Saturday, September 5, 2009

All God's Children

One last unexpected summer trip for me coming right up against the beginning of fall semester has delayed this post a few days. It’s been an unusual start to the transition from summer toward fall for many of us given weather that is cooler and rainier than our usual, and a flu virus at the beginning of the school year. However, somehow we find ourselves at the beginning of September. Sitting here on my porch in Hastings, I’m already seeing monarch butterflies stopping by my coneflowers on their way south, and squirrels burying winter food. It’s time to transition to fall whether at school, in the parish, or at home.

Climate bill

I had thought my summer travels were all done when I got an invitation to a White House briefing on energy. This was a regional briefing for people from Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states. It was an opportunity for us to hear from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and others from the administration about their energy agenda and the expected outcomes for consumers, agriculture, commerce, and the climate if the Senate approves HR 2454, the climate bill, this fall. Secretary Vilsack said that he has not seen this sort of opportunity for rural America in his lifetime. A preliminary analysis from the USDA’s Chief Economist of the economic impacts of HR 2454 for agriculture seems to bear out this optimism.

Copenhagen climate conference
Looking beyond fall into December, there is hope that a climate bill will be passed before President Obama goes to the UN climate conference in Copenhagen; it will be difficult for the United States to be in a leadership role at this conference if we don’t have some sort of significant legislation in place. More seriously for people of all nationalities, if this conference gets stalled and cannot reach a significant agreement among the nations that share this planet, it may be difficult or perhaps just plain too late to stop climate change before it reaches the point of having devastating effects on all living things on Earth.

More evidence of climate change
A study of the Arctic climate in yesterday's issue of Science magazine shows the magnitude of the response of the Arctic climate to global warming. An article by Andrew Revkin in the New York Times quotes Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, one of the study’s authors and a climate scientist at the University of Arizona: “The fast rate of recent warming is the scary part. It means that major impacts on Arctic ecosystems and global sea level might not be that far off unless we act fast to slow global warming.” Time is growing short to get serious about climate change.

The Christian response
Our readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday, though, suggest other reasons for Christians to advocate for changes in energy technology, transportation, agricultural practices, and many other areas of our lives so that the effects of climate change can be minimized. While every living thing on earth will be affected by climate change, among the human community the earliest effects and the most suffering will be experienced by the people who already are the poorest people in the world.

This Sunday’s reading from Proverbs reminds us that “the rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.” The poorest people on our planet are God’s children just as we are; their lives are more precious than our convenience. James, talking about the folly of dishonoring the poor, says that there is no good in our saying we care about others – in telling them to “Go in peace” – if we aren’t willing to make sure others are clothed and fed. The passage from Mark’s Gospel is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus recognizes the depth of the faith of a Syrophoenician woman, someone from a different culture who claims her place in God’s kingdom.

When our brothers and sisters who live in Arctic villages or on Pacific islands, in easily flooded places like Bangladesh, in Africa where famine and malaria will increase with global warming, are living increasingly marginalized lives as climate change accelerates, we Christians are called to take notice and do what we can to prevent their suffering. We are all on this planet together. Ultimately, all of humanity will suffer if climate change cannot be stopped. But in the next half century or so, it will be the poorest people who bear the brunt of the burden. Per capita, the United States has the largest carbon output of any nation; we are the rich people in this story. As Christians, we know how Christ would have us treat the poorer people who share our world.

We have much to gain for ourselves by turning to new energy technologies and capping our carbon output, and, just as importantly, we have much to gain for the poorest people with whom we share the Earth.