Where and how does your faith community live out its values? As people of faith, we are motivated to act on a wide variety of issues rooted in our love for God, for our neighbors, and all God’s creation. Perhaps the focus is education or evangelism in the community. Maybe the focus is on helping those struggling with addiction or poverty, supporting the homeless, or sustaining a women’s shelter or program for disabled individuals. Perhaps you fund and staff mission projects in other parts of the country or the world. Perhaps you host a food bank or onsite daycare, or you open your doors to local groups, like the Scouts or Alcoholics Anonymous.
Faith communities are known as powerful catalysts and servants for compassionate outreach to their community and to vulnerable brothers and sisters, both near and far. Across religious traditions, we find that several priority areas for service work, programming, and missions emerge. These include:
9.Personal, public, and mental health
So what does this have to do with climate change? Here is the answer – the insidious, unjust nature of climate change intensifies and proliferates each one of these existing priorities. This correlation suggests that our efforts to solve these issues are moot without addressing the contributions from climate change. However much we work to address an issue, climate change will make our goals more difficult to achieve and the problem more difficult to eradicate.
If we care about access to safe drinking water, then we care about climate change. Drought conditions are expected to significantly increase with climate change, as well as flooding due to sea-level rise and the intensified extreme weather. Drought impacts the water supply for humans, crops, and livestock, affecting food supply and quality. Dry soil increases particulates in the air, exacerbating respiratory illness like asthma and fungal infections, such as “valley fever”. Flooding not only damages property, but it also introduces contaminants into drinking water, spreading disease, such as cholera, and increasing the chances of mosquito-borne illness.
If we care about peace, conflict, and migration crises both in the U.S. and abroad, then we care about climate change. Climate increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, forcing individuals and families to relocate. Mass migration strains the availability of resources and jobs, creates competition with native populations, and spurs tension or even violence. Without thoughtful preparation, formerly separate groups often clash which can lead to conflict. Some reports suggest existing conflicts like the civil war in South Sudan have been exacerbated by climate change-caused migration and competition for resources.
If we care about poverty and homelessness, then we care about climate change. With climate change, we expect exacerbated income inequality and increased unemployment, as businesses are impacted by extreme weather, drought, flooding, and the subsequent impacts to supply chains and consumer behavior. The ability to respond to job loss or economic downturns is income-dependent, which means those already financially vulnerable are less likely than others to be able to survive and recover.
If we care about racial and gender justice, then we care about climate change. Marginalized communities are at higher risk for the adverse effects of climate change. A recent Sojourners article points out the disparities in how environmental degradation and climate change impact communities of color. Black and Latinx children and women are already at greater risk of pollution-causing health impacts, like asthma, which will continue to increase with climate change. Currently, Black and Latinx children are four and two times more likely to die from asthma than their white counterparts, respectively. And, more Black women have died from asthma than all other groups. We also know that climate change will increase what’s known as “vector-borne illness” — disease carried by animals and insects, like ticks and mosquitos. Women are especially susceptible to these illnesses, which can impact reproductive health and fetal development, like with Zika virus.
If we care about children, then we care about climate change. The displacement of people, prevalent health impacts, and damage to the economy expected in the decades to come will be disruptive to every generation: birth rates and outcomes, child health and development, social stability, the ability to work, retirement, and end-of-life care. However, it is our children and our grandchildren who will feel the greatest impacts. And while our children are most impacted, it is the current generation in positions of power and authority who are best positioned to take action, before it’s too late. To ensure a safe, healthy, and stable world for future generations, we have to understand and act now.
So why aren’t all people of faith prioritizing climate change? First, most people are unaware that people around them are concerned about the issue – and they need to be reassured that, in fact, most of us are concerned and want to see action on climate change. Second, and importantly, these connections to existing priorities are often missed when climate change feels like a distant concern, with little direct impact at the moment. Drawing connections to our values, common hopes, personal passions, and commitments, we can help more people of faith understand why climate change does matter to them personally and to the causes they deeply value.
We have a resource to get started: Blessed Tomorrow’s Moving Forward Guide provides a roadmap to have these discussions. The guide provides important connections to faith-based values and climate change, and provides concrete ways to reduce energy use, move to renewable energy sources, prepare for climate impacts today and in the future, and to advocate for solutions at the local, state and federal level – all using your authentic faith voice and perspective. The guide also includes additional resources in each section to help you learn more or to share with others as they make plans.
We can all play an important role in helping to make the connection that climate change will intensify every issue that our faith communities already prioritize. Their goals, their missions, their existing ministries will not be successful without understanding, planning for, and addressing climate change.