Move away from fossil fuels, scientist tells Diocese of Los Angeles’ first climate change summit

By Pat McCaughan
Posted Sep 21, 2023

Lucy Jones, scientist and senior warden at St. James’ Church, South Pasadena, leads the diocese’s first Climate Change Summit, held on Sept. 16 at St. Paul’s Commons. Photo: Janet Kawamoto

[Diocese of Los Angeles] Moving from fossil fuel to electric energy is crucial for reducing carbon emissions to save the planet and can begin by simply switching appliances, Lucy Jones told attendees Sept. 16 at the first diocesan Climate Change Summit.

“Buy electric, instead of gas,” advised Jones, a member of the Los Angeles Bishop’s Commission on Climate Change, organizers of the event, which drew about 70 participants to St. Paul’s Commons and another 40 online. “If all of us made a pledge … to make our next car electric, our next stove induction, not gas … we’d meet our emissions goals.”

The summit focused on history, current status, Christian perspective and congregational resources to engage what Jones called “the greatest moral issue facing humanity.”

Describing her own faith journey in the light of her scientific training, Jones asked, “What does God demand of us when we are already looking at what’s happened to the climate?”

“We have very stressed ecosystems,” said Jones, who served for 33 years as a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. She is the senior warden at St. James Church in South Pasadena, one of several congregations creating a program to help congregations prepare for the natural disasters whose frequency is increasing because of climate change. The program will be made available soon, she said.

“Every ecosystem in the world is now receiving a different climate than it evolved to adapt to,” said Jones, the founder and chief scientist of the nonprofit Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society, which supports the application of science in the creation of more resilient communities. An accomplished musician, she has also launched “Tempo: Music for Climate Action,” a program designed to engage climate scientists, social scientists and musicians in creating music to inspire action on the climate crisis. Jones shared with the summit a video of a work she composed, titled “”In Nomine Terra Calens: In the name of a warming earth,” based on the rise of Earth’s temperature over the last 138 years (which is as long as such data has been recorded). The video may be viewed here.

Her work on the commission has involved increasing the Episcopal community’s adaptability and resiliency to the dynamic changes of the world around them.

The ongoing Canadian wildfires, along with recent blazes that destroyed Maui’s Lahaina district and flooding in Libya that killed thousands are just the beginning of what will become a worldwide crisis resulting in mass migrations, she said.

It’s already happening in Syria, for example, where delayed rainfall resulted in fewer crops, making some areas uninhabitable because they can no longer sustain food growth.

“It’s not just the civil war that’s driving people out of that region. The potential for real worldwide famine is significant,” Jones said. “Pandemics are a result of stressed ecosystems … There’s one estimate that within 50 years there will be a billion people who will need to choose between moving and dying. How are we going to handle them?”

The commission was launched in March 2022, following a Margaret Parker lecture given at diocesan convention by Mary Nichols, a parishioner of St. James’ in-the-City Church, Los Angeles, and a former longtime chair of the California Air Resources Board. Nichols addressed convention just after her return from the United Nations COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland. Her lecture may be seen on video here; an Episcopal News report is here.

Commission priorities include advocacy, education and preparedness for and responsiveness when natural disasters occur, as well as raising awareness of the intersection of food insecurity and racial justice. A list of commission resources is available on the diocesan website.

Canon to the Ordinary Melissa McCarthy, who chairs the commission, told The Episcopal News that planning is already underway for a second climate change summit, to be held in 2024. “All the presenters were spectacular,” she said. “We have so many great people in our diocese who are involved in climate action. It’s a gift to be able to learn from them. It was an inspiring day!” McCarthy led the planning team for the summit, with administrative support from Samantha Wylie, convention coordinator and member of the diocesan staff.

The full summit may be viewed here.