Some Texas politicians have recently questioned the goals of the U.N.’s Climate Change Conference in Paris. Rep. Lamar Smith, from San Antonio, and Sen. Ted Cruz are among those who don’t believe human activity is causing the planet to heat up.
Many San Antonio religious leaders, however, believe climate change is real. Interfaith leaders and community members recently gathered to search for spiritual guidance.
There were about 50 attendees in the audience at Episcopal Church of Reconciliation where the Interfaith Convergence on Climate Action and Light is taking place. The Rev. Robert Woody is the rector at the church where the program was being held and one of the organizers of the event.
"Most of the people that are going to be affected by the choices I make on climate change are people I will never meet," Woody said. "And, so it’s much harder to take responsibility for people that you don’t know directly."
People start to enter the church. Joseph Cook will be speaking on behalf of San Antonio Mennonite Church, and like many of the presenters, he’ll focus mostly on the spiritual call to take action on the climate. But, Cook is also an environmental and sustainability scientist. He says the data proves that climate change is already having effects.
"Increase of melting glaciers, increase of potential droughts due to a changing climate, increase of ocean temperatures. The ocean acts as an absorber of heat. And ocean temperatures have increased dramatically off the West Coast of the United States. They call this the Ocean Blob, I believe," Cook said.
Many religions have created official declarations on climate change and the speakers are reading segments of these declarations. Woody begins with the joint declaration of the Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran Churches.
"We are painfully aware that those of us living in the northern hemisphere are responsible historically for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, the major contributor to climate change," Woody said. "Accordingly, we hold a particular responsibility for changes in practices that will reverse the trajectory off atmospheric warming, and safeguard the sanctity of what our God calls very good, which is creation."
There are religious leaders and representatives across the spectrum this evening. Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim, Mennonite, Lutheran, Unitarian and other faiths. Some of them read from scripture.
"Oh, brothers and sisters of destiny, this garden has dark pools of poison, here and there," a reading from Sikh scripture.
"Islamically, nature is about balance," said Hajj Glenn Abdul Latif, the Imam at Fort Sam Houston Masjid. "There’s a balance between salt water, there’s a balance between fresh water. There’s a balance between the greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere. We need some. It’s what maintains the temperature around the planet. You tip too far in one direction, you overheat or throw off, or cool, climates elsewhere."
Joe Cook takes the stage. "As missional communities, we will assist every participant in our congregation to cultivate a healthy whole life stewardship, to care for creation, to practice mutual aid, and to be generous in ways which reflect the generosity of God."
The audience applauses. The last speaker is finished and the floor is open for discussion. The topic is what San Antonio’s religious communities can do now to slow climate change. This businesswoman believes businesses need to take responsibility.
"We’ve got to change the accounting system to assign the costs that are real," she said. "And the costs of fossil fuels to our earth are not being fully incorporated. All these floods and everything that are happening. That’s not getting assigned back to where it really belongs. Until we sit down and say society is paying for these costs, and we’ve got to assign them, it’ll never change."
The comment period is over, but people are jazzed up. They’re slow to leave. Woody captures the feeling of the evening. "I think it’s a responsibility for all people of faith including Christians to take care of creation. It’s part of the demand that God puts on us."
The religious leaders tonight aren’t walking away with a specific action plan for the climate, but it seems they’ve lit a spark. Their biggest hope is that the attendees will take that energy back to their congregations where real change will take place.