Helping Americans Find Their Moral Ground on Climate Change

If you google the term “climate change,” you’re likely to amass a vast array of studies, op-ed pieces and articles on the scientific, economic, and political factors in assessing the situation. There are compelling arguments in these categories, most of which insist that America needs to implement climate solutions quickly to preserve national security, human prosperity, or fiscal growth. As compelling as these materials may be, there is a growing onslaught of articles that manipulate this data to misrepresent findings in ways that bend the truth toward inaction, denial, and skepticism.

Luckily, arguments that refute the scientific consensus that climate change is real and manmade are not working. More Americans than ever before are “very concerned” (45 percent) or “somewhat concerned” (29 percent) about climate change, according to a recent study from Quinnipiac University. This is something to be proud of, but it falls short of inciting action, largely because our climate messaging lacks a moral component that faith leaders are poised to address.

This issue stems, in part, from the partisan nature of the discussion over the past two decades and the inaction it caused among many faith leaders. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, a spokesman for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) explained that “a lot of people think of climate change first and foremost through the lens of Democrat-Republican, liberal-conservative, and not through the lens of their faith.” Organizations like YECA are working to change this by shifting the focus of the conversation toward a moral one.

There are many groups and subgroups within the climate discussion, ranging from those that outright deny its reality to those who are “very concerned” but lack the motivation to act. Gloria Jones recently joined Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PAIPL) to plant trees for National Day Against Denial, in order to increase awareness of the impact that climate change is having on communities of color. But, as Jones explained, that message doesn’t always push people toward action. When Jones speaks about climate change, “…most African-American Christians do believe it is real, but what [she] finds is that most think other things are more important,” she shared. Despite scriptural teachings to “love thy neighbor,” hurdles such as this are plentiful in the climate movement, forcing many faith leaders to dig deep on the issue.

Participants of Philadelphia’s National Day Against Denial included Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders who spent the afternoon calling on Trump to address some troubling climate opinions and the questionable dealings of his cabinet selections, many of whom remain skeptical of the solutions already in place to fix climate change. Solutions that if abandoned, would lead to negative impacts that fall disproportionately on communities of color.

Event attendee Mary Wade highlighted the influence of the faith leadership at Wayland Temple Baptist Church for her attendance. It was the associate pastors’ insistence that “race, violence and environmental issues should remain among the focuses for faith-based groups and churches” that tied the climate movement to her existing values.

Similarly, Ohio Rabbi Alex Braver of Tifereth Israel is one of the many faith leaders drawing deep connections between our religious responsibility and how our “exploitation of natural resources severely affects the world’s poorest populations and violates divine dictates on how people should treat the planet.” During an interview with Columbus Dispatch, Braver explained how “the big-picture view is what religion can offer.” He continued, “I think [environmentalism] has very deep roots in ancient text and tradition, but it’s been lifted up in a different way now that we’re seeing the immense power we can have over the environment.”

Tying climate change to our religious morals is the starting place, but turning those moral responsibilities into action is what is most important. For the past few years, faith leaders have championed the Green Climate Fund for its ability to help mitigate impacts and to prepare the least of these for impending shifts in the climate. Last week, the State Department announced the second U.S. contribution of $500 million to the Green Climate Fund, a move that was met with resounding applause from faith leaders around the world for its direct assistance toward the safety of those impacted by the U.S. fossil fuel industry. Check out some the statements from some of America’s most active faith and climate leaders regarding this contribution.

If you would like to learn more about sharpening your faith and climate communication skills, join ecoAmerica for the webinar release of their latest report, Let’s Talk Faith and Climate: Communications Guidance for Faith Leaders, on January 26, 1 pm – 2 pm ET.

Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside.

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