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Op-Ed: A Sense of Helplessness at the Root of Climate Crisis

Op-Ed: A Sense of Helplessness at the Root of Climate Crisis
National Religious Partnership for the Environment

The headlines are ripe with examples of how climate change impacts our very lives, from severe weather to wildfires. While climate scientists outline the problem, the crisis's root is a sense of helplessness. This false yet understandable sense of helplessness keeps us from addressing the practical.

Our faith traditions teach us that we are not only connected in community, but we have responsibilities one to another. Those responsibilities extend particularly to those who have the least. We know that people with more must make choices to live differently.

Concerted climate solutions are required to face our needs without fear or deflection. The climate is changing. Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric Research recently reported that the Arctic has already transitioned into an entirely different climate. And Colorado, known for wild weather swings, has experienced some extremes lately. In Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road was closed Labor Day weekend due to wildfire and remained impassable a few days later — but this time due to six-foot snowdrifts. The storm that created those drifts has meteorologists checking to see if any weather stations in Colorado broke the national record for the shortest time gap between 100-degree weather and measurable snow. In Fort Collins, the gap was three days — in Ordway, it was closer to 48 hours.

As a person of faith, as I understand it, government's job is to ensure our health, safety and general welfare. What is more important to all of this than protecting our air and water? Our soil and sand? Instead, the poor will suffer from this abdication of our basic stewardship. When you map disaster and crisis areas, for instance, the neighborhoods where COVID has ravaged the community or where chemical, fossil-fuel or other polluting poisons are present and overlay them with maps of communities of color, you see that they are the same places. There must be public policy that protects the vulnerable, supports the healing and regeneration of the land and water, and ensures greater public health throughout our communities.

Climate change affects our economy. Many keystone industries in Colorado, such as agriculture and winter tourism, are weather-dependent. All climate models point toward a warmer future, which means that these industries' certainty hangs in the balance.

Climate change also affects our water supply, increasing the risk of severe water shortages. The annual amount of water flowing down the Colorado River, which provides water for around 12 percent of the U.S. population, has decreased by 11 percent over the last century.

Our young people feel the climate crisis most keenly. After years of youth ministry work, I am struck by several things about this young generation. Their moral authority is authentic and accessible in a way I have not seen before. They know they are inheriting a world in a climate crisis. They are demanding air they can breathe and water they can drink for their own lives. They see no choice. This is their reality, and they are joining the already strong chorus of voices demanding immediate action.

Climate action requires sacrifice, but not sacrifice that degrades our lives. Choosing to live differently, more lightly on the Earth, is an act of love. Any sacrifices required will only enrich our lives as we live more fully in community with one another as our creator intended. Climate action also requires that our policymakers, especially those in Washington, D.C., bridge their partisan divide and make addressing climate a priority.

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Op-Ed: A Sense of Helplessness at the Root of Climate Crisis (2)
Dave Russell

Reverend Jessica Abell is an ordained Christian minister in the American Baptist Churches, USA. Her ministry has been focused around advocacy for creation, as well as work with young people and with diverse and vulnerable communities. She works primarily in an interfaith context around issues of environmental justice. She is the founding pastor of Living Waters Community Church, Denver.

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