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In honor of MLK, Jr Day: Climate Justice for All

By Wendee Nicole
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Let's Lead on Climate, a new guide from ecoAmerica, features case studies in our sectors - Health, Faith, and Communities. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, we highlight a success story from Raleigh, North Carolina and how the Community United Church of Christ took climate justice as a personal mission of faith in their community.

A community-wide initiative

In 2007, the Community United Church of Christ’s (CUCC) congregation voted to make climate justice a priority and mission for the church. As Pastor Jenny Shultz-Thomas describes, the congregation felt that as people of faith the community was called to love one another and to honor all of God’s creation, which is not limited to humanity. In order to carry out the congregation’s goals, congregants created the Justice in a Changing Climate (JCC) Task Force to begin advocating and acting on climate. This group later became an interfaith and community-wide network that broadened and strengthened the impact of their various projects.

Pastor Shultz-Thomas says her congregation was eager to begin this work and took it upon themselves to form the Task Force. This group sought out local partners across the community to bring forth various climate projects and initiatives. For CUCC and other faith groups, their stewardship was ignited by their shared values, such as caring for creation and the poor. Establishing this common ground early on led to a collaborative effort, bringing climate solutions to those disproportionately affected by climate impacts.

"The congregation felt that as people of faith the community was called to love one another and to honor all of God’s creation, which is not limited to humanity."

Rallying for justice

The Task Force also aimed to make an impact on policies within the community through its climate advocacy work. However, Pastor Shultz-Thomas explains these efforts also came with pushback: “As a larger advocacy community working for justice and advocacy, there’s always resistance.” To overcome this, CUCC and other groups 

held meetings for the whole community to hear from government officials and candidates, allowing the public the opportunity to hold their representatives accountable for climate action and to involve constituents in the decision-making and planning process.

"Those who experience climate impacts more severely, such as communities of color and low-income areas, had been inherently left out of the conversation."

Pastor Shultz-Thomas also notes that it was particularly difficult, “working systematically across all ethnic divisions and socioeconomic lines” within the community and her own church. Those who experience climate impacts more severely, such as communities of color and low-income areas, had been inherently left out of the conversation. “A lot of mobilization around combating climate change really goes hand-in-hand with privilege,” explains Pastor Shultz-Thomas. To involve all communities in advocacy and action, especially those formerly marginalized, CUCC developed a wider coalition to “honestly address environmental racism and combat climate change.” In focusing more on inclusion, CUCC helped low-income areas increase energy efficiency by pre-weatherizing homes and reduced the church’s carbon footprint by going solar at CUCC.

Finding allies for solutions

Leading up to the pre-weatherization and solar projects, the JCC Task Force primed its congregation and community for solutions by hosting various speaker events. Community members gather at these events to hear local leaders speak about climate impacts the community faces, challenges within the community, and how the community can benefit from solutions. These events not only inform and educate audiences, but also provide more support for other specific goals and projects the Task Force proposes later on.

Outside of the immediate community in Raleigh, Pastor Shultz-Thomas has also relied on larger organizational support from North Carolina’s Environmental Justice Network and the United Church of Christ to help CUCC form a congregational model and an organized response to the environmental injustices within the community. Support from a larger network coupled with a faith perspective and guiding values allowed CUCC to expand their efforts to communities across the state.

Recommendations

  • Work across ethnic, socioeconomic, and faith lines to broaden support and action on solutions. This not only helps build a stronger foundation for the community but for engaging others on climate action.
  • Create a sustainable network of partners and community members to help mobilize across any divides that might exist. This will strengthen and broaden the reach of your initiative or project.