Anything new under the sun?

On Earth Day last Sunday, I had the opportunity to join in an open house held at Beth Israel Center in Madison to celebrate the new 62 kW solar array on the top of their building. The array will provide roughly half of the electricity consumed by the congregation, and the congregation will be able to sell any excess power generated to their utility. There were toasts (with champagne and grape juice), a presentation on the project by the installer, and visits to the roof to see the panels up close.

It is well worth celebrating when a congregation commits time, effort, and resources to putting its values into action – in Beth Israel’s case, tikkun olam, “repairing the world.” But it’s also worth celebrating that putting solar panels on a house of worship is not as much of a “new thing” as it once was. (See Interfaith Power & Light’s partial listing of solar power congregations)

Earth Day, having been celebrated for nearly a half-century, is itself no longer a “new thing.” The struggle continues for a more viable way of living within the limits of creation’s life-support systems, and in caring and respectful relations within the community of earth’s creature.

What may feel new is the intensity of efforts at the state and federal level to roll back many of the environmental protections and initiatives that have been put in place, though bipartisan efforts, in the past several decades. (And by “environmental protections,” we are talking about protecting human health and well-being from threats like water and air pollution – burdens that tend to fall most heavily on communities of color and persons living in poverty.)

But what is also new, and much more hopeful, is the growth in action at the local level, by county and municipal governments to assume leadership in finding ways to a healthier, more resilient and sustainable energy future. Businesses and utilities are continuing with plans to improve their energy efficiency and increase use of renewable energy sources, regardless of what state and federal governments are doing. Congregations and their members can learn about and support these efforts in their own communities, as well as explore what they can do in their own homes and houses of worship to practice creation care.

You can find a good overview of trends and opportunities in the Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences and Letters report, “Climate Forward: A New Road Map for Wisconsin’s Climate and Energy Future” and its 2017 update  (a project in which I’ve had the honor and pleasure of participating). And you can learn more about how your congregation might reduce its reliance on fossil fuels through the “Wisconsin Faith and Solar Initiative” of Wisconsin Green Muslims and RENEW Wisconsin’s Solar for Good grant program.

While it sometimes seems that in striving for a better future for ourselves and those who come after us we are daily confronted with just “more of the same,” our faith directs us in hope to see new possibilities in every situation: for our God assures us, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43;19)

Let us join in what God is already doing in our world to bring healing, reconciliation, justice, and hope to the earth and all that dwell therein!

Peter Bakken, Coordinator for Public Policy

Read more public policy focus from Dr. Peter Bakken here

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