So much has changed in the 45 years since Earth Day was first recognized in 1970. The pressure on the environment and the growing desperation of poor people has increased dramatically. It’s experienced is as a combination of civil wars and mass-migration in Africa and the Middle East. Environmental distress is a significant cause of the rapidly increasing number of refugees worldwide and it’s estimated that there will be between 50 million and 1 billion climate change refugees in the coming decades.
The Fairfax County Clergy and Leadership Council recently did a human needs assessment. The five top needs we identified in our county are: (1) food security, (2) affordable housing, (3) mental health services, (4) transportation, and (5) youth. First generation immigrants are at greatest risk. We can see connections between the recent immigration into our community and environmental stresses around the world.
According to the UN Environmental Program, “Our [global] economy has increased in size by 22-fold since 1900, our use of construction minerals has increased 34-fold, ores 27-fold, and fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) have seen a 12-fold increase. We use 3.6 times as much biomass—crops, residues, and wood—as we did back then.” We’re rapidly approaching the carrying capacity of the earth’s ecosystem.
A common human response is denial. Pat Mulroy, the recently retired general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority says, “Ben Franklin was right. You learn the value of water when the well runs dry, and human behavior has replicated that time after time after time” (www.brookings.edu/blogs/planetpolicy). The American West is experiencing an extended drought that appears to be linked to climate change. Major reservoirs are drained to about one-fourth of their capacity and California recently enacted drastic water use measures.
Thinking more broadly, the well is also running dry on our use of all the rest of our natural resources. Our penchant to meet a crisis with denial is often exacerbated by an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. The immediate challenge is finding the energy to get involved in ways that can make a difference. Psalm 23 is a powerful and much loved scripture passage on trust in God, even in the most difficult situations.
Isaac Villegas, the pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship writes, “The psalmist knows this world. There is no promise of life here without enemies or evil. Instead, in the valley, surrounded by enemies, the psalmist sees a table—a place of fellowship and communion, for being with God and one another. Around the table—that’s where God happens” (The Christian Century, April 15, 2015). In God’s presence we see a path opening before us.
We’re much more apt to get involved if it’s an adventure with built-in times of fun and celebration. Doing things only out of a sense of duty and obligation quickly drains our batteries. Our church’s book club is discussing Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. It’s about their family’s adventure of eating only locally grown food for a year—much of it grown by themselves. It’s hard work, but with lots of fun and celebration. Communities of faith will want to take the same approach as we respond to climate change.