Bishops says climate change is spiritual matter

November 21, 2009
By Bishop William Chris Boerger
The Bellingham Herald

Extreme weather, rising sea levels, and drought are taking an awful toll on the poorest of people, while leaving no one unaffected. From Alaska to Georgia to Kenya, the bill for global warming pollution is coming due.

Scientists now predict that summer arctic sea ice may be completely gone within ten to twenty years. While frightening, that prediction may not mean a lot to those of us who live near the shores of Puget Sound.

My synod is very aware, however, what this means to a Lutheran community in Alaska. The tiny native village of Shishmaref on the Chuckchi Sea near Nome is being washed away, no longer protected by arctic sea ice. The permafrost on which it sits is melting because Earth's climate is warming.

This tiny community has been perched on the Bering Strait for generations, but now village leaders are making arrangements to move the entire community to a new location to escape the rising sea levels. Every house, church, and tiny business has to go somewhere else.

While Shishmaref is relocating inland because of rising sea levels, our brothers and sisters in the northeast of Kenya are starving from drought. Throughout human habitation in East Africa - which has been long indeed - the rains would fail occasionally. During the past 10 years, because of climate change, these droughts are increasing in frequency and severity. Living without enough water has caused famine and a life of despair. The gains that so many of us have worked on to alleviate poverty in the region are being lost to a warming and destabilized climate.

The Christian faith teaches us that what we do for the least among us we do for Jesus Himself. He is the poor man at the gate: Lazarus waiting to rise.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church supports strong climate protection legislation at the national level because the damage done by global warming pollution can only be resolved by government action. Recently, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and John Kerry, D-Mass., introduced a bill that sets limits on carbon pollution while paving the way for a healthy, clean American economy: The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. This important bill sets a strong target of 20 percent reductions in carbon pollution by 2020, and upholds the EPA's power to regulate dirty coal plants.

There is a lot to like about this bill. By putting a cap on carbon dioxide emissions, it will encourage American businesses to invest in clean technology. This cap means that we will limit the amount of smoke that can be dumped into the air, and that polluters will pay a price for the damage they do. This bill will also create family-wage green jobs in energy efficiency, like insulating and retrofitting buildings.

Right now, Washington state spends $16 billion each year on imported fossil fuels. The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act will support our local entrepreneurs to design renewable energy technology. Wouldn't it be better to spend those $16 billion on wind turbines in Kittitas County or solar cells manufactured in Mt. Vernon?

It is a good moral choice when that which protects the poor and vulnerable from harm also protects our own economy and our own children.

There is no more time to study the issue; the damage is already upon the poorest among us, and will come to the wealthy nations soon enough.

The moral responsibility as people of God requires us to behave in ways that protect His Creation. I call on Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to work hard to pass the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act this year. America can lead the world in setting limits on greenhouse gases that harm our atmosphere and climate while directing our future economic growth toward healthy and clean energy.

The great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer, realized that by standing in protection of the most vulnerable of Gods children we stand in protection of ourselves. He had the courage to speak out against Nazi atrocities when he could have easily looked away - and paid for it with his life.

By passing the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act this year, Senators Murray and Cantwell can care for Earth's climate and poorest people while insuring a clean and healthy future for our own children. We ask them to act on our behalf this year, and not to look away.

Chris Boerger is bishop of the Northwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, based in Seattle.