50 people attended the potluck supper and screening of Chasing Ice, a documentary illustrating the severe melting of glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and Montana through the lens and the voice of National Geographic photographer James Balog. After we watched this eye-opening film, panelists from three different faith traditions shared their thoughts about this question: How do your faith and lifestyle choices inform your views on environmental stewardship in general and climate change in particular?
Fred Horch grew up in the Episcopal Church, and from an early age felt a moral obligation to take care of our earth. In his work with Maine Interfaith Power and Light 10 years ago, he met people of faith taking action to repair environmental problems. He described the organization 350Maine, a local chapter of Bill McKibben’s 350.org: “350 parts per million is what leading scientists say is the safe upper limit of CO2 in the atmosphere. We’re at 392 and climbing, which is why we’re seeing more and more extreme weather events around the planet” (from 350Maine website). Fred went on to say that climate change is an easy problem to fix. We just have to adopt a clean energy policy and stop using fossil fuels. He described adopting a Come Carbon Clean Challenge to make change as an individual, family and community member: buying an electric car, converting to electric heat (which can be supported using sustainable energy), running for office, advocating for policy change through the legislature, and inspiring people.
Karl Schatz talked about a directive in Judaism: Tikkun Olam – meaning “repair the world” (both help each other through charitable works and take care of the earth and its creatures). He considered the question, “Does your faith lead you to causes or do your causes make you feel drawn to faith?” Running a goat farm and working with Slow Food Portland has increased opportunities to connect with and brought more meaning to their faith – connecting to the earth: agricultural traditions (Sukkot during the harvest and Passover in the spring), growing their own food, and raising those wonderful goats. He described Hazon – which means vision – one of the largest funders of the Jewish environmental movement. Projects have included bike rides across New York, the US, Israel, sustainable food, and helping the poor and hungry.
Parivash Rohani discussed our shared responsibility for the environment. We’re all interconnected. The environment and nature is a sign of God – a gift. She spoke about the importance of education through transformation of the human heart, and about instilling these lessons in her children from young ages. Cleaning up Lake Auburn every year for the last 20 years rejuvenated the lake while raising awareness and inspiring continued action. Nasser, Parivash’s husband, explained that Baha’i is a young faith, only 170 years old, but at its core holds that religion and science go hand in hand. When religion contradicts science, it can lead to fanaticism and arrogance. The heart commands the mind to take action. All religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Baha’i, and others, command us to be good stewards of the earth. We’re all members of the human race sharing this fragile, beautiful home.
After taking a few questions from the audience, we concluded the evening by encouraging participants to commit to taking action. Fred circulated a sign-up for 350 Maine and invited people to attend a hearing in Augusta in support of LD 1085, a feed-in tariff bill to create incentives to install solar panels or to write a letter to their legislators.
I hope the evening serves as a springboard for exploring ideas that may inspire and empower each of us to use our individual gifts as we work together to bring about positive change. Based on conversations with church members, I believe it already has.