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Bos/My Turn: A call for action

My friend in Putney is alarmed because the church she attends is not actively attentive to the end of life on earth as we know it. I’m talking about the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by every single person who consumes energy derived from the extraction of fossil fuels from a wounded planet.

I am a small-time perpetrator of these crimes as are most citizens in industrialized nations. But my crimes pale in comparison to those whose priorities on this planet would destroy it. The fossil fuel industry’s reason for being is to rip profits from the earth by extracting diminishing stores of carbon exuding coal, oil and gas. Included in this planetary rape are those politicians whose votes are purchased by unfettered support from the energy industry, now made easier by the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision.

“An organization’s priorities, churches included,” I said to my friend, “are set by its leadership.” Our conversations about the woeful lack of public awareness about the increasingly negative impacts of climate change motivated us to drive to Boston on April 27.

We went, in the wake of the Boston Marathon murders, to attend the day-long Climate Revival — An Ecumenical Festival to Embolden the Renewal of Creation organized by United Church of Christ and Episcopal leaders in Massachusetts. More than 600 people from all over New England and from a number of Christian traditions gathered together to attend the “revival.” What prompted everyone to come together was the shared conviction that is past time to revive planet Earth.

UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey Black addressed the morning worship service at Old South Church UCC on Copley Square down Boylston Street from the boarded up store windows blown out by the Tsarnaev brothers.

The Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori, addressed the afternoon service in Trinity Episcopal Church across Copley Square. Revival attendees also heard from 350.Org’s Bill McKibben and Archbishop Desmond Tutu via video.

Between the morning and afternoon services there was a roundtable panel conversation about how the church might respond to the climate change crisis. The panelists were James Hazelwood, bishop of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rev. Schori, Black and Thomas G. Carr, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Hartford, Conn.

At the conclusion of the roundtable conversation, the panelists and 18 other attending church leaders signed a document titled “Lazarus, Come Out: A Shared Statement of Hope in the Face of Climate Change.”

“Let us be clear” the statement says in part. “The scientific data is stark. We know that climate instability is reaching a dangerous point. Now is the time to slow the rate of catastrophic climate change. Unless we take action now, our children and our children’s children will live in a world of increasingly unexpected and dangerous climate events. Climate change already affects the ability to grow crops to feed the growing world population, creating significant concern for food security. The poorest among us are becoming even more vulnerable. Biodiversity in many regions of the world is being destroyed, and species are becoming extinct at alarming rates.” Read the whole document at: http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/files/2013/04/Climate-Statement-FInal.pdf

The panel discussion was moderated by Wen Stephenson, an independent journalist and climate activist. The panelists concurred that each of us has a moral responsibility to moderate our individual life style in favor of the planet. They also advocated greater citizen insistence that government act immediately and deliberately to end the use of fossil fuels.

In a recent article in The Nation, Stephenson raises the collective clergy’s ante on the commitment to climate change activism by quoting Henry David Thoreau’s question “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then?”

Stephenson continues writing that Thoreau “insists that we recognize those situations ‘in which a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what it may.’”

“This is strong stuff — and prophetic,” Stephenson writes. “What we have here is a kind of working definition of Thoreau’s radicalism: call it the willingness to face the ‘essential facts’ (as he put it in Walden), and then to act as both facts and conscience require. Doing so, he assures us, ‘is essentially revolutionary’ — the only way to change the world.”

Thoreau was not the environmental recluse who lived in a one-room cabin at Walden Pond as is commonly believed. He supported violent citizen action against slavery and other “intolerable” issues. Stephenson concludes by stating that “Thoreau — with his explicit endorsement of violence — didn’t get the last word on civil disobedience. Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others (including some environmentalists) transformed resistance to intolerable injustice in ways Thoreau never imagined — demonstrating the power of a steadfast, principled, radical nonviolence.

To end the increasingly violent abuse of our planet now calls for radical nonviolence by millions of citizens truly united in defense of our home — planet earth.

John Bos is a Shelburne resident and frequent writer about climate change. He may be contacted at john01370@gmail.com.

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