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Climate talks between 190 countries began today in Lima, Peru, with greenhouse gas emissions atop the agenda. With the globe readying to call this the warmest year on record, some major players — the US, China and the European Union — have already signed on for limits to emissions.

“To have a decent chance of reversing the warming trend before the planet hits the 2-degree mark, the world needs to slash emissions by 40 percent to 70 percent by 2050 and to near-zero by the end of the century, according to the panel’s assessments,” says ABC News. Renewables are now becoming more appealing, and more countries are preparing to foot the bill for not just maintaining the planet but reversing the damage we’ve already done.

Individuals aren’t waiting, and neither are politicians, community leaders and civic organizations. On November 10 and 11, African-American religious leaders gathered in Oakland, CA for the first ever Green the Church Summit in which, according to a statement from Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll, Green the Church founder, “our brightest minds are coming together to take on the challenge of protecting God’s creation and keeping our communities safe from climate change.”

We followed up with a few questions via email to learn more about what the group will be doing and why they’re getting involved. Below are responses from Green For All’s Director of Education and Outreach, Julian Mocine-McQueen.

MadameNoire: What were the main takeaways from the event?
Julian Mocine-McQueen: Pastors spoke about the moral imperative to fight climate change and prevent the massive human suffering it will bring. Thirty churches and one seminary signed Green The Church commitment cards, agreeing to work closely with their congregations on sustainability and climate change.

MN: Why is it important for the clergy to have a voice in this discussion?
JMM: The African American church has historically served as a moral leader on the most pressing issues of our time—from voting rights to gun violence. The church isn’t going to now sit aside and watch as polluters jeopardize the health and safety of our children and grandchildren.

Climate change not only imperils the most marvelous natural features of God’s creation, it threatens to cause human suffering of a magnitude that we cannot tolerate. Worldwide, we are facing severe drought, famine, disease, and disasters as a result of our climate crisis.

MN: What are some next steps?
JMM: One action on the near horizon that we’re asking folks to take is to send a comment to the Environmental Protection Agency letting them know they support strong carbon pollution safeguards. These carbon safeguards would go a long way to fighting climate change and protecting our communities. You can find out more at www.epa.gov.

MN: What impact do these church leaders see the environment (particularly environmental degradation) having on their congregations and communities?
JMM: Many of these churches are already working on environmental issues just as part of the day-to-day job of the church to make sure congregants are healthy and not being poisoned. Those struggles are related to the industries that are driving climate change and they understand that connection.

We had representation from a church in Richmond, CA that has struggled with pollution from the Chevron oil refinery. We had a pastor from a church in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood, which has a number of Superfund sites from the old navy shipyards. There have been a number of environmental justice issues there for years. While climate change and carbon pollution hurt everyone, the communities that many of these churches serve shoulder the greatest burden. Seventy-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Black children have an 80 percent higher rate of asthma than their White peers, and are more than three times more likely to die of the disease. These same communities are the ones hit first and worst by the superstorms, floods, drought, and disasters that climate change threatens to bring. When disaster strikes, Americans with the fewest resources have a harder time escaping, surviving, and recovering. Hurricane Katrina taught us that.

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