Environmental Network Reflections on US Withdrawal from Paris Accord

2 June 2017

Together we walk in cooperative action to bring our diversity and wisdom “to bear on the economic, environmental, political and social challenges facing our Earth community.”


Members of IBS Cooperation Circle discuss earth stewardship in the Netherlands.


View the full statement on the world's faith traditions' perspectives on care of the earth.

June 2, 2017

Dear URI Family,

Yesterday, United States President Donald Trump announced the United States will withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change, an international agreement between 195 countries committing to greenhouse gas reduction and limits on planetary temperature rise. Especially at a time when violence swells in the world, this announcement has inspired grief and alarm in those who are committed to “act[ing] from sound ecological practices” for the sake of “peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”

Together we walk in cooperative action to bring our diversity and wisdom “to bear on the economic, environmental, political and social challenges facing our Earth community.” This is a moment to look towards and honor emerging leaders, partnerships, and those whose stories have not yet been told. Let us reflect on their work and wisdom and ask ourselves what we can do to ensure that present and future generations enjoy clean air, water, soil, food and communities free from violence and injustice.

“We cannot allow [President Trump's] decision to prevent us from what we know is the right thing to do,” Serferaaz Elahi from IBS CC in the Netherlands wrote to me this morning. This can be especially hard to remember when living in a climate vulnerable nation, Sarah Queblatin from the Philippines reflects: “But something in me [feels] that something is emerging in this dying and darkness - a leadership of collaboration among countries and initiative around the world who can stand up against systems that are resistant to change. There is climate hope everywhere.”

We remain committed to forging the path of peace and justice, using the diversity of our voices to call a new world into being. Climate change “is about the existence of all life species beyond our geographical borders,” Global Council Chair Kiran Bali adds, which is why “negotiating together is the need of the hour.” With the same breath, Ganga Devi, from Kashi Foundation CC in Florida, asks that we see this as an opportunity to “deepen our commitments to what we hold as sacred and beloved.”

I invite you to reflect with the Environmental Network, to share your stories, commitments, fears and hopes for a world of ecological balance, plenty and homeliness.

My deepest gratitude to you all,

Katherine Hreib,

Environmental Network Coordinator


Below are comments from members of the URI Environmental Network

Serferaaz Elahi from IBS CC (URI Europe): 

Also from another perspective, in a divine scheme of things, the actions of President Trumps accelerates seeking contact between nations etc to discuss about this topic, like for example the sense of urgency for this email. So its not all bad i guess. 

It could be he was looking for  a way to get out of terrible contract where to many parties are involved, and to much talking ended up in doing little, maybe he wants to accelerate things on his own, on a radical way, which he can't do when he has to talk to so many parties. 

Either President Trump is a great knowledgebale strategist or hes just like  many of us another unaware player in the plan of Allah the Praised the Elevated, from my view. 

Ganga Devi Braun, Kashi Foundation CC (URI North America): 

I am reminded of a conversation I had with Bishop Andrus about the Climate Accord, as he was in Paris for the agreement and understands the ins and outs of it better than most. The greatest takeaway from that conversation was that federal institutions cannot initiate the kinds of change that are required to meet our climate goals. It's through subnational bodies that the most effective change happens, and I think that this is a ripe opportunity to galvanize the kind of collective action that is required. 

I think it's important that the approach be one not of frantic reactivity, but a deepening of commitment to what we all hold as sacred and beloved. In sending something to the wider URI networks, I think framing it in a way that generates the gratitude and love for the world we have is an important starting point. Coming from love and gratitude, it's easier to identify what gifts we as individuals, as CCs, and as communities have that we are excited to now scale up to become even larger players in the emergent solutions for reversing climate change and regenerating our relationship with the earth.

Frederica Helmiere, URI Multiregion Coordinator based in Seattle, Washington USA:

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we...." Perhaps a reminder to us all that our hope does not ultimately lie in [non-binding] international treaties anyway, and a call to remain engaged, increase our engagement, recruit others, etc.  We can be reminded that while it is easier, theoretically, to use effective policies to shape change, each of us and our communities has the power to impact change as well, and ultimately that's where the change will come from. While each step is small, collectively the impact is huge.

