Editor's Note: Global warming means rising sea levels, worsening extreme weather events, and a threat to God’s creation and people. The world has not experienced normal global temperatures since 1985. So while some might call them millennials, anyone under the age of 30 is part of the “Climate Generation.” If you’re under 30, congrats! You’ve inherited a big problem. Dorothy Boorse is a science professor, a Christian, and a parent, and she has some words for the Climate Generation.
Dear younger ones. You idealistic, smart, and entrepreneurial folks, take courage! I am speaking from an earlier generation, but one with you, caring for each other and our lovely world. I have two sons: one home-grown in the more common way, and one gained through a long process I often call “my paperwork labor.” For one of them, I ate for two, then sweated and yelled in an epic battle to get him out into the world. For the other, I had certificates of health and finances and assessments printed, travelled abroad, and got my husband to write an autobiography. Both were arduous journeys, and both of my sons are loved more than I can describe.
One of my children was born in Guatemala. So our whole family is connected for life by bonds of affection to a beautiful country and its beautiful people. Both of my children are growing up in a small American city, in a place with educational opportunities, fast food, electronic amusement, and travel. This means their experience is already different from most of the world.
All of you, and whatever families you build, will have to live with the decisions made by past generations, decisions that change the opportunities available to you and to your own children. This is not a new phenomenon. However, the society we brought you into is particularly one of excess and privilege. We waste more food and energy and use more raw materials than many other cultures. In addition, because there are many of us, the cumulative impact of our decisions is overwhelming the planet’s boundaries. This pains me, because as a Christian, I believe we need to care both for the natural world and for our neighbor. Our neighbors include the poor here and around the world. They include our new extended family in Guatemala.
Guatemala has a large population trying to survive in mountainous forests and hot lowlands. To do so, many cut the forest and plant crops on steep hillsides. Already prone to hurricanes and landslides, the villagers are vulnerable to the changes occurring as the world warms. Drought also affects food security in many households entirely dependent on rain-fed crops. The maize that has been the staple of indigenous households for millennia does not always grow. Without alternative crops or places to migrate, the poorest Guatemalans suffer. Guatemala already has the fourth highest level of chronic malnutrition in the world, the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The problems of Guatemala are writ large all over the world. The Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and many others all struggle with the dilemmas of poverty, overlain with the risks of a changing climate. We see climate problems here in the U.S. as well. Stressed forests burn, crops dry, mountain snows disappear. Here in one city in New England, you will not see the massive changes our lifestyles cause. If you learn about the world as a whole, you will see these effects; you will be connected to the urban dweller in a heat wave, the farmer in a drought, the fisherman whose boat is broken in a storm.
I want you to look at the world through the eyes of compassion and love. This is an important part of my faith. Jesus is described as weeping over Jerusalem, because of its sin. The Father is described as mourning the wrong direction of Ninevah and having compassion on the people there. As Americans, we live in a time of wild consumption, something past generations of Christians have rightfully called an idol. Our compassion should be for the poor, the fatherless, the widow, the alien, and the prisoner as Matthew 25 tells us. But we should be compassionate too — to ourselves and the rest of our culture trapped in a one-upmanship rat race. There is no joy in the worship of material success.
I love you — my own children and those of you who are simply fellow humans on this planet we share. I want to leave you with hope. Your generation will face rapid changes. My generation certainly has. So did my parents, born in the Great Depression, and living through WWII — but today, changes are even more rapid. You will not have the luxury of pretending that water limitation, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification are not happening. You will need to demand that your leaders act. You will need to be leaders yourselves.
For those of you who follow Jesus, you are the people of Christ, bearing each other’s burdens. You have a mission to love the world, to be peacemakers, to carry good news. Part of that work is to see that justice and peace are promoted when we stop environmental degradation, including climate change. Part of that work is to see the people of Guatemala as our family. It’s the first step on a journey together.
Dorothy Boorse is an aquatic ecologist and professor of Biology at Gordon College, in Wenham, Ma. She was the lead author on Loving the Least of These:Addressing a Changing Environment, a document on climate change and poverty published by the National Association of Evangelicals.
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