Environmental Justice

 Social Justice Matters Update, June 2017

What do the solar/geothermal utilities for our new building have to do with Social Justice at First Universalist? 

By Jonathan Ormes, Member at First Universalist Church of Denver

The design for our solar power plant is almost complete and will be installed as soon as the roof is ready. The old furnace room has been cleaned and painted, the old gas fired furnaces have been removed and heatpumps are ready for installation.  Pipes for the ground loop are on site, and as soon as the city turns on the water, the holes for exchanging heat with the ground at first Universalist will be drilled (or should have already been drilled by the time of this publication).  So, the room should no longer be called a furnace room, but instead maybe something like “the heat pump room”.  My preference would be to call it the “Green Room”, because the Green First Task Force has been the passionate driving force behind this extraordinary transformation of the church’s facility to be “net zero-carbon”.

UUA General Assembly resolutions in 2006, 2014 & 2015 document the relationship of our church to our environment and how all this relates to our principles especially our 7th one regarding the interdependent web of all existence.  But learning to live on a finite planet is a social justice challenge for us all.  The first to be hurt by rising temperatures and sea levels

are the poor who live in the deltas of Myanmar and Bangladesh, and in the big cities along the Chinese coast.  These people are not responsible for the climate crisis, but they will suffer from it.

I am deeply saddened when I hear of another species going extinct.  Lots of commendable work has been done to recover species, but who represents other species in climate deliberations?  Who represents the depleted ground

 and decreasing water needed to feed an overpopulated planet?  Are we ourselves in danger of becoming a threatened species?

Many people in the church are deeply dedicated to the issues around the full inclusion of African Americans into full access to opportunities in America.  Many people in the church are dedicated to keeping immigrant families together and have worked tirelessly for immigration reform.  Most people in our church find a way to be involved in important social justice and societal issues.  These efforts start at the level of individual efforts and depend on the actions of individuals. This is the only way in which social change comes about, and I am thankful for these efforts and support them full heartedly.  These individual and small group collective actions are a model for how we must proceed to transform our economy, our energy and our life styles so that the human species can live in harmony with our finite planet.  We already see the competition for land and resources manifested in refugee and unresolvable wars in the middle east.  Climate change has already caused droughts that drove farmers from their ancestral lands, and threatens to make parts of the equatorial region uninhabitable.  This is driving people into refugee status, while people fortunate enough to live in more temperate zones take ever more and more desperate measures to keep them out.  

Our social justice work requires UUs to look beyond our position of relative privilege to see the many forms of systemic injustice. We bump into the same injustice in our climate crisis work. Our 7th principle, regarding the interdependent web of all existence, demands that we see the desperation faced by some people as if it were happening to us. Only our relative privilege allows us to consider a gradual response to their emergency as adequate. Through the prism of social justice, UUs must match the urgency of our climate action to the intensity of the problem.

Because we care, because UUs are on the forefront of all these different aspects of social justice and change, and because we realized, and took advantage of, the unique opportunity to do something about our environment as our new worship facility was being built, I am uncompromisingly proud to be a UU.

Ethical Eating Task Force

“Ethical eating, like ethical living, is not about absolutes. It’s about doing the best you’re willing and able to do and nurturing a will to keep doing better.”  Syd Baumel 

We raise awareness of where our food comes from so that we can make better choices of what we eat. The task force is developing a list of supermarkets and suppliers that buy from producers who respect the environment and humanely raise their meat and diary products, and serves as a resource to our congregation and the greater community by providing educational materials and encouraging others to make better choices. We also monitor legislation that can adversely impact the humane treatment of farmed animals, and take appropriate action to voice our concerns with legislators and the media.

The Carnism Awareness Task Force is looking for people to help further our educational efforts. We are in need of others who can help us develop plans and strategies, write letters, develop partnerships with like-minded organizations, help create brochures and materials, help develop education programs for youth.

If you are interested and for more information, please contact: Roland Halpern

To learn more, visit this Task Force’s website.

From Social Justice Matters Newsletter, April 2017:

Earth Day is April 22nd, and although it is a date to think about what we are doing to the Earth, Earth Day should be everyday. While most of us know about soil, water and air pollution, many of us don’t know that industrial factory farming and chemicals used in connection with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are major contributors to the problem.

Factory farms contribute 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions including 37% of methane and 65% of nitrox oxide.  Methane can remain in the atmosphere for about 12 years and nitrous oxide 114 years, making these gases much more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Consider these facts from Planetsave:

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save:

  • 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months;
  • 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year;
  • 70 million gallons of gas — enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare;
  • 3 million acres of land, an area more than twice the size of Delaware;
  • 33 tons of antibiotics.

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would prevent:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much as produced by all of France;
  • 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages;
  • 4.5 million tons of animal excrement;
  • Almost 7 tons of ammonia emissions, a major air pollutant.

Aside from the negative environmental impact, the animals that are raised on factory farms; which accounts for 99% of the meat we buy at the supermarket or butchers, are typically raised in enclosed buildings where they never see sunlight, must stand on concrete or wire mesh rather than the ground, frequently wade in their own excrement and are so tightly packed many cannot even turn around.

Earth Day offers a time for reflection. Do we want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution to saving our Mother?

-Roland Halpern

Green First Task Force

We embrace and promote the seventh principal of Unitarian Universalism: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. The Green First Task Force pursued, and achieved certification as a Green Sanctuary in 2010. Since then we have continued to work on environmental issues both within and beyond the walls of the First Universalist Church of Denver.

Interested in joining us or finding out what Green First has been up to? Check out our calendar or our blog, or contact Craig Murray.

Green First Focus Areas

South Platte River Trail Cleanup

Roughly once a month we can be found picking up trash along the multi-use trail that parallels the river between Dartmouth and Union. Check the First Universalist calendar or Happenings for specific times and dates.

Working with Outside Groups


Green First works with local and national groups by inviting them to participate in First Universalist’s Compassion in Action program and promoting their events and efforts within the church.

Local Food and Economy

Green First and First Universalist have worked with several local agriculture groups including hosting a CSA drop-off.Several members of Green First are also involved in an ethical investment group that identifies and supports budding local businesses.

Current Environmental Issues

We identify and research current environmental issues like climate change, and hydraulic fracturing and bring speakers to the church to provide opportunities for the members of First Universalist to learn about local and national environmental issues and to take action.

For more information click on the topics below:

Guide to Climate Change Facts

Guide to How to Get Going Green

Guide to Divesting and Green Reinvesting

Guide to Electric Vehicles

Guide to Geothermal Heat Pumps

Guide to Solar for Your Home

Sustainable Church Facility

We are exploring the possibility of incorporating sustainable building design, such as solar panels and passive day lighting, in the vision for First Universalist’s future facility.

Ethical Eating

Many members of Green First also participate in the Ethical Eating Task Force.

From the latest Social Justice Matters Newsletter:

Join Green First  at Denver’s People’s Climate March

Please join the Green First task force and thousands of others at the Denver People’s Climate March, Saturday morning, April 29, at Civic Center Park. Let’s march together to send a clear message that the environment matters!  It is imperative that we urge government and business leaders to move forward to protect our environment and wild places–for ourselves and the future.  Meet fellow UUs on the west steps of the Capitol at 9:00 a.m. Look for our church banner. We will start moving across the street to Civic Center Park at 9:30.  For more information and to sign up:    https://www.facebook.com/peoplesclimateofcolorado.