Faith inspires Louisville rally for environmental justice

Intro

In the fight against climate change, people are increasingly looking to their faith for inspiration, moral grounding and a community of peers with which to take action. Thursday, 2,000 people from the diverse Unitarian Universalist (UU) community marched for environmental justice in Louisville, joined by Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light and activists Tim DeChristopher and Wendell Berry. Together, the faith-driven community marched against the injustices caused by climate change and fossil fuel extraction, specifically in the coal regions of Appalachia, urging instead for clean energy solutions. The rally was a part of the UU Association’s 2013 General Assembly, where congregations are reaffirming their obligation to environmental justice and stewardship.

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RT @UUWorld #uu #uuaga: On the banks of the Ohio River, UUs rally for clean energy http://owl.li/2xLczt

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Key Points

  • Climate change exacerbates inequality, as its effects are more severe on those who are already vulnerable due to race, class, gender, and nationality. Efforts to alleviate poverty, improve public health, or promote peace can’t be separated from climate change, as the effects of a warming world work against these goals. As explained in the World Bank’s most recent report, climate change could trap millions of people in poverty and create a ‘domino effect’ of crises around the world.
  • With great power comes great responsibility to act against climate change. Those who are most responsible for the causes of climate change will be shielded from the worst of its impacts because of unequal access to money, resources, and technology. Those with greater power and wealth have not only a greater ability, but a higher moral obligation to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
  • The foundational ethics of many major faith communities are empowering grassroots activism for environmental justice. More and more, the values of major faith communities, such as justice, responsibility, simplicity, caretaking, and stewardship, are galvanizing communities and leaders – even Pope Francis – to call for environmental protection and sustainability.

Background

Faith leaders and communities are pivotal in turning people’s attention towards climate action.  Climate change threatens the inherent value of the earth, living things, and fellow humans. The ethical teachings of many faiths support the idea that people have a responsibility to help prevent environmental degradation. In fact, President Obama spoke to such teachings in his inaugural address when he said that the planet is “commanded to our care by God.”

The fight against the Keystone XL pipeline has prominently brought faith groups into the climate movement. In August of 2011, over 60 religious leaders and members – including rabbis, Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, Muslims, and Evangelicals – risked arrest as part of two weeks of protest outside of the White House. In May of 2013, over 150 clergy from diverse faiths co-signed a letter to President Obama urging him to reject the KXL pipeline, reading “Don’t be tempted by the false promise of tar sands oil.”

Unitarian Universalists have also participated in the divestment movement, pledging to move their congregation’s investments away from fossil fuels. Faith also unites the influential shareholder activism group Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

The 2013 General Assembly, the annual gathering of all UU congregations, is being held from June 19th through 23rd in Louisville, Kentucky. This year, environmental justice is a special theme of the assembly. Thursday, the UUs spearheaded the one of the largest environmental rallies in the history of Kentucky, with the help of grassroots group Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light and the Sierra Club.

Environmental justice draws on the fact that environmental degradation and pollution, including the impacts of climate change, disproportionately burden low-income people and people of color. A demographic or community’s political and economic power goes a long way to determining what impacts and hazards they are exposed to, and whether or not they have a say in that exposure. Environmental justice demands that no person or community is subject to environmental harms because of lack of power or resources to prevent such harms, and fights instead for people to have the right to determine the state of their environment and the uses of their natural resources.

In addition to supporting the fight for environmental justice more broadly, the UU General Assembly chose to bring attention to this topic because of the location of the event. Kentucky is part of the Appalachian states that have a heavy coal industry presence. There is a strong uprising of Appalachian residents against the coal industry in a fight to reclaim their environment and natural resources. Many communities living near mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia are subject to high quantities of air, water, and land pollution that increase respiratory illnesses and cancer. The practice of mountaintop removal mining is also devastating to the integrity of the natural environment in Appalachia, known for the Blue Ridge Mountains and as a biodiversity hotspot.

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Quotes

  • “How we harness our energy is hurting our communities especially in the Kentucky area. Unitarian Universalists respect the interdependent web of existence and are coming to Louisville to celebrate this vibrant community and also to bring attention to this important issue.” – UUA President Rev. Peter Morales
  • “People of all faiths are concerned about the growing danger of climate change. In his Inaugural speech, the president recognized our moral obligation to leave a safe climate for future generations and to care for God’s Creation. Building this pipeline is the exact opposite of the course we must take to safeguard our climate and move towards a clean energy economy.” – Rev. Cn. Sally G. Bingham of Interfaith Power & Light
  • “We all realize if you love your neighbor, you can’t pollute your neighbor’s air and water,” Tim Darst, director of Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light

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