Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Change the Climate in Washington: The Poor Are Victims of Our Failure to Protect the Environment

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Change the Climate in Washington: The Poor Are Victims of Our Failure to Protect the Environment

Article excerpt

Important climate change legislation outlined last summer provided funds to help poor countries adapt to the effects of climate change. Just before the Senate was to consider the legislation, however, these provisions had vanished.

"To be honest with you," a Senate aide told representatives of the faith community, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, " the provisions don't get us any of the extra votes need."

The aide confirmed our fears: The poor have few advocates on Capitol Hill. The big interests, especially energy companies and environmental groups, will be the winners, while low-income families in the United States and the poorest people around the world will be the losers.

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The moral force of the religious community eventually succeeded in restoring some of the original money, but it will not be nearly enough.

Faithful environmentalists

From the U.S. bishops and the pope to national Catholic organizations and informed parishioners, Catholics are concerned about making the poor a priority as our society addresses climate change and its impacts. Why?

It is about our faith. As Matthew 25 tells us, our very salvation depends on seeing the face of Christ in our brothers and sisters in need.

It is about our values. Human life and human dignity are the foundations of Catholic social teaching. We are called to protect all life and promote each person's dignity, including both current populations and future generations that are threatened by a dramatically altered climate.

It is about honoring the Creator and sharing creation's gifts with all.

And it is about being leaven in society. In their most recent statement calling Catholics to be faithful citizens, the U.S. bishops say we have an obligation to be engaged in the public policy arena, to share our core values, and to shape a just society. In an election year, it is all the more important for us to become educated about all issues, including the environment. When it comes to the impacts of climate change, we need to urge our elected officials to place the needs of the poor at home and abroad at the center of their deliberations.

As state and federal policy makers wrestle with the best emissions reductions policies and decide who will share the benefits or suffer the burdens of these approaches, Catholics must raise questions about the human impacts and moral dimensions of climate change. Using the guidance of the bishops' 2001 statement on climate change, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good, we can measure public policies based on three broad themes: prudence that requires wise action now to address problems that will grow in magnitude and consequences; the pursuit of the common good rather than the demands of narrow interests; and a priority for the poor, who will bear the greatest burdens of climate change.

These principles help inform the bishops' public policy recommendations. Government action limiting emissions should generate sufficient revenue to offset inevitable increases in domestic energy costs for low-income people. U.S. workers most affected by a shift to renewable energy should be compensated for their loss of income and assisted with job transitions. Finally the poorest nations need assistance in their efforts to adapt to climate change. Technology should be shared with these countries to help develop their economies in more sustainable ways. …

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