Renewal LA

This past weekend, I attended "Renewal LA," an interfaith gathering here in Los Angeles which included sections of the documentary film "Renewal" by filmmakers Marty Ostrow and Terry Kay Rockefeller.  The event offered speakers such as Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board, and it featured renowned environmentalist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben.

Renewal LA was hosted in an Episcopal cathedral.  The opening blessing was given by representatives of the B'hai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Later Day Saints, Moslem, and Unitarian traditions (listed here in alphabetical order).  It was amazing to see all these religious leaders standing shoulder-to-shoulder, reading pieces from their individual traditions -- so many paths toward the same end, that of humanity living more gently upon the earth.

I came to this event in the wierd capacity of both outside observer and insider.  While I consider myself fairly spiritual, I'm not a participant in any particular religious tradition.  I have the unique opportunity, however, to participate in many events which explore the crossover of religion and environmentalism because I am the co-founder of the Environmental Change-Makers community group (which became the initiating group for Transition Los Angeles).  My co-founder at ECM is the Reverend Peter H. Rood, Jr., an Episcopal priest.  I often refer to myself as the "secular environmentalist" part of the partnership.  Because of Peter's connections and charisma, we are frequent speakers at religious communities in Southern California.

As Transition US explores the topic of diversity, and proposes setting up a working group for Transition and faith communities, there has been a lot of interest in Peter's and my work.  In today's post I want to share with you a bit about the Renewal LA event, and in a future post, some reflections about Transition issues and faith communities.

RENEWAL, the documentary

From their website:
RENEWAL is the first feature-length documentary film to capture the vitality and diversity of today's religious-environmental activists. From within their Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim traditions, Americans are becoming caretakers of the Earth. With great courage, these women, men and children are re-examining what it means to be human and how we live on this planet. Their stories of combating global warming and the devastation of mountaintop removal, of promoting food security, environmental justice, recycling, land preservation, and of teaching love and respect for life on Earth are the heart of RENEWAL.

The eight stories in RENEWAL are:

  • A Crime Against Creation: Evangelicals bear witness to mountaintop removal and the destruction of Appalachia
  • Going Green: GreenFaith in New Jersey helps congregations take the first steps to
    environmental action
  • Food for Faith: Muslim tradition and charity forge bonds between urban communities
    and sustainable farms in Illinois
  • Ancient Roots: The Teva Learning Center in Connecticut brings environmental
    education together with Jewish tradition
  • Compassion in Action: Green Sangha, a Buddhist community in northern California,
    leads a campaign to save trees
  • Eco-Justice: The Holy Spirit inspires a battle against industrial contamination in small-
    town Mississippi
  • Sacred Celebration: Catholics and Native Americans embrace religious ritual in a
    struggle to protect New Mexico’s land and water
  • Interfaith Power and Light: Across America people of all faiths mount a religious
    response to global warming

At the Renewal LA event we saw the mountaintop removal segment, which was very moving and emotional to see.  There was one member of our audience who arrived wearing a "Beyond Coal" t-shirt in reference to the Sierra Club's campaign (is it only here locally?) to press the power company to not renew its coal contracts.  In my opinion the message needed to be driven home, that if we are to end the coal era there is no option except powerdown.  Yet powerdown unfortunately wasn't part of the discussion, either on film or with live speakers.

Interfaith Power and Light

The Renewal LA gathering was hosted by California Interfaith Power and Light, which is part of the U.S.-wide Interfaith Power and Light (IPL).  From the presentations given last night, it seems that IPL is working with diverse faith communities on supporting religious communities who are beginning to see that environmental action is moral obligation.  Many of the groups seem to be focused on supporting global warming legislation.  Some seem to be focused on "enviro-lite" such as passing out CFL bulbs.

The Renewal LA event ended with a blatant advertisement for a certain brand of yogurt, and the distribution of "climate counts" cards recommending specific major corporate name brands, supposedly to guide people's consumer purchases.  And despite one IPL speaker having talked about a local food initiative, the snack food served at the event was mass-produced out-of-season stuff out of Costco-style clamshell trays.  So there is still a big disconnect there

My observations:  Your local IPL might be a good place to find faith leaders who are already tuned in to the environmental cause, particularly the global warming cause.  You might find lots of allies there.  However, they will probably be of the "green-tech" understanding, so powerdown, localization, and peak oil concepts will likely be very new to them.

