Earth Summit to feature visionary activists, create ‘launching pad’ for transformative action

In Louisiana, an 85-mile area stretching from Baton Rouge to New Orleans has become known as “Cancer Alley.” 200 fossil fuel and petrochemical operations in the area release extreme pollution, creating one of the highest cancer risks from industrial air pollution in the United States. It disproportionately impacts the area’s Black residents.

And yet, residents and advocacy groups have successfully fought against these industries.

Following their advocacy, a judge struck down air permits for Formosa Plastics to build a new, massive plastics manufacturing complex in the city of St. James in 2022. With a recent appeal reversal of this decision, the fight – which has been led by local leaders like Sharon Lavigne – continues.

Lavigne, who won one of the top prizes in environmental justice for her work, will join a panel of activists to share about this work in Cancer Alley at this year’s annual UCC Earth Summit.

The UCC Earth Summit takes place April 20 at 1:00 p.m. ET, the Saturday before Earth Day.

‘David-versus-Goliath struggle’

Lavigne, who has several family members diagnosed with cancer and founded Rise St. James, shared her vision for the Cancer Alley area in a 2021 interview with UCC Environmental Justice Minister the Rev. Brooks Berndt.

“The Promised Land is when we’ll be able to breathe clean air. The children will be able to go outside and play for a long period of time without getting rashes, without being sick. We’ll have less people with asthma, less people with cancer. We’ll have clean water, because they won’t be able to dump the chemicals in our drinking water. Our water is so dirty. We’ll have productive soil where we can plant a fig tree and it would grow. Our pecan trees would bear, and our blackberry vines would bear. We would have a better life if these plants would just go away,” she said.

“I have followed and admired Sharon Lavigne for a number of years,” Berndt said. “I was particularly impacted by her personal story when I interviewed her. Ultimately, my connection with Sharon led me to both Diane Wilson and Nancy Bui, who are engaged with Sharon in a David-versus-Goliath struggle against Formosa Plastics, one of the largest plastics producers in the world.”

The three environmental justice leaders will share about this struggle at the Earth Summit.

Featured speaker Bill McKibben

The Summit will include celebrated author and activist Bill McKibben as the featured speaker.

McKibben has written 20 books and many articles that have been instrumental in bringing climate change and environmental science to the attention of the general public. He helped to found the first global grassroots climate campaign,, and he founded Third Act, a community of people over the age of 60 organizing action around climate and justice.

While he often speaks in secular contexts, McKibben grew up in the UCC and personally offered congratulations following the 2019 General Synod’s decision to become the first Christian body endorsing the Green New Deal.

“In addressing the climate crisis, McKibben has not only been one of the foremost writers and activists in the world, but he has also been a leader in connecting faith communities to the climate movement,” Berndt said. “From writing in Sojourners magazine to speaking in churches on a regular basis, he has long helped people of faith connect their values to some of the most critical issues of our time.”

McKibben has shared how his work seeks to make people aware of the choices available in addressing climate change and a commitment to “keep working to hope that we make the right choices.”

His talk for the Earth Summit is titled, “Energy from Heaven or Energy from Hell?”

“We’re in a very dire situation with climate change. It’s not clear whether we are going to be able to significantly slow it down,” McKibben told Religion News Service. “The one advantage that people of faith may have is that they’re able to at least hope that if we do everything that we possibly can, the world may meet us half way. As long as faith leads one deeply into action, and not deeply into inaction, then that’s a very good thing.”

Earth Day launching pad

Faith leading people into action is a key hope of the UCC’s Earth Summit organizers.

“Earth Day is that rare time of the year when our society as a whole focuses on environmental issues. I like to think of it as a launching pad for the rest of the year,” Berndt said. “It is a time to invite people into a movement that will propel them into meaningful and transformative action.”

The Church of Christ at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, will host an in-person element of the summit, and co-hosts include the UCC Council for Climate Justice, the National Setting of the UCC, and the UCC New Hampshire Conference.

The two-and-a-half-hour summit will also feature the announcement of the Dollie Burwell Prophetic Action Award winner, a celebration of the UCC’s newest Creation Justice Churches, and a video showcasing the host congregation’s environmental ministries.

Registration is now available, and all who register will receive a link to the event’s recording.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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