Friday, January 24, 2020

From the Ground Up

Climate Action from the Ground Up

by Eric Diekhans

While our leaders accept fossil fuel money and deny science, climate change is already having a devastating effect on food supplies. Just ask the Midwest farmers who couldn’t plant or had crops severely impacted because of heavy rains last spring. On a global level, the situation is even more dire. South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will bear the brunt of the impact, leading to increased hunger, starvation, poverty, and climate refugees.

But Rebecca Barnes, Coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, sees signs up hope at the grassroots level, where gardens are being planted, churches are going solar, and faithful voices are speaking out. “What excites me are the stories we get from Earth Care congregations,” Rev. Barnes said. “There’s innovative and important work taking place, especially in communities of color. They’re restoring their communities while fighting environmental injustice.”

Climate action is also uniting young people and older adults in common cause. “I feel hopeful,” Barnes said “because it’s become a cross-generational issue. We see passionate youth, but there are also many dedicated retired people, who are an especially strong demographic in the Presbyterian Church. They’re leading movements and hosting conversations on climate change.”

Climate change has become a major focus for the Presbyterian Hunger Program as well. “More of the grant applications we received have focused on climate change as a root cause of hunger,” Barnes said. It was one of the PHP’s focuses around World Food Day last October. “We created a series of posters on climate change and food, water, and natural disaster,” Barnes said.

PHP also issued a Climate Care Challenge, launched at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, The challenge encourages people of all ages to commit to taking a personal and community step to reduce their carbon footprint. (You can take the challenge at

Barnes also pointed to innovative and important work taking place outside the church in communities of color, like the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in a predominately Latino neighborhood in Chicago. LVEJO was founded in 1994 by public school parents who learned about the potential exposure of their children to dangerous particles during school renovations at Joseph E. Gary Elementary. It provides leadership development for the sustainable self determination of the community. and helps people who have been oppressed take action.

Barnes will be sharing PHC’s work when she co-preaches with Rev. Melanie Mullen, Episcopal Church Director of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care, during the Presbyterian Church (USA) Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day at Washington D.C.’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Last year, the day attracted more than 200 people who heard from keynote speakers and participated in workshops on a wide variety of topics, including the environment, poverty, and church policy.

After CPJ wraps on April 24, Ecumenical Advocacy Days begins at the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington Virginia. It’s a national gathering of Christian advocates and activists to speak the truth on Capitol Hill.

Barnes sees bridging the political divide as much more difficult than getting young, old, and marginalized communities to work together. ”There are a lot of ways caring for the earth is accessible across the aisle. However, certain words and approaches feel one-sided.”

Barnes said PHP was working with Bless Tomorrow, a coalition of diverse religious partners united as faithful stewards of God’s creation, to develop literature on how to talk about climate change, find common values, and avoid ‘red flag language.

Asked what message she would give to our representatives in Congress, Barnes was direct. “I’d say our faith compels us to do this now because of the suffering that is currently resulting from climate change and that will continue to intensify.”

“We can do something, “Barnes said, “and we must do something. We can raise our voices and we can get things done.”

Eric Diekhans is editor of Earth News and a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

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