Please virtually join us on Tuesday, December 29that 7:00 PM, along with PA IPL Executive Director, David Heayn-Menendez, who will lead an online Climate Justice Roundtable Conversation open to all.
We have invited state and national partners to come discuss what the next year holds in store and how we will continue to advance the causes of climate progress and justice. We invite you to come participate in a lively and open discussion. You can register for the event here.
Now that election day has passed, let us look to the future! What are the next steps for climate progress and climate justice?
Join IPL National on November 19th at 3:00 PM EST for an important discussion-What’s Next for Climate Progress–on whelectionat this historic election will mean for climate action with IPL President Rev. Susan Hendershot and IPL Federal Policy Associate Jonathan Lacock-Nisly.
Author Barbara Ballenger is a Board Member of PA Interfaith Power & Light, and Associate for Spiritual Formation and Care at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, Philadelphia.
The recent march of white nationalists and KKK members upon the city of Charlottesville, and the accompanying terrorist attack upon counter demonstrators, has again placed racism in the public eye.
At the moment, there are some things we cannot un-see: a car driving directly into Black Lives Matter members, killing one and injuring 19. White nationalists armed more heavily than the police. Young polo-shirted men marching with swastikas and shields.
The racism that undergirds our national infrastructure, and the bigotry that keeps it in place, is not a simple thing to dismantle. Just removing the monuments that celebrate its architects and defenders brings out the torches.
But while our eyes are open, it’s important that white people engaged in justice work take a hard look at the racist infrastructure itself, not just at its staunchest defenders. Because those of us with white privilege also benefit from that architecture. It shapes white-normed organizational systems, including how they are led, and who tells the story about what the world is like. That’s why white supremacy, which is invisible to too many, often undermines the effectiveness of organizations’ best efforts, leaving many of us scratching our heads about why the movements aren’t more diverse and leading many to jump to the wrong conclusions about why more people of color aren’t involved in the efforts.
This is true for climate justice organizations, whose leadership and membership remain predominantly white.
“Given the environmental threats posed by a Trump administration, it’s more crucial than ever that Americans work together to fight climate change. And in order to achieve broad, collaborative action, the mainstream environmental movement will need to take a hard look at how its overwhelming whiteness has thus far hobbled its efforts,” four University of Oregon journalism professors write persuasively in an article for Quartz.
The authors further point out that people of color are very much concerned with, conversant about and active in addressing climate disruption. Yet large-scale climate justice efforts do not reflect their leadership or membership.
Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light has also struggled with being a far less diverse organization than we hope to be. We have been noticing and naming the dominance of white voices leading and engaging our work—people of faith responding to climate disruption as an urgent moral issue. We know, too, that wrestling with the legacy of white domination and supremacy is also a growing priority for many of the congregations and denominations involved in our work. This is a key moment for climate justice and racial justice to meet at the crossroads and begin speaking to each other.
In both of these movements there is great urgency and imminent threat. At the same time, there are no quick solutions to undoing the legacy of racial exclusion and distrust that white-dominated justice movements have inherited and perpetuate.
But there are some immediate actions that we need to take. The first is that white people in the environmental movement must make it a priority to explore how the white privilege and supremacy learned from infancy affect the ability to be racially competent in addressing a crisis that affects many people of color first and worst. As a black colleague puts it: “When white people do their work, I am safer.”
When white people do racial work with mindfulness—listening more than talking, learning what it is to be an effective ally, making space for long-silenced voices and experience—our hope and prayer is that environmental justice work will be done differently: in ways that shift power dynamics, that amplify voices that typically go unheard and quiet those that dominate, and that make visible the experiences of climate disruption that have gone unnoticed and unnamed.
The evidence of things hoped for, substance of things unseen, is the very definition of faith. As an organization committed to bringing people of diverse religious traditions together in common cause around environmental justice, a shared faith in the dignity and gifts of one another may be just the thing to help us keep our eyes open in the days ahead.
Carol Zandieh offered the following reflection on the glory of God and creation at the Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is of Harrisburg, a PA IPL member congregation.
