If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it.
--Lyndon B. Johnson

Guest Blog by Dallas IPL Leader, Stephen A. Fuqua - "Wetlands Conservation and Advocacy"

This past week's terrible storm out East provides a reminder of the importance of our ecological infrastructure; in particular, wetlands. The lessons that we did not heed from Hurricane Katrina will perhaps take hold with Hurricane Sandy impacting the nation's commercial heart: in addition to supporting relief efforts now, it is important for us to consider long-term mitigation against the impact of future large storms, which are likely to be more powerful and more frequent than in centuries past. Instead of, or in addition to, relying on massive levies, seawalls, and the like, we need to support public and private endeavors to restore vital natural systems.

Reddish Egret
White-morph Reddish Egret, doing the Reddish Egret dance, in a wetland on Texas's Mustang Island

Wetlands are nature's defence against storm surges, and they are her filters for clean water. They provide crucial habitat for life from across the "kingdoms" – distinct varieties of plants, funguses, invertebrates, mollusks, birds, mammals, and so on. And this diversity is beautiful, from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Trails, boardwalks, and observation decks can easily provide human access to appreciate and meditate on the beauty of life, helping reverse the trend of nature deficit disorder.

These natural systems are not just for the coasts; they are also vital to the interior. Yesterday morning, participating in the Trinity Bird Count, I toured the lower chain of wetlands that was constructed along the Trinity River in the past 10 years, just southeast of downtown. Staff from the Army Corps of Engineers explained to us how these wetlands, located near Interstate 45 and Loop 12, would provide additional nitrogen/phosphorus filtration for effluent from a water treatment plant (mitigating our impact on downstream residents). They will help protect the nearby, historically minority, Joppa neighborhood from flooding. Where these wetlands replace or prevent buildup of man-made structures, or improve the ability for the surrounding land to sustain plant life, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and thus provide a means for reducing the city's contribution toward global climate change. In this particular case, these 123 acres of wetlands are joined by over 1,000 acres of the "Great Trinity Forest", providing for substantial carbon sequestration.

downtown
Double-Crested Cormorants

The City of Dallas is working on a recreation plan that will provide access and trails through this greenspace, suitable for hikers, bird-watchers, and even horseback riding (evidence of which can already be found!). Local residents tell of coyote and bobcat, no doubt frequently hunting rabbits like the one I nearly stepped on. That rabbit's cousins are probably happily munching away on a neighbor's vegetable garden; surely the rabbit population is in need of natural checks and balances in the form of predation. Our two-and-a-half hour tour turned up forty-eight species of birds, including nine species of sparrows that migrate from parts north, looking for quality fields like these for over wintering. While everyday Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows are numerous around Dallas, we saw none. But we did see a tremendous flock, estimated at around 1,000 individuals, of Double Crested Cormorants who have come down for the season, feeding in these wetlands and our local lakes.

Cormorants
Downtown Dallas over Wetland Cell F

Historically, our coastal areas and rivers like the Trinity contained naturally-formed wetlands. These have been drained for agricultural, commercial, and sometimes health, reasons. But the unintended consequences come back to haunt us with increased flooding, loss of biodiversity, and further artificial separation of "man" from nature. Local organizations dedicated to sustainable living and stewardship, such as the new Dallas Interfaith Power & Light, can play a supportive role in mitigating against the unintended consequences of past policies and economic activity. Reaching out beyond our narrow self interests, we can express the group's mission of "love, justice, and care for creation" by advocating for development projects that restore natural systems and protect local neighborhoods, and in encouraging local citizens to responsibly enjoy them.

This post originally appeared on Stephen A. Fuqua's blog.

October Interfaith Conference Call: The Environment and Human Health

We are part of the fabric of the creation--connected to the elements, plants, and animals through the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that damage to our environment has real and damaging impacts on people. Join us on October 31st to learn more about environmental impacts on human health, and to explore some of those issues here in Texas.

This month, we are excited to welcome Chris Masey, Director of the Austin chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), as our guest presenter. "Guided by the values and expertise of medicine and public health, Physicians for Social Responsibility works to protect human life from the gravest threats to health and survival." The Austin chapter of PSR focuses on issues that are important to our region, such as clean air, clean water, climate change, health care policy, energy security, and local environmental policy issues.

As always, we will have some time for callers to ask questions, share ideas and connect!

