Former Vice President Al Gore speaks during an event co-hosted by the Black Interfaith Project of Interfaith America at the Oprah Winfrey Theater at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, May 17, 2022, in Washington. (RNS/Adelle M. Banks)
Washington— Former Vice President Al Gore urged black interfaith leaders and environmental activists to step up joint efforts to seek solutions to the “twin crises of climate and racial justice”.
Speaking Tuesday (May 17) to about 100 representatives of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Native American traditions, Gore said faith leaders must continue their work because the effects of global warming disproportionately harm poor and vulnerable communities, including including neighborhoods predominantly occupied by people of color.
“Nineteen of the 20 hottest years ever measured with instruments date back to 2002, and watching the international television news every day feels like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation,” said Gore, who has founded the Climate Reality Project to advocate for responses to global warming.
“We must work to build bridges of understanding with those who suffer the worst impacts,” he added during an event co-hosted by Interfaith America’s Black Interfaith Project at the Oprah Winfrey Theater at the Smithsonian’s National Museum. of African American History and Culture.
Reverend Fred Davie speaks at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, May 17, 2022, in Washington. (RNS/Adelle M. Banks)
Nearly 70% of black Americans have been found to live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, creating threats to their health, he noted.
Gore and other speakers observed that African American religious leaders have sought to address these environmental and health disparities caused by the climate crisis, which he said “is at the heart of a spiritual crisis.” .
But black leaders of all faiths need to be more vocal on the issue, said the Reverend Fred Davie, senior racial equity adviser at Interfaith America, which is partnering with Religion News Service on a fellowship. of journalism.
“The black presence around and in this issue hasn’t been as big and as big as it could have been and should have been,” said Davie, who is also a board member of Gore’s project. “We seek to change that. And we particularly seek to change it not just from one point of view, but from the many religious perspectives that make up the black community in America.”
Karenna Gore, center, participates in a panel during the “Black Interfaith in the Time of Climate Crisis” event at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, May 17, 2022, in Washington. (RNS/Adelle M. Banks)
Gore, who said his studies decades ago at Vanderbilt Divinity School helped him realize the “beauty and wonder of all creation”, was joined at the event by members of the next generation of leaders seeking to merge concern for ethics and equity with their environmental goals.
Karenna Gore, founder and executive director of Union Theological Seminary’s Center for Earth Ethics, the other co-host of the gathering, spoke of the need for religious communities to be “pastoral, prophetic and practical “. The Vice President’s daughter said pastoral care is needed to respond to those who deny there is a crisis. She also highlighted practical measures such as “greening places of worship” and joining those already on the front lines seeking to prevent oil and gas pipelines that threaten Native American lands and black neighborhoods.
Crystal Cavalier participates in a panel at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, May 17, 2022, in Washington. (RNS/Adelle M. Banks)
Crystal Cavalier, co-founder of 7 Directions of Service, described how her Indigenous advocacy group helped lead a campaign to oppose the Mountain Valley gas pipeline, which the group and its allies believe could be harmful. She said their gatherings began with a time of interfaith prayer which helped build unity among activists.
“Once people feel comfortable and trust each other,” said Cavalier, a North Carolina member of the Saponi Nation’s Occaneechi Band, “it’s a lot easier to organize our communities, especially when it comes to the planet, environmental degradation and how we all need to stand up and fight back.”
William J. Barber III, director of climate and environmental justice at Al Gore’s project, noted that the current interfaith work involving people of color follows previous efforts by leaders such as the Reverend Benjamin Chavis of the United Churches of Christ. , who is credited with coining the phrase “environmental racism”.
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin speaks at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, May 17, 2022, in Washington. (RNS/Adelle M. Banks)
“The presence of the black religious community in the inaugural stages of the environmental justice movement makes us realize that religious traditions have been and continue to be among our greatest bastions of activism,” Barber said.
Gore pointed out that when Barber’s father, the Reverend William J. Barber II, helped start a a new version of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign for the poor, it included environmental justice as well as the previous focus on the “three evils” of racism, poverty and militarism.
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, a Muslim environmental activist, has linked the climate crisis to declining voting.
“Why do you think blacks and browns aren’t such regular voters?” said the author of “Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet”. “Because the climate crisis is pushing people out of their homes, forcing people to migrate that they don’t necessarily want to do. It’s a lot easier to vote when you’ve been voting at the same polling station for 30 years.”
The former vice president warned against following those who have gone from “climate denial to climate desperation” and missed the key step in between – taking action to seek clean energy solutions that he says can help solve the climate crisis and environmental racism.
“The transition to a cleaner future can also be a transition to a fairer and more equitable future,” he said. “Instead of building dirty fossil fuel infrastructure that drags down communities, we can harness sources like wind and sun to lift them.”
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