Climate Change Awareness: The Fight for Future Generations[i]
by Amos Smith
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. -Proverbs 31:8 (NIV)
I was drawn to the United Church of Christ (UCC) because of its legacy of fighting for social justice.
The first anti-slavery tract ever written in America, called “The Selling of Joseph,” was written by the Congregationalist, Samuel Sewall. The first black man ever ordained in the United States was Congregationalist minister Lemuel Haynes in 1785. The first woman ever ordained in America was the Congregationalist minster Antoinette Brown Blackwell in 1852. The Congregationalist Church, a forbearer of the UCC, constantly stuck its neck out on behalf of those on the margins. Congregational Church members were on the forefront of Women’s Suffrage, Native American rights, the Civil Rights Movement, and Gay Rights.
Now there’s a greater threat to social justice than in any prior generation. At this precise point in history all future generations are threatened. We are hanging over a precipice. The precipice is climate change.
Ninety-seven percent of the scientific community in the United States and abroad agree that the earth’s temperature is rising and that it will continue to rise at an ever accelerating rate.[ii] Some will say, “Stop right there Amos. I have heard that the earth goes through cyclical climate change and that we are just in another cycle of heat that will be followed by a cooling cycle.” If you have heard this message it’s because the Koch brothers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars so that you hear this message. And yes it’s true that the earth goes through cyclical climate change. Yet, the industrial revolution and the rapid burning of coal and fossil fuels brought an abrupt change that is incomparable to the normal cycles of climate change of preceding generations.
Scientists tell us that 350 parts per million of carbon molecules in the air is sustainable. Back in the days prior to the Industrial Revolution there were 275 parts per million of carbon in the air. As I write this we are at 401 parts per million of carbon molecules in the earth’s atmosphere. And scientists predict that in one hundred years there will be 800 parts per million of carbon molecules in the air.
800 parts per million of carbon in the air will drastically change everything! Water tables will rise and whole countries will be flooded and obliterated.[iii] Masses of people will be displaced and reduced to refugee camps. And refugees are easy prey for sex traffickers, drug lords, and organized crime. The earth’s temperatures will continue to rise (the highest temperatures in recorded history happened in 2014!). And species sensitive to climate will go extinct at faster rates disrupting the delicate balance of numerous eco-systems. The book of Job says “Ask the beasts and they will teach you” (Job 12:7). The alarming rate of extinctions on the planet tells us something! Every decade we see an alarming escalation in the number of extinctions.[iv]
Given our predicament, it’s time for a whole new vision of what it means to be successful! The new vision will place resilience before growth, vision before convenience, and accountability in place of disregard.
A recent poll indicated that 83% of Americans think we should do something about climate change even if it costs.[v]
Proverbs encourages us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute!”
I am compelled to speak on behalf of future generations. We have a responsibility to the future!
We’re the first generation that’s aware of the time-bomb of climate change and the devastating effects climbing carbon levels will have on our world. We are also the last generation who can make a big difference in the trajectory of this time-bomb.
It will take the magic connective interplay of the Holy Spirit to change our current trajectory. People on opposite ends of the playing field (environmentalists and big oil) will eventually have to join together to save our skins. There’s no other way.
This is the current gridlock… Environmentalists say that all fossil fuel burning energy will have to be cut back by eighty percent over the next fifteen years. Then the response of big oil interests like the Koch brothers is to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to discredit the hard science behind climate change. The reason for this massive campaign to discredit sober scientific realities of climate change is that oil companies have calculated that they have roughly 22 trillion more dollars of oil that’s still in the ground. This is their anticipated profit over the ensuing decades.[vi]
One thing is for certain: if the gridlock between environmentalists and big oil continues future generations are doomed.
The only way out will be for the gas and coal burning titans to realize that for their children’s sake and for their grandchildren’s sake coal and gas burning technologies need to be rapidly phased out! Then hundreds of millions of dollars (a fraction of the 22 trillion in anticipated oil sales) needs to be invested in top engineering minds at M.I.T. and elsewhere to devise means of leaching carbon molecules from the earth’s atmosphere.[vii] If Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project could split the atom, then top engineering minds of today can find a way to leach carbon molecules from the atmosphere. This will buy us some time!
Settle down environmentalists! This is not a “technological way out that lets the oil companies off the hook.” This is called pragmatism! This is called paradoxical thinking! We let sophisticated engineering and sophisticated technology buy us some time. And meanwhile we plant trees, we convert massive tracts of land into land trusts, we buy electric cars,[viii] we buy organic food, we plant gardens, we invest in solar and other clean energies, we completely divest from oil, and we cut back the number of children we plan to have.[ix]
The ensuing catastrophe of climate change will bring sweeping devastation to generations unborn.[x] They matter! Their future matters. We must fight for them!
Every time there is a baby shower it should become a politicized event! And at the baby shower everyone should be encouraged to write their local and national representatives urging them to fight climate change!
Our Judeo-Christian covenant is to generations yet born: “I am making a covenant between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come” (Genesis 9:12). This is also called The Golden Rule 2.0: “Do unto future generations what you would have them do unto you” (see Matthew 7:12).
Our minds are hardwired not to evaluate huge abstract threats. That’s the conclusion of George Marshall’s book, Don’t Even Think About It. Yet, for the sake of future generations we are compelled by our conscience to think about climate change and act on it!
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the top leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, has been working on climate change since the 1990s. On June 18th, 2015 Pope Francis initiated an encyclical on the environment, which may prove to be the turning point for climate change awareness.[xi] Vatican Cardinal Peter Turkson, who helped write the first draft of the encyclical, recently called global inequality and the destruction of the environment the twin “greatest threats we face as a human family today.”[xii] Pope Francis said, “we have a moral obligation to all creatures alive and yet unborn to care for all creation.”
I encourage you to do something after reading this essay. I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to get the ball rolling in one of three areas 1) move toward using public transportation more frequently or toward swapping out your gas-guzzler for a hybrid or emission free vehicle. 2) Put solar panels on your house or business 3) Pull your money from companies who profit from oil and invest in a green mutual fund.[xiii]
[i] A number of the ideas in this essay were taken from climate change lectures of United Church of Christ Conference Minister Jim Antal on April 17th and 18th 2015 in Sedona, Arizona.
[ii] The American Association for the Advancement of Science has an eight page paper titled “What We Know: The Reality, Risks, and Responses to Climate Change”
[iii] According to author Ross Gelbspan and others, lands that are the closest to sea level, such as the Marshall Islands, will be the first to go.
[vi] In other words, currently 1% of the population is trying to maximize their profits and don’t soberly consider the impact on future generations because it threatens their business and their way of life.
[ix] See Bill McKibbin’s book on this subject titled Maybe One: A Personal and Environmental Argument for Single Child Families.
[x] It’s hard to predict what will happen in future generations. Some phenomena are certain like errant storms and weather patterns, rising water tables, melting glaciers, extinction and waning bio-diversity. Yet, an unstable system will act in unpredictable ways. One possibility is a new Ice Age for Europe and the Northern Hemisphere…
[xi] You can read the English translation of the Encyclical and find resources that will help you interpret the Encyclical here: http://www.climatewitness.org/pope-francis-encyclical.html
[xiii] The leaders of green mutual funds are Green Century, Aquinas, and Domini.