April Fuels Day Event at First UU Austin

Guest Authors -Beki and Richard Halpin, co-chairs, Green Sanctuary Committee, The First Unitarian Universalist Church (Austin)

Alternative Vehicle Fair Revs Up

Saving the green in a smarter, cooler machine is another gear shift in saving the planet.

More with less says it best, and The First Universalist Unitarian Church April Fuels Day Alternative Vehicle Fair had the best in green transportation on display. Nearly 200 attendees enjoyed the games and cool energy-saving car, bike and scooter showcase.

Our Green Sanctuary Committee worked like protons in an electric Prius with the sunroof open. Twenty church volunteers, several from the Chalice Circle community, formed the cando posse that helped make it all happen. People could climb around in the vehicles and see themselves riding down carbon foot-print-less highway in a sweet plug-in, natural gas coupe, bio-diesel beauty, or a hill toppin’ hybrid. Riders swooped around on recumbent bikes and hip electric scooters. Lots of questions were answered on smart auto energy, saving money, lower carbon footprints and cleaner air and water results.

Our Texas Health Credit Union neighbors came out with us, neighborly offering their parking lot to accommodate visitors. Visiting with them,we discovered more green news—our church members are eligible for the credit union’s no-cost checking and savings accounts.

The Dirigibles provided music that set all toes to tapping as the attendees envisioned themselves as future drivers of these fine vehicles. Quite a few likely imagined themselves driving into the sunset in the sweet silver Tesla convertible one generous owner brought to share.

After the event, some attendees stopped dreaming about owning one of these money-, fueland planet-saving vehicles and ended up buying one.

What’s all this talk about food?

If you went to the UUA’s General Assembly in Charlotte, NC last year you may have been present for (or watched via live-streaming) the heart-felt debate and vote for the 2011 Statement on Conscious Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice.

If you’re involved in Unitarian Universalist Association issues you may have been aware of th3 2008-2012 Congregational Study Action Issue: Ethical Eating.

If you’ve been in the market for food you may have seen an increase in “CSAs,” “farmers markets,” “organic gardens,” “community gardens,” “sustainable gardens” etc.

If you’ve been to a store you may have noticed the increase of “sustainable,” “organic,” “green,” “natural,” “GMO-free,” etc products.

Or maybe you’ve just recognized that people are talking about food a lot more today than they were say 10-20 years ago.  Saturday, the New York Times published the article “The Myth of Sustainable Meat.”

So the topic of food seems to be everywhere. Yes, we eat everyday, and I’d contend that most of people in the middle-to-upper class in the USA did little thinking about how the food they ate everyday affected others. Climate Change is impacting our planet’s ability to produce food and there are a whole other list of issues that are impacting the World’s Food Economy.

Rev. Peter Morales, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s President, has appointed a President’s Advisory Council on Ethical Eating.  This appointment demonstrates a commitment on the part of the UUA to follow-through with the SOC: Ethical Eating.  I highly encourage folks to check out the Ethical Eating website on UUA.org to learn more about the community the that is flowing from this creation and our continued dedication to this important subject.

If you’ve exhausted the resources on the Ethical Eating website and want to bring the subject back to your congregation you may want to investigate using one of the Nortwest Earth Institute‘s discussion courses: Hungry for Change and Menu for the Future.  While Hungry for Change is a newer curriculum, Menu for the Future has been used over the past several years by many UU congregations.  These curricula are helpful in educating people to thoughtfully about Ethical Eating.

This year Earth Day falls on Sunday, April 22nd.  If your congregation is planning on celebrating Earth Day please consider reporting your community’s action to the UU Ministry for Earth


TVUUC goes solar!

by Gene Burr, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church(TVUUC)  Green Team member

Rev. Chris Buice and Lay Leader Gene Burr powering up the solar panels

A year ago, we had essentially given up our dream of in-stalling a solar array on our building. Shortly after FLS Energy and Green Earth Solar submitted our application to the Tennessee Solar Institute, we learned that the grant funds allocated to Tennessee ($9M) had been committed to other projects. We were advised that only in the event that other applicants dropped out would our project be funded. But, that’s what happened, and the solar panels have been installed—117 of them! We are still holding our collective breath, trying to accept what is hard to believe— that we would have this opportunity to demonstrate what we believe about using clean energy while investing in a more sustainable future for TVUUC.

The 28.7 kW solar energy system being installed on our roof will generate 37,663 kW-hours annually, and offset 27 tons of CO2 per year. We have used an innovative model to finance the array, one of the first “third party ownership models” in Tennessee.

