The Climate Crisis: Reflections on Family, Politics, and Our Common Home
We all know how helpful it is to remember important lessons that we’ve learned in life – lessons from mom and dad, family and friends, co-workers, teachers, clergy, political leaders, or whoever it might be. This is especially true in difficult and confusing times.
I want to share one of the last face-to-face conversations I had with my mother, nearly two years ago. We were watching a news report about the climate and ecological crisis. She was well-aware that I had been working on that issue my whole adult life. Knowing that she wouldn’t be with us much longer, she turned to me with the kindest and most determined look. Her eyes held my attention for several seconds, and then she said, “Jeff, please don’t ever stop working on this.” As she spoke, she was thinking of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and she wanted to encourage me from the bottom of her heart.
We talked about it a while longer. I had recently retired from nearly 30 years as the environmental justice staff person for the Anglican Communion, attending many UN conferences and helping to organize our member churches. Aware of that change in my life, she asked about my similar global work with the Anglican Franciscans today. She wanted me to impress upon me that she perceived the depth of the crisis. As we spoke, I remembered something my father, who was sitting with us, once said to me when I was a child: “always tell the truth, and remember how hard it can be sometimes to know what the truth really is.” He wanted me to reflect deeply on what I might say to others, and what I might hear others say. In his distinctive way, he was instilling what the church understands as faith, morality, and discernment.
A few months later, my mom passed away peacefully at home with my father by her side. I thought a lot about them during the recent United Nations Climate Summit (COP 26) in Glasgow. The disappointing outcome wasn’t a surprise. Some positive decisions were made, but those were mainly commitments and promises. The gist of it is that we must seriously double down on our efforts now if we want future generations to inherit a habitable earth. The crisis is already here. The question is how severe we will let it become, how many millions of human lives will be lost, and how many endangered species and ecosystems will be destroyed. Official representatives gathered in Glasgow knew all this—heads of state, government delegates, corporate spokespersons, religious and civic leaders. Yet the outcome did not come close to reaching reasonable goals.
Increasingly, what we hear or read in the mass media about the climate is a kind of performance designed to shape public opinion and attract viewers. Some political and corporate interests work behind the scenes to shape the message. While this is business-as-usual in many ways, its power has become much more technologically sophisticated; and its consequences, unthinkably severe. I’ll give only two examples. During the climate summit, one national spokesperson plainly stated to the press that his country is committed to stopping “illegal deforestation.” He omitted the fact that his country has redefined “illegal” so that many kinds of deforestation are now legal—which includes the exploitation of indigenous people who live in those forests. Another well-known head of state said that to stop the climate crisis, we must “lead by example.” At about the same time, his administration proposed new oil and gas drilling leases. Generally, countries that do the most damage create the most deceptive performances. Those who suffer from it the most, suffer even more.
There is hope for our generation and those to come, but genuine hope is not the same as wishful thinking. The latter makes us susceptible to those corporate and political forces, whether on the right or left, that distort what we think, how we think, and how we relate to each other. The good news is that genuine hope is real and within our reach. It depends on our faithful action and discernment in the here and now. Both can be cultivated and strengthened within our selves and families, within our communities, and in our lives everyday. We can do this. Let us pray now, discern now, and act now. If we do, then we will give generations to come a bright future.
This article was first published in January 27, 2022 edition of the Shawangunk Journal, and is included here with permission.