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Happy New Year and Decade. Let us start by acknowledging that regardless of what was happening in our lives, 2019 was a painful year for many. Cyclone Idai killed 1300 people in eastern Africa in March and floods killed over 1900 people in May and June of 2019 in northern India. Wildfires in California in October and November of 2019 caused over $25 billion dollars of damage. Australia saw its record average temperature rise to an unimaginable new high of 107.4F (41.9C) as bushfires raged all across the land. ​Counting The Cost 2019: A Year Of Climate Breakdown, a report by Christian Aid, concluded that climate change-related disasters killed thousands of people and cost almost $150 billion in 2019 alone. Adding to this crisis, a 2019 study by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services determined that a million plant and animal species are at high risk of extinction and nature’s ability to regenerate its services are now severely compromised due to human behavior.

We seem to have spent the last decade doing exactly the opposite of what we should have and it is easy to feel despair about our species’ inability to learn. And yet. Our societies have not waited for government policies to align with the science; 7000 cities from 133 countries pledged to cut carbon emissions. Whether it is the Paris Agreement, the Green New Deal, or the turn-out by activists, voters, and protestors to demonstrate their concern and call for deep change, we have never seen the public so focused on climate change. By participating in these actions, we are rejecting the extractive and extortive model of capitalism that have led us into a stark world of winners and losers and that is modeled after Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory of evolution.

To be alive in this time is to be presented with an opportunity to rethink the fundamental values that drive us as a species. Today, we know that Darwin’s theory of evolution is incomplete as it is. Evolutionary biologists like Elizabet Sahtouris point out that the survival of the fittest is but one stage of the larger evolutionary cycle and that without intra and inter-species cooperation built into the process, a purely selfish and competitive species is likely to die out. Beyond science, we can turn to our inner compasses, our faith traditions to know that we are more likely to thrive and to evolve if collaboration and community are the core values that drive us. In this newsletter, we highlight Huda Alkaff, the founder and director of Wisconsin Green Muslims, formed in 2005. A conservation ecologist, Huda skillfully merged her higher education degrees in science with her religious beliefs to develop faith-based solutions for her Muslim community. Among the projects she has created include the Green Ramadan campaign, which integrates environmental actions throughout the month when Muslims fast from food and drink during the sunlit hours as a way of commemorating the revelation of the Qu’ran.

While our species might seem characterized by our competitive gene, there are enough of us – such as Huda - who consciously choose to work in collaboration, to build community, to support one another so that we can also say with conviction that our species is equally characterized by the fellowship gene. As the irascible David Roberts wrote in 2013 for Grist:

When we ask for hope, then, I think we’re just asking for fellowship. The weight of climate change, like any weight, is easier to bear with others. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in these last 10 years, it’s that there are many, many others. They are out there, men and women of extraordinary imagination, courage, and perseverance, pouring themselves into this fight for a better future. You are not alone. And as long as you are not alone, there is always hope.
Wishing you the best for this year,

Dekila Chungyalpa
Director
Loka Initiative
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Faith In Action:

Connecting Faith, Environmental Justice and Sustainability through Education and Service

Huda Alkaff is the Founder and Director of Wisconsin Green Muslims - a grassroots environmental justice group formed in 2005 connecting faith, environmental justice and sustainability through education and service. Huda serves as a co-chair of the US Climate Action Network (USCAN) 100% Renewable Energy Action Team. She has been appointed to serve on the environmental justice task force for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. Huda is a founding member of the Interfaith Earth Network of Southeast Wisconsin and Wisconsin Interfaith Power and Light. She also serves on the national Greening Ramadan | Green Masjid Task Force and the Milwaukee Environmental Consortium Board of Directors.
What project or initiative are you working on that excites you? What are its goals? Who/ what does it impact?
 

Currently, Wisconsin Green Muslims has two interfaith initiatives: “Wisconsin Faith and Solar” and “Faithful Rainwater Harvesting,” or FaRaH, which means joy in Arabic. These initiatives connect faith communities with the unifying powers of sunlight and rainwater as sacred trusts and gifts, while providing valuable peer-learning and education, assessments and collaborative benefits to advance equitable solar energy and to provide solutions to flooding.
 
What’s been successful about the project so far and where do you see challenges?

The Wisconsin Faith, Environmental Justice and Solar Initiative is an interfaith program built on the foundation of trust in the unifying power of solar energy to bring people of faith and good will together to care for Earth, save money to reinvest in their missions, and move forward toward an equitable 100% renewable energy future. It received high approval ratings from people from diverse geographical, age, gender and political backgrounds, providing solar education, assessments and consultations to over 4,000 people of at least 18 different religions and spiritualities in Wisconsin.

