This past Thursday morning, I took my life into my own hands and rode my bike out to Metairie, to an office building on Veterans Memorial Boulevard. This nondescript edifice houses the office of Steve Scalise, the representative for Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District.
I was there to bear witness to an event which was unfortunately unique in my experience. A group of over seventy people from many different faiths had come to ask Rep. Scalise to reflect on climate change.
It was a typical summer morning in Southeastern Louisiana. The sun was scorching. But in the shade of the tall building it was downright pleasant. Birds were chirping — you can hear them on the recording I made.
What transpired was a deeply moving and politically charged interfaith service. Over the course of 45 minutes, voices were lifted in prayer and quieted in meditation. Chants were said in Hebrew and Arabic. Hymns were sung, scriptures were read, and testimony was given.
The participants were mostly young and from a diverse array of religious traditions, from Catholic to Hindu to Muslim to Buddhist. There were even some Protestants there. All had come together for one purpose: to ask Rep. Scalise to consider his responsibilities to the Earth and to future generations of humanity.
Because Scalise is Catholic, a little extra emphasis was given to the words of Pope Francis. His encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home, makes a strong moral case for environmental responsibility.
The Whip versus the Earth
It’s worth noting that Rep. Scalise isn’t just any congressional representative. He is the House Majority Whip. I’ve never understood exactly what this position entails, but it sounds pretty scary, conjuring images of leather and domination. I’m told he’s one of the most powerful legislators in the country.
It’s also worth noting that Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District is one of the most vulnerable in the nation to the effects of sea level rise and intense hurricanes which are predicted to accompany global warming.
Therefore, it seems particularly pertinent to scrutinize Scalise’s positions and his record on the issues. At least he’s been consistent.
He voted to keep the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. He voted against enforcing limits on CO2 pollution. He voted against tax credits for renewable electricity. He signed the No Climate Tax Pledge sponsored by Americans for Prosperity. He favored letting the Wind Production Tax Credit expire.
As for opening the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas drilling? He voted for that.
He’s also made numerous statements on the record that indicate his stance. One example suffices to make the point.
“I know the president loves talking about global warming,” he said in a committee hearing last winter, “and they’re canceling flights all around the country due to snow blizzards.”
As Scalise sees it, the fact that we are still having blizzards is evidence to allay all this fuss about climate change.
To be honest, I’m not any more of a scientist than Rep. Scalise. Nor am I a zealot, certain in my convictions. I regularly question my views and wonder if I’m correct about anything.
However, I am a true conservative: I believe we should conserve our natural resources, and I subscribe to the radical notion that we should adopt a more cautious approach. It’s abundantly clear that our way of living is not sustainable. It only makes sense that we should slow our roll and find ways to live more lightly on the Earth.
I was deeply affected by the interfaith service in front of Scalise’s office Thursday morning. If I’d been able to add my voice, I’d have said something like this:
Last year I collaborated with dozens of people around the globe to write “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,” which has since been signed by thousands of people from many different countries, representing many diverse forms of what might be called contemporary Earth religions.
The statement specifically cites climate change as a key concern and challenge we must face. We acknowledge the need for action, and we address problems fundamental to our Western industrial worldview. To quote briefly from the statement:
“Technical solutions can never move forward without political will, and the necessary political will requires a shift in our most deeply held values, in our very definitions of what it means to be human, and in how humanity relates to the world. We recognize this shift as a spiritual imperative.”
Therefore I call on Rep. Scalise, as a child of the Earth, to recognize this spiritual imperative, to awaken to his responsibilities, to confront the realities of rising sea levels and ocean acidification and other aspects of climate change, and to work for a culture of true sustainability.
Efficacy of a spiritual approach
Some may wonder about the efficacy of this sort of action. Does it make a difference? A friend of mine was mystified by the very premise. “So they’re asking Scalise to think about climate change?” Not exactly. We are asking Scalise to reflect, and reflection implies something deeper.
This was not an angry protest. This was something gentler and more contemplative. I’m inclined to think we need more such actions.
Most of the participants in Thursday’s service were a part of a growing coalition called Green Faith. They worked in conjunction with our own local and much-respected Louisiana Bucket Brigade, but most of these young faith leaders were not local. They came from out of town and out of state. Precious few were even from the American South.
There were some notable exceptions. Robert Desmarais Sullivan claimed to be a resident of Louisiana for 300 years. Representing the group, he ventured into Scalise’s office on the seventh floor and spoke to a liaison of constituent services. According to Sullivan, she said she was “totally uninformed about environmental matters and felt incompetent to discuss them.” He was told to go to the offices in Washington, DC, “because that’s where they know what they’re talking about.”
Sullivan and some other Green Faith members are planning a DC trip now. Those present were also urged to send Rep. Scalise hand-written letters.
Will Scalise listen? Will he reflect? Time will tell. I’m not holding my breath, but the stakes are too high not to try everything in our power.
Meanwhile, I call on our local “young faith leaders” to step up, add their voices, and stage similar actions.
Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. An award-winning videographer, he is co-creator of ROX, the first TV show on the internet. As a media artist and an advocate for faculty development in higher education, he is interested in current and emerging trends in social media, blogging, podcasting, et cetera, as well as contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, sometime contributor to Rising Tide, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle. More at BartEverson.com.
Bart is also a regular columnist here at HP. His column is called A Pedagogy of Gaia.