Published on November 10th, 2014 | by Aisha Abdelhamid1
Sikhs Join Interfaith Summit on Climate Change
Climate change is increasingly gaining attention as a unifying concern of faith communities. As the ethical and spiritual obligation to care for our Earth becomes more obvious, moral leaders are calling for climate justice. One such moral leader, Dr. Rajwant Singh, president and founder of EcoSikh, recently gave the keynote speech at the 2nd annual Climate Stewardship Summit in Connecticut.
“We, as Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and humanists are faced with a serious challenge that will not only test us physically, but will also test our faith to keep fighting,” said Dr. Singh. “We must keep fighting. Whether it is God and the earth that motivate us, our children’s future, the beauty of nature, or all of the above, we must keep fighting to protect our collective home.”
An In-Depth Spiritual Exploration on Climate Advocacy
Joining Dr. Rajwant Singh for the day-and-a-half summit were Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a leader in the environmental and climate justice movement; Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network; Imam Refai Arefin of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford; and Reverend Chuck Redfen.
Anna Jane Joyner, a climate activist and daughter of mega-church leader Rick Joyner, was the M.C. for the conference. Joyner was showcased on Showtime’s The Years of Living Dangerously, a series on climate change that aired this summer. Many other faith leaders and notable environmental activists were included in this in-depth spiritual exploration of how to combat climate change.
Learning the Art of Faith-Based Storytelling
The summit was hosted by the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network (IREJN), whose leaders believe that, while scientific facts on climate change are irrefutable, climate justice advocates face significant challenges in convincing the public to take decisive action. Many climate advocates are very knowledgable and passionate about climate change. However, they may need more experience to effectively communicate their concerns to people who don’t care or who are uninformed.
The Summit’s mission was to create interfaith awareness about common spiritual beliefs and perceptions of moral responsibility towards climate change. Hundreds of members from faith communities across the New England East Coast region attended. The first goal of the summit was to empower participants, training them in the art of faith-based storytelling, to improve communication at local, regional and national levels. The second goal was to give participants more information about addressing climate change through direct advocacy actions.
Incorporating an exciting mix of notable speakers, diverse panels, and breakout sessions, the Climate Stewardship Summit addressed climate change from a variety of viewpoints. Attendees were provided many opportunities to learn about specific climate change topics, such as public health, direct action, fossil fuel divestment, and the theology of environmental stewardship.
Sikh Environmental Movement Is Active and Growing
In his keynote address, Dr. Singh provided an excellent example of faith-based storytelling. He recounted moments of his own history, and how environmental concerns became connected to his faith. Dr. Singh even enlivened his talk by singing Sikh hymns on nature themes from Sikh scriptures.
He also shared the Five-Year Plan of his EcoSikh organization, and talked about how EcoSikh has worked with hundreds of Gurdwaras across the world to encourage Sikh action on the environment. Just last month, the first Sikh statement on climate change was issued by EcoSikh, following closely on the heels of Sikh participation in the historic People’s Climate March in New York City. In this statement, the Sikh community is urged to take part in eco-friendly seva practices and to petition local representatives to be address environmental issues.
Protecting “Our Mata Dharat for Future Generations”
Speaking later in the Summit, EcoSikh Program Manager Sumeet Kaur confirmed Sikh devotion to environmental advocacy. “With the People’s Climate March, the Sikh statement on Climate Change, our participation in the Interfaith Climate Stewardship Summit, and our soon-to-be-released Green Gurdwara guide, EcoSikh aims to carve a path for Sikhs to be environmental advocates within their local communities.”
Kaur concluded, “We see great responses to environmental issues from all faiths and belief systems — and it is time Sikhs join the great league of environmental activists so we can protect our Mata Dharat for future generations.”
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