Sharon Delgado: A seasonal reflection on climate justice
The purpose of this ongoing series of articles on Climate Connections is to move beyond the arguments around our climate chaos and to find area we can agree on. You may not believe in the climate issues of today … but you may be concerned about the use of plastics and the oceans. You may also be concerned about air and water quality. Whatever you want to call it, the planet needs our stewardship. The writers here will share their perspectives from many angles. Perhaps some or all will resonate with you, and bring to our awareness the necessary actions we can take. We will leave the arguments and differing beliefs to others.— Marilyn Nyborg
During this season, Christmas carols feature angels singing “peace on earth, goodwill to men” (meaning all) and choruses proclaiming, “Let heaven and nature sing.” These words express the universality of the divine intention for good, the hopeful spirit of the season, and humanity’s yearning for peace, goodwill, and the abundance of life on Earth.
As part of The Union’s regular series on climate change, my commentary is appearing when people of the world’s many spiritual traditions celebrate hope as light breaks through the winter darkness and days begin to lengthen.
These varied traditions offer comfort and renewal even as we face an overwhelming surge of pandemic-related tragedies and needs. With so many other concerns, it’s hard to think about climate change, but rising global temperatures and intensifying weather-related disasters do not pause for the coronavirus and will bring ever-increasing harm if we ignore them.
Climate change is violence against people and against the natural world. Our challenge is to achieve climate justice: justice for our human family, especially those most impacted and threatened by our changing climate, intergenerational justice for children and future generations, and justice for the Earth that sustains us all.
It will take people of all religious, spiritual, and philosophical perspectives, working together, to bring about a world of climate justice. Yet instead of the unity we need to address today’s challenges, there is an extreme political and social divide. How can we effectively address climate change in this climate of division? Perhaps this season of goodwill can inspire us to reach out beyond the boundaries that separate us and build bridges that unite.
Especially concerning to me are divisions within my own faith tradition, Christianity. But the Christmas story foretells the good news of the compassionate, wise, inclusive, egalitarian, nonviolent Jesus of Nazareth, who challenged the powers that be and was executed for doing so, and whose spirit still animates those who seek to follow him.
Even today, many pray and work for God’s compassionate will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven,” that is, for a world of peace, goodwill, and abundant life. For some, this includes a yearning for climate justice.
Many people look to the new year and to the Biden administration for strong climate action. Some hope to gain bipartisan congressional support by proposing modest initiatives. But a modest approach would not ensure that the United States does its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a scale that would help limit global temperatures to 1.5℃ (2.7℉) above pre-industrial temperatures, the internationally agreed-upon upper limit to prevent runaway climate change.
The only proposed legislation so far that would set annual, science-based emissions reduction targets while also addressing systemic injustice is the Green New Deal. Highlights include guaranteed living-wage jobs and a “just transition” for both workers and front-line communities.
As the world has acknowledged since 1992, when the foundational climate treaty was signed at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (which I attended in Rio de Janeiro as part of the United Methodist delegation), the only way to effectively address climate change is to also tackle issues of social, economic, and environmental justice. This would increase goodwill among nations and reduce the violence of climate change.
President-elect Joe Biden has his work cut out for him. Restoring agencies, programs, and competent staff will be a huge task. Restoring international relations is another challenge.
Biden is right in saying that rejoining the Paris Climate Accords is important but not enough. Building a world of climate justice will require a strong, diverse, and well-organized global movement that can exert power to demand justice for both people and the earth. Only people power will be able to move public officials here and elsewhere to take the strong and coordinated actions necessary to protect those most vulnerable to the ravages of pandemic, poverty, injustices, and climate change and to create a world of inclusion, equity, ecological healing, and peace.
Fortunately, this movement for global justice is well underway; it is strong and growing. Its slogan is “Another world is possible.”
During this season, our songs, prayers, decorations, candle-lighting, charitable giving, feasting, exchanging gifts, and other rituals demonstrate and point to hope for the world. As we celebrate the dawning of light, may our varied spiritual traditions inspire us to join together in unity, not just to address climate change as an isolated issue but to work for climate justice and a world of peace, goodwill, and abundant life.
Sharon Delgado is an ordained United Methodist minister, author and activist living in Nevada City. She is the author of “Love in a Time of Climate Change: Honoring Creation, Establishing Justice.” Her blog, Progressive Christian Social Action, can be found at https://sharondelgado.org/
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