Confronting Climate Change In India

India has been a country of numerous faiths — Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism et al. These religions have had a huge influence on culture, traditions, ways of living, thought processes and actions of people.

The people, who believe, follow, endorse and adapt these faiths, do so as they provide love, companionship, brotherhood and inner peace. What is common in all faiths is the concern and care for nature.

A pluralistic and diverse country with a rich culture and heritage is confronting the global challenge of “climate change.”

Problems of climate change are growing by the day, and are slowly but steadily being recognized as a serious livelihood issue by all sections of society.

Changing seasonal patterns, forced alteration in agricultural productions, excess or deficient rainfall resulting in flooding or droughts, intra country forced, interstate migrations in search of livelihoods, destruction of eco-systems, variations in disease patterns all are visible effects of climate change.

These challenges require concerted efforts and it becomes imperative that need for individuals, organisations, institutions, people cutting across faiths, come together to save the planet and everything that we cherish and value. Millions shall be affected in the future.

The need of the hour is awareness, getting across strong messages to all stakeholders including community & faith leaders, policy and decision makers who have capacity to create a conducive environment so that we and our future generations can breathe clean air, have plenty of water, utilize natural resources judiciously and can make informed decisions for ensuring that global goals are met in time.

Creation of awareness along with individual and collective responsibility is indeed the key in addressing “climate change.”

Faith can play a crucial part in mobilizing & bringing people together, act as an aid in spreading this core message to different sections of society in a simple yet effective manner. This is realistic and possible as majority of people in our country are in many ways religious.

Faith-based institutions still have a stronghold over community life and this can be harnessed for both alerting us about the growing dimension of this global phenomenon and for implementing changes in our daily lives that may cumulatively in the long run arrest and hopefully reverse the damage we have done to the environment.

The essence of “Sacred Earth, Sacred Trust” in Delhi on the 12th of June is to act as a facilitator in bringing individuals, faith groups, and institutions together for creating awareness and pressurizing policymakers to introduce time-bound specific programs that limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C.

This event is a fantastic opportunity for people from diverse faiths to come together, celebrate & endorse messages of world faith leaders regarding the environment like the Encyclical, Interfaith Climate Declaration, etc. and create a common platform for individuals associated with “climate change” and a larger community.

The aim would be to urge the participation of faith-based organizations in a great social and environmental cause for ensuring climate justice.


Finding Climate Hope in New Orleans

“Enlighten those who possess power…the poor and the earth are crying out.” –Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ 246, A Christian Prayer in Union with Creation Three weeks ago I joined 60+ faith leaders in New Orleans for the GreenFaith annual Climate Convergence.

This multi-religious experience brought together emerging leaders (millennials) from all over the U.S. and Canada to dialogue about goals and hopes, share resources, skills, and talents, develop and strengthen action plans, and most importantly, as I figured out after a couple days into the week, foster community.

This message of community hit home for me before I even arrived at the convergence.

I had an early flight to New Orleans so I grabbed a meal with a friend and went to a park that overlooks the city.

As we looked at his city, his home, he expressed all of the issues they have to deal with regarding water pollution and climate change, noting that they receive all that the Mississippi brings. That realization hit me like a ton of bricks.

Being from the Midwest and growing up not far from the great Mississippi, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

The chemical runoff from industrial farms and factories along the river is a real problem for life downstream. I felt the weight of guilt and apologized to him. The reality of how interconnected we are set the tone for the rest of the week.

Pictured: Kayla Sue Jacobs

The days to follow were filled with new friends, learning about the many faiths that were represented, hearing stories from Louisianians, and prayer. We heard a panel of Hurricane Katrina survivors; We spent a day on the bayou, a place known as “ground zero of climate change,” visiting the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe of the Isle de Jean Charles, who are among the first climate refugees in the U.S. We held an interfaith prayer service outside of Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise’s office.

We met with a fisherman named Coy who said places he used to ride a horse to now takes an over hour long boat ride to get to and who, despite being a 4th generation fisherman, is hesitating to teach his children the trade because of its unsustainability.The places we visited and the people we met had a weird way of making us feel both a sense of urgency and a sense of hope.

NOLA Convergence, Katrina Panel, 21 June 2016, Alex Price

Hurricane Katrina survivors (l-r) Robert Green, Arthur Johnson, and Brian Davis speak to convergence participants/Credit: Alex Price / GreenFaith During the panel with the Katrina survivors a convergence attendee raised her hand to express her appreciation for Robert Green who lost his 3 year old granddaughter and mother in the storm.

As she began to speak, she started to cry. She, a young mother from drought struck California who is expecting another child in the months to come, expressed her fear for her children and future generations.

Robert’s story of lost, resilience, and hope touched her and as she was crying and expressing her gratitude, he walked down from the panel, held her in his arms and said: “You’ve got to keep on fighting [for justice] and when you get scared, hug somebody.”

