Churches join effort against global warming

Interfaith group works to reduce energy use, trash

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Alaska churches have joined a group that aims to slow global warming.

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An Alaska chapter of Interfaith Power and Light was officially launched over the weekend.

"If you are a person of faith, you have a responsibility to be a steward of creation," said the Rev. Sally Bingham, director of The Regeneration Project in San Francisco and its Interfaith Power and Light effort.

Interfaith Power and Light works to save energy, reduce trash, and fight climate change. About a dozen Alaska church leaders representing some 4,000 people have signed on.

Churches are switching to compact fluorescent lighting to save energy. In Wrangell, one church is selling reusable cloth grocery bags. At Saint Mary's Episcopal Church in Anchorage, they're unplugging coffee pots, lamps and other appliances not in use to save energy.

"People who profess a love for God and creation are the people who should be leading the environmental movement," said Bingham, who serves in the Episcopal Diocese of California. "Whether they like the word 'environmentalist' or not, they are one. It doesn't have to mean you're part of a liberal conspiracy. It means you have a deep faith in God and you love your neighbor, you don't pollute their air or water."

Bingham got involved in global warming issues in the mid-1980s. People were starting to talk about climate change but few pushed for lifestyle change, she said.

"We'd pray for reverence of the Earth, and then drive away in our Hummers," Bingham said. "There's still a terrible disconnect in what we say we believe in and the way we behave."

Bingham drives a car that gets 50 miles to the gallon and walks to work. She grows vegetables, shops at a farmer's market and uses energy-saving light bulbs. During Lent, she gives up heat.

"This isn't about politics," she said. "This isn't trying to be a good Republican or a good Democrat. This is about being a ... responsible human being."

Congregations in 23 states have joined the movement. The Rev. Paul Klitzke of Wasilla headed the effort to start an Alaska chapter.

Klitzke said he wants churchgoers to see global warming as a moral issue and not get scared by the "environmentalist" label.

"Each of the major religions have in their scripture a God that has a covenant with people to care for creation," Klitzke said. "There are few things where all of us can say we relate. With this, we can all relate."

Deborah Williams, president of Alaska Conservation Solutions, said Alaskans see the effects of warming, from shrinking glaciers to eroding coastlines and vanishing ponds.

Churches are changing behaviors in small ways, both in church buildings and in members' homes.

"People here understand this," Bingham said. "That's why it's important for religious leaders to talk about it. The audience is there week after week."

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich spoke at one of the group's gatherings. Begich said he often visits Anchorage churches and finds politics and current events to be part of the sermons.

Begich expects global warming to pop up more often. It's a subject that fits with churches' attitudes and ideals, he said Sunday.

"We are here to ensure the next generation has the same quality we had, and better. This is really about Earth's long-term survival, and humanity. It crosses all boundaries."

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