Through an accident of birth, most of us enjoy an extravagant lifestyle. We have the basics—food, clothing, housing, and health care—and then some—education, stable communities, good jobs, freedom to travel and to speak without fear of reprisal. Africa Faith and Justice Network members know that too many don’t even have the basics. As people of faith, we are all motivated to change that reality because of our response to God’s call to care for “the least of these” whether they live next door or on the continent of Africa. But I believe that climate change will test our commitment by demanding more of what we do…lots more. Relief agencies – including religiously based ones – understand that their work can be wiped out with a severe flood, a disease outbreak, or a prolonged drought. As these weather events and their aftermath begin to intensify, faith-based agencies will be asking more of their fellow believers. Will we be willing to give more?
Climate Change and the Poor
The primary cause of climate change is relatively simple: us. By “us,” I mean those of us who have the basics and then some. We’ve developed our economies to secure these basics by burning so much fossil fuel that we’ve entered an unsustainable era in the life of the planet. These greenhouse pollutants, scientists say, will create prolonged droughts, more intense storms, longer heat waves, and intensified disease outbreaks. Hundreds of thousands may become environmental refugees.
Who will bear the primary consequences of climate change? Them. By “them,” I mean those who don’t have the resources to withstand these changes to our climate. What might some of the impacts of climate change be? For one example, let’s look at water. Besides drinking, we depend on water for agriculture, power generation, and sewage systems. But in the developing countries of Africa, mismanaged or inadequate water resources as well as population growth will add significant stress to these uses. Climate change could make the situation worse. And because climate change will continue even if we act to dramatically curtail greenhouse gases today, we must be prepared to help countries adapt over the long haul while mitigating the amount of greenhouse gas pollutants we’re putting into the atmosphere in the near term. Ultimately, our public discourse about remedies to climate change will lead to public policy prescriptions. In the faith community, we might not be experts in terms of which policies might better address relief and development overseas. But we do have some principles, based on our belief systems, which can offer direction. For example, the Catholic bishops’ call for prudent action in the midst of uncertainty, the promotion of the common good over self-interest, and the protection of the poorest among us.
Building on these and other principles, the member organizations of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (including the National Council of Churches, the Evangelical Environmental Network, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) have played and will continue to play a significant role in reminding our public officials that it is unjust and shameful to be the ones primarily causing the problem of climate change and yet not taking serious and sustained action to mitigate the impacts of our behaviors on the least developed nations that are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. The winners can’t just be the energy companies on the one side (making a profit trading carbon credits, for instance) and environmental groups on the other (scoring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrating progress to their funders). The faith community is saying that there will need to be provisions that protect the lives and dignity of the poorest—at home and abroad. This should be everyone’s first priority.
Cooperation and a Unified Voice
The faith community is seeking others with similar motivations. The Africa Faith and Justice Network is a natural ally in this fight. We urge you to join us as we call for comprehensive climate change legislation that generates additional funding to ensure that poor people affected by climate change at home and abroad are, at a minimum, no worse off than they are now by either unfolding climate change or by climate change legislation.
As for the Catholic community, we will launch a major new initiative in the spring. A Catholic Climate Covenant: The St. Francis Pledge to Protect Creation and the Poor will be unprecedented campaign urging Catholic individuals, families, parishes, schools and other institutions to pray and learn about climate change, assess and act upon their own climate impacts, and join the US bishops in advocating for public policies on climate change that both protect God’s gift of creation and assist poor people at home and abroad with climate impacts. We encourage you to sign up to receive ongoing updates about this campaign by visiting:
Climate change should not just be a challenge borne by the poorest among us. Climate change will test all of us— especially those with more than our share of the world’s resources—to contemplate in a more comprehensive way the notion of solidarity. Those of us in the faith community might say: we must see the face of God in all who suffer—from New Orleans to Nigeria—and act accordingly.
By Dan Misleh, Executive Director of Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, Posted on Jan 21, 2009