There are Interfaith Power & Light chapters in 40 states, including North Carolina, and in Washington, D.C. The nonprofit organization has become a leading nationwide, faith-based player in the climate change debate. Photo: Interfaith Power & Light website


Not that long ago, chances are pretty good Interfaith Power & Light (IP&L) was not a household name in many homes in North Carolina...

The organization began in 1998 with Episcopal Power & Light and the support of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. It was, according to the website, “a unique coalition of Episcopal churches aggregated to purchase renewable energy.”

By 2000, though, the idea had caught on and expanded its mission, at least in California, and the Episcopalians had brought in other faith partners. It was re-christened as California Interfaith Power & Light, and the concept grew to include efforts to “educate … people of faith about the moral and ethical mandate to address global warming.” California IP&L helped pass California’s climate and clean energy laws.

And like many things that start in California, it didn’t just stay in the Golden State. There are now IP&L chapters in 40 states and Washington, D.C., and the 501(c)(3) organization has become a leading nationwide faith-based player in the climate change debate.

IP&L is now a part of more than 1,500 churches of various faiths,  and many thousands of people in them are involved in what they consider a moral imperative, perhaps the moral imperative, of our time: saving the planet.

One of those congregations is the Unitarian Coastal Fellowship in Morehead City, where member and leader Penny Hooper of Smyrna received a request in 2006 from a friend, Robert Meadows, an Episcopalian in Beaufort, for a venue in which to show Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Ms. Hooper, who was a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee at UCF, helped set it up for viewing there, became increasingly involved, and came to believe, she says now, that people of faith not only can be involved in fighting for the country’s efforts to address climate change, they must be, and can be among the most important players.

She’s now chairperson of the North Carolina IP&L Leadership Council.

“Every faith has as part of its basic tenants the responsibility to take care of creation,” she said. She added there is that other basic tenant about taking care of the poor, who for a variety of reasons, tend to suffer the worst effects of a warming and a more unstable planet. As stated in the King James Version of the Bible: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Hooper’s own faith, Unitarian-Universalism, expresses those things in a number of ways, including in its seven principles, two of which are:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person; and
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Mark Hooper, far left, and Penny attend a climate-change conference in New York. Photo: N.C. Interfaith Power & Light

But, Hooper said, UCF is far from alone in its support of IP&L and its goals in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Council of Churches, founded in 1935 and now representing about 1.5 congregants in churches of 18 faiths, has a link to North Carolina IP&L under the programs tab on its website. With urging from IP&L, the North Carolina Council of Churches on Sept. 17 adopted an anti-fracking resolution that states, in part, that “… any new investment in energy infrastructure based on the extraction of fossil fuels is morally reprehensible and, as people of faith, we believe it is an abuse of the God-given gift of creation for which we are charged to care.”

Why is this important to IP&L, the council of churches and others?

“This goes to the fact that if we build all these pipelines, then we will be beholden to burn fracked gas for 30-50 more years, rather than moving towards renewable energy throughout our state and nation,” Hooper said.

In that resolution, the council also states, “The Union of Concerned Scientists report(s) that burning fossil fuels shows us the visible cost to our ecosystem, but the hidden costs are much higher. Fracked gas is extremely dangerous. Besides being flammable, gas pipelines emit a significant source of methane emissions through leaks large and small, a material 84 times more detrimental to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. No pipeline is … leak-proof, no matter the guarantees …

“Furthermore, we wholeheartedly disagree with the process of fracking because of the extreme detrimental effects to the environment where this process occurs. It has been well documented that irreparable damage is caused to drinking water and to the seismic stability of the earth when this technique is put to use.”

What’s needed for the future of the planet and future generations of its inhabitants, Hooper believes, is a true paradigm shift, and IP&L is working toward that through education and programs. For example, there’s, “Cool Congregations,” in which IP&L provides education and tools for churches, and individuals in them, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions – and save money on energy bills.

Through a program known as “Cool Harvest” IP&L will help churches learn more about climate-friendly foods that are also healthier than the diets of many people, and will teach people how to plan and create sustainable vegetable gardens.

IP&L and its member churches will also do energy audits for homes and businesses. They work with power companies, such as Duke Energy and Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative, to bring in people trained to identify and help people implement energy-saving measures.

In addition, Hooper said, IP&L is involved in lobbying, urging congregations to send letters, individually and as groups, to legislators who can make a difference in the effort to limit or stop carbon emissions that lead to climate changes.

