Environmentalists and evangelists have more in common than one would think. Caring for our children and neighbors; expressing gratitude and appreciation for the blessings we have been given; ensuring that we are good stewards of the world–these are values that are held by people of faith and also environmental activists! How is it then that these groups so often find themselves at odds?
For too long, the discussion around the environment and climate has been hijacked by politicians and special-interest groups. Instead of conflict, what if we were able to create synergy by taking climate change and environmental degradation to the community level and giving these issues a moral and ethical grounding? How much more impact could we have by partnering with the strength, commitment, and energy of people of faith?
Charlotte, NC seems like the perfect place to start bridging the gap between faith and climate action. Lush and green, with clean streets, Charlotte is a beautiful city and is known for being a great place to raise a family. Charlotte has a well-deserved reputation for being a city where faith groups flourish. According to Gallup, 50% of Charlotte’s residents belong to a religious congregation, 8th highest in the US, and according to American Bible Society, Charlotte is the 7th most “Bible-minded” American city. Charlotte also has a culturally and ethnically diverse population with strong representations from Jewish, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain and other faiths from around the world.
However, behind the appearance of green neighborhoods and churches covered by a canopy of trees, Charlotte faces some serious environmental issues. Charlotte received a score of “F” in Ozone in the 2014 air quality study conducted by American Lung Association. About 22,000 kids and 56,000 adults are already asthmatic. Asthma and other air related diseases are among the top reasons for children missing school.
Our water supply is also under threat from polluters, especially coal-burning power plants. Our major source of drinking water, Catawba-Wateree River, is surrounded by, as designated by EPA, 10% of all “High Hazard” coal ash ponds in the US. Ranked 5th most endangered river in the US by EPA, ours has been at the forefront of the national dialog on coal ash. Potential catastrophic release, daily untreated discharges, and continuous seepage into groundwater are of huge concern.
Furthermore, we are already seeing effects of climate change across NC and as a low-lying coastal state, NC is vulnerable to fluctuations in sea-level rise.
It is time that Charlotte’s faith community took on climate change and creation care. With this in mind, we have launched a new initiative in Charlotte called the Interfaith Climate Action Coalition. In November 2014 we hosted our first public forum. Panelists and community members from Hindu, Islamic, Baptist, and Unitarian faiths gathered to discuss the moral imperative to act on climate.
This event was just the beginning of bridging the gap between faith and climate. In the coming months, we are looking forward to making concrete strides towards congregation-wide climate action and creation care. This is important to me because I grew up in New Delhi, India, a very faith-based community which also happens to be the world’s most polluted city and my family and friends suffer the consequences of living there every day. I now call Charlotte, NC my home and I am driven to leave a legacy of a clean and a beautiful city for our future generations. As an individual of Islamic faith, I see this as my call to fulfill my religious duties to care for God’s creations.
We hope to create a rallying cry of faith communities supporting renewable energy solutions that echoes from Charlotte, NC across the whole state and beyond!
Written by Ahmer Inam – an economist, mathematician, and amateur photographer (photos in this blog are his!)
Charlotte’s Interfaith Climate Action Coalition
is a Regional Partner of NC Interfaith Power & Light.