Response: April 2016 Issue

Leading the Way in Climate Justice

United Methodist Women members from around the country serve as guides and leaders for their regions’ work on environmental justice.

Leading the Way in Climate Justice
Phylis Terwillger shows off the heirloom tomatoes grown in her backyard garden in Pennsylvania.

One person alone cannot change the world. But when people come together to make a difference, to take action and to set a new course, change is possible.

United Methodist Women believes in the power of numbers. This special issue of response focuses on climate justice and five of the United Methodist Women members serving as leaders on climate justice in their region and context. These jurisdictional guides, as they are called, have been trained for the Be Just. Be Green initiative, promoting the United Methodist Women 13 Steps to Sustainability and raising awareness of local and global environmental injustices.

"Right now, the consequences of climate change are hindering people's ability to survive," said the Rev. Kathleen Stone, of the United Methodist Women Office of Environmental and Economic Justice. "Climate change is a justice issue, especially affecting the poorest among us — meaning women, children and youth, and especially people of color."

The evidence is alarming, Ms. Stone says. In many parts of the world, droughts and floods are destroying subsistence crops and livestock, leading to the threat of starvation. Some analyses conclude that the Syrian war began because of a four-year drought. And in places without running water, women must walk longer to find water. Sometimes that water is in a neighboring village where people and livestock are also threatened, causing villages to be in conflict with one another.

Not enough is being done, Ms. Stone says. So United Methodist Women has chosen to retain the climate justice priority because "we have not adequately addressed the threat to those persons with whom we have chosen to be in mission."

response posed five questions to the guides: What is your personal reason for getting involved in this movement? In your jurisdiction, what are the direst environmental concerns? What is your biggest fear globally regarding this issue? What is one thing every United Methodist Women member can do to improve the environment? And, last, how does your faith instruct and guide you in caring for the earth?

The text under each jurisdictional guide's name is their words. The women's passion and commitment is evident; now they face the challenge of inspiring others to follow their lead.

Phyllis Terwilliger, Susquehanna Conference, Northeastern Jurisdiction

I composted, clotheslined, recycled, did not use Styrofoam, wrote a burn barrel ordinance for our township, community gardened, turned the heat in the winter to 50 degrees at night and 60 degrees during the day. But no matter how much I did, it wasn't enough. In frustration, I called out to God in prayer: "God, this isn't making a dent." I finally realized it's not just about what I can do but what we can do collectively to implement change. So the Be Just. Be Green initiative involves the coalition of all United Methodist Women members, who have the capability to accomplish so much more environmental justice — that would make a dent!

The Northeastern Jurisdiction has a past and a present laced with manufacturing, coal mining, Superfund sites, conventional farming, mountaintop removal mining and hydraulic fracturing. We have raped the land, air and water with extractive and chemical-laden industries without forethought to the earth and her people. The jurisdiction's poorest residents are typically those in closest proximity to contaminated sites. So how we are cleaning up our sordid past and building a healthy and sustainable future need to be addressed.

My biggest fear globally regarding our environment is greed and profit without regard to the well-being of people and our planet. My Northeastern Jurisdictional partner, Cecilia Williams, touts the importance of bringing a water bottle to United Methodist Women meetings and events and not buying or using Styrofoam. We should question every purchase, from a cup of coffee to a pair of shoes.

In order to care for God's world, we need to think of ourselves as global citizens. The Holy Spirit helps us to be astute observers of the human condition and to identify and claim and presence and grace of God in all that is common, all that is good. By becoming human, Jesus used earthly elements — water, mud, bread and wine — and made the simple sacred. So our universe is a sacred place and we have to treat it accordingly.

Emma Samson, Virginia Conference, Southeastern Jurisdiction

My commitment to living green evolved from preservation of resources for future generations to passion to care for God's creation. My first home is the Philippines. As we know, economically disadvantaged people are seriously affected by climate change. We started talking about pollution and acid raid way back in the 1980s.

In my jurisdiction, we have multiple concerns. Toxic chemicals, storm water runoffs, hydrofracking and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will move natural gas through Virginia and North Carolina.

U.S. politics impact the world. It would be ideal if this country led the recent Paris climate summit to do more than volunteer to make cuts on carbon emissions. Big polluters have big money to pay lobbyists.

United Methodist Women members have the power to shape the future of efforts on environmental and economic justice. We are many and we are strong. We can impact our homes, neighborhoods, communities and churches. There are grassroots efforts already going on. We need to harness this positive power. We can follow the 13 principles of Be Just. Be Green.

Psalm 24:1 speaks to me about God's call for us to take care of God's creation: "The Earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it."

Miok L. Fowler, Rocky Mountain Conference, Western Jurisdiction

For me, climate justice is a natural evolvement from the human rights and civil rights concerns we have focused on. The core issues are equality, equity and democratic values to be implemented to all of humanity. It is such a natural progression that drives my passion and enthusiasm about environmental justice.

