They are committed to God, and now they are committed to combating climate change, too. Leaders from different corners of Santa Barbara’s faith community gathered on Friday at the Unitarian Society to sign a pledge saying they would work to reduce the carbon footprint of their individual houses of worship.
The event was put on by ECOFaith, a collaboration of various religious groups in the area that formed in 2008 after Reverend Wallace Shepherd of Second Baptist Church spoke with Congressmember Lois Capps about aligning religious principles with environmental stewardship. Shepherd and the other founding members of the group — Imam Yama Niazi of the Islamic Society, John Reed of Holy Cross Church, and Dr. Ivor John, the organization’s chair — talked on Friday about spreading the “green” message not only to their congregations but also to government officials.
“We’re waking the mind up of people as to why the environment is important,” Shepherd said. “The word of God says that we should be good stewards over the environment and take care of everything around us.”
Shepherd noted that his church has swapped out its light fixtures for more earth-friendly ones and provides each new member of the church with three energy-saving light bulbs. The project has shown his church, he said, that such small changes can reap big rewards for the earth and for wallets. “It has made a difference in the African-American community, and it is going to make a difference all over the world,” Shepherd said. “It starts in the head.”
State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson also spoke at the event, sharing her support of the pledge. “We are responsible,” she said, citing a report from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released on Friday that deemed human activity the top cause of global warming. “The future is in our hands. It is what we will be passing on to the next generation.”
Capps had planned to attend, as well, but remained in D.C. to work on preventing the government shutdown; her press secretary, Chris Meagher, spoke on her behalf: “It is critical to look at ourselves as stewards of the earth, and Congresswoman Capps is thrilled by today’s gathering to further those efforts.”
John Reed of Holy Cross talked about how the Mesa church has installed flushless toilets, constructed a cistern to collect rainwater, and planted more than 100 trees that produce fruit for the city’s poor. Mark Hamilton of the Unitarian Society pointed out the new solar panels on the roof and said more are planned. And Imam Niazi noted that, no matter the leaders’ religious differences, the idea that “what affects one community will ultimately affect another” holds true for environmental practices, too. At the end of the event, Capps’s daughter and a consultant for area nonprofits, Laura Burton Capps, said, “To me, this is really the essence of what religion is, the best of it.”