Episcopalians march to ‘End Fossil Fuels’ ahead of UN climate summit

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Sep 18, 2023

Episcopalians participated in the March to End Fossil Fuels on Sept. 17, 2023, in New York. Photo: Phoebe Chatfield

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians joined some 75,000 people who participated in the March to End Fossil Fuels Sept. 17 in New York.

The march took place three days before delegates are scheduled to convene at the U.N. headquarters Sept. 20 for a climate action summit. The summit’s goal is to push countries “to accelerate action by governments, business, finance, local authorities and civil society.”

A coalition of local and national organizations, including GreenFaith, planned the march, which featured speeches from politicians and celebrities. Protestors focused intently on the fossil fuel industry for the first time, according to news reports. The march wasn’t an official event observed by The Episcopal Church, but according to Phoebe Chatfield, program associate for creation care and justice, Episcopalians from more than 21 different congregations and over seven dioceses attended the march.

“There’s no higher duty than to be stewards of Earth,” said Darren Glenn, a member of the Diocese of Long Island’s creation care leadership team. “Our journey of spirituality is a journey of reconciliation, and part of that reconciliation needs to happen with our relationship with the planet.”

U.N Secretary-General António Guterres called for this week’s climate action summit in 2022, setting countries’ participation requirement at having a concrete plan to phase out fossil fuels. It’s a requirement that rules out U.S. participation, the Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, an international, community-led climate and environmental organization based in New York, told ENS. 

“The United States does not have anything approaching that kind of plan … and that’s utterly unacceptable, from any kind of spiritual, ethical, moral perspective you want to take,” he said.

The United States is making a slow transition to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energies. Fossil fuels still dominate energy production. In 2022, fossil fuels — coal, natural gas and petroleum — accounted for 81% of the United States’ energy production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

When nonrenewable fossil fuels are burned, they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the air and water. Those emissions heat the Earth, and pollution byproducts pose a health hazard to humans and wildlife.

While fossil fuels continue to be used worldwide, human-induced climate change is exacerbating the number and severity of natural disasters. In September 2023, heavy rains caused by Storm Daniel in the Mediterranean caused two dams in Libya to collapse, killing thousands of people; two months prior, days of heavy rainfall flooded communities in Vermont. Conversely, an unprecedented series of deadly wildfires broke out in Hawaiʻi in August, and wildfires have been burning across Canada since March.

Transitioning to clean energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental pollutants that impact humans and wildlife. In July 2022, General Convention committed The Episcopal Church to carbon neutrality in all its facilities and operations by 2030. Some parishes have already met that goal.

Episcopalians joined some 75,000 people who participated in the March to End Fossil Fuels Sept. 17, 2023, in New York. Photo: Phoebe Chatfield

Allegra Lovejoy, ministry assistant for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, told ENS that the March to End Fossil Fuels occurred during “such a critical time for our planet.” Lovejoy led the diocese’s organizing team for the march.

“So many of our Episcopal churches are facing social justice challenges, economic challenges, etc., that we’re facing, but [human-induced climate change] affects everyone, and this affects our future and future generations,” she said. “As a community, we have all the intelligence, all the technology and all the money to completely change what we’re doing to the climate.”

On Sept. 20, The Episcopal Church and 11 other faith organizations will host “Taking Stock of our Ambition: Faith-based Climate Action at the United Nations” at the Episcopal Church Center in New York to introduce the “global stocktake” and other U.N. processes for climate action. The event will run concurrently with the U.N.’s climate action summit. The event is open to the public, and participants can choose to attend either in person or via Zoom.

Episcopalians’ environmental advocacy is ongoing. The church plans to launch its Love God, Love God’s World film-based creation care curriculum in October. The curriculum will be a story-driven tool designed to help Episcopalians learn about creation care.

The curriculum will include nine sessions and is intended for adults. More information can be found on the Love God, Love God’s World website.

Meanwhile, Christians around the world, including Episcopalians, are currently observing the ecumenical Season of Creation, a time of engaging in dialogue, prayer and action to protect Earth’s natural resources. The Season of Creation started on Sept. 1 — the World Day of Prayer — and will conclude on Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis, the patron saint of ecology.

“This is a moment when faith communities have to decide it is not enough for our churches to go solar — or to reduce your automobile travel and your air travel, and to use renewable energy to power your home wherever possible,” Harper said. “It’s good that they do, but we need society and the world to go solar, and that requires a social movement.”

Episcopalians can learn more about the church’s commitment to addressing the global climate crisis on the Covenant for the Care of Creation’s website.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.