Faith-Based Groups Jump on the Climate Change Bandwagon
Text excerpted from the book: PROTECTING THE PLANET-Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change (ISBN 978-1-63388-225-6)
Budd Titlow & Mariah Tinger
In 1998 at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco, California, Reverend Sally Bingham founded the Interfaith Power & Light (IPL)—a staunchly environmental, faith-based organization. IPL now has affiliates in 40 states, involving a total of 18,000 congregations. The mission of IPL’s campaign is to be faithful stewards of Creation by responding to Global Warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. Their goals are protecting the Earth’s ecosystems, safeguarding the health of all Creation, and ensuring sufficient, sustainable energy for all.
In her capacity as President of IPL, Reverend Bingham has brought widespread attention to the link between religious faith and the environment through her work on The Regeneration Project and the IPL Campaign. As one of the first faith leaders to fully recognize Global Warming as a core moral issue, she has mobilized thousands of religious people to put their faith into action through energy stewardship.
In her leadership role at IPL, Reverend Bingham has sparked a growing crescendo of God’s mandate to humans to be faithful stewards of Creation.
In her leadership role at IPL, Reverend Bingham has sparked a growing crescendo of God’s mandate to humans to be faithful stewards of Creation.“Every person of faith should become aware of their moral responsibility to be a steward of Creation. God put Adam in the garden to till and to keep (Genesis). Every mainstream religion has a mandate to care for Creation. Sometimes [followers] have not thought about it or they have not addressed it, and then they see an opportunity to really be faithful stewards of Creation and they join our program,” she explained in an interview.
Bingham went on to say, “People who sit in houses of worship and say they love God and their neighbors have a particular obligation to take care of the Earth and each other. If you sit in a pew on Sunday and say you love God and you love your neighbor, how can you not be taking care of your neighbor’s air and water? They are now starting to recognize that responsibility and act.”
That responsibility is deeply connected to her knowledge that Climate Change is harming the people of the world, and her faith mandates a responsibility to care for them. “[Climate Change] affects every single aspect of life, affects every living thing—starting with the rising sea, the temperature change, the number of long heat days that are causing people to die…the fact that the droughts are more extreme and are disrupting crops…the fact that people are starving because they can’t grow food in an area that has not had any rain in five years…that the storms that are so much more severe than they ever were and are killing people and destroying properties,” says Reverend Bingham with a note of sadness in her voice. She continues, “It is happening because the climate is changing. Why is the climate changing? Because we are putting too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”
One poignant action that she hopes congregations will do is to join the IPL campaign. The IPL is a growing national movement that is completely interfaith, as the name implies. The campaign has brought massive growth and awareness to religious people about their responsibility to protect the climate. IPL began with an episcopal church in the diocese of California asking its congregations to buy renewable energy for their electricity. Those congregations served as examples to their communities and it grew rapidly from there.
IPL began with an episcopal church in the diocese of California asking its congregations to buy renewable energy for their electricity.
Prior to COP21 in Paris, IPL requested its members to take the Paris Pledge to show the world that the faith community in the United States is committed to cutting emissions, creating jobs, and saving money at the same time. Indeed, IPL took an eleven foot long scroll with 4,500 congregations and individual households who pledged to cut their carbon emissions in half by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050.
Reverend Bingham knows as well as anyone that the environment has become a political issue. Bingham says, “It is almost universal that if you are a Democrat you are an environmentalist and if you are a Republican you are not. That unfortunately is a big stumbling block for the issue. We don’t believe in our organization that the environment is a political issue, we see it is as an issue of science but in the big picture, it is a moral issue. Where are our values, what do we care about, what is our responsibility to the future and it’s about how to leave this world to come back to our moral integrity.”
While Reverend Bingham does not offer solutions for solving the politicization of environmental issues, she is enthusiastic about the willingness to think differently on the issues in the religious community. The majority of the people she speaks with are in support of her initiatives, though on occasion she receives push back. “What we have come up against occasionally because our focus has been on Climate Change is that God would never allow anything bad to happen to Creation. And then we have to do some explanation about how God has given us Free Choice and some of our choices have been harmful to Creation. Mostly we get the comment that I had never thought about like that before,” she offers. Religiously, she thinks people are really on board with human beings as the species put on planet to keep it safe and healthy for not only ourselves, but the people that come after us. “There are very few people that would argue with that,” Reverend Bingham asserts.
Pope Francis’ message in his 2015 “Environmental Encyclical” saying, similarly, that this is about the moral values that every person of integrity needs to have. His Encyclical was not just for Roman Catholics it was for people that have a conscious. Through IPL, Reverend Bingham has been teaching this for over fifteen years, “and now to have somebody as well known, as famous and as popular as Pope Francis to come out and say the same thing, it has been hugely helpful to our movement” explains Bingham. This message is being received extremely enthusiastically, and people see participation in the IPL program as an opportunity to be faithful stewards of Creation.
Reverend Bingham’s hope for our future comes from the fact that more and more people are involved and concerned. She believes we are almost a critical mass and soon things will change for the better. “We stopped smoking almost overnight when enough people were touched by disease due to cigarettes. We are close to enough people being harmed by climate change now that it can no longer be denied. People of faith are taking a leading role and once the moral and religious leaders are involved and speaking out the movement will succeed.”
Author’s bio:For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need.Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.