By Barb Arland-Fye
Religious leaders from 13 different faith traditions representing 39 congregations and other organizations in Iowa have signed a statement drawing attention to climate change as a moral and ethical issue. Signing on behalf of their members in the Davenport Diocese were Bishop Martin Amos, bishop of the diocese; Sister Mary Rehmann, president of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport; and Sister Jan Cebula, OSF, president of the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton.
Iowa Interfaith Power & Light drafted and circulated the statement in advance of Earth Day, which is Sunday, April 22, and commemorates the 42nd anniversary of the national environmental movement.
“Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing our world today, and as religious leaders representing diverse faith traditions we are called to re-affirm our commitment to be responsible stewards of Earth’s resources and to act in love toward our neighbors both locally and globally,” the statement begins.
“Scientists, including those representing 20 Iowa colleges and universities who recently released a statement, have warned us that changes in global climate patterns are bringing more extreme weather events to Iowa, the United States and our world. These events include droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, storm surges, and wildfires. These changes threaten our environment, our health and safety, our economy, our agriculture and our security. They also raise fundamental questions of justice and fairness, as those who are least able to adapt to climate change and who contribute least to the problem are likely to suffer the worst consequences.”
The statement calls for people in their faith communities, homes and businesses to take action to limit global climate change and prepare for climate impacts that are unavoidable by reducing energy usage in homes and vehicles and by using renewable energy sources. The statement calls for leadership at the local, state and national level to form polices and strategies to address responsible energy use and to act in the interest of the common good.
In signing the statement, Sr. Rehmann of the Sisters of Humility notes: “We have signed onto the statement as a congregation; care of the earth is a fundamental part of our mission and humility is derived from the Latin word ‘humus’, meaning the earth, or the soil or ground.”
“We all need to be examining our lifestyles and seeing how we can live more in relationship with the earth,” observed Sr. Cebula of the Clinton Franciscans.
Also signing the statement was Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines Diocese. The diocese has been an organizational member of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light said its director, the
Rev. Susan Guy.
“This is an issue the Catholic Church has been speaking out on for some time,” added Rev. Guy, an ordained minister in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. “It follows Catholic Social Teaching.”
Pope Benedict XVI has expressed concerns about climate change and emphasized the need for good stewardship of the earth throughout his papacy. On Nov. 27, the day before an international conference on climate change, the Holy Father noted that the Church’s teaching on the environment follows the principle that men and women are collaborators with God and his creation. “In fact, it is by now evident that there is no good future for humanity or for the earth unless we educate everyone toward a style of life that is more responsible toward the created world,” he said in an article published by Catholic News Service.
Climate change “is an issue of justice in looking at how those who contribute the least to the issue are often impacted the most,” said the Rev. Guy. In addressing the issue, “We’re looking at this as an act of love toward our neighbors.”
Love of neighbor is a mandate across the spectrum of faith groups, and communities can work together in developing practical ideas for addressing energy conservation, she said. Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, for example, offers a program called “Cool Congregations” which visits faith groups throughout Iowa to teach them about lowering energy usage in their homes as an act of faith. It’s a hands-on program that shows participants the average amount of energy they’ll reduce by taking certain steps. “We test carbon footprints based on energy usage in their homes and then re-test after a year of following energy- saving measures.” Some faith groups are meeting regularly throughout the state to support one another and share ideas and learn more about what’s going on with climate change and energy usage, she said.
Iowa Interfaith Power & Light also advocates for energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable climate policy. Rev. Guy said she will take the religious leaders’ statement to meetings with congressmen in Washington, D.C., as well as state legislators in Des Moines.
“We ask people to speak out and let their legislators know they really care about these issues. I think our legislators need to feel supported when they make decisions, because sometimes the decisions are not popular. The issue has been politicized, so we’ve lost track of the core issue of stewardship of Earth.”