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Episode 28 — Reeking of Faith: Religious Communities and a Warming Planet

On Episode 28 of Climate Stew we meet Rachel Winner, a resident of Jerusalem and a project manager at the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development. She and I sat down last month at Dickinson College and spoke about communicating climate change within faith communities and the role of interfaith climate action. She also shares some of her strategies for staying centered in the middle of much turmoil. We also hear from Climate Stew crew member, Glen Retief, who reports about some new cleaner energy sources in his home country of South Africa. Timothy Meadows is back with another installment of That Day in Climate History, this time extolling (from the future) the great work of faith community and leaders.Climate_Stew_Logo_Square1400x1400

 Rachel Winner, Project Manager, ICSD and Director of Outreach and Events, UPFSI

Rachel Winner, Project Manager, ICSD and Director of Outreach and Events, UPFSI

Climate Stew is available on  iTunes,  StitcherSoundCloud, or Listen here  on our site. We also have a special Facebook Group for people who want to discuss upcoming episodes and delve deeper into the issues. We also welcome your ideas. Peterson tweets about climate change, queer issues, faith, and fruit flies, so feel free to follow and jump into the conversation. Make Peterson happy and tell your friends about Climate Stew







Climate Stew host, Peterson Toscano, channeling his not so inner hipster geek

Congratulations, you are listening to episode 28 of the Climate Stew podcast. I am Peterson Toscano, your host, preparing to head to Washington DC later this month for the annual Citizens Climate Lobby conference. I have been two years in a row now with my husband, Glen, who will join us shortly to talk about his home country of South Africa.

In fact, our show today has an international flair to it. I interview Rachel Winner, a resident of Jerusalem and a project manager at the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development. From a Jewish-Christian family, Rachel has a passion for interfaith work especially when it comes to ecology. We talk about talking about climate change, especially with people of faith. You will hear I give a little pushback about the theological notion of Stewardship. Rachel takes on that question and much more and reveals what she does to stay centered while working with a contentious issue in a contentious land.

Speaking of faith, Timothy Meadows reporting from the year 2165 reveals the important roles of faith communities in addressing the climate crisis. But first, Climate Stew Crew member Glen Retief with this report about South Africa.


News—Wind Power in South Africa: Glen Retief

My name is Glen Retief, and our climate news story today comes from my home country of South Africa. We South Africans have, for as long as I can remember, got most of our electricity from our abundant coal reserves.  When I was a kid, and my family drove to Johannesburg, my father would turn off all the air vents in the car between Middelburg and Witbank, because the air smelled so bad from all the coal mines and power stations.

South African author, Glen Retief on the banks of the wild Susquehanna River.

South African author, Glen Retief on the banks of the wild Susquehanna River.

Now, with a flair for the poetic, Jeffry Barbee from the Guardian newspaper writes about a recent development: “The howling wind drives the turbines, their blades bent back from the force as they spin in the evening light and send electricity to local villages in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.”

Barbee is referring to the Cookhouse wind farm with its 66 turbines that produce 138 megawatts of energy making it the largest wind system built in Africa. But Cookhouse is only one of 79 licensed projects to address South Africa’s failing energy infrastructure while also reducing greenhouse gases. And the country currently pollutes a lot—it’s the number 19th highest carbon dioxide polluting country.

The changes in energy production—from less than 1% from renewables in 2012, to an estimated 12% by 2020–will reduce pollution that leads to climate change. They will also directly help poor rural South Africans with energy needs, job creation, and health. According to Johan van den Berg, director of South African Wind Energy Association, the change from dirty to clean energy “is set to completely transform these deep rural communities in terms of healthcare, education, job creation and a raft of other interventions. All this while putting green electricity on the grid at affordable prices.”