This is community.

Community is when a mother from California and a grandfather from Louisiana hug it out over a shared passion for an issue that affects them both.

Community is caring about future generations. Community is an entire tribe being displaced and they still persevere and work together to preserve their culture and history.

Community is when people from many faiths and backgrounds come together to protect the earth and make the world a safer place. Community is being honest with ourselves and apologizing to our brothers and sisters downstream.

My dear brothers and sisters, you too are part of this community.

When Christ said, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” (Mt. 18:20) He wasn’t only referring to prayer, but also action.

Our individual and societal actions have an actual effect on communities locally, nationally, and globally.

To quote a friend from the convergence, Austin Sisson: “Wherever you stand on climate change, you aren’t standing close enough if your shoes aren’t getting wet.” In other words be with the people, in the community.

Hear their stories.

We must never lose sight of being community; we were created for it (Gn. 2:18). Climate Change is a vast, complex, and urgent issue. It is going to take all of us to save the earth. It is going to take people of all faiths, of all nations, and of all political views. It is going to take you and me.

What can you do to help?

– Advocate: here is a policy we support

– Learn: contact us to host a speaker or consider JustFaith

– Live Simply and Sustainably: here are some tips


The Sea And Hunger Are At The Doorstep of Louisiana

The link between climate change and hunger in developing countries is clear to most people. For example, a shorter rainy season can severely affect how much food a small-scale farmer in Tanzania can grow to feed her family throughout the year. Here in the United States, however, the link may not be as clear. The connection is often through the loss of homes, jobs, and livelihoods. Last month, I saw an example of this firsthand while attending the Green Faith Emerging Leaders Convergence in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The week-long conference brought together 60 faith leaders from the U.S. and Canada who are engaged in climate justice work.

New Orleans is the epitome of a North American city struggling with climate change. We heard from survivors of Hurricane Katrina. It was a powerful week, but one day stuck out the most to me.

We toured the Isle de Jean Charles, a bayou community an hour and a half outside New Orleans. We met our tour guides, David Gauthé and Coy Verdin, the night before the visit.

They spoke for less than 10 minutes, but the gravity of their words was not lost on me. I began to realize that my feet were about to walk on land that may not be around in 10 years or even less than that.

The state of Louisiana lies below sea level, and the southeastern region is flooding. Since 1955, 90 percent of the land mass of Isle de Jean Charles has disappeared. Once tall trees are now barely poking out of the water.

Every 38 minutes this area of the state loses a football field worth of land.

Isle de Jean Charles is set to become the first community in the nation to be relocated due to the effects of climate change. In January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated $48 million for the resettlement.

With each tropical storm, there is a risk of infrastructure being wiped out by floods. Public services, such as the police department and the elementary school, have already been relocated out of Isle de Jean Charles.

One long road with only two lanes connects people in the community to markets, stores, and other needed services. The road has been rebuilt multiple times due to flooding from tropical storms, each time repairs costing the federal government $3 million.

This is a community of hard-working people, many of whom are fishermen and whose families have lived here for generations.

They are trying to cope with the growing challenges climate change brings. As a community, they have come together to make sure they can prolong their ability to live in Isle de Jean Charles as long as possible.

We should care about the challenges facing the people of Isle de Jean Charles.

Not only does climate change jeopardize their food security and safety, but residents are emblematic of many other communities in the U.S. and abroad already affected or expected to be affected by climate change.

Without reforms, climate change will wipe out the progress the world has made in eliminating poverty and ending hunger.

Crops and land necessary for the livelihoods of smallholder farmers abroad will cease to exist, and closer to home rising waters will engulf more and more communities, shattering lives and pulling vulnerable people deeper into poverty.

Coy Verdin, one of our tour guides, is a fourth-generation commercial fisherman. Fishing is in his family’s blood and how his family has made its living. However, he does not want to teach his children how to fish.

He said he does not think the family profession can continue. The sea has been their support in the past, but now it is destroying their future.


Mercy With All Creation


We send warm greetings of Peace and Good for all of you gathered this week at WYD in Krakow.

We are young people from several countries in Latin America, of different creeds and social sectors, who from our different perspectives of faith, care about the deterioration of our Common Home, and are taking steps towards the formation of an inter-religious network to promote the caring of the Earth.

God has called us to be the light and salt of the earth, to be the difference in a world where everything is bought and discarded.

We need to recognize today that we are Earth and God made us stewards of God’s creation in order to appreciate its beauty, take care of her and love her.

Today it is necessary to feel a deep compassion with Creation groaning with labor pains.

The suffering of the poorest and most vulnerable and the agony of our Mother Earth are crying out in one voice.

