“Believe it or not, when it comes to climate change, many people are not all that concerned about animal extinction or the plight of future generations.” When my fellow climate activist Peterson Toscano posted this observation on Facebook, I was cut to the quick.
I know it doesn’t matter to most people, but animal extinction really concerns me. Human beings causing this massive wave of extinctions — what biologist are calling the sixth great extinction — grieves me greatly. And it breaks my heart knowing that future generations will not experience the full beauty of this Earth, while also suffering the consequences of our rampant pollution of the land, waters and air.
But I must admit: My friend is right. Because I’ve heard the dismissal of concerns about climate change many times out of the mouths of people who I thought would care. And many are Christians who should care, given their professed faith in the one who called us to care for “the least of these.”
No matter how much I think the ethics of our faith should be extended to our neighbors within the other-than-human world and to generations of people we will never meet, that is simply not the reality. Humans, generally speaking, care most about their personal circumstances, immediate family and short-term impacts on their wallets.
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So why should someone care about climate change? Are there any immediate impacts on our health, family or wallets? As a matter of fact, there are.
Did you know that climate change has contributed to a rise in kidney disease in Central America? Farm laborers are exposed to increasingly high temperatures and they are experiencing dehydration at alarming rates. Because they do not have access to clean water, they drink bottled sodas, and their bodies don’t flush away the toxins. And because they have limited access to health care (which they can barely afford in the first place), these workers are dying.
But maybe the concerns of Central America are not important to you. How about immigration and refugees? It’s important to know that climate change played a role in the 7 million displaced persons fleeing from the oppressive Assad regime in Syria.
Between 2006-2011, over half of the country suffered under the worst drought on record. The intensity and length of the drought was due to climate change. When nearly one million rural villagers lose farms and crowd into the cities, this exacerbates already-tense conditions where water, food and access to resources are in short supply.
Even if the country recovers politically, Syria is projected to lose nearly 50 percent more of its agricultural capacity by 2050. This means the immigration crisis is not going away anytime soon.
Maybe Syrian refugees are not on your doorstep. How about something a little closer to home — like the food on your table? A recent study on the state of the planet’s oceans by the Georgia Institute of Technology reveals that rapid warming due to climate change is leading to deoxygenation.
According to a recent report on the website Science Daily, “The amount of dissolved oxygen contained in the water –— an important measure of ocean health — has been declining for more than 20 years.”
Not having enough oxygen in Earth’s “bloodstream” is leading to a kind of environmental hypoxia, a condition that, for humans, results in organ damage and even catastrophic failure. This affects the foundational level of the ocean’s food web: phytoplankton. A disruption of this organism’s survival will have devastating effects across the food chain — right up to our dinner plates.
So, yes, climate change is affecting health, families, national security and our food supply — to name just a few impacts. Earth’s body and our bodies are connected. It’s past time to care about both.
The Rev. Leah D. Schade, author of “Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit” (Chalice Press, 2015), is an assistant professor at Lexington Theological Seminary.