The initiative has three components. The first involves a social and educational component consisting of a peer learning, connecting those who have built solar or green infrastructure and those who are aspiring to do so. The second is the financial component, where we provide free and/or discounted remote and on-site solar assessments and consultations. We love spreading the good news, telling people, “This is a solar-promising site!” The third component is spiritual. We see sunlight and water as “the commons.” No one owns them, and everyone should have responsible access to them. Both sunlight and water are sacred gifts and sacred trusts. We need to appreciate them and welcome them with care into our homes, congregations, and lives.
 
What projects do you work on now that gives you the most hope?
 
Faith Communities for Equitable Solar
 
Through over 100 one-on-one and small group conversations, listening sessions and presentations, Wisconsin Green Muslims reached more than 4,000 people of different backgrounds in Wisconsin to generate Just Solar guiding principles from the people, by the people, for the people, rooted in our collective values of justice, equity and inclusion. Two pathways came up from these listening sessions and conversations: Energy Efficiency to Solar and Solar Trainings to Living Wage Jobs. All this work is moving us toward equitable 100% efficient and renewable energy in Wisconsin and centering women and disadvantaged communities.
 
Climate Justice Healing Conversation Circles
 
The purpose of this project is to foster collaborative approaches to overcoming shared barriers. Currently, we are exploring how to heal our personal wounds in the climate justice movement. How to be healers for our wounds and the wounds of others in the climate justice movement? How as “wounded healers” can we learn from the healers of the world and be ourselves effective healers of the world?
 
Open Circle of Diverse Monthly Environmental Justice Themes
The model that works for us is to designate a theme for each month, focus on it with participants from different Islamic Centers, quantify the results and celebrate the outcomes, then move to a new theme in the next month. This diverse approach enables us to connect with a variety of constituents who join our open circle at the point of entry that matches their interest.

Our work culminates in Green Ramadan, which is one of our successful campaigns, where we celebrate it with daily actions to reduce our ecological footprints and consumption impacts. Our Green Ramadan daily calendar is posted on our website WisconsinGreenMuslims.org/green-ramadan/. The Greening Ramadan campaign, where the emphasis is on Greening as a continuous process, began in Wisconsin and is practiced now in over 20 states with over sixty Mosques participating nationwide, reaching thousands of people.
 
 
If you had a megaphone that could reach everyone on Earth, what would be your message and why?
 
Climate grief and climate related stress and anxiety is experienced more often within our community of climate activists. Understanding the healing process is important. Many of us have wounds that stem from the labors of our environmental and climate justice work that are in desperate need of healing. We must ask each other, “how are you healing?” and then listen to and learn from each other on those methods through guided listening and learning sessions within the climate justice community and beyond. In 2020, Wisconsin Green Muslims and a few partner climate justice organizations are working on a pilot project to form a safe space and a welcoming open circle that can be virtual and perhaps in-person, with a curriculum and toolkit that moves us together on the path of healing, rooted in our traditions, cultures, spiritualities and philosophies. 
 
 
What issue is top of mind for you at the moment? What is something practical we all can do to help?
 
In 2020, Wisconsin Green Muslims is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Since we are a small group with limited resources and capacity, we are not known to the public. We need to launch a robust communications campaign that presents our work in a variety of ways to reach a diverse audience. 
 
Connect with us and our work by emailing info@wisconsingreenmuslims.org, visiting our website or following us on Facebook, Twitter and Skype at @WIgreenMuslims.

I also have a chapter in a newly-released book, Rooted and Rising. Rooted and Rising is for everyone who worries about the climate crisis and seeks spiritual practices and perspectives to renew their capacity for compassionate, purposeful and joyful action.
 

 Events

Making the Connection 2020: Environmental Health in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Environmental Health Network (WEHN) hosts an annual conference focused on environmental health. The conference features recognized speakers and an environmental justice panel. This conference also provides an opportunity for scientists, researchers, healthcare professionals, environmental advocates and concerned citizens to network and make connections.

March 6, in Madison, WI, learn more >
Faith Climate Action Week organized by the Interfaith Power and Light
10 days around Earth Day. This year’s theme is Love Made Visible: Engaging in Sacred Activism to protect the people we care about who are most affected by climate change.

April 17 – 21, learn more >
Empowering Activism: Ecodharma Retreat for Women of Color
Join Boundless in Motion (BIM) and Satya Yoga Cooperative at the stunningly pristine and healing Rocky Mountain Ecodharma retreat center (RMERC) for a retreat designed for empowering self-identifying women of color who work for the climate and/or social justice movement.

June 17 – 21 at Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center, learn more >

Share other news stories, events and stay in touch with the Initiative

Hashtags: #LokaInitiative #Loka🌎
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Instagram: healthy.minds and dchungyalpa


 
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