Religious leaders hope to alter political discourse on climate change

08/06/2015 06:34 PM

LEXINGTON — Kentucky politicians, by and large, may be united against new greenhouse gas emission standards unveiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but interfaith leaders hope that broader discussions on the topic will help change attitudes toward man-made climate change.

Leaders representing Christian, Muslim, Catholic and Jewish faiths met for about an hour Thursday at The Plantory for a climate-change talk before approximately 30 spectators.

Many referenced a letter penned by Pope Francis from June, in which the Catholic leader said climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day,” according to a report by National Public Radio.

Pope Francis has “dared to walk boldly onto the world stage and demand our attention,” said Sister Clair McGowan, executive director of New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future.

“We need to make decisions to change ourselves in our homes, our vehicles, and we also need to push our elected leaders to face up to reality and to make the systemic decisions that must be made now before it is too late,” she said. “The time for foolishness and denying reality is over.”

Tim Darst of Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light explained how he embraced renewable energy after his daughter hyperventilated after sinking a long-distance putt while practicing golf.

Upon taking her to the emergency room, Darst said he learned she suffered because of poor air quality, for which an alert had been issued unbeknownst to him.

“When I got to the emergency room, it was packed,” he said. “There were lots of people in there, and I was a little anxious about getting her the treatment she needed, but the nurse took one look at her, put her on oxygen and she was OK.

“But I asked the nurse, I said, ‘What’s going on?’ and she says, ‘Well, it’s an ozone alert day. You’re not supposed to be out in this stuff.’ And that day was a big change for me. It was an epiphany.”

Darst said after that day, his family cut their electrical energy consumption by 70 percent and, later, installed solar panels on their home.

Rabbi David Wirtschafter of Temple Adith Israel suggested that the country is in a state of denial regarding its addiction to fossil fuels, saying the U.S. needs to adopt a mindset of “responsible dependency.”

“See I don’t translate it in Genesis that is says here I give you dominion to master and rule over the earth,” he said. “My Bible, my teaching, my thinking is, ‘I give you this planet to take care of it, nurture it. I’m holding you responsible for it.’”

That line of thinking may be difficult to permeate throughout Kentucky, which relies on coal mining for cheap electricity rates.

But Dr. Peggy Hinds, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, hopes that by voicing a call for action, religious leaders can convince public officials to take a different view of climate change.

Still, she acknowledges to daunting task ahead.

“The reality is that coal is king in Kentucky,” Hinds said in an interview with Pure Politics, “and unfortunately a lot of our political folks cower to saying anything publicly, even those in the governor’s race are afraid to take a stand on this because it’s such a divisive issue.

“I’m hoping that they will be able to take with them something from their faith communities that will give them some incentive and maybe some courage to say something about this.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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