As young people, we feel we are the present and future of our nations and now is the time to create a worldwide convergence of young people in favor of Creation, which we are all a part of.

We need to be protagonists in defending our common home. In that regard, we are feel all very much inspired by Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’.

The broad participation of religious organizations at COP21 and its impact in the achievement of the Paris Agreement on climate change, confirms the potential we all have as people of faith, to promote necessary reforms that benefit the environment.

Although it is encouraging that at least 175 governments have committed to reduce their greenhouse gases emissions, a more systematic change is needed to ensure that global average temperature does not increase more than 1.5 ° C.

Together, we demand measures that reflect the precautionary principle, the primacy of the common good and an intergenerational ethic from the perspective of justice.

We believe in actions from the local to the global.

Let us start with concrete actions in our everyday lives, such as saving and using water efficiently, eating healthy and using renewable resources.

Moreover, it is urgent, from a faith perspective, to combat the lack of awareness among our people and to seek a personal change in regards to the caring of Creation.

Let’s hope that our commitment strengthens the work needed to achieve an integral ecological conversion, which carries a prophetic vocation.

We need to denounce the economic systems and the direct role that these have — especially due to transnational’s — in the indiscriminate use of natural goods, such as water, turning them into market resources rather than a human right given by grace to all Creation. We cannot allow ecocide.

We believe the struggle for justice is part of following Jesus, and the spiritual leap every human being must take at this time in history.

Please share our greetings of gratitude to Pope Francis for his example and inspirational leadership for the Earth and universal peace.

We wish you all, a unique experience, as we all join hands and dreams to find new ways to care for creation and create a more sustainable world.

May you all return home with renewed strength to keep us all together, from our different places, fighting for our Common Home.

Be strengthened together. There is a world to win.

In solidarity and faith,

Youth from the convergence “Faith and Climate: Sacred Waters”


Ahimsa: Protecting Our Sacred Waters

In June, I had the honor of joining fifty-five other young religious leaders in a GreenFaith Climate Convergence to learn about challenges presented by climate change in Louisiana and to find our voices in responding to ecological destruction.

The very first part of our week together was a water ceremony led by Beata Tsosie-Peña, an indigenous community organizer for Tewa Women United.

Each of us circumambulated the water bowl, offered our own sacred water into it, and offered a prayer for peace.

As a Hindu, beginning our week of sacred learning with a water ceremony felt fitting.

Water plays an important role in Hindu practice, especially as a means of purification during and before a ritual.

Physical or symbolic water baths cleanse the body and mind and prepare the practitioner to focus on the object of worship or study.

Hindu cultures also understand that water sustains life and have historically taken great efforts to revere and protect our waters.

During our week, we learned about the impact of Hurricane Katrina, visited the coastal science research center, and learned about the impact of coastal erosion.

Although nominally the focus of our convergence was to understand the impacts of climate change on Louisiana’s ecosystems and human population, in practice our experience was focused on imbalances in water-based ecosystems.

It was no accident that water was such an important refrain during our experience in New Orleans. Water is sacred in Hinduism – and in many other religions. Water is the womb of the world.

Today, the world’s waters are suffering.

Rising global temperatures have raised sea levels, contributing to coastal land loss and worsening the storm surges that had devastating impact during Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and others.

These are only the most visible impacts on the human eye. Major changes in ocean ecosystems due to acidification, oil spills, transportation of non-native species, and over-fishing have also developed drastic levels of stress in the world’s oceans.

Most of these problems can be linked to human action over time – actions fueled by ignorance, negligence, and spiritual disconnection.

It’s hard for one person to see how her actions can have a harmful impact on such a massive ecosystem, but when most modern cultures are so focused on exploiting the earth to fuel our consumption, following the mainstream means that our individual actions add up – with devastating consequences.

As Hindus, we are called to live in harmony with the Earth. Foundational principles of ahimsa and svadhyaya encourage us to do as little harm as possible to other forms of life and to humbly reflect on our consciousness and our actions.

These principles can lead us to change not only our own actions but to inspire transformational social change. History has known the impact of such movements, not least the Swadeshi movement, Satyagraha/Quit India movement, Chipko movement, and Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Climate change is a big, scary, global phenomenon that can feel far away and hard to understand.

During our visit to Louisiana, it was up close and real. For residents of many other parts of the US and of the world, it is also very near and real. If you are moved by climate change or if you consider yourself a dharmic (spiritual or ethical) person, I encourage you to use svadhyaya (humble reflection) to find out what impacts may exist in your local area or to discern whether some of your actions in your personal life, business, or community may be causing himsa (harm) to the Earth. What can this look like?

In Louisiana, it looked like neighbors helping neighbors to restore their houses after storms or to lift up their houses onto stilts to prevent flood damage.

It looked like citizens lobbying oil companies to use different practices that would not accelerate coastal erosion.

