Keeping the Faith: D.C. marchers say climate legacy starts with local carbon cap

WASHINGTON—These are the things some three dozen D.C. residents buried on a clear, blustery Saturday afternoon: climate justice, public and Native American lands, walks in the woods, clean air and water, sustainable energy, the next generation, animals, farmers and the place they call home.

But they weren’t gathered at a cemetery.

Instead, they contemplated the nation’s climate legacy by marching several blocks from the White House to a ceremony at the heart of District government—the John A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue—as part of a countrywide Day of Dedication.

That heady and symbolic exercise on the steps of the Wilson Building required each participant to proclaim aloud something he or she loves and wants to protect. They then placed the notes, pictures, sacred texts and other mementos attached to those hopes into a Climate Legacy Time Capsule, sealed until 2067.

Days of Dedication also took place on Nov. 18 in two dozen other cities, including Houston, Tallahassee, Madison, Wis. and Truckee, Calif.

Organizers with the Sunrise Movement and Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) said they made the event a priority after watching the Trump administration vow to pull out of the Paris climate accord, question climate science and backpedal on dozens of environmental initiatives.

Sunrise Movement organizer Evan Weber noted how extreme heat and flooding have plagued the planet recently.

“The effects of climate change have never been more clear,” he told the group during the 90-minute event. “We’re not going to let that be the climate legacy for the next 50 years.

“When they open these time capsules, we’ll have a future worth fighting for,” he continued.

On the brisk walk from the north side of the White House, participants carried signs reading “Remember Us for Uniting” and “The Future Is Listening.” Those in front led call-and-response chants of “What do we want? Climate leaders. When do we want them? Now.” and “Can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil.” as they wended their way around a gauntlet of security barriers, gawking tourists and a monument dedicated to World War I Army Gen. John J. Pershing.

Marchers gather before filling their Climate Legacy Time Capsule at the John A. Wilson Building in Washington, D.C.

Age-wise, the marchers skewed toward the millennial set, and they came from diverse backgrounds.

Frustration with a lack of climate leadership at the federal level, prompted Day of Dedication organizers to plea for local action in front of the Wilson Building.

A key piece is urging local legislators and Mayor Muriel Bowser to make D.C. the first U.S. city to rein in fossil fuels by pricing carbon emissions. The proposed bill, the Climate and Community Reinvestment Act, would initially charge a fee of $20 per ton beginning in 2019. That fee would increase gradually.

Catherine Goggins, an organizer for the D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia IPL chapter for more than a year, said the D.C. measure is just one example of how the region is not abdicating its responsibilities to tackle climate change.

“We are thrilled to be involved with this Day of Dedication,” she told Renewal News in an interview. “It’s powerful. Every major faith has tenets of care for creation in its creeds.”

She declared “all of creation” as her time capsule offering. As well, she included a copy of the Prayer for Our Earth, which she read to the group earlier. It is from the encyclical issued by Pope Francis.

Goggins, a life-long Catholic, said she learned the realities of climate change while growing up in the coastal community of Hampton Roads, Va. and then working with the Jesuits in central Argentina.

In that part of South America she saw firsthand how the poor bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. Unprecedented rainfall not only made roads impassable to workers traveling to jobs on buses, but it also washed away farmers’ crops and livelihoods.

“Seeing that environmental injustice helped me to recognize the same things here,” Goggins explained.

Rituals are of utmost importance to people of faith, she said, adding that an effort such as the Day of Dedication provides space for reflection on values and shortcomings to correct.

“We work at this from a hopeful perspective,” Goggins said about pushing for progress on climate policy. “We believe we can and must do better.”

Elizabeth McGowan

Elizabeth H. McGowan is a Washington, D.C.-based, award-winning energy and environment reporter. As a staff writer for InsideClimate News, her groundbreaking dispatches from Kalamazoo, Mich., “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You Never Heard Of” won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. An e-book version of the narrative won the Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Elizabeth, who started her career at daily newspapers in Vermont and Wisconsin, has served as a Washington correspondent for Crain Communications, Penton Media, and most recently, Energy Intelligence. Her freelance news reports and features have also appeared in E/The Environmental Magazine; Washingtonian magazine; Intelligent Utility magazine; Outdoor America (magazine of the Izaak Walton League); the journal Appalachia; Capital Community News; the Gulf of Maine Times; Mizzou, the alumni magazine for the University of Missouri; Lore, the magazine of the Milwaukee Public Museum; and Nature Conservancy magazine Elizabeth’s latest reporting venture is Renewal News, a start-up that explores the intersection of nature, labor and energy. The idea is to tell stories about how U.S. communities are evolving as climate change forces all sectors to re-examine their relationship with a fossil-fuel dominant economy.

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