October Interfaith Environmental Conference Call

     Wednesday, October 31, 2012, 12:00-1:00 p.m.

     Dial-in number: (712) 432-3066 

     Conference Code: 424548

To RSVP for the call, please e-mail Amanda. Feel free to invite others to participate!

More about our speaker: Chris Masey is the Director of the Austin Chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility. Chris is sixteen-year environmental professional who as gained a broad base of work experiences in both the public and privates sectors working on a variety of projects such as, endangered species conservation, environmental advocacy and enforcement, environmental and solid waste planning, land stewardship, alternative energy sources, and recycling initiatives. Chris’ dedication to environmental sustainability is grounded in his love of Central Texas, and the desire for his two children to continue to enjoy clean air, clear water, and wide-open spaces.

More about Austin Physicians for Social Responsibility:

The Austin Chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility (APSR) is an environmental advocacy group that consists of physicians, nurses, and concerned citizens who are committed to a safe environment and a healthier Texas.

APSR was initially formed in 2003 to support the national Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) initiatives at a grassroots level. However, APSR has added regional issues of importance such as ending the use of coal for energy generation, decreasing the negative effects of climate change, decreasing the reliance on fossil fuels in favor of sustainable energy alternatives, and providing greater access to public health care. In addition, APSR advocates for positive change on local environmental policy issues in a variety of venues.

APSR's strategy for achieving positive change is to provide a conduit for the medical community and concerned citizens to educate and inform the public and lawmakers about potential threats to the public health through research, analysis, and expert testimony on key issues.

For more information about APSR, please visit our website (www.austinpsr.org), or our Facebook page at (www.facebook.com/Austinpsr). In addition, APSR publishes a monthly electronic newsletter free to anyone interested in our activities (http://www.psr.org/chapters/austin/news/).

In our monthly environmental calls, we seek to connect faith leaders around the state who are engaged in the work of caring for Creation; provide updates about environmental legislation and advocacy opportunities; keep you current on new programs and initiatives; and create a space for sharing hopes and frustrations, plans and ideas, stories and prayers.

Fort Worth Interfaith Power & Light Launch - from Rev. Paul John Roach

This guest blog post is written by Rev. Paul John Roach. Rev. Paul John Roach is Senior Minister of Unity Church of Fort Worth, and is a founding member of Fort Worth Interfaith Power & Light.

Fort Worth Interfaith Power and Light made its official launch on October 15, 2012 by co-sponsoring a seminar entitled “Water Matters:  An Interfaith Conversation about the Environment in North Texas.” Co-sponsor Brite Divinity School provided the space and Brite professor and Fort Worth Interfaith Power and Light founding member Tim Hessel-Robinson was the evening’s host and moderator.

Both Amanda Yaira Robinson and Bee Moorhead of Texas Interfaith Power and Light and Texas Impact were present.

The three presenters, one on Skype, the other two live, gave heartfelt and inspiring talks.  Rabbi Lawrence Troster, co-founder of the GreenFaith Fellowship Program, outlined the significance of water in Jewish tradition—especially in the Hebrew Bible—and encouraged us to learn about the source of the local water that we use. Afterwards, in the small group setting, some Fort Worth Interfaith Power and Light members shared the idea that it would be fun and informative to trace the source of the Trinity River and visit the local reservoirs that provide water to Fort Worth.

The second presenter, Dr. Bill Greenway, Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, talked about the importance of the commons and that water is a resource for all, to be safeguarded and not under exclusive control. He also shared the idea of being compelled by the faces of others to respond in compassionate and helpful ways. We are not alone but deeply interconnected by our shared aliveness.

Quoting from the Noah story in Genesis 9, Dr. Greenway pointed out that God’s covenant of renewal after the flood was not just with human beings but with all living creatures.  The whole of life is sacred and precious and God calls us to protect and preserve it.

The third presenter, Karishma Himatsinghani, CEO of Radio Karishma, an internet radio catering to the South Asian audience, spoke too of the interdependence of all beings and skillfully outlined the Hindu philosophy which sees unity in diversity and holds water to be a central and powerful element in Indian culture, both literally and figuratively.

An added bonus to our evening was a short video from Andrew Sansom, Executive Director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University, and one of Texas’ leading conservationists.  Andy, filmed on the beautiful banks of Aquarena Springs, talked of the crucial importance of water conservation and that one way to preserve water and the natural environment was to introduce our children to nature so as to instill a love of the environment and therefore encourage their desire to protect it.

