Climate Justice Forum: Answering Earth’s Call

“We are hope gathering.” — Rev. Beth Johnson


gathered in the courtyard - IMG_0034-crop

The courtyard was filled with energy.

So many people came. The courtyard of St. Paul’s at Fifth and Nutmeg reverberated with their energy. They crowded into the Great Hall. People of many faiths and affiliations were gathered together, encouraged and challenged by Pope Francis’s courage, taking in and giving out the hope he inspires in us.

Pope Francis, as perhaps no one else could, is making the world see that climate change is a moral issue: a matter of justice for the poor, the vulnerable, and the children, who have done least to cause climate change and will suffer the most from it.


People crowded into the Great Hall.

Responding to Francis’s moral challenge, SanDiego350 joined with representatives of four great faiths, as well as other advocates for justice and the environment, in an Interfaith Forum on Climate Justice. The Forum took place last Thursday night, September 24, the day of Pope Francis’s historic speech to Congress. More than 300 people attended.

MFOP square

Our coalition unites many faith, social justice, environmental, labor and other groups.

The Forum reflected how broad the climate movement is becoming. The program included clergy and religious teachers from twelve congregations and religious centers, and spokespeople from labor, environmental and community empowerment groups. The program’s sponsor, the San Diego Coalition to Preserve Our Common Home, includes thirty-three different religious and other organizations.

The Coalition was inspired by Pope Francis and is named for his historic encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. The Forum is the beginning of a long-term coalition effort for climate justice.

Lots more photos here.


Moments to move and change us

Elders leading, children reminding us they will inherit the world we make.

Rabbi Laurie Coskey (l) and Very Rev. Penny Bridges lead the ceremonies. The choir looking on reminds us that today’s children will inherit the world.

The Forum brought some beautiful and memorable moments:

  • Clergy in liturgical attire processing into the Great Hall, followed by other community leaders, to the music of the St. James Academy youth choir: elders guiding us toward the future, the sweet voices of children reminding us that they are the ones who will inherit the world we make.
  • All of us taking a moment to post photos to our friends, tagged with “I stand for #ClimateJustice,” “My faith inspires me to #ActOnClimate,” and “Grateful to be surrounded by #Faiths4Climate.”
  • We reached up together.

    A prayer of movement: 300 people reaching upward in unison.

    300 people‘s hands reaching upward together in a prayer of movement, under the banners of the many faith and community groups gathered to speak for climate justice.

  • Everyone sweating on a sultry evening, making a small common sacrifice for our common future, experiencing in the most direct way how the everyday feel of our lives will change as the climate warms.


The wisdom of many faiths

Rev. J. Lee Hill: "We must care for the Earth because God cared enough to create it."

Rev. J. Lee Hill: “We must care for this Earth because God cared enough to create it.”

Speakers at the Forum offered insights from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. Nana Firman of the Islamic Center of San Diego spoke of men and women as only stewards, holding the Earth in trust. Rev. J. Lee Hill, Jr., of Christian Fellowship Congregational Church, spoke of stewardship as well: “We must care for this Earth because God cared enough to create it.” Rabbi Shai Cherry told us of Sukkot, the festival of water, in which ancient Hebrews gave sacrifices to help bring rain to all nations. Kent Peters of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego spoke of the need for dialogue, especially with those who do not yet see the urgency of climate action. Karma Lekshe Tsomo reminded us, from a Buddhist perspective, that climate justice flows from the principles of loving compassion, interdependence and simple living.

All of the Forum’s speakers reinforced a common message: Climate action is not only a practical necessity, but a matter of justice and moral obligation.


Hope on the move

For many of us, one of the most moving thoughts of the evening came from Rev. Beth Johnson of the Palomar Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Early Thursday morning, watching the Pope come forward to speak to Congress, she hadn’t known why she was in tears. A friend on the telephone put it together: “He is hope walking.”

St. Stephens's young choir ended the program by reminding us that we embody hope.

The young singers of St. Stephen’s ended the program with a song of hope.

Hope is on the move. We can feel climate action growing into a broad movement. Like the Civil Rights movement before us, we can succeed because we have a clear and compelling moral message: Climate action is about justice. Pope Francis himself is bringing that message to the world. 300 people coming together for the Interfaith Forum on Climate Justice tell us that the message is taking root here in San Diego: We are hope gathering.

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There’s more below: photos and video of the Forum, links to media coverage, things you can do right now, and the many people we want to thank.

 More photos

Coming together for climate justice.

Rabbi Laurie Coskey and Rev. Dr. Frank Placone-Willey: Two faiths speaking together for climate justice.

Good fellowship, common purpose.

Good fellowship, common purpose.