  • Interfaith Power and Light
  • Just Faith, a religious program (Christianity) about social justice and taking action.  Many Just Faith graduates here in L.A. have become enthusiastic about pouring their action into environmental issues.


Mary Nichols at Renewal LA

Mary Nichols is the Chair of California Air Resources Board.  She appeared at Renewal LA to talk about the political assault being waged on AB32, California's landmark Global Warming Solutions Act.

Some years back, wise legislators in our state created this legislation which effectively signed California on to the Kyoto Protocol even though the federal government wouldn't go there.  Immediately after the bill's passage into law, it was tied up in litigation which went all the way to the Supreme Court.  Meanwhile at least 9 other states copied the California legislation, thus the outcome of their bills was similarly tied up.

Eventually the Supreme Court declared that California did in fact have legal ability to set a limit on global warming emissions.  And as soon as that hurdle was cleared, oil companies have mounted a new campaign to put "suspension" of AB32 onto the general ballot this November.  They are selling this campaign as the "California Jobs Initiative."  DO NOT BE FOOLED.

Mary Nichols laid out in great detail how green industries and greenhouse gas emission reduction has already created thousands of jobs in our state.  And how suspension of AB32 would end capital investment into post-petroleum industries like solar power.  When she got to the part about how economy and environment go hand-in-hand, "you can't have a healthy economy without a healthy environment," her speech was interrupted by a round of applause.

Ms. Nichols detailed how the terms of the "suspension" are set in such a way as to effectively repeal AB32 not "suspend" it.  How the federal-level legislation has come to a screeching halt in a ridiculous political pissing-match. (my words not hers!)  And as indicated above, since the legislation in several other states is piggybacked upon California's, if California's falls, they probably all will fall -- our country's current only tenuous hope for anything like global warming legislation.


Bill McKibben at Renewal LA

Bill McKibben arrived wearing a bright red tshirt with the 350 logo on it.  He told in detail the story of the leadup to last October 24 and the Copenhagen climate summit, and it was tangible in the crowd when he got to the disappointment of how all that beautiful worldwide citizen solidarity couldn't do the job with Copenhagen negotiators.  He said the opposition is "the most profitable business the world has ever known," the fossil fuel industry.

He even clearer than Nichols about the AB32 situation.  McKibben spoke of his personal regrets that he hadn't started the 350 movement sooner.  How perhaps -- according to James Hanson and others -- it might already be too late.  And how we haven't a moment to spare in getting firm greenhouse gas caps in place.  Which makes it all the more essential that AB32 be left as-is; the progress of climate change doesn't allow us time for "suspension" of any duration!

McKibben told a colorful interpretation of the Job biblical story:  that man has assumed some of the powers that were previously reserved only for God.  God's powers over the clouds and the rain have been overtaken by man as we adjust the water vapor held in the atmosphere by heating the planet.  Man has assumed power over the floods and the seas by warming the planet and creating sea level rise.  McKibben said that always before our cultural story has been one of becoming more assertive.  And that for the first time in human history, the story must now change to one of being less.

He didn't quite get so far as talking powerdown.  It seems like he doesn't want to go there.  He was willing to talk about how we will have to "look at" what a lower carbon lifestyle might mean, but his focus is still very top-down -- on getting global warming caps in place.  If we recall Joanna Macy's 3 types of action to achieve The Great Turning, this "stopping action" certainly has its place.  But McKibben isn't telling the whole story to his audiences -- either intentionally or because he doesn't yet have that vision, I can't tell which.

350.org's next set of actions are scheduled for October 10 (10/10/10).  Get your local Transition Initiative to work, now, designing the project in your local area so that it will be a resilience-building project (rather than a green-tech one!).

[For "Reflections on Transition and Faith Communities," jump here]

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