An Op-Ed by Rev. Eric Rucker
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I’m kneeling on the ground outside a college classroom next to a young man who is having a panic attack - tears streaming, chest heaving for breath. My class session just ended, and he’s panicking because of the documentary we just watched about climate change. He and his classmates were confronted with a terrifying fact: the earth’s climate is undeniably changing due to humans burning fossil fuels, and if societies don’t rapidly transition to renewable energy, he might experience cataclysmic consequences in his lifetime. If we don’t change – and quickly – the world will be uninhabitable for his grandchildren. Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve comforted a student in this setting, nor will it be the last.
As a pastor and teacher, one of the hardest things I do is educate young people about climate change. It’s scary and uncomfortable. It would be easier to avoid it. But I’m convinced that we have an urgent moral obligation to tell youth the truth about climate change, the issue that will probably most affect their adult lives.
One of the most neglected and profound teachings of Jesus is this: “You tithe mint, dill, and cumin, but neglect the weightier matter of the law: justice.” (Matt. 23:23) Jesus teaches that God does not care primarily about small, individual token acts of charity. God cares primarily about justice. Justice is the communal act of building a society that economically and materially reflects God’s values of equality and flourishing for all living things.
Unfortunately, Christian communities of faith often reverse Jesus’ priorities, hyper-focusing on individual acts (going to church, reading one’s Bible, etc.) while totally ignoring the church’s responsibility to challenge injustice in the public sphere. This same myopic tendency is evident in the public’s response to climate change itself. I heard a sixth-grade speaker perfectly sum up the problem at a recent climate protest, saying: “Refusing a plastic straw will not save us, changing our politics will.”
I can hear Jesus saying to us today: “You recycle, you ‘Like’ posts about caring for the earth, and you ride your bike; but you neglect the weightier work: transforming your economics and politics to save the planet.”
If you are an Iowan, one clear example of the “weightier work” we can do is to demand that our energy providers transition to renewable energy NOW. In Iowa, MidAmerican Energy is a classic example of a corporation masquerading publicly as “climate friendly.” But in fact, they have no public climate plan, they are the largest source of carbon pollution in Iowa, and they currently refuse to retire their five coal plants (the source of most of their carbon emissions.) To be on track for a livable future, MidAmerican would need to retire their coal plants by 2030 - something that is feasible but which they refuse to do.
If you are tired of taking small, individual actions that will never move the needle on climate change; if you need to transform your anger and fear into productive action; I invite you to join us in demanding that our corporations and representatives initiate a rapid transition to renewable energy. If you are an Iowan, you can do so through the “Clean Up MidAm” campaign via engagement with a host of organizations like Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Sierra Club, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, or the Sunrise Movement. Or if you live outside of Iowa, you can likewise connect with local branches of these organizations in your own state. We’ve put links to all these organizations in the show notes to make it easy for you to take an action step.
God will not ask us whether we curated our social media accounts to appear “ecologically friendly.” God will ask if we fought like hell to save this planet for God’s children. What will be our answer?