There are many definitions of injustice, but “suffering the consequences of someone else’s actions” is a good one. Unfortunately, climate change is the epitome of this injustice. The countries most responsible for climate change will not be the countries who suffer its effects. The United States, one of the world’s richest nations, has pumped more carbon into the atmosphere than any other country. We are therefore the most responsible for climate change’s repercussions, but we continue to avoid our moral duty to act.
Climate change affects the entire globe and, no, the U.S. will not be spared. Asthma rates among American children will keep increasing, coastal cities will continue to be flooded by ever-rising seas, and our weather patterns will become even more sporadic. But the U.S. has the wealth and infrastructure — in no small part thanks to our history of reliance on carbon-emitting fossil fuels — to shield itself from the worst of the effects. When massive droughts strike California, the state pays to import water. In Syria or Yemen, severe droughts become humanitarian nightmares and aggravate civil wars. Well-to-do urban East Coasters in New York and Miami will have a much easier time relocating than residents of low-lying Pacific Islands like Kiribati, which is considering large-scale evacuation even though its GDP per person is well outside the world’s top 100.
Make no mistake, this is our fault. Our actions are causing the suffering of millions of “the least of these” around the globe, and that suffering will only increase. Jesus didn’t say anything about climate change, but he said plenty about how we should care for those whom society would prefer to forget.
Earlier this summer the president announced that the U.S. would join Syria and Nicaragua as the world’s only countries not to affirm the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. The Paris agreement is not perfect, but it is the first time that nearly all the world’s countries, both developed and developing, agreed to address climate change. The U.S. is the most significant contributor to the problem, and we are now withdrawing from our commitments to be a part of the solution. We created a monster that will kill or wreak havoc on the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people, and we now refuse to take ownership.
So what can we do? First, call your local representatives and encourage them to join the U.S. Climate Alliance or the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. These groups of states and cities are dedicated to maintaining the U.S. commitments to the Paris agreement without help from the federal government.
You don’t have to change policy to make a difference. Monitor your lighting, heating, and cooling to lower your emissions footprint as well as your bills. Recycle. Bike or walk to work if you can. Eat more vegetables and less meat, especially beef. Buy your food locally, if possible. The fewer miles something travels to reach your plate, the less carbon was burned to get it there. If your church meals have leftovers, donate them to a local homeless shelter instead of throwing them away. Solar panels offer clean electricity, and falling costs mean that solar can be cheaper than electricity from the grid in many U.S. states.
For churches, the Disciples of Christ ministry Green Chalice provides significant resources for addressing your congregation’s environmental impact. The Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ operate similar environmental ministries.
The president may have decided that the millions of people suffering from our actions are not our problem, but the Church should not follow his logic. The “least of these” may not be an American priority, but they are absolutely a gospel priority. We know what Jesus would do; will we do it?