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Faith Groups Increasingly Join Fight Against Climate Change

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Jonathan Wasserman, left, and Adam Masser perform the Tishrei Niggun, a wordless Jewish melody often sung on the high holidays, during the Faiths for Climate Justice global mobilization event organized by the GreenFaith International Network on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Hebrew Tabernacle synagogue in New York. Religious activists in 43 countries around the world carried out over 500 actions in two days to call for an end to new fossil fuel projects and deforestation two weeks prior to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

POINTE-AUX-CHENES, Louisiana (AP) — On a boat ride along a bayou that shares the name of his Native American tribe, Donald Dardar points to a cross marking his ancestors’ south Louisiana burial ground — a place he fears will disappear.

He points to the partly submerged stumps of oak trees killed by salt water on land where he rode horses as a kid, and to his mother’s home, gutted by Hurricane Ida. He and his wife have a mission: protecting Pointe-aux-Chenes and other communities at risk in a state that loses about a football field’s worth of wetlands every 100 minutes.

For years, Donald and Theresa Dardar have joined forces with the Rev. Kristina Peterson. Working with scientists and members of Pointe-au-Chien and two other tribes, they’ve set out thousands of oyster shells to protect sacred mounds, obtained financing to refill abandoned oil field canals and built an elevated greenhouse to save their plants and medicinal herbs from flooding.

“It’s saving what we know that’s going to be destroyed from both the change of the heat and the rising of the water,” said Peterson, the pastor of Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church in Gray, Louisiana, and a former professor of environmental planning at the University of New Orleans.

Their vital work to save their bayou home and heritage is part of a broader trend around the world of faith leaders and environmental activists increasingly joining the fight against climate change. From Hindu groups joining river cleanups and Sikh temples growing pesticide-free food, to Muslim imams and Buddhist monks organizing tree-planting campaigns, the movement knows no denominational boundaries but shares as a driving force a moral imperative to preserve what they see as a divinely given environment for future generations.

But some of them believe systemic change to protect those most vulnerable to the climate crisis must also come from world leaders meeting at the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

“It’s up to them to step up to the plate and do what they’re supposed to do,” Theresa Dardar said at the tribal center where she handed out supplies to members of her tribe and others who lost their homes after Hurricane Ida hit the small fishing community 80 miles (about 130 kilometers) southwest of New Orleans.

“It’s up to you not to just give lip service, but to take action against climate change and sea level rise,” said Dardar, a longtime religion teacher at a local Catholic church and head of the environmental nonprofit Lowlander Center.

Pope Francis and dozens of religious leaders recently signed a joint appeal to governments to commit to targets at the Oct. 31-Nov. 12 summit in Glasgow. The summit aims to secure more ambitious commitments to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius with a goal of keeping it to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The event also is focused on mobilizing financing and protecting threatened communities and natural habitats.

Louisiana holds 40% of U.S. wetlands, but they’re disappearing fast — about 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) of the state have been lost since the 1930s. That’s about 80% of the nation’s wetland losses, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Peterson arrived in Pointe-aux-Chenes in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew, following a call to link scientists with communities hit by storms, sinking land and sea rise from climate change. Through the Lowlander Center that she co-founded, she worked to protect sacred sites from coastal erosion, refill canals dug by oil companies that allow for saltwater intrusion and build the greenhouse set to open in October. Instead, it was repurposed as a food pantry supply room after Ida.