By Rev. Susan Hendershot
Having never attended a TED conference before, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I knew that there would be a plethora of speakers, some of whom would have interesting things to say, but beyond that, I had no clue as to the agenda for the three days we would be together in Detroit, Michigan.
The TED Countdown focuses entirely on climate change, billing itself as “championing and accelerating solutions to the climate crisis.” I had an invitation to attend that resulted from a colleague and Interfaith Power & Light Board member, Gopal Patel, being a speaker at the event. There were a dozen or so faith-based environmental leaders who had all been invited; some of us had only met on Zoom prior to this.
I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity to listen to and learn from the speakers, many of them working in areas about which I have little knowledge or experience: electric vehicle battery recycling, oceanography, decarbonizing shipping, fashion – and fast fashion in particular, and artificial intelligence.
That’s not to say I agreed with everything I heard. There were certainly attempts by some to greenwash what their business is doing in order to appear more environmentally sustainable. There was the usual talk about markets and economic growth that demonstrated that, as a society, we continue to focus on indicators that got us into the climate crisis to begin with: continuing to consume our way out of an emergency caused by overconsumption.
But I found glimmers of hope as well. Researchers who are actively looking for ways to create a more sustainable, circular economy that reuses everything it can in an effort to reduce the need to mine for more. Activists who are putting their lives on the line – quite literally – in order to speak truth to power. And a community of folks looking to learn from one another and grow in their understanding of how, by working together, we can solve the climate crisis.
And Detroit. If you haven’t been there in a while and you are only thinking about urban blight and a city that filed for bankruptcy in 2013, you should look again. I was amazed to see the transformation that has occurred in the city that I had visited often as a child with my family. Hearing from local policymakers and artists, visiting a community center that provides free services to its residents, hearing about food rescue and the circular food systems being put in place, and listening to its musicians gave me hope for how we, with persistence, can create the kind of communities that can thrive.
And I believe strongly that the participation of faith-based environmental leaders only enhanced the conference. I noted that there were several times when speakers provided a glimpse into the “why” of their work – a childhood spent in nature, a sense of something larger than themselves. Through intimate conversations and table talk, it was easy to see the spiritual underpinnings that exist for many who work on climate, even if it isn’t named directly. The truth is we protect what we love, and love is a moral value.
Note: We will share Gopal Patel’s TED talk with you once it is made available to the public.