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The Next Great Moral Movement

The Next Great Moral Movement

In my last column, “Three Numbers that Predict the Future of the Planet”, I wrote about the state of the climate crisis and focused on three key data points that reveal a bleak, but not altogether hopeless, reality for us and for the rest of the planet.

Since that article posted two weeks ago, there have been two major developments:

First, July has now been confirmed as the hottest U.S. month on record, topping off the warmest twelve-month stretch on record. The last time we broke this record was during the dust bowl. And, speaking of disasters, we’re also breaking records for extreme weather overall. As a result, much of the country remains in severe to exceptional drought, U.S. corn production is dropping—causing prices to surge, and widespread “epic” fish kills are occurring due to overheated rivers and lakes. These are just some of the major impacts being reported over the last couple weeks.

Second, the U.S. appeared to waffle on our agreement to keep global warming within the critical 2oC limit. As I wrote about in my previous article, although the international community has so far failed to agree on an action plan, there is a widespread commitment to keep the average global temperature rise to within 2oC, in the hopes of avoiding the more catastrophic impacts of climate change. After coming under international criticism, the U.S. climate envoy, Todd Stern, tried to clarify his earlier comments and reaffirm that America remains committed to this shared 2oC limit. Even so, this episode highlights just how weak our political will is when it comes to overcoming the climate crisis.

So things continue to grow bleaker. But, as I promised previously, this column is forward-looking and moves from describing the problem to prescribing the solution. To this end, I continue to draw heavily from the wisdom of Bill McKibben, Jim Ball and other climate prophets who understand the times and are faithfully fighting to get us on the right track.

The way forward is not easy, but it will be good in the long run. Essentially, we need to set and enforce a limit on all remaining global warming pollution on the national and international scale, which will, we hope, keep warming to within 2oC. This will include some sort of pricing mechanism so that polluters have to take responsibility for paying for the costs of their own pollution. The problem is that we have not yet been able to muster the socio-political momentum necessary to reach these binding agreements. Turns out the polluters (largely the fossil fuel industry) don’t want to have to clean up after themselves. They’re also willing to fight with billions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying money to keep the status quo.

To overcome this most profitable industry in the world, and to overcome what is rightfully described as one of the greatest global challenges of our time, we need to build one of the greatest moral movements of all time. We’re talking about something on the scale of the abolition and the civil rights movements, though this movement needs to extend beyond any one country to become global. It needs to be motivated by love, not hate, and driven by hope, not fear. It needs to be creative, diverse, resilient, and tenacious enough to hold our broken political process accountable, and to take on the much better funded opposition.

We can’t stand up to them on our own. While individual action is essential it is only the first step. We need to renew our laws along with our lifestyles. We must come together as families, communities, campuses, churches, and nations, to adapt to the already-occurring impacts of climate change, and to choose a future powered by energy that sustains, rather than destroys, life.

And here’s some really good news: with God’s help we can do it! We have already begun doing it. The global moral movement to overcome the climate crisis is alive and growing through the work of many inspiring groups, particularly led by Bill McKibben. The grassroots actions they organize have spread to almost 200 countries.

As God’s people, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the church should be at the forefront of this great movement. We need a new generation of leaders like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr., who can articulate the moral and spiritual heart of the climate crisis, who understand how our social and environmental problems are interconnected, and who have the God-given vision and courage to stand up for what is right, even at great personal cost. And we need the Church at large to join in the fight and, in this way, tangibly live out our love for God, for our neighbors, and for all of Creation.

A number of encouraging and authoritative statements have called for climate reform, including the Evangelical Climate Initiative, key parts of the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitments, the climate change briefing recently put out by the National Association of Evangelicals, and various denominational statements. These commitments must lead to action.

This is where Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (Y.E.C.A.)—a new group that I’m involved with—comes into the picture. Y.E.C.A. is made up of Christians from across America who are coming together to do our part to overcome the climate crisis. We are just starting out and invite you to join us. Or find a similar group to join, so long as you get involved and start taking action. Because at the end of the day it’s not just about growing an organization, or even about building the next great moral movement. It’s ultimately about living faithfully in the place and time that God gives us. May God find us faithful as we live for Him during this age of global climate crisis.

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