Response: July/August 2020 Issue

Prioritizing Just Energy for All

United Methodist Women hosts training on faith and climate justice.

Prioritizing Just Energy for All
L. to r., Annette Wright of North Carolina, Miok Fowler of Colorado, Gladys Carter of Washington, D.C., at the 2019 Just Energy Training.

How do you eat a giant pumpkin?

You invite the community and take one bite at a time.

That’s what Todd Lafrenz, Green Team chair at Douglas Avenue United Methodist Church in Springfield, Illinois, shared about the church’s journey to installing a solar array. It took many meetings, many members and many months, but the solar array was approved by the church. In fact, it was being hammered and drilled into place while United Methodist Women’s Just Energy for All training took place there in December 2019.

Caring about our energy use is part of our faith walk as Christians, because the system by which we get our energy is inherently unjust: it harms the poor, people of color, and women and children and benefits corporations that pollute our land, air and water for profit.

Over 70 United Methodist Women attendees and partners from all over the United States examined our personal energy use, learned where our energy comes from and lamented our complicity in an unjust system during the training. Through the training, we learned that transitioning our energy economy to one that prioritizes clean and renewable sources like wind and solar that is justice-centered will be a giant undertaking. But it’s not impossible. This transition will happen through steady but bold steps in each of our communities, and those steps can start with each of us.

Climate change and vulnerable populations

The number one contributor to climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels used for electricity, transportation and heat. Our burning of fossil fuels is a major cause of air pollution and climate change. Historically, communities of color are most harmed by fossil fuel pollution from coal, oil and natural-gas-fired power plants and transportation. To reduce the impact on the communities harmed most by pollution and climate change, we need to dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuels in our energy and transportation systems. This is a cornerstone of United Methodist Women’s Just Energy for All campaign.

The health of women, children and youth has been the focus of United Methodist Women for our 151-year history. In the recently released “Worst Cities for African Americans” assessment, Illinois, site of the training, ranks poorly. Four Illinois cities landed in the top 10: Springfield, Rockford, Peoria and Danville. Gaps in education, health outcomes, income and home ownership are all of deep concern and all negatively impact the most vulnerable citizens. Most of these communities are affected by energy transition.

The training participants heard about the intersections of climate and racial justice through a presentation by Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. NAACP Illinois Chapter President Teresa Haley welcomed attendees to Springfield, home of NAACP, founded there one year after the 1908 Springfield Race Riot.

Participants broke into groups to learn about where their energy comes from, who controls it and what power they have as consumers and community members to change it. Some groups further investigated rural electric co-ops and municipal utilities with Liz Veazey of We Own It, others learned about investor-owned utilities and federal energy policy with Melanie Santiago-Mosier of Vote Solar, and another group learned about bus electrification efforts with Mychal Estrada of Green for All. Each of these trainings helped support a pillar of the Just Energy for All campaign: Transitioning our energy and transportation systems to 100 percent renewable energy.

Knowing the energy policies at the state and local level is an important piece for good advocacy. As southern Illinois outreach coordinator for Faith in Place, a faith-based organization focused on creation care and healthy communities, and a United Methodist Women Be Just. Be Green Jurisdictional Guide, I shared about the Clean Energy Jobs Act in Illinois, which is a piece of legislation being considered by the Illinois General Assembly in 2020. The bill is built on a vision for a clean-energy future with quality jobs and economic opportunity for all communities throughout the state, centering on equity and just transition. The Clean Energy Jobs Act sets a path for Illinois to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy, to increase energy efficiency, to have access to good jobs in a growing market and to electrify the transportation sector.

Participants left the training with a plan of action. Elizabeth Lee, executive for economic and environmental justice for United Methodist Women, and Lavannya Pulluveetil Barrera of Vote Solar guided attendees through goal setting, messaging and power-mapping exercises. The trainees committed to bringing the information they learned back to their United Methodist Women units, districts and conferences in order to educate and advocate for just transition in their communities. “While a green economy might be inevitable, a just energy system is not,” said Lee.

“We must respect God’s world and all in it, which means being mindful of climate injustices and how these injustices are like dominoes that touch and directly impact so many of the world’s poor,” said Jessica Godfrey, North Georgia United Methodist Women social action coordinator.

The Rev. Beth Galbreath of Northern Illinois Conference also attended the training.

“United Methodist Women can do anything!” she said. “I am hopeful that the Just Energy for All campaign can mobilize our congregations to install solar, wind and geothermal energy systems; recognize that work to mitigate climate change is a matter of loving one’s neighbor, a matter of faith; and continue to work for justice.”

The training was funded and organized by United Methodist Women in partnership with Douglas Avenue United Methodist Women, Douglas Avenue United Methodist Church, Illinois Great Rivers Conference United Methodist Women, Sangamon River District United Methodist Women, Faith in Place, Green for All, the NAACP, Vote Solar and We Own It.

In order for the benefits of a clean-energy economy to reach all communities, it’s vital that United Methodist Women members advocate for just transition policies that center equity and justice around the United States. United Methodist Women wants at least 50,000 members and 27 annual conferences participating in this work. Will you join us?

We can create Just Energy for All, one bite at a time.

To be part of advancing Just Energy for All, visit unitedmethodistwomen.org/climatejustice.


Christina Krost is Southern Illinois outreach coordinator for Faith In Place and the United Methodist Women Be Just. Be Green guide for the North Central Jurisdiction.

Posted or updated: 7/6/2020 12:00:00 AM