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S.C. Interfaith Power and Light a response to God's first command: Tend the Earth

{mosimage}No, it s not the kind of power you usually think of. It s Interfaith Power and Light, and it just arrived in South Carolina. Its power is derived from God, and you are key staff.

By Emily Cooper

{mosimage}SPARTANBURG “ No, it s not the kind of power you usually think of. It s Interfaith Power and Light, and it just arrived in South Carolina.

Its power is derived from God, and you are key staff.

IP&L is a unified religious response to global climate impact, according to Dr. Ron Robinson, chaplain and professor of religion at Wofford College, who has worked to make S.C. the 38th state to have its own IP&L organization.

The reasons should be obvious to Christians: The changing climate is affecting every aspect of life: water, crops, disease and, of course, human health “ all the things Christians are called to tend, according to IP&L s national founder, Episcopal Priest Sally Bingham. Until very, very recently the religious community has abdicated its moral responsibility. ¦ Nor have we paid enough attention to what human beings are doing to the planet. 

What people of faith do now will define the kind of world the people who come after us will have, Bingham said.

Robinson often cites Genesis 2:15 when he talks about this work: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 

Robinson also relies on one of his favorite theologians, Dr. Seuss, in The Lorax : Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it s not.  It s going to take everyone “ including and maybe especially the church “ to care for this garden of Earth.

A responsibility for the Earth comes naturally to Robinson, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I spent a lot of time outdoors,  he said, which may account for his love of fly-fishing. His father was an engineer, but dealt with a lot of politicians regarding conservation. I even remember the first Earth Day when I was in junior high school. 

But caring for the Earth doesn t seem to come naturally to pastors when they re in the pulpit. Robinson cited a poll of pastors who said, yes, they are committed personally, but, no, they have never spoken about it from the pulpit.

Churches have an opportunity to make caring for the Earth more of a social norm,  Robinson said. S.C. IP&L brings a staging ground and resources for tending the Earth. It will help us address the impact of fossil fuel, the carbon we produce and to discover how to slow the impact, he said.

Churches and other faith groups will find stories they can use on the new website (now a Facebook site available without belonging to Facebook, but soon to be a regular website). In this way and others, IP&L will provide resources: The collection of green stories, for example, articles on local produce markets, harvesting opportunities for charity, encouragement for electric cars, a city s ban on plastic bags, and church groups banning together to find reduced-rate energy “ and in the process putting people to work on renewable energy products.

Right now, there are two S.C. interfaith green groups, one in Columbia and one in Greenville. S.C. IP&L has plans for a statewide interfaith group. The first church has signed a membership covenant, and Robinson wants to see many churches do the same. Churches are asked to do one of eight things in a year to make the Earth a better place to live and make a small financial contribution.

Look for some regional events, as well.

Already, a steering committee is in place and a science advisory board is in the making. Allies, such as the Audubon Society and sustainability groups, will also play a role.

You ll be hearing about Cool Congregations,  which offers opportunities to compete for funds for energy-saving products: the carbon calculator  and Cool Harvest. Cool Harvest will have a tool kit and provide information about state policy action needed.

Right now, Spartanburg is a food desert,  Robinson said “ a conclusion based on how much healthy food is available compared to the density.  The effort is not just about reducing the church s power bill so there will be more money for missions or a youth worker. It s about doing justice.  It s about taking care of the world s poor worldwide when the extremes of weather impact food availability and the economy.

Wofford College, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, is underwriting the initial effort.

Robinson said he just met a man from Tuvalu, an island-nation of 16 square miles that is rapidly going underwater. If things don t change, they will come and collect our bodies from the sea,  an islander says in a documentary. The people are already trying to move.

Robinson also cited the extraordinary famine on the Horn of Africa, as well as people trying to survive without air-conditioning in the extreme Texas heat this year.

United Methodist Bill McKibben leads an organization called 350.org, 350 parts per million being the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide. But the world is already at 380 ppm.

Robinson said McKibben will be at the 2012 Caring for Creation weekend via Skype to reduce his carbon footprint. Described as the best environmental writer by leading news magazines, McKibben was one of the first people to connect faith to the environmental issues,  Robinson noted.

Instead of looking at ˜more, we ve got to look at ˜better,  Robinson said.

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