We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Collect for Holy Innocents, Book of Common Prayer, p. 238
Pollution and the effects of climate change impact children especially hard. Pollutants generally do more damage to developing bodies; dehydration from diarrheal diseases caused by lack of clean water is especially dangerous for infants and young children. According to World Health Organization information about climate change and health, “children – in particular, children living in poor countries – are among the most vulnerable to the resulting health risks” from climate change”. Among these risks are extreme heat, malnutrition, lack of clean water, impacts of natural disasters, and increasing risk of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and diarrheal diseases.
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). Augustine of Hippo called these children “buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”
As air and water pollution and climate change take their toll of young lives, many children in our world never get a chance to be more than buds, buds killed in this case by the frost of the world’s indifference the moment they showed themselves.
The people with power in this world – the political leaders, the economically comfortable, the corporate heads – differ from Herod, of course. Their intention isn’t to cause the death of thousands of children; their intention instead 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 profit producing, selling, or investing in fossil fuels. Children are the collateral damage of our failure to control pollution and address climate change. There is no intention to harm, but instead of an intention to protect children, there is indifference and denial.
When we look the other way and refuse to acknowledge what is happening as a result of our failure to control pollution and 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 some two thousand years ago.
Here is the Coventry Carol in honor of the innocents who died in Typhoon Sendong in the Philippines in 2011.