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UU congregations observe International Day of Climate Action

Unitarian Universalists insulate windows, plant flowers, organize carpools to reduce carbon footprint.
By Donald E. Skinner

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Members of the Piedmont UU Church in Charlotte

Members of the Piedmont UU Church in Charlotte, N.C., created a “Green Man” puppet in honor of the International Day of Climate Action, October 24. (Courtesy of the Piedmont UU Church)

First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was one of more than 100 Unitarian Universalist congregations that participated in the October 24 International Day of Climate Action sponsored by the climate change organization 350.org.

First Parish members, joined by a number of Harvard University students, gathered at the church with stepladders and rolls of plastic film to insulate the historic building’s drafty windows to reduce heat loss. At 1 p.m., children rang the church bell 350 times as members handed out leaflets on climate change. Afterward, some members joined a “Boston Underwater” event near the harbor in downtown Boston, where participants used costumes and theatrical events to draw attention to a predicted rise in the sea level if global warming is not checked.

The organization 350.org is committed to educating politicians and others about the fact that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere must be limited to 350 parts per million to avoid runaway climate change. It is now at 390 ppm. The organization said there were more than 5,200 events in 181 countries on October 24, constituting the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet’s history, as well as the first global campaign ever organized around a scientific data point.

The events were designed to bring public opinion to bear on world leaders who will be gathering in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December to create a new climate treaty at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The UU Church of Arlington, Va., used the day to launch its “anything but single occupancy” carpooling program, encouraging members to carpool to church. The UU Fellowship of Falmouth in East Falmouth, Mass., held a dinner honoring local environmentalists. Earlier in the month it hosted an interfaith forum about religion and energy issues and installed insulation at a food pantry. The Cape Cod Times published a sermon on energy issues by the fellowship’s minister, the Rev. Robert Murphy.

Rowan Van Ness, program associate for environmental justice with the UU Ministry for Earth, helped congregations get involved with the climate issue. Others involved in the effort were the UU Service Committee, several UU state advocacy networks, and the UU United Nations Office.

On October 26, two days after most events were held, Van Ness said, “Things really went well. There was a great diversity in the events. Many congregations took on weatherization projects. Some staged protests and signed petitions and wrote letters.”

This is only the beginning, she said, noting that 350.org wants supporters to continue to lobby for passage of a responsible climate treaty. In addition, public pressure now will benefit a bill moving through Congress, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “This is a great time to be getting engaged in this,” she said. “We hope people will continue to write to their senators and to educate their communities through letters to the editor and other means.”

At the UU Church in Meriden, Conn., members and volunteers planted 350 daffodil bulbs. Next spring they’ll spell out “350.” More than 50 people gathered at a Lacey, Wash., park at the “Bike and Walk for Climate Change Action,” where speakers called for political leaders to heed the impact that global warming would have, especially on low-income groups, because of floods and drought. The event’s sponsors included Washington State UU Voices for Justice and the Olympia UU Congregation’s Green Sanctuary Committee. At the UU Fellowship of the Peninsula in Newport News, Va., work started a month before October 24, teaching children about composting and climate change. Teens took scraps of cloth and created a 3-5-0 banner that has now been recycled into a rug. October 24 was also the day of the annual church auction and it took on a climate change aspect when all of the trash from the auction meal was composted.

The fellowship held a forum on ways people could reduce their carbon footprint. When fellowship leaders discovered their local power company offered the option of “green energy” from renewable sources it signed up for it. “Now we no longer depend on oil or coal to heat and cool our building,” said David Walsh, one of the coordinators of fellowship events.

In Charlotte, N.C., members of the Piedmont UU Church joined with a local coalition. Members Gail Haley and Mehl Renner created a “Green Man” puppet and held a ritual allowing people to place their foot in green paint and make a personal commitment to reducing their carbon footprint.

In Sierra Vista, Ariz., members of the UU Church of Southeastern Arizona participated in an event that included cooking a pot of soup with a solar cooker to 350 degrees. The church’s minister, the Rev. Rodney Richards, said: “Climate change is not just a scientific issue. It’s not just a political issue. It’s a moral issue.”

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