Two thousand people from the diverse Unitarian Universalist (UU) community marched on Thursday for environmental justice in Louisville, joined by Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, the Sierra Club, 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.
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. 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.
The 2013 UU Association 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.
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.
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.
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 rates of illness and cancer. Mining is also devastating to the integrity of the natural environment in Appalachia, known for the Blue Ridge Mountains and as a biodiversity hotspot.
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, and 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 been opportunity that has brought faith groups more prominently 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.”
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About the AuthorEmily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.
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