In times of great challenge, community is crucial


refugeefatherRemarks originally delivered on September 11, 2012 at a  NWF press conference on the release of Ruined Summer: How Climate Change Scorched the Nation in 2012.  As we republish this in 2015, people around the globe are watching a refugee crisis fueled in part by climate change kill children and split families.  (More on the climate link in Syria here.)

The report that inspired this conference is about the loss of the American summer.  For most Americans, our mental and emotional pictures of “summer” show a quintessential time of innocent childhood, of backyard gardening, evening strolls, and flashlight tag.  Although few family photo albums are a perfect reflection of the ideal, most adults do have memories of gathering with others as the sun set and the welcome cool of the evening moved in, whether that was for a barbecue, a neighborhood game of tag, or front-stoop visiting.

The heat, drought, and torrential downpours that we increasingly experience don’t just threaten those experiences; they also bring with them real danger.  Increased heat is itself dangerous, especially for children and the elderly, especially in cities, which are heat islands with little relief, and especially for the poor who must simply endure it without forest or beach, and without air conditioning.  Increased heat also increases ground-level ozone, a public health threat that triggers and worsens the asthma that is increasingly common in our children.  Asthma attacks are dangerous enough, but you may not know what I recently learned in an appointment with my asthma doctor: uncontrolled asthma scars the lungs, and permanently reduces their capacity.   Heat is doing this to our children.  We are doing this to our children.

Our choices about how we generate power and the efficiency with which we use it are doing this to our children.  We are overheating them, we are scarring their lungs, and we are burning their planet. The heat is only the beginning.  Drought and storm threaten our crops.  Food prices increase, and many struggle further to feed their children.  Increased storm activity, rising oceans, and torrential downpours threaten homes, stress municipal water infrastructures, and subject our children to dislocation, unhealthy molds, and unhealthy water.   We are poised to hand our children a dangerous mess.

Common values tell us we cannot do this.  Fairness, Community, Self-Reliance, and Thrift all call us to use the jointly-held trust of our air and our climate well, to use it carefully, wisely, and in such a way that we do not deprive others of the ability to care for themselves, or to reach their full potentials.  All faiths hold in common that we must care for Creation and the most vulnerable people, and climate effects show us clearly how deeply those two are intertwined.

But there is good news, too.  Putting the brakes on climate change is not just the right thing to do for future generations.  Many of the actions we can take to care for Creation will also strengthen us.  When we walk instead of driving we meet our neighbors, and strengthen the fabric of our communities.  We also keep our wallets a little fatter, and our waistlines a little slimmer.  Using curtains and caulk, and planting trees to increase the efficiency of our heating and cooling will lower our bills.  It will also reduce that ground-level ozone that is such a threat to our children’s lungs.

Even the big stuff, the legislative actions, can benefit us right away, and not just in the distant future.  The wind turbines that generate some of the clean power in Pennsylvania are also manufactured here – in existing manufacturing facilities.  The companies that make them tell us that, when there is a predictable market for clean electricity, there is a predictable market for the turbine parts.  When the laws requiring certain percentages of clean generation come near expiring, the market becomes unpredictable, and the orders dry up. [2015 update: the Gamesa factory left when the Production Tax Credit was repeatedly held up and not renewed, but there are still small companies like Windstax are still here]  Carbon fees or carbon taxes – a way of making sure that those who pump waste into our precious air pay for the privilege – are now being hailed by people on both sides of the political aisle as a way to create a real market for innovations that will help us do the right thing.  Increasingly, analysts also see the approach as a way allow individual taxes to be lowered without increasing our debt load.

Today is September 11, and in honor of this day, I have to say what we have all seen: in times of great threat, we discover our enormous capacity to work together.  New York was a different place in the year after those terrible attacks.  It was awful, and desperately hard, but also filled with stories of compassion, outreach, and a sense of community in our most anonymous city.  My mother’s family is from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  There, too, we see American compassion, courage, resilience, and our inability to sit on the sidelines while others are hurting.  We need to tap into that now.  Children cannot breathe.  Homes and livelihoods are threatened.  We are destroying the gift of this incredible planet.  People are hurting – the poorest hurting the most ­­­– and we are making it worse.  We can do better, and so we must.  We must make changes in our own lives, and we must tell our legislators that we require them to act with courage to make the larger changes that will protect the health of our children and our elders.  We will lead, and they must, too.
                –Cricket Eccleston Hunter, PA Interfaith Power & Light

TAKE ACTION now in 2015: 
1. Mark your calendar and register for Hope in the Age of the Climate Crisis: Finding our Moral Compass, PA IPL’s 2015 annual conference.
2. Take a moment to read all or part of the pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’.  PA IPL Board President created a text study of encyclical excerpts in facing-page “conversation” with Jewish texts.  It includes discussion questions, and is a great conversation guide for a small group. Download the PDF: encyclical Jewish text study for yom kippur daniel swartz
3. Consider showing up or even speaking at one of the 14 listening sessions around PA, preparing Pennsylvania’s plan to cut carbon pollution. We’ll help with background or even statement-editing!
4. Take a quick mental inventory of your congregation’s next gathering or celebration.  Could you shrink your footprint and still gather in beloved community?