Ed Bastian, ECOFaith Santa Barbara (URI North America) and the Environmental Network CC (URI Multiregion): 

In the final analysis, it seems to me, the solution to climate change will require a change in human behavior.  Ours is a time when the spiritual dictums for simplicity match the nature's plea for us to live in sustainable harmony.  Yes, the new technologies for renewable, non-carbon based energy production is necessary.  Yes, governmental policies and incentives to promote and reward energy-based solutions are also necessary.  Yes, the examples offered in Paul Hawkin's groundbreaking new book are essential guidelines.  But in the end, it seems, we also must change our consumptive, energy intensive lifestyles. 

In the absence of US governmental leadership, it seems to me, we must become leaders and model ways of living that will inspire our neighbors and policy makers to do the same.  Meaningful and sustainable change often comes from individuals and small groups of exemplar/activists.  

URI CCs are well-positioned to provide this leadership.  So, let's support each other as we try to model the change we'd like to see in the world.  Let's explore how we collectively can impact our elected officials and those who vote them into office.  Let's highlight the confluence between the world's spiritual teachings and the needs of our contemporary environmental, social and economic futures.

Philippa Rowland, Multifatih Association of South Australia (URI Southeast Asia and the Pacific): 

It is an important moment to re-commit ourselves to conscious collaboration and encouraging all to deepen our engagement within our own faith circles & in the wider world.

I've felt for several years now that tackling the threats posed to so many by unchecked climate change requires us to take action at the personal, the community and the political level - while to act in a manner that resonates with our spiritual calling requires us to steady and centre ourselves before calling on others to shift.

Given the tide of change unleashed by the Paris Agreement (195 countries signed, 146 ratified at unprecedented speed) is already underway, I feel it may help to maintain both hope & momentum by keeping the signs of positive change within sight, without denying the potential of Trump's withdrawal to slow this down (eg in response to a question about whether India will side with the Paris Agreement, Indian PM Modi said "it is not a question of which way I go. I will go with the future generations ... we must leave for our future generations a climate wherein they can breathe clean air and have a healthy life."

In Australia, we are in the midst of a national faith-led climate petition going to all Federal elected members - perhaps more people of faith may become engaged by taking that simple step of asking their own local politicians to speak out and act on climate...

John Denker, Interfaith Council at Stapelton (URI North America) and the Environmental Network CC (URI Multiregion): 

There is a lot of progression toward carbon dioxide reduction going on by individuals and communities in this country. A lot of cities have stated that they will continue to abide by the Paris Accords. A large number of U.S. Americans are for the Paris Accords, if not a majority. Last week for example, Denver not only committed itself to the Paris Accords, but the Public Utilities Commission has told Xcel Energy that it must factor the cost of carbon emissions when comparing the cost of natural gas versus wind and solar. Thus, making wind and solar more competitive. Note that twenty percent of Xcel's energy in Colorado already comes from renewables.

However, to be honest there are also some hard truths that we have to face. That is that one cannot simply sign an accord or treaty, or campaign for a certain presidential candidate in hope that change will occur quickly. Donald Trump in his election campaign stated quite clearly that he would take the U.S., as a national entity, out of the Paris Accords. President Obama never attempted to submit the Accords to the Senate as a treaty. Why? Look at last fall's election map. Thirty-two out of the fifty states went for Trump. Look at an election map at the county level. It is a sea of red with a few small island of blue even in states that went for Hillary. Each state has two senators. This means Wyoming has as much pull as California in the Senate that approves treaties. Guess how many of Wyoming's senators would vote "yes" on the Paris Accords if President Obama would have submitted it as a treaty. I don't have to tell you, and remember there were thirty-two states that went for Trump.

