It’s Time for Faith Leaders in New York to be Climate-wise to Outwit the Weather

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

Bo Yan, C+S ’16

As it marches on, climate change will bring forth higher temperatures, more frequent and severe flooding and a greater level of unpredictability to the climate system.

New York may seem resilient to climate change, but the modern Goliath has its weaknesses.

The city’s location on the coast will compound the challenges it faces due to climate change. The rate of sea level rise in New York area is twice of the global sea level rise rate, according to recent research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Coney Island Gospel Assembly after Sandy recovery

Coney Island Gospel Assembly after Sandy recovery

Faith-based organizations have an important role to play in addressing climate change. During natural disasters, however, faith-leaders are unable to seek sufficient help from the government.

“So there is necessity to brace up faith-leaders for possible climate change impacts,” said Richard Vernon, the director of recovery partnerships at New York Disaster Interfaith Service.

This summer, I met with multiple faith leaders across the city to talk about climate change what they can do to get their congregations prepared.

Brother Rod led us through the side door of the house of worship to his office. Our conversation started in a cozy, well air-conditioned room, instead of the steaming neighborhood outside.

Rod’s wife is the pastor of Coney Island Gospel Assembly, a local church that served as a distribution center during Hurricane Sandy four years ago.

Surprisingly, this humble local church responded decisively after Sandy charged ashore at Coney Island, providing even more prompt service than the government and Red Cross.

Once a navy engineer, Rod is now venturing into the unknown waters of climate change. In fact, it turns out Rod is a bit of a climate change evangelist. We had vivid mini-lecture about climate change at his office, from polar ice cap melting to climate model projections.

Another piece of uplifting news we heard was from Shrine of our Lady Solace, a Catholic church of Coney Island. The Parish secretary told us their initiatives to prepare for the inclement weather and their efforts to educate their congregation on environmental topics, including climate change.

Heavy equipment used during Sandy recovery on Coney Island

Heavy equipment used during Sandy recovery on Coney Island

But there are also major challenges faith-based organizations will have to overcome to deal with climate change. There is scarce research that focuses on resilience of faith-based organizations towards climate change.

Houses of worships many times are the first responders to natural disasters. In that case, there is ample reason to have them get climate information and be armed with strategies for how to use.

How aware a local community is about climate change can be impacted by how much their trusted faith leaders are climate-aware. Yet the level of understanding about climate change varies wildly among faith leaders, which indicates some may not take preventive actions to mitigate climate risks ahead of time.

Losing houses of worship during natural disasters could further compound problems for their congregation, who would be lacking their rock when their need for spiritual guidance and community could be at its highest.

So how can faith leaders become climate-wise?

Preparing them to be a part of an early warning system is one possibility.

Imagine if a faith leader can interpret weather and climate information and share it with their congregation. In that case, their congregation can act more prudently and prepare early for weather events before they happen.

That can help protect a house of worship, reduce damage to the congregation, and most importantly, reduce a natural disaster’s impact on the larger community.


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