April Moore: Climate change is a matter of morality

April Moore

When Pope Francis called upon us all last week to act to confront the challenge of climate change, I was thrilled. But not everyone was. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, for example, said that the pope should stick to his own business, like matters of morality.

But climate change is, ultimately, a matter of morality. What we are called upon to do is to apply to this situation the central moral teaching of Christianity, the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

First,  climate change is a matter of science – i.e. the question, what’s true about our climate?

But the scientific question has been resolved as thoroughly as it needs to be, with 97 percent of climate scientists declaring that climate change is happening, that it is primarily the result of human activity, and that the consequences for our civilization of our failure to act could be catastrophic. These are the people who understand best what is happening in the Earth’s climate system.

But denying the science has been the continual practice of one of America’s two major political parties. For a long time, this party claimed we ought not do anything until more scientific study was conducted. Then it tried to persuade Americans that it was all some huge scientific hoax. Lately, because those positions crumbled under the weight of more and more evidence, we heard Republican politicians declaring, “I am not a scientist.” Which they tried to use to mean, “So I don’t need to pay attention to what the scientists are telling us.”

I am not a scientist either, but I feel responsible to take the next step and say, “Not being a scientist, I recognize that on scientific questions I should listen to the scientific experts.”

Why are these politicians refusing to heed scientists’ warnings? Presumably, they aren’t stupid, and they presumably do listen to the scientists on countless other matters. Why is this issue different?

It seems reasonable to conclude — and there is abundant evidence that shows — that it is because it serves the short-term financial interest of some of America’s richest corporations for  Americans to stay addicted to what they’re selling. It is just like when the tobacco companies didn’t want smokers to understand how tobacco was endangering their lives. And in our money-driven politics, it can pay to serve such rich masters.

(Thus it is that Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, who continues to maintain that he knows better than the scientists, comes from the state of Petroklahoma.)

Politicians who ignore the challenge of climate change are showing the most fundamental of moral defects: indifference to the suffering of innocents. For, according to experts, if we fail to act now to protect our children and grandchildren, these are the dangers to which we are exposing them:

  • The less responsible we are now, the more the world our children and grandchildren live in will be plagued by insecurity and war. The Pentagon has declared climate change to be a “threat multiplier.”
  • Our failing to act makes it more likely that food and fresh water will be scarce.
  • The less we attend to this gathering crisis, the more the sea levels will rise, swamping coastal cities in Virginia and around the world.
  • In general, they will be exposed to more severe and unpredictable weather.

So we come back to the golden rule, for by our actions, or inactions, we are doing unto them as surely as if we were putting our arms around them now to protect them, or pushing them into onrushing danger.

The golden rule would have us ask: if we were in their position, and if we depended on people in our position to act with our vital needs in mind, how would we want them to do unto us?

In their position, would we want the short-term profits of corporations to be put ahead of our deepest needs for a livable world? Would we want for the people we rely on – the citizens who elect the politicians to address our collective problems – to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the enormous stakes for those to come?

Of course not.

I can think of no other issue more appropriate for a moral and spiritual leader like the pope to speak out about. And no other issue that more deeply tests our moral fiber as a nation.

April Moore is running for the Virginia State Senate in the 26th District.