Press Release

Toward a Better Future: Transforming the Climate Crisis


Three-day symposium focuses on the human costs and responsibilities related to climate change

Houston, TX – Climate change is impacting the global community rapidly with serious environmental and community impacts.  Therefore, the Rothko Chapel and the University of St. Thomas will present a three-day symposium, Thursday, Feb. 28 to March 2, 2019, titled: “Toward a Better Future: Transforming The Climate Crisis.”

Building off the United Nations’ October Climate Report, The Paris Agreement and Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment (Laudato Si), the symposium will bring together local, national and international representatives to discuss and further efforts to mitigate the current climate crisis and its impact especially on marginalized and vulnerable communities.  Given the global and interconnectedness of the climate challenge crisis, the symposium will explore how best to move to a zero emission, low carbon economy through the engagement of presenters and attendees from the religious, tribal, public health, energy, government, philanthropic, academic and arts sectors.  A central focus will be the individual and institutional actions, practices and policies that must be taken to create a more livable and equitable future.

“The convening of this symposium is very timely and our goal is to connect our efforts in Houston with other climate change efforts in Texas and beyond.  The science is clear—as is the message from all quarters—that we need to do all we can both individually and collectively to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce our carbon footprint,” said David Leslie, Rothko Chapel Executive Director.

“As climate change is a spiritual issue of epoch proportion,” Leslie added, “It is especially important to learn how it is currently impacting vulnerable communities around the globe, mindful that none of us are exempt from the impact of climate change and the efforts all of us must make to reverse the current CO2 trend line.  Simply put, the symposium will focus on ethics and actions we can and must take—no matter how disruptive—that will ensure a livable planet for future generations.”

The symposium will open on Thursday, February 28, at 7:00 p.m. at the Rothko Chapel with the opening keynote address by New York Times Global Climate Reporter and George Polk Award-winning foreign correspondent, Somini Sengupta. Sengupta will share stories she has collected from people and communities around the globe who have been adversely impacted by the effects of climate change. 

Continuing on Friday, March 1- Saturday, March 2, both at the Rothko Chapel and the University of St. Thomas, the symposium will weave together art, spirituality, and human rights and explore the topic from local, national, and global perspectives through presentations, panel discussions, and breakout sessions focused on

  • The mental, physical and spiritual health implications of climate change
  • The impact of climate change on vulnerable communities   
  • Interfaith perspectives and actions   
  • Legislative and public policy efforts to mitigate climate change
  • Corporate and philanthropic investment and divestment practices  
  • Cultural, academic and artistic collaboration to further understanding and action

“Beyond the many scientific reasons that tell us we must be better stewards of the gifts with which we have been entrusted; this planet is a home we all called to share with the entire created world,” University of St. Thomas Chaplain and Basilian Father Chris Valka said. “Especially in a moment when we seem to be so fiercely divided, we hope this symposium will offer us paths for unity and possibly even communion. The problem is simply too immense to think that the solution will be found from one point of view.”             

Confirmed speakers and presenters include:

  • Mayor Dale Ross (Republican) who has made Georgetown, TX the largest city in the United States to be powered entirely by renewable energy.
  • Amy Myers Jaffe, the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment and director of the program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a leading expert on global energy policy, geopolitical risk and energy and sustainability
  • Nick Mullins, a former coal miner from the Appalachia region who is working to bridge a gap between those working in the coal mines and environmentalists.
  • Jim Blackburn, Co-director of Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disaster (SPEED) Center
  • Mark Boling, Founder and CEO of 2C Energy, LLC
  • Elizabeth Love, Senior Program Officer for the Houston Endowment Health and Environmental Portfolios
  • Juan Parras, Executive Director and Founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S.)

Additionally, the Symposium will feature:

  • A film screening of “Not Ok” followed by a discussion with creators Dominic Boyer, Professor and Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) and Cymene Howe, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of Graduate Studies at Rice University.
  • Original poetry by young poets from Writers in the Schools (WITS)

More symposium information including the full list of speakers, agenda, costs and logistics will be available on the Rothko Chapel website. Registration will open to the public in December.

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, non-governmental organization, 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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