Night sky view of the Milky Way rising above the snow-capped peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, on March 15, 2018. (P. Gaines/NPS/Public domain)
By Sister Elizabeth Fuhr
A couple weeks ago, I led a retreat in the fresh air of the Rocky Mountains. We talked about our dependence on the air we breathe, how none of us can survive more than 4-5 minutes without air.
Yet we know that toxins in our air from fossil fuels kill 200,000 Americans every year. Our burning of fossil fuels has made a “pollution blanket” in our atmosphere that heats up the Earth, worsening droughts, heat waves and wildfires.
Today, I am filled with newfound hope. The U.S. is about to supercharge our move to affordable clean energy with passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.
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If it seems odd for a Catholic sister to be this excited about a policy decision, let me set the record straight. Christians have prayed and advocated for a clean and healthy world for decades, including in the annual initiative that starts Sept. 1 called the Season of Creation. Catholic leaders, including sisters and priests, bishops and popes, have been talking about climate change for decades.
In 1981, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops began communicating the moral requirement to act on climate change. Leading bishops warned about scientists’ concerns of “significant climatic changes” and that “it would be the height of folly to tamper in ignorance with the ecology of the entire planet.”
It is the 'least among us,' the economically vulnerable, who are saddled with the consequences of climate disruption.
In 1991, Saint John Paul II warned about the “greenhouse effect.” Pope Benedict XVI challenged us: “Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change and pollution?”
Most recently, Pope Francis has called attention to the moral dimension of climate change. In his 2020 TED Talk, he said that we are faced with “the moral imperative, and the practical urgency, to rethink many things: the way we produce; the way we consume; our culture of waste; our short-term vision; the exploitation of the poor and our indifference towards them; the growing inequalities and our dependence on harmful energy sources.”
It is Pope Francis’ last point that moves me the most. I have seen the growing inequalities firsthand, and I can tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt: It is the “least among us,” the economically vulnerable, who are saddled with the consequences of climate disruption. When floods hit and wildfires rage, they pay a much higher price — often with their lives — than those with an economic advantage.
It doesn’t have to be like this. God’s creation is, by definition, life-giving. And I hope that the investments promised in the Inflation Reduction Act are a sign that Americans are finally ready to take part in the life-giving cycle of creation that benefits everyone.
And so I applaud our congressional leaders and their decision to invest in clean energy. Economically, jobs will be created in new and exciting industries. And our children and grandchildren will live longer, fuller lives as they breathe cleaner air and drink cleaner water.
The passage of this legislation is a crucial first step toward a world I have worked and prayed for. But the work is not done. Individuals — you and I — have a two-pronged role in seeing the Inflation Reduction Act to its hoped-for conclusion. We must personally invest in new wind and solar technologies as they become available. And we must hold leaders accountable to the promises they made when they passed the bill.
Sister Elizabeth Fuhr is a Sister of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity based in Denver.
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