The Common Good

White House Earth Day Briefing Offers Hope, Reminds Us There Is Still Much To Do

In honor of Earth Day, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships today hosted an Environmental Briefing for a number of environmental activists from all over the country.

Students, young professionals, members of the clergy and many other long-time activists were able to hear from members of the Obama administration and other key personnel from various departments and agencies, learning more about the progress that has been made to tackle climate change and environmental degradation, and also hear about the challenges ahead in ensuring that we are good stewards of the environment that has been entrusted to us.

The morning briefing contained a good mix of big picture hopes for tackling climate change in the present and the future, reflections of past accomplishments at the local, national and international level, and a number of insights into the practical ways that government is encouraging citizens to lower their own emissions and become better educated when it comes to the issue of environmental protection.

Jerry Lawson, National Manager for ENERGY STAR Small Business and Congregations Network at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), challenged the audience to engage their congregations and organizations in getting serious about reducing their energy consumption, noting that “we don’t understand often how to practice what we preach."

A 10 percent reduction in energy use across the 370,000 church congregations across the United States would immediately create a $315 million saving. If that reduction reached 30 percent, the saving would rise to $1 billion that could be put to much better use in the ministries of those congregations. A theme of Lawson’s message, and one that was repeated by all of the speakers was the importance of young people in leading the way when it comes to environmental protection, especially when it comes to getting on board with new and innovative ways of cutting emissions and energy consumption.

Another recurring and encouraging theme was the connection between environmental protection and community building. Whether seen in the weatherizing of the homes of elderly people to ensure that they are safe and warm (whilst also making the homes more efficient), or in improving the air standards around schools so that the “millions of lost school days” are reduced, a healthy environment makes for a healthier community. And the costs of a damaged environment are not limited to the local community.  As another speaker noted, “poison in the ground means poison in the economy.”

The briefing served to instill some hope that there are people within government deeply committed to tackling climate change and protecting the environment, with one speaker actually telling those assembled in the South Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building that their time at the EPA had given them a “renewed sense of purpose” in their own life to tackle these issue, “the biggest moral issues of our time” according to one activist at the event.

However, it is clear that there is still a long way to go to get everybody on board with this mission. Tensions between the White House and Congress were abundantly clear through a number of comments made – and without both branches of government working together, there is no way that the momentum needed to be successful is going to be gained.

Even more so, the American people remain unconvinced. While there have been some inroads made in recent months in getting people to recognize the severity of a rapidly changing climate, there needs to be more work done. Events such as this morning’s briefing are welcome and a step in the right direction. But government and civil society need to create a narrative that is both urgent and hopeful, recognizing the challenges that are around and ahead of us, whilst reminding people that we have the wherewithal, creativity and courage to protect and preserve our environment, and to ensure that it is going to be enjoyed by many future generations. 

Jack Palmer is Communications Assistant at Sojourners. Follow him on Twitter @JackPalmer88

Earth Day logo, justaa / Shutterstock.com

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