Recently, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) issued an interfaith statement and a letter to Congress to address those issues (1). NRPE partners include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the Evangelical Environmental Network and the National Council of Churches of Christ. Four thousand congregations of the Interfaith Power and Light campaign are mobilizing a national religious response to global warming while promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation (2). One consequence of global warming predicted by climate scientists is extreme weather events, like Hurricane Katrina. Western New Yorkers from eight different churches joined Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in New Orleans to provide hurricane relief, connecting people and rebuilding lives (3).
Large church buildings with vaulted ceilings can require enormous quantities of energy for operation. Climate scientists tell us that to fight global warming we must act by reducing substantially the emissions of carbon dioxide derived from burning fossil fuels, our primary sources of energy. Action in our churches could include energy-saving measures, such as installing energy-efficient heating and lighting (4), and improving weatherization. The financial cost of saving energy this way can be recovered over time in the form of lower utility bills. An Episcopal church in Massachusetts saved $17,000 per year after installing a new boiler with zoned heating, programmable thermostats, and more efficient lighting (4). A simple analysis of a church's energy footprint can identify how to save energy (5), and a detailed energy audit can determine how much can be saved.
Certain congregations are taking even further action against global warming, along the same science-based lines promoted by climate activists. Global warming pollution can be eliminated by switching to clean energy sources which emit no carbon dioxide and are renewable and sustainable. Some Unitarian churches have installed solar electric panels and geothermal heating-cooling systems (6). Local examples of Green power for large buildings include solar panels at the University of Buffalo and a geothermal system in Ani DiFranco's Asbury Hall (Babeville) at a former church, both subsidized by NY State to help reduce costs. Other churches have designated clean energy such as wind or hydro power as their electricity source for a small extra utilities cost (6). Local examples of wind and hydro are Steel Winds and the Niagara Falls Power Project. In addition to reducing global warming pollution, a shift to clean energy sources eliminates mercury pollution and other health-threatening emissions derived from coal-fired electricity plants.
On a final note, the Church of England came up with a creative solution to help reduce global warming: during Lent this year, all congregation members were asked to cut back on carbon emissions rather than chocolate consumption (7)!
(1) New York Interfaith Power and Light
(2) Interfaith Power and Light Campaign
(3) Presbyterian Disaster Assistance - Katrina
(4) Churches go Green
(5) Shrinking the Footprint
(6) Churches relying on renewable energy sources.
(7) Cut out carbon for Lent says Churches
A talk "Could the WIND Bring New Jobs to WNY? YOU BET!" will be presented by Bill Nowak, Communications Chair of the Wind Action Group, on April 16th, 7PM (refreshments at 6:30 PM), at the WNY Climate Action Coalition meeting, Unitarian-Universalist Church, Elmwood & West Ferry in Buffalo.
- Rev. Sally Bingham, president of the Interfaith Power and Light, talks about her life as an Episcopal priest and environmental activist: video, click here.
- For a closer look at Hurricane Katrina Relief through the eyes of local volunteer workers, click here.
- Video by the National Resources Defense Council about the impact of Katrina, 2 years later, and the inaction of the federal government, click here.
- Young Stewards of the Earth: video-slide show with music, click here.