By Darla Carter, USA Today, 22 May 2017

But the landscaping actually was part of a research project that the parish’s school is participating in to help the planet.

The pollution-reduction project is an example of how faith communities are finding ways to be kinder and gentler to the environment, including being sensitive to climate change.

Whether it’s installing solar panels at their churches, taking part in an Earth Day walk or eschewing disposable dining ware, many religious people — from Catholics to Presbyterians to Buddhists — are getting involved.

“From our point of view as a faith community, we certainly see that care for the earth is important equally to care for human beings — that there’s an integral ecology,” said the Rev. Bill Hammer, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church.

Pope Francis brought heightened awareness to the issue of climate change when he issued an encyclical letter in 2015, referring to climate change as “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

The pope also opined, “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.”

Hammer said the pope’s encyclical “was one of the motivating factors for us to happily offer our land” for the Green for Good Project by a research team at the University of Louisville and partners, such as the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil. The project involved the planting of 106 trees as well as 200 grasses, flowers and plants, and monitoring the air for things like potentially harmful ultra fine particulate matter.

Basically, it is to see if greenery, especially trees, have an effect on lessening air pollution and in the end, how that connects to the health of the people working in the area, or living in the area, for sure,” said St. Margaret Mary Principal Wendy Sims.

The project also lets students at the Catholic school “see that every person has an effect on the Earth,” she said.

The Rev. Carol Devine, a Nicholasville, Kentucky, minister who chairs the Creation Care Committee of the Kentucky Council of Churches, also believes that people’s actions matter when it comes to the environment. The senior minister at Providence Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) helps Disciples churches in the United States and Canada make earth-friendly changes, such as using real dishes and installing programmable thermostats.

Every decision that we make should be made through the lens of who we are,” Devine said. “So what I buy, where I shop, how I spend my money, what I eat, how I eat and then how I care for the earth — all of it just is all connected with who we are as followers of Christ, or should be.”

Christians have an obligation to “walk gently on the earth” and to take care of it, she said. Also, when it comes to climate change, “… generally, the first impacted are the poorest among us, and that is a huge concern for those who follow Christ.”

But some conservative Christians and like-minded groups have expressed skepticism about global warming and mankind’s impact on it and question the agenda of environmentalists.  In response to last month’s national March for Science, E. Calvin Beisner, the founder of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, blogged that “sound science is based on evidence and not climate scaremongering. That it doesn’t work by consensus. That it tests theories and predictions against observation of the real world. That it doesn’t intimidate dissenters, manipulate data, attack critics, or play lackey to politics.” The alliance — a coalition of theologians, pastors, ministry leaders, scientists, economists, policy experts and laymen — describes itself as “an evangelical voice promoting environmental stewardship and economic development built on biblical principles.”

But not everyone interprets the Bible in the same way. Some Christians who interpret the Bible in a “very literalistic way” tend to be less likely to accept scientific theories or findings about things like climate change that seem to contradict Biblical accounts or teachings, said Justin D. Klassen, an assistant professor of theology at Bellarmine University.

However, “I think the damage that we do is becoming more and more undeniable, and so moral imaginations are being expanded even in those churches and denominations where maybe you wouldn’t find much sympathy for science per se because of its perceived conflict with the Bible,” Klassen said.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has decades of policy on environmental justice and climate change, said Rebecca Barnes, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “The church has a stance that we’re called to care for God’s creation and to work to better the world, especially alleviating hunger and poverty, which we believe is connected to climate change and environmental destruction,” she said.

Its churches can become certified as “Earth Care Congregations” that pledge to “use energy efficiently, conserve resources, and share what we have in abundance so that God’s holy creation will be sustainable for all life and future generations,” according to material posted online. That might include solar panels or using wind energy. Also, there are special Earth Day Sunday observances.

Buddhists believe in doing no harm and having reverence for the earth, so a building project at the Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion in Louisville included solar panels and other green features, such as efficient electric wiring and Energy Star-rated double-glazed windows, said Anne Walter, director of the teaching center.

Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that engages in environmental justice, education and advocacy, teaches groups from different faith traditions about climate change and reducing their carbon footprint. There’s a mix, including “Christian but also Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, Unitarian, Buddhist,” Executive Director Tim Darst said.

The organization does energy audits and helps religious groups get into advocacy, such as signing petitions. The interest is “definitely growing” among the religious, Darst said. “I think people are becoming more aware of the issue. … The science is pretty firm and people are just starting to understand it better.”

Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light was one of the principal organizers of the Louisville Earth Walk. That April 22 event at Iroquois Park was billed as a way “to celebrate the planet and raise awareness about ways members of the community can take steps to create a more sustainable city.”

Some religious organizations, such as First Unitarian Church, St. William Church and Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church, helped sponsor the event.

“It really helps us have an impact on the important work of responding to our environmental crisis when people across all spectrums work together,” said Mark Steiner, a co-chair of the Earth Walk. Having faith communities “coming together, I think, is particularly powerful.”

Ed. note: Catholics have been long supporters of evolution, science, and climate change as evidenced by Vatican action and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences!  And some evangelicals are very supportive of the action needed to prevent climate change, including 50,000 pro-life conservative evangelicals in Texas calling for 100% renewable energy by 2030.