About the Author
Robin Nelson

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


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!

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.”

First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis Winner of ENERGY STAR Battle of the Buildings

The First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis (FUS) won the 2011 ENERGY STAR National Building Competition: Battle of the Buildings in the House of Worship category!  The competition has energized the members of FUS and caused the team to think more creatively and enthusiastically about additional steps that can be taken.

When FUS first started bench-marking their energy usage with the ENERGY STAR for Congregations program they scored a meager rating of 28 (0-100 scale) for their building that was built in the 1950s.

Bruce Nelson, a congregational leader at FUS, assembled a team and identified ways to improve their rating. FUS negotiated a contract with the one person firm of  NFS,LLC to  restore control to the heating and ventilation systems in their building  by implementing numerous no- and very low-cost measures.  A relatively inexpensive ($7,200) Internet-accessible control system was added to restore night set-back control to the heating system.  The team also added winter window treatments to single glazed, and very leaky, aluminum-framed windows (installed in 1953) by covering  some with temporary plastic and sealing  others with a food-grade and odorless caulk.

The improvements allowed them to reduce their electrical use from 4.5 to 3.75 kWh per day, gas consumption from 83 to 70 Thm per day, and Energy Use Intensity (EUI) rating improvement from 159 to 131.  The EUI rating reduction of nearly18 percent resulted in their winning the House of Worship category.  Additionally, all of their hard work led to $16,000+ savings in one year!  By the time FUS finished they improved their ENERGY STAR rating to 54.

In May 2011 FUS hosted a Sunday discussion titled “FUS energy savings — $10,000 down: How much further can we go?” to inspire more energy conservation measures and brainstorm additional energy-saving ideas. More recently, the team held a public event to share information about the energy-saving measures put in place at FUS and how the improvements were financed – this event was open to the media and other houses of worship.

Bruce Nelson advises other congregations “First, benchmark your building’s energy performance to determine your potential for energy savings. Then focus first on no-cost and low-cost opportunities. I can guarantee opportunities are there to be found!”

For more information about their improvements check out the Clean Energy Resource Teams’ blog.

FUS became an accredited Green Sanctuary on September 9, 2009.

No Fracking in Ohio – November 6th Protest

Ron Prosek, from FACT – FAith Communities Together (for Frac Awareness) contacted me today about this important fracking protest.

Wednesday, November 30th join www.NoFrackOhio.com and folks from Ohio, western PA and West Virginia for a day of protest, learning, and building relationships for action.

10:00 am or 3:00pm – Choose either time: “State of Fracking in Ohio and How to Get Involved at UUYO (First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown)

For more information check out the NoFrackingOhio PDF document.


Hands Around the White House – A Beautiful Day in DC

'Hands Around the White House.' Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood, Tar Sands Action

On November 5th and 6th, approximately 12,000 people  participated in a peaceful demonstration in Washington, D.C. to protest the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline including a ‘Hands Around the White House Demonstration.’

The weekend of action began on Saturday, November 5th, with a Tar Sands Action meeting held at All Souls DC.  Logistics were finalized, regional break-out groups formed to discuss future planning, chants were taught, and a short film about tar sands was shown.

Section of the protesters from the rally stage. Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood, Tar Sands Action

Sunday, November 6th was a beautiful day in Washington, DC – made all the more lovely when approximately twelve thousand people arrived for the demonstration.  (Organizers had initially anticipated five to six thousand!)  The circle around the perimeter of the White House was three-to-four people deep.

Lynn Dash + other members of the UU Congregation of Monmouth County

UUA Witness Ministries Director Craig C. Roshaven joined Witness Ministries Program Associate Kat Liu and Environmental Stewardship Manager Robin Nelson in urging UUs to attend the DC demonstrationUUAstaff connected with 63 UUs who were at the rally/demonstration (more later identified themselves as there but unable to find the group due to the overwhelming size of the crowd!)

Solidarity events were held across the country as well.

UUs of Southern Delaware: Joe Farrell, Anne Pikolas, + Kris Acker

The ‘Hands Around the White House Demonstration’ came about in August 2011 when Tar Sands Action and 350.org proposed a radical demonstrationt o oppose the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Beginning with non-violent civil disobedience — which included standing and sitting in front of the White House — 1,253 protesters were arrested over two weeks including celebrities like Daryl Hannah and Margot Kidder. Climate Scientists Bill McKibben and James Hansen also put their bodies on the line to persuade the President to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline.  UU World reported that 15 UUs were arrested on the designated interfaith day and many more were arrested on other dates.

