Interested in climate justice? And how The United Methodist Church is engaged in that work?
Then you might have a friend in Jan Lichtenwalter.
Keep reading for her conversation with Michael Black, a member of our Environmental Committee and faculty lecturer in the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University, on some national and local events aimed at tackling issues surrounding climate change.
Jan Lichtenwalter: The Glenn Environmental Committee, as you know, recently sponsored a trip to Costa Rica, a small Central American nation, but a world giant in its sustainability efforts. Soon after those 21 participants returned, deeply impressed by the commitment of the Costa Rican people to protect their world, United Methodists held a Climate Justice Conference on April 28 in the Washington D.C. area, addressing many facets of the environmental crisis of climate change, preceding the national People’s Climate March the next day.
Please tell us about your role in planning the UM gathering in the Washington area, and similar events held here in Atlanta the same weekend.
Michael Black: The Climate Justice Conference on Friday, April 28 was the 10th annual national Caretakers of God’s Creation Caring for Creation Conference that was started at Lake Junaluska in 2008. Next year’s conference will be in Minnesota. I’ve helped in planning the Caring for Creation conference for several years.
On the same Friday as the conference, Atlanta had a rally and sendoff for activists to DC. Ahead of the sendoff, I helped a coalition of groups organize the low-cost buses through Atlanta and Athens to Washington, DC, recruit riders, and arrange bus scholarships for low-income minority Atlanta community members.
On Saturday, conference attendees met in the morning at the United Methodist Building near the Supreme Court to hear from speakers of different faiths on the ethical importance of climate justice. We then marched to join the Keepers of Faith contingent of the People’s Climate March. At the head of the People’s Climate March were people bearing the brunt of climate and environmental injustice - the indigenous, frontline environmental, and climate justice communities. These included water protectors from Standing Rock and frontline community members from Atlanta. We peacefully marched from the US Capitol to surround the White House and then came together at the Washington Monument to call for action and better policies to address the climate crisis.
On Saturday in Atlanta, supporters gathered in Decatur for a sister march to those marching in DC and globally and in solidarity with those suffering from the effects of climate change.
JL: Soon after the Climate Justice Conference and the Climate Change March, a resolution advocating for 100% renewable energy use by the City of Atlanta passed unanimously. How were you involved in supporting the proposal? What do we need to watch for, going forward in our commitment to advocate for responsible environmentalism?
MB: I announced at the Caretakers of God’s Creation that the Atlanta resolution for 100% clean energy was coming up for a vote, and we prayed about it. The following Monday, ahead of the city council vote, I spoke as a citizen before the Atlanta City Council in favor of the resolution advocating for 100% clean energy by City of Atlanta.
The Atlanta City Council unanimously passed the resolution and committed Atlanta to the goal. Now we need to follow through on that commitment.
There’s a Southface Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable this Friday, June 2, at 7:30 a.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church (next to the North Avenue MARTA station) to talk about City of Atlanta plans to achieve its 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2035. This is the first in a series of steps to get us there, and I encourage anyone interested to join me there this Friday.
JL: Speakers at Mt. Olivet UMC in the DC area, the site of the conference, spoke to United Methodists from across the country. Worship included leadership by Native American members of the UMC, who historically have led us in reverence for God's creation. John Venzia, an expert on climate change, explained shocking statistics as part of his report on the Paris Accord. Jenny Phillips, founder of "Fossil Free UMC," explained the work of that group, and the political complications of passing resolutions at General Conference. A panel of leaders in divestment strategies, both within the UMC and among professional investment managers, gave reasons for hope as more and more investors demand divestment from fossil fuels. Pat Watkins, from the General Board of Global Ministries, presented a workshop on "The Bible and Creation." He also explained "Earthkeepers," a new opportunity for UM persons keenly aware of current ecological challenges, who volunteer to work in congregations and communities as advocates for sustainability. (Contact Susan Mullin, email@example.com, for more information and an application.) And late in the day, Michele Roberts urged pursuit of environmental justice, and United Methodist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, spoke with passion and a sense of alarm about the enormity of the climate crisis.
There is so much to understand! How would you advise us to begin or continue as individual Christians and as Glenn members, to focus our efforts?
MB: Focus your efforts on what matters. I think Jim Hartzfeld said it well when he said “change the design question to: how do we create conditions for thriving lives?”
We certainly need to draw down the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere below 350 ppm CO2 equivalents and get there soon for the health of all people on our planet. For those interested in how best to do that, there is a new edited book, Drawdown, by Paul Hawken and others. Decatur First UMC is hosting an event on Thursday, June 8 from 7 - 8:30 p.m. (318 Sycamore Street) featuring Drawdown author Katharine Wilkinson, Sustainability Advisor Jim Hartzfeld, and Drawdown Board Member and Ray C. Anderson Foundation Executive Director John Lanier. To reach the safe levels we want, we need to employ all of the ways listed in the book. The strategy on the top of the list is one I bet even the most educated at Glenn would not guess. Write down what you think are the top five ways, and you can see if you’re right. You can find the answers online, find out in the book or at the event, or email me for them (firstname.lastname@example.org). Explanations can also be found at any of those places. Strategy number six in the Drawdown ranking to reach a safer level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is to educate girls globally, something that Glenn already does through its support of students' tuition and school building projects for over 100 children in Zimbabwe, Cambodia, and Honduras.
We are making a difference by loving our neighbor, and we can amplify the difference we make.