Committing to Climate Justice
This post is adapted from the 2015 Earth Sunday Sermon for UU Ministry for Earth, “Shifting Energy: From Fossil Fuels to Climate Action.” Read the full sermon and find other worship resources.
By Matthew McHale Over the course of climate justice month, we’ve expressed our gratitude for life, we’ve reckoned with our grief and fear about the converging crises of ecological destruction, massive inequality and global warming, and reconnected with our love for earth and for each other. Now is the time when we commit to respond to the climate crisis—because we need to act!
So many of us feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the crisis. And we can’t envision alternatives to the sociopolitical/economic system which is wreaking havoc on our planet. And so we don’t act, while the problems continue to worsen, leaving us more despairing. It’s a vicious cycle; and the only way to break the cycle is to take actions to help bring about the world we want to live in. Once we start to act, and engage in the work of creating a just transition, we begin to realize: we do have power and another world is possible.
When it was first proposed, the KeystoneXL tar sands pipeline was expected to be a done deal. Then a grassroots movement grew—an unlikely coalition including climate scientists, Indigenous tribes, and conservative ranchers—turning it into a major political issue, which, seven years later, seems increasingly unlikely to get approved.
In 2012, four Canadian women started a campaign led by Indigenous women called Idle No More, to protest a law passed by parliament that would undermine Indigenous sovereignty and remove protections for lands and waters. Idle No More has since spread across Canada and the US, becoming the biggest movement of Indigenous people in decades.
Once we take action, the realm of what’s possible actually starts to change. This is how our hope for the future arises. A massive shift in our sociopolitical/economic system is not only possible, but it can be done in a way that is equitable, protects those who are most vulnerable, and puts the burden on those who are most responsible.
Let it be that vision for our future that guides us as we shift our energy away from a system that relies on burning fossil fuels, and exploiting people and the planet in relentless pursuit of profit and growth. Let that vision guide us as we shift our energy toward a life-sustaining society—a shift which Joanna Macy, the Eco-philosopher, Buddhist and activist, calls “The Great Turning.” We have a choice about where we choose to spend our energy, we can either keep putting our energy into continuing business as usual; or we can use our energy to support the Great Turning, and help bring about a better future.
There is no more important cause. Confronting climate change is the biggest struggle that human beings have faced in our two-hundred-thousand-years on this planet. We are in a fight for our lives, and for the lives of future generations and the majority of life on this planet.
There is no better time. As Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee says, “we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.” And there is perhaps no religious community better suited to respond than Unitarian Universalists. We have a long and profound legacy of justice work to ground and inspire us. We have theologies which uphold our interconnectedness with all of creation. We have the ability to work effectively in multi-religious and secular settings. And, crucially, we have community in which begin to model the type of the future we want to create.
Indeed, if Unitarian Universalism is to be relevant in the world that is rapidly coming into being, our congregations need to be engaging in the work of building sustainable and resilient communities.
This can take many different forms: • Organizing protests against plans to drill for oil in the arctic, or join a local front-line community in a campaign against a proposed power plant, waste facility, or fracking well located next to a poor community or community of color. • Become the hub for an alternative economic system, like a community currency or a time bank, or start a tool lending library for the community. • Host a weekly vegan potluck or start a community garden or a food forest that donates some—or all—of its food to a local soup kitchen. • Develop a disaster preparedness plan for your community, or support a front-line community that’s been hit by a devastating storm.
There are countless possibilities. But this isn’t just another opportunity to simply think about all of the things we could be doing—we need to start putting these ideas into action! And then putting more of them into action! If we’re not putting our energy behind the transformation to a life-sustaining society, we are continuing to put our energy behind business as usual. So how will you and your community commit to respond?
If you haven’t already, check out the commit2respond website where you learn about what actions other individuals and congregations are committing to, and you can share your own commitments.
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None of us can know what that future will look like, but we can begin to see it in all of the small actions we take to heal and bless the world. And as those actions come together, like tiles in beautiful mosaic, we start to see glimpses of the just and sustainable world we are creating.
May it be so.
Matthew McHale is a recently fellowshipped Unitarian Universalist minister who is passionate about climate/environmental justice. He serves on the steering committees of UU Young Adults for Climate Justice, UU Environmental Justice Collaboratory, and Allies for Racial Equity. He also organizes with Occupy the Farm.