St. Kateri's Care for Creation team promotes all sorts of climate friendly initiatives from community solar to electric vehicles and much more. (Mike Matvey photo)
St. Kateri's Care for Creation team promotes all sorts of climate friendly initiatives from community solar to electric vehicles and much more. (Mike Matvey photo)
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(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about parishes in the Diocese of Albany making a stand against climate change.)

For Margaret Brennan, being a better steward of the Earth is a responsibility that comes directly from God.

“We are told in Scripture that we need to take care of the Earth,” said Brennan, part of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Par­ish’s Care for Creation team. “And as a grandparent, I know I want my grandchildren to have a decent life and I am not willing to bet on (climate change) is just a fluke.”

The parish, which is comprised of two churches and a grade school in Schenectady, has been one of the most progressive and aggressive in the Diocese of Albany in trying to mitigate the effects of climate change. They promote solar power and electric vehicles to their parishioners, bring in organizations for talks on cutting down on waste and promote causes that look to reduce one’s footprint on the Earth.

The idea of a Care for Creation team — a sub-committee of the parish’s Social Justice Ministry — was born after its members read Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” in 2015. Jack Hagerty, the chair of the Care for Creation team, said talking about taking care of the planet was taking up so much of the social justice meeting that there arose a need for the new team. 

“Over 90 percent of scientists — I have heard up to 97 percent — say that climate change is real and something that is caused by humans,” said Vic Bobnick, co-chair of the Care for Creation team.  “And the Catholic Church doesn’t have a problem with science the way some churches do. We find our beliefs to be compatible with science. Some of the other effects of climate change are visible to our eyes … it’s not a real stretch.”

Along with Laudato Si, Hagerty — as well as Elaine Bair, chair of the Social Justice Ministry, and the rest of the Care for Creation team — used the Catho­lic Climate Cove­nant (catholicclimatecove­nant.org), the Global Catho­lic Climate Move­ment (catho­licclimate movement.global) and the Capitol Region Interfaith Creation Care Coalition (capitalcreation care.org) as guides in getting things started in the parish. The Catholic Climate Covenant was formed in 2006 with the help of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to help “U.S. Catholics respond to the Church’s call to care for creation and care for the poor.”

St. Kateri is officially listed on the website as a “Creation Care” team and they receive emails, ideas and prayers every month. This year, the two programs that St. Kateri will focus on through the Covenant are Earth Day on April 22 and the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si on May 24.  

The Global Catholic Climate Movement publishes a guide for how people and parishes can live out the Laudato Si pledge. “We used that at the beginning and it tells you how to get going, how to audit your parish for improvements you can make with the same objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Hagerty said. 

The audit, initiated by the parish, is an important component as it can track energy consumption and find ways to reduce it.

“We performed an audit and one of their big recommendations, not surprisingly, was to change out all the lighting in the parish buildings to LED and we completed that a year ago,” Hagerty said. “Our energy consumption as a result of that is down significantly.”

The Department of Energy states that by 2027 “widespread use of LEDs (would be) equivalent to the annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants and a total savings of $30 billion at today’s electricity price.” The use of LEDs is simply one of the easiest and most cost-efficient ways of reducing energy consumption almost overnight.

Capitol Region Interfaith Creation Care Coalition (CRICCC), formed in the spring of 2018, brings together interfaith groups with the goal of protecting the environment.

The two other initiatives that St. Kateri promoted last year were community solar and electric vehicles. With community solar, the team had presentations at the parish in which people could get solar panels on their houses or use a community solar farm such as Nexamp, which was promoted by the Diocese of Albany. The Pastoral Center, St. Kateri and other parishes are currently using the Nexamp solar farm in Brunswick (Rensselaer County) to lower their energy costs. The 5.5 megawatt facility features 16,500 solar panels capable of generating enough power for more than 500 average homes. 

Bobnick spearheaded the push to get the Capital District EV Drivers group to both parish parking lots after Masses to talk about the benefits of electric vehicles, meeting twice at Union Street and once at Rosa Road.

For 2020, the Creation Care team is pushing a host of green ideas.

•??Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) allows communities such as Albany, Troy and Schenectady to band together and transfer their communities to renewable energy while lowering their energy costs. Thirteen municipalities are working with the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance (MEGA) on the program, which “offers better rate, price stability, and access to 100 percent renewable “green” electricity,” according to a press release. The program also has an opt-out clause if a customer wants to remain with National Grid or leave CCA at any time. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has developed a “toolkit” on its website that assists communities looking into CCA.

•??Climate Smart Communities (CSC) is another New York State program that helps governments reduce greenhouse gases by offering assistance, grants and rebates for electric vehicles. CSC started in 2009 with the goal of having “local governments commit to act on climate change.”

•??Zero waste. As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, zero waste is “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” Composting is a major part of zero waste and companies such as foodscraps360 (foodscraps360.com) offer a residential food waste collection service. Instead of everything going into a landfill, this service has the potential to reduce methane gas, i.e., greenhouse gases. The parish has reduced its use of single-use plastics, handed out recyclable bags and during Lent (Feb. 26-April 9) and the Season of Creation (Sept. 1-Oct. 1) will have weekly bulletin items and displays at the parish, related to the subject.

•??Heat Smart New York is another initiative that “is a grassroots community initiative that supports residents and businesses in exploring ways to improve how they heat and cool their buildings” with greener technology such as “geothermal systems, cold climate air source heat pumps, and hot water heat pumps.” (heatsmartcapitalregion.com)

With all these projects, the goal of the Care for Creation team is to inform people, change their habits while slowly changing the minds of skeptics.
“To really solve this problem, it does require some inconvenience in our lives and I do think people are fine as long as somebody else takes care of it,” Bair said. 

Added Hagerty: “To move people in an inconvenient direction is hard and it does require a buy-in on their parts … Pope Francis is looking at changes in everybody’s lifestyle down to the core.”