The total cost of the system is $163, 419, for which FLS Energy is receiving a $57,400 federal “stimulus” grant (from American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009) on our behalf. TVUUC has paid $22,500 as our share of the cost—the balance of the total cost being absorbed by FLS and “third party investors” which receive a 30% fed- eral tax credit that we could not access as a non-profit or- ganization. TVUUC also receives a $1000 grant from TVA for participation in their Generation Partners pro- gram. A bonus that we are to receive from the Knoxville- Knox County Community Action Committee, in return for energy conservation steps we have undertaken over the past five years, is a $15,000 solar grant that will offset our initial investment of $22,500, leaving a net investment of $7,500 by TVUUC.

The future sustainability that TVUUC will benefit from is an offset of approximately 40% of our electric utility costs ($3,500 annually) during years 6-10 of our ten-year part- nership with FLS Energy. At the end of our agreement, we will have the option to renew and continue to receive the solar income from FLS Energy, or we may choose to own the system outright, at a depreciated cost. The solar panels carry a 25-year warranty

UUMFE 2012 Earth Day materials now online

By Cindy Davidson, UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) board member

Looking for a way to bring the UUA’s focus on immigration to your Green Sanctuary work?  Or, conversely, a way to bring your Green Sanctuary team’s environmental justice concerns to the table?  Or, perhaps you’re wondering just how these issues are interconnected?  With this in mind, UUMFE has chosen to focus Earth Day materials this year on Environmental Justice and Immigration.

The Earth Day 2012 materials, now available, will help guide you in exploring ways your Green Sanctuary committee/team and your congregation might explore the link between EJ and immigration this Earth Day, April 22nd.  The collection of materials can help in planning worship services and other activities around Earth Day.  We’ve pulled together background information, resources, and suggested actions with a broad focus on links between environmental justice and immigration.  We’ll give you some ideas to consider, from the injustices of health care issues disproportionately affecting migrant populations to the environmental impact of border walls upon all species.  We look at climate change and the connection with forced migration and the disproportionate impact climate change extols on the most vulnerable. We look at environmental injustices hidden in anti-immigration legislation, including access to water. And, we even look at the anti-population growth and “immigrants are bad for our environment” arguments. We hope you find much food for thought!

As in past years, we include practical materials to use for worship services, including Order of Service covers and inserts about UUMFE.  We also encourage congregations to take advantage of Earth Day to honor and celebrate the contributions of an Eco-Hero in your midst; you’ll find a certificate you can use online, too.  Most importantly, we hope you will nominate your Eco-Hero for UUMFE’s Guardian of the Future award.  See full details online.

As you plan your Earth Day activities, please remember to register them on our website to share with others.  Your plans may just be the inspiration others need to take action in congregations near and far!  If this year’s theme is not a “good fit” for your current environmental focus, we encourage you to use the materials for prior Earth Days, especially Earth Day 2010: Food and Environmental Justice or Earth Day 2011: Sacred Waters. In fact, the 2010 and 2011 tables of Earth Day activities from registered congregations contain hundreds of inspirational ideas for you to try.

We look forward to hearing about how UU congregations across the country celebrate Earth Day 2012!

How to form a Green Team

Amanda Yaira Robinson, Texas Interfaith Power & Light (TXIPL) Coordinator recently contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to lead a conference call for TXIPL on “How to form a Green Team in Your Congregation.”  Having worked with many  UU congregations through the Green Sanctuary Program, I was more than happy to share what I’ve learned along the way. Afterall, the point of my job is to help inspire and create a greener faith community and world.

Wednesday, January 25th I joined the TXIPL monthly conference call and shared some of the things I’ve learned over the last 4 years.  Take a look at the notes from the call for ideas on how to get a Green Team started in your house of worship! And if you want to know more listen to the call recording.

Thanks to Amanda for providing me with this opportunity to share UU experiences with environmental work to the greater faith community!

NWUUC partners with WAWA

by Beth Stokes Clinton, member North West Unitarian Universalist Congregation (NWUUC)

On Saturday, Oct. 29, seventeen members of  NWUUC carpooled down to West Atlanta to enjoy a 26-acre “urban forest” outing with other Atlanta environmentalists and neighborhood volunteers at the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) Fall Festival. WAWA is a nonprofit organization promoting environmental and social justice in historically marginalized Atlanta neighborhoods. As part of its mission WAWA oversees a 26-acre nature preserve near the tributaries of the Chattahoochee River, and has an active “green” education program for adults and children. WAWA is one of NWUUC’s Green Sanctuary collaborative partners, sponsored by the Earth Ministry.

