On Monday, Oct. 18, dozens of people of various faiths assembled outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center to demand an end to pollution and climate change. Led by Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, Bishop Suffragan for the Episcopal Diocese of NC; and activist William J. Barber III, religious leaders and members of their congregations called upon Charlotte’s city government and financial institutions to commit to sustainability.
This protest was part of the Faiths 4 Climate Action, a global demonstration made up of more than 500 similar protests taking place in 43 countries over the course of two days on Sunday and Monday. GreenFaith International Network, the multi-faith climate justice coalition that organized the protest, intends to put pressure on world leaders ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), scheduled to take place from Oct. 31-Nov. 12 in Glasgow.
Carrying banners and signs bearing messages like “No More Fossil Fuels” and “Our Faith is Stronger than Big Oil,” spiritual leaders led the group in prayer, sang and delivered speeches urging action on local and global levels. They then marched to the local Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase headquarters to deliver letters asking the companies to divest from fossil fuels.
Rev. Amy Brooks Paradise, a GreenFaith U.S. organizer, opened the event by saying, “We are well aware of what is at stake for the future of our children and our grandchildren, because there is no place that is safe from climate change. We want our leaders who are heading to Glasgow to go with the knowledge that they must act.”
Rev. Brooks Paradise, who leads the Charlotte GreenFaith Circle, slammed Charlotte’s banks for keeping continued ties with the fossil fuel industry, calling it an affront to the world’s religions.
In a press release following the protest, Rev. Brooks Paradise stated: “No religious tradition says that we should destroy the planet. Yet this is exactly what governments, financial institutions and major corporations are either doing or allowing. It’s not right, it’s not just, it’s time for a change! Our collective future depends on it.”
A climate protest based on faith & equality
Faith figured prominently in the protest, with adherents of Christian, Muslim and Hindu faiths all issuing spiritual calls to action. Special guest Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple said climate change contests the will of God.
“Those of us who study the word of God and holy scripture are here to attest that we must repent and return to right relationships with the Earth, with each other and with the god of heaven and earth. We must ask forgiveness and renew our determination to speak truth to power.”
Demonstrators touched on the disparities that climate change worsens, including indigenous land rights and existing forms of environmental racism. After beginning the ceremony with a land acknowledgement, Rev. Paradise passed the microphone to Rev. Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg chapter of the NAACP.
“Big businesses and biomass plants and fossil fuels and utility corporations are intentional in going into the most marginalized communities and causing destruction. We’re out here on a beautiful, God-given day. It’s wonderful out here,” she said, gesturing to the blue sky, “but somewhere in the state of North Carolina and all over this world, someone is getting sick because of the intentional pollution of our air and our water and our environment.”
Former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts spoke at the protest, also bringing up environmental racism. Roberts served as mayor in 2016 when a CMPD officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, sparking weeks of protest.
On Monday, she drew attention to air pollution’s impact on Black Americans.
“Black children are four times as likely to die from asthma as white children,” she said. “That is not justice. That is not helping our planet or our people.”
Though the demonstration was part of a global effort, the issues raised had a decidedly local bent. In her remarks, Roberts talked about the Colonial Pipeline gas spill. In August 2020, two high school boys discovered a leak in the pipeline that, as of one year later, had emitted more than 1.2 million gallons of gas into the surrounding Oehler Nature Preserve. The cleanup continues to this day, and many local residents believe Colonial Pipeline has not been fully held to account for the spill.
“That is pollution that’s harming and killing people,” said Roberts.
The demonstration’s closing remarks came from William J. Barber III, son of the celebrated activist Rev. William Barber II. He spoke at length about the COVID-19 pandemic, national poverty and political turmoil, which all constituted what he called, “a continuous crisis.”
“The earth is our home,” he said. “We are part of this world and its destiny is our own. Life on this planet will be gravely affected unless we embrace new practices, ethics and values to guide our lives on a warming planet.”
Demands of the GreenFaith International Network include an immediate end to new fossil fuel projects, tropical deforestation, and related financing; universal access to renewable energy; policies creating green jobs, a renewable energy surge, and a just transition for impacted workers and communities; support for climate migrants; and reparations from countries and industries responsible for the lion’s share of historic greenhouse gas emissions.
More than 200 high-level faith leaders and 60 religious groups representing more than 50 million members have signed onto these demands.
“Grassroots religious groups will no longer accept vague rhetoric by politicians, financial leaders, industry, or even our own faith leaders,” Rev. Brooks Paradise wrote in Monday’s release. “We will not stop until President Biden blocks permits for fossil fuel pipelines and financial institutions provide concrete steps to de-fund fossil fuel investment. The time for action is now.”