By Alyssa Engebretson
Big projects run smoother when we partner with an accomplished team because expertise and experience matter when we are taking on complicated tasks. The relevant lesson when reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to leverage existing expertise in order to reduce our emissions faster. That is the core idea behind Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassadors (WCCA), a group of passionate individuals from multiple faith traditions who support faith communities interested in climate action.
The team at Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassadors have experience--both the educational background, plus years of environmental activism to help faith communities be more environmentally sustainable. WCCA aims to help faith communities at no cost navigate the opportunities, resources and expertise needed to care for creation. Oftentimes, faith communities find it intimidating to shift to sustainable energy sources, like solar panels and geothermal heating pumps. The process is challenging because new technologies are unfamiliar, these options have significant upfront costs and as 501(c)(3) organizations, faith-based communities aren’t eligible for tax incentive programs. Luckily there are resources and options out there that can help offset these costs, and Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassadors can connect religious groups to these resources.
What stands out most to me is this group uses the diverse skills, expertise, and backgrounds of each of the members to help tackle the projects they take on. There are eight individuals active in the group. One of the members, Bob Lindmeier, has a ton of experience with meteorology and as chair-elect of the American Meteorological Society Station Scientist Committee he actively encourages broadcast meteorologists to speak out about climate change. Bob is passionate about educating folks on climate change and he has been able to share his knowledge through presentations at various faith communities and schools. Bob is part of numerous outreach groups and is heavily involved in climate activism. At St. John’s Lutheran Church in Oregon, WI he is a member of their Care for Creation Ministry, which added solar panels to the church.
Another member of the group, Huda Alkaff, is an ecologist, environmental educator, and founder/director of Wisconsin Green Muslims, a grassroots environmental justice group that helps connect, educate, and encourage environmental justice. Huda has multiple degrees from the University of Georgia in Conservation Ecology, Sustainable Development, and Science/Environmental Education. For over two decades Huda has advocated for environmental justice by starting energy and water conservation programs at Muslim and interfaith organizations. Huda has been recognized by many for her work- even President Obama with the 2015 White House Champions of Change for Faith Climate Justice Leaders award. She co-chaired the US Climate Action Network 100% Equitable Renewable Energy Action Team. Huda is the Program Manager at Milwaukee Environmental Consortium, a Wisconsin Field Organizer for the Climate Action Campaign, and the coordinator of Wisconsin Faith Communities for Equitable Solar.
Kermit Hovey, has always been passionate about supporting his church, the disadvantaged, and the environment. In his experience with Madison’s chapters of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and 350.org he began his journey of environmental advocacy. He helped pass the Middleton Climate Referendum that works with climate advocates to educate, mobilize, and direct them in secular and faith-driven efforts. His collaboration with different organizations has given him the ability and skills to connect with lots of people of different faith backgrounds. He hopes to create a super green team from Dane County’s faith organizations, so that we have a stronger moral voice for climate justice that speaks with the combined wisdom of our many religious traditions about the climate crisis we are facing.
Carol & Andy Phelps, are a dynamic couple who bring their love of nature and humanity together to advocate for the environment. The Phelps assist renewable energy projects around the world. They started with a solar panel project at their own church, Middleton Community Church UCC, in May of 2016. They installed a 20-kW solar system and in a little over five years they saved around $15,590 in electric bills. The Phelps helped start the Renew Wisconsin’s EVs for Good Program. They started a Green Team at their church, began a “My Planet my Future” display at the Madison Children’s Museum, and initiated the annual Madison Earth Day EV Parade. With their experience, Wisconsin Care Ambassadors can help connect interfaith groups to focus on renewable energy sources and climate change efforts in Madison and beyond.
A team member, Rev. Edward (Ed) Brown, is the founding director of Care of Creation and has worked in the Creation Care realm for over 20 years. Ed is the author of Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation, When Heaven and Nature Sing, numerous articles and several book chapters. He presents the seminar “Our Father’s World: Why Christians Should Care about the Environmental Crisis”. Ed is well-known for establishing the Lausanne/WEA Creation Care Network through a Global Campaign for Creation Care and the Gospel which began in 2012 and has reached people in 150 countries.
Nancy Vedder- Shults and Mark Shults are co-founders of Array it Forward, a group that helps non-profits install solar power, reduce their energy usage, and improve the efficiency of faith community’s heating and ventilation systems. Mark is an MIT-trained engineer and has experience with energy systems. Nancy brings communication skills, organizational excellence, enthusiasm, and a history of leadership to their work. Nancy and Mark are members of First Unitarian Society in Madison and were involved in a solar energy project there. Mark assisted with HVAC modification which helped save 25% on the electric bill. He also helped implement a 83kW solar array in 2019, which reduced their carbon footprint by 25%. They were able to generate about 95,000 kWh the first year it was in use. The upfront cost of the solar panels seemed intimidating and nearly impossible to fundraise, but with the help of grants through RENEW Wisconsin, Focus on Energy, and tax-advantage financing through Legacy Solar Co-op, they were able to accomplish this goal. This spring Nancy and Mark were able to help Mt. Zion Baptist Church and McFarland Lutheran Church make their buildings more sustainable, as well.
The Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassadors are just getting started as collaborators. We are looking forward to seeing their impact, one additional success story at a time. The Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassadors' website includes ideas for becoming more sustainable, contacts for speakers on topics relating to climate change activism and interfaith communities, and a contact form to get in touch with them.
The Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassadors are a great example of Dane County residents joining together to help others be part of the clean energy future. Their efforts will have a positive impact on our environment. Caring for creation today will make for a more prosperous and sustainable future.
Wisconsin Creation Care Ambassadors is a great example of how people in Dane County are collaborating to accelerate climate action. The Office of Energy & Climate Change is excited to share climate success stories like this one.