NWUUC members preparing the winter demonstration garden bed - at the top of WAWA's 26-acre forest.

The lively group from NWUUC helped till the ground for WAWA’s winter demonstration garden, lifting shovels, hefting hoes, pushing wheelbarrows, and raking the soil to prepare the garden plot, which is located near Oakland Avenue. They also hiked through the forest to the historic 1863 “Grandfather Beech Tree;”  learned the seven principles of responsible backpacking from a REI representative; and toured the Outdoor Activity Center’s bioponic farming demonstration, which uses fish waste in a closed system to produce vegetables.

Dave Zenner, Earth Ministry Team Leader, reported on the day’s events: “The great turnout from Northwest clearly demonstrated the depth of our commitment to partnering with WAWA in its important mission.  And we benefited from learning more about the ongoing needs of the nature preserve, as well as useful lessons in sustainable lifestyles.  We also began a discussion about the possibility of Northwest volunteers “adopting” a section of trail between the nature center and the Grandfather Beech. It was a fun, interesting and mutually beneficial outing.”

Totem Salmon – Book Review

Totem Salmon: Life Lessons from Another Species
by Freeman House
Published by Beacon Press

Because it was about salmon in the Pacific Northwest, this book was hard for me to read.  Periodically I found myself bored  But then I remembered something I’d told others about when I was running a book group:  boredom can be a sign of resistance, and if you dig deeper you might find something underneath that boredom that you really didn’t want to see.   What I found was a profound feeling of disconnection.  Disconnection from the food I eat, the products I buy, the consequences of those purchases.  This book is all about connection, but since I was (at the time of reading it) so vastly disconnected that I’d lost the ability to even recognize the problem.

If you have an interest in Native American ecological perspectives, or would like to read a detailed account of what a local grassroots environmental action looks like when it’s serious, this is the book for you.  It’s lyrical prose will lure you into a deep reflection on the state of food practices, an indeed life itself.  This book is deeply spiritual, and you may find yourself surprised with the depth of meaning you take away from its pages.

Water Hygiene Kits from Hopedale, MA

Annually Hopedale Unitarian Parish (HUP) and Union Evangelical United Church of Christ host a joint service.  In preparation for the service HUP holds a collection drive for items to be placed in hygiene kits including soap, band-aid, toothbrushes, washcloths, hand towels, combs, and nail clippers.  These are then assembled into hygiene kits that are sent to Church World Service, a non-profit interfaith group that then distributes the kits to people around the US or around the world who do not have access to adequate supplies of clear water due to war, natural disasters, and refugee status.

Congregants gather to assemble hygiene kits.

November 2010 35 kits were assembled by members of all ages of both churches.  These congregations came together to assemble these kits because “Access to water for washing and hygiene is a basic human need and right which is often inadequate for a variety of reasons such as environmental and natural disasters or war.  Most commonly, it is a problem of the poor and in developing countries without plentiful resources.”

This project has inspired another Green Team member to start a new annual effort and being a collection of soap to be sent to Haiti in response to the recent cholera outbreak there.  HUP finds the Water Hygiene kits “a nice way to come together with our neighboring church and strengthen our relationship to service in others.”

Bill McKibben on “Blowing the Whistle on Congress”

reposted from 350.org by Bill McKibben

Yesterday was one of the truly fun days in this whole wild year of organizing. We had hundreds of referees outside the Capitol, and we blew our whistles like crazy, and we threw penalty flags, and we had a hell of a good time.

My favorite scene, actually, was watching hundreds of people in ref shirts descending the escalators to the subway for the ride to the day’s final stop, the American Petroleum Institute. It was an endless line of black and white, a long human stripe of fair play!

Not only that, it was productive. Two great things happened: one, Senator Bernie Sanders announced at the demonstration that he’s introducing a bill to remove all the subsidies from the fossil fuel industry. And two, Barack Obama, eight hours later in his State of the Union address, joined us to demand that handouts to the world’s richest companies stop. The speech wasn’t perfect — he called for far too much new drilling — but this was an important bright spot.

Ending those handouts is absolutely crucial to our big fight against climate change. A new report from the International Energy Agency shows that ending subsidies for the fossil fuel industry will cut half the carbon emissions we need to stop catastrophic climate change. And it’s partly because they take so much monety from the government that Big Oil can afford to spend millions lobbying for projects like Keystone XL.

It felt darned good to be on the offensive for once, not just trying to beat back disasters like Keystone, but taking the battle to Big Oil.