The Common Good

The Next Great Moral Movement

In my last column, "Three Numbers that Predict the Future of the Planet", I wrote about the state of the climate crisis and focused on three key data points that reveal a bleak, though not altogether hopeless, reality for us and for the rest of the planet.

As promised, this column is forward-looking and moves from describing the problem to prescribing the solution. To this end, I continue to draw heavily from the wisdom of Bill McKibben, Jim Ball, and other climate prophets who understand the times and are faithfully fighting to get us on the right track.

The way forward is not easy, but it will be good in the long run. Essentially, we need to set and enforce a limit on all remaining global warming pollution on the national and international scale, which will, we hope, keep warming to within 2oC. This will include some sort of pricing mechanism so that polluters have to take responsibility for paying for the costs of their own pollution. The problem is that we have not yet been able to muster the socio-political momentum necessary to reach these binding agreements. Turns out the polluters (largely the fossil fuel industry) don’t want to have to clean up after themselves. They’re also willing to fight with billions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying money to keep the status quo.

To overcome this most profitable industry in the world, and to overcome what is rightfully described as one of the greatest global challenges of our time, we need to build one of the greatest moral movements of all time. We’re talking about something on the scale of the abolition and the civil rights movements, though this movement needs to extend beyond any one country to become global. It needs to be motivated by love, not hate, and driven by hope, not fear. It needs to be creative, diverse, resilient, and tenacious enough to hold our broken political process accountable, and to take on the much better funded opposition.

We can’t stand up to them on our own. While individual action is essential it is only the first step. We need to renew our laws along with our lifestyles. We must come together as families, communities, campuses, churches, and nations, to adapt to the already-occurring impacts of climate change, and to choose a future powered by energy that sustains, rather than destroys, life.

And here’s some really good news: with God’s help we can do it! We have already begun doing it. The global moral movement to overcome the climate crisis is alive and growing through the work of many inspiring groups, particularly 350.org led by Bill McKibben. The grassroots actions they organize have spread to almost 200 countries.

As God’s people, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the church should be at the forefront of this great movement. We need a new generation of leaders like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King, Jr., who can articulate the moral and spiritual heart of the climate crisis, who understand how our social and environmental problems are interconnected, and who have the God-given vision and courage to stand up for what is right, even at great personal cost. And we need the Church at large to join in the fight and, in this way, tangibly live out our love for God, for our neighbors, and for all of Creation.

A number of encouraging and authoritative statements have called for climate reform, including the Evangelical Climate Initiative, key parts of the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitments, the climate change briefing recently put out by the National Association of Evangelicals, and various denominational statements. These commitments must lead to action.

Sojourners is stepping up to help lead such action through its Creation Care Campaign, directed by Alycia Ashburn.  And I’m excited to be part of a recently launched national initiative called Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (Y.E.C.A.) that is working closely with both Sojourners and 350.org. 

Y.E.C.A. is made up of Christians from across America who are coming together to do our part to overcome the climate crisis. In just a couple  of weeks, on Oct 16, we’re organizing a climate action prayer rally in front of the second Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on Long Island, NY.  Come be part of this or any of the other events and efforts we’re involved in. We are just starting out and invite you to join us. Or find a similar group to join, so long as you get involved and start taking action. Because at the end of the day it’s not just about growing an organization, or even about building the next great moral movement. It’s ultimately about living faithfully in the place and time that God gives us. May God find us faithful as we live for Him during this age of global climate crisis.

(To find out how you can be involved in Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, visit yecaction.org or email contact@yecaction.org.)

(An earlier version of this article was posted at relevantmagazine.com.)

Ben Lowe serves as the National Organizer and Spokesperson for Y.E.C.A.  He is also the Director of Young Adult Ministries with the Evangelical Environmental Network and Chair of the Board of the Au Sable Institute.  A dedicated activist and organizer, Ben was born and raised as a missionary kid in Southeast Asia, where he experienced firsthand the impacts of poverty and pollution.  He is a 2007 graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and previously served as National Coordinator for the student creation care network, Renewal, and Outreach Director of A Rocha USA.  Ben is also the author of Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation (IVP 2009) and a regular contributor toRelevantMagazine.com.

Climate change illustration, B Calkins / Shutterstock.com

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