Many Christians are celebrating the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Many voted exclusively for conservatives who opposed abortion. This single-issue, ends-justifies-means approach to politics was ultimately successful. Roe has been overturned, made possible by a president who claimed to be pro-life and helped create a superconservative Supreme Court. But at what cost?
One consequence is the ruling limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate emissions that cause climate change. Unfortunately this comes at a bad time, when emissions must be drastically cut to avoid catastrophic impacts that will lead to billions of climate-related deaths.
This is not alarmist exaggeration: Climate change has already killed millions from flooding, drought, famine and disease. According to UNICEF, a billion children are at “extremely high risk” from climate change. And things will get worse unless greenhouse gases are significantly reduced within this decade.
The decision by the “pro-life” justices has made this already challenging goal even more difficult. And since climate change is a global problem, it can’t be relegated to individual states. Thus paradoxically, the noble “end” of saving innocent lives, by abolishing Roe through the “means” of a superconservative court, may prove fatal for billions of innocent poor and their unborn due to climate change.
For decades the oil industry downplayed and even denied climate change, while secretly acknowledging it was a serious threat – to their own profits. This disinformation campaign, and contributions to conservative lawmakers, influences opposition to climate legislation: the GOP killed three climate bills over three decades. Meanwhile, billions in subsidies for fossil fuels – the very cause of climate change – continue when the industry is reaping record profits.
Unfortunately, climate action is unlikely given conservative opposition and partisan gridlock. This situation may get even worse. An upcoming Supreme Court ruling may eliminate election checks-and-balances, allowing states to create their own electors, expand partisan gerrymandering and even allow candidates to decide who wins. So this midterm could be the last free-and-fair election in history. But believing that, like climate change, depends on which news outlet you watch.
Nevertheless, who controls any branch of government wouldn’t matter if conservatives supported environmental protection, as they had decades ago. An issue like climate change that affects everyone should be nonpartisan, and fighting it should be a collective priority, like fighting terrorism. Sadly, even a pandemic that has killed one million people can be made a political football that divides us and never makes it to the end zone.
In Jonah’s day the Lord called the Ninevites to reform and repent (Jonah 3:3). The king took Jonah’s warning seriously, ordering communal repentance. Today Pope Francis is our Jonah about caring for creation, particularly through his encyclical “Laudato Si’.”
Despite this, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has said little about climate change. According to one study, over five years only 56 of 12,077 bishops’ columns (0.46%) describe climate change as real or happening.
So where are today’s leaders who heed the pope’s message, calling for a change of heart about climate change, urging us to renounce our high-carbon lifestyles as a moral obligation? Where are today’s Ninevites who use less energy, take their children to a “March for Climate” or urge representatives to address climate change? Is climate disinformation so convincing that we cannot recognize the “signs of the times,” like the science that shows climate change is human-caused, and climate-caused disasters that most impact the poor and vulnerable?
People of faith must get beyond politics and recognize that climate change is a grave moral issue involving life. Unlike the king of Nineveh, bishops don’t need to lie in sackcloth and ashes. They could call followers to urge for climate action as fervently as they did to oppose Roe — through prayer, fasting, marches, education and even “40 Days for Climate.” Parishes could reduce their carbon footprints, and everyone could live more sustainably.
The bishops themselves assert in their 2019 document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship:” “Care for creation is a moral issue … our conference offers a distinctive call to seriously address global climate change.”
But the climate hourglass is running out. If Congress doesn’t pass climate legislation soon, the fate of our children and theirs will be sealed. Therefore, we who value life and creation must urge policymakers to prove they are pro-life through climate action.
This includes supporting Pennsylvania’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Policymakers (and justices) who dismiss climate change or oppose solutions are misguided at best. At worst, they’re acting immorally and criminally, and are therefore unfit for office.
The right to life necessarily means the right to a healthy climate. If the reason for opposing abortion is to defend life, then we must likewise protect those, born and unborn, harmed by climate change. And we must hold those we elect accountable to courageously fight climate change as a moral imperative – to really defend life.
Michael Wright is a father of three, a retired NASA engineer and a licensed social worker in Pennsylvania. He is also a freelance writer on the environment and faith. His articles have appeared in national publications, including Catholic Update, National Catholic Reporter, and Liguorian and U.S. Catholic magazines. Michael is editor of the Catholic Climate Covenant’s Homily Helps resource for parishes, and is a member of the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America.
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