More than 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists believe we humans are changing our climate for the worse. (That scientific consensus is as strong as the one that finds smoking causes cancer.) By burning fossil fuel in power plants, trucks and cars, by releasing methane gas during gas and oil drilling, by cutting down precious forests, we’re not only inviting more extreme weather events—severe droughts, and dangerous hurricanes, wildfires and floods—we’re also despoiling and endangering the majesty of God’s creation.
That’s why, as Governor McCrory reviews candidates for the position of Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), it’s vitally important that he consider only candidates who accept this well-established fact. Whoever our new DENR Secretary is, she or he needs to accept and work with this unfortunate reality of our times and integrate climate-change prevention and preparedness into the state’s plans and services. North Carolina’s safety and security depend on it.
Though the problem of climate change is daunting, its solutions are not difficult or financially ruinous, no matter what some elected officials might tell you. In fact, as the Director of the multi-denominational North Carolina Interfaith Power & Light, which helps religious and spiritual congregations of all kinds address both the moral dimensions of climate change and its positive, practical solutions, I’ve seen these synergies in action. Protecting life and the beautiful world God has created doesn’t just bring us into greater communion with the Divine Source, it’s also good for the bottom line.
Members of Raleigh’s Community United Church of Christ provide one such example. Moved by Jesus’s message to protect “the least of these my brothers and sisters,” and knowing that climate change will wreak its most significant havoc on those with the fewest resources, they’ve gathered a group to help low-income Wake County households become eligible for Weatherization services. Weatherization insulates low-income homes and makes them more energy efficient, meaning residents will save money on heating and electric bills, while cutting the amount of global warming pollution they add to our already overstressed atmosphere. Meanwhile, in Hayesville, the Good Shepard Episcopal Church increased the energy efficiency of its facilities, something that allowed the church to spend less money on energy and contribute more to its central mission. At Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, 58 families have contributed between $10 and $3,000 each to install solar panels. Those panels now provide the synagogue with pollution-free electricity, serve as an outreach tool to local residents intrigued and encouraged by their presence, and have helped the synagogue’s members fulfill their religious obligation to repair our all-too-broken world.
Whomever Governor McCrory choses as Secretary of DENR must know that such synergies are possible through the state’s work as well. Take, for an example, our Clean Smokestack Act of 2002, which has cut the amount of dangerous sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from North Carolina’s power plants by an amazing 89 percent and 83 percent, respectively. (These pollutants are closely linked to diseases like asthma, emphysema, heart disease and lung cancer.) By reducing them so significantly, in 2012, Clean Smokestacks saved 1,700 North Carolinian lives. The estimated economic benefits range from $500 million to an astounding $16 billion a year.
Climate change’s solutions are equally promising. But to take full advantage of them—to reap the good jobs, clean air and energy savings that come along with them—our state government, our governor and his new DENR secretary must acknowledge what our weather and the overwhelming majority of scientists are already telling us: Human-caused climate change exists. The time to start addressing it here in North Carolina is now.
— Susannah Tuttle, M.Div – Director, NC Interfaith Power & Light
Text Originally Printed in the Raleigh News & Observer
December 12, 2014