About the Author
Rowan Van Ness

International Day of Action Success!

After months of planning, the International Day of Climate Action finally came with great success. More than 5200 events in 181 countries around the world were registered on 350.org, demonstrating immense worldwide support for reducing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm). Many people are calling this event the largest worldwide grassroots mobilization ever.

With the support of the UUA, the UU Ministry for Earth, the UU Service Committee, the UU State Advocacy Networks, the UU-United Nations Organization, we were able to connect with congregations across the US and Canada. Over the course of the past couple of weeks, emails have been pouring in with details of the more than 110 UU-related events. This is so energizing to hear, knowing that the future of our world depends on our ability to effectively curb climate change, and the future of our brothers and sisters all over the world depends on our ability to do this justly.

Here are just a few snippets of stories that inspire me that I wanted to share with you:

  • The UU Fellowship in Columbia, South Carolina is just starting up their Green Committee. Their 350 event was their first event ever and included collecting 350 Compact Flourcent Lightbulbs (CFLs) and donating them to Habitat For Humanity as well as starting up a new Freecycle Program.
  • Members of Towson UU Church in Maryland spent four hours caulking and weather-stripping their church, reducing their need for dependence on fossil fuels for heating.

  • Neighborhood Church in Pasadena, California brought their message to all those driving on the highway.
  • Members of the UU Congregation of Binghamton, New York held a vigil outside the gates of their local coal-fired power plant.
  • Members of Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church in Washington State watched the movie HOME, followed by discussions, sharing of resources, and petition-signing.

Congregations all over the country catalyzed and supported interfaith and community-wide events. This is not only a UU issue, but something that reminds us of the interdependent web of which we are all a part. Dozens of congregations rang their bells 350 times, facilitated conversations in their congregations and communities, wrote letters to governmental officials, watched movies, sang out, and rallied!

For some, these events were a great starting point for discussion, demonstration, and action. And for others, this is just a step on a path they’ve already been traveling. The press coverage of UU events was great, sharing news of these important events with folks not in attendance. Right now, we should celebrate these great efforts, but let’s keep our motivation for these events in sight–a strong and just international agreement on climate change policies.

Blog Action Day 2009 – Climate Change

Today is the annual Blog Action Day, with the intention of creating discussion. More than 8500 blogs in 148 countries are committed to discussing climate change today. With that many voices discussing this issue at this critical time, there’s a lot of opportunity to raise energy and participate in actions.

There’s only 52 days left until the United National Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to make an international treaty on Climate Change. The International Day of Climate Action is in just 9 days, on October 24th, and people will be doing actions worldwide to draw attention to the importance of lowering the parts per million (ppm) of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 ppm. Right now, Senators Boxer and Kerry have introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act in the Senate. There’s a little less than two weeks before the intensive legislative hearings are expected to begin, on October 27th, which means that right now there’s a window of opportunity to shape the bill in the directions we want.

In other words, we’re at a pivotal time in the environmental movement. There are opportunities at the national and the international level to shape the climate change debate; it’s an opportunity to have governmental support in the direction of justice through climate action. The most marginalized communities are the first to feel the impacts of climate change, and if we wait until the wealthier nations are directly affected, it will be too late.

I invite you to join the conversations today and blog about Climate Change. Our ally 1Sky has ideas for what to write about if you’re feeling stuck. You can register your blog on the Blog Action Day website. And then next week, participate in the International Day of Climate Action. The UU Ministry for Earth has resources available on their website, and a list of what UU congregations are doing for the event is forthcoming.

Reflections on Environmental Justice

This morning during Theological Reflection, we focused in on the problem of environmental (in)justice, the source of the problem, solutions, and sources of those solutions. Our separation from the natural world on which we depend can make it really challenging to truly understand our impact on the planet and the people involved. When eating a bowl of cereal, how many people really think about the people who planted and harvested the ingredients, who made those specific varieties, who stored them, who built the storage facilities, who made the trucks and roads, machinery and cars, all the way down to the person who stocked the shelves of the supermarket before they bought the box of cereal? Not to mention the environmental impacts of the particular kinds of grains grown and the growing methods, the kinds of fuel used to make all of this happen, and their impacts on the environment as well as the people living and working in those communities. And we haven’t even gotten to the milk, the bowl, or the spoon! Our ability to eat a bowl of cereal only comes to light with the hard work of people all over–we are not entitled to even such everyday things.

