Today, however, climate changes mean just the opposite. Today, they are indications that we’re destroying our world with rising seas that are devastating coastal communities and severe weather that is jeopardizing food crops and human health. We see it all around us. The Audubon Society reported earlier this month that 314 bird species alone are at risk from global warming, with 126 of them classified as climate endangered. In the past century, the average temperature increased by 1.4 degrees, with the years 2000-2010 marking the warmest ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Glaciers are disappearing — I saw that firsthand when I visited Alaska a few years ago, kayaking on the Inside Passage.
The seas are rising, the temperature becoming warmer and weather patterns so unpredictable that summers and winters are blending together, becoming less definable. Meanwhile, we continue to emit an increasing number of carbon particles, infiltrating and polluting our air — exacerbating in particular asthma in children in urban areas.
Yet too many of our leaders continue to ignore or, worse, deny that human behavior is harming our environment — hurting today’s children and future generations. Witness the recent failures to come up with strong action at the Climate Change conferences at Warsaw in 2013 and Doha, Qatar in 2012. Rather than listen to the chorus of environmental experts and scientific proof, political leaders instead take their cues from biased voices that argue that regulations set to help the environment will hurt the economy.
Economic growth, however, needn’t be slowed by strong environmental measures. Countries can be both environmentally and business friendly. Just look to Denmark, the most climate-friendly country in the world, according to the United Nations Climate Change Performance Index 2013, as it concurrently places as Europe’s third most economically competitive country, according to the World Economic Forum. Sweden, which ranks as the top economically competitive country, is the No. 2 climate-friendly country.
Political and civic reasoning will not win the day. The added, supportive voice of the religious community is indispensable if we are to effect policy changes. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sets to convene the Climate Summit 2014 on Sept. 23, bringing together hundreds of heads of state and government leaders, we in the faith community are raising our voices, joining together, and vowing to make the world safe from the ravages of climate change.
Ahead of next week’s climate summit, faith communities are coming together for the People’s Climate March, World Council of Churches and Religions for Peace’s Interfaith Summit on Climate Change, Religions for the Earth at Union Theological Seminary, prayer events across the US and an OurVoices.net gathering at the UN Church Center.
Those of us participating in these numerous efforts come from different places theologically, but when it comes to the stewardship of our planet, we recognize our moral obligation to speak in one multi-faith voice that transcends our other differences.
Transcending differences at times seems impossible. Yet, we need only look to the Middle East and the complicated struggle between Israelis and Palestinians over a tiny piece of land to see that when it comes to the environment, it is possible to work together to seek solutions. Friends of the Earth Middle East and the Arava Institute are organizations that bring different religions and different nationalities together to tackle the climate and environmental problems of that region. If people will join hands there, we should be able to bring people together all across the planet.
If environmentalists and religious communities in one of the world’s most disputed regions can overcome differences and come together to care for the environment, certainly those of us in the rest of the world can join together to protect our environment and children and change the course of history.
When Sunday’s marchers demand that world leaders heed the cries of those of us who want the world to continue to prosper, our shouts will come in a plethora of languages and from a myriad of spiritual traditions. Let us, this week and in the future, raise our voices in whichever languages we can and ask that the Maker of the Universe hear us and help us find the solution that will keep this planet whole and fertile. Let us act as the dove at the end of the Noah story, as messengers from the sky, whose words move history and humanity from inaction and disaster to a rainbow of security and holiness.