On Saturday, April 22, Niles Discovery Church will be staffing a table at the City of Fremont’s Earth Day Fair. Our table will be encouraging people to participate in the People’s Climate Movement event in Oakland on Saturday, April 29.
Why is a church staffing a table for a climate change event?
The short answer is: climate change is a moral issue.
If you’re interested, I’ll expand on that answer.
All major religious traditions proclaim that we have a responsibility to care for our neighbors. When a neighbor is thirsty, we have a moral obligation to see that they have water to drink. When a neighbor is hungry, we have a moral obligation to see that they have food to eat. And we have a moral obligation to work to bring peace to the earth.
When we carbon out of the group (in the form of coal, natural gas, and oil) and burn it, that carbon is pumped into the atmosphere, mostly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). When we do this, we are changing the chemistry of the air. Increased levels of CO2, along with other gases connected with the extraction and burning of fossil fuels (gases like methane), cause the atmosphere to lose its ability to radiate the heat it collects from the sun off into space, so the atmosphere becomes more like a greenhouse, collecting more of that heat. Some of that heat stays in the atmosphere and some of it goes into the oceans.
Warmer air is causing glaciers (the glaciers that feed the mighty rivers of the earth) to shrink and even to disappear. Imagine what would happen if the Ganges River or the Yangtze or the Amazon stopped flowing for weeks each year. What would happen to the people who rely in those rivers for water? What would happen to the farmers who rely on those rivers for irrigation?
Warmer air holds more moisture, so there is more evaporation. What goes up must come down, so (generally speaking) dry areas of the earth are becoming drier, and areas that get a lot of rain fall are getting wetter. The warmer oceans contribute to the strength of storms, with tropical storms getting stronger. We have seen the devastation that stronger and stronger tropical storms bring: homelessness, hunger, thirst, illness. These are all moral issues.
Water expands when it gets warm, so the warmer oceans are literally bigger as a direct result of our burning of fossil fuels. The warming of the air is also causing the melting of ice sheets, which in turn causes sea levels to rise. People from small Pacific Island nations are planning for where they will move to when their islands are no longer habitable. They will be climate refugees.
People will follow the water and the food. It is not just Island Nations who will be among climate refugees. If food and water get scarce enough, there is even the possibility of war. This is why the U.S. military calls climate change a national defense issue. It is also why climate change is a moral issue.
Beyond these most basic concerns – for water, food, shelter, a safe place to live – there are theological issues that make this climate change a moral issue. The most basic of these is the proclamation that “the earth is the Lord’s.” Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Orthodox Christians unite around this core proclamation. We recognize that unity around this foundational awareness, that the earth is the Lord’s, is important, consequential, and faithful. The same recognition brings together Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Native Americans and so many more.
If the earth is the Lord’s, then all creation is a holy and precious gift from God, to be reverenced by humanity. The theme of loving creation runs throughout Christian scripture, and the Christian claim that God is revealed in Jesus reminds us that God is present in creation, in and on the earth, that God is with us. In other words, the world is not only holy – it is also not ours, much as we would like it to be. It is God’s. Our stewardship of the earth is a moral issue.
Climate change impacts the poor, especially the poor in the developing world, more than the rich. This is not simply because the rich often make economic decisions that don’t take the poor into account. but because the poor have fewer financial resources to help them adapt to climate change. They cannot move, protect their houses, or switch jobs as easily as the rich can.
It is immoral to exclude anyone from the benefits of the earth’s goods. And in decisions regarding the environment and the use of the earth’s common resources, we are called to appreciate of needs and dignity of the poor. Jesus said that the nations will be judged on how we treat the poor. This includes how our decisions on climate change affect them.
Finally, our consumption and greed are demanding a fossil fuel based economy. But in the Christian worldview, there is no room for selfishness or indifference. We cannot care for creation if our hearts lack compassion for our fellow human beings.
Rev. Jeffrey Spencer
Niles Discovery Church
9 April 2017
We have created a number of flyers for our table, flyers that we want to make available electronically. So we’re posting them here: