Ramesh Laungani and Sarah Myhre cover the overlap of the climate and extinction crises before inviting on Rev. Susan Hendershot and Rev. Brian Sauder of Interfaith Power and Light for a discussion around climate action across beliefs and worldviews. Finally, in unexpected science Sarah shares new research on how children influence their parents’ thoughts on climate.
LINKS!! — Interfaith Power and Light: www.interfaithpowerandlight.org/
The IPBES “extinction” report — www.ipbes.net/news/ipbes-global-…y-policymakers-pdf
The study on parents, their children and climate: www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0463-3
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Transcribed by Joe Stormer
[Instrumental theme music]
Ramesh Laungani: Welcome to Warm Regards — conversations from the front lines of climate change. I’m Ramesh Laugani, an associate professor of biology at Doane University. In today’s episode, we’ll chat about the recent report from the IPBES; that’s the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Talk with Reverend Susan Hendershot and Brian Sauder from Interfaith Power & Light about how they motivate action on climate change by speaking to people about their faith, and we discussed why we need to take a cue from Scooby Doo and listened to our meddling kids on climate change and how effective it can be in changing minds around the topic. Also, today’s episode will be the last one before a short summer hiatus. We’ll be back in late summer with new episodes, so please keep an eye out for those or subscribe so you can pick up listening to our new episodes as soon as we’re back. My cohost this week is Dr. Sarah Myhre, senior fellow at Project Drawdown and founder and executive director at the Rowan Institute. How’s life in the Pacific Northwest, Sarah?
Sarah Myhre: Ramesh, it’s really good. It’s great to talk to you today and I’m excited for all of the content we’re going to cover, as well.
Ramesh: What’s been going on there?
Sarah: Well, I actually went down to California last weekend and went to Lightening in a Bottle, which is a electronic music festival where I gave a talk about climate change and Project Drawdown solutions. Let’s see what happened: there was a trailer fire at 6:30 in the morning; the place was flooded; the music was amazing; I was filthy; I met amazing people that are doing such beautiful work in the world. So it was like Adventure, capital A, for this like a thirty-six year old mom of a five-year-old. So the adventure continues in giving science talks around the West Coast.
Ramesh: Yeah that’s sort of your nonstandard venue for talking about climate change.
Sarah: Yeah, “nonstandard” is a gentle way of putting it. But honestly the opportunity to talk to people in this kind of vulnerable and connected space about our planet and the planet’s relationship to the rest of the Solar System and the history of our planet — just how beautifully connected life on the planet is to Earth’s history. I think that that was just this kind of incredible crystallization of opportunity for connecting with people about these ideas. So check, and check. Was great.
Ramesh: And thinking about the interconnectedness of life, I wanted to spend a couple of minutes discussing this recent report from the IPBES hat came out about this sort of global state of biodiversity. It’s gotten a fair bit of press, specifically the part about one million species being under threat from human activity and one of those threats being climate change. What was your impression of the report so far or what you’ve read about it?
Sarah: Well, I would say to start that I’ve got my cynical and hard piece inside of me that’s been exposed to the science of extinction and what we are doing to the planet right now. I wasn’t surprised and I didn’t have the grief response that I know many other scientists and environmental advocates had at the time. I think I was just exhausted from other things. So I had kind of an empathy fatigue response where I really didn’t have the emotional response to it, but the the sort of quantitative and scientific assessment is in alignment with what we have known for a long time that we’re doing to the planet. I mean, we’re changing the entire surface of the planet, every single land surface and every square inch of the global ocean. And we’re changing not only the biological and physical and chemical and ecological like identity of these locations that we’re doing it really fast. And at the same time we’re removing so much biomass. We’re cutting down trees, we’re eating animals. We are causing so much change. So I think reports like this kind of help sober people up and help them align with the reality of living on a living planet — a planet that has been dramatically reshaped from human influence. But it is jarring and I’m there with a big open broken heart for those of you that are trying to process the information.
