Today’s post shows how a small group can act meaningfully within a congregation before the whole congregation is fully and enthusiastically engaged, and how that engaged action can grow the “choir”. It is a story that originates in my parents’ Friends Meeting (Quaker) in Western Massachusetts. The idea is spreading quickly among New England Quakers, is being used by a Unitarians congregation in Virginia, and there is active interest from some groups here in Pennsylvania. Want to try?
2. Voluntary Carbon Tax Witness
Since we are a multi-faith group here at PA IPL, before I turn this over to the Voluntary Carbon Tax Witness group of Mt. Toby Meeting, I’ll note that Quakers often use the word witness to indicate that they are making a choice to live out their faith. It’s a way of saying “This isn’t just a thing I am doing. It is a thing I am doing because of my Quakerism.” Similar ideas are called “carbon tithes” in some circles.
The basic idea is this:
A group of interested people agrees to “tax” themselves a percentage of their spending on fossil fuels for their vehicles, their electricity (if applicable), their home heating, and their air travel. Each makes their own commitment. Names, but not amounts are publicized.
They send their fees in to a dedicated sub account at their congregation.
They decide quarterly where to gift those fees, giving to climate-related causes (emissions reduction projects, climate justice, adaptation projects, response efforts and more).
They share their results with their congregation and beyond.
Members of this group have spoken about how meaningful it is to join together for this witness, how heartening it is to see the amounts donated grow as the group grows— and sometimes shrink as people are able to reduce the amount of fossil fuel they are using.
They encourage everyone to start at a low amount of voluntary tax, and then to revisit the amount and consider raising it. The group has grown steadily in size, and conversation around climate justice and climate action at fellowship time occur more often and draw in more people. Participants also talk about how much more aware they are of their fuel use now, but how that awareness is accompanied by a sense of empowerment and hope, rather than a sense of paralyzing guilt.
Check out their very helpful Voluntary Carbon Tax Witness page, with sample forms, a list of where they have made their quarterly donations.
Listen to Alan Eccleston of Mt. Toby describe the program, in context, in under 5 minutes, at the meeting of New England Yearly Meeting.
Lots of times, people talk to us about feeling stuck in their institutions. Here is the advice I always give: invite everyone, but don’t wait for everyone. It’s remarkably simple, but remarkably powerful, too. Some people are just worried about changing the place that they look to as a steady, stable presence. Once they get a look at some of the changes, they don’t feel so scary.
Today and tomorrow we’ll share solutions stories about ways to start when there isn’t enthusiastic consensus. Today’s story below (I’ll try to grab some photos of the cup cart on Sunday.. I thought I had some already!):
1: Don’t mess with my coffee hour!
I go to a large church. Four-services-a-Sunday large. When we feed people and give people drinks, and even when we give them bulletins to read, we use a lot of stuff. A few years ago, the Green Team wanted to move us away from styrofoam (yay, Green Team!). They didn’t really want to deal with a Policy Decision because that felt too much like a Federal Case, and it might wear people out too much to get other things done, like Weatherization First projects.
Honestly, they felt a little stuck. Then they had an idea. What if there was a choice? That might work for Sunday Coffee Hour, but how about all those meetings all over the church all week long? What about the smaller coffee hour in the commons area off the Narthex after the earliest service? The superstar sexton came back with the ansswer. He recycled two cabinets that were pulled out of the kitchen when it was renovated. He took the doors off and the drawers out. He added some crossbars on the top, and added cup hooks. He added industrial wheels. He added towel-bar handles. He added cushy non-skid shelf paper. He added a small laminated sign that said “dirty cups” to the bottom shelf, which was big enough to hold an institutional-sized dish bin.
The Green Team put out a request for mugs. They filled the mug carts and stationed them by the coffee. They left the styrofoam, but pushed the stack back next to the urns, instead of in front, so the mugs would be the first thing folks would see. Know what? People don’t actually like drinking out of styrofoam. It’s still there, but it’s almost never used. People are curious and sometimes amused about the origin of the mugs. They’re sometimes conversation starters. Personally, I like the mug that says if my dog thinks I’m the best person in the world, I shouldn’t get a second opinion.
Here’s the other thing that made it work, and it made the Super Wednesday supper switch to china work, too: no one expected the existing kitchen crew to do the dishes. The Green Team volunteered —and got new volunteers. The dish crew is one of the places that youth work alongside adults, and get to do real, valued volunteer work that helps the church run. It has even lightened the (still enormous) load of the kitchen crew a tiny bit, since the dishwashers help with pots and wash the serving pans, too.
Helpful hint: a paste made of baking soda and a little water (or a wet sponge) gets coffee and tea stains off fast. We like to spread out a big tarp and bring in a group of elementary and middle school youth and give the mugs a good cleaning once or twice a year. The kids play music, and we buy them pizza and do some extra kitchen cleaning. It’s time to schedule a mug night now!
