There is good news and bad news in the fight to maintain a global climate in which peace and prosperity are achievable goals.
The good news, in a nutshell, is that the transition from an economy based on climate-ravaging fossil fuels to one based on clean, renewable fuels is taking place at an impressive and accelerating pace. New solar and wind farms generated more electric power last year than did new coal and natural gas plants. Tesla has taken nearly 400,000 advance orders for its mid-market electric car. World leaders have negotiated an agreement that caps the amount of greenhouse gases they plan to emit in the coming years.
Here’s the bad news. The transition to clean energy won’t be complete for decades, yet catastrophic effects of climate disruption are already apparent. The polar ice caps are melting faster than anyone predicted. The resulting rise in sea levels may force evacuation of some of the world’s largest and oldest cities in this century. Coral reefs that help feed hundreds of millions of people are dying. Drought-induced wildfires rage, from Southeast Asia to Eastern Washington. Prolonged drought in Africa has put millions at risk of starvation. Children are dying from fossil-fuel burning in China and India.
And it’s getting worse. More carbon dioxide was added to the atmosphere in 2015 than in any previous year. And after 2015, the planet’s hottest year on record, average temperatures in January in February spiked to unforeseen levels that alarmed scientists.
What, I wonder, would Jesus say if he walked the earth in this age when “business as usual” is leading to killer heat waves, pandemics, disastrous floods, rising seas and modern-day dust bowls? Certainly he would tell us to protect “the least among you” -- the poor who suffer most from the climate disruption we have caused.
Pope Francis, in his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, noted “a tragic rise” in the number of refugees fleeing lands ravaged by climate change. “Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”
It’s a matter of self-interest as well as justice. If we remain indifferent to Earth’s distress, everyone will pay a high price.
Four hundred rabbis last year signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis co-authored by Arthur Waskow, who will speak at Seattle First Baptist Church on May 21 and 22. “By overburning carbon dioxide and methane into our planet's air,” the rabbis declared, “we have disturbed the sacred balance in which we breathe in what the trees breathe out, and the trees breathe in what we breathe out. The upshot: global scorching, climate crisis.”
How do we practice “that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women” that Pope Francis refers to? There are many ways we can respond. We can reduce our carbon footprint by installing home solar panels, taking one less airline flight, giving up beef, driving an electric car. We can resist expanded fossil-fuel infrastructure, work for a tax on carbon, and support state and federal regulations on carbon pollution.
It’s so easy to be paralyzed by denial (“The problem can’t be that bad”), blind trust (“Someone else will solve the problem”) or hopelessness (“Nothing I do will make a difference”). The first step is to acknowledge the urgency of the problem and commit to doing something.
For the past year a number of us have been meeting with our Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue brothers and sisters to explore what we can do together. Our little group, Interfaith Climate Action, has organized adult-education programs, advocated for a carbon tax, protested increased coal and oil shipments, encouraged divestment of SFBC’s last few fossil-fuel investments, and arranged for purchase of carbon credits to offset the church’s natural-gas consumption.
We haven’t set the world on fire (or, more accurately, put the fire out). We don’t have all the answers and we have lively debates about what we are called to do. But we are doing something and we are doing it together. And though we still worry about civilization’s future, we are finding a joy and a cleaner conscience in doing our bit to address the most critical issue of our time.
If you would like to learn more about Interfaith Climate Action, contact Keith Ervin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-527-3310.
~ Wind farm photo from Wikipedia