Congressional Leaders Must Heed the Call to Justly Address the Climate Crisis
By Shweta Arya, John D. Sykes, Rev. Dr. John C. Helt, Mary Alice McKeen, Anita Fête Crews, Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, Rev. Dr. Ambrose F. Carroll, Dr. Gerald Durley, Rev Dr. Brooks Berndt, Rev. Amy Brooks Paradise, Rev. Dr. Jeremy Rutledge, and Rev. Michael Malcom
Caring for our planet and the people who inhabit it is at the core of our work. Many faith leaders, including Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby have called for action against the existential threat of climate change, which will be disproportionately borne upon the poor and marginalized around the world. We must work together to confront this global crisis. Here in the U.S., we understand our obligation to stewardship, and have an opportunity to do something about it. We, leaders of 12 faith communities across the country, stand in solidarity with faith leaders who have called for a better world.
Right now, members of Congress are busy debating a massive budget reconciliation package that contains a multitude of provisions that, if passed, will impact every segment of our economy. Our concern as environmental justice and faith leaders, is that the climate change provisions are approved, and that they are done so through an equity and environmental justice lens.
We support the various clean energy tax credits and portions of the bill that will incentivize deployment of renewable energy assets around the country. However, our Congressional representatives must also ensure that these programs lead to just and equitable outcomes.
From an equity perspective, we must work to keep low income weatherization and energy efficiency programs in the budget package, as those are often the first to be cut when negotiations get tough. Paula Glover, President of Alliance to Save Energy, states that a focus on policy and legislation is a way to ensure that equity concerns are “baked into” the energy transition. We agree, and urgency is particularly high as members of Congress make their final amendments.
These programs will help our most vulnerable citizens. These same minority communities are already the most impacted by climate change, and we must do right by them. New research shows that in more than 70 percent of U.S. counties, low-income and non-white neighborhoods experience more extreme surface heat (what is often referred to as urban heat islands).
Historic red-lining has also led to many Black and Brown communities being forced to live in urban areas that lack green spaces and trees. This leads to more urban heat islands and can cause negative health consequences. Investments in weatherization in these communities can help ease the effects of extreme heat and lower energy burdens that force many Black and Brown families to make “heat or eat” decisions when putting food on their tables. These programs help to alleviate energy insecurity, which is a compounded stressor for many vulnerable households.
These communities should also be our first priority when it comes to distributing new renewable energy resources, such as solar. Although we know that the cost of solar panels has come down exponentially in recent years, like in many other areas of American society, disparities already exist in rooftop solar deployment across the U.S by race and ethnicity. In many cases, limited access to rooftop solar and other distributed energy resources, or ‘DERs’, also exacerbates existing inequalities among minority communities.
Weatherization and access to solar energy are not only beneficial to low-income and marginalized communities, but they are necessary for the salvation of our planet. Our elected officials must be driven by a moral compass that prioritizes conservation, compassion, and care for the health of our planet and its people — not profit.
We must act now to confront the climate crisis and rapidly transition our economy to clean energy. It is a moral imperative. The science is clear, as the latest IPCC report has shown. This is a code red for humanity. This is a crisis that must be met at scale with a holistic societal approach.
President Biden’s goal of directing 40 percent of the benefits in his original Build Back Better proposal to disadvantaged communities is commendable. It is a great start to repairing the historic harms done to communities of color. Now, it’s up to our Congressional leaders to make sure it remains in the final bill.
We are calling on Congress members to do what is right by their constituents, to address the climate crisis with the moral imperative it demands, and to always hold justice and equity as the lens through which their policy decisions are made. We simply cannot afford anything less.
Shweta Arya, Executive Director, Delaware Interfaith Power and Light
John D. Sykes, President, Delaware Interfaith Power and Light
Rev. Dr. John C. Helt, Co-Chair, Creation Care Team, Wisconsin Conference, United Church of Christ
Mary Alice McKeen, Alaska Interfaith Power and Light
Anita (Ani) Fête Crews, Blessed Tomorrow
Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, Special Advisor on Climate Justice to UCC, General Minister and President
Rev. Dr. Ambrose F. Carroll, Founder, Green the Church
Dr. Gerald Durley, Board Chair, Interfaith Power and Light
Rev Dr. Brooks Berndt, Environmental Justice Minister, United Church of Christ
Rev. Amy Brooks Paradise, Organizer, GreenFaith US
Rev. Dr. Jeremy Rutledge, Senior Pastor, Circular Congregational Church (UCC), Charleston, SC
Rev. Michael Malcom, The People’s Justice Council and Alabama Interfaith Power and Light