Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA)
PICA is a Regional Working Group of California Interfaith Power and Light.
PICA grew out of a 2007 Interfaith Climate Convocation that drew 150 people to Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto. Organizers included Lee Ehrman, Walt Hays, Marianna Grossman, Debbie Mytels, and Kol Emeth members. (The Convocation program, including an information faire, inspiring talks by the late Stanford professor Stephen Schneider and the Rev. Sally Bingham, and video highlights of the Oct. 28, 2007 Midpeninsula Interfaith Convocation on Climate Action can be found here.)
To carry forward this local interfaith approach, Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA) was formed in October of 2014 with members from about a dozen congregations from the San Francisco Bay Peninsula area: Grace Lutheran, First Congregational of Palo Alto, Congregation Beth Am, Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, the Humanist Community of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto Friends Meeting, First Presbyterian Palo Alto, First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Ladera Community Church, St. Simons Catholic Church of Los Altos, St. Bede’s Episcopal in Menlo Park and the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City.
At their monthly meetings, PICA members work
— to reduce the carbon footprint at their facilities by sharing information and best practices on energy, water and resource conservation;
— develop and put on educational programs for their members and the general public, including film showings and talks by scientists, authors and activists; and
— work on local, state and national legislative issues by writing letters and meeting with elected officials.
PICA’s monthly meetings are attended by lay leaders (who often chair their congregation’s “green team”) and occasionally by clergy members. Guest speakers frequently share information about other community efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels. PICA members then take back the information they have learned and share it with their congregations, setting up Earth Day events, letter-writing tables and working to align their congregation’s practices with the spiritual values of Creation Care, Social Justice, and Respect for the Web of Life.
To demonstrate their collective belief in the importance of protecting the Beloved Community that inhabits this Earth, six of PICA’s member congregations have now installed and paid for their own rooftop solar panels, and others are considering this investment.
Among the other accomplishments of PICA and its member congregations:
- In addition to installing a massive solar array, First Congregational has done an extensive re-landscaping, eliminating much of its previous turf and installing drought-tolerant plants.
- St. Thomas Aquinas Parish offers regular community education programs such as Leonardo diCaprio’s film, ”Before the Flood,” Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Sequel,” and speakers such as climate scientist Andy Gunther and members of the Citizens Climate Lobby. The parish has also installed solar arrays on two of its large church facilities, Our Lady of the Rosary and St. Albert the Great.
- First Presbyterian has not only voted to divest its own assets from fossil fuel investments but its Cool Planet team has carried forth a campaign for divestment to its national organization: www.fossilfreepcusa.org/.
- Unitarian-Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA) and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City (UUFRC) have both achieved Green Sanctuary designation through the national Unitarian Universalist Association. For their broad range of environmentally conscious practices. UUCPA has installed solar on both its buildings, and has also covered its parking lot with a solar array, while UUFRC has been going with solar power for over 15 years.
- PICA members from St. Bede’s and the Ladera Community Church are starting an educational program about the carbon-related impact of various burial practices, to help people make informed choices.
- St. Simons is re-doing its landscaping to be drought tolerant and is installing a solar energy system.
- Together PICA worked with the Palo Alto City Council to pass a resolution whereby the Council called upon the CalPERS state retirement system to divest its funds from fossil fuels in order to protect the assets of the City’s retirees from becoming “stranded assets” as the shift is made away from fossil fuels. CalPERS has now responded with a “first step” decision to divest from any coal-related investments.
- PICA members have met with State Assembly members Rich Gordon and Mark Berman, the staff of State Senator Jerry Hill, and Congressmember Anna Eshoo to discuss legislation that has put California in the forefront of climate protection actions.
Our goals for the year ahead are to continue outreach to other local congregations of all faiths in the Peninsula area, and to engage their members and those of congregations already involved in effective action to reduce carbon emissions.
While PICA members are currently all members of various faith-based congregations, participation in our activities is open to anyone who shares our spiritually-based concern for social justice and the preservation of Earth and its living Creation. There is no cost for individuals to join PICA, although some educational programs request a modest donation. Some congregations have given financial support for educational speakers and printed materials, but there is no required financial contribution.
Debbie Mytels, Convener:
Debbie Mytels has been a “climate activist” for over a decade – and before that she worked on other environmental issues such as food, recycling, and wetlands preservation. A member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City, Debbie headed that congregation’s team to earn a Green Sanctuary certification.
In 2014 Debbie co-founded Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA), growing out of a 2007 interfaith conference on climate change that she and others organized in the Palo Alto area. A working group of CIPL, PICA includes members from a dozen Peninsula-area congregations. At their monthly meetings, they share best practices to protect the climate, organize educational programs for their congregations and the wider community, and get involved with legislative issues.
In her professional work, Debbie is semi-retired from a 25+ year career at Acterra, a Palo Alto based environmental organization where she still does grant writing and program development. In her years at Acterra she created the Green@Home program, training over 550 volunteers and helping over 3,500 Silicon Valley residents, reducing their annual CO2 emissions by an estimated 6 million pounds. She also founded Acterra’s “Be the Change” environmental leadership program that trained over 150 emerging leaders and initiated Acterra’s Business Environmental Awards program, now in its 27th year.
In earlier positions, Debbie served five years as outreach director at the Foundation for Global Community and filled leadership positions at the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Canopy: Trees for Palo Alto, the San Francisquito Creek Watershed Council, and Leadership Midpeninsula.
An active community volunteer as well, Debbie is an Advisor to CALA, the Community Advocates Leadership Academy offered by the Committee for Green Foothills. She is also a member of the Steering Committee of Transition Palo Alto, part of the world wide network of communities that aim to build resilience in the face of climate change. Debbie is also a hike leader/docent for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District where she combines her love of hiking with regular opportunities to educate others about the natural systems in our local bioregion.
Debbie earned a B.A. with honors in Social Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and studied in the journalism M.A. program at Stanford. She’s a 40+ year resident of Palo Alto where she lives with her husband Thomas Atwood. She has three grown children and five wonderful grandchildren – which is why she feels it is so important to curb climate change!