Ramesh: Yeah, yeah. I think when I saw that million number species number, I didn’t quite know how to process it because it sounds like a big number and then my scientist brain was started thinking, “Well, a million out of how many?” and “How is the public . . . is that too big of a number for an average citizen to digest or turn into action.” And a piece that was sort of under reported is the idea about ecosystem function and ecosystem services. I think that oftentimes gets not enough press — the idea that we as a species are highly dependent on the services that our planet provides. And so a million species is a nice headline, but the services that are under threat I think are much more impactful and are going to have a much larger impact on whether or not we can grow crops in a particular place or the productivity levels and all of those things. And I feel like that’s unfortunately been underreported. The million species number came out and that was the big shining red orb.
Sarah: Yeah. My colleague Katharine Wilkinson was talking on Twitter earlier this week about some of her responses to it, where we have this dichotomy — we’re conserving the world for life on this planet, for the elephants and for the whales, or we’re conserving the planet for human life and for people. And that narrative is a myth of separation. And it’s a dangerous one because ultimately a planet that doesn’t serve polar bears is not a planet that can serve our needs, as well. I think we focus like I just did on charismatic megafauna, right? We talked about the animals, but what we don’t really remember from a systems thinking is that all the movement of carbon and nutrients and oxygen and energy and heat around this planet, we are enmeshed in that system. We like a very small liminal window. As human beings, we tolerate a very small window and we’re connected to all of the rest of the life on this planet. It’s not like West Coast woo-woo, right? It’s basic science about where our food is produced, how we heat our homes, where our water comes from, how we get around the planet, where our culture comes from, everything.
Ramesh: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I know with my students, a couple of them have asked me questions about that million number. I’ve gotten a couple of emails from them, just sort of confused and I’ve been struggling trying to put that in perspective. The report popped out sort of right at the right at the end of the academic year and right as my students were sort of studying for finals and getting ready for graduation, this super large kind of depressing report came out. They were trying to struggle with that while studying for a final exam and so that, that’s been an interesting dialogue to have with my students because I had been saying, “Hey, just right now let’s focus on finals and put out the fires that are most most immediate, and then we can talk about those things.” And so it’s been an interesting conversation, especially with my students. Speaking of students, (as I mentioned) it’s the end of the year.
Ramesh: It’s graduation season and recently after a graduation ceremony, I was invited to a graduation dinner — one of my research students. At that dinner, I had a conversation with my student’s father about climate change. Now I knew the student’s father was on the conservative end of the political spectrum and so when he asked me to chat about climate change over dinner, I must admit I was a little hesitant; I was a little worried. He started the conversation by asking me, “Well, hasn’t the climate’s always changed? How do we know it’s us?” So immediately I was like, “Cool, we’re going to do this over dinner. Awesome.”
Ramesh: [Laughing] Yeah. Yeah. And so I sort of gathered myself and I laid out some of what I thought to be some of the most compelling pieces of evidence and he was open to those facts. Really throughout the remainder of the conversation, we moved more towards policies that address climate change and away from causality. It became clear that his “objections” to climate change (for lack of a better term) had less to do with his acceptance of the science and had more to do with the a difference in opinion about the role of government in addressing big challenges. That really got me thinking as I reflected on that conversation, because it was a great example of what Katharine Hayhoe (a well known climate scientist) advocates for in terms of just having conversations about climate change. It also really got me thinking: because I had a strong relationship with his daughter (my student), there was sort of an inherent level of trust there and we’re able to have a civil conversation about this topic that didn’t end in a yelling match or flipping of tables. We ate dinner; we were all fine; we hugged at the end of the meal. What’s really great is we were able to have a conversation that didn’t conflate the science and the policy. And the other thing about this is that this conversation reaffirmed for me the importance of speaking to a person’s values when talking about climate change. Now, did this conversation with me make him a staunch supporter of the Green New Deal? No. But I hope at least move the needle a bit on the science around climate change. He did ask for my contact information, so I’m sure we’ll be continuing the conversation. So I’ll take that as a win. I bring up this conversation, especially with the guests we have today. Today’s guests are Reverend Susan Hendershot and Reverend Brian Sauder from Interfaith Power & Light. They know all about how to move the needle on climate change by speaking to peoples’ values. So Reverend Hendershot, Reverend Sauder, welcome to Warm Regards. We’re so excited to have you on the show today. Thanks for joining us!
