Virginia interfaith coalition targets local carbon emissions

Virginia interfaith coalition targets local carbon emissions

Fairfax County alliance aims for carbon neutrality by 2050, helps nearby counties form similar advocacy groups.

Elaine McArdle
Eric Goplerud (in white T-shirt) shows volunteers from local congregations how to insulate buildings as part of a Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions event in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Eric Goplerud (in white T-shirt) shows volunteers from local congregations how to insulate buildings as part of a Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions event in Fairfax County, Virginia. (Courtesy Eric Goplerud)

Courtesy Eric Goplerud


An interfaith coalition for climate work based in Northern Virginia, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, has launched a campaign aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions in Fairfax County and the surrounding region by 2 percent each year in order to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

“Fairfax to Zero,” which kicked off in early November, is currently the major advocacy campaign of the alliance, although it is working on other initiatives too, said Eric Goplerud, chair of the alliance board and a longtime member of the UU Congregation of Fairfax, Virginia (UUCF).

The alliance, which grew out of a climate action group at UUCF, worked with the Sierra Club to persuade the county school board to commit to installing solar panels on schools, Goplerud said. The alliance also helped the county create an energy dashboard that shows energy consumption at every school building, including water use and recycling rates, and worked to get the county to do the same for another 240 county buildings, said Goplerud.

With a million-plus inhabitants and an annual budget larger than that of some states, Fairfax County has significant influence in Virginia, Goplerud said. “We are focusing on the county level because counties are really influential,” he said. In June, Fairfax County joined the nationwide Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, an association of U.S. mayors dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Of the fifty faith groups in the alliance, seven are UU congregations in the Northern Virginia area, including UUCF. Alliance members include two of the county’s largest Roman Catholic parishes and its largest synagogue, two mosques, two Hindu temples, and two Friends meetings, as well as numerous Protestant churches, said Goplerud. The secretary and treasurer of the alliance are also members of UUCF.

The work of the alliance complements that of a national faith-based climate justice organization, Interfaith Power & Light, which focuses on the state and national levels, Goplerud said.

In addition to working on energy efficiency, the alliance’s Green Team Advisory Program helps faith groups learn how to go green by increasing energy efficiency in their own buildings and communities. The program is free.

On November 18, the Alliance held its first training for members of congregations and other faith groups to become “energy masters” to assist people in their communities. Energy masters are trained to do home energy audits, provide weatherization, and take other conservation measures to help low-income residents, senior citizens, disabled residents, and others update their homes to make them more energy efficient and reduce heating and other energy bills. The energy masters program is popular because many people interested in climate action prefer giving hands-on assistance to people in their own communities over working on policy issues, Goplerud said.

The alliance is also helping two nearby counties create their own faith-based climate action groups. River Road UU Congregation, in Bethesda, Maryland, and Cedar Lane UU Church, in Kensington, Maryland, are organizing a budding climate alliance group in Montgomery County, Goplerud said. Additionally, UUs in Frederick County, Maryland, are working to organize a faith alliance climate group there, he said.