Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Op-Ed: Climate Change Is Both A Spiritual And A Moral Issue

By: The Rev. Sandy Strauss

Climate change has long been a Pennsylvania issue. For years, Pennsylvania has been among the top states for greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. 
From air pollution exacerbating a childhood asthma crisis to severe weather threatening communities and human health, Pennsylvania’s emissions create problems and health hazards for Pennsylvania residents, as well as communities beyond our borders.
Climate change is also an issue of national conscience, as the United States is one of the top greenhouse gas emitters in the world. 
Moreover, it’s a spiritual issue as we grapple with our moral responsibilities to protect God’s Creation, love our neighbors, and be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
The Pope says that “genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.” 
This is truer in an era of human-induced climate change than ever before.
We must refocus on creating a clean energy future—one that not only addresses climate change, but also embraces care for human communities and the rest of God’s creation. And while having clean energy measures in place in municipalities and states, clean energy federal policy is what we need.
Energy produced from fossil fuels pollutes the atmosphere with toxins and greenhouse gases, and increases the risk of asthma, chronic diseases, and cancer, especially in children. 
These costs are not foreign to Pennsylvania. The air we breathe in the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area consistently ranks among the worst in the country for ozone and fine particulate matter. 
Farther west, air pollution resulted in 232 deaths in the Pittsburgh area in 2017 alone.
Protecting God’s creation—including God’s people—requires transitioning away from fossil fuels and diligent efforts toward a clean energy future. 
Over the past few centuries, we, with other developed countries, industrialized with little heed for our carbon footprint. Now we are paying the consequences. 
Marginalized communities—particularly low-income families and communities of color—grapple with the effects of extreme weather and pollution. 
And as long as the struggle continues, we can’t relax. Our work must continue.
However, our efforts mustn’t stop with Pennsylvania, because climate change knows no borders. Pollution generated halfway across the country still ends up in our children’s lungs. 
The effects of our actions will affect communities around the world through ocean rise and flooding, and extreme weather conditions will damage and destroy communities regardless of location or demographics. 
Climate change will affect everyone, so we must all fight it. Moreover, we’ll only be able to take on the challenge of climate change if we stand side by side, state by state and country by country, using our collective power to support each other through the changes we need to make.
We have the ability to work to transition our own economy to clean energy without sacrificing jobs or energy reliability. 
In his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes eloquently about the necessity of working toward climate justice, but he also writes about the dignity of work. 
Labor, he says, is not only the means to economic security and personal satisfaction; labor is spiritual, a way of entering into a relationship with creation and God. 
As we work to fight climate change, he says, we must protect jobs.
But he also insists that the calamity of climate change must be averted, or at least mitigated-- and we must provide adaptation support for those most affected by a changing environment. 
We have only begun to see the enormous damage that global climate change will wreak on the poor, on women, on people of color, and on all of us. 
Scientists tell us that, within our lifetimes, extreme weather will become the norm, ocean levels will rise and flood vast portions of the planet’s populated land, and pollution will make the air of our cities unbreathable. 
The Bible itself reminds us of our obligation to take care of the poor and vulnerable--not to bring more harm upon them for our short-term benefit. 
When we are called to love our neighbors, we do not have the option of choosing only some neighbors to love and protect.
It’s clear that the effects of burning fossil fuels have already begun to show: rising temperatures, ocean acidification, droughts, species loss, increase in diseases, and food scarcities. 
The list goes on. 
We must lead the charge on clean energy--  because our children-- God’s children-- deserve better.

Rev. Sandra L. Strauss is the Director of Advocacy and Ecumenical Outreach for the Pennsylvania Council of Churches which represents Anabaptist, Episcopal, Orthodox, Pentecostal, and Protestant communions in Pennsylvania working together for Christian unity for the sake of the world.
[Posted: February 25, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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