Press Release

Exploring Climate Change in the ‘Energy Capital of the World’

February 11, 2019


Schedule and Presenters Announced for Cross-Sector Symposium
February 28-March 2, 2019

Houston, TX Recognizing the spiritual and physical impact and implication of climate change, the Rothko Chapel, in partnership with the University of St. Thomas, is convening a three-day symposium to further education and action leading to a more livable and sustainable environment.  The symposium will engage Indigenous leaders, scientists, energy sector experts, economists, artists, religious leaders, and youth activists united around the symposium theme Toward a Better Future—Transforming the Climate Crisis.

“It is not every day that you have a New York Times reporter, third generation coal miner, politician, Lakota tribal leader, MIT engineer and scientist, and Catholic nun all in the same room, let alone engaging in a conversation reimaging a new future,” says Rothko Chapel Executive Director David Leslie.

“It is clear that we all play a role in the current climate crisis and that it is going to take resilience, innovation, imagination, and all of us listening to one another and working collaboratively in order to create a new way forward. In the midst of reports and studies, gatherings such as these illustrate what the real world is doing to organize and engage in addressing one of the most serious moral crises of our time.”

George Polk Award-winning New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta will open the symposium with a keynote address on February 28 at 7pm at the Rothko Chapel.  Her talk will weave together stories from her reporting about the impact of climate change especially on communities around the world living on economic, social and political margins.  The conference will continue at both the Chapel and University of St. Thomas and feature panel discussions, presentations, an art exhibition, film screening, and community discussions designed to further education and action on the climate change front.

The full schedule of events including topics and presenters are listed below and can be found on the Rothko Chapel website.

To register, visit


Rothko Chapel Symposium Schedule

Friday, March 1

Morning Observance

Tiokasin Ghosthorse, founder, host, and executive producer of First Voices Indigenous Radio and member of the Cheyenne River Lakota of South Dakota. 

An Interfaith Conversation on Climate Change including perspectives from the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh traditions.  This panel will be moderated by Steve Kolmes, Director of Environmental Studies program at the University of Portland in Oregon.  

  • Sister Damien Marie Savino, F.S.E., Ph.D., Dean of Science and Sustainability at Aquinas College
  • Vijaya Nagarajan, Associate Professor in Department of Theology and Religious Studies and the Program of Environmental Studies at University of San Francisco
  • Rajwant Singh, President at EcoSikh and Executive Director of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation
  • Rabbi Daniel Swartz, spiritual leader at Temple Hesed and executive director of Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL)

The Impact of Climate Change on our Mind, Body, Spirit

This panel will be moderated by Alejandro Chaoul, Director of The Jung Center’s Mind Body Spirit Institute and Director of Education at the Integrative Medicine program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

  • Tiokasin Ghosthorse, founder, host, and executive producer of First Voices Indigenous Radio and member of the Cheyenne River Lakota of South Dakota
  • Lise Van Susteren, psychiatrist and mental health advocate focused on the psychological effects of climate change
  • Umair Shah, executive director and local health authority for Harris County Public Health Department.

The Challenges Faced by Vulnerable and Frontline Communities

This presentation and conversation will be moderated by Earthea Nance, Associate Professor in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University.

  • Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation in the Pacific Northwest
  • Juan Parras, co-founder of the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.) and Dirty Fuels Gulf Coast Organizer at Sierra Club
  • Byron Encalade, native of East Pointe-A-La Hache, LA third-generation oysterman
  • A pre-recorded message and poetry video by Marshall Islander poet Kathy Jetnil-Kiijner

Exploring the Science, Energy, and Economics of Climate Change and the Opportunities for Imagination and Innovation

  • Astrid Caldas, Senior Climate Scientist at Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Amy Myers Jaffee, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations
  • Maha N. Haji, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Mechanical Engineering, Postdoctoral Researcher
  • Mark Boling, Founder and CEO of 2C Energy, LLC
  • Jim Blackburn, co-director of Severe Storm Predication, Education, and Evacuation from Disaster (SSPEED) Center

Art Exhibition & Reception

TransArt Foundation for Art and Anthropology, 1412 W. Alabama Street, Houston, 77006, featuring artwork by Maria Christina Jadick, a Houston-based artist.

Film Screening & Talkback

Screening of Not OK at University of St. Thomas followed by talkback with directors and Rice University anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer.

Saturday, March 2

Young Activists Speaking Out and Paving the Way for a Brighter Future

This morning session will highlight youth activists and poets.

This discussion will be moderated by Estrella Sainburg, GreenFaith Organizer.

Jayden Foytlin, a 15-year old from Rayne, Louisiana, an indigenous climate activist, and a plaintiff in the case, Juliana vs. United States.

Jackson Neal, Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate, University of Houston freshman, and a three-time member of Houston’s premier youth poetry slam team, Meta-Four Houston.  He is the 2018 Space City Grand Slam Champion.

Additional presenters are being confirmed.

Communicating Climate Change

Exploring the tactics individuals have taken to communicate the impact of climate change and how it has impacted their community.

  • Nick Mullins, a former Appalachia coal miner who is working to bridge a gap between those working in the coal mines and environmentalists.
  • Eve Moser, artist and creator of the HighWater Line project
  • Jim Morris, journalist and interim CEO of the Center for Public Integrity
  • Tiokasin Ghosthorse, founder, host and producer of First Voices Indigenous Radio and a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation of South Dakota

Houston Climate Action Plan Presentation and Community Discussion

The Honorable Mayor Sylvester Turner and members from the City of Houston, Air Alliance Houston, and Public Citizen.

Legislation and Public Policy Discussion

This panel will be moderated by Elizabeth Love, Senior Program Officer for the Houston Endowment, Inc. Health and Environmental Portfolios.

Additional panelists are being confirmed.

There will be an Interactive Activity at the University of St. Thomas created by Writers in the Schools and The Bayouth Collective on Friday and Saturday.

Symposium information including the full list of speakers, agenda, costs and logistics is on the Rothko Chapel website.

About Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is open to the public every day of the year at no charge. It is a contemplative space that successfully interconnects art, spirituality, and compassionate action through a broad array of free public programs.  Founded by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the Chapel was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary.  Today it stands as a monument to art, spirituality, and human rights. As an independent non-profit institution, the Chapel depends on contributions from foundations and individuals to support its mission of creating a space for contemplation and dialogue on important issues.

About University of St. Thomas
University of St. Thomas is a private institution committed to the liberal arts and to the religious, ethical and intellectual tradition of Catholic higher education.

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