The evening ended with attendees enjoying snacks and further discussion.

Fort Worth Interfaith Power and Light’s next meeting is at 7 pm on Monday, November 12th at First Congregational Church on Trail Lake Drive in Fort Worth. Jon Fripp of Rush Creek Christian Church will speak on low cost irrigation projects he has been involved with throughout the world. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Energy Efficiency Opportunities for Austin Houses of Worship

As part of Austin Energy's new rate plan, effective this month (October, 2012), Austin houses of worship will see some changes in their bills. On Wednesday, October 17th, Austin Energy officials held an informational meeting to inform the faith community about these changes. Learn more about the new rates here.

Along with new rates come new programs--including some energy-efficiency programs for houses of worship. New or updated programs include:

  • Load Profiler Subscription Free for One Year. This web-based, energy-monitoring program helps you better understand how and when energy is used by viewing your sanctuary's energy usage, peak demand, and power factor. This program is free for the meter attached to your sanctuary. Sign up for this program by December 31, 2012, in order to qualify for the free, one-year service.
  • Free Energy Assessment. Austin Energy staff will conduct a basic energy assessment of your facility free of charge, providing a customized report outlining energy-efficiency opportunities and any utility rebates available for energy-efficiency upgrades.
  • Small Business Lighting Program. Austin Energy now offers this program to all worship facilities. Austin Energy-registered contractors will perform a complete lighting audit of your facility and provide a comprehensive proposal outlining the cost of the retrofit project, the amount Austin Energy will rebate, and the anticipated energy savings.

Learn more about these programs here. We encourage all Austin houses of worship to take advantage of these energy-efficiency offerings from your local utility!

(Photo "Fluorescent Light Bulb" by User p.Gordon used under a Creative Commons-Attribution License.)

Water Matters: An Interfaith Conversation about the Environment in North Texas - October 15, 2012

Water is an increasing concern for Texas. As the climate warms, we expect to have less water. Meanwhile, our population is growing. How can we work together to ensure that all Texans have access to adequate supplies of fresh, clean water--and what religious principles and practices might offer guidance along the way?

On Monday, October 15th at 7:00 p.m. at Brite Divinity School, Harrison Building, we will explore some of these issues from a religious perspective in "Water Matters: An Interfaith Conversation About the Environment in North Texas." This event is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by Fort Worth Interfaith Power & Light--the local affiliate of Texas Interfaith Power & Light--and Brite Divinity School.

Click here for a map of Brite Divinity School.

Featured speakers will be:

  • Dr. William Greenway is Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where he focuses on contemporary conversations among theology and philosophy and church and society. He is especially interested in theology and ecology and spiritually. He speaks regularly at churches, academic conferences, and publishes in journals like The Christian Century, The Journal of Religion, and Theology Today. His course offerings range from more traditional offerings like "Plato and the Western Intellectual Tradition" and "Theology and Science: Critical Issues in the Contemporary Debate," to more creative offerings like "Nature, Theology, and Ethics" and the experientially based course, "An Adventure in Wilderness and Spirituality."
  • Rabbi Lawrence Troster, joining us via Skype, is one of this country’s leading Jewish eco-theologians and religious environmental leaders. He is the creator and former director of GreenFaith’s Fellowship program which is the only interfaith environment training program for religious leaders in the world. He has also worked for Hazon and for the Coalition on Jewish Life and the Environment (COEJL). He has published numerous articles and has lectured widely on eco-theology, bio-ethics, and Judaism and modern science. He currently serves as the Rabbinic Director for J Street, and his most recent publication is "Mekor Hayyim: A Source Book on Water and Judaism."
  • Mrs. Karishma Himatsinghani holds a Master’s degree in Economics from Vikram University, India. Currently, she is the CEO of Radio Karishma, an internet radio station catering to the South Asian Audience. Karishma has been associated with Radio Broadcasting for over 8 years. She was inspired to start her own internet radio to provide a medium to freely express ideas and information about Hindu history, culture, festivals, music and issues. She is associated with many religious foundations, including being a Vice President with GYAN--the Green Yatra Action Network, which seeks to inspire a global Hindu response to environmental challenges. She is also an active volunteer with Sewa International and the Sanatana Dharam Foundation. Her knowledge of the Hindu religion and her command over the language and passion for communication give her an opportunity to clarify issues faced by Hindus.

