From Pope Francis to Green Muslims, faith groups steadfast in push for clean energy


Photo and story by Kari Lydersen

Rev. Booker Steven Vance took to the pulpit in historic Old St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Chicago on June 22 to praise Pope Francis’ ground-breaking encyclical on climate change and sustainability.

Vance attached a very concrete and local element to the Pope’s sweeping call to action. He and other religious and environmental leaders hosting a press conference declared that passing a proposed Clean Jobs bill in the Illinois legislature is one way the Pope’s call to action should be answered.

“The encyclical provides an opportunity for a game-changer, bringing this conversation to a whole new level,” said Vance. “I’m talking about the bill downstate in Springfield that deals with clean air, clean energy and clean jobs. The pope is absolutely correct, we are responsible and the onus falls on us.”

That same evening 90 miles north in Milwaukee, the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin, also known as the Wisconsin Green Muslims, gathered to break the Ramadan fast together while also talking about a spiritual obligation to care for the earth, in part by reducing carbon emissions and embracing a more sustainable lifestyle.

Local leaders described how the Islamic Society of Milwaukee –one of nearly 30 mosques enrolled in this year's national Greening Ramadan campaign – has overhauled its buildings with LED lights, skylights, a green roof, motion sensors and special faucets to conserve energy and water. Energy efficiency is one of the requirements to be recognized as a Greening Ramadan Mosque in the national campaign, in addition to food and water conservation, using green products and reducing waste.

A crowning achievement for the Islamic Society of Milwaukee would be installing solar panels on the 107,000-square foot roof of the society’s largest building, leaders say.

But this will be difficult to do financially given the solar policies instituted by We Energies, including increased fixed charges on customers with solar installations and a low rate for solar energy sent back to the grid.

Protecting the environment has long been a tenet of many faiths, from indigenous spiritual practices around the globe to the world’s major organized religions. Today, faith-based action on clean energy has the power to influence individual behavior and also government policy. These two snapshots show how different faiths are embracing this role, and also how long the road can sometimes be.

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