Faith leaders met with Obama administration officials during a White House event on environmental stewardship and climate change on Feb. 25. They discussed how governmental and faith-based organizations can work together on issues related to the environment and vulnerable communities.
About 100 people participated, including numerous representatives of Christian denominations and representatives from Muslim, Hindu and Jewish groups — each involved in addressing climate change and environmental issues in their organizations and congregations.
"We have a moral obligation to take care of this planet and the people on it," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. "Environmental injustice is happening in a proportion we cannot ignore."
McCarthy told the faith leaders that they are the moral backbone of the nation's families and communities.
She identified opportunities for faith-based organizations to impact climate change, including by promoting clean energy. "We have an aging 70-year-old power sector spewing out carbon pollution," McCarthy said. She pointed to the role faith and community organizations had in eliminating mercury pollution from incineration and urged the groups to work vigorously to do the same with carbon pollution.
McCarthy also said that "energy efficiency is good economics for families, communities and religious congregations." She recommended use of the ENERGY STAR Action Workbook for Congregations.
Representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cecilia Calvo told participants that the Catholic approach to climate change is rooted in the faithful call to justice for persons who are poor and vulnerable. She said the church educates its members, advocates for good public policies and encourages direct action. Calvo, the USCCB's environmental justice program coordinator, said that concerns for climate change need to be integrated with other works of the church. It is not separate from the church's work on poverty, the economy, disaster response, or respect for life, but is part of each of these, she said.
As important as prevention and climate action are, attention must also be given to preparedness, said Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie from the African Methodist Episcopal church. She said that persons in low-income communities are the least prepared to deal with climate-related events such as floods, fires and extreme hot and cold. To that, the group said, "Amen."
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