Climate change is one of the greatest moral challenges of our time. It isn't just about the polar bear. The occurrence of major natural disasters has quadrupled over the last 20 years, leading to increased rates of flooding, drought, famine, and disease that often hit the world's poorest populations the hardest. Unless we act soon, we will be too late to stave off escalating disasters. That is why faith communities across Massachusetts mobilized at impressive levels to make climate change and our energy future a major issue in this week's primary for the state's open Senate seat.
A little over a month ago, I had the privilege to join faith activists in Massachusetts as they kicked off a campaign opposing the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and demanding our leaders begin pursuing policies that take seriously our responsibility to care for creation and the world's most vulnerable. The Good Steward Campaign launched an outreach and education effort that reached 600,000 Christian voters. In response, more than 70,000 people of faith took action by signing a petition, sharing resources on social media, or seeking additional information. The Good Steward Campaign was joined in these efforts by local nuns and college groups, Catholic activists, and national organizations, including Catholics United, 350.org, and Interfaith Power and Light.
Why Massachusetts and why Keystone? In a primary race in which very little separated the two candidates, Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, one glaring difference was their stand on whether the U.S. should allow the dirty oil pipeline, Keystone XL, to be built across our heartland. Markey opposes the pipeline. Lynch started out supporting it, but began to backtrack after opposition from faith leaders. Keystone represents the type of choices we must make now if we going begin to address the serious challenges of climate change and move toward a sustainable energy future.
A pipeline that will run from Canada, through the Midwest, and down to the Gulf Coast, the purpose of Keystone is to transport tar sands oil, which is more toxic than conventional oil, to ports where it can be processed and shipped overseas. In fact, the only oil that is guaranteed to stay in the U.S. is what will be spilled in communities and on farmlands. We saw this happen recently when a similar pipeline spilled in Arkansas. And, as for the promise of jobs, independent studies say fewer than 50 permanent jobs will be created by this project. Keystone is a deal in which America gets all the risk without any reward.
It's time for our leaders to take a stand and to stop supporting projects that only perpetuate our dependence on toxic, dirty sources of energy that contribute to climate change. But in the world of politics, it's not enough for something to be a moral imperative to get people to act. It is the nature of politics, and democracy, that our leaders respond when they feel the political pressure to do so. As people of faith, we have a powerful voice in our country. Keystone would not have been an issue in the Massachusetts Senate race if local religious communities had not made it clear that it is important.
The nature of our democracy is that it reflects the values we hold as a nation. As people of faith, if we truly believe that climate change is a moral crisis then we must be willing to show our leaders that we expect them to take action. In this week's primary race, that is exactly what Massachusetts' faith communities did. My prayer is that this is only the beginning.
May we continue to see religious voices across our country use their prophetic witness to call our leaders to combat climate change head on. May we invest in clean, renewable energy and care for the least of these who are most vulnerable to climate disasters. And may we begin to fulfill our call to be good stewards of God's creation.
Rev. Richard Cizik is President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.