On July 14-28, our congregation will hold a Congregational Chapter, which takes place every six years. This gathering will involve more than 130 Sisters, associates, and support staff from across the United States, Japan and Peru traveling to St. Louis, Missouri. During the meeting, the Chapter body will create the “Acts of Chapter,” which are calls to action for our community. One of the Acts of Chapter from our last Congregational Chapter in 2013 called us to “act with urgency to protect [Earth’s] stability and integrity and to celebrate her beauty wherever we are.”
We know that climate change is at a crisis level on our planet and that all of our travel contributes to the problem. We also know that climate change is basically climate injustice because as we take advantage of convenient ways of travel, we simultaneously contribute to the conditions of climate disruption that disproportionately affect women, children, people of color, and other vulnerable groups.
By offsetting those emissions, we are acting concretely from our 2013 Acts of Chapter which call us to consider, “How does this decision/action impact the Earth community?” It is possible for us to make a significant contribution towards making our gathering carbon-neutral and therefore less of an injustice to our dear neighbors.
The following describes the efforts and actions that the congregation will be taking to offset the carbon footprints caused by our travel.
Our Congregational Chapter in St. Louis will necessitate a lot of travel for about 100 delegates, 22 from the Albany Province. Travel, especially by plane, creates a great deal of CO2. At this time when global warming is reaching critical levels, we need to take action to mitigate our impact on our Earth.
So what do you do when travel is imperative? Carbon offsets are part of the solution. According to Wikipedia, “Carbon offsets are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e). One tonne of carbon offset represents the reduction of one tonne of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases.
There are two markets for carbon offsets. In the larger, compliance market, companies, governments, or other entities buy carbon offsets in order to comply with caps on the total amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit. (These are caps agreed on in the Kyoto Protocol, for example.)
In the much smaller, voluntary market, individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources. For example, an individual might purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by personal air travel. Carbon offset vendors offer direct purchase of carbon offsets, often also offering other services such as designating a carbon offset project to support or measuring a purchaser’s carbon footprint. In 2016, about $191.3 million of carbon offsets were purchased in the voluntary market, representing about 63.4 million metric tons of CO2e reductions” (Wikipedia, “Carbon Offsets”).
It is very exciting that voluntary carbon offsets are becoming so popular! After calculating our offsets, we learned that a round trip from Albany to St. Louis creates about 1,148 pounds of carbon dioxide and that our estimated offset cost for 22 delegates at $5.73 per trip would be about $127. (https://www.terrapass.com/calculate-carbon-offsets). This is an estimate because not everyone is flying from Albany and some trips necessitate two layovers, which create more carbon dioxide.
The really good news is that our Province Leadership Team has pledged $150 and the HomeLand Committee will give $200 toward offsets. This is more than double the actual cost of offsets!
It was decided that we would make this donation to Heifer International to plant trees in Heifer-sponsored projects. This really fulfills two goals: first, our offsets to mitigate greenhouse gases and second, our food focus since the trees will aid farmers in developing countries. According to Heifer International:
This tree gift includes seedlings and saplings of trees appropriate to the region. Recipients are educated on nurturing young trees and the importance of reforestation.
A family with a small orchard is able to supplement their diet with delicious fruits and vegetables while becoming self-reliant at the same time. Passing on the seedlings enables communities to continue the cycle of sustainability. Your plant a tree gift ensures a healthy, productive future while fighting poverty and hunger.
We are working to fulfill our call to action of the 2013 Chapter which challenges us “to ask in every deliberation, “How does this decision/action impact the Earth community.”
Each Congregational Chapter calls us to respond to the needs of the times. Within our provinces, we then “divide the city” and respond in diverse ways. This is exactly how a group of sisters, associates, and partners from across the Congregation responded to the 2013 Call “…to ask in every deliberation, ‘How does this decision/action impact the Earth community?'”