There are two urgent concerns in my jurisdiction: First, the Animas River wastewater spill from the Gold King Mine in August 2015 and its related environmental disasters. Two Native American communities, the Ute and Navajos, experienced extreme agricultural losses. Second, the hydraulic fracking issues. Metro Denver and adjacent communities are very concerned with big oil and gas industries fervently promoting fracking in the Front Range.

Personally, I think climate refugees are the most critically endangered and of immediate concern. We might say that they are political and economic refugees based on war and poverty. But we are now finding that climate change is also a major factor in the displacement of people across the globe. It's all interconnected. This displacement leading to the migration across borders has placed tremendous strain on the host countries. Their motivation to seek life in another location is driven by sheer survival realities. Refugees are forced to find a home in some of the most difficult circumstances, alienated from their familiar language and culture.

I strongly believe recycling is practiced among United Methodist Women members. Consuming less is the next step in the progression of a larger context of environmental justice. The Western world is much more saturated with a "buy, buy and buy" mentality.

There are more than a few important Bible verses regarding environmental justice: Ezekiel 34:18, regarding sustainable living, Isaiah 24:4-5 and 2 Chronicles 7:14. But one of my favorites is John 6:12, which is simple, prophetic, precise and all encompassing: "And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, 'Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost'" (ESV).

Ellen Lipsey, New Mexico Conference, South Central Jurisdiction

My personal reason for getting involved in this movement is layered. I live in the desert of west Texas on the border of Mexico. Several years ago I returned to this small community where I grew up. I was trained by my parents (especially my mother, a very dedicated member of United Methodist Women) to consider the impact of my choices on others. It was also influenced a few years ago when I attended a National Farm Worker Ministry meeting in California to learn from and be in solidarity with farmworkers picking table grapes. It expanded my awareness of environmental and economic justice related to the choices we make every time we visit a grocery store. I'm excited to be part of an organization that has clout, understanding and makes the connections between justice and care of creation. Be Just. Be Green is the way to be intentional about our planning choices that honor those connections.

The devastation to land, water and air by the oil and gas industry is one of the current environmental concerns in my jurisdiction. The very industries that provide livelihood for so many people are contaminating our earth. Working for a just transition to other forms of energy is vital.

My biggest fear globally is the warming of the planet along with what seems like very slow action to find alternatives to the activities that harm the environment. The effects, including weather disasters, almost always disproportionately impact the most vulnerable communities, and voices from those communities must be heard.

The one impactful thing that every United Methodist Women member could do for the environment is reduce waste. Right now, my favorite inspiration to keep working in our effort to plan sustainable meetings is the song "For Livets Skull" (For Sake of Life) by Per Harling [which can be found in Global Praise 1 published by the General Board of Global Ministries].

Jeanne Long, West Ohio Conference, North Central Jurisdiction

Like many people my age, I grew up without a clue that someday landfills would become small mountains, that our air and water would be polluted, and that huge garbage dumps would float into our oceans. When I first became aware of recycling, about 30 years ago, I enthusiastically got on board with it, thinking I could help save the environment.

Fast-forward to today. When I retired from my career in education, I wanted to do something with environmental justice issues, so I was excited to hear about the Be Just. Be Green initiative because I saw it as a way to pursue my passion. As one person, I can't do much. But this is a wonderful opportunity to help organize many, and together we can accomplish something.

The Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan, is an extremely dire situation. Because a city manager was brought in to get the budget under control, decisions were made to use the Flint River for the city water supply without considering the quality of the water or the abilities of the water treatment plant. It has proven to have a high lead concentration, and many people, especially children, have begun to experience irreversible health problems. The Flint River water caused lead from aging pipes to get into the water supply, and these city and household pipes need replacing. Since the population of Flint is mostly low-income people of color, this is a racial and economic issue as well as an environmental one. United Methodist Women in Detroit and West Michigan conferences are helping to deal with the needs of the people, but we all need to be asking what we can do beyond donating bottles of water — for Flint as well as other cities that are in similar situations.

I am concerned that so many are ignoring or discounting the issue of climate change. Irreversible damage is being done, and even though the world agrees that we need to act, politicians in the United States are convincing people that there's no such thing as global warming.

We can all do so many things. But if I had to choose just one, it would be to avoid single-use plastics and convince as many people as possible to do the same. Whether it's not buying plastic water bottles, refusing plastic straws in restaurants or taking reusable bags to the grocery store, we just need to change our mindset about things that are "convenient" but so bad for the environment.

What inspires me is Psalm 37:3: "Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness" (NASB). I'm sure that God did not expect for us to trash the earth and waste its resources. I'm embarrassed at the damage we've done and at the mess we've made for future generations. This spurs me on to try my hardest to care for the earth, to do no further harm and to try my best to influence others to care and to act as well.

Learn more about Be Just. Be Green and the other jurisdictional guides at www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/ environment.


Michelle Bearden is former religion reporter for The Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV and is now a freelance writer specializing in faith and values. She's a two-time winner of the national Supple Religion Writer of the Year award from the Religion Newswriters Association.

Posted or updated: 4/4/2016 11:00:00 PM
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