Issue 25: April-June 2023
Printable copy (pdf) of Issue 25
Climate Change & Communities
Climate change is what some people (at least people some of us know) would call a “glocal” issue, one that happens at a global scale but has local impacts. And in responding to the climate crisis, we are urged to take both individual and collective actions, e.g. drive less and support zero-emission vehicles. But as our last issue of Ka Mana emphasized, climate justice from a religious perspective has a lot to do with repairing and developing right relations within our communities, ecological and social. For this reason, we promote responses at the community level as part of rebuilding just and sustainable relationships.
Mutual Flourishing in Community
An essential outcome of building sustainable communities is mutual flourishing. While open to interpretation, the idea is that meeting basic needs and fulfilling goals in life should be a consequence of our relating and working together. Our success should not come at the expense or exclusion of others. A drive to succeed in competition can isolate us from others who are part of our community. From the perspective of climate change, we fail, ignore, or refuse to see the connections among the causes and consequences of extracting, exploiting, using, disposing of, and failing to renew or regenerate key parts of our local to global communities. Our focus instead is on meeting our needs and ensuring our own success. That, ultimately, is not sustainable and will lead to catastrophic consequences.
Rethinking Price & Reliability
A recent report from Hawaiian Electric stated that a survey of their electricity customers showed that “price and reliability” of electricity were their top priorities. While the opposite of those are certainly not desirable, their high priority reflects an individual-minded perspective of customers, not community members. Our relationship to those who meet our basic needs should not be primarily transactional. Unfortunately, discussions about a renewable and sustainable (energy) future too often focus on price and availability as overriding other considerations.
The ahupuaʻa as an example
The ahupuaʻa tradition in Hawaiʻi provides a different and real example of how communities can work toward mutual flourishing. First, the real needs of the community of people are the basis of the geography of the ahupuaʻa. Communities actively modify their place and cultivate what they need, but they work within the flow and processes of natural systems. They work with the potential and limits of their place to ensure sustained abundance. In this way they take ownership of their efforts to provide for their needs and develop deep and reciprocal relationships with others in the community to ensure sustainable and mutual flourishing.
Fostering Climate Communities
So how does that affect us now in trying to address the climate crisis? Can we build “climate communities” in which we define and build relationships with the communities that help us meet our needs but have real impacts on the climate? There are many possible answers to this question we admittedly pose to ourselves as well as to you. The first perhaps is to reflect on how we meet our own needs, the sources and locations of the products and services we use every day and consume on a regular basis. Is our relationship primarily that of consumer or customer? What do we expect or demand of these products and services and how they are provided? Do our expectations and our relationships support the mutual flourishing of a living community and not just the financial bottom line of company and customer? Price absolutely is a constraint to our choices and actions, but if we find it keeps us from pursuing what we feel or know is sustainable or promotes mutual flourishing, that is a strong signal that we need to reshape and retake control – as a community – over how we meet our needs. Relying on “government”, “corporate responsibility”, or “consumer demands” to change the system ignores the need for right relations within communities that flourish together. If we look around us at the beauty, power, and potential of the places we live, the communities we are a part of, can we find, develop, and sustain what we need to flourish together? That is the discussion we need to have before we get into details of policies, prices, or preferences.
Getting back to that term, fostering communities that can meet our needs while promoting a livable and sustainable climate requires a lot of work and relationship-building at the local level. Our efforts in Hawaiʻi to achieve 100% renewable energy and increase local food production both speak to that. But the consequences can have radiating and global effects. We become not just a model for others to emulate; the communities we foster have connections at larger scales. Our relationships within these networks change and promote mutual flourishing for other local communities. And when we experience what works, we can advocate for it and defend it against entrenched systems that seek to perpetuate an individualistic focus on meeting needs based mostly only on price and reliability. Those objectives need to be met within more locally developed and managed systems whose primary goal is mutual flourishing.
Religious Climate Communities
That takes us to our last point, which is how important religious congregations and communities are for this effort. Despite our highly individualized socioeconomic systems, religious communities maintain the power to bring people together around shared core beliefs, values, and goals in life that rise above individual success and seek a better future for all of Creation. The changes we need are transformational in action, thought, and belief. They ask us to have faith in the power of our beliefs and actions to effect large and lasting changes for the good of all. And religious communities are a place for us to gather to learn, be inspired, minister to and support each other in a shared journey, and to form communities that promote mutual flourishing. Thus, religious congregations and communities are the ideal place for climate communities to gather and develop. Responding to the climate crisis requires nothing less.
