Religious Youth To Obama: ‘Creation Care Is A Swing Vote For Many Evangelicals’

by Catherine Woodiwiss

This week, students from four Christian colleges went to the White House for a briefing with officials from the EPA and the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. Their message: Climate change and clean air is a driver of their votes.

“We want to tell the White House that creation care is a swing vote for many Evangelicals,” said Chelsea Watkins, a young coordinator of the demonstration from Houston, TX.

At the gathering, students joined young environmental advocates, NGOs, and faith leaders in unveiling a giant quilted topographic map of the United States, sewn together from recycled clothes donated from around the country. Many also donned shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Green the Golden Rule.”

“You can’t remove the topsoil or destroy the watershed and love your neighbor. It doesn’t compute,” said Tyler Amy, coordinator of Renewal, a youth-minded sustainability-focused group that brought students together for the day of advocacy.

“If [Congress] is not listening to the EPA, maybe they’ll listen to us,” said Amy. “That’s the beauty of our democracy. Young people can make a difference.”

Officials agreed. “We all care about stewardship,” said Drew Elons, Director of Outreach and Public Relations for the EPA. “Destructive environmental practices cause massive public health concerns, and health affects education and the economy – for many of us, these things translate into moral issues.”

Students unfurl a giant, quilted topographic map.

But some students also had tough questions for the government. Tess Beckwith, a senior at Eastern College in Philadelphia, pointedly asked EnergySTAR’s National Manager for Small Business and Congregations whether the White House itself met qualifications to be EnergySTAR certified, to which he had no answer. “I just want change to be genuine,” said Beckwith later. “If we’re going to fix things we have to start at home, and [the White House] is a major building in the US.”

The question reflected the sincerity of the group gathered, which collectively voiced support for the EPA and the need to make climate change a campaign issue in 2012.

Deb Fikes, Executive Advisor for the World Evangelical Alliance and a coordinator of the event, expressed regret on behalf of her generation and offered encouragement to the young people gathered. “I am grieved by my generation of Christians,” she said from the podium. “We haven’t been doing what we need to be doing. … What are school textbooks going to say about what we did in our lifetime to make a difference? You here are going to write that chapter.”

From here, Fikes will escort the quilted map to Dallas Baptist University and to colleges around the country. The map is designed to be interactive and will feature energy sources for each new region visited. The creative and unconventional idea, says map creator Hannah Kim, will invite people to connect and start “thinking outside the box.”

The briefing was coordinated as a symbolic action by the World Evangelical Alliance and the religious network Christians for Environmental Stewardship. This was the second of several days of action on environmental issues organized by the faith community during Earth Week.

Catherine Woodiwiss is a Special Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

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One Response to Religious Youth To Obama: ‘Creation Care Is A Swing Vote For Many Evangelicals’

  1. Jerry Lawson says:

    Hi Catherine,

    I appreciate the overall positive tone of your blog, but am disappointed by the attitude conveyed to you by one attendee. First, I was there speaking for Energy Star only as the National Manager for Small Business and Congregations, the sectors for which I have expertise.

    So, there was no “National Manager for Energy Star.” The inaccurate, broader title implies a staff person that might have known about federal buildings. My correct title was on the printed agenda and I spoke only about worship facilities. I think that was clear to the rest of the audience.

    Second, federal buildings are an entirely different type of facility for which I did not pretend expertise. My understanding is that energy efficiency at the White House is the responsibility of the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) at the Department of Energy. The only report I can find for its status is dated 2006 at If I can find anything more recent, I will send it.

    It was said, “If we’re going to fix things we have to start at home, and (the White House) is a major building in the U.S.” I don’t see how “home” equates to a “major” U.S. building. “Home” seems more like my target audience of local congregations and their member’s homes, of which I spoke and provided resources for action.

    So, not hearing the message about starting, literally, in homes and local houses of worship, the “tough question” wandered into what is one the most complex, technically sophisticated buildings in the world, as if it’s energy use was a simple matter.

    I pointed out that the White House is essentially a “campus” or complex of buildings. The Energy Star rating is based on comparing very similar buildings to one another based on k/Btu energy use per square foot. I have no idea what the peer group of buildings for the White House would be. Just imagine the sophisticated (energy-intensive) electronics for security and communications that are unique to the White House. How could its energy footprint (may well be classified information) be said to be “starting at home?” For fear of wasting limited time available, boring the audience and embarrassing the person who asked the question, I did not take time to elaborate as I have here.

    There is no doubt the young woman was sincere in her question, but everyone else I spoke to afterwards “got” my message.

    I shared that Energy Star’s “Portfolio Manager” tool (see ) can accurately create the “baseline” and track worship facility energy use, costs and greenhouse gas emissions. I stated that worship facilities can, and have, cut energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively by 25 to 30%. I gave our estimate that nearly $1 billion can be recovered for the ministry and missions of the faith community, while simultaneously preventing nearly 4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. I assume this was not conveyed to you as blog-worthy information.

    I suggest that the real story is not an overly simple question about White House energy use, but rather what can be accomplished by the college students in the audience in their homes, dorm rooms and worship facilities.

    Those who spoke with me after the briefing planned to take action using Energy Star’s free tools for their houses of worship (, to educate congregation members on home energy savings ( and work places (

    Recognized by EPA for already taking action are:
    • 103 college residence halls that have earned the Energy Star. (Listed at )

    • Twenty-four worship facilities have earned the Energy Star – listed at

    • About 40 congregations have achieved awards from Energy Star – listed at

    More on federal buildings, if you are interested:
    • 2012 National Building Competition: Federal Buildings. See White House press release at
    • Energy Star for Federal Agencies. See
    • Federal Energy Management Program at DOE. See
    • Federal buildings: See
    • Military: See
    • LEDs on the Mall: See

    Anyway, thanks for the general interest in the topic and let me know if I can be of any help.

    Jerry Lawson, National Manager
    ENERGY STAR for Small Business and Congregations
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency