The right to speak out on climate change

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When the Vatican announced that Pope Francis would include climate change in his upcoming encyclical, some political leaders were quick to challenge his authority on a matter of science. But this political response ignores a fundamental truth: religious leaders are compelled by their faith to speak out on moral issues. And climate change is most certainly a moral issue — as well as a spiritual obligation.

How we treat the Earth, our home and most precious gift from God, is not a matter of partisan discourse.

{mosads}Pope Francis’ Laudato Sii (Praised Be) raises a very simple but profound question: how should someone of conscience behave toward the Earth, and toward the less fortunate who most depend on its health? If we profess a love for God, as so many public figures do, and believe the Earth is God’s Creation, why do we not treat it accordingly?

Since God called humanity to be stewards of the Earth, placing Adam in the garden to till and to keep it, we have an obligation to live sustainably and maintain a healthy garden not only for ourselves, but for the generations that will follow. This message doesn’t just resonate with Catholics. All of the great world religions teach that we must care for the less fortunate among us, and that is exactly who is most harmed by the ravages of climate change.

At Interfaith Power & Light (IPL) — whose network reaches 18,000 congregations across the country — we have been busy for fifteen years putting faith into action and preaching what the Pope is now teaching. From greening over 4,000 houses of worship to giving households living without electricity access to solar panels and affordable, clean electricity, we are making steady changes to treat the Earth and each other as God instructs: with dignity and respect.

At Washington National Cathedral, a member of Interfaith Power & Light, we are translating this message into concrete action so that worshipers at one of the nation’s most recognizable and sacred landmarks are protecting, in tangible ways, what our liturgy calls “this fragile Earth, our island home.” We are in the midst of replacing more than 1,500 light bulbs with energy-efficient Energy Star LED and fluorescent lights across the Cathedral. That change will result in annual energy savings of nearly 300,000 kilowatt hours.

It’s not only good for the environment, but also the bottom line. After an initial investment of $10,000, we will save about $33,000 in energy costs in the first year alone, and the project will pay for itself in just four months. Genesis tells us that “God said, ‘Let there be light:’ and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.” Protecting our God-given environment is very good indeed.

To those who claim Pope Francis is politically motivated, we say this: his directive reflects the vast and enduring worldwide scientific consensus on climate change. He acknowledges in Laudato Sii that our actions can affect, for better or worse, the Earth and those who live on it. We have a responsibility to use God’s gift of knowledge, and what we now know is that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to rising global temperatures that pose a serious threat to all we hold sacred. It is time to acknowledge the damage caused by these actions and switch to clean, renewable sources of energy.

Rising temperatures contribute to the marginalization of those populations most affected by drought, rising sea levels and polluted air, compounding their suffering. And when people are suffering, the world’s faithful are called to respond — as they did during the civil rights movement, and the religious response to apartheid.

So perhaps a question more pertinent than “Should religious leaders speak out about climate change?” is, “Should our politics harden our hearts to important messages from the leaders of our faith?” Interfaith Power & Light includes leaders from every major world religion who all recognize that the Pope’s encyclical is really a call to love God and one another.

After all, life is a gift from God and it is our moral obligation to protect it. This is a basic tenet of every religion. Acting to avert the worst impacts of climate change is the only course for the faithful.

Hall is the dean of Washington National Cathedral. An ordained minister for more than 35 years, he is the National Cathedral’s chief ecclesiastical leader and executive officer, and works closely with the bishop of Washington and governing bodies to shape and support ministries to the city of Washington, the nation, and the world.  Bingham has brought widespread attention to the link between religious faith and the environment through the Interfaith Power & Light campaign. As one of the first faith leaders to fully recognize global warming as a core moral issue, she has mobilized thousands of religious people to put their faith into action through energy stewardship.


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