Austin Sachs, a sophomore at Eastern Mennonite University, purchases locally grown food at the Friendly City Co-op in Harrisonburg. Sachs, who founded the new Coalition for Climate Justice on campus, wrote and published a climate justice pledge with three tiers of commitment, each tier listing six to eight actions to conserve water and energy. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Coalition for Climate Justice urges simple commitments to living out sustainable values

An online pledge, “EMU for a Sustainable Campus,” urges the Eastern Mennonite University community to ameliorate climate change – and provides practical means to do so. The seven-member strong Coalition for Climate Justice, born out of prayer vigils held for the activists at Standing Rock Indian Reservation, sent out the pledge this spring.

The pledge was initiated and published online by sophomore Austin Sachs. It provides three tiers of commitment, each tier listing six to eight actions to conserve water and energy.

“Our goal is to get 50 percent of EMU to sign on,” says Sachs. “We believe that would have a significant impact on our climate, and that it would make a significant statement that EMU is doing more than just saying we’re about sustainability – we’re actually living it out.” Coalition members compiled the challenges, which range from buying a reusable water bottle to cutting beef completely out of one’s diet.

“The idea is to commit to any objectives you can take,” says Sachs, noting that the higher the tier of commitment, the greater the positive impact. So far, 76 people have signed.

“It’s all on the honor system,” Sachs says, “It’s your choice what you’re going to take up, and we completely believe that’s the spirit of the environmental movement – that it’s all our choices; no one’s going to hold us accountable.”

Pledge is a ‘starting point’

Sophomore Andy King, a member of the coalition, has incorporated several tasks in his existing lifestyle: take five-minute showers, limit beef in his diet and use the “Ecosia” search engine, which uses ad revenue to plant trees with each search.

“I’m a firm believer that if everyone does their part we can make a real difference,” says King. “The pledge should only be a starting point in my opinion; with the ever-increasing danger of climate change looming over us it is our obligation to go above and beyond this pledge.”

Sachs was first inspired to environmental activism by the police treatment of the activists at Standing Rock, North Dakota, who opposed construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“As a Christian, as a Mennonite, I can’t stand quietly while people are being abused, terrorized, and would eventually be killed by [contaminated] drinking water,” says Sachs, citing the water pollution in Flint, Michigan as an example of what the Standing Rock locality’s water source, the Missouri River, could become. He decided to hold a prayer vigil for the activists.

Unfamiliar with community organizing, Sachs found support from Campus Ministries, Earthkeepers, Peace Fellowship, and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, and has formed a coalition leadership team with seven other people.

“It’s the most enriching thing I’ve done,” he says. Six more vigils have followed the first one.

Lancaster Stand advocacy

Recently, the club has heeded Standing Rock Sioux leaders’ encouragement to fight new pipelines and other climate battles in activists’ own backyards—namely, the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in southern Lancaster County, Pa. The campaign against the pipeline has become known as the Lancaster Stand.

A new pledge is circulating through Lancaster area congregations, universities and the public. [Read more from Sachs in an article published at Red Letter Christians and in this op-ed published in the Mennonite World Review.]

While balancing grassroots organizing with academics, playing on EMU’s golf team, and an accounting internship at local herb producer Shenandoah Growers, Sachs says that prayer and faith keep him motivated.

“The Anabaptist faith overall: peace, sustainability, love, all those things Jesus was about, they’ve led me to do everything I’ve done,” says Sachs. “I want to love like he did, because I think that’s the best way to make the world a better place.”

Discussion on “Coalition for Climate Justice urges simple commitments to living out sustainable values

  1. Austin and all the other folks working on climate justice have been a true inspiration to me and many others. How heartening to know that we have a community that’s pulling together as caretakers of our home, this beautiful and imperiled planet.

    Earl Martin

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