A BHAG is a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal (pronounced “bee-hag”) Pretty great, right? Read on for Central Baptist Church’s story of dropping BELOW zero, including member transportation to and from church. There are a few links to previous stories here, and we hope to have some more pictures and some follow up pieces as time marches on, but this story just couldn’t wait any longer.
Getting To Zero (CO2 Emissions) at Central Baptist Church
Summary: On Sunday, October 11, 2015, Central Baptist Church (CBC) in Wayne, PA, celebrated achieving “minus Zero” in its Getting to Zero campaign to reduce congregational carbon emissions. The campaign was designed and conducted by the Ecology Mission Group (EMG) at CBC.
CBC’s EMG decided to offset its CO2 emissions several years ago, and focused at first on offsetting emissions from the operation of the building; i.e., the emissions from the use of electricity and natural gas, which the EMG estimated to total 41,000 pounds per year. The EMG developed three programs, described below, to offset these emissions: solar panels, light bulbs, and wind energy.
After these programs brought building use to carbon neutral in 2014, the EMG realized that an even greater carbon footprint than building use was probably congregational travel. During 2015 the Getting to Zero campaign encouraged families to estimate and then to purchase offsets to their own CBC-related travel. With help from the congregation, EMG estimated these emissions at 66,000 pounds per year. Over the summer of 2015, more than enough offsets were purchased to declare the congregation “minus Zero”.
Details: To offset the building emissions, CBC has three programs. One is a set of 48 solar panels installed on the flat roof of a wing of the church building. The panels were started in May 2009 and, since then approximately 71,000 Kwh of electricity have been generated. This is only an offset program because it lowers the electricity that CBC purchases from PECO. CBC does not count as offsets the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) it receives and sells, because the sale of the credits allows someone else to emit carbon dioxide.
CBC also offsets building operation CO2 emissions through a program called Bright Idea under which CBC yearly gives approximately 800 compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to social centers which then give the CFLs and LEDs to their clients to install in their homes or apartments. Based upon a survey done of the hours that the replaced bulbs operated, those emission offsets amount to 7,800 lbs. per year.
It also occurred to the EMG that a lot of people drive vehicles to church every Sunday and that there are a lot of trips to church for meetings during the week, a lot of staff trips to and from church and several members and the pastors take long distance trips to Baptist board meetings and other conferences and events. The EMG felt that these CO2 emissions be counted also as an effect of operating a church. In fact, EMG did a gross estimate of these emissions and they were at 66,000 lbs. per year while the emissions from the electricity and gas were 41,000 lbs. The EMG also decided to find an emission factor for paper as a proxy for all of the emissions from the purchasing of products that support the worship services and communicate with members, like paper. The emission rate found for paper manufacturing was 27.5 lbs. of CO2 per ream of paper for 112 reams per year.
Having determined that travel-related emissions exceeded all other emissions, CBC decided to embark on a program called Getting To Zero. Each person or family unit was asked to complete a form that would result in an emissions figure for their church-related travel. More than one-half the people did not complete their form but gave the committee permission to fill it out for them. This detailed emission inventory was very close to the gross estimate of emissions made for CBC. The range of CO2 emissions for most people/families was from about 100 lbs. per year up to 2200 lbs. per year. The staff emissions were from 800 lbs. per year up to about 3500 lbs. Next, the committee produced the table shown below as Table 2 and a set of instructions that help individuals and families chose how to offset their emissions. Not going to church was not offered or encouraged. The choices were installing LEDs or CFLs, buying wind energy from a supplier, or any other option the family/person could choose (e.g., geothermal energy).
The options have subtle differences. For example, the tree plantings must be done every year while the LED lights offsets occur for as long as the bulbs are used. The option chosen the most was tree planting. We are working with a non-profit organization called Trees, Water, People in Fort Collins, Colorado. The cost only amounts to $1 per ton of offset which we will pay for each year. The organization is not certified for their tree plantings because of the large cost it would take for a relatively small non-profit to become internationally certified. TWP plants trees in several counties, one of which is El Salvador. CBC has a sister church, Shekina, in Santa Anna, about 12 miles from one of TWP’s tree nurseries and forests.
CBC estimates that for the first year of this program, the baseline CO2 emissions of 108,000 pounds per year have been exceeded by the offsets of 123,000 pounds of carbon dioxide; getting to minus zero.
Table 1. Estimated CBC Carbon Dioxide Emissions
CO2 Emissions Rate
Emissions of CO2
Source of Data and Comments
36,000 kwh per year (PECO bills)
0.44548 Kg CO2 per kwh
16,037 kg*2.214 lbs=35,507
2012 EPA data.
6228 CCF gas consumed per year (PECO bills)
0.1848 Kg CO2/ccf
2548 lbs. + 876 for mission house= 3424
2012 data. AP-42 shows 0.12 lbs per ccf.
