The 8th Principle and Climate Justice

Art by Molly Costello. Used with permission.

The outpouring of demonstrations for Black lives this past summer made the Black Lives Matter movement the biggest movement in US history. Unitarian Universalists have long been showing up for racial justice, but the work is far from over; with 10 years left to dramatically curb carbon emissions, this decade is all about fighting for the world we deserve, a world that honors the lives of Black, Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC). The movement for racial justice is deeply interconnected to the climate justice movement: there is no climate justice without the dismantling of white supremacy. One way for Unitarian Universalists to honor that is to adopt and uplift the proposed 8th Principle. You are invited to learn more at an upcoming webinar, The 8th Principle and Climate Justice, on November 17 at 5-6:30pm PT/8-9:30 ET, part of the Harvest the Power Justice Convergence & Teach-In – find more information below. Before joining the webinar, here is some background about how racial justice and climate justice are connected.

About the 8th Principle

The 8th Principle states: “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” 

The 8th Principle was created out of the recognition that the original 7 principles were not enough to directly address and dismantle individual, institutional or systemic racism in UU culture and beyond. Led by Paula Cole Jones, the 8th Principle Learning Community was formed in 2019 as a peer learning environment to support congregations in living out the 8th Principle. Endorsed by Black Lives of UU (BLUU) and Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), the 8th Principle has so far been adopted by almost 30 UU groups.

UU Ministry For Earth (UUMFE) adopted the 8th Principle in spring 2018, after many conversations with Black, Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC). Seeing the need for change, a UUMFE gathering in Portland brought together UUs of Color, members of UU Young Adults for Climate Justice Network, and UUMFE’s Board of Directors for deeper dialogue. The group affirmed the importance of centering and deepening anti-racism in UUMFE’s work for climate justice. As part of an effort to equalize decision-making, recognizing that urgent, top-down leadership is one way white supremacy appears in organizations, the group agreed to try out sociocracy, a process of governance in which everyone’s voice is heard. 

Dismantling racism is an ongoing process; endorsing the 8th Principle is one piece of sustained action. To deepen the work for climate justice rooted in racial justice, you are invited to join this month’s 8th Principle Learning Community webinar: 

The 8th Principle and Climate Justice, with the 8th Principle Learning Community, UUMFE & UUYACJ

November 17 at 5-6:30pm PT/8-9:30 ET on Zoom

This Zoom webinar will feature Paula Cole Jones (founder of ADORE [A Dialogue on Race & Ethnicity] and a former president of DRUUMM) and her work for UU anti-racism work and the 8th Principle, as well as Aly Tharp, and myself, Network Coordinator of UUYACJ. After presentations, there will be an opportunity to deepen reflection in identity caucus groups for People of Color and white folks. Please help spread the word. 

To join the webinar, click this Zoom link a few minutes before the meeting.

Meeting ID: 851 5348 3822

Passcode: 496182

Art by Juhi Gupta, courtesy of the Movement 4 Black Lives.

Racial Justice is Climate Justice

Racial justice and climate justice were never separate issues, nor does focusing on one detract from the other. Rather, movements are only stronger when grounded in the truth that oppressions are interconnected, and so is our collective liberation. To name just two examples: Black people are three times as likely to die from asthma as the rest of the population. The Dakota Access pipeline was rerouted away from the predominantly white town of Bismarck, ND to pass through ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, damaging waterways and sites of cultural heritage. BIPOC communities deserve the same clean air, water and green spaces afforded to white communities.

Addressing the root causes of the climate crisis means listening to and uplifting the voices of Black, Indigenous and other People of Color, who are hit first and worst by the climate crisis. To follow the leadership of the Movement 4 Black Lives, loud and clear, is to advocate to defund the police, and reinvest in community health and safety. In case you missed it, the UU Service Committee and Love Resists led a five-part series, “Taking a Collective Breath”, supporting UU communities to advocate for the Breathe Act, a revolutionary bill from the Movement 4 Black Lives to protect Black life and create justice. All five sessions are available to stream anytime, along with curated links and resources from each session. Keep up the work in your congregation with The Breathe Act: A Toolkit for UU Advocacy. Aly Tharp, UUMFE’s Program Director, presented as part of session 4. 

This call to defund the police has more in common with the climate justice movement than you might think. If climate justice is about repairing our relationship to the land and each other – our physical surroundings, as well as spiritual and emotional relationships – the fact that not everyone has access to basic rights in their immediate surroundings is a glaring call to action. Put another way, police violence can be seen as an environmental justice issue. 

Just as climate activists can point to the fossil fuel industry as a central culprit directly responsible for harming our collective futures, communities of color have been pointing to police and the prison industrial complex as a system of violence directly responsible for harming those communities. The fossil fuel industry, too, is a symptom of the deeper, moral wounds of colonization, white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy, wrapped up in an extractivist mindset that puts profit over life. Defunding fossil fuels might sound familiar as a call from the climate justice movement: the goal, though, was always to abolish fossil fuels as part of a just transition to sustainable and democratized energy, providing good jobs along the way. This is the same logic of the movement to defund policing and rebuild community-led public safety.

While Unitarian Universalists are guided by our principles to live out a more just and joyful world, we may not know exactly what a world beyond fossil fuels looks and feels like yet; we may not know what exactly community health and safety without police looks like and feels like yet – abolition advocates tell us this uncertainty is where the conversation begins, not ends. This uncertainty is an invitation for all of us to collectively reimagine a just future, and reclaim what we deserve. Your participation is needed at this point of radical possibility. I hope you will join the upcoming 8th Principle and Climate Justice webinar to continue this work. 


Amelia Diehl
Amelia Diehl
Amelia Diehl is the Network Coordinator for the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice Network, and a Communications Specialist for UU Ministry for Earth. She's been with UUMFE since 2015 and is based in Chicago and the Great Lakes region. Her other movement homes include Rising Tide Chicago, SustainUS and freelance writing.