Questions? Want to RSVP? Please contact amanda@texasimpact.org.

Greening America's Congregations: TXIPL Goes to the White House

Texas Interfaith Center and Texas Interfaith Power & Light staff joined faith leaders from across the nation for the “Greening America’s Congregations” event at the White House on September 13, 2012. The program was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR program and the White House’s Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and highlighted the work of the faith community on improving energy efficiency in houses of worship.

During the one-day program, senior administration officials called on faith-based organizations to do more to save energy and strengthen stewardship of the environment by improving the energy efficiency of their houses of worship with help from the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. In addition, religious leaders from different religious traditions shared best practices and success stories about how congregations across the country are already achieving significant carbon reductions by incorporating energy efficiency into their broader mission.

According to the EPA, if America’s houses of worship cut energy use by 20 percent, collectively they would save nearly $630 million, cut electricity use by more than 3.6 billion kilowatt hours, and prevent more than 2.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the emissions from about 480,000 cars.

One useful online tool for tracking and managing congregational energy use is the EPA’s Portfolio Manager program. Click here to access slides from our August webinar about Portfolio Manager.

When your congregation enters information about its facility and its energy and water use, Portfolio Manager will enable you to measure efficiency improvements as you make them. When you click to share your congregation’s data with the Texas Interfaith Power & Light account (our account name is TexasIPL), you’ll help us track efficiency improvements state-wide! The more we’re able to document the efficiency improvements of the Texas faith community, the more effective we’ll all be in calling for a new way forward on energy use.

Bee, Josh, and Amanda were delighted to be invited to the White House, and we’re eager to work with more congregations in Texas to improve the energy efficiency—and environmental stewardship—of our houses of worship. If you have questions or ideas, or would like more info on how your congregation can be involved, please e-mail Amanda.

Mark Your Calendars! Upcoming Local, Interfaith Environmental Events in Fort Worth, Dallas, & Austin

Energized teams of local, interfaith, environmental leaders are getting together, building relationships, and taking action all over Texas! We have upcoming events in Houston and in San Antonio. We also have ongoing meetings and public events in Fort Worth, Dallas, and Austin. For information about those, read on!

Dallas

Dallas Interfaith Power & Light is meeting on Monday, September 24th for a viewing and round table discussion of a Nova documentary, Power Surge. They are also working together to craft a vision and mission statement.

The Dallas group will meet again on Monday, October 22nd, when Glen Suhran will present on "The Science Behind Global Warming."

Monday, September 24, 2012, 7:00pm
Dallas Baha'i Center
9400 Plano Rd.
Dallas, TX 75238
 
Monday, October 22, 2012, 7:00pm
1928 Ross Ave.
Dallas, TX 75201

Austin

Austin's Interfaith Environmental Network holds a regular symposium on the first Tuesday of most months. The next symposium will be Tuesday, October 2nd at 7:00pm at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in the McCord Community Center. This month's symposium, "Finding Our Place in Nature" will feature a panel discussion between Islam Mossaad (Lead Imam, North Austin Muslim Community Center) and Kosho McCall (Head Priest, Austin Zen Center), moderated by Tom Vandestadt (Head Pastor, Congregational Church of Austin).

These monthly forums are attended by anywhere from 20-60 people each month, and it's an active, engaged, and justice-seeking community that welcomes people of all faith traditions (and those who profess no faith!).

Fort Worth

Fort Worth Interfaith Power & Light is planning an interfaith panel presentation and conversation, "Water Matters," to be held at Brite Divinity School on Monday evening, October 15th. Stay tuned for more details!

If you have questions about any of these events or would like to get involved, great! Please contact Amanda.

(Photo "Texas Independence Day: 17th Anniversary" by User Ed Uthman used under a Creative Commons-Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

You're Invited! Houston Interfaith Power & Light Meeting - October 6, 2012

Join leaders of different religious traditions who share a concern about the environment on Saturday, October 6th at 5:00 p.m. to plan next steps for the emerging Houston Interfaith Power & Light group--Houston's local, interfaith, environmental network.

We last met on May 6th--with much enthusiasm, but summer break before us. Now that the summer is over, it's time to come back together to do some visioning, as well as some concrete planning. Light refreshments will be provided. Please join us and help spread the word!

