Power, Light, and Hope: Fighting a Crisis, One State at a Time

Sally G. Bingham

After years of encouraging people of faith to grasp the seriousness of global warming and change the way we use energy, I find myself on the edge of real hope that change is imminent.

Let me explain. Fifteen years ago when the Rev. Ben Webb and I founded The Regeneration Project (TRP), with a mission of deepening connections between ecology and faith, no one was talking about climate change. No one in the religious community, that is.

If I did raise the subject, I was usually treated with hostility and skepticism.

Today things are quite different. TRP is now situated all over the country, sponsoring specific initiatives to slow climate change and persuade people of faith to reduce energy use and embrace conservation.

We do this under the catchy name of Interfaith Power and Light. TRP organizes and maintains an affiliated network of Interfaith Power and Light pro- grams across twenty states. We educate not only with tools and ideas on energy conservation, but spell out the moral reasons too.

Why am I so hopeful? Because I think we have reached a critical mass necessary to start a movement, alter conventional wisdom, and move the culture away from previous practices. People are seeing, hearing, and feeling the consequences of global warming — rising seas, more severe storms, and changing weather patterns. Ice is melting even faster than predicted in the Antarctic and at both poles.

The ice is also melting in Washington. Our federal government, once questioning the science, is now warming to the idea of doing something about greenhouse gases, the main culprit in the warming trend.

As people awaken to the problem and make changes in their own lives — and laws on the horizon curb greenhouse gases — I cannot hold back my optimism. We may well be on the way to saving our children and grandchildren from potential catastrophe. We may well show that we do, in fact, love our neighbors and are willing to show it by investing in a clean-energy future to secure a healthy environment for generations to come.

Our work at TRP has grown quickly, especially over the past three years. Our Interfaith Power and Light campaign has educated congregations on global warming by various methods.

Here is how it works. Congregations that join our state-level Interfaith Power and Light programs agree to make their buildings more energy efficient, practice conservation, and, where possible, use renewable energy — and serve as an example to their individual members.

The religious leaders of a state Interfaith Power and Light program become public advocates for weaning America off its dependency on fossil fuels. In our work to influence public opinion and policy, we write letters to decision makers, publish high- profile ads in newspapers, and visit legislators to discuss the moral reasons for addressing the climate crisis. We’ve gained considerable media attention; many of our congregations have been featured in local newspaper articles, seen on television, or heard on NPR.

Currently about 4,000 congregations participate, each of which showed the film An Inconvenient Truth to congregants in October 2006. This film gave the scientific evidence that people need to put their faith into action. Collectively the Interfaith Power and Light state groups have purchased and installed thousands of compact fluorescent light bulbs and hundreds of Energy Star appliances, influenced Renewable Energy Standards and Clean Car legislation, and lobbied for numerous greenhouse-gas-reductions bills now in Congress.

We hold an annual conference so all the leaders of IPL programs can share best practices and the religiously rooted reasons for accomplishing our goals. We work with evangelicals, Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants of all denominations, Buddhists, and Muslims.

The religious voice has always been important in the history of reform in America, shaping debate on abolition, women’s right to vote, and the civil rights movement. We hope to lead again as agents of change so that this nation will never be in conflict with other countries over scarce oil supplies. A transition to clean and healthful paths of creating energy is not only a way to create jobs and save money, but also an essential part of saving creation.

To join or start a program in your area, go to www.theregenerationproject.org. Once there click on your state to see if there is an existing program. The site will walk you through the steps it takes to join. Or call our office at (415) 561-4891 in San Francisco. We can provide you with the information you need to become energy efficient in ways that will save money and save creation.

Sally Bingham is an Episcopal priest, environmental minister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and a founder of The Regeneration Project.