When Reverend Kim Morrow moved to Nebraska from California, every season brought a new shock: from summer thunderstorms to freezing cold. But her new home let her follow her passion — facilitating the faith community’s response to climate change. Morrow is Executive Director of Nebraska Interfaith Power and Light and currently works as a climate change resource specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Many years ago I started paying attention to what was happening with climate change and I was deeply, deeply disturbed by it. And at the time I was asking myself why I wasn’t devoting every minute of my professional energies to working on this crisis.
A couple of years later I moved to Nebraska and I was able to start the sustainable living ministry at First Plymouth Church. And that was really when I began to work on climate change.
I think there are a lot of reasons why faith is important to addressing climate change. One obvious reason is because of the way climate change is going to impact the people of the world. And when people are suffering, that becomes a moral issue. And it becomes a moral responsibility of all the people of the world to try to lessen the suffering of our neighbors.
I think faith is also important to the dialogue around climate change because we have an intrinsic connection to the natural world. And a lot of times the modern world lets us forget that because we can be so comfortable in our civilized environments.
I have found an incredible beauty in Nebraska with the power of people’s relationship to the earth here. I’ve been very, very moved by that. People have such a strong connection to this land. They grew up on a farm or their parents did or they have some agricultural roots here, and they just feel the rhythms of the seasons in their bones. And they sense this shift of the climate in their bones as well. And so, some people think that Nebraska is a tough state to be doing climate work in, and I think it’s a really great place to be doing climate work because people care so deeply about the health of the natural world here.
Audubon’s Spring Creek Prairie is one of Morrow’s favorite places. Photo by Michael Forsberg.
It’s been really effective to reach out through the faith communities. Partly of course because it’s a very personal side of life for many people, it’s a very meaningful side of life. And when people engage in conversations in their church or their congregation or their temple, they have a different way of engaging in those than they do in their work life, or when they’re reading the newspaper. And I think they can be open-hearted in addressing what’s going on.
And as we move forward into more and more of an altered climate in the decades ahead, I think that church communities are going to be called on to become resources for their neighborhoods and communities in more ways than they have in the past. Whether that’s providing actual shelter for people or whether it’s providing information and places of safety.
One of the most important things that I think communities of faith have to respond to the climate crisis is their sense of hope. So, for those of us who are working on climate change regularly, there are lots of times when we are looking at the data or reports, we feel this onslaught of another sense of despair at how much is being lost and what we’re heading into. But as a person of faith, I am challenged each and every time to not give into despair. And it’s really hard to do that sometimes. But I am very glad that I am doing this work as a person of faith because it challenges me to come back to the drawing board and say, okay, what can we do next? What can we do tomorrow?
I think that when societies are faced with an overwhelming crisis like I believe we’re going to have on our hands with climate change, there are two responses: they can either descend into conflict, or they can transform. And I decided a long time ago that I want to be part of the transformation.
Music excerpted in this piece: “Sea of Emotion” by Damon Baxter and Sergei Petrovski and “Choral Voices” by Michael Yates (De Wolfe Music).
Voices of the Platte is a collaboration between Platte Basin Timelapse and NET Radio’s Humanities Desk. These audio essays have been edited for length and clarity.
Photography contribution by Mike Forsberg