April 2017 Newsletter

In this Clergy Letter Project update, you’ll find the following five items:

  1. The Clergy Letter Project and the People’s Climate March;
  2. Astrobiology News for April 2017: Reflections for Earth Day:  Toward a Sustainable Future;
  3. The 2017 IRAS Conference on Climate;
  4. Anti-Science and Anti-Evolution Legislation Advancing; and
  5. Ovation Agency’s Speaker Sale.

1.   The Clergy Letter Project and the People’s Climate March

The People’s Climate March is scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. and in scores of communities around the United States on 29 April 2017.  The March is being organized by a collection of 50 organizations and supported by more than 500 additional partner organizations.  Should The Clergy Letter Project sign on as a partner organization?

The goals of the March, outlined on the web page referenced above, are complex but include an intention to:
·  Advance solutions to the climate crisis rooted in racial, social and economic justice, and committed to protecting front-line communities and workers; and
·  Protect our right to clean air, water, land, healthy communities and a world at peace.

As Grace Wolf-Chase mentions below, a significant “faith contingent” has signed on as participants in the March.  I am well aware that care for creation has been a significant concern for members of The Clergy Letter Project.  Indeed, in 2011, our sixth Annual Evolution Weekend adopted the theme of exploring a positive relationship between religion and the environment.

With this in mind, I’m polling members to determine if The Clergy Letter Project should officially sign on as a partner.  Because time is short, please vote by the end of the day, Monday, 17 April.

_____ Yes, The Clergy Letter Project should be a partner.

_____ No, The Clergy Letter Project should NOT be a partner.


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2.   Astrobiology News for April 2017:  Reflections for Earth Day:  Toward a Sustainable Future

In this month’s Astrobiology News, Clergy Letter Project consultant and Adler Planetarium astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase takes a look at our home planet and asks what we can do to make it a truly sustainable environment.

With our planet being the focus of so many events and activities this month, it seems appropriate to make Earth the focus of this month’s news.  After all, one of Astrobiology’s guiding questions asks, “What is Life’s Future on Earth and Beyond?”  Earth Day coincides with the March for Science on April 22nd.  My own community of astronomers, the American Astronomical Society (AAS), has joined with more than 100 other organizations across all scientific disciplines to become an official partner of the March for Science (#ScienceMarch).  The AAS has launched a social media campaign through which members have expressed why science is important to them.(1)  On April 29th, just one week after the Science March, people of diverse faiths around the country will participate in the People’s Climate March.(2)

Although people of good conscience are divided regarding the efficacy of participating in a march, I suspect we all share a deep concern with preserving and protecting our beautiful planet for future generations, and improving conditions for the poor and marginalized today, so let’s take a brief look at one of the major challenges we face moving forward.  Those of us who celebrate Easter this month might reflect on the world at the time of Jesus, when Earth’s population was roughly 300 million people.  One thousand years later, the population had increased by only 10 million.  By the time of the Renaissance, at the birth of modern science, there were still fewer than a half-billion people on Earth.  By 1999, however, at the dawn of the new millennium, Earth’s population reached 6 billion, and at present, we are close to 7.5 billion.(3)

The Global Footprint Network reports that humanity has been in “ecological overshoot” since the 1970s, when the annual demand on resources began to exceed what the Earth can regenerate each year.  Continued economic growth places a huge strain on Earth’s resources.  Today, humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 Earths to provide the resources we use.(4)   If trends continue, we’ll be using the equivalent of 3 Earths by 2050, when the world’s population is expected to surpass 9 billion.  In the words of TED fellow, Paul Gilding, “What happens when you operate a system past its limits and keep on going at an ever-accelerating rate is that the system stops working and breaks down.”(5)

Gilding’s TED talk ends on a hopeful note, “We can choose life over fear.”  Of course, solving a problem requires raising awareness of the problem and acknowledging it. Human beings are a creative and innovative species.  For example, the Earth Institute at Columbia University is blending research, education, and practical solutions to help guide the world onto a path toward sustainability.(6)  By bringing leading scientists and economists together with experts in law, public health and policy, the institute creates collaborations to address issues of global sustainability, and to develop policy and engineer practical solutions to our many challenges.

Whether or not you plan to participate in a Science March, I hope you can join one of the many celebrations of our planet on Earth Day.  If you live in or near Chicago, please consider coming to Earthfest (#ADLEREARTHFEST) at the Adler Planetarium on April 22nd, where you can engage in discussions with local scientists.(7)  With proof of residency, Illinois residents can enjoy FREE general admission.

As Michael often says, together we can make (and are making) a difference!

Until next month,

Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. (gwolfchase@adlerplanetarium.org)

1.  See, for example, https://twitter.com/AAS_Office
2.  https://faith.peoplesclimate.org/
3.  https://www.census.gov/popclock/ 
4.  http://www.footprintnetwork.org/
5.  https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_gilding_the_earth_is_full#t-186129
6.  http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/1791
7.  http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/events/earthfest-2017/


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3.  The 2017 IRAS Conference on Climate

Given this month’s focus on the environment, it seems particularly fitting to remind you of an exciting conference this summer.

The Clergy Letter Project has again agreed to partner with IRAS (The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science) for its annual summer conference.  This year’s conference is entitled “The ‘Wicked Problem’ of Climate Change:  What it is doing to us and for us.”  The conference is scheduled from 24 June – 1 July 2017 at Star Island, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Because of The Clergy Letter Project’s partnership, members will receive a 30 percent discount on the registration fee as well as a 30 percent discount on room and board from Star Island for first time attendees.


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4.  Anti-Science and Anti-Evolution Legislation Advancing

Anti-science and anti-evolution legislation is progressing in three states.  In keeping with the theme of this month’s newsletter, it’s important to note that most of the attacks on science and evolution occurring throughout the country are tied together by a disdain for any evidence supporting either evolution or climate change.

Our good friends at the National Center for Science Education have reports of troubling legislation in Alabama, Florida, and Oklahoma.  Those of you living in one of those states might want to contact your legislators.


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5.  Ovation Agency’s Speaker Sale

As you likely know, The Clergy Letter Project has a very close relationship with our friends at Ovation Agency.  As they have done in the past, they are offering discounts to Clergy Letter Project members who want to invite one of their speakers to an event.  Speakers include Grace Wolf-Chase, Jeff Schloss and me, among others.

You’ve been reading and have been impressed by Grace’s monthly Astrobiology News columns for years.  Now’s your chance to interact with her in person!  Just make certain that you mention your connection with The Clergy Letter Project to receive a significant discount.


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In closing this month, let me remind you that, based on your votes, The Clergy Letter Project is an official sponsor of the March for Science.  You can read the announcement of our sponsorship here.  Please remember that if you participate in the March in DC or anywhere else, I’d very much appreciate it if you were to send me a picture.

And in case you haven’t seen either of these pieces, you might want to read an essay I wrote entitled “The Real Face of Discrimination” and one I authored entitled “The Importance of a Liberal Education in a Post-Truth Environment.”  They both touch on topics central to the values of The Clergy Letter Project.

As always, I want to thank you for your continued support and as I do every month, I urge you to take one simple action.  Please share this Newsletter with a colleague or two and ask them to add their voices to those promoting a deep and meaningful understanding between religion and science.  They can add their signatures to a Clergy Letter simply by dropping me a note at mz@theclergyletterproject.org.  Together we are making a difference.


Michael Zimmerman
Founder and Executive Director
The Clergy Letter Project