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 of days into the week, foster community.

This message of the 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 which is expressed in this post.

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