Susan Hendershot: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Brian Sauder: Yeah, it’s great to be here.
Ramesh: So why don’t we start . . . I’m not sure how many of our listeners are familiar with Interfaith Power & Light. We’ll call it IPL just for short, if that’s okay.
Ramesh: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about IPL, what its mission is, and how it effectively speaks to peoples’ values to sort of motivate action on climate change.
Susan: Sure, I’d be happy to jump in there. So Interfaith Power & Light, our mission is to inspire and mobilize people of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate change. And we started in the year 2000 in California. It was originally California Interfaith Power & Light and grew sort of organically over the years to include state affiliates now in forty states around the country. My colleague Brian runs our affiliate in Illinois and is doing amazing work on the ground there, and we have great affiliate leaders all over the country. I think one of the things that is really cool about the work that we do is that we do sort of a “both/and”, right? We run programs that are very practical, teach people about how to measure their energy use (for example), or how food systems contribute to climate change and what they can do to reduce their consumption. There are some very practical hands-on programs, but what those programs that allow us to do is to help people understand the issue of climate change, how their behaviors contribute or actually a help with solutions. Then we move them through to become advocates. They are advocating through the state affiliates at the local, the state, and then also through the national office. I’m at the national level on climate and energy policies. It’s a really exciting way to connect with people through their faith, through their faith communities in ways that allow them to be part of the solution.
Brian: Yeah. Just to lift up doing this work in Illinois, what’s clear to us is that the messenger matters, which I think was similar to the comments with your family or with friends and colleagues. Some polling data just came out here in the Midwest that’s fascinating with Trump voters on climate change that highlights that those voters are much more likely to listen to climate scientists who are at Big 10 universities located here in the Midwest. And similar to what we do with the faith community is the best messengers to the faith community are people of faith who understand that culture, the history, the theology, even the politics of the local faith institutions and can really meet people where they’re at. That’s where IPL does such great work in that we have these programs where people can get in where they fit in, start to learn about this, build trust, build relationships, and then to really become long-term advocates for change and continue to grow the environmental presence and movement in our advocacy work across the nation.
Ramesh: And to be clear — Brian, you’re in Illinois; and Susan, you’re out in San Francisco, is that correct?
Ramesh: Just to give our listeners a sense of geography
Susan: That’s correct.
Ramesh: Okay. Are both so are both a part of IPL? Are you part of sort of different chapters? I’m using all the wrong vocabulary here, but I’m just trying to give our listeners a sense of how the structure works.
Susan: The national office is based in San Francisco. We also have a staff position located in Washington DC that helps coordinate our federal policy work there. Then we have state affiliates that are located in forty states around the country. One of those affiliates is Illinois where Brian is a serving as their executive director.
Sarah: Well I have a question for both Brian and Susan. I just wanted to kind of get the conversation down to the ground, around values — because we want to get to some shared spaces here and how we can build a language and a conversation. Because as humans, our values . . . I have very strongly rooted values but they don’t necessarily come from a place place of structured faith. They come from other places in my life and I suppose my question is: how do you find communities of faith? How do you connect with them? Where do they find value in addressing climate change? How do you meet them?
Susan: I’m gonna let Brian start on this one.
Brian: Alright. There’s a number of values that guide the work, I think. Actually, what’s interesting about the conversation is what I have found here in Illinois — that it begins by doing a shared program. Just saying, “Hey, we all have common land, common air. We breathe the same air; we drink the same water. Let’s work on a project together.” And then what beautifully unfolds . . . because we work with multiple faith institution; we could be working with a mosque or a parish or a temple or a synagogue. We bring people together from different faith backgrounds who might suspect that they have different values at first, but then we start to work on a project together — maybe where all get on a bus early in the morning to head down to our state capitol to do an advocacy day. That’s when people start to share their values, like why they care about climate change and taking action on climate change. The most beautiful thing happens despite the religious and racial and geographic diversity. People have really shared values around taking care of current generations, future generations, feel that they have a strong moral calling to live on behalf of the next generation coming forward. That seems to be a commonality that’s lifted up along with the value of truth. What does science have to tell us about the impacts that we’re having? This is where the messenger matters, really, to be able to sort out in this sort of political climate, “What is truth? What isn’t truth?” That relationship is also a value that you want someone that you can trust and have a longterm relationship with and that has credibility and speaks to talk; it’s really important for that going forward. That is the beautiful thing. We work with such a diversity of people and yet we do come around around these shared values of what we share in common — speaking truth and taking action on behalf of future generations.
