Power Shift 2013: A Social Justice Gathering for Future Leaders

HNP Communications Friar News

From Oct. 18 to 21, five students from St. Bonaventure University, Allegany, N.Y., and two from the Catholic Center at the University of Georgia, along with Joseph Kotula, OFM, of Mt. Irenaeus in Western New York, Sr. Suzanne Kush, CSSF, of SBU, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., and Russell Testa, director of the Province’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, participated in Power Shift 2013 in Pittsburgh. The “conference” brings together youth leaders dedicated to building a movement to fight fracking, divest from fossil fuels, work for a clean energy future and stop the climate crisis. The gathering of students and supporters from HNP’s education ministries was a first effort to build greater collaboration among the Province’s schools and campus ministries.

Jacek reflected on the experience of being with the students and the larger group of more than 6,000 participants, stating, “I was very impressed by the passion and commitment displayed by thousands of students from across the country as they dealt with issues of climate change, energy and environmental justice. I wondered, ‘Could we as Franciscans allow ourselves to be evangelized by these young people? Can we continue to hold up St. Francis as the patron saint of ecology as our model while remaining oblivious to the fact that, all too often, our Franciscans institutions — parishes, colleges, and universities or other ministry outreach centers — may be financially benefiting from our investments in the same fossil fuel industries that are destroying the life-support system of our planet?’”

The Justice and Peace Office staff hopes that, from this positive experience, future activities can be developed to include other education ministries of the Province.

Below is a reflection from one of HNP’s Power Shift 2013 student participants.

Representing the University of Georgia Catholic Center at Power Shift 2013 was a life-changing experience, and I do not say that lightly. As an undergraduate college student well aware of the plethora of issues our Christian call demands we respond to, I thought I couldn’t learn much from an event centered around my primary area of interest, human interaction with the environment. Little did I know this national gathering would completely rejuvenate my longing to care for God’s creation and ignite my passion for the protection of all human life.

I am a campus ecology fellow for the National Wildlife Federation and the climate action planning intern at the University of Georgia Office of Sustainability. Much of my on-campus work at the University of Georgia involves behind-the-scenes economic projections and one-on-one communication. I assist in the facilitation of the Climate Action Planning Task Force, a working group of more than 30 academic professionals, community members, and students in the Athens community that offers realistic carbon reduction/energy saving solutions. The work we do on campus helps to reduce the University’s carbon footprint in a big way.

By quantifying the enormous utility consumption that an institution of UGA’s capacity requires, the task force and I are able to make a reasonable case for future demand reduction while simultaneously calling for carbon offsets with an increase in renewable energy supply. Collectively, the task force’s driving purpose is to reduce fossil fuel consumption and ultimately reduce our carbon footprint. While working from such a large-scale perspective, however, it is easy to forget the faces of those directly affected by environmental degradation.

Power Shift 2013 provided a stark reminder.

The Faces of Climate Change
I’ve watched the movies. I’ve heard the podcasts. I’ve seen the headlines. But no other medium can compare to the up-close-and-personal account of victim of fossil fuel extraction. I received a first-hand glimpse of the social injustices that run rampant in the name of extractive energies like coal, natural gas, and oil. The account of attorney Bruce Stanley stood out in particular.

Stanley is a lawyer who represents the families of the deceased coal miners killed in the Upper Big Branch Mining disaster in 2010. Trained to investigate the causes of deadly accidents, Stanley shared video clips of interviews he conducted with retired mining safety inspectors after the accident. These mine veterans reflected on the many times they would call headquarters for a work order on outdated safety equipment or aging electrical wiring, only to be told to go home. They were told that “HQ has got it covered.” The updates and repairs never came becausethat would have meant a halt in extraction. That would have required a stoppage in production. These seemingly small oversights led to the 2010 explosion that killed 29 men.

This is where profit is put before people. This is where human life is sacrificed for financial gain. As Catholics, we are called to speak out against the wrongs in society. Directly or indirectly, we are all witnesses to social injustice, and we cannot continue to be complacent with the status quo.

Yet this is something I still many times fail to grasp.

Complacent No More
More than 2,600 years after the Prophet Amos warned the rich in Zion of their contentment, and 2,000 years after Jesus told us the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, I am still complacent. I see cities of people living under a perpetual cloud of cancer-inducing smog. I see the future of the poor and marginalized reduced to a debate. I see staggering numbers of unwanted people exterminated, and a culture whose value of a human life is based merely on economic status. I see a people whose God is begging them to act out against the evils in the world, and to respond to its many problems. But I also see a people too afraid of what others will think — too worried that their jobs, their hobbies, their very way of life may be jeopardized if they choose to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

I’ll tell you right now — I am one of those people. I struggle with what is right and wrong. I speak out, yet I cower. Yet I am trying. I am learning that to ensure a consistent ethic of life and a commitment to safeguarding all creation, I must balance speaking out against the wrongs in society with the love of those dearest to me. I am learning to respond to the call of St. Francis, whose life reminds us of Jesus’ care for the broken, the poor in spirit, and the need to protect God’s creation. Through prayer, we are given the strength to act — in little ways and in big ways — to be complacent no more.

— Jacob M. Spaulding, a junior at University of Georgia, Athens, — where the friars staff the Catholic Center — is pursuing a B.S. in environmental economics.