It looked like 55 religious leaders from around the country joining hands with Louisiana residents to pray for healing of the Earth and for insight into how we can serve this noble cause.


Listening To The People of Louisiana

Last week, I had the opportunity to join 60 faith leaders in New Orleans for the GreenFaith annual Climate Convergence.

My elevator speech in the days since has been something along these lines: “It was an interfaith gathering of emerging leaders who are passionate about environmental sustainability/climate change/creation care, coming together to network, brainstorm, and learn; all interpreted through the lenses of our respective faith traditions, but united by a shared love of our common home.”

But anyone who knows me (and has given me more than 2 minutes to gush about this convergence) has gotten an earful.

Besides being one of the most intentionally constructed and well-planned conferences I’ve ever attended (thumbs up, Stacey Kennealy and company), the content and the engagement with the richly diverse people and culture of Louisiana made it a holistic experience; a far cry from conferences that take place entirely in hotels, islands wholly separated from their surrounding communities.

Speaking of islands, one of the reasons that New Orleans (and, more broadly Southern Louisiana) was chosen for this convergence is Isle de Jean Charles, the United States’ “ground zero for climate change.”

This island has sustained its inhabitants – coming from a tapestry of ancestry, made up in large part of the indigenous Biloxi-Chitamacha-Choctaw tribe – for over 100 years.

The land once (and still does, in some areas) produced sugar cane and fed grazing goats, while the water teemed with shrimp, blue crab, and too many fish for me to remember.

A house on 10m stilts in Isle de Jean Charles; Alex Price/GreenFaith But like too many global stories of fertile, utopian land, this story of Isle de Jean Charles is rapidly drawing to a close, as rising sea levels and largely unchecked coastal erosion have stolen the island, taking the form of nightmarish rapids of mud and saltwater during the stormy season and insidious erosion during moments of calm.

Since 1955, 90% of the landmass of Isle de Jean Charles has disappeared.

I heard stories, read articles, watched videos about the island. I learned about evacuation efforts, resettlements of these folks to other parts of the country.

The midwest boy in me, landlocked all of my life, pictured the vastness of the Gulf swallowing Isle de Jean Charles, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that these efforts were underway.

But when we visited the island — when we spoke to the people living there and heard stories of their lineage and their livelihood, so deeply woven into the fabric of this land, to the place, my naïveté was thrown into sharp relief and my “knowledge” of coastal Louisiana became a tiny, singular and uninformed perspective in the story of a people.

It was impressed upon me that we can’t address the specific issues troubling the folks of Louisiana from a distance; any approach we take as a country, as individuals, as people of faith, has to be informed by the carefully listened-to stories from those affected by climate change.

To be sure, action must be taken, policy must be written, injustice must be corrected and reparations made; but the first step, for grassroots activists and high-powered policymakers alike, is listening to the land and to the people that live on it.

Convergence participants holding a Laudato Si’ banner while demonstrating at the offices of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La) to push him to act on climate change; Rick Moore The convergence established the notion of people and place at the beginning, in an exercise that set the tone for the whole week (at least for me). When we introduced ourselves on the first day of the conference, we each came forward with a small vial of water.

“My name is Austin, and I bring water from the Altgeld-Sawyer community garden in Chicago, IL.” 

I poured it into a glass basin. One by one, my fellow leaders announced themselves and presented us with the water that came from sources close to their homes and their hearts.

“I bring water from the Hudson River, which has been almost irreversibly polluted.”

“I bring water from Los Angeles, which still languishes in drought.”

“I bring water from Flint, Michigan.”

“I bring water from Orlando.”

It is both a cliche and an understatement to say that our world is troubled.

When I left the people of Louisiana, — a woman who built a shrimp fishing company from the ground up, owners of a restaurant deep in the bayou who laughed and danced to traditional music with us, a priest who watches his backyard diminish with each passing year, a Katrina survivor who lost two family members to the storm and used that tragedy as a springboard to community action, a Vietnam War veteran on a park bench in the French Quarter who reminded me that “life is life and murder is murder, no matter which side you’re on” — I left with the same thing I’ll leave you with:

The problems we face as a planet cannot and should not be divorced from the people who experience them. As people of faith, we have a mandate to treat others in the way that we want to be treated, and integral to that mandate is listening to their stories. Stories highlight and reinforce our common humanity and equip us to do the most amount of good in whatever work we find ourselves in.

Great progress was made at this convergence as leaders from all over the Americas connected around common goals, shared resources, planned action together, and showed the world that faith is hollow when it neglects the planet that sustains it.

I wish you could have been there, y’all, and I wish that I could share every detail of every second with you because each one was loaded with value. But I can’t, so I have tried to give you a snapshot of what I learned in beautiful Louisiana.