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Environmental question number one: Do you have room for the lion?

By Heather Moline

My boss once had a conversation with a civil rights leader about environmental justice. “In the poorest communities in Georgia,” he said, “talking about climate change is like there’s a dog biting your neighbor, and you’re trying to tell her about a lion coming over the hill.”

 

Put differently, in the words of “Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Inform the Climate Debate,” if the devastating results of a century of emissions and environmental depletion were happening to white folks, we’d have changed things long ago.

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Joining interfaith justice marchers at the Oregon State Capitol on Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s Interfaith Advocacy Day.

We have changed some things, in the face of terrifying opposition. Climate change denial is at an all-time low. In February, senior Republicans in Congress called for a carbon pricing bill. According to the EPA, the United States’ carbon emissions have declined since 2005, and even China is realizing it’s good economic sense to move away from coal.

 

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Heather Moline stands with Jenny Holmes (left), former Director of Environmental Ministries at Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, and Pope Francis, outside a televised broadcast of his speech to Congress in September 2015

But things will get worse before they get better, for all of us. Entire populations’ livelihoods are even now being wiped out in Bangladesh, Alaska, South Sudan. People of color (POC) and the poor are the most endangered by future trends. We have reason to mourn, and repent.

 

And so I’m not going to ask them to do more than they’re doing. The problem starts with people like me, who aren’t being bitten by a dog. The Footprint Network tells me I consume 3.4 Earths worth of resources. As Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si, “A minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized.”

 

The problem for people like me is a spiritual one. Again, Pope Francis: “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements.

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Four generations of Nicaragua JVs (Eva Decesaro, Heather Moline, Chelsea Wirschem, and Sean Rawson) gather in the Columbia Gorge.

So what does remembering that I am dust look like, beyond a yearly forehead cross? My time as a JV and the five years since have given me a few tips I’d like to share with people who are looking for how to equitably and urgently address that lion.

  • Think big and long. The time for prioritizing personal environmental changes has passed. Get involved to influence policy. If you are a person of faith, I recommend the Global Catholic Climate Movement, or Interfaith Power and Light. Include future generations in the dialogue. As a Cherokee leader once said, “Think not about what Mother Earth you are leaving behind for your children, but what children you are leaving behind for Mother Earth.”
  • Prioritize environmental justice. Are there POC in your environmental networks? Is their presence in that network proportionate to their presence in your community? If not, ask and address the why. Volunteer for environmental networks or labor/justice organizations that are led by POC.
  • Practice active hope! If you’re a reader, try Joanna Macy’s Active Hope. Spend time around small farmers, indigenous communities, and the wild, where hope, hard work and Mother Earth have been intertwined for centuries.
  • Find community. A good friend once went to a lecture by world-renowned Indian biologist Vandana Shiva. Someone asked how she keeps hopeful, as a scientist regularly exposed to the worst of the bad news for our future. “Find community,” she said. “They will make everything possible.” Thank you, JVC, for teaching me that long ago!

Heather Moline, FJV Managua, Nicaragua 2010-2012, lived in a Catholic Worker house and worked for Catholic Relief Services and Oregon Interfaith Power and Light, which connects Oregon faith communities to environmental policy and energy and money-saving sustainable energy practices. She is an environmental policy master’s candidate at Oregon State, and can be reached at molineh@oregonstate.edu.

 


 

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