Today the church remembers the Holy Innocents, the children who died when Herod ordered the slaughter of all children who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2: 13-23) . According to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Augustine of Hippo called these children “buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”
As climate change takes its toll with extreme weather, flooding, famine, and the spread of tropical diseases, many children in our world have their lives cut very short, buds killed in this case by the frost of the world’s indifference the moment they showed themselves. MediaGlobal reports that children are the people most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, citing a recent Climate Vulnerability Monitor report that says that 99 per cent of climate change deaths occur in developing countries, and that of those deaths, over 80 per cent are children. Children are especially vulnerable to climate change because they are more vulnerable to malnutrition, cholera, diarrheal disease, dengue, and malaria.
Last summer, Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN World Food Program, said that the famine in East Africa was “the children’s famine” because “the ones who are the weakest are the children and those are the ones we're seeing are the least likely to make it.” This famine was caused by a severe drought and exacerbated by the political situation. The U.S. estimated at the beginning of Augustof this year that 29,000 Somali children under the age of five had died in the past three months; at the same time the U.N. said that 640,000 Somali children were “acutely malnourished”.
The people with power in this world – the political leaders, the economically comfortable, the corporate heads – differ from Herod, of course. No one intends to cause the death of thousands of children; the objective is to maintain political power by not addressing a difficult problem, or to ignore the effects of climate change so that we can continue enjoying the sorts of comforts and conveniences to which we are accustomed, or to make a huge profit producing and selling carbon intensive energy resources or something dependent on them. Children are the collateral damage of our failure to address climate change, just as children are so often the collateral damage of wars.
But even Herod himself didn’t care one way or the other about the children who were slaughtered. His objective was to eliminate one child; the others were collateral damage to his cause. When we look the other way and refuse to acknowledge what is happening as a result of our failure to address climate change, we aren’t really all that different from Herod. And the grief of the mothers of today’s innocent victims is no different from the grief of the mothers of Bethlehem or the grief of Rachel.