Monday, May 14, 2007

NY Faith Communities Combat Climate Change

A story in the Poughkeepsie (NY) Journal talks about how faith communities in the Hudson River Valley are working on the issue of climate change.
Well before "An Inconvenient Truth" captured the nation's attention on national television, houses of worship all over the Hudson Valley screened it, while forming environmental committees and adopting environmental policy statements.
Some of this work was inspired by the Hudson River Project, the Garrison Institute's ongoing exploration of spiritual and values-based dimensions of Hudson River regional environmentalism, which produced a sign-on statement of environmental shared values and action items for local congregations.
It's part of a broader trend in which congregations and faith-based groups everywhere are becoming aware of a spiritual or ethical imperative to model and teach environmental responsibility as a way of "caring for creation" in the face of looming threats to our ecological future, especially climate change.
Implementation has to start somewhere. Houses of worship can fairly easily change their incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents, turn down thermostats, insulate heat ducts, get a Energy Research and Development Agency energy audit, maybe add a solar panel. But scientists say to preserve a habitable climate, we must restrict global average temperature rise to one degree Celsius, which means reducing U.S. carbon emissions 60 percent to 80 percent by mid-century.

...Density is also a key to reducing energy consumption and mitigating climate change. Between driving around and running the household, the average surburban single family house dweller uses 240 million BTUs of energy a year. Change her light bulbs, build her house with green design and materials, and exchange her SUV for a hybrid, and usage can drop to around 164 million BTUs per year. But urban dwellers are down to an average 143 million BTUs per year already, without any greening measures, just by virtue of density. Green their housing, and their usage drops to 89 million BTUs per year - 62 million if the housing is multi-family, or about one quarter of what the typical suburban single family house dweller uses now. So if we in the Hudson Valley are serious about mitigating climate change and making big reductions in energy use, it's clear we will have little choice but to build denser communities, and soon.
What role can congregations and faith-based organizations play in this transition? For one thing, they can prompt the necessary discussion of values and how we express them in what we build.
For ourselves and our children, what do we really want our communities to be? Today, even as our population grows, we have the opportunity to implement planning that makes the most of the most desirable features of villages, our mass transit, and our open space, building highly liveable communities that are environmentally responsible. Saying "yes" to that opportunity and implementing it is an expression of spiritual and moral values, a connection which faith groups can help articulate.
For another, they can become advocates and direct participants in the planning process. One respondent to Rose's talk, a clergyman from Westchester, spoke from first-hand experience when he said, "just volunteer for anything in the local government, and sooner or later, they will ask you to be on the planning board."

IREJN is Connecticut's Interfaith Power and Light. Visit us at

No comments: