Will We Get Moral Leadership on Climate?

by the Rev. Mitch Hescox

Yesterday, the President issued a challenge on climate change during Tuesday’s State of the Union Address.

Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue [climate change]while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.

But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

I for one hope Congress takes up this challenge from the President and acts. Climate change is a moral challenge for all America. It’s not a liberal or a conservative issue, but a matter of life. Each American already feels our changing climate. Food prices have risen from extreme weather events like the record-breaking 2012 drought that consumed two-thirds of our nation. Transportation slowed to a standstill on the Mississippi River as water levels reached historic lows. Superstorm Sandy devastated the Northeast, and the recent blizzard paralyzed New England. Massive forest fires, extreme weather, sea-level rise have all become the new normal. All of these events are in keeping with human-caused climate change, and the extremes will only intensify.

Last fall, I preached at a local Harrisburg, PA church. Between worship services, I talked with a disabled man living in poverty. During the summer’s long-lasting heat wave, this individual, who lives in an upstairs apartment without air conditioning, was overcome by the excessive heat and passed out. Only by God’s grace and the caring action of a neighbor who found him unconsciousness and called 911 was he saved from death.

Excessive heat, extreme weather, water shortages, and destroyed crops are just the tip of the iceberg. All America will suffer, but our poor and the world’s poor will suffer the most. Indeed, they are already suffering. Some estimates put the annual death toll from climate change at 300,000, and countless others have fled from devastated cropland, water shortages, flooding, and sea level rise. Conflict arises as scarce resources force survival competition. People already suffer, and it will only get worse unless we act now.

We need a comprehensive American plan to battle our changing climate. Climate change remains the greatest threat to our security, prosperity, and way of life. As my colleague, The Dr. Rev. Jim Ball, so forcibly states, “Climate Change is the greatest moral challenge of our time.” Yet with action now, we can limit the loss of life, and stave off the worst of the crisis. America must act and act now. Climate change no longer is up for debate. The science is clear and compelling, but meaningful action requires all of us.

The choice is simple. We can work together and forge a brighter America or shirk our responsibility and have regulations that make the choice for us. Buy-in from all America, including Congress, seems the best solution, but without Congressional leadership, we must act, our future and all God’s children depend on it.

Many American businesses already have picked up the gauntlet. They not only understand climate change threats, but also see the opportunity. Corporate giants like Wal-Mart, Dow Chemical, M&M-Mars, Duke Energy, Exelon, and many others see new markets and increased profits as they take moral leadership. Individuals across our nation reduce waste and save energy, but we must come together with a national plan.

We can start with a national effort to strengthen and coordinate planning to address the extreme weather events that cannot be avoided. Improving our infrastructure from electric transmission to bridges and highways must be a priority. Also increased energy efficiency standards need incentives. However, a price on carbon pollution remains the single most effective way to address climate change.

Pricing carbon must happen, and President Obama issued the challenge. Can Congress find a bipartisan market-based approach? Or by our in action will court-ordered Clean Air Act regulations have to take effect? Which will Congress and the American public choose?

Above all else, America needs to be the leader. The new party line for many of my fellow Republicans is, “Climate Change is real, but with China and India now as the largest carbon pollution emitters, any effort on our part would be negligible.”

First, my mother told me that two wrongs don’t make a right. Second, we are responsible for much of the existing carbon already warming our world, and third, moral leadership works.

Over the last two years, The Evangelical Environmental Network, The National Association of Evangelicals, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops worked hard to see the Clean Air Act enforced to reduce mercury emissions from coal burning that is poisoning our children. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards became law and our efforts provided the U.S State Department the moral authority necessary to secure the first ever-international mercury treaty. While this treaty isn’t perfect, it is agreat step forward in protecting our children, especially the unborn from mercury poisoning.

Leadership works. We commend the President for his moral leadership in overcoming the threat of climate change. May Congress and all America join together, rise to this great challenge as we have done with other great challenges in the past, and work together to solve the climate crisis.

The Rev. Mitchel C. Hescox is President & CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network. 


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