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Pastoral Care for Climate Change: Weaving Science and Theology for Justice, part 3

There are two themes that stand out from the conference. These two themes seemed to echo throughout every presentation. One theme that resonated throughout the conference was articulated by Karyn Bigelow. Bigelow shared that “climate change exacerbates historical inequality in four main areas: racial wealth divide, racial housing segregation and/or lack of investment, racialized concentrated poverty, racial health inequities, and lack of sovereignty.” Bigelow explained, “working toward Climate Justice means promoting equity by responding to the harmful impacts of human-induced climate change in ways that center the challenges of historically marginalized groups.”

Dr. Betsy Albright, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Environmental Science and Policy Method at Duke Nicholas School of the Environment, echoed Bigelow when she said, “Climate Change is an amplifier of a lot of societal issues, risks, and inequities.” Dr. Nikki Cagle, Associate Dean of Equity and Inclusion,put it this way, “Climate Change stops people from getting their needs met, some people more than others.”

The presenters offered many examples of how climate change exacerbates inequality. Some examples included:

  • Redlining and Heat- racist policies affected housing and neighborhood segregation. Areas that were redlined are now some of the hottest parts of cities due to lack of trees and too much heat-trapping pavement.

  • In Disaster Recovery, Fema gives a measurably greater percentage of funds to white households than to Black and BIPOC households.

  • Climate change affects food security through higher temperatures, changing precipitation, and extreme events. Those who are most vulnerable are the most negatively affected.

Another theme that resonated throughout the conference was that of resilience. There are physical and emotional burdens of Climate Change. Both the scientists and theologians agree that things are changing. They also believe we can do something to slow and/or stop the change. (There were all sorts of resources and action steps offered to conference participants.) What stood out, though, was an emphasis on building the spiritual and communal muscles in order to deal with hard things and cultivate hope together.

Conference presenters proclaimed that the work of Climate Justice is long haul work in community with others. It is not easy. In order to do the work of Climate Justice, we must build relational resilience through communal practices of grief, lament, and resistance. We must break habits and shift culture through spiritual disciplines and communal practices that reduce social isolation, increase connection to land, overemphasize and overcompensate for the inequities that exist.

These kinds of practices are a way of repeating rhythms of collective action and discipline so that we learn our way out of Climate destruction and extraction and learn our way into a way of Climate Justice and Care. Communities that engage in Climate Justice practices are communal. They tell the good news & the bad news. They practice solidarity with the most vulnerable. They engage in rituals of grief and lament that lead to hope. They participate in activism and advocacy.

Here are the ways I hope to apply what I learned at the conference to my work with QC Family Tree and with Beloved Community Charlotte:

  • Infuse Climate Justice practices and content into worship liturgy with BCC

  • Dedicate QCFT curriculum, programming, and cohorts to the work of Climate Justice

  • Organize a similar experience or conference for folks in and around Charlotte.

  • Work with the people on my corner to develop a resilience plan for times of disaster.

  • Add Climate Justice content to the Communitarian’s Almanac and Apothecary Guide.

  • Study and learn from the resources provided at the conference.

  • Invite Trees Charlotte to present on Environment Justice to local clergy and QCFT partners.

  • Invite conversation with BCC folks about communal faith practices to build resilience.

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