Climate change the most important issue of our time

Posted April 18, 2010, at 7:29 p.m.

As a Christian, I am called by my faith to do many things. Two of the most important are to love my neighbors and to care for the natural world. Over time I’ve come to realize that we no longer can consider these two responsibilities separately. The quality of our stewardship of the gift of creation has a direct impact on our brothers and sisters around the world. Climate change is the most important issue of our time.

Two summers ago I traveled from Maine to England to participate in the Lambeth Conference. Held every 10 years at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the conference gathers more than 800 Anglican bishops from countries all over the world. In conversation with fellow bishops from many developing countries and places where global warming is effecting rapid and dramatic change in the environment and in the fragile lives of citizens, I saw with new eyes the way we are contributing to the problem.

In my Bible study group was the Convener of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, the Archbishop of Canberra (Australia). He spoke of the growing and persistent drought in central Australia, drought that was drying up the rivers, killing the cattle industry and expanding the desert.

“For you in the temperate Northern Hemisphere,” he said, “global warming is an interesting scientific concept to be debated. For us, it’s life and death! And you just keep driving your SUVs.”

Our world is ravaged by poverty. Of nearly 7 billion inhabitants, 3 billion people, more than 1 billion of them children — live on less than $2.50 a day. In my travels I have seen many impoverished communities firsthand. These difficult living conditions are already being exacerbated by climate change.

Studies show that impoverished communities are most susceptible to experiencing the harsh effects of climate change, and with so few resources, are least equipped to adapt and respond to these effects. Decreased water availability and crop yield and increased exposure to health risks such as malaria and cholera are just a few of the effects projected disproportionately to affect the developing world should climate change continue its current trajectory.

For many years we’ve known that the U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet emits about 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. But we are not just releasing a substantial amount of dangerous gases into the atmosphere; we are adversely affecting billions of impoverished, vulnerable communities around the world with our excessive pollution. It is a matter of justice and compassion that we begin to take responsibility for our way of life.

Fortunately, we have the ability to change our energy consumption habits. In the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, we naturally look first to our congregations to make improvements. Dozens of our 66 congregations have conducted energy audits and are investing in ways to improve their efficiency and to use less energy while still making their buildings available to meet community need. Last year the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rangeley made good use of year-round wind off the lake by installing a wind turbine.

We are capable of changing the way we consume energy here in Maine and all around the U.S. Just as we make the commitment to use less energy in smarter ways in our own homes, businesses and places of worship, we must press our legislators to pass comprehensive legislation that makes this transition easier and more affordable.

Even as we begin to make personal and institutional changes, our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world already are feeling the effects of decades of consumption, and they are suffering. As people of faith — people who are charged by God to love our neighbors as ourselves — we must act urgently. We are called to be stewards of all of God’s Creation, and that includes people we will never meet in countries we might never visit.

Climate change and clean energy discussions are under way in the U.S. Senate. We need both of our senators to step up and lead the charge into a cleaner, safer era. I urge Sens. Snowe and Collins to work with their colleagues to pass a strong, comprehensive climate and energy bill this spring.

Bishop Stephen T. Lane is the chief pastor and leader of 66 Episcopal congregations across Maine.

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