My point is not to say that all is lost, but URI has to be the grassroots organization that it is mean to be. It cannot simply be grassroots on the coasts and forget the heartland of the country. People in the heartland value freedom including economic freedom. However, after living in this part of the world for six-four years and having been a range ecologist for thirty years, I can tell you that they are very much conservationists and environmentalists. But, to them global climate change is just an abstraction, even though they might have felt some of its effects. They believe global warming or climate change is an excuse for elitists in New York and San Francisco to make government bigger  and  yes, corporations bigger, so government and their friends in corporate America may take more of their freedom and money. This message rings especially true in the Midwest in times when much of the working middle class is not middle class anymore. They are poor. And, giving food stamps is not what they want. In there minds it just puts them in more forced servitude to an ever growing machine.

All this being said, the people in the middle, not just the middle of the country but the middle of California, have probably the most to gain from renewables. The things that T.H. Culhane is doing to develop sustainable energy for individual households and small communities is amazing. These innovations, inventions, could be used in most of rural America and not just in places as the Middle East or Africa. These energy sources represent not only a cost saving but FREEDOM from government/corporate sources of energy. Wind and solar power are more suited to rural areas in the Rocky Mountains and Midwest than they are in large cities because one doesn't find skyscrapers and multiple housing units. One finds individual homes with lots of sunlight and wind. And, these sources of power are clean. And, believe it or not ecologically sound practices, as well as, freedom are important to these people.

This country can work together towards the goal of the Paris Accords, but messaging is all important. If one talks about freedom, people in the red states will listen. If one talks about global warming, as they say in New York, forget about it. And, don't think government can force them into doing what they don't want. Remember Hillary's "deplorables"  have thirty-two states with six-four senators, and she had eighteen states with only thirty-six senators. If one listens to Fox News and talk radio, one know why President Trumps remove the U.S. from the Paris Accords. His political base including a lot of Democrats would have crucified him.  

In short I think there are some really positive things to tell our CCs around the world, but there is also a lot of work to do in communicating and organizing. And, I think URI and the ERCC is well suited for the task.”

Frances Aubrey, 350 Bay Area (Friend of the Environmental Network CC):

What I’ve come to that’s needed right now from everyone are: love, mindfulness, and gratitude. Those are what have kept me going for many years. Any action or words that do not come from those places will probably fall on deaf ears and be ineffective. Trump’s distorted and unloving personality comes, I believe, from not being loved. That is what creates narcissism. Not being loved makes us unhuman – unable to love or allow ourselves to be loved – and Trump’s decisions and policies, devoid of empathy or consideration of others’ needs, demonstrates how unloved he was as a child. HIs decisions and policies lack humanity. But we all have elements of being unloved, and some distortions – some wounds – as a result. So healing, much healing, is needed, I think, for all of us. Perhaps we humans have unconsciously created climate change in order to provide us with a catalyst for change, for the healing of the human race. A drug addict or alcoholic usually has to “hit bottom” before he or she will get help. Maybe we are in the process of hitting bottom as a species.

I’ve also been thinking about what role the established religions can play in healing all of us and the Earth (the two are inextricable). Since I have never studied religion, just invented what I need of a faith in a Higher Power, I don’t have an answer. But in history, few representatives of religions have made much of a positive difference. Or am I wrong? Certainly a few have. Maybe only a few is enough. Most are, like the rest of us, too cowardly to carry out the values they espouse. Certainly Pope Francis is one exception. I’d like to listen to more of Karen Armstrong’s lectures.

So it’s possible that religion will fail us utterly, or the universe/God/Higher Power will come through in some miraculous way (a miracle is clearly needed), or perhaps some other form of faith and belief will develop that responds to our present crisis in new and unimagined ways. Joseph Conrad said we need a new religion, by which he also meant we need a new paradigm. Or vice versa, I don’t recall exactly. That is what needs to emerge, and probably is emerging, although it’s very difficult to discern whether it is emerging, if we’re in the middle of the process.

What about the idea of inviting a miracle, after going through some mourning and healing and prayers and gratitude? We are told to ask for what we need.

Kiran Bali MBE JP, URI Global Council Trustee Chair, speaks on the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change outside the United Nations.