After the music ends

By Steven Charleston

The reviews are still coming in for “Live Earth”, the global music event inspired by Al Gore to raise awareness to the dangers of global warming. Featuring a wide range of pop stars and bands who donated their services, the international concert was performed at nine locations around the world. It is estimated that two billion people watched the show in locations as far apart as Brazil and Japan. The goal, as the former Vice President told the Associated Press, was to raise awareness to the realities of global climate change. His hope was that awareness would lead to action.

Is he right? Will consciousness raising translate into practical response? Once people are alerted to a reality, will they do something about it? That remains to be seen. And it raises a fundamental question for any of us who seek to do what Al Gore is doing: motivate people to change.

For many years now scientists, environmentalists and their allies have been sounding the call to action. While “Live Earth” is certainly one of the most ambitious efforts in that direction, it is standing on the shoulders of a long history of awareness building going back over decades. In fact, the timeline of that history could be traced back to other political figures like Theodore Roosevelt and artists like Ansel Adams. Concern about the destruction of the Earth is nothing new. Questions about why that concern has not become policy are perennial. The reviewers of “Live Earth” are asking it. We should be too.

When do we achieve the tipping point on any justice issue? When does public awareness about an issue, whether it is civil rights or global warming, reach its crest and spill over into public action?

A small group of Episcopalians think they have an answer: get the religious community to do what others have been either unwilling or unable to do. To make a bold step from awareness to action, a partnership between the Diocese of Olympia and the Episcopal Divinity School has proposed a national covenant to reduce green house gas emissions in every parish, synagogue, and mosque in the United States. Challenging all faith communities to stand together to make a public witness to creation, they have proposed the “Genesis Covenant”.

The “Genesis Covenant” is a catalyst. It seeks to get national church bodies, such as the Episcopal Church, to commit to a realistic, but difficult set of goals within a set period of time. It envisions a 50% reduction by all religious institutions in the energy use that fuels global warming by the middle part of this century. It offers a network of support, resources, and information to help national faith communities carry out their pledge. And it seeks to leverage similar action by corporate and political interests who will be challenged to follow the lead of people of faith in doing something concrete to effect change.

The “Genesis Covenant” is “Live Earth” translated into action. Like the international scope of Al Gore’s concert, the “Genesis Covenant” has the potential for a global impact. If it succeeds, it could become a unified movement among all of the world’s religions to turn the tide of global warming. Imagine every religious community from Rio to Tokyo, from Berlin to Johannesburg, from New York to Beijing all joining in a single covenant to stop global warming through direct action on the local national level. The same audiences who heard the music could now begin the dance.

Will the “Genesis Covenant” work? Yes, if we have the will to move from hearing to doing. The “Genesis Covenant” is an invitation to people of faith to take the lead in making that happen. It moves us beyond being a concerned, but passive audience into a coordinated and committed movement. It takes the critical step from awareness to action. It offers us an opportunity to demonstrate in practical terms that people of faith can do more than enjoy the show. They can change the world.

(For more information about the “Genesis Covenant” please contact Episcopal Divinity School’s communication office,

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS’s Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston has been called “one of the best preachers in the Episcopal Church.”

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