Sustainable Missoula: Faith communities rise to climate challenge

Faith and Climate Action Montana members join community groups and citizens at the Missoula People’s Climate March and Rally in April 2017. (Courtesy photo)

When Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home, in 2015, it was big news – not just for Catholics, but for people of other faiths as well as those who claim no faith at all.

In the document, the leader of one of the world’s largest religions paired clear scientific evidence of our changing climate with a sharp critique of human social structures and values that underlie the problem.

This was not a totally new perspective: Nearly all of the world’s major religious bodies value environmental stewardship and have made formal statements on climate change. But Francis’ voice made a powerful addition to the climate change conversation that was gaining urgency in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks in December of 2015.

Since Paris, the faith-based environmental movement across the globe has been reinvigorated and emboldened.

That movement is growing here in Missoula, too. The same year Laudato Si’ was published, a group of local faith leaders and environmental groups started meeting monthly to talk about how they might collaborate on issues of common concern.

Over the last three years, Faith and Climate Action Montana has grown into an interfaith network of more than 150 individuals from 15-plus faith communities. We have planted trees for Earth Day, started Green Teams at several churches, held educational forums and dialogues, and supported clean energy policy, among other activities.

It turns out that this group fills an important niche. Those who come to our meetings and events are relieved to find a space where their spirituality or religious tradition and their concern for the environment – two dimensions of their identity that are often seen as separate, or worse, at odds – are joined in a sense of deep purpose.

That sense of purpose was on display at events here in Missoula at the end of February featuring Tri Robinson, a rancher from Boise and passionate advocate for environmental stewardship who is also a devout evangelical Christian. For Tri, a pastor for more than 20 years, the biblical mandate for Christians to be responsible stewards of our natural resources is as clear as the mandate to care for the poor.

Climate change is inherently an issue of justice, since those most vulnerable in our society often experience its most acute impacts. Case in point: As climate change lengthens and intensifies wildfire seasons here in Missoula, exposure to smoke most severely impacts low-income residents, those with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly and children.

Despite proclamations from their governing bodies, faith communities have all too often been absent from conversations about climate action and sustainability. Faith and Climate Action Montana is working to change that.

In addition to encouraging people of faith to examine the impacts of their individual actions and choices, we seek to create opportunities to participate as climate advocates in the public sphere, whether at the local, state or national level.

We are hosting a conference in late April with that goal in mind. This conference will feature a series of workshops that consider the unique voice of religious traditions on climate change issues, give people of faith skills to use that voice for advocacy, and explore next steps for building an interfaith movement to act on climate in Missoula and beyond. All are invited to attend, whether or not you are affiliated with a particular spiritual tradition.

It takes all of us working together to reduce our carbon footprint and build resilience in the face of a changing climate. With diverse voices at the table, we can advance inclusive and just climate solutions and protect our common home.

Abby Huseth is the coordinator for Faith and Climate Action Montana, and is also the Energy Program Coordinator with Climate Smart Missoula. This column is part of a 2018 weekly Missoula Current series, Sustainable Missoula, which highlights community sustainability efforts.

Upcoming sustainability events:

April 5, 5-7 p.m. at Imagine Nation Brewing. Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup, on the topic of Trees and Urban Forestry.

April 28, Faith and Climate Action Montana Conference: “The Time is Now: Interfaith Action for Climate Justice”