by Steve Gillard
Is the climate crisis too political for faith communities to tackle? What unique role do faith communities have when speaking about carbon pollution? As an environmental and social justice advocate, I spend a lot of time working to push my elected officials toward more sustainable energy policy. And as a lifelong Presbyterian, I spend a lot of time thinking about how my faith community can voice the moral imperative of taking urgent action to protect our natural world. As it turns out, a lot of other people are thinking about this, too.
I recently joined 1,500 other grassroots advocates at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) conference in Washington, D.C. There, between sessions on building our skills to effectively lobby Congress, a panel of activists from a variety of faiths—including Judaism, Islam, the PC(USA), and others—agreed that people of faith can draw from the deep wells of wisdom of our various traditions to combat climate change. And that wisdom shows us that we need to combine advocacy for pragmatic solutions with a prophetic voice that can imagine a better and more just future.
Although the Bible says nothing explicit about fossil fuels or climate change, Dr. Mirele Goldsmith of the Jewish Climate Action Network pointed out that the Bible is full of people courageously confronting new, daunting challenges, who can serve as examples for us when confronting the climate crisis. She and Colin Christopher, a Muslim panelist from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, explained that our sacred texts show an awareness of our reliance on God’s provision through nature and connect that provision to faithfulness to God.
The panelists urged activists to connect their passion for addressing the climate crisis with their faith. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist, evangelical Christian, and the keynote speaker of the CCL conference, made a similar point. Scientific facts may not convince people of the reality and urgency of climate change; we need to continue to develop a vocabulary anchored in our rich faith traditions to connect with people's values if we are to expect them to take on big challenges, such as climate change.
The Church has a particular calling: to articulate a prophetic vision to push society toward a wholeness that does not yet exist. People of good faith can differ on what this means, but I believe we need investments in clean energy, we need to amplify marginalized and indigenous communities, we should divest from fossil fuel companies as a witness to the urgency of the climate crisis, and we need to eventually heal our broken relationship with nature. Too often we view nature as a resource to mine or as a garbage can to absorb our waste, instead of recognizing our reliance on it and our place in its web of interdependent relationships.
At the same time, the climate crisis is urgent and we need to take immediate action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, doing our best to engage our broken systems. CCL’s Presbyterian Action Team, which developed the overture to support carbon pricing that was approved at the last General Assembly, is one of several groups within the PC(USA) taking concrete steps to combat climate change. CCL's approach is known as carbon fee and dividend, which places a fee on fossil fuels that grows each year and returns the collected fees in equal shares to the public. This legislation, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763), would substantially lower carbon emissions without hurting low-income households and can attract bipartisan support.
Policies such as carbon fee and dividend do not involve a radical reordering of society. We absolutely need politically feasible approaches that can cut our emissions right now. Passing H.R. 763 will make a difference, because currently companies do not have to consider the cost of climate change or health effects in the price of their products.
But this one policy will not solve all our climate problems. To make either pragmatic or prophetic efforts into reality, we need each other. We need to make the climate a bridge issue, not a wedge issue, and the Church has a critical role to play. Please consider joining CCL’s Presbyterian Action Team, and please consider adding your name to this letter to Congress urging the to take action on H.R. 763.
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