Election seasons are, by their very nature, polarizing – you have to choose one side of another. As we all certainly know, this one is no exception.

That is why we were pleased to see an important bit of bridge-building taking place amid the season’s rancor, especially because it involves an issue that usually elicits some of the most partisan rhetoric of any – climate change.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina marked Earth Day by leading a bi-partisan group of Senators in introducing an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill that calls on the legislation to clearly state that:

  1. Climate change is real
  2. Human activity contributes to climate change
  3. The United States Congress is best placed to address the threat climate change poses to our country’s health and security
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Noting that over 180 countries, including China, India and Brazil, have made commitments to reducing greenhouse gases, the amendment calls on the U.S. to become a leader on this issue because it, “creates opportunities for workers of the United States and innovative private industries to benefit from global clean energy markets.”

While the amendment ultimately did not receive a vote, we applaud Sen. Graham and the co-sponsors of his amendment – Republicans Kirk of Illinois, Ayotte of New Hampshire, Collins of Maine, and Portman of Ohio, along with Democrats Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Merkley of Oregon, Schatz of Hawaii and Markey of Massachusetts – for giving climate change the serious consideration it deserves. We hope Senator Graham and his fellow co-sponsors offer this amendment again in the future, and encourage all Members of Congress to support it.

Coming on the heels of the U.S. signing of the Paris Climate Change Accord last week, adoption of this amendment would send an important signal to our citizens and to the rest of the world that our country is taking a leadership position on this issue, as it should.

It is also heartening that this is not the only bi-partisan effort underfoot tackling climate change.  Two representatives from southern Florida, Republican Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Ted Deutch, are leading a group of bipartisan House members in the new Climate Solutions Caucus which will seek “to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply, and public safety,” according to the petition it filed with the Committee on House Administration.

It is not surprising that they are from southern Florida as there climate change is not an abstract issue but as real as water pouring onto low-lying streets due to the rise in sea levels.

As someone heeding Pope Francis’ call to care for God’s creation in his important encyclical Laudato Si, I count myself among those who know we must pay attention to and speak out on this matter. But I also recognize that, just as denying climate change will not make the problem go away, doing nothing more than launching attacks from the perceived moral high ground will not help find a solution.

What is needed is not more rhetoric, but action. And action only comes when we all seek the common good, finding common ground through such bipartisan efforts. Those advocating for immediate steps need to understand the fears some have for their jobs and take steps to address those fears. Those saying nothing should be done need to come to terms with the vast amounts of evidence that show real peril, both for the United States and the entire world, if action is not taken, the sooner the better.

As an organization that works with the global Catholic Church to implement humanitarian and development projects serving the poor, we know from firsthand daily accounts of the widespread effects of the changing climate, from drought in Africa to storms in Asia to failing coffee plants in Central America.

This bipartisan effort led by Sen. Graham gives us hope that our country can not only take meaningful steps to reduce the causes of climate change but can also generously support efforts to help the poor around the world adapt to these changes that they have not caused.

Amid the rising temperatures of this political season, many more members of Congress should follow his example.


Woo is Catholic Relief Services' CEO & President