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.”
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.