Interfaith Team Member Spotlight: Phil Petrie

Philip Petrie is the co-leader of SanDiego350’s Interfaith Team – a role he shares with fellow team member James Long. The Interfaith Team urges faith communities of all backgrounds to come together on the issue of climate change and climate justice.  Their mission is to seed creation care teams in faith communities of all denominations around San Diego and to build an Interfaith Climate Coalition of faith leaders in San Diego.

A self-proclaimed devout Episcopalian, Petrie believes religions approach climate change with a different perspective–that the universe has a divine origin and purpose, and that human beings are to take care of the earth and use its resources wisely.  “We may think that the world was made for us to do with as we please,” he says, “but really God made humans also as part of His divine creation, calling on us to treat animals and other life forms better than we have and to live in greater harmony with the planet,” said Petrie.

Petrie has been an environmentalist since his college days in Rhode Island in 1976.  He studied history and later decided to pursue fine art.  He became aware of climate change when he was part of the his church’s Social Outreach Committee in South Bend, IN.  He met his wife in Chicago, IL and they moved in 2007 to San Diego where he became involved with St Paul’s  Episcopal cathedral.  He and several other parishioners formed a group called Simpler Living there which advocates for a return to a simpler way of life and deep level stewardship of creation.  Simpler Living also reached out to other creation care groups, eventually forming EarthKeepers. “Because we discovered fewer creation care ministries in SD than I had thought there were, we had a few meetings but didn’t accomplish a whole lot.  And I got in over my head–I didn’t have the time to devote to both Simpler Living and EarthKeepers,” he admitted.

His real climate activist days started the day SanDiego350 was founded in 2011, he says.  He was involved in the Interfaith Panel Discussion on September 24th that year which preceded the “Moving Planet March – Moving San Diego to a Clean Energy Future” in Balboa Park that same day –  the founding event for SanDiego350.  Then, in September 2015, SanDiego350 co-sponsored an Interfaith Forum on Climate Justice – inspired by the Pope’s visit to the United States and his worldwide publication of the encyclical,  “Laudato Si’:  On Care for our Common Home.” Though Petrie had little involvement with that event,  just this year, he was tapped to help launch the SD350 Interfaith Team, with a mandate to revitalize the Interfaith Climate Coalition that had grown out of the Forum.

Prior to the Interfaith Team, Petrie helped lead  the SanDiego350 presentation team for about three years – a team which gives climate presentations to community groups. In his climate presentations with the Presentation Team and in his congregation workshops with the Interfaith Team, he tries to heighten awareness of climate change and inspire people to make a difference.  “If we all made little changes like changing lightbulbs or eating less meat, it would make a big difference,” he said.  But top-down changes like last year’s Paris Agreement are also necessary.  He refers to both individual and collective solutions as a way to get people empowered to do more.  His presentations wrap up with  slides urging the audience to consider joining the SanDiego350 ranks in the fight against climate change.

Climate change is the most important issue facing us because the earth is the platform on which all life takes place.  The health of the biosphere is fundamental to all civilization:  the arts, the sciences, etc.  And that health is negatively impacted when the CO2 we release leads to global warming,” he said.

He uses the analogy of five people in a lifeboat for the impending climate change crisis.  “The lifeboat has major leaks but there’s constant strife regarding the food supply, whether to paddle this way or that, how the passengers are treating each other, but the important thing is to fix the leak (i.e. global warming).”  With severe global warming, many catastrophes will take place:  coastal flooding, weather extremes, desertification, ocean acidity increases, the spread of  tropical diseases, large-scale human migration, and failing agriculture crops, affecting all life in a major way.

He advocates for simpler living as a response to both cultural materialism and the environmental crisis.  In the developed world, most people need less “stuff” for their daily lives and might seek to cut down on what they have.  The dark side of cultural materialism is that it drives the overuse of the world’s resources (like palm oil production) which leads to loss of habitat for animals and degradation of the environment.

Most days, Petrie makes abstract and representational paintings – his other passion in life.  He has a gallery in Michigan and mostly does group shows in San Diego.  He works in oils.  One of his favorite artists is Pierre Bonnard.  “His paintings are often distorted, not realistically drawn, but the color is amazing!” said Petrie.  Like Bonnard, Petrie sometimes hangs his paintings in a line and works on several at once.  His art can often be seen at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park and online at www.philippetrieart.com.  He sells his paintings mostly in galleries and will work on commission (although he frankly finds staying within dictated parameters difficult).

When asked “Will we see use of fossil fuels diminish and renewables increase within 10 years?” Petrie thinks so. “I would like to see the world come together like in the Paris Agreement conference with the same goals, but this time with some serious consequences for those nations that do not comply.  I would hope that in ten years, we would be past peak fossil fuel use with a massive development of renewable energy sources.

He further notes the radical unfairness of the climate change scenario worldwide. “Island nations need help to relocate and wealthy nations should build proper systems to reduce impacts and set up a fund for poorer nations to survive these impacts.”  To address climate change, he believes we all have to work together since we are all in it together.

In his presentations, Petrie takes a look of what’s not working in the world in terms of climate change and advocates for a change for the better.  “I hope it will not be the collapse of civilization but the creation of a better culture and better world in the way we treat each other, our planet, and all its life forms.  It gets me excited when we move in that direction,” he said.

About connie

Connie joined SanDiego350 in May 2016. She is a busy mother of three children and resides in Mira Mesa. She writes for a personal blog called Motherhood's Bliss.

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