Green the Church Summit: Bringing Race, Religion and Environmental Justice Together

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Last week, church leaders from around the country met in Baltimore, MD for a two-day conference that aims to anchor today’s social and environmental movements within the church as a way of providing meaning and purpose to the upswell

Story Transcript

THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN: Last week United Churches of Jesus Christ Worldwide in Baltimore hosted a two-day conference called the Green the Church Summit on the importance of fusing the black church’s mission with environmental justice and climate change.

REV. HERBER BROWN III: The type of change we need needs to be broad and sweeping and radical. Those 3 words speak to the faith community.

KIMBERLY LEWIS: We started with a 3-way partnership with Green For All and then Jones put the cry out, I mean the call out to leaders to step forward with their commitment in support of our fight against climate change. Houses of faith, communities of color who are affected the most by climate change. This was an opportunity to drive a new agenda within a platform that they’ve been consistently preaching about which is people first.

HEDGES: The summit calls attention to the fact that often times advocacy groups, whether environmental or social, are preoccupied with the top echelons of society. Desperate to sway business leaders for example to adopt parts of their agenda. What the Green the Church Summit aims to do is reroute that energy into the community.

LEWIS: When I’ve thrown out the challenge to all of our community leaders across the country is we’ve spent a long time on the top 20% of the market place. Now we need to realize our mission of green buildings for all which means how do we focus and connect with the communities who are in this conversation.

BROWN: One thing that I think the environmental movement and even the climate change movement can do a better job of is not just looking through this very narrow rigid lens that often times comes from a left white progressive perspective. I think we’d do well to listen to the wisdom of our Haitian sisters and brothers right about now. We’re talking about climate change. I think we do well to listen to our sisters and brothers in the Philippines . Do well to listen to our sisters and brothers in Hawaii and other places around the world where the waters are rising at a rate that they see it much better than we do. So instead of creating tables and then trying to invite those mostly directly impacted by these issues, inviting them to your table, perhaps it is time for the more affluent arms and departments of the climate change movement to instead of building it’s own table, go and sit at someone else’s table.

HEDGES: Here in Baltimore, organize Dante Swinton of the Energy Justice Network is trying to explain to black communities and social groups how the work he’s doing in getting rid of the Wheelabrator incinerator which is one of the largest in the country, is directly related to issues of race and poverty.

DANTE SWINTON: A lot of people think that incinerators aren’t that bad. They don’t think that they really pollute that badly which is far from the truth. They actually produce a lot more nox and sulfur dioxides at greater rates than coal plants do. Mercury at greater rates than coal plants do using the same units of energy.

HEDGES: Carcinogens?

SWINTON: Yea basically yea. A lot of different carcinogens, some volatile organic compounds, things that contribute to ozone at just higher rates and they seem very benficial because they get rid of the mass of your trash but either that pollution goes into the ash that you send off to a landfill or you put it in the air.

HEDGES: And who suffers?

SWINTON: Basically, everyone. Whichever way the wind blows at that time. But in terms of proximity to the incinerators, a lot of people of color tend to be within higher rates of frequency within proximity to these incinerators.

HEDGES: And that’s just a coincidence right?

SWINTON: No. Not in the slightest. I wish it were but I mean you’ve got a situation where in the entire country you’re 4 times more likely to be located within 5 miles of an incinerator, trash incinerator, as a African American citizen and that’s one of the general ranges of impact of their pollutants.

HEDGES: But what church leaders here hope to do is to add a foundation to the conversation on climate change that doesn’t just lie on numbers and statistics for motivation to act. But also relies on meaning and purpose. Things that if injected into America’s disintegrating communities can solve much more than just environmental issues.

REV. MARIAMA WHITE-HAMMOND: We make our decisions based on meaning and based on story. Not necessarily based just on facts. To some extent I think a lot of the scientists are open to the faith community partially out of a level of desperation, a recognition that just giving people the facts has not been enough to motivate change. If you look at things like the civil rights movement, most movements, movements on a massive level if you look you’ll often find that there’s a spiritual foundation there. Because that’s what gives you the faith that you might have the opportunity to change something that looks attractable.

HEDGES: For the Real News, Thomas Hedges, Baltimore.

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