Susan: Yeah, and I’m just gonna add onto that if I can, because I think that that was so well said, Brian. For me as I think about values and how what we value becomes a part of this conversation. You know, so many times when we talk to people who are involved in this work, regardless of their background they will talk about that they come to this work because they care about their children or their grandchildren and the world that they’re going to inherit. Of course, we know that climate change doesn’t just impact future generations; it impacts our own right here in the here and now. And so as we think about a further about values, really centered in this work for us is justice. We want to work with inclusion and respect. We value courage — the courage of speaking with a prophetic voice (in the case of the faith community). I think ultimately for us, this work is about love. It’s about it’s about love for our neighbors. It’s about love for the Earth and all of its inhabitants. And it’s about our connection to the sacred, which we call by different names — God or the Sacred or Allah or whatever word we may use there. So when you spoke a while ago, Sarah, about this myth of separation, I sort of latched onto that in my mind because it is so prevalent. This idea that we are separated from one another or we’re separated from the Earth, or we’re separated from God or the Sacred. And instead, moving us to this place of interconnection and interdependence that we know is the reality of how the Earth works and how we are supported by the Earth.
Sarah: Yeah, the myth of separation, it’s everywhere and we have to push away from these narratives that we don’t mean anything to each other and that the world is a terrible place. When I’m listening to you two, there’s so many commonalities with the, the fundamental roots of the work that I do. I think love for the world and love for each other is the throughline of all — trying to show up and care for each other. It’s not that hard to find our commonalities, but we actually have to come forward with that raw and wounded heart that is seeing the brokenness in the world and say, “I’m no longer willing to sit on the sidelines and I’m not that cool girl who’s who is never earnest and never transparent about her feelings in public.” It takes that vulnerability of coming forward. Thank you for doing that work so much.
Ramesh: You both mentioned this idea of sort of motivating the your congregations or these events around sort of care for the future generations and sort of interconnectedness. Do you feel like that is the most effective . . . messaging is the wrong word. But do you feel like that’s the most effective messaging or do you think the idea of being good stewards of the Earth or taking care of the less fortunate (because you brought up justice, which is obviously deeply tied to climate change issues). Which message do you think motivates the most action amongst the faith communities? Either across faiths or am I oversimplifying it by saying there’s a single message that motivates the most action?
Brian: Well, I want to tell you a quick story that relates to this. A few years back working on some legislation campaigns. It was anti-fracking legislation here in Illinois and the high-volume hydraulic fraction was taking place in rural southern Illinois. I had the job that day to speak to a church on the south side of Chicago (an African-American church) about joining our cause to prevent this activity that was going to happen way down south. I felt like going into it I had an impossible task because here I was talking to an audience from an environmental justice community — a community that suffers disproportionately from air pollution in their own backyard, from toxic dumping and waste. I thought, “Here I am telling them about an injustice that’s happening deep down in southern Illinois that really doesn’t impact them,” but we need their legislators to get on board to help us pass these further restrictions. And what I learned in that church basement that morning was, you know, W. E. B. Du Bois once told Booker T. Washington over the course of a dialogue that your life is my life and my life is your life, and we can’t ever forget that. The audience was immediately ready to go do the advocacy on behalf of their brothers and sisters down in southern Illinois because they were saying, “We’re going to need our brothers and sisters to have our back to fight our own injustices.”
