Student Engagement in Climate Justice

Center for Climate Justice and Faith at COP27

12 November 2022, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt: Young delegates from the Lutheran World Federation chant 'What do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now!

12 November 2022, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt: Young delegates from the Lutheran World Federation (Shede Habila and Anania Ndondole on right) chant ‘What do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now!’

January 18, 2023

In November 2022, several students and faculty from the PLTS Center for Climate Justice and Faith traveled to Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27).

Shede Habila joined the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) youth delegation to COP27 as one of eight LWF youth delegates to attend in-person. Shede earned his Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith from the PLTS Center for Climate Justice and Faith in Spring 2022 and is leading a reforestation initiative in his community in Yola, Nigeria. As a member of the Lutheran Church of Christ of Nigeria, Shede has seen the impacts of the climate crisis firsthand and understands the urgency in solving it.

“We are here to push and advocate for the governments to put more effort in addressing the global climate crisis… The right time to act is now”. Said Shede Habila

Anania Ndondole from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania was another one of the eight in-person youth delegates with the Lutheran World Federation. Anania completed the Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith with Shede Habila in Spring 2022 and is a leader for climate justice in the ELCT.

“Young people must raise their voice for climate justice and a future on this planet,” said Anania Ndondole. “Young people must be ambassadors of change.”

Regina Banks, an MDiv student at PLTS in the Concentration in Climate Justice and Faith, also attended COP27 as a representative of the ELCA in her role as the Director of Lutheran Office of Public Policy in California. In an interview with Texas Impact, Regina shared the role reversal she experienced at COP27. In California, Regina is accustomed to advocating on behalf of low-income, marginalized communities of color who are most impacted by fossil fuels. At COP27 she was the one with more power and marginalized communities were pushing her to act to push the U.S. government to act. See her powerful interview here:

Rev. Dr. Chad Rimmer of Lutheran World Federation helped coordinate the delegation from LWF. Chad was instrumental in developing the Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith and serves as a learning guide for the program. Learn more about the Lutheran World Federation’s work at COP27 here.

Climate Action and Mitigation Sustainability Initiative in Yola, Nigeria

Pastor Habila Shede leading faith leaders in reforesting their community

December 16, 2022

Where Pastor Shede Habila lives in Nigeria, 90% of the population are small-scale farmers. Deforestation of land for agriculture combined with severe climate change-induced downpours has led to erosion and flooding which threaten the livelihood of the entire community. For his Sacred Action Project for the Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith, Pastor Habila launched The CAMSI (Climate Action and Mitigation Sustainability Initiative) Project. This initiative is designed to inform the local community of the long-term impacts of deforestation and start planting trees as a community in order to combat erosion.

To launch the CAMSI Project, Pastor Habila organized a three-day seminar for the youth in his area to talk about climate action and plant trees together. More than 45 youth, women, and men attended the three-day seminar. Elders in the community shared just how much their community’s environment has changed over the years, youth shared their hopes for the future, the entire group studied scripture together, and then everyone made a commitment to work together to reforest their community. At the end of the three days together, the community planted dozens of trees and one of the church councils committed to starting a garden on the church premises. Pastor Habila hopes this seminar will prevent future deforestation in his community and inspire people to plant more trees on their land.

Pastor Habila is earning his Masters Arts Theology Degree in Christian Ethics at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria. He believes that action on climate change is sacred action because God calls us to care for creation.

Community Organizing Project: Protagonists of Transformation

August 30, 2022

When Pope Francis charged young adults in the Catholic Church to “be protagonists of transformation”, Anna Robertson took note. Until July of 2022, Anna served as the first Director of Youth and Young Adult Mobilization at Catholic Climate Covenant and recently completed the Community Organizing for Climate Justice as Love in Action training. For her final project, Anna designed the Common Home Corps, a cohort-based mentorship program to build a youth movement for climate justice within the Catholic Church. The goal of this program is to “equip and inspire young people across the U.S. Catholic sphere to be protagonists of transformation toward a society shaped by integral ecology”.

Throughout her time at the Covenant, Anna heard from both young adults in the U.S. Catholic community and those who accompany them in ministry that climate change is a concern, and climate justice a priority. These insights are consistent with findings from a study from Springtide Research Institute which found that 75% of young Catholics (ages 13-25) are concerned about the environment. Anna used the mentored 12-week practice phase of the community organizing training as an opportunity to explore what kinds of programs could equip both Catholic young adults with the tools to constructively engage in climate justice work and those engaged in young adult ministry with the practical and pastoral tools to accompany young adults in moving through climate anxiety toward meaningful action rooted in faith. What emerged from the series of one-to-one meetings Anna conducted for the course in conversation with Kelly Marciales, her assigned mentor for the course, was Common Home Corps, a project plan for engaging small, local cohorts of Catholic young adults in faith-based community organizing training focused on bringing about climate justice in the Church and world.