UU Church of Silver Spring members along the East side of the White House. Credit: Kat Liu

While the arrests were making some headlines, organizers grew concerned when Press Secretary Jay Carney admitted that he hadn’t even briefed the President on the campaign. As a result, efforts increased with local organizing in affected communities as well as attendance at “Public Meetings following the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline” across the country (along the route of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline).

Many elected officials, activists, artists and celebrities have come out against the Keystone XL Pipeline including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV), Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE), Governor Dave Heineman (NE); Former Vice President Al Gore; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Van Jones, Robert Redford, and Ogalala Vice President Tom Poor Bear.

Let us know about your participation in ‘Hands Around the White House’ or a solidarity event you attended by emailing Rnelson@uua.org or commenting below.

Hands Around the White House – November 6th

On Sunday, November 6th, over 50 UUs will be joining an interfaith contingent and tarsandsaction.org and 350.org, one year from the next election, to encircle the White House to ask President Obama to reject the Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline.

We need YOU to show up on Sunday, November 6th to participate in this action (along with your friends, neighbors, fellow congregants, and perhaps even enemies)*.

Thousands of people are expected to peacefully and solemnly encircle the White House to urge President Obama to fulfill his campaign pledge of shifting us to a clean energy future and reject a permit for the proposed transnational Keystone XL Pipeline.  This is a legal gathering and no civil disobedience will occur (so we aren’t expecting arrests). Indigenous leaders in Canada and the U.S. oppose the project, saying it abrogates treaty rights and devastates their lands. Midwestern farmers, environmentalists and others are concerned about possible land and water contamination from spills. NASA climate scientist James Hansen states that the pollution caused from using this amount of oil would “make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.”

  •  A group from All Souls will join UUA Environmental Stewardship Manager, Robin Nelson, to go to the rally. Meet at 1 p.m. in the CHURCH COURTYARD.
  • We’ll join other UUs in front of Starbucks at 1001 Connecticut Avenue NW at 1:45pm and then proceed together to the northwest corner of Lafayette Park.
  • If you have a yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” T-Shirt, please bring it to wear.
  • If you know in advance you are coming, RSVP to Robin Nelson at: Rnelson@uua.org.
  • To be in touch with us on Sunday, contact Robin on her cell.  Texts are easiest as it will be loud and crowded.
  • Interested in volunteering to be a crowd marshal? Training will occur at ASC around 5 p.m. on Saturday evening.

Please check in with Robin Nelson whenever you arrive to join us.

Some additional FYIs:

You should only bring things that you can carry, you won’t be allowed to put anything on the ground.

The organizers said that banners and signs would be problematic once the rally ended around 2:50 and people then would be processing around the White House. They want us to hold hands – so there would be no way to keep hold of a sign or banner. They are suggesting people put signs on hats or around their necks if they want that.

Think about wearing gloves or mittens, you won’t be able to put your cold hands in your pockets if you’re holding the hand of persons next to you.

In case of emergency or complications, you will want valid (current, government issued) identification for any interaction with the police, or for any medical issues.

Dress as you would for a serious meeting or other businesslike event.  Additionally, UUs are wearing Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts to identify ourselves to each other.

A reusable water bottle is a must and think about bringing a small snack such as a granola bar or trail mix we’ll be out there from 2pm-5pm.


*Can’t make it to Washington, DC?  Join a solidarity action and submit information and photos to Robin Nelson at Rnelson@uua.org afterwards.  Tar Sands Action Seattle is planning a solidarity event.

Take Action: Sign petition to EPA about Tar Sands

We urge folks to help stop the Keystone XL pipeline by signing onto this petition.  It encourages head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, to reject the State Department’s review of the Keystone XL pipeline which has most recently been called corrupted by bias, lobbyist influence and conflicts of interest.  The New York Times posted an article questioning whether or not the State Department Reviewers had a conflict of interest.  If you are more of a visual person check out this image of possible corruption.

Help us stop the Keystone XL pipeline and avoid what NASA climate scientist James Hansen has coined as “essentially a game over for the climate.”  Sign the petition today! And ask your friends, neighbors, and fellow UUs to sign the petition too!