Brian: That sort of interconnectedness has always stuck with me, that your life is my life and my life is your life, and together the things that impact you also impact me. It’s almost like we’re talking to and highlight in this value of connectivity which I think, Sarah, you were saying earlier that often with the work we do in Illinois often first we highlight the justice issues that impact our children (the asthma rates, the basement flooding and communities’ lack of access to open space and the food), but when we address our solutions through that environmental justice lens, we create a world where the whales are taken care of, the polar bears are taken care of as well and it’s all connected. That’s the experience I’ve had and it’s always been one of the most hopeful things I’ve experienced when people stand up on behalf of one another, recognizing that interconnectivity between all of us.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. It’s about justice, not just us. So many of us can see really clearly with the leadership of white women that are trying to come forward in feminist spaces (and this is sort of a criticism of my own community, obviously), if you show up in public with an agenda and a desire for justice but that desire for justice doesn’t cross the threshold of your front door, then what you really want is just you. You want your people (the people that look like you), you want your issues addressed. And so you haven’t done the work that’s necessary to see the the interconnections of justice and just exactly like you said — if your food and your body is bombarded by environmental toxins and pollution and your quality of life, there’s no way that I’m not connected to that. You’re breathing the same air, we’re drinking the same water. We have to see each others’ wounding as equal and as worthy of justice and attention and care. That’s one of the things that I have learned as I’ve tried to come forward, realizing, “There’s my glaring omission right there. There’s a lens that I didn’t have well refined.”
Ramesh: Susan, in your experience has there been a particular message type that has resonated more or less successfully?
Susan: Yeah. One of the things I was thinking about in particular is how we meet people where they are. And you sort of alluded to this with the story about, you know, you’re sitting with your student’s father and having that conversation; that was very much meeting him where he is. My own story, my own background — I served local congregations for many years as a pastor. The issue that I was most focused on at the time was the issue of hunger. Climate change, I knew that was an issue and some people were working on it, but I thought, “Well I’m recycling and I changed my light bulbs and I’ve done my thing.” What happened for me was was reading an article that connected the dots for me between the destruction of crops due to drought and wildfire that were fueled by climate change and resulting food shortages, and having this sort of “ah-ha” moment where I thought if I really want to address the issue of hunger, I need to shift my focus and work on climate change. I tell that story a lot when I speak to groups because I think that it resonates with some people in the audience who can say, “Well, my congregation is working on hunger,” or “We’re working on the issue of immigration,” or “We’re working on disaster relief issues.” So many of these issues that people of faith have been working on for as long as any of us can remember. They don’t think about the fact that climate change is further exacerbating those issues and is actually a “threat multiplier”, as the military says. So trying to help people connect those dots and see where their place is and how attending to the issue of climate change can help address this other issue that they’re really passionate about. And I think the thing to note about that is that it really takes us not just talking but listening, in order to get to that place where we we understand and can have that conversation.
Ramesh: As you were describing that, what struck me is you read this article that connected the dots for you. I’m curious to know — in both your experiences, how have you struck that balance between (I’m gonna make a false dichotomy here so I apologize in advance) . . . how have you struck that balance between the fact that we know about climate change and speaking to somebody’s heart, you know, those less tangible things. How have you balanced that in your messaging?
Susan: I’m going to dive in (sorry, Brian) because I love that question because I think when I started this work, I thought, “Well, if I just say the facts the right way enough times, people will jump on board and magically start taking action.” That, in my experience, doesn’t work. But I think one of the things that’s really important to our work is storytelling and being able to tell our own stories and help connect to people’s hearts through stories rather than through more charts and graphs. That was what I wanted to say. Brian, you probably have more to add to that.
Brian: Well, I just want to build on what, Susan, you were saying because the listening piece is essential. In Illinois, we did a “Listen. Lead. Share.” campaign where all across the state of Illinois, different areas with different groups. We helped shape together legislation to introduce in our general assembly around addressing the issue of climate change. One thing that came out of those listening sessions was a real desire for folks who are coming out of prison or are people who are going through the foster care system and at high risk for going into prison. Those communities say, “Look, we want to find jobs for people who are coming in either out of prison or are at high risk for going into prison because we know a good paying job can make all the difference.” That actually led to just yesterday in Illinois we launched a program called Solar For All, which is tens of millions of dollars that’s training up foster care youth and alumni and returning citizens for solar jobs. They’re actively getting hired right now and the solar developers would get an extra incentives in this program and extra renewable energy credits for hiring from those programs. So by listening, we start to learn how to better connect the dots, right? Pretty soon we’re connecting the dots between social justice and environmental justice and learning that they’re same things and that mass incarceration is tied to a just economy, which is tied to environmental justice. With the grief and lament and the news that we’re getting, this becomes a very hopeful thing to work on that sort of level where you are connected the dots and make a real impact in people’s lives and changing neighborhoods and communities for the better as we grow the green economy in order to address climate change in a holistic fashion.