Issue 24: January-March 2023
Printable (pdf) copy of Issue 24
Justice for People of Faith
Justice is a term that is used in a lot of contexts, and that certainly includes issues of faith and religion. From this (admittedly diverse) perspective, justice is seen as an essential part of the nature and actions of divine beings. It relates to the basic worth and dignity of all people (and all of Creation), to the rights and responsibilities we have as humans in relation to both divine beings and the rest of Creation, and to the rewards and punishments for our actions and attitudes both here on Earth and in the spiritual realm.
Justice is something that is revealed to us in sacreds words, rituals, and traditions; in prayer and meditation; in everyday and divine revelations; and in our growing and developing relationships with the divine and all of Creation.
Right Relations, not Equal Conditions
Justice does not demand that everyone live the same way, enjoy (and suffer) the same things, or think and believe the same things. That said, justice does recognize that we all have the same inherent worth and dignity in the eyes of the divine; thus, we should see and relate to each other as equally valuable and worthy, as we are all part of Creation. Our basic needs to live a fulfilling life should be protected, respected, and promoted. When those relations are broken and the basic needs of others are denied or disrupted because of our own interests, that is what needs to be mended. Punishment of the guilty or reparations to the afflicted may be deserved, but absent right relations, true justice has not been restored.
Extending Justice to All of Creation
As we look around the world today, we can see too many enduring examples of brokenness among people. How much more, then, is there brokenness and injustice between people and the greater world of Creation, especially as we experience the unfolding of the climate crisis? Giving legal rights for plant and animal species and imposing responsibilities to conserve, protect or restore parts of the natural world that we have harmed are a good start. But we are in an era of global human-induced change that affects living beings; our supporting environment; and the very bowels of the earth, depths of the oceans, and the outer reaches of the atmosphere. To achieve justice at this scale requires a transformation of our core values, beliefs, choices, and actions, i.e. a religious response to climate change and other issues.
Roles & Responsibilities
Our freedom to make willful and intentional choices that affect the world around us is also a responsibility to care for Creation not just for our own ends but also to allow the natural world to express the beauty and diversity intended by its Creator. Similarly, we must be careful not to try to remake the world in our own image or for our own purposes. This assumes we know better than the Creator or that the gifts of Creation are insufficient to meet our needs.
How do we think about and promote “justice” for people and our planet in terms of energy generation and use? Our state Public Utilities Commission is considering the issue of energy equity for Hawaiʻi and asking for public input. The goal is to ensure the benefits and burdens of energy generation and distribution, price and reliability are not just equally shared but also address differences in needs and abilities and even remediate past inequities in our energy systems. To learn more about this effort and how you can participate, visit their website: https://puc.hawaii.gov/energy/equity/
For HIPL and those who care for Creation, the relevant issue is climate justice, since the benefits and burdens go well beyond people powering homes, vehicles, buildings, industries, and infrastructure. We transform the world with our actions, so we need to think deeply and broadly about those actions and how we use energy to make those changes. In a world aligned to our religious and moral beliefs and values, our actions would promote mutual flourishing of all people and the environment. We recognize that there is no “free lunch” and that tradeoffs are inevitable in our decisions. But those decisions should consider not just costs and benefits to ourselves and others but also the relationships we cultivate and promote through our plans, decisions, and actions.
What does this mean for specific religions? How do we implement this in our personal, congregational, and social and political lives and decision-making? Those are questions we invite you to to explore, but here are just a few suggestions:
Make everyday changes that align with what our religions tell us are just
Think about what right relations means in the context of climate change and energy
Care for those affected by consequences of climate change and ensure they have what they need to make just choices and pursue right relations from their own traditions
Dedicate ourselves to promoting mutual flourishing and the expression of the Creator’s divine beauty and abundance.
To help you get started, we recommend the Resources webpage at Interfaith Power and Light or our own HIPL Resources page. You can find religious statements on climate change, educational and worship information and examples, recommended books and videos, and more. We also recommend our Cool Congregations webpage to learn how you and your congregation can start to reflect, plan, and take action to achieve energy and climate justice for all of Creation. Or contact us to learn more! As with our journey of faith, this is a lifelong endeavor. Climate change and its impacts will be with us for generations, but the sooner we make necessary changes, the better. As the old saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”