New London climate change forum talks hope

New London — The Rev. Ranjit Mathews had a main ground rule for Sunday's roundtable discussion: "We will not be debating climate change."

"Reality, Hope and Action in an Age of Climate Change," held at St. James Episcopal Church, was an event put on by the Interreligious Eco-justice Network, a Connecticut faith-based environmental nonprofit organization, according to its website. The event, which featured four speakers, focused on confronting climate change's negative effects while maintaining hope for the future.

One speaker, Juliana Barrett, an educator and coastal habitat specialist, acknowledged that many mired in the battle to limit climate change and treat the earth with respect are depressed. Others made similar admissions.

It was in this context that keynote speaker the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, a priest, author and climate activist, addressed the approximately 70 people in the crowd.

"Our world is on fire," Bullitt-Jonas said. "Parts of the planet will soon be too hot to inhabit."

This first fire Bullitt-Jonas mentioned is a general metaphor for climate change. She pinpointed another fire blazing in the U.S. right now: "The fire of hatred."

The third and final fire Bullitt-Jonas talked about? "Our fire."

"The fire of our movements coming together at last," she said. "Youth climate strikers, indigenous rights activists, fossil fuel divestment, frontline movements, the faith and environment movement ... all of us coming together to douse the first two fires and to forge a better path for the future. I would call this fire the fire of love. This is where communities of faith have a vital role to play."

Barrett highlighted crises related to climate change in Connecticut. She said Connecticut is one of the fastest-warming states due to climate change — the state's average temperature has climbed 3.6 degrees between 1895 and 2018. She said sea levels in the Long Island Sound are projected to increase 20 inches by 2050. She said Connecticut's "beautiful" tidal wetlands are endangered.

She also pointed to Wednesday night's storm as another event in a long line stemming from climate change, asking, "How much flooding did New London have just the other night?" The crowd answered with knowing nods and mutual looks of concern.

Jameelah Muhammad, eastern region organizing manager for the Sierra Club, said her Muslim faith grounded her for the impact she hoped to have on the world. She compared combating climate change to being a mother — both lifelong works requiring passion, and sometimes it takes years to see effects.

Taylor Mayes, communications coordinator for CT Roundtable on Climate & Jobs, talked about how practicing art became an important way for her to process issues related to climate change.

Mayes said the CRCJ is working with community groups in New London to ensure the offshore wind industry will create new career opportunities for local students.

Panelists then took questions from attendees. One person asked what they could do to help the cause. Some panelist suggestions:

  • Consider your own carbon footprint, diet and transportation
  • Vote and become involved in the political process; this crisis needs collective action and systemic change
  • Work with young people
  • Connect disparate communities

Other specific actions were enumerated on the event's program, including joining the climate justice movement at 350CT.org, divesting from fossil fuels, investing in renewable energy and supporting local land trusts and farms, among other strategies.

The Interreligious Eco-Justice Network has organized events of this type throughout Connecticut. Executive Director Teresa Eickel said climate and religion are inherently linked.

"Every faith tradition talks about the importance of taking care of the planet, of taking care of the land," Eickel said. "This is a moral, ethical concern, and the fact that this has been so politicized should be deeply troubling to anyone who ascribes to any faith tradition."

Eickel said the goal of the event, and events like it, is simple: to bring people together.

"We want to build a network of local communities," she said. "I appreciated Reverend Ranjit saying, 'We're not debating climate change.' We have to move the conversation out of the political realm. It is about science and doing what's right."

s.spinella@theday.com

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