When Margaret Mansfield was a young teacher in Cleveland, she experienced the Cuyahoga River fire firsthand.
As floating debris covered in oil caught fire, Mansfield saw that many of the people who lived within a mile of the disaster were Black.
“There’s this awful, awful smoke,” she remembered. Mansfield helped to transport students to and from school. If they spent too much time outside, the smoke could have damaged their lungs and brains.
“That was directly connected to climate change, because it was fossil fuels that were burning,” she explained.
The experience led Mansfield, a former Moorestown Friends School teacher, on a mission to care for the Earth. She joined the Eco Justice Collaborative, a group of Quakers in the greater Philadelphia area, to fight climate change and support racial and economic equality.
“Historically, Quakers have worked for peace and justice in our own communities and around the world,” said Ruth Darlington, a Medford Quaker who joined the collaborative several years ago after attending a climate change march in New York City.
“These aspirations for peace and justice can only be met if we stop global warming.”
The Eco Justice Collaborative has worked on many green initiatives since its inception around 2009. The group is now lobbying national and state governments to create eco-friendly legislation, working to make Quaker buildings like schools run on 100 percent renewable energy and running a “Traveling Ministry” that examines the connection between economic growth and climate change.
“To me, all of the ecological damage we’re doing is sacrilege,” Mansfield said. “You can’t trash the planet if you don’t trash people.”
Darlington has been educating people around South Jersey about the impact of climate change on the economy and minority groups. She worked with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance to host a film festival that showed global warming documentaries and has organized protests in the area.
There are things that individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint. Darlington has minimized air travel and powers her home with renewable energy collected by a third-party company. Mansfield tries to cut her waste and takes mass transit when possible.
“But, the best thing an individual can do is be less of an individual,” Darlington noted. “The things that we do are important in our lives and in our communities. But at this point, we really need to be working together as a whole group as well.”
She recommended joining a group like the Eco Justice Collaborative. In New Jersey, people from any religious background can join Greenfaith, an organization that advocates for climate justice.
“With a group of people who are all concerned about the environment, environmental justice, climate change, from a faith perspective, you can work together on issues that are hard to solve all by yourself,” Darlington added.