Is it enough to act in the right direction, to recycle and compost, to turn off the lights and take shorter showers, even if that would still mean our planet couldn’t support everyone living that way? What is our responsibility to ourselves, to our ancestors, and to future generations? We must align ourselves with hope, and act accordingly. According to Vaclav Havel,

“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out… It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”

Environmental and environmental justice issues surround us, and the scale and complexity of these problems is only magnified with globalization. Every person in this tale of cereal, and all the un-named folks as well, have the same inherent worth and dignity, and our future is tightly interwoven. We need to hold ourselves accountable for working towards environmental justice.

One thing we can do is to follow through with the actions to which we commit. At the 2009 UUA General Assembly, delegates voted to Support America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act as an Action of Immediate Witness. For ideas and assistance in taking action to see this through, visit the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance website.

350, UUMFE, and Bill McKibben

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of joining the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) for their board meeting in Vermont. Amidst the natural beauty of the late summer forests and farmland, I learned more about how UUMFE is fulfilling its mission of “[providing] Unitarian Universalists and their congregations with organized ways to connect energy, ideas, and information about how their lives relate to the living Earth, environmental justice, and future generations.” They’re a passionate group, working hard to provide resources to engage UUs in this important work. Check out the UUMFE website and sign up for their eNews to find resources for engaging yourself and your congregation in environmental issues and to learn more about what other UUs are doing.

I was delighted to have some special guests join us for dinner on Friday night, including Bill McKibben, the co-founder and director of the 350.org campaign to demand strong international climate policy in Copenhagen. Leading climate scientists declare that 350 parts per million (ppm) is the highest level of CO2 considered “safe” for sustaining human civilization on Earth. We are already at 390ppm and rising, illustrating the necessity of immediate climate action.

Despite this urgency, Bill McKibben’s message for us was not one of despair. Small changes like switching to energy-efficient light bulbs are great, but they are not enough. On October 24th, people in over 100 nations all over the world are planning to send a clear message to their governments of the need to commit to diminishing CO2levels to 350. Churches all over will be ringing their bells 350 times, sending the message to all within hearing distance. A farmer in the Cameroon has already worked with his neighbors to plant 350 trees, in solidarity of this movement. We need to work together if we want to make effective change. As people of faith, and guided by the 2006 Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience on the threat of Global Warming/Climate Change, we need to put our faith into action.

Tell UUMFE what you’re doing for the International Day of Climate Action here, look for ideas of something to do here , or find an existing event near you here.

A New Voice of Environmental Justice at the Washington Office

Hello! I am Rowan Van Ness and am the new Program Associate for Environmental Justice through a partnership between the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth and the UUA. I grew up Unitarian Universalist in Washington state and am now here in the other Washington!

After graduating from Smith College with a degree in Economics and a minor in Environmental Science and Policy, I joined AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) in Lawrence, MA, as a Healthy Communities VISTA with Groundwork Lawrence. I managed some of our community food programs and worked with youth on gardening and healthy eating initiatives. I worked on our local community gardens program enabling people to safely grow their own food in an urban, industrial city, and the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which people could “subscribe” to get farm shares each week from a nearby farm.

Many people in Lawrence, like many communities in need, have limited access to fresh produce. People with lower incomes are more likely to have health problems like obesity and diabetes, diseases directly related to food. If fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t easily accessible, or if the only ones you can afford are poor quality, how can you expect anyone to want to eat them? By providing opportunities for people to purchase fresh, locally-grown produce with food stamps and at subsidized rates, by giving people an opportunity to grow their own food in uncontaminated soil, by teaching young people how to cook with fresh fruits and vegetables–these things bring us one step closer to food justice. Click here to learn more about “Ethical Eating,” the 2008-2012 Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

While food is really important, I am delighted to be joining the momentum at the Washington Office for Advocacy at such an exciting time. Though the climate change bill in Senate is not front and center at the moment, we are personally hoping that a strong climate change bill will pass in the Senate this term. With global climate change policies up for negotiation this December in Copenhagen, it is so important for the U.S. to create its own strong climate change policies in advance.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) passed in the House, but only narrowly (219-212). We need to make sure that the Senate also includes provisions for providing employment and training opportunities in green construction in communities who have traditionally been left behind and funding to the Green Jobs Act. Workers affected the worst by the recession and by environmental degradation would get the training and support they need for green-collar jobs. The most important thing you can do right now is to contact your senators and get them to pass a strong climate change bill.