A movement open to all, calling all to action on a moral imperative.
The answer, according to its organizers, is Commit2Respond, “a religious response to the crisis of climate change,” a new UU coalition for climate justice that will be offering concrete actions for individuals and congregations and focusing energy and effort on this issue over the next few years. More than 1,000 people have already joined Commit2Respond, which is envisioned as a hub of information and connection rather than a program or organization.
“This is Unitarian Universalism’s contribution to this newly energized and connected climate justice movement that the Climate March leaders are calling for,” says Alex Kapitan, the UUA’s Congregational Advocacy and Witness program coordinator, and its liaison with Commit2Respond.
Launched at the People’s Climate March, Commit2Respond is a broad initiative uniting the many diverse efforts among UUs to address the urgent issue of global climate change and its relationship to human rights, inequality, and more. It has a particular focus on the disparate impact of climate change on low-income people, people of color, and marginalized groups around the world.
In a joint email on October 1 announcing Commit2Respond and inviting UUs to join, Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee President Bill Schulz wrote, “Climate change is the gravest danger facing humanity today,” with its impact felt most by the most impoverished and marginalized of the world's communities. “We cannot remain silent in the face of such a threat. We are compelled to respond.”
While its leadership is composed of UUs, Commit2Respond is open to anyone who aligns with UU values of interconnectedness and the interdependence of life who wants to work on issues of climate justice. “We are saying climate change is a moral issue and it needs a religious response, and if you feel that speaks to you, join us,” says Kapitan. “We are not trying to make this necessarily an interfaith initiative. It is open to whoever feels moved by principles and the values we are living out.”
UUs and other people of faith have been committed to environmental activism for decades, Kapitan notes. But many UUs have been eager for the denomination to ramp up and expand its efforts, including putting more focus on the impact of climate change on marginalized communities. “While [climate justice] has been a longstanding concern of UUs, we haven’t taken as large a public stand as we thought we could,” says the Rev. Brock Leach, executive consultant for Mission, Strategy, and Innovation at UUSC and co-convener of the Commit2Respond planning team along with the Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, program and strategy officer at the UUA.
The concept of Commit2Respond began last spring. In March, a group of 18 UU-affiliated organizations met in Detroit to discuss how to raise the profile of climate justice within Unitarian Universalism. Around the same time, the UUA and the UUSC had selected climate justice as the issue on which to work together with a special, short-term focus, in order to marshal resources and energy. When these two initiatives converged, and especially as members from each talked together during General Assembly 2014, Commit2Respond was born. Its sponsors in addition to the UUA and the UUSC, so far, include the UU Ministry for Earth, the UU Ministers Association, and the UU College of Social Justice.
Commit2Respond is committed to action in three ways: growing the climate justice movement, advancing the human rights of people and communities affected by climate change, and shifting to clean, renewable energy. Its website will be interactive so it can be used as a hub to share ideas, create partnerships, and offer opportunities for collective action.
“The idea here is to help people who might be feeling overwhelmed by this particular issue to move to a place where they feel hopeful and empowered,” says Leach. “The idea is to provide a relatively simple framework for what a religious response would look like, to set goals for ourselves, and to create some relatively simple starter actions that you could do as individuals or congregations or organizations, and get started.”
“Before it’s all over with, we will have reached out to UUs of every interest group,” adds the Rev. Irene Keim, chair of the UU Ministry for Earth. Commit2Respond “is an opportunity for an incredible solidarity and partnership throughout the entire denomination.”
Right now, Commit2Respond is focused on getting UUs and others to join and begin sharing concrete plans of action. “The main thing we’re asking people to do now is join and spread the word because this is a movement to commit together to being part of this new thing,” says Kapitan. “This is a way to be involved together and ultimately make a larger impact.”
In the coming months, Commit2Respond will be offering three to five starter actions in each of those categories, Leach says; for a group interested in divesting from fossil fuels or someone trying to reduce carbon emissions, for example, there will be concrete suggestions. People will also be invited to suggest and share other actions, which is supported through the Commit2Respond software on its website. “It’s an open-architected idea, with a simple framework,” Leach adds. “We’re encouraging people to come up with their own ideas.”
The next major activity on Commit2Respond’s timeline is the 30 Days of Action, between World Water Day on March 22, 2015 and Earth Day on April 22, 2015. Following that, it will be concentrating on the UU General Assembly 2015, in Portland, Ore., where the public witness focus will be on climate justice. Commit2Respond will be working with the GA Planning Committee to propose possible workshops and other events focusing on climate justice. It will continue its work through the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2015 and on through the 2017 UUA General Assembly.
PHOTO (ABOVE) © Peter Bowden.
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.
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