Local Climate Leadership: Eugene Shirley

Posted by on Friday, June 29th, 2018

Tell us about your work on climate.
I come out of a background that, early on, focused a lot on human rights, specifically the intersection of human rights and religion. I’ve always been interested in effective communications. I produced documentary films for PBS and BBC for 25 years. That’s my background, professionally and personally.

The reason how that comes into climate is that I’ve always been interested in the common good. And certainly, so much of religion talks about the common good, and there’s certainly no more important common good to serve than climate because it is the environment in which all life exists. Therefore, when you talk about common good, you are talking about climate. Any of the rights that we think about — human rights, all of those — involves climate.

At the intersection, there are 2 projects that focus specifically on climate. The first is in Summer of 2015, Pando Populus held a big conference at the Claremont Colleges called “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization. It is our inaugural conference for 1500 people — many people from LA County and people from across the world. The keynote was highlighting climate but emphasized interconnection of everything else — climate and social justice and all other aspects — ecological balanced future. That was our inaugural conference, focused in those ways.

We did a project with LADWP, which focused on power efficiency and conservation and that is what the faith communities, specifically Council District 5, related to. We spoke with 20 faith traditions, about 40-50 congregations, to focus on climate from a power perspective and conservation.

What inspired you on your career path? And what or who inspires you now?

The extreme urgency that we face. It’s a time of extreme importance for our planet, and we’re at the moment where we can make some difference, in any case, if we act in the right way. Our chairperson, John Cobb, also inspired me. John was one of the most important people in bringing together the fields of philosophy, ecology, and religion in the late ’60s. In 1971, he wrote a book Is It Too Late?. John’s answer was it is very late, but nonetheless if we work hard and do the right thing, we can avert catastrophe. Nonetheless, there are some things we can do to make a better, more hopeful future. I thought it was imperative to throw my hat in the ring and help with this kind of thing.

The primary person who inspires me now is John Cobb. He was a professor of mine at Claremont Graduate School. We became friends and most recently, colleagues. John is 93. He is an outstanding scholar, but he thinks the purpose for scholarship is to focus on the world. His one way in which he would define religion as “world loyalty,” and that’s very different from what others believe about religion being a world escape. Because of this, he has focused since the late ‘60s on the intersection of the Earth, society, and big philosophical ideas. And to me, it’s deeply inspiring. It gives a philosophical grounding to what we do.

What are the barriers you face in work — and what could make your job easier?

I think more than anything — the funding. There’s not enough of it. We do a lot of volunteer help that’s wonderful. We basically live on volunteers.

On the flip side, money would make my job easier. We are a unique organization in which we primarily exist to think in the connective tissue between other organizations, so that together, we can upmount projects and initiatives that can make a difference. And so, what we’re always looking for are new opportunities to partner and figure out new places/initiatives/event that need to be created. The more opportunities for partnerships, the more opportunities to clearly recognize needs and co-invent some new solution that might be worth testing out to meet that need. That’s the kind of thing we’re looking for.

A genie grants you two wishes that will help fight climate change. What do you ask for? The third wish is for anything you want (sky’s the limit!).

  1. Leadership change at the top in the direction of informed and dedicated leadership.
  2. To have 100 vibrant locations in LA County that show that model what ecological sustainable community is like from the ground up. If we can see 100 locations to point to and say this is a place where radical change has happened and this is a great example of how people have locally done it, then that would be extremely effective. Then, people can bring about more change.
  3. A harmony that exists between all living and nonliving things.
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