Magazine Fall 2023 Harnessing the Power of Faith in Finding Clean Energy Solutions

by Connie Gundry Tappy ’80

Clean Energy Solutions

SARAH SPENGEMAN ’01 first studied climate change in a chemistry class. “Only later did it become my life’s focus,” she says. She values her Westmont education because she learned much more in that course than how molecules interact. “Chemistry should inform our way of being in the world,” she says. “That’s how all our classes were taught, and those lessons shaped the direction of my life.”

Neither of her parents graduated from college, so Sarah appreciated political science professor Susan Penksa, who took a special interest in her. “She encouraged my passions and helped grow my confidence,” Sarah says. The late Bruce McKeown, another political science professor, inspired her lifelong love of philosophy.

After graduating with a degree in political science, Sarah earned both a master’s and a doctorate in political science from the University of Notre Dame.

“My work now relates to the passions I developed at Westmont,” Sarah says. She crafts and advocates for policies promoting environmental justice and climate and clean energy solutions.

In June, she took on the role of leading communications for the Crux Alliance, where she shares successes in climate policy with global audiences and develops strategic communications. The organization “supports the rapid implementation of ambitious, cutting-edge climate policies” with offices in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Sarah served as deputy director of communications for Energy Innovation, a clean-energy and climate policy think tank in San Francisco. Previously, she was associate director for advocacy and communications at Health Care Without Harm, a global campaign to help healthcare institutions and professionals lead on climate solutions and community resilience.

In addition, Sarah writes about climate justice and policy, most recently for Forbes, Yale Climate Connections, and Stanford Social Innovation Review. She also speaks about these issues. Her work involves planning and implementing successful campaigns, developing strategy, building coalitions and creating advocacy education and training materials.

Sarah’s faith animates her commitment to clean energy and climate policy. She serves as board secretary of Interfaith Power & Light (IPL), an organization that inspires and mobilizes people of faith to support a thriving natural world. She learned about IPL when Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change.

“It sparked a global conversation about how Christians and all people of faith are called to heal the earth, which Francis so beautifully refers to as ‘our common home,’” Sarah says. It prompted her to focus her work for social justice entirely on climate justice.

"It sparked a global conversation about how Christians and all people of faith are called to heal the earth."

“I saw how climate change was fueling an immigration crisis and homelessness, causing unhoused people more suffering and contributing to food insecurity around the world,” Sarah says. “IPL offered me a community of like-minded people who are truly living out their belief that people of faith must stand with those who are bearing a disproportionate burden of climate damages and must lead the way in relieving it.”

According to Sarah, IPL helps churches and religious congregations “witness to a way of being that stewards the earth and doesn’t exploit it.” She’s grateful to serve on the board of what she considers an “incredibly effective organization.”