Thousands of protesters gathered in the muggy heat this past weekend on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall for the first-ever nationwide antifracking demonstration. The July 28 protest rally, organized by Stop the Frack Attack, a coalition dedicated to protecting the environment from dirty drilling associated with natural gas production, brought together a diverse group of supporters. Kicking off the rally Saturday were leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist traditions, demonstrating the increasing solidarity of religious and secular activist groups when it comes to protecting the environment.
“As persons of faith, and no particular faith, we gather to be protectors of this fragile planet,” said Rev. Bob Edgar, head of Common Cause. “We are called to care for the earth—to stop fracking.’”
The rally’s multifaith cohort represents the rising voices of faith groups willing to take a stand on energy issues and climate concerns. As phrases like “climate change” and “global warming” become ever more polarizing, some faith-climate activists within traditionally conservative denominations have coined terms like “creation care” in the hope of casting a wide net and building broad consensus among environmentally concerned religious groups across the political spectrum.
Already at the forefront of the faith-climate movement, groups like the Shalom Center and the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, joint organizers of the religious dimension of Saturday’s rally, believe the severity of health issues and ecological damage associated with fracking necessitate taking a stand.
Ted Glick, steering committee member of the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and a political director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, calls the impact of fracking—the process of forcing tons of high-pressure chemically treated water into shale rock—“outrageous.” “From huge greenhouse gas emissions, to high levels of chemicals and water mixing and pollution levels … this is not a [fringe] issue,” he says. “People see this as an incredibly basic human rights issue.”
Climate activists have stood for decades on the irrefutable science that points to human-accelerated climate change and the significant public health hazards of global warming. But Saturday’s rally was also couched in sweeping moral language—an example of the increasingly values-based lens being applied to the public discourse surrounding climate change and green energy technology.
“It’s a real credit to the antifracking movement that they are bringing faith-based groups much more actively into the cause,” says Glick, who credited Stop the Frack Attack with suggesting they host the religious rally on their main stage in conjunction with the official rally. “There is clearly an attentive energy across faith lines about how serious this is. That is a really good sign.”
Jacqui Patterson, director of the Climate Justice Initiative for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, and emcee of the event, also speaks to the widening diversity of climate engagement. “From where we stand, we see that the folks being most affected are those who are least responsible. It’s wrong for anyone to bear the impact of something so preventable,” she says.
The rally’s timing was particularly resonant for Muslims and Jews in attendance—falling as it did toward the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim observance of fasting and restraint, and on Tisha B’Av, the Jewish season of lament for the destruction and scorching of the temples in Jerusalem. Several speakers at the rally drew contemporary parallels to these ancient religious observances in unflinching terms.
Imam Johari Abdul Malik, director of outreach at the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center, called for greater political engagement:
We are fasting. But there are people in the world who are starving because of how we abuse the earth. For the world to adjust to the climate, we must adjust our behavior. If the government won’t change, we must change the government.
Leading up to the rally, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center wrote:
[This rally will] lament and resist the destruction of Earth, the universal Temple. Pharaoh, through arrogance and greed, brought plagues of ecological destruction upon his own society. [And] this archetypal tale echoes in the oil-blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, in the looming disaster being wrought by fracking, in the droughts and floods already besetting our planet, from our refusal to restrain ourselves from over-burning fossil fuels. … we would be wise to connect the dots.
The rally followed two days of action around the District of Columbia, including lobbying efforts and a day of antifracking organizing workshops, attended by representatives from 25 affected states. These events, geared toward fostering greater collaboration and ongoing engagement on fracking, serve to “strengthen the growing current of unified climate activism,” says Glick.
Catherine Woodiwiss is a Special Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.