Sarah: Brian and Susan, I have maybe a self motivated question. But, you know, I’ve been swimming in the community of environmental scientists, climate scientist, ocean scientists for about fifteen years now and I see the cost of the work that they do. I want to ask about pastoral care and what people need in order to do this work. So short story is: I went to a a workshop in Italy when I was a graduate student and I was there listening to paleoclimate scientists and climate modelers — one of the scientists, a very prominent carbon modeler (one of the most famous scientists really in the world). He was talking about hyperthermals, these past events of carbon system disruption and the temperature changes that that went with them — just remarkably scary scenarios of global change. I remember asking him, “Hey, yo, this information is really important and super valuable for the public to know. How do you talk to people about the work that you do?” And this guy responded by saying, “I’m done with that, eff those people,” in this very hard, really angry . . . like immediately angry, immediately wounded. I was traumatized by that moment because I realized, “Oh no. These are not the heroes that we were waiting for. This is not what I was looking for in terms of leadership.” Empiricists, knowledge workers, engineers, scientists, mathematicians — they may lack some of the emotional intelligence that’s necessary to come to the table for pastoral care, for the needs that are met in community. I wonder if you could speak to this, if you’ve seen anything like this. How would you care for those knowledge workers?
Susan: Wow. That’s a powerful story. It reminds me; several years ago I read kind of an overview of a study that was conducted (very small study, I think) with people who work in the environmental field. Basically what it showed is that many people who work in the environmental fields suffer the same symptoms as those with post traumatic stress disorder. For some of us that’s not terribly surprising to hear that. But also that those who were in supportive relationships (whether it was friends or colleagues or family orsome other supportive community) the incidence was much lower for them. So to me, I think about the work that we do with the Interfaith Power & Light and also the work example that’s going on in the ground in places like Illinois. One of the things, one thing that we’re trying to do right is to create supportive community because not only do we have a larger voice when we’re working together in terms of of moving policy, but we also know that we’re in this together and that part of the outcome that we want is for people not to feel like they’re alone, that they’re the only person who cares about this or is trying to work on it. And I also think that the point is well taken, right? This is hard work. There’s a lot of grief. We see all these reports coming out every day like the one you were alluding to earlier in the program. We just keep getting hit by all this bad news and it does take an emotional, a spiritual, and even a physical toll, depending upon if you’re the person suffering from a climate disaster yourself.
Susan: Part, I think, of our role is to provide active hope. So not hope that says, “Oh gosh, I hope everything works out,” right? That’s really passive hope. That’s not the kind of hope we’re talking about. We’re talking about the kind of hope that says, “We actually can influence the outcome of this.” The future is not already determined despite what all of the reports are pointing us to and there still is opportunities for us to change that outcome and make a better outcome. So it’s that kind of active hope that we’re really focused on.
Ramesh: As you were talking about active hope, that got me thinking about, how do you get people to believe in that act of hope? Sort of getting at like what are the challenges that IPL faces when trying to move people on climate through either active hope or through the lens of faith. What are some of the challenges that you’ve dealt with? What are are the walls that you keep sort of running into it? You’re like, “Ugh, we just can’t get around this.”
