Beliefnet
c. 2003 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Sally Bingham, a longtime environmentalist, wasfrustrated.

She attended regular meetings of the Episcopal Environmental Network."We'd talk about serious issues of ecology, and why isn't the church doingmore, and what can we as Episcopalians do," Bingham said. But nothing seemedto come of it.

Then the electric industry was deregulated, and Bingham saw her chance.In 1997, Bingham, the environmental minister at Grace Cathedral in SanFrancisco, co-founded Episcopal Power and Light, a coalition of Episcopalchurches that pooled their energy purchases to negotiate favorable pricesfrom renewable energy suppliers.

"This was a religious response to global warming," she said. "The goalwas to have the Episcopal Church become a zero-emission church."

Such environmental initiatives by religious groups are becoming morecommon, said Gary Gardner, director of research at the Worldwatch Institute,a Washington-based environmental think tank. It's also becoming more commonfor these groups to work with both other denominations and secularenvironmental groups, eliminating the divide between environmentalists whoseconcerns center on social or moral issues and those more focused on thephysical impacts.

"There's an increasing recognition among religious people that thedestruction of the planet has a deep spiritual component," Gardner said,"and a recognition among the environmentalists that dealing with thesematters from a purely scientific (approach) doesn't cut a very wide swath(with the public)."

Building on this recognition, the two groups are increasingly joiningforces. The National Council of Churches of Christ, for example, teamed upwith the Sierra Club last year to promote alternatives to plans to drill foroil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Religious and environmental communities "look at the world from a moralperspective and are interested in creating a better world," Gardner said."Both tend to look at nature as having intrinsic value." He said both groupsalso are highly critical of excessive consumption.

"We are finding religions becoming more active in changing consumptionhabits, redirecting (people) toward more environmentally sensitive habits,"Gardner said.

Bingham's group steers congregations toward more efficient energy use.As a result, 17 California churches installed solar panels, and 61 switchedto renewable or "green" power. When green power companies left the stateafter its energy crisis in 2000, the group changed its name to CaliforniaInterfaith Power and Light and shifted its focus to conservation andeducation, Bingham said.

Interfaith cooperation has gained impressive steam as a result of mutualenvironmental concerns. The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility,for example, represents 275 faith-based institutional investors that urgecompanies to be socially and environmentally responsible. The investors'combined portfolio is estimated at more than $100 billion.

"We think that total stewardship of our fund means examining all theimpacts a company is having or going to have on society and on theenvironment," said Jim Newland, chair of the Presbyterian Church USA'sCommittee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment. "If (money) were ouronly concern, we could probably find companies that are more profitable (toinvest in)."

Newland said the Interfaith Center leverages the strength of itsnumbers: "When we go sit down with Intel, for example, and we'rerepresenting $150 million worth of stock, they're probably a little moreattentive than if we were just a 100-share stockholder."

The Interfaith Center's members often file shareholder resolutionsregarding environmental issues. The Presbyterian Church recently filed aresolution with Cinergy, which Newland called one of the five largest carbondioxide emitters among U.S. electric companies, requesting information onemission-control measures.

"We're looking down the road as long-term investors," Newland said. "Wethink legislation is going to appear that says carbon dioxide emissions havegot to be cut. ... What's it going to cost us as stockholders?

"That's the information that just hasn't been forthcoming," he said. "Wewant to be sure they don't have their head in the sand, that they're makingprogress, so we can get to a cleaner form of energy."

The National Religious Partnership for the Environment has been able toachieve more immediate results. "The NRPE is one of the most successfulinterfaith efforts in this country in recent history," said Mark Jacobs,executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. Thealliance comprises Jacobs' group, the United States Catholic Conference, theNational Council of Churches and the Evangelical Environmental Network.

Paul Gorman, executive director of the partnership, stressed that it isnot just a campaign. He said the partnership was founded with a long-termmission: "It was to integrate care for God's creation across the fabric ofreligious life. It's every bit about how we worship as how we heat ourchurches and synagogues."

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