Profile

Karenna Gore

Founder & Executive Director

Karenna Gore is the founder and executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Karenna formed CEE in 2015 to address the moral and spiritual dimensions of the climate crisis. Working at the intersection of faith, ethics, and ecology, she guides the Center’s public programs, educational initiatives, and movement-building. She also is an ex officio faculty member of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Her previous experience includes serving as director of Union Forum at Union Theological Seminary, a platform for theological scholarship to engage with civic discourse and social change. She also worked at the legal center of Sanctuary for Families, which serves victims of domestic violence and trafficking, was director of community affairs for the Association to Benefit Children, which provides early childhood education and other services for New York City families living in poverty, and was an associate with the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

Karenna is the author of “Lighting the Way: Nine Women Who Changed Modern America” (2006), and has written for numerous publications, including Slate, El Pais (Spain) and the New York Times. She serves on the boards of the Association to Benefit Children, Pando Populus, which helps local communities leverage their creative and intellectual resources for sustainability, the Sweetwater Cultural Center, an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to promoting the education, health and welfare of Indigenous Peoples and to preserve their cultures and ceremonial practiced locally, regionally, and around the Western Hemisphere, and Riverkeeper, an organization that protects and restores the Hudson River and safeguards drinking water. She is also an expert in the United Nations’ Harmony with Nature Knowledge Network, an online platform of practitioners, academics, and researchers.

A graduate of Harvard College, Karenna earned her law degree from Columbia Law School and a master’s in social ethics from Union Theological Seminary. She lives in New York City with her three children.

To request an interview with Karenna, or invite her as a speaker, please send details of your event or publication to [email protected].

Karenna’s Videos

Ecological Justice – ‘Walk With Me’. Virginians and allies from the region walked with Union Hill, VA to demand environmental justice and a stop to the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley fracked gas pipelines. They were joined by William Barber III and Karenna Gore of the Center for Earth Ethics.

Religion and Climate Change: A Conversation with CEE Director, Karenna Gore and Berkley Center Director, Shaun Casey.

Karenna Gore moderates Council on Foreign Relations panel on Combating Climate Change. Jason Bordoff, Brenda Ekwurzel, and Kanta Kumari Rigaud analyze climate change and environmental management.

World Leaders Forum program featuring an address, ‘The Climate Sustainable Welfare Society: Is it the Model of the Future?’, by Ms. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of the Republic of Finland followed by a question and answer session moderated by Karenna Gore.

From the Blog

Black Interfaith in the Time of Climate Crisis

On Tuesday, May 17, Executive Director Karenna Gore participated at “Black Interfaith in the Time of Climate Crisis” at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.  The event addressed “the crucial role of Black faith leaders and spiritual traditions in the environmental justice movement and… Read more

Meeting the Moment: Earth Day 2022

The climate crisis is a present, existential threat, yet there’s still time to change course and genuine reasons to be hopeful. That was a central message at the “Earth Day 2022: Life Force” celebration on April 22. This unique gathering, organized by the Center for Earth Ethics in collaboration with the… Read more

Karenna Gore: “Faiths Respond to Stockholm+50”

I was grateful for the opportunity to speak at a dialogue, “Faiths Respond to Stockholm+50,” organized by Faith for Earth Initiative of the United Nations Environment Program on March 4, 2022. Below is an extended version of my remarks.  * * * * * * Thank you for the opportunity to… Read more

Karenna Gore to Discuss “Widening the Circle” at Yale, February 23

“Widening the Circle” Wednesday, February 23, 2022 12 p.m. New Haven & New York _____________________ On Wednesday, February 23, 2022, at noon Eastern Time, Executive Director Karenna Gore will address Yale students and guests as a session in the School of the Environment BIOMES speaker series. The title of Ms.… Read more

Karenna Gore to Speak at Keeping Faith in Science? Series

CEE Executive Director Karenna Gore will take part in the Keeping Faith in Science?, a series of webinars in February sponsored by the London-based United Society Partners in the Gospel. She will speak about faith and the climate crisis at 2:30 p.m. EST (7.30 p.m. U.K. time) on February 17… Read more