#reams = 135. *3 pages/copy*54 services=44 reams plus 20 newslttrs *5 sheets*50 copies = 10.0 reams plus copies of 2 reams per week * 52 weeks
12.5 Kg CO2/ream of paper = 112*12.5 kg*2.2 lbs per Kg
International leaders brought emissions-reduction commitments with them to this conference. Those commitments are not yet binding, and they’re not yet enough to keep us under 2 degrees Celsius* of warming, but they’re working on it (keep those prayers flowing—they’re needed!) We, however, don’t have to wait for an international agreement to make our own changes. The Paris Pledge is open to both congregations and to individuals; it is a promise to cut emissions 50% by 2030 and to zero by 2050.
NOTE: Both congregations and individuals may continue to add their commitments at the Paris Pledge website. Signatures through last Wednesday have been added to a large scroll that is with the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham and Sister Joan Brown in Paris, which will be presented on December 11 at the conference, in the Blue Zone (that’s the zone with the international bigwigs). Tune in tomorrow for the story of a congregation that has REACHED carbon neutral — including members’ transportation to church!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Benedictine Sisters of Erie Sign Paris Pledge
Erie, Pennsylvania – November 24, 2015 – Long known as environmental leaders in the Erie area, the Benedictine Sisters of Erie have taken a decisive step in their commitment to environmental sustainability by pledging to reduce their carbon pollution by 50% by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050. They along with 150 other Religious Organizations and 3,500 individuals have signed the Paris Pledge. A scroll with the pledge and all its signers will be presented at the international climate conference being held in Paris, France over the next several weeks. It is hoped that the 150 nations represented at CPO21, the 21st “Conference of Parties” will establish internationally agreed upon targets to curb ongoing Climate Change.
The Paris Pledge was developed by Interfaith Power and Light, an organization of 18,000 religious congregations and organizations located in 40 states throughout the US. Through this pledge they intend to lead by example and clearly state that Faith Leaders in the US are committed to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the impact of human activity on Climate Change.
“Care for the earth has been integral to the Benedictine Charism since our very foundation in the 6th century,” explains Sister Anne Wambach, Prioress. “The Erie Benedictines have consciously and deliberately included this responsibility in our community’s Corporate Commitment and have taken significant steps, both as community and as individuals, to deepen our understanding and take concrete and intentional actions toward sustainable living.”
Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si`, clearly lays out the crisis that our planet faces and calls all of us, all nations, all religions, all people, to a find a common solution to Climate Change. In his words: “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. . . . Regrettably, many efforts . . . have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. . . . All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.” (14)
“We urge everyone to make his/her their own commitment to reduce carbon pollution through energy conservation, purchasing electricity from a ‘green provider,’ and making use of renewable energy products and sources,” Sister Anne continued. “If we expect nations to commit to significant energy policies, then we should do so ourselves, at home, in the workplace, in our churches, and in all the places that touch our lives.”
For further information regarding the Paris Pledge and practical ways to reduce carbon pollution, please contact Annette Marshall, OSB (572-8325) or Pat Lupo, OSB (490-3108).
*2 degrees Celsius never sounds like much. It’s important to realize that that’s a global average. The 20th century global average that is the baseline against which that change is marked is 13.9 degrees Celsius. That means that a 2C increase for the Earth is proportionally the same as a 14 F increase in body temperature (for a deadly body temp of more than 112F) for a human being. Perspective is everything!
The Paris climate talks (the 21st such talks) began on Monday, November 30. People around the world held vigils and marches on 11/29 and 11/30 to show our leaders that we are with them in spirit, supporting the difficult, urgent, vital work that they are engaged in. The people’s voices —including faith voices— have been vital in getting international leaders as far along as we are.
Inspiring speakers included Professor John Dernbach (himself a Paris Summit delegate) and former PA Senator Franklin Kury (the author of Article1, Section 27 of our PA Constitution, and the recipient of our first PA IPL Visionary Award, back in 2011). Father Jim Podlesny talked about the significance of the Pope’s encyclical and what it means for Paris.
The event concluded on the Capitol steps with a rousing speech by former pastor and climate activist, the Rev. Jerry Miller, along with other testimonies, more drumming, and singing of Let There Be Peace on Earth.
Religious leaders delivered a multi-faith petition signed by nearly 1.8 million yesterday, and Cristina Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, broke out into a dance with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of South Africa, who was among those delivering the signatures to the talks.
Rev. Cornish is the Executive Director of PA IPL. She testified at the PA DEP listening session in Philadelphia County on September 30, 2015.
Good Afternoon. I am the Reverend Alison Cornish, and I serve as the Executive Director of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, a community of congregations, faith-based organizations and individuals of faith responding to climate change as a moral issue. Through advocacy, energy conservation, energy efficiency and the use of clean, renewable energy, we help people of faith be model stewards of Creation. We are the Pennsylvania affiliate of Interfaith Power & Light, a national religious response to the threat of climate change. We see climate change as a moral issue.