By Brittany Michalski & Autumn Ayers
Introducing Climate Stewards USA, a new program of A Rocha USA!
Climate Stewards USA is a program for individuals, communities, and organizations who want to take action on climate change and join us in making the world a healthier, fairer place for all creation. We offer tools to measure your carbon footprint, reduce emissions, and offset whatever is left in an ongoing journey towards carbon neutrality.
The science around climate change is clear: “Direct observations made on and above Earth’s surface show the planet’s climate is significantly changing. Human activities are the primary driver of those changes.” Without human intervention, our planet would be entering a cooling period. However, our actions–namely, the burning of fossil fuels–have enormously increased the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These gases act as a blanket over Earth, blocking heat from escaping and warming the planet.
Every aspect of our lives will be (and already is) affected by climate change, from air quality to food security to extreme weather events. Climate change is a threat multiplier, meaning that rising global temperatures can “exacerbate other drivers of insecurity.” When we take climate action, we are not only fighting for a safe and healthy environment, but we are also addressing refugee crises, economic insecurity, public health issues, global biodiversity decline, ocean acidification, and more.
Although there is cause for alarm, the choices we make now will significantly impact our future. As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explains, “We humans are the greatest uncertainty in the climate system.” And indeed, as Christians, we believe that the Bible “gives a clear mandate for humans to care for the environment – from individual species to the whole climate system.” At Climate Stewards USA, we invite individuals, churches, and other organizations to be a part of this change for a more resilient, safe, and thriving future.
So, where shall we begin? Climate action is a collective effort, so one of the most significant things we can do is talk about why we care: “We need to tell our school boards, city councils, clergy, and elected officials that we want to be part of the solution in stopping the climate crisis.” (Climate Stewards USA) In her book Saving Us, Katharine Hayhoe encourages readers to examine our values and hobbies–such as caring for our children, watching birds, or even skiing–and investigate how climate change will impact them. In this way, people “can see that caring about climate change is already integral to who they are.”
Climate Stewards USA offers a path forward for those looking to take responsibility for their carbon emissions. First, we conduct carbon footprint audits for a company, organization, or individual over a given year. Then, we suggest changes to reduce their carbon footprint, such as purchasing renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, and looking for ways to live more sustainably. This is a direct, immediate benefit to people and the planet.
The third step is to offset unavoidable carbon emissions by supporting our community projects. Ideally, we would achieve carbon neutrality, but we acknowledge that for now, our world is built on fossil fuel infrastructure. Climate Stewards is firm on reducing emissions first; otherwise, carbon offsetting is a sort of indulgence that perpetuates the destructive fossil fuel industry. Year after year, companies and individuals can make improvements to get closer to net-zero emissions. Comprehensive solutions for climate change will come from individual, collective, and government action.
To offset carbon emissions at home, we partner with nine carbon mitigation projects in six different countries. Each one is initiated and designed by local organizations to benefit health, family finances, and the local environment while respecting indigenous and other land rights. You might notice we intentionally chose projects in the global south. Global north countries like the United States contribute the most towards climate change, so we support projects in the places where climate change hurts first and worst. According to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, developing countries will bear 80-90 percent of the economic costs of climate change and over 98 percent of the resulting deaths, even though they have contributed almost nothing to global carbon emissions. With this in mind, we employ grassroots solutions that bring multiple benefits to mitigate carbon emissions. Climate change is a justice issue, and our solutions build resilience in communities that stand to lose the most due to climate change and are least equipped to deal with the harmful consequences.
A common carbon offset project is planting native trees, such as Climate Stewards USA’s forestry projects in Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. These projects will lock up thousands of metric tons of CO₂. We are not only meeting Sustainable Development Goal 13 to take action on climate change but also supporting local farmers, creating new sources of income, stabilizing soil, creating shade, replacing lost habitat, increasing biodiversity, and providing sustainable sources of timber or firewood. In this way, we are addressing all of the Sustainable Development Goals.
At Climate Stewards USA, we are cautious about our risk assessment to ensure that our projects deliver at least as much CO₂ savings as calculated. In reality, though, the positive long-term effects are immeasurable: community members receive training on tree planting/management and biblical teaching on caring for the environment–knowledge that they take with them to care for trees on their own land and encourage others to do the same.
Other Climate Stewards USA projects offset carbon in more unexpected ways, such as providing families with smokeless metal stoves in Nepal and Peru or biosand water filters and fireless cookers in Uganda. These technologies immensely reduce the dependency on firewood or charcoal, thereby halting deforestation or reducing pressure on local ecosystems. There is also a ripple effect: a biosand water filter, for example, saves a family from needing to purchase firewood/charcoal or the time to go out and collect it themselves. But it has additional benefits like reducing smoke exposure and inhalation, reducing the risk of burns, and saving time and money. Changing one technology brings many benefits alongside the physical amount of firewood or charcoal that isn’t burned and is therefore not emitting carbon.
Caring about and acting on climate change is more than a scientific practice; it’s a spiritual one. Our work at Climate Stewards USA is founded on a love for God and the world that He has made, and we see climate action as an essential part of caring for people and places. In addition to our carbon offset program, we offer resources for prayer and theology because tackling the climate crisis also means addressing “issues of justice, stewardship, greed, and power.” Beyond making changes in your lifestyle or the habits of your local community, we invite you to join us in praying fervently for the whole community of creation threatened by climate change.
To begin, we offer the prayer “Community Lament” from 26 Prayers for the Climate and Ecological Emergency by Rev’d Jon Swales:
Father of Creation,
God of Compassion,
Wake us from our slumber,
Equip us afresh to our priestly and prophetic calling.
That we would speak truth in a culture of denial,
That we would enact hope in a culture of despair,
That we would face what will be with love-filled action,
That, in humanity’s darkest hour, you would enliven us, so
We would bandage the wounds of those caught beneath the wheels of climate injustice, That, in humanity’s darkest hour, we would have the courage,
To drive a spoke into the wheel of climate injustice itself.
Father of Creation,
God of Compassion,
You created a world of wonder, Of possibility and potential. You declared it to be good.
In our grief,
In our mourning,
We give thanks.
To you be praise, honour and glory.
Join us on the journey to become carbon neutral by visiting https://climatestewardsusa.org
What a wonderful program! Thank you for your leadership. If I may suggest an improvement, the Carbon Calculator for Individuals, “Home” tab, should indicate if monthly or annual amounts of kwh and therms should be entered. It is not clear on the form. Thanks!