Climate justice is all about love.

Climate justice is all about love.

Building a broad coalition: Angela meets Damian Tryon of the California Nurses Association

Building a broad coalition: SD350’s Angela Deegan meets Damian Tryon of National Nurses United








Rabbi Shai tells the story of Sukkhot, and the long relationship of the Jews to their natural environment.

Rabbi Shai Cherry tells the story of the seven days of Sukkhot, and the long relationship of the Jews to their natural environment.

Bill Wellhouse hands down banners to Bill Avrin.

After a successful Forum, Bill Wellhouse hands down banners to Bill Avrin.









Thanks to Bonnie and Peg for providing the photos in this post.


Click here for a start-to-finish video of the Forum.

Media coverage

The Interfaith Forum on Climate Justice got outstanding media coverage, including news spots on six television channels; articles in the Reader, San Diego Free Press, OB Rag, Reporting San Diego, Fox5 and KPBS; and an op-ed and news article in our city’s biggest, most mainstream newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune.

What you can do

Understanding the moral necessity is a first step. The next step is to turn that moral necessity into action. Here are some things you can right now:

Climate Action Plan. Perhaps the biggest thing we should all do right now is to submit comments in support of a strong city Climate Action Plan. You can do that by emailing, “” In the subject line, put, “Comments regarding San Diego Climate Action Plan, SCH NO: 2015021053. In the body of the email, start with, “Attention: Rebecca Malone.” You can follow that with your own version of, “I urge the City of San Diego to adopt a strong Climate Action Plan…”

You can let them know that we want (1) 100% green energy by 2035, (2) a plan that encourages green, healthy, efficient homes, (3) affordable, safe, clean, convenient public transit, (4) walkable, bikeable neighborhoods, (5) investment in the communities most burdened by air pollution, poor transportation and climate impacts, and (6) good local jobs.

Learn, dialogue and connect. You can:

Reduce your climate impact. While we work for solutions in cities, states and nations, there are lots of simple ways you can help to mitigate the climate crisis:

  • At home: Use a fan instead of air conditioning. Wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat. Replace old lightbulbs with compact fluorescents or LEDs. Insulate your home. Reduce waste.
  • When you eat: Eat less meat, especially beef and lamb.
  • When you drive: Drive less. Keep the tires aired up. Combine errands into a single trip, since a warm engine uses less gasoline. Drive a little slower.

People we want to thank

We at SanDiego350 are proud to have played a role in making the Interfaith Forum happen. We thank all of the groups who worked with us, the many San Diegans who attended, and the dozens of volunteers who did hundreds of small tasks. From within SanDiego 350, special thanks go to Masada Disenhouse, a driving force behind the Forum, Bill Wellhouse and Holly Young, who led our Forum team, and Angela Deegan, who worked tirelessly to bring in great media coverage.

We also want to thank all the people who spoke and sang at the Forum:
Rabbi Laurie Coskey, Jewish Committee for Worker Justice
The St. James Youth Music Ministry choir, Anne Marie Oldham, director
The Very Rev. Penny Bridges, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Rev. Jeanette Ham, Foothills United Methodist Church
Rev. Sadie Callumber, Pacific Beach Christian Church
Rev. Jennifer Chanin, First Unitarian Church
Rev. Iona Dickinson, University City United Church
Sister Maureen Brown, St. Thomas More Catholic Church
Kent Peters, Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego
Nana Firman, Islamic Center of San Diego
Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Professor, Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Diego
Rabbi Shai Cherry, Shaar Hamayim Jewish Learning Center
Rev. J. Lee Hill, Jr., Christian Fellowship Congregational Church
Rev. Dr. Beth Johnson, Palomar Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Jim Miller, American Federation of Teachers Local 1931
Maria Concepcion Villanueva, Environmental Health Coalition
Itzel Osmara Martinez, Student, Ethnic Studies, Mesa and City Colleges
Eddie Junsay, SanDiego350
Terry Bunting, California Nurses Association
Rev. Dr. Frank Placone-Willey, Summit Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Father Mike Ratajczak, St. Thomas More Catholic Church
St. Stephen’s Youth / Young Adult Choir, Laura Smith, director

About Bill Avrin

As a physicist, but not a climatologist, Bill Avrin has spent nearly twenty years looking at how citizens who aren't climate scientists can understand what science is telling us about climate change. Bill has written and spoken on climate change for PV Magazine, Vision Magazine, the website Understanding Climate Change, California State University, Fresno, the Salk Institute's Art and Science Forum, and numerous civic groups.


  1. Angela Deegan says

    Excellent run-down of the forum. And I love the way it’s followed by concrete steps we can all take to make a difference on climate change.

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