Recently, Hooper penned a letter to U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., R-N.C., thanking him for opposing oil and gas drilling and seismic testing off the North Carolina coast, but also urging him to join the House of Representatives Climate Solutions Caucus and sign on to House Resolution 195, which was started in September 2015 and has been supported by religious leaders who called for an interfaith moral “Call to Conscience on Climate Disruption.”

Hooper said in the letter that the resolution was “a timely response to Pope Francis’ address to the United States Congress following his release of his Papal Encyclical, “Laudato Si,” written earlier that year. I also know that you understand the risk climate change poses to our military in the form of increased destabilization across our nation and world,” she wrote. “Resolution 195 expresses the commitment of the House of Representatives to work constructively on creating and supporting economically viable and broadly supported solutions to measured changes in global and regional climates.”

Another issue Hooper and North Carolina IP&L have been working on involves state House Bill 589, which was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper after being passed by a big bipartisan majority in the state General Assembly. While it imposed an 18-month moratorium on wind energy development, which jeopardized as much as $1 billion in new investments by two wind projects in largely rural and economically distressed counties in the eastern part of the state, it also updated the state’s solar energy policy, and according to some, should make it easier for home and business owners to use solar.

Hooper and others deplore the wind energy moratorium. But she said she and North Carolina IP&L are working with Duke Energy on a program known as “Faith in Solar,” which aims to insure that H 589 gets interpreted by Duke Energy and the Utilities Commission “with houses of worship in mind, as well as the environmental justice Issues of installing new solar. We want to encourage putting solar in poor communities and in communities of color,” she said.

North Carolina IP&L is also involved in what the organization calls the Paris Pledge, which encourages signers to strive for a 50 percent carbon emission reduction by 2030 and sets a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. Interfaith Power & Light would like to see global nations commit to these levels.

Sally Bingham

IP&L’s founder and president, the Rev. Sally Bingham, hand delivered to UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon in Paris a long list of congregations and individuals who indicated they were willing to commit to the same carbon reduction level the group is asking nations to make.

In addition, UCF and other IP&L-affiliated congregations have adopted resolutions, or statements of conscience, urging the U.S. to get back into the Paris climate change accord.

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the country from that accord placed a new urgency on actions, Hooper said. The country, she added, needs to be involved, so at least it has a “seat at the table” in discussions that will continue among the other industrialized nations in the world whether the U.S. is involved or not.

All of these things that IP&L support, Hooper said, are meaningful individually, but are more important, larger than the sum of their parts, collectively.

And the wide variety of grassroots efforts initiated by people like Hooper in North Carolina IP&L draw praise from Bill Bradlee, the California-based affiliate services director for IP&L’s national office.

Bill Bradlee

“My sense is that N.C. IP&L is extremely effective,” he said. “They work a lot on the federal and state policy efforts, but they also undertake many efforts on the local level, both to affect policy and to engage people at that level and get them involved in the issues.”

N.C. IP&L, Bradlee said, builds coalitions and tries to work with some that might not seem to be natural allies. “It’s not just quality of the outreach, but also the quantity of the outreach,” he said.

He conceded it’s hard to quantify the influence of IP&L on decision-makers, but numbers matter, and the growth of the group in recent years has been significant. He does sense that when IP&L speaks or writes, the fact that it’s a faith-based organization resonates with many, and that makes a difference.

Bradlee thinks that despite some setbacks under the Trump Administration, the American people increasingly embrace the need to address the issues raised by climate change.

“It’s hard to see day-to-day or even month-to-month, but you can sense that it’s building, especially if you look at it year-to-year,” he said. “Our growth – we have affiliates in 40 states now – gives us more cachet when we talk to members of Congress or state legislatures, as well as to other faith leaders.

“We’re building a faith-based movement, and that’s hard and takes time,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s clear that once people get involved in such work, which they consider morally and spiritually important, they find it very fulfilling. They realize how important it is, and they don’t give up. They keep moving, step-by-step, and they’re not going to stop.”

For more information about what N.C. IP&L offers locally, contact Hooper at [email protected] or 252-729-2521.

Learn More

Interfaith Power and Light

Editor’s Note: Reporter Brad Rich is a member and past president of the Unitarian Coastal Fellowship in Morehead City.


original story HERE

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