In this ongoing column, the Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt writes about environmental justice issues in relationship to children. The column launched with a passionate piece entitled The Letter Manifesto: Children and Climate. Here are some of the other commentaries he has written:
Children under Environmental Threat from Administration
August 11, 2018
As children across the country head back to school, Brooks Berndt writes about how the administration's attack on the Clean Car Standards poses a threat to their health and the quality of their future.
Faith and the Vulnerability of Children
June 22, 2018
Brooks Berndt reflects on the role of faith as children are made vulnerable whether due to immigration policies or environmental racism.
Flip the Switch: Preterm Births and a Moral Opportunity
May 25, 2018
A preterm birth can lead to lifelong health problems. Brooks Berndt reflects on a recent study pointing to one of the causes of preterm births. Fortunately, there is something that can be done about it.
That “Adorable” Special Interest Group: Children
March 23, 2017
A move is afoot in certain sectors of our society to put a permanent muffler on a special interest group that has been variously labeled as "whiney" and "obnoxiously persistent."
Dr. Seuss as an Environmental Prophet
March 02, 2018
Dr. Seuss was an environmental prophet ahead of his time when he wrote "The Lorax." On Dr. Seuss's birthday, Brooks Berndt reflects on the meaning and significance of this modern environmental fable.
For the Love of Children: A New Column
February 21, 2018
After having written about children's issues in the past, Brooks Berndt decides to launch a column on the subject. In this opening reflection, Berndt shares how thinking about environmental issues in relation to children is one of his biggest passions.
How the Attention Span of Adults Hurts Children: The Lasting Impact of Hurricanes
September 14, 2017
The one-minute attention span of adults today is no match for the long-term consequences a hurricane can have on a child.
Mary’s Song and Justice for #EachGeneration
December 08, 2017
There is a particular cultural outlook that continually reappears in the Bible but never seems to find its way into contemporary outlooks among most Christians today.
Let’s Move with Speed on Federal Lead-Safe Housing Act for Kids (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
December 08, 2017
Under the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act, any detected lead hazards in federally assisted housing built before 1978 would have to be successfully addressed before a child under the age of six moves into a unit, writes the Rev. Brooks Berndt.
Sign-up to receive monthly notices about upcoming webinars that feature speakers who will assist churches in learning about best practices for ministries related to caring for God’s creation. Each webinar will have a focus pertaining to one of the four areas of discernment for Creation Justice Churches: theology and worship, institutional life and practice, circles of awareness and advocacy, and connections to a broader movement. Participation in the Creation Justice Churches program is not required to join a webinar.
Next Webinar—Coal Ash: A Moral Catastrophe
October 10th, 2018
Dear Parents, Grandparents, and Anyone Who Has a Heart for Children,
Let me begin with a confession: I admit to being an imperfect parent. I often consciously make mistakes as a parent while having little idea of what would be the better alternative. Among the great mysteries of life for me is how to get one’s children ready and out the door by 8 am while simultaneously living out a steadfast, unwavering commitment to world peace. (More).Read more
As part of the Three Great Loves initiative supporting love of creation, the United Church of Christ (UCC) is partnering with Blessed Tomorrow, a program by people of faith, for people of faith, to offer ideas, tools, and messages that help us serve as faithful stewards of creation. This partnership will support UCC congregations across the country to take action and inspire others to lead on climate solutions in their homes, congregations, and communities through resources and tools, such as those listed below.
Learn about why and how the church is leading on climate action in this video produced in partnership with Blessed Tomorrow. Featuring Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, Rev. Karen Richardson Dunn, and Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, the video illustrates why communities of faith are uniquely positioned to advocate for climate solutions, and how UCC congregations across the country can join in the movement.
|Let’s Talk Faith and Climate Guide||15 Steps to Create Effective Climate Communications||Three Great Loves and Climate Action: A Guide to Getting Started|
Learn more about Blessed Tomorrow on their webpage.
