Colorado’s Faith Communities Call for Climate Action
Activists at the 2020 Winter Outdoor Retailer Show climate strike demanding climate action now
Colorado’s communities are already seeing how changing weather patterns threaten our health, favorite places, and livelihoods. The climate crisis is the defining issue of our generation, but it cannot be an issue that divides us. To address climate change, activists from all backgrounds must join forces to envision and create our healthy future.
Members of faith communities are no exception. At a Climate Action and Faith Roundtable in December, community activists Esra Bilici, Doug Nelson, and David Atekpatzin Young drew clear connections between their beliefs and the environment. They made a powerful, unified call to take serious action against the climate crisis. From promoting justice, reconciling colonialism, and dismantling oppressive structures, these activists explain the way their core beliefs drive climate action.
These are their stories in their own words.
The urgency and importance of the climate crisis requires everyone to speak up for action. We see the effects of global warming all around the world, from rising temperatures and sea levels to the increase in extreme weather events.
I grew up in a family where we valued quality over quantity. Understanding this value has definitely helped me to live in a more environmentally friendly way. One of the challenges we face today is overconsumption of limited resources. We can reduce our impact on the environment by making wise choices as consumers. For example, just by buying clothing made of natural fibers we can reduce the amount of microplastics we release into our oceans and waterways.
One of the main principles of the Islamic faith is justice. Believers are asked to be just towards everything God has created. The teachings of Islam can help us to understand how humans fit into the world. Humans are considered stewards of the Earth and are expected to cherish their connection to other species and to the Earth as a whole.
The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated that, “If the Resurrection were to come upon you while you had a sapling in your hand, still you should plant it.” Even when the future is uncertain, so long as we have the ability to make a change for the better, we should make use of that ability, because there is always hope.
As conscious beings, not only are we responsible for preserving the natural balance on Earth, we also have to take responsibility and face the consequences of our actions.
I remember my childhood on the farm fondly. We kept the garden clean and healthy by maintaining a system of turning organic waste to compost, then returning the resulting humus to the fields. I remember looking out at our pasture filled with the mixed flowers that can only bloom when cattle aren’t overgrazed, seeing the apple orchard from bloom to fruit, and watching all the life in the stream. In the pasture I developed a sense of beauty as a way to identify with the world. Our farm was organic because, according to my grandfather, that was the best practice.
We’re not on the farm anymore. Once we lost our water rights, we were forced to leave. But a change of location hasn’t changed the way I see our rightful relationship with the earth.
I see the way agriculture has been commodified. Industrial agriculture harms people, creates pain and suffering. I consider ethanol to be one of the worst examples of this commodification — land that could be used to grow food is used to power consumption, and in turn contributes to our warming climate.
Our earth has enough to sustain us. The problem is with us always wanting more.
Climate change isn’t a standalone problem. Environmental crises we face today are evidence that structures of racism, consumption, and toxic masculinity are embedded in our society. As the Earth and Social Justice Pastor at The Refuge, in Broomfield, and an active member of Together Colorado, I have a responsibility to share this truth.
I feel that my real work lies in admitting that these structures are a problem, recognizing how they hurt our communities, and finding ways to change these structures that are internalized, institutionalized, and a part of our societal ideology.
David Atekpatzin Young
Discussions of faith and climate in Colorado are incomplete when they ignore histories of colonization, ethnic cleansing, and harmful ideologies imposed on Indigenous peoples. The Christianity that colonizers practice is absolutely contrary to Indigenous ways of knowing.
We are in a constant daily negotiation with capitalism and mother earth, and climate change is changing our capacities. In the past, our unexamined ethos of greed has destroyed the earth. Now, I believe we can move forward with an ethos that is more relational, less about ownership and property.
In events with my community, we are able to wash dishes for 50 people using only one gallon of water. We make the choice to spend extra time and effort instead of using paper. Instead of building with willows, we chose to make a concrete structure that can be used for many ceremonies. We accommodate, we adapt, knowing that each of our choices has consequences.
We need to move toward respect, reciprocity, and responsibility — and recognize that the world is animated and alive in its own way. To make this change, young people need to run for office. If we can’t change the politicians, we have to be the politicians and build power to make change.
Fighting to leave a positive environmental legacy on our state and planet is going to take our whole community. And for many of us, faith gives the strength and guidance to persist in this journey. Together, we must dig deep into our humanity to chart a course out of the climate crisis, and toward a healthy future for all beings. And our moment is now.
Colorado needs your voice for our climate future! Email the Air Quality Control Commission to tell them to pursue bold climate action.