Sightings from the Treehouse: Preparing and Adapting to Climate Change in Georgia

Sightings from the Treehouse is an investigative blog series on climate change and the environment, from GIPL’s Power Wise Director, Bob Donaghue. You can read all the posts from the blog series here


Georgia is feeling the pinch of climate change.  Tides are rising along the Georgia coast, temperatures are on an uptrend, plant and wildlife species and their habitats are threatened with a resultant loss of ecosystem services. There are a wide range of activities by a wide range of non-profits, business and governments to mitigate or adapt to climate change.  An important player in implementing actions to reduce their carbon footprints is the faith community.  There are 15,000 houses of worship in Georgia, a few hundred are making strides in reducing their energy use, others are actively divesting from fossil fuels companies in their financial portfolios, and a few have full blown Creation care programs. It is clear more need to commit to Creation care.  Below are some examples of faith-based efforts in Georgia.
Energy Efficiency in Houses of Worship
Over 220 Power Wise energy audits have been performed at congregations of most faiths across Georgia by GIPL.  Most have sanctuaries, administration offices and education buildings.  Some buildings are over 50 years old while others are relatively new. Regardless, virtually every audit reveals that improved insulation, lighting upgrades and smart thermostats are the primary energy conservation measures identified by GIPL’s energy auditor. Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, founder of Interfaith Power and Light, participated in an energy audit at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church at Emory.

Congregations receiving Power Wise energy audits are eligible for GIPL’s annual energy efficiency matching grants of up to $10,000 to implement energy conservation measures identified in the GIPL audit.  Since 2007, GIPL has awarded $831,032 to congregations.  Congregations commit to match those funds 1:1, thus total funds directed toward congregational energy efficiency through GIPL equals $1,662,064.
As a GIPL grant recipient, view the wide range of energy efficiency efforts at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in the video below.

Renewable Energy in the Faith Community
Seven congregations in Georgia have installed solar arrays on their roofs to cut energy costs and reduce their carbon footprints.  The churches are:

  • St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church in Athens
  • Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Decatur
  • St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Decatur
  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Savannah
  • Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Sandy Springs
  • St. Anne’s Episcopal Church and Day School in Atlanta

Video credit: Southern Environmental Law Cntr.

In addition to those congregations listed above, religious leaders from many faiths have expressed interest to GIPL about obtaining solar energy to reduce their carbon footprint and save money.  They are working closely with GIPL and the Solarize programs throughout Georgia.
Archdiocese of Atlanta Catholic Laudato Si Pilot Project
Pope Francis has thrown down the gauntlet to religions and congregations across the planet in Laudato Si to recognize the abuse brought upon Creation by power and greed.  He has called upon society and individual congregations do something about it.  A number of Georgia Catholic congregations and schools have accepted the challenge and are undergoing comprehensive energy and water audits to develop a baseline upon which to build their Creation Care programs. Once the baseline is established, they will then implement stewardship programs. The Laudato Si Action Plan provides a roadmap for each congregation to implement measures that reduce natural resource use, cut waste and help their congregations embrace Creation Care.
The Catholic Laudato Si Pilot Project is led by the Archdiocese of Atlanta and its partners; GIPL, Southface and the US Green Building Council and includes the following Catholic churches and schools:

  1. Christ Our Hope Catholic Church, Lithonia
  2. Mary Our Queen Catholic Church, Peachtree Corners
  3. Catherine Siena Catholic Church, Kennesaw
  4. George Catholic Church, Newnan
  5. John the Evangelist Church, Hapeville
  6. Mary’s Catholic Church, Rome
  7. St Matthew Catholic Church, Tyrone
  8. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, Cleveland
  9. Pius X Catholic Church, Conyers
  10. Our Lady of Victory School, Tyrone
  11. St Mary’s School, Rome
  12. Peter Claver School, Decatur

In addition to the faith-based community, numerous non-profit and business organizations are aggressively planning and adapting for changes occurring in Georgia through 2050.  GIPL and some board members are working actively with several of the big movers in Georgia related to climate change adaptation.

  • Solarize Georgia – Solarize Georgia consists of several regional Solarize programs including Dunwoody, Decatur-DeKalb, Athens and Tybee and Chatham County and Savannah.  Over 200 rooftop solar units have been installed since program inception.
  • 100% Renewables – 36 cities nationwide have committed to 100% renewal energy including Atlanta, Clarkston and Athens.
  • Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is an advocate and steward for the Chattahoochee River, its tributaries, watersheds and its ecological health.
  • City of Atlanta – Office of Resilience – in coordination with the city’s Office of Sustainability, they are planning and implementing programs that make the city more environmentally sustainable and better adapted to climate change.
  • Industrial Sustainability – The late Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, applied principles in Paul Hawken’s Ecology of Commerce to real world industrial challenges and opportunities. Their climate takeback program views carbon as a resource, and they are designing carpet tiles that drawdown carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Georgia Universities – UGA’s Marine Extension Program and GA Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning are helping coastal Georgia adapt to sea level rise.

As you can see, awareness and action on climate change is growing in Georgia as a result of dedicated, focused non-profits organizations, business, universities, City of Atlanta government, and a core group of faith-based organizations.   Will these and other climate change actions globally be enough?  Next month’s blog will explore this question.