In his article Barbee compares and contrasts the Cookhouse wind farm with the ill-fated, much delayed, coal-driven Medupi electric power plant.  Likely my fellow South Africans will find the following sentence in the article amusing: “That renewables have almost surpassed the output of such a station is a testament to the government’s commitment to alternative energy.” Um, well, maybe, but also a testament to a cluster of fiascos around the construction of the Medupi electric plant, from poorly managed industrial action to executive suspensions to cash flow crises. Just ask my parents or friends what “load shedding” means and you’ll stories of lost broadband and dead fridges.  Sad to say, delivering more electricity than Medupi isn’t what we South Africans call a lekker bragging point…

The good news is that in the same way cell phone technology has helped the average South African leap-frog into the modern age over landlines, renewables may help pole-vault the country into a lower-carbon future.  With lots of sunshine in particular, the country is a great place for solar panels—and, alas for pale-faced ones like me, skin cancer.


Main Story: Interview with Rachel Winner

Gardening during a session of the Women's Faith and Ecology Project, ICSD

Gardening during a session of the Women’s Faith and Ecology Project, ICSD

I speak with Rachel Winner and her work at the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development. She share some of how she came to this work, her faith journey, and ideas about effectively communicating climate change in a faith context.

The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD), based in Jerusalem, works to catalyze a transition to a sustainable human society through the active leadership of faith communities. ICSD accesses the collective wisdom of the world’s religions to promote coexistence, peace, and sustainability through education and action.

The project to which Rachel refers to in the interview, the United Planet Faith and Science Initiative, is a project of ICSD, which brings renowned leaders from two traditionally divergent schools of thought – faith and science – together to address climate change.

That Day in Climate History

Interfaith iftar meal for a joint Jewish and Muslim holiday break fast, ICSD

Interfaith iftar meal for a joint Jewish and Muslim holiday break fast, ICSD

I am Timothy Meadows. It is Saturday, June 15th, 2165 and time for That Day in Climate History. During the first half of the 21st Century, the Climate Generation responded to global warming with creativity and courage. In celebrating our ancestors, we must not overlook the role faith communities played on an uncertain and rapidly changing planet. Places of worship and religious organizations provided hope, moral vision, practical solutions, and much needed community organizing.

Most people today are surprised when they learn that for a short time some faith leaders, particularly in the United States and Canada, actually discounted the threat of climate change. These skeptics actively spoke out against any form of climate action. The climate denial movement though quickly lost steam, and by 2017 faith communities took on climate change as the single biggest threat ever to face earthlings.

Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other faith leaders organized movements within their existing faith communities to inform and inspire their followers. They also formed strong interfaith alliances, pooling resources to meet practical and pastoral care needs. They created a vast network of resiliency support groups. They provided temporary and longterm sanctuary to climate migrates seeking refuge and to community members during times of extreme weather. They produced food, offered training, organized disaster relief, and gave much needed moral support in the face of devastating losses in terrifying times. They aided the public in processing the strong emotions connected to a threatened existence–the grief, shame, anger, and hopelessness that at times gripped the Climate Generation. And they continue to do so today as we still are adapting to the effects of climate change.

The inspired work of countless believers from diverse faith traditions has provided essential and significant help in responding to our climate catastrophe shining light when we have needed it most. On this day in 2165, we remember That Day in Climate History.


Climate History is brought to you by Dunkin Doughnuts. Try our new Faux-Co-Nut Super Coolatta. The Global Alliance Runs on Dunkin.


No product placement intended, but i had to get out of the house one day and head to a particular coffee shop to finish writing this episode. This is Peterson Toscano thanking you for joining me. You can find shorter excerpts of climate stew over on SoundCloud. Just search for Climate Stew or find a link over at We are also available on iTunes and Stitcher. Music in this episode by Mark Chapman, Poldoore, Matthew Zalesky, Tracing Arcs, Boogie Belgique, and Mr. Moods. Special thanks to Glen Retief, Rachel Winner, David Raher, oh, and Joe G, who though he left the Quakers in a huff, still holds me in the Light. Next episode we will meet a visually impaired storm chaser who will teach us a thing or two about tornados.

Peterson Toscano

Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is

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