A Faithful Call to Action on Climate Change
On Tuesday, Sept. 23, world leaders are gathering at the U.N. Headquarters in New York for a Climate Summit. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited leaders from government, finance, business, and civil society to this 2014 summit to galvanize and catalyze climate action. These leaders are expected to bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015.
Earlier this summer, President Obama announced Environmental Protection Agency regulations to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. This is known as the Clean Power Program; the public is invited to submit comments to the proposed regulations.
Various faith organizations and groups are indeed submitting comments, as well as encouraging individuals to make their voices heard. Fr. Jim Hug, SJ offers the following commentary about the well-stated perspective by the U.S. Catholic Bishops on energy and the environment.
A Prudent and Just Response to Climate Change
Rev. Jim Hug, SJ
Care about climate change and its impacts on all of us? How could you not?!
Take a moment to read Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (inserted at bottom). It is a model for faith-based advocacy letters; would that all were so well done.
(Ed. Note: The bishop’s letter came out just days before President Obama’s directive in early June to the EPA for the first national standards on carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants—our biggest source of global warming pollution.)
What does the letter say and why is it so good?
From the very first paragraph it emphasizes that the standards to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants must be strong so that they protect the most vulnerable of all ages – the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable that is the hallmark of Catholic social tradition.
He also situates the issue immediately in its most important theological context: Creation is a profound gift from God to be cared for in gratitude and used for the benefit of all. The issues of carbon pollution and climate change are not just scientific or technical issues; they are deeply religious issues about which the Church can and must speak out.
He appeals to scientific evidence that can be verified: that these power plants are the “largest stationary source of carbon emissions in the U.S.” And he highlights the social injustice of the environmental racism and classism in the location of the plants, again pointing out the harmful impact on the most vulnerable. He recognizes that new regulations will have short-term negative effects on some workers and urges support for them as well as a just distribution of the costs to be incurred.
He appeals to Scripture (Matthew 25 – the Last Judgment), to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching (human life and dignity, the common good, community participation, subsidiarity), to a previous teaching document (Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good), and to the most popular world leader today, Pope Francis. Pick your favorite authoritative source!
He points to the Church’s extensive empirical experience on the ground: describing the sufferings encountered in the communities whereCatholic Relief Services works around the world among the most needy. Catholic Charities institutions too are being overwhelmed by the human suffering and need generated by more violent storms, wildfires, floods, droughts and more.
Recognizing the global extent of the problems the human community is facing, Archbishop Wenski calls on the U.S. government to “exercise leadership for a globally negotiated climate change agreement.” Charity is not enough. Global political solidarity in structure and policy are needed. The U.S. has for too long been an obstacle to strong international climate agreements, preferring instead to protect shortsighted corporate interests.
Finally he indicates the readiness of the Bishops’ Conference to work with the Administration and Congress “to ensure that measures necessary to address climate change both care for creation and protect ‘the least of these.’”
Why not add your voice in support of the U.S. Bishops on this crucial set of issues? Drop a note to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy expressing your strong support for meaningful, effective and enforceable national standards.
Father James Hug, SJ, former Director of Center of Concern in Washington, D.C., began his new ministry as sacramental minister for the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
>>> U.S. Catholic Bishops letter to EPA
May 29, 2014
Gina McCarthy, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Dear Administrator McCarthy:
I write on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to address the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to develop standards to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants and thereby mitigate climate change. The USCCB recognizes the importance of finding means to reduce carbon pollution. These standards should protect the health and welfare of all people, especially children, the elderly, as well as poor and vulnerable communities, from harmful pollution emitted from power plants and from the impacts of climate change.
As bishops and people of faith, we do not speak as experts on carbon pollution or on the technical remedies to address climate change. We are pastors in a faith tradition that teaches, as Pope Francis recently stated, “Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”
The best evidence indicates that power plants are the largest stationary source of carbon emissions in the United States, and a major contributor to climate change. Power plants have often been located near low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Air pollution from these plants contributes to respiratory problems, especially in the young and the elderly.
Efforts to address climate change must take into account creation and its relationship to “the least of these” (Matthew 25). Too frequently we observe the damaging impacts from climate-related events in the United States and across the globe, particularly on poor and vulnerable communities. Beyond the regulations, the United States should exercise leadership for a globally negotiated climate change agreement.
We know that the communities served by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are already experiencing the tragic consequences of climate change. Increasingly limited access to water, reduced crop yields, more widespread disease, increased frequency and intensity of droughts and storms, as well as conflict over declining resources – all these are making the lives of the world’s poorest people even more precarious.
Therefore, as we wrote in our statement, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, “Action to mitigate global climate change must be built upon a foundation of social and economic justice.”
As the EPA takes steps to address climate change and reduce carbon pollution, we ask you to be guided by the following principles taken from our statement and the teaching of Pope Francis:
- Respect for Human Life and Dignity. The regulations and all efforts to reduce the impact of climate change should respect human life and dignity, especially that of the poorest and most vulnerable: from children in the womb to the elderly. In particular, these measures must protect poor and vulnerable communities and persons from the health impacts of climate change, including exposure to climate-sensitive diseases, heat waves and diminished air quality.
- Prudence on Behalf of the Common Good. We believe that wise action to address climate change is required now to protect the common good for present and future generations.
- Priority for the Poor and Vulnerable. The consequences of climate change will be borne by the world’s most vulnerable people; inaction will worsen their suffering.
- Social and Economic Justice. Workers should be protected from negative effects on the workforce resulting from the new standards and should receive assistance to mitigate impacts on their livelihoods and families. Any additional costs that such standards may generate must be distributed fairly, without undue burden on the poor.
- Care for Creation. We are called to be responsible stewards of the earth and to use the gifts we have been given to protect human life and dignity, now and in the future.
- Participation. Local communities should have a voice in shaping these standards based on their local impact, especially low-income communities whose voice is often not heard. It is in accord with their dignity that they participate in this process.
We appreciate your commitment to address this urgent global challenge confronting the human family. The USCCB stands ready to work with you, the Administration, and members of Congress to ensure that measures necessary to address climate change both care for creation and protect “the least of these.”
Sincerely, Most Reverend Thomas G. Wenski
Archbishop of Miami
Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development