A conservative climate change speaker
Dave Ostendorf had been aware of Meteorologist Paul Douglas for a long time.
"He's a pretty well-known figure up here," Ostendorf said. "I thought, given what we've been doing as churches in the community, it might be interesting to see if he might be able to come over and speak with us."
Ostendorf is minister for community and outreach at First Congregational United Church of Christ in River Falls. The UCC is also part of a group of local churches called "Hope for Creation." Representatives from each church meet regularly and discuss climate change issues and ways to make their churches more sustainable.
There was "good energy" in the group for Douglas coming, Ostendorf said.
The group was particularly interested in Douglas's perspective on climate change, Ostendorf said. River Falls United Methodist Church's pastor Amy DeLong agreed.
"He did a great job of establishing himself as an Evangelical Christian, and as a conservative," DeLong said. "He did all that so he could get credibility with the people who are climate change deniers ... So he could say I'm one of you, but the evidence has lead me to the truth."
Douglas said he's been giving talks about climate change and faith for about three years.
"I've been trying to leave together science and faith and making the case that these two are not mutually exclusive," Douglas said. "Many people respond to science and data and some people, you know, seem to appreciate framing this in a way that appeals to people's heads and their hearts and their faith and spirituality, so that's what I'm trying to do."
His book "Caring for Creation" is coathored with Mitch Hescox, a former Methodist minister and current President/CEO of The Evangelical Environmental Network.
At the presentation, Douglas talked about stewardship and the Bible, referencing Luke 16:2, which Douglas said calls people to be "stewards."
"We are stewards of God's creation, we are stewards of God's gift," he said, "And I think we are ultimately accountable in how we steward anything and everything."
Douglas tells people "we don't own anything."
"We lease everything on this planet," he said. "We're passing through. I think we have an obligation to hand it off to our kids and their kids in a manner that we can be proud of."
Douglas also quotes a passage of the Bible in which Jesus says "what you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me." He tells listeners that climate change will affect the poorest first. They will be the first to feel impacts like more weather swings, rising sea levels, etc. Close to 300 million people around the world live within 3 feet of sea level, Douglas said.
"It's not just an abstraction, it will increasingly impact their lives," he said. "Many of them will be forced to migrate. And things that happen overseas have a way of blowing back in on the United States."
Douglas tells people the world has an ending. Not yet, but it is warming; that provides some benefits and some negatives, he said.
He encourages people to listen to the majority of the world's scientists, who say climate change is happening.
"There are solutions," he said. "We should probably listen to the scientists and not just dismiss it as a conspiracy or a liberal hoax or any number of excuses that some people give."
Ostendorf and DeLong said that Douglas told the public during his speech that he was once a climate change denier, and explained how he changed his mind.
Douglas said "increasingly erratic and volatile, jaw-dropping weather extremes" caught his attention 20 years ago.
"I started to connect the dots, and that's what pulled me into the science and it dawned on me," he said, "that climate theory had become a reality. Mother Nature has gotten moodier over the last few decades, and I'm not the only meteorologist who's noticed that."
People can combat climate change, Douglas said.
"The most important thing they can do is keep an open mind and respond to evidence and data and science," Douglas said. "I have strong faith ... I believe in God. But God gave us big beautiful brains and my hunch is that he probably wants us to use them and see the world as it is, not necessarily as we believe it should be."
People can vote at local, state and national levels, for people "who have respect for science."
He also recommended people stay open to clean energy options and look for new ways to reduce their carbon footprints. This can also help people save money.
Douglas believes River Falls is ahead of its time in sustainability efforts.
Hope for Creation
The local group "Hope for Creation" started about three years ago when First Congregational United Church of Christ and St. Bridget Catholic Church began looking at Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment.
"We held community events, we held education events and we just began to grow," Ostendorf said.
The number of churches involved grew as well, to five.
"Hope for Creation" has held several public events over the past two years. But Douglas's speech has been the largest and most impactful, Ostendorf said.
"I think it's fair to say all of us were just amazed," Said Ostendorf."There were in excess of 300 people in the basement of the Methodist Church in the fellowship hall."
The event was standing room only. Following the event, the group membership grew to eight local churches.
The group is looking at what has come out of the Douglas event. The churches involved have been making efforts to increase sustainability.
• St. Bridget is moving ahead with solar panel installation.
• United Methodist recently completed a major weatherization project.
• All churches involved have been looking at ways they've been able to conserve energy, and share that amongst themselves.
Ostendorf said energy conservation doesn't just help the environment, it also saves the churches money. In his eyes, the group makes a big difference.
"We can share ideas and experiences," he said. "Last week we had, I think there were either 16 or 18 of us at the table. You get that many leaders, that many churches involved, it's going to have some impact."
Ostendorf said River Falls Municipal Utilities has also been ahead of its time in its commitment to sustainable energy sources, such as solar panels.
"River Falls can be a beacon to other communities all over the Midwest and beyond," Ostendorf said.