A new United Nations report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC ) paints a dire future for life on earth.
Even if nations are able to fulfill commitments made during the 2016 Paris Agreement, the report asserts that the world is still headed in the direction of warming by 3 degrees Celsius or more — a temperature increase that would drive worsening food shortages, wildfires, heat waves, coastal flooding, and poverty.
As a person of faith, this impending reality challenges my understanding of creation as good. If human presence in this land led the Genesis writer to declare God’s creation as “very good,” how can I hold the findings of this report alongside my statement of faith in humanity?
In Earth-honoring Faith, ethicist Larry Rasmussen uses the story of Psalm 137 — where the people of Israel now exiled find themselves in a new land, wondering how to live and worship their God — as an illustration of our current challenge living on an Earth that “can no longer be counted on for steady seasons of seedtime and harvest; for glacial waters feeding great rivers; for sea levels trustworthy enough to permit the building of great cities, for sufficient time for flora and fauna to adjust to new insect predators and diseases, or drought and deluge, for governments capable of marshaling resources to handle disasters of greater number and intensity … for rainfall and snowpack and enough resources to assure that future generations will survive and thrive on their diminished planet ... ”
We catch glimpses of life in this hostile new land when fires, floods, and hurricanes threaten with devastation.
Why did you stay?
I wanted to be near my loved ones.
I could not leave my pets behind.
I have no money to go anywhere else.
This is my home.
The most vulnerable suffer most.
Climate change is creating a world we have never experienced before, and we are responsible. Relying on the world economy and technology alone will not ensure that all people will survive. The lives of millions of people are under threat.
Undoubtedly, we are facing an uphill battle, one in which the incline feels steeper with each passing day. But people of faith do not shy away from moments like these. The darkest hours are when our light has the capacity to shine the brightest and our moral voice the propensity to provide a compass forward. We need justice, solidarity, love, gratitude, kindness, and service to serve as the foundation of our fight. These values will sustain our spirits during the most challenging of times.
As people of faith, we have been given a unique opportunity to step up, to be transformed through love, and to put our faith to work for the good of all creation (Mark 16:15). We know of the importance of building houses on the rock so that when the rain falls, when the floods come, and when the winds blow and beat our homes, they do not fall (Matthew 7:25). We know that power and authority have been given to us for the good of all (Genesis 50:20).
We must live in the present but with our hearts fixed on the future. Not just the future that awaits us in heaven, but the one concerned with this Earth. We must believe in personal change, the kind of change that comes from the heart and can withstand difficulties. We know the importance of sacrifice for the common good. These values are the missing link to reducing emissions and sinking carbon back into living soils, through lifestyles that care for the Earth and her most vulnerable creatures.
During a recent event with Living the Change, an international, multi-faith initiative mobilizing people of diverse faiths to commit to sustainable lifestyles, I was reminded that most people do care about the environment and other people. But in order to stay engaged, even when environmental values are already very strong in our hearts, most of us need a system to support us in making sustainable choices. We need community and peer groups to advocate and take action to ensure that no one is left behind. We cannot do this work alone. We need faith leaders and houses of worship to become centers of advocacy and solidarity.
Engaging with a changing climate will produce great grief, anger, and fear. The climate is not the only thing changing. Our lifestyles, faith, communities, goals, and future are all challenged by the presence of a warming Earth.
Twenty-five years ago, when there was concern that our lifestyle in the United States was unsustainable, my husband and I decided to give ourselves one year to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible, learning to live with less while still living happy and healthy lives. One month, we chose to avoid meats; another month, to bring our bags to the store; a third month, using electricity only to keep our food from spoiling.
We ordered earthworms and began composting. We used public transportation instead of our car. We read instead of watching TV every night. We became members of a community garden, then a local, community-supported farm. We not only learned to grow and eat healthier with seasonal harvests, but we also supported our local economy, farmers, and the environment. We met and began building a new community, one in which our children could thrive.
Four years later, we chose to move to the rural farm to start a learning center and support others seeking to restore their relationship with the earth, farmers, and each other. It has become a place where thousands of people come each year seeking the same for their lives.
The U.N. Climate Report is a call to action. We must be like the courageous geese that fly away from the flock to find better winds, so when climate trouble arises, there is a better alternative for all. Adapting our faith to climate change to reduce emissions, requires that we move with curiosity and compassion towards the “us” that the world needs; creating new systems and voting for better policy measures. The more we can act out of spiritual calling, the more others will do the same, thus ensuring our great-great-grandchildren will be able to declare creation as “very good.”