We met through Zoom to discuss one of our primary concerns: Climate Justice. We acknowledged our role in the injustices caused by a lifestyle that is degrading Earth systems and displacing Earth’s human and other-than-human communities. It became clear that our congregation must offset the carbon impact of our Congregational Chapter. We strategized ways to act locally regarding our carbon footprint and then went to our prospective province leadership teams to request action.
Here in the Los Angeles Province, we used a reliable carbon calculator to determine the tonnes of carbon released into Earth’s atmosphere because of our travel to and from Province Chapter. We will be doing the same for our travel to the Congregational Chapter in July. We then contributed the calculated amount (in dollars) to Community Healing Gardens in Santa Monica. They give a monthly harvest to the St. Joseph Center’s Bread and Roses Café where they serve over 100 meals to those who are homeless or transitioning back into society through their program. In addition, the Healing Gardens offer an urban school garden program. Urban gardening, removes carbon from the atmosphere, reducing the climate injustice caused by our travel activity.
Albany, St. Louis and St. Paul provinces have also offset their carbon footprint in diverse ways, according to the local needs. May we continue to “think congregational and act provincial” as we celebrate our diversity in communion within the Congregation of the Great Love of God.
What does CO2 have to do with our last Province Chapter?
One of the things we did at our last chapter was to count our carbon footprint in traveling back and forth to the meeting. We roughly put into the atmosphere 10 tons of CO2, which, believe it or not, was not as bad as we thought it was going to be. We did better because more people are carpooling, many people live in the St. Louis area, and we are purchasing hybrids and fuel-efficient cars.
But here’s a reality check: the average American releases between 16 and 20 metric tons of CO2 and in Peru the average household releases 1.8 metric tons of CO2.
So as you can see, we have a ways to go to be more sustainable. That is why we decided to purchase carbon offset credits.
What are carbon offset credits?
According to the Sierra Club, the term “offset” might imply that you are “neutralizing” the impact of your travel, and thus it has no impact. This is not the case. Once you have emitted carbon, it is released into the atmosphere, and you can’t “take it back.” What offsetting does is help reduce carbon emissions elsewhere.
The province has purchased carbon offsets from:
These donations do not make up for our carbon usage. It’s more of an investment in the future so that less carbon will be used in other parts of the world. It’s a way to remind each of us that how we live costs more to the environment than we realize.
Why not give Mother Earth a gift?
So why not give Mother Earth the gift of carbon offsets? Use the links above to visit the websites for the organizations from which the province chose to purchase carbon offsets. It’s simple, inexpensive, easy, and it says “I care about Earth!”
Thank you for caring for Creation today and every day!
St. Paul participates in the congregational action to mitigate our carbon footprint caused by travel to Congregational Chapter meetings in St. Louis. Fourteen delegates will travel by airplane and six will travel in three cars.
We will offset the carbon use by dedicating money to plant trees on our St. Paul campus woodland area. We will include a community ritual with an educational component at the time of planting.
Our vice-province of Peru is going to donate $100 toward local environmental projects where we are serving as Sisters of St. Joseph. One project will take place in Las Brisas where the Sisters are working with the parish community to add a garden area at the parish church. The other project is in the Canto Chico neighborhood in Lima, where our sisters will be involving the children in a project to plant trees in the neighborhood park. The children will learn how to care for the plants and will be responsible for watering and protecting the plants.
Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose University, will join a delegation of 24 independent college and university presidents to attend the first Higher Education Summit of the United States and Mexico, to be held at the end of the month in Guadalajara.
Sister Mary Jane Smith, CSJ is a founder and former executive director of Unity House in Albany, N.Y. The Albany Times-Union recently profiled her as one of the “Faces of Faith” in their community for her social justice work.
The Evangelist, newspaper for the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., published a profile of our Sister Chris Pologa, CSJ, who has taught theology at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge, La. for the past eight years. In the wake of August’s monumental flooding, she has seen firsthand the many families who have lost homes and belongings.
Sister Mary Anne Nelson, the head of the music industry program at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, was recently profiled by WNYT in Albany. Her ministry in education and music has touched many lives and continues to break stereotypes of women religious.