The Words of God in the Baha’i Holy Scripture as revealed by Baha’u’llah, meaning the Glory of God, teaches that:
God created the universe and all of its creatures. To every creature, He has given one of His attributes, that is why we see His signs in every created thing. But He has given all of His attributes to humans and has commanded us to be the custodians of the earth. Now I would like to share a passage with you.
“All praise to the unity of God, and all honor to Him, the Sovereign Lord, the Incomparable and All-Glorious Ruler of the universe, Who, out of utter nothingness, has created the reality of all things, Who, from naught, has brought into being the most refined and subtle elements of His creation, and Who, rescuing His creatures from the abasement of remoteness and the pearls of ultimate extinction, has received them into His kingdom of incorruptible glory. Nothing short of His all-encompassing grace, His all-pervading mercy, could have possibly achieved it. How could it, otherwise, have been possible for sheer nothingness to have acquired by itself the worthiness and capacity to emerge from its state of non-existence into the realm of being?
“Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He, through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him—a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation…Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing, He has shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He has focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone, of all created things, man has been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 64-65
I would like to end with a prayer that was revealed by Baha’u’llah, especially for all parts of the earth, to remind us that we are the custodians and keepers of the earth.
“Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place,
and the city, and the heart, and the mountain,
and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley,
and the land, and the sea, and the island,
and the meadow where mention of God
hath been made and His praise glorified.”
Baha’i Prayers, title page
The reflection was offered in December 2015, and shared here in 2017.
On November 15, 2015, Board Member Susan Frant offered the following d’var (sermon) at a board meeting of Congregation Beth David in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. The Torah portion for that week was Toldot, Genesis 25:19-28:9. In Susan’s teaching, she focuses on Genesis 25:27-34, which centers on Esau spurning his birthright. How does this relate to climate disruption and our need to act? Read on to find out.
When Isaac’s twins grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man, who stayed in camp. Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. Many translate this as “tired” or “exhausted,” not “famished.” And Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am” tired. Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” So he sold his birthright to Jacob. Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright. (Genesis 25:27-34)
Certainly there were benefits associated with the birthright, but there were also responsibilities. From Rashi we learn that Esau’s exhaustion is more spiritual than physical. He is tired of the obligations of family life, tired of the responsibilities associated with Jewish living, and weary of the limitations placed on him daily by his pledge to the future. Would it not be easier simply to ignore tomorrow and live only for today? And so, with the stew as collateral, Esau abandons his future.
Many commentaries point out that Torah admonishes us not to live exclusively for the moment lest we forget that tomorrow will bring new challenges and new blessings. The Torah portion Toldot highlights the struggle between this instant and the thousands of tomorrows that follow.
I relate this Torah portion to the very serious issue of climate disruption where birthright is a sustainable, livable—that is, inhabitable, G-d given planet. Related to this we could talk about farmers who allow fracking to “save the farm” when fracking leads to contaminated water and earthquakes. We could cite drivers who buy gas guzzling vehicles when driving them leads to an increase in greenhouse gasses that contributes to climate disruption. We could point to eating red meat where it was reported in 2012, that the world’s 1.5 billion cattle contributed nearly 18% of all greenhouse gases, more than cars, planes and all other transportation put together. We could talk about powering our digital, electronic world with fossil fuels where wind and solar power do not emit greenhouse gasses and therefore, the total cost to humankind is much less than burning fossil fuel. We could go on. But I won’t.
Rather, let me conclude by asking you to raise your hand if you believe you are a contributing member of the society. Look around. We are the people that are referred to in the statement that says: we are the FIRST generations to witness and feel the effects of climate disruption AND the LAST generations to be able to take actions that will have a significant impact on mitigating the magnitude of what is to come. Let me repeat: the first to witness the effects and the last to be able to take significant action.
I hope when our children or grandchildren ask what we did to change the trajectory of global climate disruption, to preserve their birthright of a sustainable, livable, beautiful G-d given world, I hope our answer doesn’t include that we were busy eating stew! Thank you.
Things to read and to watch:
This Changes Everything* by Naomi Klein
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Colbert
Merchants of Doubt* by Eric M Conway and Naomi Oreskes