Virtual Event | Ecocide: A Discussion of Law and Ethics, January 20, 2022

Ecocide: A Discussion of Law and Ethics Thursday, January 20, 2022 VIRTUAL EVENT 9 a.m. Los Angeles | 12 p.m. New York & Quito | 6 p.m. The Hague REGISTER TODAY Mass environmental devastation affects us all, even if the damage is inflicted within national borders. Yet as it stands… Read more

The Metaphysics of COP26: A Brief Reflection

“Power must be challenged by power,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr in “Moral Man and Immoral Society,” and so it felt during the COP26 gathering in Glasgow. There were the representatives of the world’s most powerful governments and the lobbyists who do so much to maintain business as usual (a data analysis identified 503… Read more

Gore to Deliver Opening Address at International Scholars Climate Conference on October 29

“Uniting the World to Tackle Climate Change: Perspectives from Religion and Politics” Friday, October 29, 2021 – Online 7:15 a.m. New York | 12:15 p.m. Scotland | 1:15 p.m. Paris On Friday, October 29, at 12:15 p.m. British Summer Time (7:15 a.m. in New York), Karenna Gore, executive director of… Read more

Karenna Gore Denounces “Terrible Burden” of Mountain Valley Pipeline

On the 49th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Executive Director Karenna Gore penned a guest column, “The common wealth of water,” in the Virginia Mercury. Gore urged Virginia’s state government not to certify the planned Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would bring fracked gas from West Virginia to southern Virginia. “Virginians… Read more

Remarks by Karenna Gore on the Global Biodiversity Framework

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) World Conservation Congress Tuesday, September 7, 2021   Faith communities are calling on governments to strengthen the Global Biodiversity Framework. For too long, economic development has come at the expense of Nature. It is driven by a mindset that measures… Read more

Q&A with Karenna

What led you to establish the Center for Earth Ethics?

The Center for Earth Ethics grew out of the groundbreaking Religions for the Earth conference held at Union Theological Seminary in September 2014, which brought together over 200 religious and spiritual leaders from around the world to reframe climate change as a moral issue and galvanize faith-based activism to solve it. In the wake of that historic gathering, it was clear that Union’s convening power, location, and social justice legacy made it an ideal center for generating effective dialogue about the moral dimensions of this crisis and also training people to be leaders in the transformative change we need to end it.

How do you envision the Center’s role in addressing the climate crisis and issues of environmental justice?

The Center for Earth Ethics bridges the worlds of religion, academia, politics and culture as we discern and pursue the changes that are necessary to stop ecological destruction and create a society that values life. We are committed to an inclusive and ground-up model of movement-building that seeks to make national and global development policy intelligible and accountable to those living on the frontlines of ecological destruction. We view leadership in environmental justice as critical to leadership on climate change. Our classes, workshops and public programs feature voices from her communities most affected by the climate crisis and we seek to make those voices heard in both the public square and the policy-making world.

You have done a lot of work with Indigenous communities – why is this work so important to you?

My experience planning the Religions for the Earth conference afforded me a crash course in interfaith dialogue in which I quickly became aware that indigenous traditions had often not been afforded the same weight in those venues. That had to change. Having been educated at Union Theological Seminary, I was aware of the relationship between colonization and the Church, and eager to explore the links between social and ecological issues, so the conversation about the oppression of Earth-honoring indigenous traditions flowed naturally. The voices of indigenous peoples were very strong and clear in calling our attention to their message about humanity’s relationship to the rest of the web of life on Earth. I consistently found that to be the most compelling aspect of the work, both in terms of theological reflection and in terms of practical application. Now we are very honored to have our Original Caretakers program as the cornerstone of the Center for Earth Ethics.

How do you understand the climate crisis and why do you think it’s important to frame it as an ethical issue?

I think the root cause of climate change is the economic development paradigm that values short term monetary gain (no matter how inequitable or destructive) over long term well-being of the whole. We must place value on the most sacred aspects of our lives—community, culture, clean air, nourishing food, and drinkable, fishable and swimmable waters—if we are going to protect them for future generations. Climate change is about more than science and economics, it is about morality, ethics and the very meaning of life.