“Replenish the earth.” Very early on in the Bible, Genesis 1:28, God calls on humankind to protect creation. Many faith leaders take this charge seriously. Over 3 million evangelicals have signed pledges with the Evangelical Environmental Network, over 122 Catholic organizations have committed to divest from fossil fuels, some Catholic orders have directed their members to engage in climate advocacy, and every mainstream protestant denomination has strong statements on climate and the need for immediate action to reduce emissions.
It is ironic, then, that this 50th anniversary of Earth Day occurs during a pandemic unlike any we have experienced for almost a century; especially in light of a new study by the Harvard School of Public Health of 3,000 Americans definitively linking long-term exposure to air pollution (one issue Earth Day works to improve) to a 20-fold increase in COVID-19 deaths.
Unfortunately, instead of an annual celebration of marches and speeches to advance conversations about the urgent need for clean energy sources, Earth Day celebrations will instead happen via toned-down, internet-only events during this public health crisis. Like so many other people, however, we are troubled that our lack of protection of the earth — including encroachment on wildlife habitat, deforestation, a new wave of extinction events, and urban sprawl —put us all at risk for future pandemic events, even though we are relatively isolated in Montana.
This pandemic only increases our resolve to press forward with solutions that improve human health while protecting the earth and humanity. Climate solutions are pandemic solutions. We can use technology and best practices to encourage local agriculture; advance public and active transportation; build infrastructure to withstand severe weather, improve comfort, and be non-polluting/net-zero; lessen pollution; and boost tree planting. These solutions can create jobs, improve both human health and mental health, and lessen the risk of future pandemics.
In the meantime, our people of faith in Montana are working to ease the stress in their parishes and communities, help provide food and shelter to Montanans who find themselves out of work and in need of food, while simultaneously comforting those who are ill. We applaud an economic stimulus to tide Americans through this critical time and wish to see even greater protection of the most vulnerable among us. We hope our elected politicians and business leaders working together will reflect on what has and has not worked in the past, and as this pandemic wanes consider what innovations and best practices might empower a more just and vibrant society for all. "We can both stimulate the economy and lay the foundation for a lower-carbon future," says economist Michael Greenstone.
Faith, Science, Climate Action Montana — a group of faith leaders, scientists, and doctors from across the Treasure state — came together several years ago to discuss climate change and our moral obligations to families, neighbors, future generations and vulnerable populations and, fundamentally, to the life-supporting systems of our planet. We believe that the welfare of coming generations depends on our courage now.
Or, as famed climate scientist and evangelical Christian Dr. Katherine Hayhoe recently said, “This crisis really brings home what matters to all of us. It’s the health and safety of our friends, our family, our loved ones, our communities, our cities and our country. That’s what the coronavirus pandemic threatens, and that’s exactly what climate change does, too.”
This opinion is signed by The Rev. John Lund, ELCA, Missoula; The Rev. Connie Campbell Pearson, St. James Episcopal Church, Bozeman; The Rev. Jody McDevitt, First Presbyterian, Bozeman; Will Wright, Catholic Ministries, Bozeman; Abby Huseth, member, Our Saviors Lutheran Church, Bonner; The Rev. Valerie Webster, Episcopal Diocese of Montana, Bozeman; Anne Carlson, Senior Climate Adaptation Specialist for The Wilderness Society, Choteau; and Dr. Lori Byron, pediatrician.