SD350 Interfaith Team Addresses Faith and the Climate Crisis at Seaside Center for Spiritual Living

On May 27th, Philip Petrie and John Michno of the SanDiego350 Interfaith Team presented a free climate change workshop, entitled “Faith and the Climate Crisis,” at the Seaside Center for Spiritual Living in Encinitas. Phil and John organized the workshop with Sandy Atkinson of Seaside Center’s Earth Care Ministry, along with other representatives of the Interfaith Coalition for Earth Justice (ICEJ). The San Dieguito Ministerial Association sponsored the event along with the Seaside Center.

The People Behind the Presentation

Phil, an artist by vocation, is a founding member of SD350. He co-leads SD350’s  Interfaith Team, the work of which includes giving workshops on climate change to diverse faith communities around the San Diego area. He also helped found the ICEJ and co-founded Simpler Living, a creation care ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.

John is an active member of both SD350 and the ICEJ. He has been a persistent and vocal advocate for the recently-adopted City of La Mesa Climate Action Plan (CAP), with its goal of 100% clean energy.

Sandy, a long-time feminist and women’s rights advocate, became Director of the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation in 2008, after having served on the board for 25 years. At about the same time, she started Seaside Center’s Earth Care Ministry. Sandy’s focus is on protecting the earth and providing education in sustainable living, including recycling, composting, and organic gardening.

Confronting the Growing Climate Crisis

A group of diverse faith leaders and members of the broader community attended the workshop. Areas of focus were:

  • the science of climate change and its impacts
  • different faith perspectives on stewardship of the earth
  • SD350’s work to combat climate change;
  • steps communities can take to make a difference
  • tools that might benefit specific faith communities

Reverend Christian Sorensen, D.D., the spiritual leader of the Seaside Center, introduced the co-presenters.   

Rev. Sorensen introduces Phil Petrie and John Michno of SD350
Photo courtesy of Susan Bishop

John Michno began the presentation with a clear and fact-based description of the human impact on climate change. He explained how climate scientists, using ice core samples and other means, have identified concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and corresponding global temperatures going back hundreds of thousands of years.

While cyclical fluctuations in CO2 have always occurred, until recently these stayed within a relatively narrow range, with a peak concentration of approximately 275 parts per million (ppm). Climate scientists have identified 350 ppm as a generally safe level. This April, however, the average concentration for the month exceeded 410 ppm. If we continue business as usual, scientists predict that we may hit 500  ppm within 50 years, an extremely dangerous level that could cause catastrophic climate problems.

John went on to discuss climate problems that are already happening. He shared data from NASA and NOAA establishing that the years 2015 thru 2017 were the three hottest years on record. In 2016, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F above the 20th-century average.  

John Michno Talks Environmental Advocacy
Photo courtesy of Susan Bishop

Consequences in California have been frequent droughts and an increase in both the frequency and severity of wildfires across the state. Sea level rise threatens coastal areas. Mission Beach, for example, could see a sea level rise of 12-18 inches by the year 2050, causing regular flooding of streets at high tide, and the shrinkage or disappearance of many beaches. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, including the eastern seaboard and the Gulf states of the U.S., storms are increasing in intensity. For example, Hurricane Harvey was the wettest hurricane in U.S. history.

All of these impacts have wide-ranging consequences, including increased risk of starvation, mass migration, civil unrest and war. The U.S. military understands this and builds the potentialities of climate change into its threat assessments around the world.

Spiritual and Ethical Perspectives and Solutions

In the next part of the presentation, Phil focused on spiritual and ethical perspectives, calling on spiritual and faith leaders to strive for a greater understanding and sharing of the moral urgency of the climate crisis. He talked about the ways various spiritual traditions—including Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Native American religions, Christianity and New Thought—all regard the earth as sacred and worthy of human stewardship in lieu of human domination.

The final segment of the presentation addressed solutions, examining ways that local governments and organizations are addressing climate change and the simple steps that individuals can take, such as recycling, driving less, and eating a more plant-based diet. On a collective level, spiritual and faith-based communities can spread awareness by sharing ideas and participating in community outreach and demonstrations.  Workshop participants were urged to reflect on the habits of unfettered consumption which have led to a “throwaway” culture that is devastating to natural resources.

Phil Petrie Proposes Topics for Breakout Sessions
Photo courtesy of Susan Bishop

At the close of the presentation, John and Phil invited spiritual leaders in the audience to share actions they were taking, discuss potential barriers to action and suggest ways that other leaders might approach members of their congregations. The workshop participants then broke into small groups to discuss these topics in more detail.

The Mission of SD350’s Interfaith Team

The SD350 Interfaith Team is committed to practising good stewardship of this earth by working for climate justice, building the ICEJ, and supporting creation-care efforts in diverse faith communities. The team embraces climate education, political advocacy, movement building, and direct action supporting a world that honours and sustains all religions, peoples, and creatures. 

The ICEJ is a group of local faith and lay leaders seeking to educate, equip and mobilize spiritual and faith communities in climate and environmental justice advocacy. 

If your congregation or faith organization would like to learn more about climate change and addressing it, the SanDiego350 Interfaith Team can help. The Team provides free customized climate workshops – such as the one described here – plus coaching on starting a creation-care or “green” team. And if you’re interested in the ICEJ, the team can also tell you more about that.

For further information, please contact Team co-leaders Phil and James at interfaith@sandiego350.org.

About the Author

Susan Huntington Bishop, JD, is an attorney and a writer who currently specializes in producing a wide variety of content for the legal industry. She has long been a dedicated advocate for children’s rights. As a volunteer for SanDiego350, she is committed to protecting our planet for the children of today and the children of tomorrow.

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