While any social movement owes its existence and power to countless persons, there are those who play pivotal roles in a movement's inception and development. If one person were to be named "the mother of the environmental justice movement," a persuasive case could be made for Dollie Burwell. In 1978, Burwell teamed up with Debra and Ken Ferruccio to organize community meetings for local residents concerned about the possibility of PCB-contaminated soil being dumped in Warren County, North Carolina. Burwell played numerous influential roles over the course of the coming years as the environmental justice movement came into existence, and one of those roles was to involve faith communities.Read more
When hurricanes or floods strike, we often witness a remarkable mobilization of compassion through charitable giving and volunteerism.Read more
After attending the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, three UCC climate leaders sought to convene others in the UCC who were also committed to addressing climate issues. After a series of conference calls, the UCC Council for Climate Justice was established with the dual purpose of raising awareness in the UCC about climate justice and bringing people together for action.
The Council strives to have representation from all conferences in the UCC. It further strives to live out the mandates of the 2015 resolution that calls for the establishment of a national task force devoted to the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The resolution further calls upon conferences to establish task forces dedicated to climate justice through the work of educating and organizing congregants as well as listening to congregants.
Through survey responses and retreats, the Council has outlined the following areas of focus:
- cultivating the kind of urgency and mobilization that is witnessed in times of war
- ratcheting up the engagement of local churches and their leaders
- going beyond a focus on individual behaviors to collectively address institutions and systems—ie., the oil industry.
- developing a pervasive prophetic culture within the Church
- advancing a perspective rooted in progressive theology and scientific understandings
- addressing the root causes of climate-related pollution as it relates to factors such as race, class, and global inequality
- sharing best practices for educating and organizing congregants
- cultivating collaborative endeavors with ecumenical, interfaith, and secular partners
- articulating the values that motivate people of faith to action through the framework of the UCC’s Three Great Loves initiative which lifts up Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation
Past actions of the Council include sponsoring nationwide climate vigils on the day of the 2017 presidential inauguration, sponsoring nationwide People's Climate Marches in 2017, and establishing a pilot partnership with 350.org.
Many of the conferences have a lead contact for those in their region who would like to connect. Find a lead contact near you.
Photo: 350.org/Tim Patterson
If your green team has read about the UCC-350 pilot program that invites green teams from UCC congregations to affiliate with 350 and wants to explore this possibility, there are four steps to take:
- Become familiar with the 350 Manifesto and the affiliation process outlined on 350’s website.
- Consult the map of existing 350 affiliates and reach out to any existing affiliates in your city or state. With a sense of curiosity, consult with these affiliates to get a sense of any potential organization work in your area.
- With any input gained from existing affiliates, explore possibilities for how your green team can best discern its call to make a contribution to the climate justice movement. In some instances, a new affiliate group may not make sense if another group already exists nearby. A green team might decide it can easily join that group’s activities. In other instances, a new affiliate group may be preferable, especially if joining another group is not practically feasible or conducive to facilitating active involvement in the movement. A third option also exists: In Bennington, Vermont, environmental advocates at Second Congregational Church UCC wear two hats. For environmental ministry that is internal to the church, they act as a green team known as the Earth Advocates. When they engage the outside world, they change hats to join with others in the broader community as part of the Bennington 350 affiliate group.
- Once a green team has discerned a call to actively partner with 350, then that green team can fill out the 350 affiliate application and send additional email notification to both Brooks Berndt, the Environmental Justice Minister for the UCC, and Everette Thompson, the 350 liaison to the UCC. Ultimately, we will want to find ways for UCC affiliates to share and learn from each other’s experiences, while providing helpful insights for future UCC affiliates.
From arrests in front of the White House for protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline to grassroots activism across the country, members of the United Church of Christ have often worked with 350.org in the pursuit of justice and shared goals. This informal, longstanding relationship is now being deepened through a pilot endeavor that encourages and invites UCC green teams to affiliate with 350 through the steps outlined in their affiliation process.
In realizing that strength is found through partnership, the Council for Climate Justice of the United Church of Christ saw that this promising opportunity existed and could be potentially beneficial to both sides. As a global leader in the climate justice movement, 350.org is gifted with knowledgeable and talented organizers with a successful track record in taking action to bring about change. Such an organization could only enhance our denomination’s contributions to the larger movement. As a denomination with an active and growing network of climate justice advocates, we have an expansive reach in communities across the country. Moreover, we offer a unique voice rooted in our faith and history.