With 17,000 parishes, billions of USD in endowments, and millions of acres of land, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has the potential to make an incredible impact for climate justice. Anna believes that the youth and young adults in the Catholic Church have the power to push the Church into action and has found that leaders in the Catholic Church agree.

“Bishops are not normally young people, but we are like Grandfathers, and grandfathers normally listen to their granddaughters and grandsons. They have very close relationships to their granddaughters and grandsons. So please, the young people: Tell your Grandfather Bishop about [fossil fuel] divestment”, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich.

Sacred Action Project: Climate Conversations in Maryland

July 12, 2022

For his Sacred Action Project for the Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith, Larry Ryan set out to help congregations throughout his synod start conversations around climate justice. As a member of the ELCA Maryland-Delaware Synod’s Creation Care Team, Larry was interested in hearing from synod members about their thoughts on creation care. To gather their input, Larry led small group conversations with four congregations via zoom where 26 participants discussed the church’s role in creation care, shared their visions for how the church could be more engaged, and voiced their concerns about the future.

These fruitful conversations provided a space for congregants to begin these conversations about a topic not normally discussed at church: climate change.

“The 26 people who participated in these four Zoom meetings on creation care witnessed to the glories of God from the gifts we have been given in creation. They not only witnessed to me, but to the others who participated. All of us came away with new appreciation for creation and a hopefulness that we will be able to be the good stewards God is calling us to be,” Larry said.

Larry is hopeful that these conversations will help inform the work of the synod’s Creation Care Team and build a movement for climate justice throughout the synod.

Shut Down Red Hill in Hawai'i

clipping of statement from newspaperJune 3, 2022

During World War II, the U.S. Navy built a fuel storage facility into a hill in the Kapūkakī (Red Hill) area on Oʻahu, near Pearl Harbor, in order to save these fuel reserves from aerial attack. Nearly 80 years later, fifteen of these tanks are still in operation directly above one of O’ahu’s main freshwater aquifers.

Since 2014, more than 55,000 gallons of fuel from these tanks have leaked into the surrounding ground and groundwater. After the most recent leak in November 2021, petroleum was detected in the water at the Red Hill Elementary school and the Pearl Harbor/Hickam military base even after repeated communication from the U.S. Navy insisting the water was safe to drink. In the first days of December, it was confirmed that the Red Hill well was contaminated. About 4,000 military families who relied on this well were displaced for months. Some were sickened and hospitalized.

Rev. Brianna Lloyd, Associate Pastor at Lutheran Church of Honolulu, participated in the Center for Climate Justice and Faith’s Community Organizing for Climate Justice as Love in Action training. For her final project, Shut Down Red Hill, Brianna is building an interfaith movement to advocate for the full closure and removal of the Red Hill Storage Facility. As part of this project, Brianna worked with faith leaders to publish a full-page statement in Hawaii’s biggest newspaper the Star Advertiser calling for the closure of the facilityThis statement was signed by 150 faith leaders from around the islands and served as a launching point for the larger campaign which Brianna is continuing to lead.

Sacred Action Project: Speech into Action in Zimbabwe

May 26, 2022

Everywhere you look in Zimbabwe, you are reminded of the climate crisis. From shrinking lakes to parched farms to electricity shortages caused by low water flow, everyone is impacted by a devastating, climate change-induced drought. In a nation where an estimated 40% of the population lives below the poverty line (less than $1.90 per person per day), these impacts are especially hard hitting.

Arthurage Abureni is a youth member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe and a recent graduate in the Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith. When asked why he applied for the certificate, he said, “The quest to act from a position of knowledge made me apply… My passion for climate justice rests on the desire to live today with tomorrow in mind; this way, we can inherit a sustainable future for those who will come after us.”

For his capstone “Sacred Action Project”, Arthurage wanted to educate and mobilized young adults to get involved in climate action and “become the change they want to see”. The response was overwhelming. On April 18th – Easter Monday and Zimbabwe’s Independence Day – more than 113 young adults (they had hoped for 60) attended a workshop Arthurage organized on independence and climate justice. The event explored the intersection of Easter and Independence and asked the question, “Is our environment free from human-inflicted pollution and degradation?”.