When: Saturday October 6, 2012, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Where: The garden of the Hare Krishna Temple. 1514 W 34th 1/2 Street, Houston, TX 77018.

            From 59, take 610 N exit. 
            Stay towards 610 E.
            Exit Ella Blvd and make left at light.
            Turn right onto W 34th St.
            Take 2ndst left onto Golf Dr.
            Turn left onto W 34th ½.
            The garden is .5 mile down on the right.

What to Bring: Yourself, a friend, your ideas/goals/hopes, your planning calendar, and (optional!) a vegetarian snack to share.

For questions or to RSVP, please e-mail Amanda: amanda@texasimpact.org.

Visit the facebook event page, and feel free to invite others who might be interested!

(Photo "Earth Hour 2010" by User Cornelia Kopp used under a Creative Commons-Attribution License.)

September Interfaith Environmental Conference Call: An Update on "Fracking" in Texas

Click here to listen to the archived recording of this call.

Click here to download additional resources about fracking, courtesy of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," for oil and natural gas, is highly contentious in other parts of the country--but it's been going on in Texas for years. North and South Texas are both hot spots for drilling, and local communities have approached the practice in different ways. The state has weighed in, too--during the 2011 legislative session, Texas Impact helped pass legislation requiring companies to disclose the types of chemicals and amount of water used in the drilling process.

For our September interfaith environmental conference call, we'll take a look at "fracking." We are excited to welcome Virginia Palacios of the Environmental Defense Fund, who will give us an overview of hydraulic fracturing in Texas--where it's happening, environmental effects, updates on regulation, and a look ahead to possible related legislation during the 2013 session. 

As always, we will have some time for callers to ask questions, share ideas and connect!

September Interfaith Environmental Conference Call

     Wednesday, September 19, 2012, 12:00-1:00 p.m.

     Dial-in number: (712) 432-3066 

     Conference Code: 424548

To RSVP for the call, please e-mail Amanda. Feel free to invite others to participate!

Last summer, Virginia Palacios helped to launch the Safe Fracking Coalition in Laredo, Texas. The coalition held two town halls and gave presentations to raise awareness about potential environmental impacts of accelerating oil and gas development in the Eagle Ford Shale region. Now at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Virginia has examined the local water supply impacts of hydraulic fracturing in Texas. Her work at EDF also includes research on the regulation of natural gas venting and flaring.

Virginia earned her Masters of Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in May of 2012. At Duke, Virginia founded the Drilling, Environment, and Economics Network (DEEN) to convene researchers with different perspectives about the costs and benefits of oil and gas development. In her master’s thesis, Palacios examined data detailing the chemistry of formation waters in the Eagle Ford Shale, and recommended which chemicals to test for in baseline groundwater quality testing for counties in the Eagle Ford Shale region.

In our monthly environmental calls, we seek to connect faith leaders around the state who are engaged in the work of caring for Creation; provide updates about environmental legislation and advocacy opportunities; keep you current on new programs and initiatives; and create a space for sharing hopes and frustrations, plans and ideas, stories and prayers.

Take the 2012 Cool Congregations Challenge!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It's time to enter the 2012 Cool Congregations Challenge, a national contest to recognize “Cool Congregations” that are becoming energy efficient and sustainable role models within their communities.

All qualifying entries will receive a beautiful certificate suitable for framing. In addition, cash prizes of $1,000 will go to winning contestants in each category:

  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation
  • Renewable Energy
  • Grounds and Water Conservation
  • Engaging Congregants and Communities

Projects of any size completed between October 21, 2011 and October 18, 2012 qualify, and there's no fee to enter. Entries are due by October 18, 2011. The contest is brought to you by Interfaith Power & Light (IPL), a nonprofit organization working to inspire and support a religious response to global warming.

When you enter the Challenge, be sure to tell the story of why your project is special and the impact that it has had on your faith community, the community-at-large (if applicable), and on climate change. An estimate of carbon reduced, or projected to be reduced by the project, is strongly encouraged. Please include details of any obstacles that your team successfully negotiated, and/or positive outcomes that are being enjoyed as result of the project. And don't forget to include a picture!

For more information and to enter the Challenge, please visit: http://interfaithpowerandlight.org/get-involved/be-a-cool-congregation/challenge2012/

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