The UCC and 350 are well-suited for partnership because of our common values, historic commitments, and organizational structures. As the 350 Manifesto states, 350 pursues justice with an approach that is inclusive, global in its concerns, intentionally focused on the climate crisis as a moral issue, and resolutely committed to seeking social change through nonviolent action. Such values align with the present purpose, vision, and mission of the UCC as well as our historic commitments, which include serving as the leading organizational force behind the birth of the environmental justice movement, becoming the first denomination to call for divestment from fossil fuels, and passing a 2015 resolution that seeks an immediate ban on fracking, the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, and the rapid societal transition to renewable energy among other measures.
The potential for partnership is also furthered by compatible organizational structures. Both 350 and the UCC stress an organizational structure that simultaneously promotes autonomy and joint voluntary endeavors. Due to this harmony of approaches, UCC affiliates can maintain their distinct voice of faith in working within the larger, diverse and welcoming network of 350.
To confront a challenge as large as climate change will require new partnerships. Now is the time to explore possibilities for working together.
Green teams that are interested in exploring the opportunity of affiliating with 350 are encouraged to take four initial steps.
Marking the 35th Anniversary of the Warren County Civil Disobedience Campaign and the 30th Anniversary of the Toxic Wastes and Race Report
Through the leadership of the Rev. Leon White, the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., and the UCC’s Commission for Racial Justice, the United Church of Christ served as the leading organizational force in the birth of the environmental justice movement. The story of how this movement arose begins in the late 1970s when a group of residents formed the Warren County Citizens Concerned (WCCC) and began to protest the state of North Carolina’s designation of a landfill in their county for the disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a toxic chemical substance whose production was banned by congress in 1979. With a population that was 75% black, no other county in the state had a higher percentage of black residents, and only a few of the state’s one hundred counties could claim higher poverty rates. The placement of the landfill became to be regarded as an instance “environmental racism,” a phrase frequently said to have been coined by Chavis.
While Chavis would ultimately take the helm of the UCC’s Commission for Racial Justice, it was White who served as the commission’s Executive Director when the WCCC first involved the group in its efforts. Both White and Chavis ultimately played leading roles in what became the watershed event in the launching of the movement. In September of 1982, the first trucks carrying PCB contaminated soil drove into Warren County but were met by hundreds of protestors who laid down on the highway to prevent their arrival. On the first day of action, 55 protestors were arrested. The protests lasted six weeks and were covered by the national media. By the end, 523 arrests were made.
The attention garnered by the demonstrations in Warren County laid the foundation for more activism and consciousness-raising. In an article that appeared in the New Yorker, Chavis later recalled, “Warren County made headlines. And because it made headlines in the media, we began to get calls from other communities. But you know that in the eighties you couldn’t just say there was discrimination. You had to prove it.”
Under the leadership of Chavis, the UCC’s Commission for Racial Justice issued its landmark 1987 report Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. The study found that race rose to the top among variables associated with the location of a toxic waste facility. Three out of five Black and Hispanic Americans lived in a community that housed what the EPA called an “uncontrolled toxic waste site,” a closed or abandoned site that posed a threat to human health and the environment.
A documentary called “Earthkeeping: Toxic Racism” notes that the findings of the report generated “a big national debate” on the racial demographics of communities that hosted toxic waste facilities. In an interview for the film, Chavis noted, “The issue of environmental racism is an issue of life and death. It is just not an issue of some form of prejudice where someone doesn’t like you because of the color of your skin. This is an issue that will take your life away, if you don’t get involved.”
In 1991, Chavis and the UCC’s Commission for Racial Justice would again play a leadership role in a formative event for the environmental justice movement by organizing the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. At this conference, more than 600 persons gathered and ultimately adopted seventeen Principles of Environmental Justice. The proceedings of the summit note that this historic document immediately impacted a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and the principles were soon reprinted in over a thousand publications.
In 2007, Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ continued the work of the Commission for Racial Justice by publishing Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007. This report found that racial disparities in the location of toxic waste facilities were “greater than previously reported.” People of color comprised the majority of the population in communities within 1.8 miles of a facility.
Today, the United Church of Christ continues the work of movement building through a variety of programs that seek to activate and equip congregations across the country for environmental justice ministries that have become a core part of the denomination’s DNA.