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Keeping the heat on global warming; Interfaith Climate Action Network melds prayer and activism

MIDDLEBURY — When President Donald Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement this summer, Addison County’s Interfaith Climate Action Network (ICAN) took action. The group held a vigil on the Middlebury town green and has continued to hold weekly vigils every Saturday.
Now, as climate experts weigh in on the ways that global warming added even more destructive power to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the group is looking for even more ways to engage.
“Climate change is the issue of our time,” says Dan Cooperrider, 32, pastor of Weybridge Congregational Church and one of the religious leaders behind ICAN. If we don’t work as quickly as possible to address this issue, to move toward a 100 percent renewable way of life, if we don’t work as quickly as possible toward this one justice issue, then it will eventually render all of our other concerns meaningless.
“Without a habitable planet nothing else is really going to matter.”
ICAN began in 2014 as an outgrowth of ongoing discussions in the local faith community about how to address climate change. Cooperrider said the group’s current membership is made up of people from a variety of Addison County faith communities, including those from area Friends, Episcopal, Methodist, Unitarian and Congregational congregations. He emphasized that membership is open to those from all faiths and to those who define their spirituality more broadly: “nones, individualists, wanderers, seekers and more.”
Some of its activities have included a “Climate Revival” in 2015 and the all-day workshop to build solidarity and capacity for joyful action in the face of an issue that leaves many paralyzed with despair. ICAN is planning a second such event for 2018.
After President Trump’s abrogation of the Paris climate accord, the group felt that holding vigils would give it a more public witness, said Cooperrider.
Thus far, vigils have been held at various locations, including the Middlebury town green and the Cross Street Bridge. Recently the group has moved its vigils to the new downtown park at College and South Main streets. A dedicated handful show up every Saturday from 10:30 to 11 a.m., but Cooperrider said the group is putting a special emphasis on vigils the first Saturday of the month.
“All are welcome,” Cooperrider said.
The vigils help keep climate change at the forefront of the public’s attention, despite the surges and dips in the news cycle, Cooperrider said. He pointed to the recent news about hurricane disasters in Texas and Florida, drought and wildfire out west, and mammoth floods in Southeast Asia displacing huge populations.
“So in moments like this it’s clear that something major is happening to the earth’s climate and it’s impacting us all,” Cooperrider said. “An important part of a vigil is to keep that reality in our consciousness when other major news items are competing for people’s thoughts. We’re very good at responding to these big disasters. We’re not as good at taking into account in our future orientation what they’re telling us about what’s happening to our world.”
Another ICAN project is the creation of a community solar array that could be co-owned by area churches. Cooperrider said that going solar is a challenge for many of Vermont’s churches, especially those with older buildings. Historical structures with slate roofs and minimal south facing orientation aren’t the easiest places to site solar panels, he said. And tax credits are structured more for businesses and individuals than for nonprofits.
Cooperrider said he believes the recent hurricanes will also spur the group toward more public policy and advocacy work.
Next month, the group will facilitate a “Community Conversation” on climate justice, as part of the series of such conversations being co-sponsored by the Congregational Church of Middlebury and Havurah, the Jewish community of Addison County. That event will take place Oct. 15 at 4 p.m. at the Middlebury Congregational Church.
Cooperrider believes that worship communities have an important leadership role in helping people face and address climate change.
“Religion and faith communities are one of the most powerful ways that people’s worldviews are shaped and one of the ways that people’s head and heart can be connected,” he said. “They’re also uniquely positioned to speak to the ethical and moral nature of it, the sense that life is a gift and that we’re here to take care of that gift and not squander it.”
A faith-based approach can also provide something many are seeking in challenging times.
“It can provide hope, which is different from optimism,” said Cooperrider. “Václav Havel has a great quote about hope being not the conviction that all will turn out well, but the conviction that something is right and worth fighting for and worth working on. So hope is the conviction that the earth is good and that we need to be the best stewards of it that we can be.”
The Interfaith Climate Action Network holds monthly meetings at the Weybridge Congregational Church on the third Thursday of every month, starting at 8:30 p.m. For more information, email [email protected].
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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