Pope Francis is a straight shooter who does not mince words: "If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us,” the pontiff said last year. “Never forget this!”
The pope’s warning and calls for action have galvanized many religious leaders from across Maryland to step up our efforts to protect God’s creation from climate change disruptions. We understand that it is the poor and most vulnerable among us who are bearing the brunt of human-induced climate change. Unless we act now, the impacts of devastating super-storms, massive floods, droughts, and crop failures will only accelerate. Refusing to bury one’s head in the sand and facing squarely the reality of climate change is a fundamental issue of justice and respect for life.
This is why I, a Franciscan friar priest, have joined more than 230 Maryland religious leaders, including Bishop Dennis Madden of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and six other leaders of Christian denominations across Maryland, in issuing an urgent, moral challenge. We are calling on Marylanders — including our elected officials — to take action on climate change by helping to shift our state’s energy policy towards renewable, clean energy sources.
There is legislation in the General Assembly to significantly expand the use of clean energy in Maryland. The bill, called the Clean Energy Advancement Act (HB 377/SB 373), requires that 25 percent of the electricity consumed in Maryland come from clean sources by 2020, accelerating the current target of 20 percent by 2022 and putting Maryland on track to double use of wind and solar within a decade. Sponsored by State Sen. Brian Feldman and Delegate Bill Frick of Montgomery County, the bill updates Maryland’s existing Renewable Portfolio Standard law, signed in 2004 by then Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R). This law has spawned a fast-growing solar industry that now employs 3,000 Maryland workers in about 150 companies.
With existing clean technologies, our state is capable — right now — of making even bigger and faster strides in moving away from dirty fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas that emit heat-trapping pollution, and toward a more healthy, sustainable, and prosperous future.
As the document signed by Maryland faith leaders attests, our communities are paying for dirty energy now — with our health and a damaged climate: “Environmental degradation harms the poor in particular, and makes many sick: older adults face lung problems, young people deal with asthma, and disenfranchised people of all ages are subjected to pollution in their communities. We see the impacts of hurricanes and other disasters made worse by climate change. As leaders in a state with 3,190 miles of coastline, we see how many natural and human treasures rising ocean levels will destroy.”
Investment in renewable, reliable energy sources such as wind and solar power, presents tremendous opportunities for Maryland. Raising our state's renewable energy standard would spur more economic growth and create new good-paying jobs, while improving our health and saving lives. Cities like Baltimore could become industrial hubs for new technology, producing and shipping wind turbines and helping to revitalize poverty-stricken communities.
At St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Md., where I minister, we are drawing our own inspiration from Pope Francis’ message, and calling on our elected leaders to join us. Particularly heartening for me has been the response from my Latino parishioners. Recently, a few hundred parishioners took part in the Lenten Fast for Climate Justice spearheaded by Catholic Climate Movement and Franciscan Action Network.
One of those who fasted was Sandra Perez. She said: “In our Latin American countries, I already see devastating effects of climate change. Even here, in Maryland, there is too much pollution. Children are getting sick and suffer from asthma. I want to be part of the solution. My friends and I are committed to mobilizing our faith community to urge our governor and other politicians to invest in clean energy. It makes sense and it is the right thing to do. With Pope Francis on our side,” she paused and grinned, “Si Se Puede!”
Pope Francis will make his first visit to the United States in September with anticipated stops in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Let’s greet him by showing our commitment to protecting the environment and the poor and becoming leaders in clean, renewable energy.
Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM is a Franciscan friar ministering at St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Md., and serves on the Board of Franciscan Action Network.
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