Brian: Well, I’m enjoying listening to Susan. I think what Susan said on the pastoral care is spot on and I think a challenge we face generally (I know I faced this in my own leadership) is as people of faith, we have thousands of years of history — of spiritual wisdom — that we can glean from on this. Wisdom around grief and suffering and lament; wisdom around this deep desire that we all have to belong in community and encounter someone else in this work; and the desire to work and do something meaningful with our life. Our religious traditions are rich with these sort of things in ways (we call it emotional intelligence today) to express our anger towards doing that work together and express a deep hurt and sadness that we have in belonging with community; and knowing and believing actively that the legacy of our suffering and the pain is indeed love; and to orient towards that. There’s moments I find when I’m not being nourished to this work. I guess that I’m forgetting to pull deep from that well of spiritual wisdom and pastoral care that’s right there — right there available to me. It might be a surprise to know that even someone with “Reverend” in front of their title needs pastoral care, right? Doing this work and staring at it every day takes a lot of courage. And in order to grasp that courage, we have all sorts of resources and tools at our fingertips. But it takes speaking up and having the bravery to say, “This is really hard,” and to create space where, where grief is acceptable and that grief can lead to much more beautiful outcomes.
Susan: Yeah, and I would want to add on to that. I was thinking about this role for faith leaders using their prophetic voice. I think about the prophets in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Sometimes we think of prophets as people who predict the future, right? But I always think of the prophets as human beings who faced the reality of the time that they were living in. They looked at the actual sort of political/social environments that they were living in and calling people to account but saying, “It doesn’t have to be this way,” that actually there is a hopeful future for us. This is how that they paint the picture of what the hopeful future can be. But they call people to transformation. They say in order for us to reach that hopeful future, we have to change; and here’s what that change needs to look like. I feel like that is such a role for faith leaders right now to call us to that that transformation that needs to happen. A spiritual transformation I think is sort of ultimately at the heart of what needs to happen in order for us to really solve this crisis that we’re in.
Ramesh: Right. Absolutely.
Sarah: Thank you for saying that. I think that knowing that you too are also experiencing the need for pastoral care and that you draw upon rich history and the context of the movements towards justice; that you sit in community with each other to try and repair historical wounds and to draw that wisdom forward to kind of manifest a new kind of way of being in the world. Climate change really changes everything because we have to start accounting for all of this externalization of harm that the systems that we rely on produce. We have been ignorant of those systems. Now as that dawning awareness is changing, it’s really changing who we are on this planet and what it means to be moral and ethical. So thank you for talking about all those different toolkits and pieces and community. And as we transition now, my question is around the discrete pieces of legislation and effort that your communities focus and work on. Would you mind sharing briefly some of these discreet pieces so that our listeners could find those pieces and maybe be attracted to ways they could be involved in the future?
Brian: Yeah, I’ll jump in right away on that.
Susan: Yeah, do.
Brian: Cuz I also just want to add: notice the world we’re talking about and the solutions are really at the root cause. Yeah, we do the power points about climate science in the church basements to talk about the realities we’re facing, but the real transformational work to address the root causes of our environmental injustices as much deeper. As Susan was talking about how the learning and growing towards transformation is why groups like Interfaith Power & Light are so important because they help us remember that deep tradition and history and take advantage of that for such a moment as this. And then that leads into our advocacy work. So in Illinois, our big push right now is something known as a Clean Energy Jobs Act that came out of our “Listen. Lead. Share.” sessions that I shared about where communities can together and said, “Hey, we want a 100% renewable energy by 2050 in Illinois but we want to put equity first to make sure those jobs come back to the communities that suffer most from air pollution and the impacts of climate change and basement flooding and access to open space and local food. And it also does a lot of of work around making our public transit infrastructure more electric, taking diesel off the roads and reducing climate change through electric vehicles; also with an equity focus as well as decarbonizing our infrastructure in Illinois. So that’s a really exciting effort. We’d like to say is it’s the real deal in Illinois. It’s like the New Green Deal [sic], but it’s actually made real as legislation in Illinois. Just Thursday we had an advocacy day where over five hundred faithful advocates travel down to our state house capitol to let our legislators know that we want to see them make that bill a law and pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act.
Ramesh: That’s great. Susan, are there pieces of legislation that you’re currently involved in?
