GreenFaith Leader Fletcher Harper Charts Global Transition

On January 7 nearly 50 citizens gathered in Summit's Calvary Episcopal Church to hear Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, share his experience of the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, and discuss ways to lead transformative change for the improved health of the planet. Called Climate CrossRoads, the event was presented by Interweave, the Summit-based learning community, as well as Summit GreenFaith Circle, a collaborative initiative involving diverse Summit congregations in sustainability projects.

As head of a national interfaith environmental coalition, Harper has been on the frontline of environmental activism. An influential organizer of the September 2014 People’s Global Climate March that drew 400,000 to Manhattan, he was instrumental in organizing the event’s multi-faith worship service.

Harper reviewed recent developments in fossil fuel divestment. By 2011, a new generation of activist college students had started a movement for divestment in universities, recalling the divestment movement aimed at ending South Africa’s apartheid.  Harper called author and environmental activist Bill McKibben’s subsequent 2012 Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” a game changer. 

McKibben drew attention to the sobering fact that the proven reserves of fossil fuel, if burned, would release five times the amount of carbon dioxide permissible if the global temperature rise were to be kept below 2 degrees Celsius. No financial analyst had properly “done the math.”

As pension funds and philanthropic funds such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund began to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy, climate awareness increased. In 2013 the Church of England divested from coal, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced a 1-day climate summit to take place in September 2014, a day before the annual UN General Assembly.  Mobilizing for the People’s Climate March in Manhattan took off nationwide.  Harper noted that the 2014 March, with its wide array of participants, from atheists and Hari Krishnas to the seminarians at New York’s Auburn Theological Seminary and their Noah’s ark float, showed that environmental awareness had become mainstream.   

Turning to local events in anticipation of the Paris talks, Harper related that marches were organized in 40 US cities prior to the COP21 gathering. He lauded Yeb Saño, a former climate negotiator for the Philippines, for his inspirational leadership.  


Saño had stepped down from his diplomatic role because he felt that he could do more as a citizen activist.  He led a team that walked from Rome to Paris through the Alps, a 1,500-kilometer 59-day “People’s Pilgrimage for the Climate.”

Harper reviewed three outcomes from the world gathering in Paris. The signatory nations agreed
1)    that global warming must be limited to 2 degrees Centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which will require a significant global decrease in carbon emissions
2)   to a collective funding of $100 billion per year in support of clean energy initiatives
3)   to revisit ‘climate change’ and this agreement every five years, starting in 2023

Harper speculated that had the US and China not taken a leadership role in driving forward to a global agreement, COP21 might have ended quite differently.

To live more sustainably, Harper advocated that citizens take steps to convert their homes, businesses, and houses of worship to clean energy providers; New Jersey is a leader in clean energy offerings, and there are many options. He also suggested rethinking how we invest our personal wealth. A socially responsible investment portfolio can be a leadership step. Rethinking how one commutes, increasing use of bicycles for local travel, planting a garden as a local food source, purchasing less, avoiding excess packaging, using less electricity, and conserving water are among the ways we can all reduce our carbon footprint.   

Harper noted also that Summit is the first community to form a GreenFaith Circle of interfaith leaders, and praised the community for its environmental stewardship. A lively conversation on shifting to clean energy ensued, with discussion of wind, solar, and geothermal options and practicalities.

In summing up, Harper echoed Yeb Saño’s shift from climate diplomat to climate citizen-activist. Politicians, Harper said, follow social movements. “They move when it’s safe.” It’s up to faith groups and community activists to lead. 

In other words, reducing carbon emissions and transitioning to renewable energy sources will be up to all of us.

Betsy LaVela is Director of Splash! Interfaith Camps, and a GreenFaith Fellow. Marian Glenn is a Professor of Biology at Seton Hall University.