Faith groups fight climate change ahead of UN summit
He points to the stumps of partially submerged oak trees killed by salt water on land he rode on horseback as a child, and his mother’s house, ravaged by Hurricane Ida. He and his wife have a mission: to protect Pointe-aux-Chênes and other at-risk communities in a state that is losing the value of a wetland soccer field roughly every 100 minutes.
For years Donald and Theresa Dardar have joined forces with Reverend Kristina Peterson. Working with scientists and members from Pointe-au-Chien and two other tribes, they laid out thousands of oyster shells to protect sacred mounds, secured funding to fill canals in abandoned oil fields, and built a raised greenhouse to save their medicinal plants and herbs. floods.
“It saves what we know is going to be destroyed by both the heat change and the rising water,” said Peterson, pastor of Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church in Gray, Louisiana, and former professor of environmental planning at the University of New Orleans.
Their vital work to save their home and bayou heritage is part of a larger trend in the world of religious leaders and environmental activists who are increasingly joining the fight against climate change. From Hindu groups joining in cleaning up Sikh rivers and temples growing pesticide-free food, to Muslim imams and Buddhist monks organizing tree-planting campaigns, the movement knows no denominational boundaries but shares as a driving force an imperative moral to preserve what they see as a given environment for future generations.
But some of them believe that systemic change to protect those most vulnerable to the climate crisis must also come from world leaders gathered at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
“It’s up to them to step in and do what they’re supposed to do,” Theresa Dardar told the tribal center where she distributed supplies to members of her tribe and others who lost their homes after. the passage of Hurricane Ida. small fishing community 80 miles (approximately 130 kilometers) southwest of New Orleans.
“It’s up to you not to just speak up, but to take action on climate change and sea level rise,” said Dardar, a longtime religion professor at a local Catholic church and head of the environmental nonprofit Lowlander Center.
Pope Francis and dozens of religious leaders recently signed a joint appeal to governments to commit to achieving goals from October 31 to November 31. 12 summit in Glasgow. The summit aims to secure more ambitious commitments to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius with the aim of keeping it 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The event is also focused on mobilizing funding and protecting endangered communities and natural habitats.
Louisiana holds 40% of the United States’ wetlands, but they are disappearing fast – about 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) of the state have been lost since the 1930s. That’s about 80% of the loss of wetlands nationwide, according to the US Geological Survey.
Peterson arrived in Pointe-aux-Chenes in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew, following a call to connect scientists and communities affected by storms, sinking land and rising seas at cause of climate change. Thanks to the Lowlander Center that she co-founded, she has worked to protect sacred sites from coastal erosion, fill the canals dug by oil companies that allow the intrusion of salt water and build the greenhouse that will open its doors in October. Instead, it was reused as a pantry supply room after Ida.
“There has been so much that has been cut off… and these are all critical and critical things,” Peterson said.
“We are not going to wait for world leaders to act. We are doing it now, ”she said. Along with Theresa Dardar, they are part of the Greater New Orleans Interfaith Climate Change Coalition, which includes leaders of Buddhists, Baha’is, Christians, Jews and others.
They also worked closely with Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou / Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. She is the first woman to lead her tribe and the only Indigenous woman on the Louisiana Governor’s Climate Change Task Force. Last year, his tribe and Pointe-au-Chien were among those who filed a formal complaint with the UN in Geneva, claiming that the US government violated their human rights by not taking action on climate change. .
“We should take care of Mother Earth, not mistreat her. This is the result of all the abuse we have inflicted on her, ”she said, weeping and pointing to her house, destroyed by Ida. “If we don’t listen to science, if we don’t listen to the wisdom of the ancients, we will… continue to see these massive amounts of destruction.”
Religious communities are crucial in the fight against climate change, said Nathan Jessee, a researcher at the High Meadows Environmental Institute in Princeton who has worked with indigenous communities in the region.
“There is a long history of religious leaders and indigenous peoples who are at the forefront of these struggles for environmental justice,” Jessee said. Together, he said, they have demonstrated that the struggle for clean air and water is a moral and spiritual struggle.
For many religious leaders, preserving the environment is part of their mandate to care for communities most vulnerable to climate change. It is a call that Pope Francis has often launched, more broadly in a 2015 encyclical, “Praise be to you”. It has been taken up by imams, rabbis, patriarchs and pastors who share the way their religious traditions have interpreted the call.
People of color, the poor, women, children and the elderly are suffering the worst impacts of climate change, said Reverend Fletcher Harper, Episcopal Priest and Executive Director of GreenFaith, a New York-based multi-faith global environmental organization. “For religious people, this is completely unacceptable,” he said.
At the invitation of indigenous communities, more than 150 religious leaders gathered in Washington last month to pressure President Joe Biden to stop new fossil fuel projects.
GreenFaith has organized other actions around the world: in Fiji, the leader of the Pacific Council of Churches was photographed on an island that is submerged at high tide due to rising sea levels. In Jakarta, in Indonesia, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, unfurled a banner that read: “Destroying the planet is haram” – forbidden. In Australia, religious groups protested against coal production and urged the prime minister to take bold climate action.
“The biggest advantage in terms of where we are now is that there is an impatient, fiery and unstoppable grassroots movement,” Harper said.
Religious groups, including the World Council of Churches, have also joined the movement to divest from fossil fuels. “It’s not just a hit,” said Harper, whose organization has supported such faith-based efforts since 2013. He said it had evolved from a symbolic gesture to a key roadmap for the future.
Not all religious decision-makers agree with divestment, and not all members of a religious tradition share the same spirit. In the Presbyterian Church (US), the general assembly voted in 2018 to continue engaging with fossil fuel companies in which it owns shares.
The question is expected to be raised again at the 2022 general assembly. “The concern with divestment was that there was nothing in there for the transition of workers – to turn to alternative energies,” he said. said Peterson.
Not all devotees believe in renewable energy or even accept the science behind global warming.
“White evangelical Christians are among the most suspicious of climate science and the least accepting of solutions to deal with it,” said Reverend Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, vice president of the Evangelical Environmental Network. His ministry navigates this suspicion by linking climate science to faith rather than politics, emphasizing the authority of the Scriptures and the sanctity of human life.
“We’re not doing this because we’re Democrats or Republicans. Some of us don’t even do it because we’re environmentalists, ”Meyaard-Schapp said. “We are doing this because we are Christians and we think it is part of what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century.”
This same belief guided the volunteers of the Churches of Christ who recently brought boxes of food to the Pointe-aux-Chênes tribal center. A month after Ida, piles of debris, wrecks of boats and destroyed houses lined the bayou that crosses the city. Many lived in cars and tents.
“The scriptures tell us that we are supposed to be good stewards of what God has given us,” said Jaime Green, a New Orleans volunteer who speaks often about climate change at Elysian Fields Church of Christ. run by her husband.
“As a faith community, we must teach our congregations and our children, generations to come, to take care of what we have and preserve it as much as we can – and even work to repair some of the damage. “
PA journalists Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tennessee, Nicole Winfield in Rome, and Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans, contributed to this report. Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate
The Associated Press religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.