Susan: Yeah! And adding onto what Brian said, I would say for the listeners who are in various states around the country — we have a map on our website that shows where all our state affiliates are at InterfaithPowerAndLight.org. So you can check to see what’s happening in your state because our state affiliates are very engaged in state and local level policy. So I want to give them a shout out here. But also to say, at the national level, we’ve been really focused for quite a while now (the last couple of years) on protecting the EPA safeguards on a number of things. For example, the fuel efficiency standards, methane standards, as well as mercury standards. So we’ve been really focused on protecting those EPA safeguards. Additionally, we just had our fly-in with state leaders into Washington DC where we went to the hill and talked to our members of Congress on the house side about HR 9, which is about keeping the U.S. and the Paris Climate Accord. I’m happy to say that that did pass out of the House and so we’re waiting to see what will happen on the Senate side with that. And then another, I think, great piece of legislation that we’ve been involved in: it’s called the Reclaim Act and that is about coal mining communities and places where there are abandoned coal mines (about twenty thousand of them around the country), looking at an effort to clean up those abandoned coal mines and provide a just transition for workers into new jobs in those communities. So we think it’s bipartisan; it’s in both the House and the Senate and we’re really excited to see that move forward as a bipartisan piece of legislation. So ust a couple of examples
Ramesh: That’s great, and I think that’s actually a great place to sort of end today’s conversation and move to our Unexpected Science piece as we think about moving if we talk about sort of tangible things that everyone can, can get behind in terms of advocacy. I just want to express my thanks to having both of you on the show. I grew up in a Hindu household so I didn’t grow up going to church but I felt like it was a church. It was great. I feel very inspired So thank you for all your great work working across faiths and working with which with legislatures. I’ll start to take a hard left turn as we moved to our Unexpected Science piece. This week’s Unexpected Science piece talks about the role of, of kids and their ability to move the needle on climate change. I think Sarah is gonna tell us about that work that recently came out.
Sarah: Yes, I am. And I agree, Brian and Susan, thank you for your time and your leadership in this space. So the Unexpected Science is about a paper that came out on the sixth of May this month. The papers titled “Children can foster climate change concern among their parents”. This was published in Nature Climate Change. This dovetails into really the rich space that we’ve been talking about today because the generation of children that are coming upis the generation that’s being told again and again and again that their future is foreclosed upon. That the world that they love is coming to an end. And so I think it fits really importantly and richly in this conversation. We obviously are seeing the onslaught of of international leadership, specifically from young girls around the world with the Friday climate strikes — the school strikes. The culture is changing around us and what these researchers wanted to understand is can children change their parents’ minds about climate outcomes? And what they found is that actually, yeah, children are incredibly effective messengers for changing their parents’ level of concern because children are coming from essentially an unpolitical and unpartisan place. They’re coming from a morally grounded place. I have a five year old. The clarity of my child’s moral lens is nonnegotiable. He knows what’s right and wrong. That childlike lens can be (what these researchers are saying) a very effective place to start these conversations with parents. And particularly what I saw was that fathers and conservative parents show the biggest change with their daughters attitudes shifting, so the role of the voices of young women hear again and again comes back to young women changing the world through standing up and speaking out. Pretty amazing, and “rock on” the all the the kids that are continuing to strike on Climate Fridays. I with you. I’m in solidarity with you. I love you.
Ramesh: I think that’s a great way to close today’s show as we started talking intergenerationally about climate change and now we’ve got some research showing this and we can see the importance of this just in the faith community. So with that again I want to thank our two guests today, Reverend Susan Hendershot and Reverend Brian Sauder. I was an amazing conversation; I’ve learned so much. Warm Regards is a labor of love and we’re always looking for sponsors to help us grow, to sustain the amazing efforts of the volunteers who run the show. If you’ve got something you’d like to share with our community, please reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you, our listeners. Follow us on Twitter @OurWarmRegards. You can send us an email with feedback at OurWarmRegards@gmail.com. You can listen to all of our episodes on your favorite podcast service — including iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud. Warm Regards is produced by Eric Mack and Justin Schell. Joe stormer writes our transcripts, and Katherine Peinhardt is our social media maven. My cohost today was Dr. Sarah Marie. I’m Ramesh Laungani. From all of us at Warm Regards, thanks for letting us into your head.
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