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].
From the Blog
“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
“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
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
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
ICYMI: Read the summary from the July 14th “Ahead of the #G20” webinar on changing societal and values-based frameworks for #ClimateAction. Panelists included Mr. Arthur Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum; Ms. Karenna Gore, Executive Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City; and Ms.… Read more
Landmark and Transition Town Port Washington presentation with Karenna Gore, founder and director of The Center for Earth Ethics. Moderated by Hildur Palsdottir. This program is a part of a five-part Conversations from Main Street Climate Action Series with the goal of introducing community-centered climate solutions while also promoting… Read more
In a Video Recorded for FÉ NO CLIMA, Center for Earth Ethics director Karenna Gore comments on the approximation between Faith and the Climate Crisis in the Biden Administration. The founder and director of the Center for Earth Ethics at the Union’s Theological Seminary in New York, Karenna Gore, believes that the… Read more
Like so many others, I have deep and mixed emotions on this Inauguration Day. This awful chapter is coming to a close and there is a lot to celebrate about the incoming administration, but there is also wreckage upon wreckage to examine, and it goes all the way back to… Read more
Originally published December 18th by Brian Lowe for Earthbeat: a project of National Catholic Reporter at NCR Online. *** By now it’s well understood that climate change leads to rising seas and rising temperatures. It is also increasingly linked to rising conflicts. In 2014, the Pentagon issued a major report that referred… Read more
On October 22, 2020, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) hosted its first ever Virtual Faith-in-Action Awards. Honoring Karenna Gore, Founder and Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, the event highlighted the important intersection of faith, climate, and stability. Watch ICRD President and… 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.