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Race, faith and climate change


God loved the world, not just one people

By Neddy Astudillo | Presbyterians Today

Sign that reads: The climate is changing. So should we! #Act Now.

Markus Spiske/Pexels

The first time I became aware of a connection between race, faith and climate change was in the late 1980s when I was a sociology student in Venezuela. I lived in Caracas with my family. In this cosmopolitan city, there was lots of nonregulated air pollution that caused me to have a sore throat and irritated eyes daily.

In Venezuela, we used lead gasoline. I thought it was all that existed, until one day I read a very small article hidden in the middle of one of our major newspapers that said, “The conditions the International Monetary Fund placed on Venezuela to receive millions of dollars of aid includes to continue consuming lead gasoline for another four years.” We had the knowledge that consuming lead-free gasoline would be better, but our government was making it available to U.S. markets only. Lots more can be said about this deal. Clearly, justice for all is not always the way our governments have treated people around the world.

As a citizen of the United States now, I have learned that to sustain our lifestyle we use almost 25% of the world’s natural resources and produced, until recently, the same percentage of carbon emissions responsible for climate change. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). God loves the world, not just one people. Our impact in the world — ethically and spiritually — is calling us to free the waters of justice (Amos 5:24), so that Creation can hear Christ’s good news from the children of God (Romans 8:19; Mark 16:15).

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is how interrelated our world is and how much our lives depend on the well-being of others. As a person of faith, called to love my neighbors as myself, I feel compelled to reject — and grow suspicious of — any dreams and views of the good life that are built at the expense of others.

This past year has also taught us that those who suffer during this pandemic in greater numbers are the same Black, Indigenous and Latinx people who have been impacted by racial and environmental injustice for generations. They are the same people who are also most vulnerable to climate change for they cannot pack up and leave when a storm is approaching and return when it is convenient. They are the ones who do not have access to good food, clean air and clean water, and whose bodies are already compromised, not by choice but by systemic racism. They are the ones who live alongside oil refineries and who have to fight for better environmental laws to protect them. They are the farmworkers who harvest 95% of our fruits and vegetables nationwide, and who — for more than 10 years in Florida — have been fighting for laws to protect themselves from life-threatening heat waves: to have the right to take breaks, to cool down and drink water.

Working to restore our relationships with each other and the environment is a calling of our faith, not a threat to our privilege. For us Presbyterians, it can be a blessing at this time in history to avert the suffering of future generations. If scientists are right, we have less than 10 years to stop climate change. Now is the time for a sustained, united action guided by the teachings of our faith to usher in an equitable and peaceful life for all people on Earth.

Neddy Astudillo, a Venezuelan-American, is an eco-theologian, Presbyterian pastor and GreenFaith organizer in Florida.

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