As a result of this event and a Palm Sunday sermon Arthurage gave, the congregation decided to plant palm trees during the Dean of their Diocese’s visit in May. Their goal was to demonstrate their commitment to climate justice to the larger church and hopefully inspire action in other parts of the diocese.

Arthurage sees many opportunities to continue engaging the young people in his community and find ways to help their community adapt to the drought. These opportunities include food security solutions such as bee-keeping, market gardening, and hydroponic farming; Waste management and recycling solutions to reduce pollution; and increased renewable energy to provide livelihoods, reduce pollution, and improve access to electricity.

Sacred Action Project: Love for Creation in Nigeria

Sabi Elizabeth with colleaguesSabiElizabethwithstudents

May 19, 2022

Sabi Elizabeth Aitiya began her Sacred Action Project for the Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith by bringing together frontline congregations and faith-based organizations in her community in Yola, Nigeria to mobilize for education, reflection, action, and advocacy for climate justice. So far, her initiative, Love for Creation, has brought together more than five congregations.

“Through this collaboration we, as people of faith, hope to make a meaningful contribution in the next decade towards a sustainable future for all life on the planet”, she said, “Our contribution seeks to address the root causes of the climate emergency while also supporting those who are most impacted by it. Our contribution will also respond to feelings of ecological grief and eco-anxiety through pastoral care and ceremony, building community resilience, and by taking collective action for climate justice.”

In addition to her outreach to congregations, Sabi has organized “Climate teach-ins” in schools and youth organizations in her community bringing information about the causes, impacts, and solutions to climate change to dozens of students.

“This course really gave me more insight and better understanding of what it means to love what God has created and has given us the authority to care, protect and preserve.”

PLTS Students at the U.N. Global Climate Summit (COP26) in Glasgow

Two students from the Climate Justice and Faith Concentration, Kelly Miller-Sanchez and Julie Gerrish, were official members of the ELCA delegation to the UN Climate Change Conference known as COP 26 (the Paris Climate Summit was COP 20) in Glasgow, Scotland October 31 – November 12, 2021.

Thousands of delegates representing NGOs (non-governmental organizations, what we in the U.S. call non-profits) from around the globe were present to influence negotiations. Julie and Kelly were among these NGO representatives pressuring governmental representatives to make bold commitments to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions AND support policies that prioritize the well-being of climate vulnerable people, particularly Indigenous communities.


IMAGE: Julie Gerrish, PLTS student in the Concentration in Climate Justice and Faith (right) participates in an action at COP26 calling for a “Loss and Damages” fund to help vulnerable nations recover from climate disasters. Photo: Simon Chambers/ACT

Hein-Fry Book of Faith Challenge

Kaylie H. Ines, the first graduate from the PLTS Concentration in Climate Justice and Faith was selected to present her internship project for the Hein-Fry Book of Faith Challenge.  Her project – begun as a directed study for the Concentration – is entitled: “Hope Remains: A Creation Care Faith Study”.

PLTS students in Climate Justice and Faith concentration speak at Faiths 4 Climate Justice

In Fall 2021, PLTS students Julie Gerrish, Rayjenee Roberts, and Tori Valcarcel spoke about a Lutheran perspective on climate justice at a Faiths 4 Climate Justice interfaith event overlooking oil refineries in Contra Costa County, CA.

See more images

PLTS students join ‘Rise for Climate’ march in San Francisco

PLTS students joined thousands of Bay Area residents in marching through the streets of San Francisco demanding climate action.

Climate Change, Gender Justice, and the Power of Art series

PLTS student in the Concentration in Climate Justice and Faith, Julie Gerrish, worked with the Women’s Studies in Religion project at the Graduate Theological Union and the Center for Arts & Religion to organize an online event series, “Climate Change, Gender Justice, and the Power of Art” in Spring 2021. Click here to view the inaugural event.

Climate Change, Gender Justice and the Power of Art: Poetry

Climate Change, Gender Justice, and the Power of Art: Dance

Lutheran Wave of Prayer for Climate Justice

As part of the GreenFaith Sacred People, Sacred Earth Day of Action, The Center for Climate Justice and Faith joined alongside people of all faith backgrounds to pray for climate justice. In Partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Lutherans Restoring Creation, and the Lutheran World Federation, PLTS student in the Concentration in Climate Justice and Faith student, Tori Valcarcel, organized the Lutheran community to join together in prayer.

Download the flyer and prayer here

It’s Not Easy Being Green

PLTS student in the Concentration in Climate Justice and Faith, Julie Gerrish, shares her musical talents and passion for climate justice at PLTS Adventfest 2019.