‘How can we be the change?’

National Climate Assessment identifies a dozen challenges — but there’s hope

Residents of Celilo Village dance and sing with attendees of the Presbyterians for Earth Care 2017 conference. (Photo by Rick Jones)

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — A declining economy, including a possible downturn in tourism. Threats to water, agriculture, infrastructure and health — and a half-dozen other potential near-term calamities.

Released Friday by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the Fourth National Climate Assessment summarizes 12 significant threats posed by climate change, including to communities, essential services, indigenous peoples, ecosystems, and oceans and coasts.

While the impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country, future climate change is expected to “further disrupt many areas of life, exacerbating existing challenges to prosperity posed by aging and deteriorating infrastructure, stressed ecosystems and economic inequality,” the report states. “People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities, have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts.”

“It’s easy to throw up our hands and say this is something for the government to do,” said the Rev. Bruce Gillette, vice moderator of Presbyterians for Earth Care, a group that invites individuals and congregations to join the growing Earth care movement within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “What I would challenge your readers to say is, ‘How can we be the change?’”

One way is to pony up for green technology. To date PC(USA) congregations have tapped the Restoring Creation Loan program for more than $10 million as they’ve worked to renovate their buildings using energy efficient products and renewable energy sources, according to Clare Lewis, vice president for sales and marketing for the PC(USA)’s Investment & Loan Program. The loans feature both low interest rates and equity requirements as well as flexible loan terms. Projects include energy efficient lighting systems, solar panel additions, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems and geothermal systems.

Gillette said a church he and his wife, the Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, once served as co-pastors, Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, installed solar panels on its sanctuary roof.

“We were amazed at the new members who came because we were making a change in the world,” he said. “It is for the sake of renewal of the church, and it really is a form of evangelism.”

The church demographic most interested in the church’s willingness to make that investment, he said, were young adults, “people concerned about the future for themselves and their children. If they find congregations trying to make the world a better place, they will check them out.”

Sue Regier, Presbyterians for Earth Care’s treasurer, said her church, Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, N.C., undertook a green renovation, “increasing our square footage without increasing our energy bill.”

In a state that suffered two hurricanes, her church’s “small but vocal” Earth Care committee has this focus, she said: “How do we work to change more systemically so we don’t have so many disasters to respond to?”

Last month, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), said a report by the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change indicated that “God’s earth could be facing dire consequences sooner than we thought.”

“Presbyterians believe that all people are beloved by God and deserving of a healthy, bright future,” Nelson said. “What Presbyterians in North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, California, New Jersey and Louisiana have experienced are helping us to realize that the time is now for bold action, and that we can all takes steps in the right direction — becoming energy efficient, purchasing renewable energy, lowering our carbon footprint, and advocating for safe environmental policies at all levels of government.”

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